How can sites of waste disposal be marked to prevent contamination in the future? The United States government addressed this challenge in planning for nuclear waste repositories. Consulting with experts in imagining future scenarios, in language and communication, and in anthropology, the Department of Energy sought to develop plans that would satisfy demands from the Environmental Protection Agency for a marker system that would be effective long into the future. Expert consultants proposed two very different designs: one based on archaeological sites recognized as cultural heritage monuments; the other proposing that certain forms invoke universal feelings. The Department of Energy opted for a design based on archaeological ruins, cited as proof human-made markers could last and communicate warnings for thousands of years. This book explores the common-sense assumptions the experts made about their archaeological models and shows how they are contradicted by what archaeologists understand about these places and things. The book alternates between discussions of archaeological marker designs and reflections on the alternative proposal based on archetypes intended to arouse universal responses. Recognizing these archetype designs as similar in scale and form to Land Art projects, it compares the way government experts proposed that their designs would work with views of modern artists and critics. Drawing on views of indigenous people who disproportionately are asked to accommodate such projects, the book explores concessions within the project that only oral transmission is likely to ensure that such sites remain identifiable long into the future.
June 23, 2020