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Translation is a versatile analytical concept currently being employed across several academic fields, including cultural studies, sociology, science and technology studies. But the so-called translational turn has only played a minor role in archaeology. Our focus on objects and assemblages, rather than languages and texts, may explain this to some extent – a situation no doubt exacerbated by a current, generally rather critical, stance towards all text-metaphors. Yet the successful reconceptualization of the translation term in many cultural and social sciences, and its regular application in praxeological approaches to knowledge generation, offers a welcome opportunity to introduce the concept into archaeology.
The new definition of translation in cultural studies removes it from its traditional linguistic sphere, and particularly from the focus on (in)accuracies. Instead, it contextualizes translation between functioning dialogue and perplexity resulting out of incomprehension, viewing it as a practice of exchange between cultures and/or disciplines. Reflected translation can therefore serve as a useful concept for archaeology beyond paradigms – without negating existing differences.
If translation is viewed as a means of representing foreign cultures (e.g. Doris Bachmann-Medick), archaeology can be understood as a translation science on several levels: our discipline translates between the past and the present; it translates terms, ideas and concepts between societies, academic tribes and territories; in medial terms it translates between the material, iconographic, textual and, more recently, digital worlds. But archaeology can also nvestigate translation processes themselves, particularly so when studying cultural contacts or the use of the past in the past.
I shall demonstrate the potential of translation theories by applying them to archaeological themes and practices, including transdisciplinarity and resilience as a travelling concept, object-epistemological practices of editing things (respecting Bruno Latour’s circulating reference), and translation as a concept for the analysis of cultural contacts, using so-called imitative coins as a case study.
Kerstin P. Hofmann is Deputy Director of the Romano-Germanic Commission of the German Archaeological Institute in Frankfurt am Main and head of its research field ‘Crossing Frontiers in Iron Age and Roman Europe’. She studied Prehistoric Archaeology at the Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel and at the University of Cologne. After completing her PhD on Thanatoarchaeology and Bronze and Early Iron Age cremation burials in the Elbe-Weser-Triangle, Germany, in 2006, she held a foreign exchange scholarship from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) at Rome. From 2009 to 2016 she worked first as coordinator and then junior research group leader on “Space and Identity” within the framework of the Excellence Cluster Topoi in Berlin. Her interests lie in the fields of material culture studies, identity research, cultural contacts, border studies and coping practices. She is Vice President of the Deutscher Verband für Archäologie and deputy spokesperson of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Theorien in der Archäologie e. V. She has published numerous articles on theoretical concepts and issues in archaeology and has authored or edited several books, including Ritueller Umgang mit dem Tod (author, 2016), Between Memory Sites and Memory Networks (co-editor, 2017), Mapping Ancient Identities (co-editor, 2018), Objektepistemologien (co-editor, 2018) and Beyond Antiqurianism: A review of current theoretical issues in German-speaking prehistoric archaeology (article, together with Ph. W. Stockhammer, 2017).