Introduction: the sources of archaeological theory.
This volume is an attempt to name and explore various schools of current thought (post 1950) as against the eras in which they were produced and the issues and problems that shaped these schools. Most of the papers in the volume derive from a symposium of the Theoretical Archaeology Group in December, 1988, Sheffield University (2). Post -processual archaeologists are desperate for a theory to call their own, and wishing to repudiate material culture as the primum mobile, choose behavioral explanations for culture, often choosing to reference biologists and anthropologists in unlinked unorganized ways. Furthermore the influence of political agendas in developed and developing nations is of concern to many practicing archaeologists. This volume is an attempt to get a grip on these problems. "We shall consider what sorts of theoretical contexts are appropriate for the explanation of archaeological problems -- as well as which theoretical claims are specious."
The Social Context of Archaeological Theory
Limits to a post-processual archaeology (or, The dangers of a
Philip L. Kohl
Kohl argues that the critical examination of post-processual archaeology
uncovers just what a critical examination of processual archaeology would
uncover: an academic system which rewards those who repudiate past
work, and a blinker-minded approach to the problems that a site poses,
or could pose. Imagination and alternative approaches are to be valued,
while tests of adequacy and truth are to be maintained.
"As archaeologists, we should not seek to be Jean M. Auel." (15)
A proliferation of new archaeologies: "Beyond objectivisim
Wylie glosses two opposing trends in archaeological philosophy -- a contextual approach that argues no data can be understood outside of social context; and a counter-approach that argues no social context can be known except through data. A "crisis of representation" is affecting archaeology and other fields; solutions to this crisis lie in philosophical Elysium, a land beyond objectivism and subjectivism. As I understand it, Wylie proposes a combination of Geertz and Bernstein, with an emphasis on a kind of 4-D bi-directional mental horizontal and vertical tacking from experience-near (emic) to experience-distant (etic) concepts in both the subject and observer. (example) 1) We form a set of explanatory etic concepts. We use our etic concepts to explore a culture's ideas and beliefs 3) We measure our subject's etic explanatory concepts against our own. Finally, quoting Shanks and Tilley, (in turn of phrase sure to provide for much future amusement), Wylie offers the notion of "facts" as "a network of resistances" (25)
Ambition, deference, discrepancy, consumption: the intellectual background to post-processual archaeology. Christopher Chippendale
Chippendale groups his remarks on processual and post-processual archaeology
into four categories (see above). The importance of the story it
proposes to tell, when compared with the paucity of evidence it has to
support that story, makes archaeology, and archaeologists, particularly
ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. Chippendale cites the band-tribe-chiefdom-state
trajectory imposed upon Britain, and casts doubts upon the evidence for
a chiefly Iron Age. He notes the deference that different schools
of archaeologists pay to other disciplines, particularly psychology, biology,
anthropology and linguistic philosophy (Derrida) variants of "historical
--Chippendale himself defers to Anthony Giddens--and suggests rather that archaeologists "apply material knowledge to the modern material world"(31). He finds discrepancies between the scholarly obligation to criticize and create and the post-processual impulse to deconstruct without constructing. Finally, he develops the fate of Braudelian-branded Annales school: too weighty to be easily consumed, the works were "picked up, played with, dropped."(34)
Archaeological Theory from the Palaeolithic to the State
Ancestors and agendas
Gamble's subject is the colonization of the world in pre-history and his agenda is the "loosen[ing] of the hold of the anscestor over research in to human origins," (39) specifically, Western imperialist versions of prehistory. Three questions have dominated this research: 1) the unity or non-unity of the human species 2) its antiquity 3) its geographical origin. Previous version of pre-history started the first human species in a center and assumed dispersion with the oldest groups nearest the chosen center. Egypt, Mesopotamia, Pakistan and Africa have followed in succession; an alternative but similar story assumes a trajectory which all people groups will follow, the industrial centers being the youngest regions and the pastoral periphery being the oldest regions. A cyclical view, with evolution continuously occurring at the edges, and fossils as markers, not dates, has also been advanced. Gamble suggests that humans pioneered new territory, instead of simply drifting into it. He also suggests that the origins are, of necessity, dictated by ideas about expected complexities and rates of change -- precisely what cannot be proved by the record without a pre-conceived framework to use. Gamble argues for a purposeful pattered punctuated global colonization and for only 2 questions: "why were humans everywhere in pre-history? What is the purpose of a world pre-history?" (49)
After social evolution: a new archaeological agenda
Shennan holds a brief for approaches that emphasize "the patterns on inequality, power differentials, and situations of domination and resistance [that] arise in all societies, including those conventionally regarded as egalitarian. (53) He repudiates the social evolutionary approach as relativistic, unwilling to engage with models, and its tautological insistence on explaining social actions with other social actions. He argues for a recounting of specific social practice, not "generalized social institutions." (58) Reportage fails when pre-existing and unsubstantiated starting assumptions (particularly tribe-chiefdom trajectory) bias the presentation of the data. Although reporting must be carried out across time, he recommends a focus on individual practices, rather than roles, a place in which archaeology stands on "firmer" ground. Social actors, conditions, and consequences are the necessary ingredients for an analysis of practice. Is there anything like a general "motive" for the individual actor? Shennan proposes cost -benefit analysis at the micro-individual level and game theory to govern larger group actions. Game theory suggests that imperfect information and delays in response time mean that "rationality" will probably not dominate practice. "Rituals" (regular practice) which govern the use of material objects are taught generation to generation, and it is the surface, not the mental model, which matters to the recipients.
Too many chiefs? (or, Safe texts for the '90s)
Yoffee cites three articles arguing for and definitely against the evolutionary model of chiefdom (bands, tribes, chiefdoms, states) and himself claims that "[a] new archaeological theory must be designed to explain social evolutionary change in the late prehistoric and early historic states and civilizations and it must be 'contextually appropriate' by linking archaeological problems to archaeological data available for their investigation." (61) Yoffee keys in on chiefdom to typify the problems with the neoevolutionary model. First, of course, a definition of chiefdom must be realized -- typically such definition included pyramidal ramages, a limitation of political power, a slightly larger religious authority, and a definite role in the redistribution of goods. The chief's role as a redistributor has been challenged by anthropological and archaeological data; likewise kinship networks have been discounted. How, then, can a chief no economic or social "back-up" be a locus for political power? Using the Mesopotamian structure as an example Yoffee argues that multiple power bases co-existed and do co-exist in states. He offers four defining attributes of the state: 1) socioeconomic and government roles that are not kinship based (neither fictive nor real), 2) the basis of relationship between the governed and the governing group is not ascription. 3) Rules are enforceable and 4) the structure is not ephemeral (68). States are formed a bit like stalagmites: officials gather up a "cumulative accretion of power.” (68) Mercantile activity in a state is horizontally specialized and includes long-distance trade. Social power in a state includes symbols and a group of people to tend and interpret them. These three areas co-exist and co-evolve. New theories do not rest on a typology of evolution, and so they are better able to accommodate archaeological data that might not fit a pattern. Likewise, the theory does not predict that all groups must pass from one stage to another in an orderly progression; rather, they might never reach a particular "rung," and they may morph from one state to another and back again. An important rule for Yoffee is that no ethnic group can offer a model for any other group, because each is on its own unique trajectory. In my estimation this argument would make comparisons difficult, but it does definitively offer each group the chance for its own history.
Case Studies in Archaeological Theory and Practice
When is a symbol archaeologically meaningful: Meaning, function
and prehistoric visual arts
Kelly Ann Hays
Hays uses the American southwest ceramic culture to discuss appropriate
theory for symbolic systems. Symbols can be studied as chronological
markers and as cultural identification markers. They can also be
approached as functions: naming and understanding the function of
the symbol, the encoded information within the symbol.
Hays suggests that "investment in visual communication systems can be seen to change over time, and to differ among societies. A search for patterns in stylistic behavior and use of the comparative method to understand such patterns in economic, social and ideological contexts (rather than their total symbolic contexts) is a potentially fascinating process." (82) Using a site in the 6 and 5th millenia of the Hungarian Plain, the Pueblo IV period of the Southwest, and the 7-6th millenium in Anatolia, Hays suggest the following ideas. First, sSymbols are used more heavily when populations rise, and there is more pressure on resources. Those who have rights must be so marked. Second, symbols also proliferate when exchange thrives. Differentiation makes goods unique and more valued. Third, symbols and rituals may represent a society trying to patch itself up, handling stresses with more elaborate ceremonies, and delineating chiefs by their ability to manipulate symbols. Artistic activities may have been an attempt to stabilize and brand a managerial elite. Symbols will not necessarily mean the same things from one society to the next, so detailed comparisons should be made, and generalizations drawn carefully.
Re-fitting the "cracked and broken facade:" The case for
empiricism in post-processual ethnoarchaeology
Miriam T. Stark
Stark evaluates the strengths and limitations of ethnoarchaeological research in studies done by the processual and post-processual school. Stark agrees with studies done by Kelly, Todd and Schrire that no direct analogies exist between contemporary cultures and pre-historic cultures; methodologically speaking, then, ethnology is eliminated as a reliable source of information about the past. Stark uses Longacre's definition of ethnoarchaeology: "the testing of models relating variability of human behavior to material traces among extant groups, where the investigator can simultaneously control for both human behavior and material culture variablility. (94) Ethnoarchaeology's purpose is not to explain, but rather to provide descriptions and to form hypotheses about low-level theories: to find systematic relationships, or practices and processes (using materials), that account for patterns in the archaeological record. Stark argues that post-processualists are as much in need of generalizing principles (assumptions about the relationships between objects and practices) as processualists are. For instance, the argument that material objects are "irreducably polysemous with an indeterminate range of meanings" (96) isn't much of a theory, and it doesn't permit any kind of cross-cultural comparisons, but it does place upon the archaeologists the requirement to do a good thick description. Unfortunately, according to post-processualists, archaeologists are hopelessly blinkered by their own cultures, and the results of their work are consequently reflective only, or culturally narcissistic -- but then, the cultures under study producing the artifacts in questions are also incapable of understanding the implied emic meanings of their own production. Stark suggests that this line of thinking is a dead-end. There is a recoverable past; research strategies must be systematic and testable and researchers accountable for describing their working methods and study contexts.
Communication and the importance of disciplinary communities:
who owns the past?
Murray identifies two questions of importance: first, can a relativist account of archaeology be sustained; and second, can contemporary archaeology make a significant contribution to human self-perception? Certainly well-financed versions of the past have served present hegemonies; so likewise claims of original descent shore up and serve present identities and purposes. Murray offers the Australian Aboriginal case: community members see themselves as stewards of a living and unbroken heritage of culture, believing likewise that they should have a say over the disposal of remains and the use of lands. In any locale where more than one group has a present and positive interest in the definition of the past , Murray believes that negotiations and accommodations make the most sense, and are -- as ideas are tested and communication flows between groups -- methodologically fruitful for archaeology as a whole.
The relativity of theory
Since there are now so many practitioners of archaeology, and since there are so many hostile groups working side by side, can or should archaeological activities and theory be coordinated globally? Since England's Edward I (and in fact long before) developing nation-states have used archaeology to create legitimacy and a "natal springs" mythology. From the Enlightenment onward, sources of inspiration and theory were found by turns in art history, ethnology and positivist science. At the end of World War II, new techniques such as aerial photography and new organizations of power, such as universities, allowed archaeology to burgeon. Archaeological study has an unblinking focus on material records of practice, but it differs greatly from setting to setting, and is of necessity informed by theories from many other fields,. Sherrat is no proponent of "laws of nature" but he feels archaeology is well-suited to speak to the "microstructures of daily life" (128) as well as construct long historical narratives.
Archaeology: the loss of nerve.
The field of archaeology is polarized between scientific positivism
(processualists) and fervent introspection (post-processualists) (132)
and both groups are afraid to engage with each other or in forming
any Middle-Range theory. Bradley argues that space for creative thinking,
the ground of all new work, requires a little bit of give and take, space
for thinking and linking patterns and processes together.