Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Past Futures, Future's Past: Towards an Archaeology of the Future

Dr. Rob Swigart.

The human species has been telling stories for many tens of thousands of years, perhaps since Homo sapiens spread over the territory of Homo neanderthalensis and began carving marks on bone, stone, and painting on the walls of caves. Some scholars feel that the marks on bone or antler batons carved as much as 35,000 years ago, mark the lunar cycle and were aids to memory when telling the story of animal migrations or other phenomena necessary to survival. These stories accumulated a past and made sense of an unknown future.
This paper will tell a story, one that asks a number of questions.
Catal Höyük, in southern Anatolia, is a dense agglomeration of dwellings, a pueblo structure with roof entrances—essentially one large building with numerous homes, built over a thousand years one on top of another, leaving behind two large mounds. Digging at Catal over the past decades has uncovered human occupation 9000 years ago. Do we tell the story as it is dug, from the most recent to the more distant past, or do we dig all the way down (a long process) and then tell the story chronologically? When we talk about the future ourselves, what does our narrative tell us about ourselves? Can looking at an archaeological site reveal important aspects of our humanity, and the anticipation, anxiety, expectation or hope for the future? Is it possible to reverse-engineer the ways people in our distant past thought about their own future, which we now know as they could not?


Dr. Rob Swigart  (United States)
Research Affiliate
Technology Horizons
Institute for the Future

Rob Swigart is a research affiliate at the Institute for the Future (IFTF),where he is co-author with Robert Johansen of the book, Upsizing the Individual in the Downsized Organization (Addison-Wesley, 1994), now in its second printing. Rob's current fiction project involves a simulation of the collapse of classic Mayan civilization on the Internet. Rob is also a pilot, a musician, a filmmaker, and an Aikido second degree black belt. He holds a B.A. from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Future
  • Narrative

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)