Monday, 29 October 2018

Theoreticians of Archaeology, Your Thoughts?

Not all excavation, either
A while ago, I did a public lecture where I tried to put forward my ideas on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record. It began with my take on what the difference is between archaeology and collecting. This was to show why I think there are grounds for considering that walking across a 'productive' site, pocketing a few odd metal objects that take a collectors's fancy, and making note of where they were hoiked from, as any form of 'archaeology', 'citizen' or not. In this case, since it was the beginning, I decided not to get bogged down in complications and counted on somebody picking up the obvious verbal laziness in the questions. They did not and this definition went unchallenged:
'Archaeology is the study of material culture of the past using archaeological methodology'
Obviously 'archaeological methodology' is not equivalent to 'hoiking with a metal detector'. I was hoping that in question time, we might get on to when using a metal detector in archaeological research is archaeology and when it is not - but that never came up.

It was mostly PAS staff who spoke up at the end and to my surprise instead of addressing what I actually talked about, they all came out with the same old tired arguments of yesteryear - and I think they were all surprised that I was easily able to answer those points (been thnking about it quite a while now, guys, heard all the simple arguments). I think they were expecting something else. There I was in a jacket and tie explaining in calm and rational terms what I see as what, and not ranting and insulting everyone in the room, which seems to have been (from what I gathered as I overheard them chatting before they knew what 'Barford' looks like and he was standing right next to them) what they'd come prepared to hear. I am sorry to have disappointed them. A blog is a blog and a public lecture is a public lecture.

Anyhow, the questions were more focussed on these areas (here, on a metal detecting site) about three levels lower than what I actually said, and the notes were not needed. I found these lecture notes over the weekend in some folders on metal detecting and thought I'd air them here and perhaps get some opinions. I had to make up my own as I was rather surprised to find (as I recall) that no English literature that I had access to at the time actually had a definition I could use (please if you know one I missed, let me know). Polish archaeology, which is where I am based, has since the 1950s (and there is a story there) been very much engaged in discussing what 'archaeological sources' are, and how they are used, to a degree that the British archaeologist rarely ever has done, and it is my fortumne or perhaps misfortune  (a lot of big words used)  to become engaged in these discussions here, in Polish. Here's what I came up with:

Archaeological methodology - a diverse body of methods and theory intended to reveal, document and analyse spatial patterning of material correlates of human behaviour and their physical contexts of deposition and discovery, through which a disciplined attempt is made to use the material evidence from the investigated area as the basis for the interpretation of the sequences and contexts of past events and processes in their social and cultural contexts. 
I make no claims that this is ideal (that's why I put it up here for discussion), it does not really apply to standing buildings or aerial photo interpretation for example. 'Material correlates of human behaviour' (idea taken from some of the the Polish literature, though there it could be derivative) is of course here just not the La Tene brooch in a polybag, but the black gunk lens halfway down the fill of a pit that contained it - the pit and its layered filling and anything else they contain are also those correlates. In the same way the patterned scatter of artefacts across a field (and landscape) are also expressions of the spatial patterning of those correlates.

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