Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Archaeology: Global in Practice

From understanding not just the post-colonial critique in archaeology itself, but the reasons for which it has developed, a rightful place for archaeology starts to appear. This course has offered several resistances to the archaeological endeavor insofar as questioning the impetuses and practices behind it. What seems to remain is still, as ever, a strong need to reformulate the conception of archaeology. The main question that has continued to repossess this study, or perhaps just my perception of it, is the matter of "for what" and "for why."

This analysis has come to show that beyond the political realm in which an answer might be particularly essential, the answer of: "to learn more about the past" in any given manifestation of the past, is not sufficient. A desire to learn more about the past is not an apolitical, neutral pursuit. Rather, it has come to be one that is laden with controversy and contempt.  However, this is not for no reason. An accepted, objective view of the past is inherently subjective. The questions of for what and for why have come to be restructured in terms of why is it relevant to the present; why should I care?

This notion of pursuing a global archaeology has relentlessly encountered the impasse of history gendered by historiography. In this way, a global archaeology has become an 'archaeography' in which the focus is how archaeology has been pursued around the world. We have witnessed how prevalent this concern is in contemporary political affairs. Likewise, in the pursuit of world archaeology we have come to see how archaeology seemingly functions as a way of knowing, an epistemology, more than anything else. 

Thus, we return to the first consideration with Said. The result of encountering the other, describing and understanding, tells more of the self than any other by answering the question, "why should I care?" What results is a view of archaeology in which the archaeological endeavor under the Nazi's is not an exception to how archaeology is potent in our world, but an instantiation of the rule. Archaeology as a disciplinary pursuit is political. When considered as a mode of perception and knowledge-definition, or an epistemology, archaeology is inherently relevant and ought to be exploited as such. As Mrozowski and Wurst demand: "...the issue is not whether or not archaeology is or can be socially relevant, but how archaeologists can use their ‘craft’ to further the goals of an activist agenda" (2014; 215).

Prehistoric Archaeology of the Future

In “Toward an Archaeology of the Future” (2014) and “Imagining an Archaeology of the Future: Capitalism and Colonialism Past and Present” (2014), Wurst and Mrozowski and Mrozowski respectively attempt to delineate a new theoretical framework for archaeology. They emphasize the importance of commencing analyses in the present day, looking both back to “better understan[d] the past as precondition” and forward to “imagin[e] how archaeology might be able to influence the future” (Wurst and Mrozowski 2014: 341). Initially, the first part of this approach, the looking back, seemed to suffer from the same lens as linear evolutionary theories, as though all development has been teleological, leading up to modern day. I do think, however, that the authors do a successful job distinguishing themselves from this outlook, emphasizing instead that while certain preconditions in the past did make the present possible, they could just as likely have led to an infinite number of ‘alternate presents’ that never materialized. In other words, they remove the simple, problematic cause: effect relationship that we still see so often in archaeological literature (e.g. population growth: agriculture, surplus: craft specialization).

I found this conceptual structure interesting and productive, as it not only explicitly distances itself from teleological thinking, but it actively incorporates the present into archaeological research. Because the past is constantly being constructed by those in the present, it is always changing in response to current problems, questions and ideologies. Wurst and Mrozowski (2014) and Mrozowski (2014) attempt to incorporate this relationship into archaeology not just as an aside that must be acknowledged, but as a productive starting point that can help shape research inquiries. Rather than simply splicing in a qualifying statement about the subjectivity of the past, archaeological literature should integrate the present and the future throughout. For example, they focus on both capitalism and colonialism as two present-day ideologies that can be explored archaeologically.

My primary problem with these papers, however, is that they completely ignore prehistoric archaeology. Both of the authors are historical archaeologists, and therefore it seems as though in some instances they are attempting to justify their own subdiscipline. I agree that historical archaeology is one lens through which this dialectical relationship between past, present and future can be explored, but “prehistory” (for lack of a better term) is just as legitimate. Wurst and Mrozowski (2014) write that “…the sites we excavate are comprised of spaces that are boundless” (219), which I interpret as both spatially and temporally without beginning or endpoints. Therefore, even in a conversation concerning modern European concepts such as capitalism and colonialism, it is equally as valid to explore prehistoric and more proximal preconditions. Rather than only looking back to the beginnings of capitalism and industrialization, one could examine, for example, the congealed labor within the blocks of Giza’s pyramids. The authors emphasize the importance of multiscalar analyses in spatial and network terms, from object to trade networks, and from individual to society. However, I think it is also vital to incorporate multiple timescales into this archaeology of the future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Danger of the Sublime

Leone (2009) writes, “We cannot assume that a sublime object exists. A sublime object is our state, scientific truth apart from politics, or our museums, for example” (162). I agree with the author insofar as objects do not and cannot stand alone. Rather, they are necessarily inscribed with and embed social relationships, often hierarchical ones that privilege one group or individual over another. In the case of historical archaeology, which in contrast to classical archaeology, was initially a product of archaeologists in European colonies (particularly the United States) rather than Europe itself. Therefore, from its inception historical archaeology has sought to enfranchise those who are traditionally disenfranchised, those who have not profited (monetarily or otherwise) from European capitalism. Through examination of the archaeological record, one can call into question traditional histories, which privilege the written word and by extension those in power who have largely created it.

            As Leone discusses through the lens of Castañeda’s work, archaeological sites, as reconstructions of a past for tourist consumption, are seen as sublime and are therefore colonial in of themselves. The example given by Castañeda is Chichén Itzá, the prominent Maya site in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. By emphasizing this particular created past, the Classic Maya, those responsible for heritage inherently force the people currently inhabiting that region to relate themselves to that history. In this way, modern Maya peoples have historically been seen by anthropologists as, in Castañeda’s terms, having “zero degree culture” (163). That is, because they are no longer constructing the monumental stone temples or writing in the glyphic languages that are valorized by the Western world, they have somehow regressed. Cultural heritage is, therefore, challenging because by definition, it aims to preserve the past. In order to do so, however, it is necessary to choose which particular past should be preserved. This selection process often occurs within colonial frameworks, resulting in the construction of narratives that culminate in the zenith that is Western civilization (e.g. Greece) or those that run in direct opposition to it and are curiosities due to their representations of the Other (e.g. the Maya).

            Because of the materiality of archaeological evidence, there is a tendency to imbue artifacts and even entire sites with a supernatural, sublime quality. If not problematized, this capacity can easily promote a colonial agenda. As archaeologists, we therefore must work in tandem with cultural resource managers to situate these objects within postcolonial narratives, making room for, as Leone emphasizes, emotional responses to the marginalization embedded within them.


In the article "Making Historical Archaeology Postcolonial," Mark Leone discusses a way in which historical archaeology may be useful as a means to combat colonial rhetorics and establish new knowledge for dealing with identity and the cultural self. First to discuss postcolonial, let's first consider what even is colonialism? As discussed in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another." So presumably, if we are to discuss any archaeology as postcolonial, we are assuming an archaeological practice void of one entity subjugated to another. Is this possible? Leone seems to believe so.

He positions historical archaeology as a discipline of remembrance:
"No one thinks the forgotten are forgotten by clerical error. They are forgotten because they were said to be dangerous, inconvenient, numerous, aggressive, controlled land or resources that others wanted, or were the laborers whom others sought. One basis for historical archaeology is the correction of injustice and behind that is the anger that such an injustice has existed and continues."
This notion is problematic because it assumes that the historical archaeology merely remembers, rather than likewise forgetting him/herself. The choice of studying a particular entity by another, is that any different than a colonial mindset? Can the act of studying another be a-colonial? For example, he purposes historical archaeology as an occurrence of "giving voice to the voiceless." However, is this any different than Said's problematization of Orientalism as an effort by one body controlling the rhetoric of another? Yes, the archaeologist may be sympathetic to that external entity, but nonetheless by 'giving voice' to it, it seems a precarious notion to consider one as postcolonial when doing so. 

Archaeology is rather a means of acknowledging and coming to terms with a past, but the issue at hand is which one? The exploitation of the past by archaeologists is a purely capitalizing effort to relate the present to it, thusly reconfiguring the past in present terms. The past is a commodity: 
"Because it is essential that people feel and rationally articulate the tie between who they are and exactly why they are here now, in the condition they find themselves touched by, people seek constant exposure to legitimizing, textured, figured, and refigured pasts."
People use pasts. The past is subjugated by present actions, considerations, regards, and selective remembering and forgetting. It is paradoxical to then assume the act of remembering as postcolonial, or reconfiguring the past to reveal what was otherwise left forgotten. To place the discipline in such terms is just as much a colonizing effort as it was before archaeology became postcolonial. Leone concludes: 
"...self-knowledge can be raised to a level of consciousness by exhibiting material culture in organized settings, which may help produce meanings not hitherto available to those who could use them, both ourselves and others."
But can we ever know the self, especially when that 'self' is not an individual person, but a collection of people. There will always be a selective act of inclusion when describing the selfness of a culture, nationality, any group of people more than one. Perhaps if archaeology were to be truly postcolonial, one would have to acknowledge that any examination under the discipline of Archaeology is inherently an act of colonization. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cause and Effect in Archaeology

Paula Sabloff's book “Conversations with Lew Binford,” which consists of various interviews with the esteemed archaeologist at the end of his career, commences with Binford’s critique of culture-historical methodology. He writes: 
“You just fit your observations to your conventions. Then you put them together. Your conventions literally gave conventional meaning to what you saw. And that was something that I was not willing to work with right from the very beginning” (1998: 6).
In this context, he is specifically problematizing the ways in which Classificatory-Descriptive archaeologists have traditionally identified migration versus diffusion.

            Binford’s own method of processual archaeology, however, does not escape this paradigm. His conventions may be based on ethnographic and experimental analogies, but he succumbs to the same types of circular reasoning as his predecessors. He writes: 
“…the old archaeology said they knew what it all meant. There was a series of conventions that when you see this, it means that, and most any of those conventions could be knocked down. This is what we did in the early ‘60s: show you that there are three or four different ways that you could get the same patterning” (1998: 19). 
While introducing greater variability into interpretation was an important step for archaeological theory, I agree with Tilley’s stipulation that Hodder’s work rather than Binford’s was responsible for a paradigm shift in the discipline (1989). Processualism simply expands a 1:1 cause:effect ratio rather than eliminating it altogether.

            For example, Binford focused a great deal on mortuary practice, arguing that complexity of mortuary practice correlated positively with complexity of the society. First of all, the entire premise upon which this thesis is founded inherently imposes a linear trajectory of the kind imposed by Lewis Henry Morgan. The term “complexity,” as it relates to archaeology, suggests that a diverse material culture can be used as a proxy for a diverse society, with implications that such a society is inherently superior to one that is “less complex.” This diversity in society is generally characterized by an extensive division of labor and large population, both of which tend to result in increasing technological advances and entrenched social hierarchies. I would argue, however, that in actuality these surface types of diversity cannot account for the diversity in mindsets and ideas: in other words, those immaterial categories at the top of the ladder of inference. The notion that the archaeological record can be used to theorize about ideology can be attributed to post-processualism.

            Even if “complexity” is accepted as a viable barometer, there is still the problem of assuming that some societal “cause” produced the material culture “effects.” Shanks and Tilley’s book chapter “Ideology, Symbolic Power and Ritual Communication: A Reinterpretation of Neolithic Mortuary Practices,” within Hodder’s 1982 volume Symbolic and Structural Archaeology, can provide one post-processual point of view to problematize this supposition. They examine communal burials in barrows, which would traditionally have been construed as evidence of a non-hierarchical, not complex society. The authors instead argue, however, “Mortuary practices do not just reflect, they also invert and misrepresent” (1982: 152). Therefore, the act of burying the dead en masse could be seen as one of denying an existent stratification in socioeconomic relations. This abandonment of Binford’s convention that mortuary practice is a reification of these relations, which is reflected in the archaeological record, is one example of the real paradigm shift in archaeological theory.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

We Are the Neanderthal

Oscar Wilde once said, "Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power." This mantra is perfectly upheld in the way in which research on neanderthals permeates the public sphere. Much news of early Homo sapiens remains from Israel has been triggered on the notion that it could have been among the first anatomically modern humans to have sex with neanderthals. This fascination with interbreeding comes out of the precariousness of a competitor to modern humans, commonly viewed as the teleological end point to evolution. Any threat to that clean viewpoint has difficulty gaining acceptance. It is for this reason that neanderthals have for so long and continue to endure the cave man brute stereotype.

If it was not the humans who engaged in a bloody war to defeat the neanderthals to gain their rightful place as rulers of this domain, then what happened? This is the question that surrounds much publicity of middle paleolithic archaeology. Dying out quietly for a species is not exciting however, but sex is. Thus, there is relatively extensive media coverage of that encounter. It is an implicit desire by contemporary society to still see the human species on top (no pun intended). In accordance with the statement of Wilde, inter-species sex is about power. The encounter between a neanderthal and human may have been peaceful, but nevertheless, a modern human, rather than a neanderthal was born from it.

There is also an academic and public rhetoric that is uncomfortable with seeing anything other than humans having agency and cognition. For much of human history how humans have distinguished themselves: agents and actors with high-level cognition. Everything else is secondary and the other. But evidence problematizing this notion is difficult to reckon with because it gives way to the much feared identity crisis of humankind.

The resulting conservative treatment of hominids in the Middle Paleolithic is one akin to the socially conservative rhetoric observed in America, and the perversity of sexuality. However, this mindset crucially dictates the mindset with which we deal with the study of these early hominids, or 'photo-humans.' It becomes a perverse discourse in the media realm whereby readership is secured through the alluring taboo of the sexual encounter. This defines the rhetoric and regard to which the subject is considered by the public. This narrative captures the erotic imagination and succeeds as a public image: the fair-skinned maiden encountering the chiseled, dark, hairy beast of a neanderthal. Thus, neanderthals are kept in their brutish quarters by the means with which we described them. Perhaps this is a purely a narrative that plays to our sexual imaginations. Or maybe it is an instantiation of fulfilling humanity's desire to tame the beast. Through sexual encounters, humans tamed the brutish race, overcoming them and displacing them, giving way for the eventual and destined rise of humanity. Regardless, through this narrative, the neanderthal remains the other, even if in fact we are the neanderthal.

Where the sun never sets...

Why can't there just be a disinterested interest in a place or time? The foundations of archaeology fall within the particular endeavor to pursue the origins of Western civilization, the zenith of mankind, whether it be from man the hunter to land of King David, or anytime or place in between, there is concurrently this interplay between the burgeoning field of archaeology from the 19th century and the  socio-cultural politics surrounding this condition. In the particular situation of archaeology in the 'Holy Land,' there is a concentrated effort based on the implicit interests pursued through excavation to further the presence of Western, Christian, Anglo-Saxon merits via tracing its origins.

Much of the earliest excavations took place under these conditions, whether it be in Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, etc. As Margarita Díaz-Andreu points out in A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past, the archaeological excursions in these regions were due to their links to the Bible and relation to the development of Western civilization. Ironically, in the strand of thought introduced by Edward Said, it appears that early archaeologists pursued the study of the other as an implicit study of us, i.e. the 'West.' To see what one is, one must see what he/she is not. Likewise, in the way of thinking that the West is at the pinnacle of humanity, seeking out the other, in the case of the biblical lands, is a means to seek our origins, albeit a teleological one. Origins imply a privileged outcome. Furthermore, a fascination and characterization with the other, is a form of exoticism that is more reflexive on the one who is defining that other. This mentality foregrounds the entire development of archaeology in the biblical archaeological narrative that Díaz-Andreu describes. For Egypt, it was the land of the other that was a predecessor to Rome, a main stepping stone of Western accolades: "...the attraction exerted by the Pharaohs' land was principally connected to its ties with the classical world--mainly the move of obelisks to Rome in the early centuries of the era--, the presence of spectacular remains like the pyramids and the romanticism of its association with the exotic" (137). It was to seek out those relations of Romans and Egyptians that inspired early archaeologists, as it was to pursue the biblical narrative elsewhere.

This plays out throughout the early archaeology of the region. Through exoticism as a means to preference the self and defining the rhetoric of archaeology in the holy land, archaeology developed as an extremely imperialist endeavor. These efforts, although in some way moved beyond by much of the archaeological community, has endeavored through political influence. Western perceived origins within the land was used to define political boundaries, and has continued to be prevalent in the national subconsciouses and the archaeology pursued under such mentalities.

Free trip to Bible Land!

Why do archaeology in Jerusalem? There are plenty of opportunities for tourism. It's the holy city, land of the Bible. David stepped there, Jesus here, Mohammed over there.

The difficulty with archaeology in the region of Palestine is that there are far too many biases as far as interests guided by explicitly biblical proofs. The dilemma of archaeology by such means is that it is pointed toward the releasing the burden of soil on top of sites that can be claimed as having a historical or biblical significance. But such endeavors do not enhance the understanding of humanity as a hole. It is teleological, inherently tied to political agendas of the contentious region by grounding stakes to the land through precedence that is sought to be proven archaeologically. As Ann Killebrew admits, "Whether we like it or not, archaeology of the twenty-first century through necessity (economically, ideologically, and intellectually) will be a more 'public' archaeology wherein we will need to confront all aspects related to the archaeological endeavor and its interface with many publics" (138).  Perhaps more so than most, archaeology within the region must contend with the varying and pressing interests of this land, and the pressures of developing an archaeology that is explicitly political.

It is for this reason that Raphael Greenberg insists the prevalence of local peoples in archaeology of the region. In such a way, there may be an attempt to save the archaeological integrity of the region for intellectual pursuits rather than those aimed at a political instantiation. The trouble with archaeology in Jerusalem is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all hold a stake in the area. If archaeological pursuits were to be interested as a religious pursuit, as it has so inherently been in the past, then the myriad of other contexts are ignored and destroyed in the destructive process of archaeological excavation. Thus, Greenberg presents a list of considerations for archaeologists, akin to an ethical code of conduct for archaeologists, in order to devoid themselves of as much political bias as possible. Of course, such a desire is quite idealistic, though nevertheless imperative to be aware of in a self-reflexive archaeology that may have some intellectual poignancy instead of archaeology being a political handmaiden for the region.

The object of archaeology?

What does an archaeologist do? What, exactly, is it that one studies? More poignantly, why do we care? This is seemingly at the core of a self-reflective archaeology as alluded to by Ian Hodder in "Archaeological Theory in Contemporary European Societies; the Emergence of Competing Traditions" and Ann Brower Stahl's "Introduction: Changing Perspectives on Africa's Past."

Importantly, Hodder concludes that there is a certain level of objectivity whereby our understanding of the past in the present time is informed by the remains from the past: "...the experience of the archaeological data and the patterning observed in the past do more than resist our ideas; they help create them" (22). However, is this a satisfying response to his previous statement that "The past is undeniably social, as is the practice of archaeology" (20)? He seems to claim that there is indeed some middle ground between the objective presence of material remains from a past existence and the socially-affected discipline of archaeology. However, with considerations such as "...the history of theories used in archaeology cannot be separated from the concrete conditions of practical research or from the social functions of archaeology in society" (21), how in fact can this objective-subjective dichotomy be mediated? Hodder claims that "The continuities we claim with the past have in part been created by that past. Archaeological science involves a dialectical relationship between past and present. The hermeneutic circle is not a vicious one" (22). This seems to be a logical fallacy, however, if the continuities we claim to have with a given past are in fact up to an interpretation of that past. Where does the science come into archaeology? How is that dialectic any different than the discourse that Said discusses on the matter of Orientalism?

If the object of archaeology is a past that is uncovered and interpreted in the present, is not any continuity drawn between this present and that past merely a structure of rhetoric and interpretation? The process that Hodder seems to rectify as in some way objective is anything but. It is a reflexive discourse, as is Said's Orientalism. We are the present, they are the past. We observe and study them through our lens. As the speakers for the past, we describe it and analyze it. Where, exactly does the data come in? How is this any different than an Orientalist discourse?

To be fair to Hodder, he does acknowledge this to an extent by inscribing: "The attempt to embed material events within the whole framework of meaning in which they were once situated clearly involves the analyst in a double hermeneutic in which 'their' and 'our' understandings are gradually accommodated in a moving double circle. This process of double reading has to be critically aware" (18). Is this not a method of navigating the vicious hermeneutic circle that Hodder eventually rejects? Poignantly, the process of archaeology is, indeed, a moving, reflexive discourse. It seems that there is no mere moment of archaeological objectiveness, but more so an ongoing, reflexive, discursive, hermeneutic enterprise. Is this not the history that Hodder so sensitively describes of his account of European archaeology?

So, this does not give an answer to any question asked originally as to what and why archaeologists study. There is seemingly no object of archaeology. The only objective to be found here is that it is a discourse among as many interpreted evidences as possible, characterized as 'data,' and with that to define, redefine, and question a past that is interpreted in the present. Likewise, these are the sorts of systematic problems that Stahl faces in prefacing an account of African archaeology. She considers knowledge to be always interested; i.e., the object of an analysis is determined "... by the social, political, and economic contexts..." of the subject (2). The conclusions drawn from such analyses are presented as universal, objective conditions, or 'knowledge,' but really "...the universal emerges NOT from widely documented shared features, as we might at first imagine, but rather from the elevation of a shared instance or example to stand for the universal" (6).

As for a capacity for archaeologists to do some study of worth, as heretofore they have been perhaps unfairly treated in this reflection, they consider sources--or perhaps objects--of a past, some of which are privileged over others. The direct sources are those privileged over indirect ones, having been produced in the temporal realm of concern. These data points that Hodder perhaps designates too much of an objectivity for, are by no means such. However, their presence and usage in an archaeological endeavor is not to be unsubstantiated, but reconsidered. To reckon with these qualms, Stahl wisely places such archaeological 'data' in its rightful place by claiming, "Archaeological sources...provide valuable independent evidence against which to assess models of the past." The insistence here is on her use of the term models. To bring this discussion to a more hopeful end with regards to the place and function of archaeology, if we are to study 'the past' as models of such rather than an objective sort, and the evidence from which as artifacts to be questioned, analyzed, and interpreted for or against certain models, than in fact archaeology can have an exuberant worth insofar as it acquires and exploits data while questioning it and the meaning thereof.

With this in mind, Stahl puts it far better than I could attempt to here, and will therefore end as she does. Her considerations are universal, however. For archaeology to succeed and have relevancy, it must be a subjective study of the subjective. As one would advise the insecure and miserable pubescent boy, accept and pride in who you are. For archaeology to reach the level of adulthood, it must accept what it is and what it is not. It is an anarchical endeavor, no right or wrong, this or that, us or them. Archaeology is, indeed, the study of everything. It is only different insofar of its perspective. Thus, perhaps archaeology is more suited as a frame of mind than a discipline unto itself. Anyway, rather than belabor this point, Stahl has some words to comfort us all in the throes of archaeological existential crises:

"Africa's pasts speak to us--conceived as an encompassing 'circle of we'--not for what they tell us about teleologically conceived universal progress, or quintessential difference and diversity conceived as a departure from an ever-present phantom standard of 'us-ness.' Rather they offer insight into our humanness; to the struggles of humans as social actors to feed and care for family, to express commonalities and differences, to impose or resist power and hegemony, in short, to make our way in a world of entangled and changing natural and cultural circumstances" (16).

Inscribing Ideology: Construction of the Levantine Landscape

            Alan R. H. Baker and Gideon Biger titled their 1992 co-edited volume Ideology and landscape in historical perspective, emphasizing the way in which landscape is culturally constructed. Humans do not just modify their environments for purely functional reasons; they often do so in an ideological manner, embedding their motivations and paradigms into the space they inhabit. It is this human tendency that makes landscape archaeology a valuable subdiscipline. Through analysis of the physical remnants of human impacts on landscapes, archaeologists can make interpretations concerning not simply which materials cultures historically utilized, but also concepts higher up on Hawkes’ ladder of inference: concepts that are more ideological. Social class divisions can be inscribed on the landscape through privatization and restriction of certain preferential locales, and religious beliefs are evidenced by, for example, the association of offerings with particular spatial attributes (cardinal directions, water features, elevated areas, etc).

            This use of geography to infer ideology is not restricted to prehistoric cultures, however, nor is it restricted to material remains uncovered during excavation. Ideology can just as easily, if not more so, be construed through analysis of historical records, particularly maps. There is a tendency to see the advent of cartography as the beginning of an objective view of space, as if with mapmaking humans were able to visualize the Earth’s “true” geography. Any map, though, inscribes the worldview of its maker, which is dangerous when this subjectivity goes unrecognized. For example, maps of the Levant continue to refer to archaeological sites by Biblical names assigned to them by European imperialists, often without historical or material evidence. Yet, because of the emphasis placed by Western thought on the written word, and because of the Eurocentric global power structure, these maps are preferenced over other narratives that may exist in the eyes of, for instance, Bedouin peoples who actually inhabit the area.

            It is important to consider the role that archaeology played, particularly in the 19th century, in imbuing Levantine landscapes with a Judeo-Christian ideology. In her book A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past, Margarita Diaz-Andreu discusses several instances of archaeologists who set out specifically to map Biblical sites. Some of these pioneering figures in the archaeology of Palestine in particular, including Eli Smith, lived in Missions and thus aimed to convert local peoples to the Christian faith. Therefore, archaeology provided one means to the end of illustrating the essential “truth” of Christianity. Even if conversion of others was not an explicit goal, the naming of sites based on nonspecific Biblical descriptions implies a preeminence of that time period in history, as though little of note occurred before or since. Diaz-Andreu includes this passage from one account of traveling in Mesopotamia, written by British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard in 1849:
With these names [Assyria, Babylonia and Chaldaea] are linked great nations and great cities dimly shadowed forth in history; mighty ruins in the midst of deserts…the remnants of the mighty races still roving over the land (135).
The terms “ruins” and “deserts” in particular connote uninhabited, desolate landscapes, even though the land was still occupied at the time of Layard’s travels, and the word “remnants” indicates a belief that any culture that does remain is but a lesser shadow of the region’s former majesty.

              It is obviously problematic to confer Biblical names on archaeological sites, as occupation of the region predates the advent of Judeo-Christian tradition by many millennia. Perhaps more problematic, however, is that these labels are still utilized on political maps to refer to current settlements. As a student of archaeology, it is on some level gratifying to see the extent to which archaeology is valued in the Levant, demonstrated by this constant referencing of land areas by the material remains that exist belowground. Yet, this act intrinsically denigrates the current inhabitants of these regions that do not subscribe to a Judeo-Christian ideology or to a Eurocentric concept of land ownership (e.g. nomadic Bedouin peoples). Like on the African continent, European powers were able to assume control of land partitioning due to military might. But because of the significance of the Levant within the Western religious tradition, imperialist ideology was supplemented by a Biblical one, and thus the names themselves, not just the initial act of naming, continue to elevate the imperialists and their supposed Biblical ancestors, denying others the agency and power to define themselves.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

As Myth Begets History, so History Begets Possession

Diaz-Andreu describes Biblical Archaeology as ”a unique case of informal imperialism…[in which] religious interest influenced archaeology in many ways: who was doing archaeology and who paid for it, in what was excavated and in how interpretations were received in the Western World” [165].  The rise of Biblical Archaeology in the 19th century was also a response to the paradigm shift in the science of origins that took place with the publication of Origin of the Species and Descent of Man, in 1859 and 1871, respectively.   Repeatedly, the mission statements of organizations like the Palestine Exploration Society refer to “defense of the Bible” [Shaw via Diaz-Andreu, 151] and in the words of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, the scope was “not Theology, but to Theology it will prove an important aid” [Moorey via Diaz-Andreu, 149).   

Diaz-Andreu enumerates the humanist intellectual currents that, like a war of attrition, had been undermining the primacy of the Bible, from the renewal of interest in ancient, non-Biblical, Greek philosophy to Luther and Rousseau.  The arrival of Darwin must have felt like a punch in the gut.  But all was not lost: the new science of Archaeology, with “a single blow of the excavator’s pick [ would shatter] the most ingenious conclusions of the Western critic…the stories of the Old Testament which we are now being told are but myths…will prove to be based on a solid foundation of truth’ [Sayce via Diaz-Andreu, 162].

Whitlam highlights how the problematic discovery of “deep time” by Lyell and Darwin had a devastating impact on Old Testament chronologies [Whitlam, 28].   Small wonder that there was a headlong rush to underpin Biblical narratives with physical associations, fighting Science with Science, as it were.    For 19th century Europeans, the Bible was the singular operating social-principle and Darwin’s work, among others, threatened to place it in the category of myth.   If the Bible could be confirmed as history, it would stand as counterpoint to this intolerable refashioning of human origins.

And history, as much as myth, is in the eye of the beholder.  Specific “historical memories” are selected, even unconsciously, according to the needs of a culture or sub-culture.  Invariably there are conflicting perceptions; narratives that pose as the final word, which in turn become embedded or imposed [Whitlam, 29-30].  In Palestine and Israel we see the result of a frantic response to shifting narratives: to gain purchase in a landscape before interpretation made alternatives possible; to turn parables into events.  By working their way back through the Old Testament, the Biblical Archaeologists might eventually arrive at Genesis and cast out the likes of Darwin, Lyell, Marx and Wallace from the Eden of historic certainty.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Interesting or Interested?

Ann Brower Stahl's discussion or African archaeology revolves around a central issue of why pursue archaeology in a particular region. There is a dominance of western research taking place in the African continent. Although Western researchers might portray themselves as merely having an innocent region in this place, Stahl presents an account of a more biased interest to further Western interests. Is archaeology conducted because it is simply interesting, or rather, is Western researchers produce a data set that is interested for a particular purpose?

This discussion revolves around the notion of epistemology. Considering Ian Hodder's discussions of the development of archaeology in Archaeological Theory in Europe, "As we have seen, European archaeology has long been dominated by ethnogenetic questions which required little theoretical discussions beyond the methodologies of culture-historical reconstruction" (9). Apparently, archaeology can be viewed as a rather teleological endeavor--not one in which there is a disinterested pursuit for increasing humanity's knowledge of its past, but a task of proving particular hypothesis for the substantiation of contemporary societal norms and standpoints. This is exactly why Stahl lingers on the question of "For whom is knowledge of Africa's pasts relevant?" (2). Archaeology as a process of gathering information is always theoretical insofar as the researcher has inherent biases of a contemporary standpoint.

Stemming from Edward Said's account of Orientalism as an us-and-them dialectic, Stahl similarly portrays African archaeology in a similar light. Archaeological research in Africa are inherently engaged in a similar rhetoric. In the search for 'us,' there might be an idea that excavating is a means to uncover our genetic 'Eve.' Beside this term in itself being an extraordinarily gendered one, there is implicitly always going to be strain of interest by way of using archaeological evidence to further a contemporary philosophic standpoint. Again, to quote Stahl, "...the universal emerges NOT from widely documented shared features, as we might at first imagine, but rather from the elevation of a specific instance or example to stand for the universal" (6). Perhaps this is at the core of archaeology's anxiety of being viewed as scientific, since science is incontestable, as is the Western mantra. If archaeology is viewed as scientific, then it too is incontestable, and thereby the results of the Western archaeological endeavor in Africa as portraying a teleology of humanity from savage to civilized is likewise incontestable. It is for this reason that Stahl insists on a self-conscious sort of archaeological research in one's biases are made explicit. If we can avoid an insistence on accuracy and make way for intellectual empathy, then perhaps archaeology can show itself as an apt field of its own, not as the little brother needlessly trying to live up to Science's example.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Ideology of Archaeological Theory and Practice

“Ideology,” while a prevalent term in archaeological literature, is difficult to define precisely. In the first chapter of Ideology: An Introduction, “What is Ideology,” Terry Eagleton enumerates a variety of definitions, some of which are more neutral and others that either imply or assert value judgments. For instance, ideology is to certain scholars “the process of production of meanings, signs and values in social life,” while to others it is “systematically distorted communication.” (1-2). The first description is fairly neutral, while the second has clearly pejorative connotations.

Like Foucault, I am reluctant to reject the Marxist notion of ideology as inherently distorted or false because it implies the existence of its opposite: a universal, absolute truth. However, I do not believe that “ideology” as a concept necessitates rejection altogether. Rather, I tend towards the first definition, which can reflect the formation and propagation of any belief system, dominant or marginal, as all are neither “true” nor “false.” Additionally, in my view, ideologies are not teleological; rather, they are relational and evolve, converge and diverge. As Said emphasized in his discussion of Orientalism, ideologies are formed through dialectical interactions between individuals within society. Therefore, individuals do have the capacity to influence ideologies and even contradict them. Acknowledgement of this individual agency makes the continued dominance of certain ideologies that much more impressive and allows us to consider the reasons why they were so well suited to a particular spatiotemporal arena.

In thinking about the concept of ideology and how I might define such a problematic (but also, I would argue, useful) term, I began to think about the ideologies of archaeology itself, both as a theoretical discipline and a practical, applied endeavor. This passage from the first chapter of Archaeological Theory in Europe: The Last Three Decades emphasizes the ideological nature of archaeology:
Each age, in each country, writes its own history and its own archaeology. As a result of these changes and differences, and as a result of the engrained social and political uses and misuses of archaeology in the European context, it is difficult to remain blind to the theoretical construction of archaeological objects, difficult not to see archaeologists transforming reality and difficult not to recognize artefacts as products rather than records (Hodder, 10).
The shift in archaeological theory and practice from antiquarianism to post (or even perhaps post-post) processualism can arguably be discussed as a change in the dominant ideologies of the archaeologist. As Hodder emphasizes, the pasts we construct as archaeologists change from year to year, decade to decade, and century to century not because of radical shifts in the material culture that is excavated but by changes in the belief systems of the discipline’s practitioners. Post-processualism acknowledges the influence of the individual archaeologist’s sociopolitical history in his/her scholarship. It is standard practice today to concede that objectivity is an impossible and therefore futile goal. However, it is important to realize that this shift is not an escape from ideology altogether but rather the emergence of a new dominant paradigm within archaeology.

This recognition of the pervasiveness of ideology as an integral component of society is important with regards to the practical, cultural heritage applications of archaeology in addition to the theoretical. For example, in the first chapter of Ann Stahl’s book African Archaeology: A Critical Introduction, she briefly problematizes UNESCO World Heritage sites. According to the organization’s website, “What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.” While this sentiment is seemingly positive, it imposes an ideology of global allegiance to an organization that is predominantly “Western” in philosophy, personnel and funding. It is trendy in the United States educational system to produce “global citizens,” but in countries that face constant socioeconomic and political instability (largely as the result of a Western colonialist history), prioritizing a national or even local agenda may be more advantageous. Of course, I am thrilled that because of these organizations, tracts of biodiverse ecosystems and historical sites have been preserved. However, it is important to recognize that the idea that one organization can lay claim to the entire globe is a fundamentally Western ideology stemming from an expansionist, colonialist history.

Therefore, not only is ideology still relevant as a theoretical concept in archaeology, it has practical implications for the preservation (and therefore construction) of the past.  

How do we look for answers?

“The same site also contained deposits that are more than twice as old as the skull, including 46,000-year-old ostrich eggshells that were used to make beads. The new finds could reveal insights about the shifts in human culture that took place starting when the ancestors of present-day humans left Africa, around 50,000 years ago. [See Images of Our Closest Human Ancestor]”     [article referencing: “Late Pleistocene age and archaeological context for the hominin calvaria”, from GvJm-22 (Lukenya Hill, Kenya]  (Tryon et al. 2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

The above passage appeared in a news report about new discoveries in hominid diversity at the Lukenya Hill site in Kenya.  While most mainstream reporting of science-related news tends to reduce serious research to inexact sound bites (in this case: “Stone Age Skull Reveals Astonishing Human Diversity”), I was struck by the reappearance of that old “out of Africa” chestnut that Lucy mentioned last week. This notion that  the ancestors of present-day humans left Africa, suggests that Africa is now depopulated of present-day humans.   Hopefully someone remembered to turn out the lights.

However, even within more theoretical circles, migration is associated with progress in a linear way.    As Stahl points out, the narrative of change within “the Project of World Prehistory” is typically one that ends, or at least arrives, in the Northern Hemisphere [Stahl, 5, 7].  Africa is a place that we have left behind and perceive of in a disassociated way:  it’s what we once were, but now only vaguely recognize.  There is a tendency to apply a standardized model to what can be observed-- or imagined:  looking for material culture that will fit a particular template so that we might determine what is actually culture. 

Hodder (at least in this essay) ties post-processualist Archaeology to a European framework, arguing for an expansion beyond data collection and more inclusive or multi-faceted discourses [Hodder, 6-7].   He begins by contrasting the nationalist underpinnings of earlier Archaeology, which tended to assign primacy of innovation to one group or another (frequently, and not coincidentally, a region or ethnicity associated with the archaeologist, himself).  By opening up culture-theory to encompass a range of broad human traits and social constructions, Hodder would refresh the dialogue concerning origins and their reverberations still present in the culture.

But with that dominant focus on Europe and its social “innovations” or landmarks, it strikes me that Africa is still filtered through a European or Western perspective. The search of comparable cultural landmarks in prehistory continues to place Africa in a European framework.   Stahl cites the search for the origins of innovation, at least as defined in a Euro-centric way  (metallurgy and trade, for example), as a sign that there remain limited models at work when evaluating culture [Stahl, 12-13).  To be fair, Hodder’s assessment is nearly 25 years old (if not more).  While more generous and dynamic than what preceded it, I’m not sure it provides an unencumbered system with which to look at Africa and prehistory.

Archaeology: A Study of Failed Systems or a Failed System?

Something that Professor Boyd mentioned in class on Tuesday has stuck with me and driven me to consider archaeology in a new light. I had heard that "archaeology is the study of failed systems" before, but it had not really sunk in for me until Tuesday's class. In the past at least, archaeology truly has been the study of failed systems as that was essential to its practice: in order for archaeologists to study something, it must be under the ground and in order for it to be under the ground, something must have gone wrong. However, I do not think that this is entirely true. There are too many reasons for things to end up under the ground for every bit of evidence discovered below the topsoil to be considered as evidence of failure. Thinking along the same grain, the idea that archaeology can be used as kindling for nationalism and be the evidence of a failed system is paradoxical. Thus, I would make the argument that everything found under the ground is a foundation. Just as we walk on ground that came to be there naturally over time, so history creates the foundation of today's civilizations.

Using this as a metaphor, I approached the Hodder reading in a new light. I would add to his argument in support of archaeology by saying that it is natural for there to be such different approaches and techniques in archaeology as it is not a laboratory science. There is no such thing as a controlled environment in archaeology and each stroke of a trowel is a test that cannot be recreated. Thus, saying that the many approaches to archaeological research are "anti-science heresy" is utter crap (Hodder 19). Just as we would not approach the geological research of a cliff face with the same tools and techniques as that of a riverbed, so we should not expect archaeology to conform to a specific set of rules.

Archaeology can be defined as neither the study of failed systems or a failed system itself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Revealing... Archaeology!

Reviewing the historical development of archaeology, as Bruce Trigger does in A History of Archaeological Thought, the exploitation of the past for the use by a present is apparent. The inhabitants of the Roman Empire and medieval Europe seemed to have little interest in defining an objective past to look back upon. As Trigger notes, Roman writers neglected to mention ruins often times, and medieval Europeans plundered them for new constructions (30-31). Most delving into a past had the purposes for ideological justification, arguably as it does in any period. However, in these earlier periods that past was used to justify the religiosity of those times. Objects of the past may have been used as offerings to the gods of polytheistic systems (30), or exploited as holy objects in the form of relics (35).

During the Renaissance, people similarly looked toward the past as an exploitative measure to emulate itself upon and improve on the former: "The aim of renaissance scholars was to understand and try to emulate as best they could the glorious achievements of antiquity.... Only in its possession of a religion based on divine revelation could the modern age be viewed as unambiguously superior to ancient times" (35-6). This primordial archaeology took the form of a particular view of the past on which to base and improve the present. This propaganda of sorts took the form of archaeological revelation--a carving out of a past to be structured and used by the present. This takes place almost literally so in the depiction of the early excavations at Herculaneum in which the ruins seem to be carved out of the dirt (37). Thus, in the revelation of archaeology as a western discipline, it took the form of a revelation of foreseen pasts, pasts structured in the present for the use and discrimination of present politics. 

This is not unlike the critiques made of Orientalism by Edward Said. He considers the field to be a political discourse of the present by controlling the discourse of an other, and thereby defining a widely held view of the other through this discourse. This power play is no different than what transpired in the early developments in archaeology, in which a discourse of a different other took place--that of the past the past. As Said describes, it is the definition of the other than determines the character of the subject. As archaeology begins to reveal a past by the eighteenth century, it is a past that very much is used to substantiate a present politics. In terms of revelation, not only is it through archaeology that the present subject reveals a past, but too does that interpreted past reveal the subject. Archaeology is every way as much about the present as it is about the past. 

These revelations are quite evident in the writing of V Gordon Childe on Racism and Marxism, in which he implicitly shows how archaeology is used as a tool to substantiate racial or marxist viewpoints. He uses archaeological research to discredit the racial archaeology and to support his marxist archaeology. Engaging with the us-and-them rhetoric, Childe displays a reversal of the western historical narrative in which is is the East transforming the Europeans ("Races, Peoples and Cultures in Prehistoric Europe," 203). In similarly using archaeology to bolster the poignancy of a marxist standpoint, he describes its ability to 'write prehistory' ("Prehistory and Marxism," 95). This logical paradox once again proves the point that archaeology is here being used as a tool to support a contemporary political standpoint. In doing so he marks the potential efforts that a Marxist archaeologist can make to write prehistory by means of gathering an assemblage of artifacts. This is nevertheless an act of the archaeologist revealing the past. Of course, the past does not reside behind a curtain that the archaeologist pulls back, but rather he does an act of re-presencing an other in the contemporary land of us. The revelation is a mere bridge connecting past and present, us and them, subject and object; but in an effort to reveal such an other, archaeology matter-of-factly reveals ourself instead. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

V. Gordon Childe: From Form to Functionalism

V. Gordon Childe, an Australian archaeologist working in the first half of the 20th century, came at the tail end of a period in the development of archaeology referred to by Bruce Trigger in A History of Archaeological Thought as antiquarianism. Now possessing pejorative connotations, this term describes the classical and eventually prehistoric archaeological excavations from the Renaissance through the beginning of the 20th century. While some of these antiquarians produced adequate documentation of their excavations and paid attention to stratigraphic levels, their process was largely deductive, and many were primarily concerned with obtaining decorative items for their private collections.

In his essay “Prehistory and Marxism” (1979), published posthumously in Antiquity, Childe derogatorily refers to his predecessors as “relicologists because they are generally so preoccupied with the forms of relics that they forget that the relics were made by men to satisfy some human need” (95). He goes on to distinguish himself from “a certain Nazi who devoted many pages to the classification of ‘axes’ by shape and section without ever asking himself what they were used for” (95). In my opinion, this distinction is one of Childe’s most important contributions to archaeological theory: rather than the antiquarian focus on stylistic differences (form), he attempts to infer the underlying function of archaeological artifacts.

Initially, Childe subscribed to the purely culture-historical approach espoused by, among others, German archaeologist and linguist Gustaf Kossinna. Childe utilized Kossinna’s concept of culture, which delimited groups of people according to material culture typologies. The nomenclature used by these theorists belies a preferencing of the artifacts themselves over the peoples who created them. For instance, another 19th century German archaeologist, Friedrich Klopfleisch, named a European Neolithic group the Linearbandkeramik after a decorative technique of incising pottery with linear bands. Rather than using material culture as a lens through which to learn about past lifeways and ideologies, the proponents of cultural-historical archaeology viewed the artifacts as ends in of themselves. Like board game pieces, these stylized ceramics and stone tools were seen not as objects with a social history but as unambiguous proxies for demarcating the migration of, for example, the “Linear Band Ceramic Culture” across temporal and spatial scales.

However, with his exposure to Soviet archaeology and growing appreciation of Marxist theory, Childe grew critical of this purely correlative approach. As espoused in the above diatribe against so-called “relicologists,” he began to investigate not only how artifacts appear to us now, but also how they could have appeared to their creators. He calls the Marxist approach to archaeology “dialectical materialism,” which acknowledges the interplay between economy, environment, social organization, technology and ideology in shaping “culture” (Childe 1979). This interpretation of the term “culture” is dramatically different from his own definition, expressed in “Peoples and Cultures in Prehistoric Europe” two decades prior: “groups of distinctive traits, mostly peculiarities in material culture…[that] tend to hang together and be associated in a given continuous region at a given time” (1933).

Childe’s increasingly functionalist perspective is directly tied to his newfound characterization of “culture.” When culture was solely material, one could be an archaeologist and understand cultures simply by observing artifacts and their distributions. As culture became an increasingly complex product of both material and immaterial forces, however, acknowledging the function of artifacts became vital. After all, the immaterial factors at play (e.g. ideology, social hierarchy, political system, and even economy) cannot be excavated. Instead, through a series of inferences based on material objects in context it is possible to reconstruct some of the various components that interacted dialectically to comprise a particular culture. While structural functionalism is criticized for its determinism and lack of opportunity for individual agency, it was an innovative steppingstone, championed by Childe in his later writings, which transformed archaeology from an antiquarian treasure hunt to a methodological pursuit of knowledge. 


Childe, V.G. 1933. "Races, Peoples and Cultures in Prehistoric Europe." History 71(18):193-203.
Childe, V. G. 1979. "Prehistory and Marxim." Antiquity 53(208):93-95.
Trigger, B. 1996. A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Childe's First Steps

This week's readings emphasized the role of archaeology in proving theory and how these theories come into play in the course of archaeological research. Childe especially came under the microscope as a particular example of how even the most sophisticated anthropological theories benefit from archaeology. The reading that encapsulates these ideas the most efficiently is undoubtedly "Prehistory and Marxism" by Childe himself. He articulates eloquently the common and not so common theories for the rise of civilization. In class, we talked quite enough about how archaeology played into this story, so I would like to instead focus on one anthropological theory in particular. His theories on how and why cooperation is possible put into words what other anthropologists I have read have circled around in entire books:

"It [cooperation] is always stimulated by symbols and beliefs that reinforce or entirely replace the supposedly innate urges to feed oneself and rear a family...And in general just one kind of ideology--institutions, beliefs, ideals--will keep that organization running most smoothly." 

My understanding of this statement is that in order for civilization (characterized by division of labour, specialization, technology and centralized authority) to occur, humans must have a reason to leave behind their initial instincts to serve only themselves and to reproduce. Childe argues that this reason is a unified ideology and I cannot help but agree with him. I know this to be true not from extensive research, but from current observations (something I think Childe would have smiled upon). My very life depends upon this being true as my father is a minister and makes a living caring for the religious life of our community. Without ideologies and religion, I would not have money for school and my parents would have had to spend their time only putting food on the table. My academic career rests on the idea that ideology allowed for civilization to form just as much as Childe's did.

Archaeology is Just Another Origin Myth

According to Trigger, “All human groups appear to have some curiosity about the past” and he then proceeds to differentiate the formal search for origins from the tribal notion of supernatural myth [27].  What may make the West unique—even as encountered in the form of a professional archaeologist—is the desire to acquire, materially, the origin myths of others.   Who we are is predicated by who we were.  The definition of “we” is what makes things slippery.  The expansive notion of we/us/ours, initially appears inclusive:  everyone is just part of that great human family.   Who, and what, is worth discovering is determined by who we believe we are.  Our obsession with meaningful objects is a form of ownership and in the act of interpreting their meaning we lay claim.  There is the well-intentioned tendency to chip away at boundaries of cultural groups in order to acknowledge and appreciate a common humanity.  It is the sense of commonality that we perceive as license.
At what temporal point do we decide that an object, fossil or site has passed into the ownership of all human kind?    Where do the boundaries of individual cultures lie?   According to Childe, a “culture can expand and move  about in space; it may intrude in an area previously occupied different culture.  It may supersede these, or a sort of composite culture may arise, blending intrusive and native elements” [History, 198].  And this is perhaps the most basic definition of colonialism.  These acts of evolving, expanding and migrating blurred the definition of a group, perhaps most notably for the newest arrivals—aka the colonizers.   For the original inhabitants, there remained an understandable resistance to assimilation.

 Some of this may have been evident in the Soviet reaction to Childe’s development of Marxist archaeological theory, as described by Leo Klijn. [76] The singular culture of Soviet Archaeology in the mid-20th century may have perceived Childe’s claims of affinity to be those of an interloper and colonizer. All cultural constructs, like more formalized tribes, clans or states, erect protective mechanisms to ward off the dilution of the primary ethos. 

For Childe, culture was a shared “social heritage”, which deviated from the idea that individuals form associations based on shared physical characteristics.  It’s a concept that seems obvious to us now, largely because of this work. But Childe was in the unfortunate position of straddling two epochs of cultural theory.  By abandoning the presumption that physical characteristics determine race and therefore heritage, he began thinking about the nature of humanness in terms of cultural overlaps.  In searching for linguistic history that, like a road map, would lead us back to a singular starting point, Childe, like the antiquarians who preceded him, continued to place the West at the hub of world culture

Sunday, February 15, 2015

V.G. Childe, Antiquarianism, and Postcolonialism

Looking at the writings of V. Gordon Childe, one could assume that he represented a clean break from antiquarianism and a decisive step towards modern, even postcolonial, archaeology. While his theories were certainly advanced and contributed much to the development of the modern discipline of archaeology, I believe his theories and particular brand of Marxism represent instead a move from antiquarianism into colonialism, that perhaps foreshadows some postcolonial constructions but also retains other, important vestiges of antiquarian thought. 

Reading critically into Childe's description of archaeological Marxism in his article "Prehistory and Marxism," we can see several assumptions that carry a colonial perspective. One of the most fundamental of these is the value Childe places on the correlation between social complexity and technological progress. Working off the "logical series" of savagery, barbarism, and civilization defined by Morgan, Childe sees the work of archaeology as the uncovering of the technological progresses that guide societies through this series over time. While it is important that he takes into account the fundamentally changeable nature of society, thus defying traditional antiquarian models of society, this progression is still very Eurocentric, assuming that all societies will be forced by the primacy of technological efficiency to develop over time into variants of European society. It is only a small step from this position to the justification of colonial rule as an expedient in this technological development. 

On the other hand, some of Childe's Marxist constructions seem to challenge this colonial discourse. For instance, Childe's definition of dialectical materialism focuses on the interaction and adaptation that takes place between the various material realities of environment and society to create different societal forms. By doing so, Childe then comes to the conclusion that one cannot study contemporary preliterate societies as a direct analogy for prehistoric ones at the same technological stage, a clear refutation of Morgan's hypothesis. Yet, at the same time, this view also leads Childe to believe that it is almost impossible to understand the ideologies of prehistorical societies. This view echoes those of antiquarians who believed they could understand little of any society without written documentation. In addition, this view also puts the power of interpretation squarely in the hands of those with access to the most artifacts. Since Marxist archaeology is so materially based, its foundation lies in the accumulation and comparison of vast quantities of material evidence. Since colonial archaeology claimed so many significant artifacts for Western institutions, this understanding of archaeology privileges Western institutions and maintains a neo-colonialist concentration of knowledge, and knowledge production, in the academies of the Occident. Thus, Childe's Marxist archaeology occupies an important middle ground, an outgrowth of antiquarianism that retained some of its assumptions but also challenged many of its applications, and a ideology of colonialism that nonetheless established some principles that could created opportunities for challenging colonial hegemony. These theories can be still useful to postcolonial archaeology as long as their contexts are appropriately interrogated. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Diachronous vs. Synchronous Colonization

The establishment of colonial narratives stemming from Said's Orientalism is quite apparent. However, Said was concerned with a synchronous form of colonization, one in which the West colonized upon its counterpart--the Orient--by a means of academic rhetoric via the subject of 'orientalism.' As he defines, "The Orient is...the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other" (1). The definition of the colonized other deals with a contemporary, coexisting other, one which the West manifests through this academic discourse. Nevertheless, such critique begs the question of how might one avoid such colonialist narratives--is it even possible?

Archaeology is a western-designated discipline that is very much involved with this issue. Matthew Liebmann in "Introduction: The Intersections of Archaeology and Postcolonial Studies" is very much concerned with archaeology's ability to unveil itself of its 'theory lag' and its marked origins in the orientalist narrative. He dons this body of critique 'post colonialism.' But as he expresses, postcolonialism is a rather problematic term insofar as the current period could not be considered one that is temporally post-existing that in which colonialism manifested itself, for as Said argued, the effects of colonialism are still large and prevalent.

So what might a postcolonial narrative entail? Could archaeology become a postcolonial discipline? To this I make the suggestion that the archaeologist could never become naked of his/her colonizing garb. The archaeologist is inherently looking at an other, whether it be time or place. If the archaeologist is making an attempt to let a place speak for itself (however he/she might figure a way to do such), I argue that he/she could never avoid the colonizing of time that the profession endures. Seemingly, the past cannot speak for itself, nor can the object. As Said notes, "...there is no such thing as a delivered presence, but a re-presence, or a representation" (21). If the archaeologist is the interpreter and representer of the past, how ought one do so void of the colonizing rhetoric that Said is wary of? Archaeology is inherently colonial in its processes and effects; is it possible to have such a discipline analyzing an 'other' that could be inherently postcolonial? This begs the questions of whether it is even possible to be postcolonial?

Liberian suggests that "...postcolonial approaches challenge traditional colonials epistemologies, questioning the knowledge about and the representation of colonized 'Others' that has been produced in colonial and imperial contexts" (2). Nevertheless, in doing so is this process not creating another colonizing dynamic, whether it be of a different past, the imperially-influenced historian, or whatever subject of a postcolonial critique becomes? The act of critiquing, analyzing, and studying inherently involves a subject, which by being spoken for, is void of self-representation and therefore inherently being colonized. The creation of others is seemingly inherent within humanity, particularly the field of archaeology. Ought there be anyway to forego this issue, or might we accept an immortal sort of colonialism that functions both diachronously and synchronously? The act of being self-conscious of this dynamic that is formed through archaeological research is imperative to defeat colonial rhetoric, but might we also be conscious of the newfound colonizing dynamics created in doing so?