Four eminent archaeologists who found themselves on the cusp of a new era as young researchers in the 1980s will be reminiscing about their experiences at a free Cambridge University event on Monday afternoon.

Professors Meg Conkey, Henrietta Moore, Ruth Tringham and Alison Wylie will describe what life was like as some of the first “symbolic archaeologists”, pioneering new ways of thinking about past societies and people.

The informal panel discussion, which is being hosted by the University's McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, will mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of the ground-breaking work “Symbolic and Structural Archaeology” (ed. I. Hodder).

The new approach, which came to the fore in the early 1980s, encouraged researchers to investigate artefacts' symbolic resonance as well as their physical purpose. At the same time, archaeologists were concerned with other new approaches; in particular attempting to take into account their own subjectivity when using the archaeological record to understand human development and behaviour.

Hand in hand with this went an attempt to cast off the discipline's earlier patriarchal tendencies, which had meant the role of women in cultures and systems was often ignored. The panellists will also talk about how they pioneered gendered analyses of the past.

As young researchers, three of the panellists who will be speaking on Monday were present at the famous 1980 Cambridge conference which resulted in the publication of several ground-breaking textbooks.

The discussion, called “Personal Histories Retrospect” has been organised by Pamela Jane Smith, from the Department of Archaeology, who is also assembling an oral record based on interviews with British archaeologists who were crucial to the development of the profession during the early and mid-20th century.

The event will begin with tea at 3pm in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, followed by the panel presentation in the Biffen Theatre, in the Genetics Building, on the University's Downing Site (off Downing Street).

Full details can be found on the McDonald Institute's home page, which is linked to the right.

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