Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jan. 29: The Development of Archaeology and Current Approaches

Northwestern Projectile Points Typology, typical of the Cultural History Approach's development of culture chronologies

Jan. 29 Tuesday
Readings for Today:
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 2: “Archaeology’s Past”, pp. 25-38 and Chapter 3: “Contemporary Approaches to Archaeology,” pp. 39-60.

Topic for Today's Class: The History of Archaeology: Origins, development, and the contemporary scene. The culture of archaeologists and archaeology.


Archaeology's roots are in what is known as Antiquarianism. Antiquarians were people who collected items (antiquities) from ancient cultures, such as those of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Mesopotamians. Some of these collections were private, and others were acquired for museums. Most of these antiquities were from looters. Some of the collectors simply acquired these items as art objects for personal enjoyment or to enhance their social status. Other collectors began to see patterns in the collections, patterns that related to how old the items were, or where they were from. They began to arrange, or classify, these collections in according to their age, materials, place of origin, and appearance or form. Classification was the first step in the science of doing archaeology, and it is still important today.

William Camden: compiled known sites in England, in book Britannia (1587)
William Stukeley: studied/speculated about Stonehenge; helped create the Druid Revival
Ole Worm (Denmark) and Johan Bure (Sweden) studied Runes (runic inscriptions)
William Dugdale: In 1600s, first to say that stone tools were made by ancient Britons before metal-making, and not by elves

The Bible was interpreted as saying Earth was only 6000 years old, but once these items were found to be of human origin, and were found with the bones of extinct animals, then people wanted to know how old these items were…this produced great debate…which continues today.

John Frere at Hoxne, England, found human and extinct animal bones far below the surface at Hoxne in 1797. Boucher de Perthes found a similar site on the Somme River, France. And human remains were found about this time in the Neander Valley (Neander Thal), Germany (though they thought these bones were of a modern human with arthritis and other problems.

The debate changed course in the mid-1800s, when geologists such as Charles Lyell proved that the Earth was older than previously thought, and that the processes for change on the Earth were slow and gradual, the same in the past, as the present.
This slow gradual change was called Uniformitarianism. The idea that the Earth's features are changed in violent events is called Catastrophism. This originated in the idea of the Great Flood of the Bible. Today, we know Earth undergoes both types of change. This was also the period when Charles Darwin produced "The Origin of Species," and the idea of the same kind of slow change in animals and plants called the Theory of Evolution.

In the New World, the Europeans did not believe that Native Americans could have built the cities and mounds that were found all over the land, so they invented ideas they were built by civilizations which had migrated from the Old World: Hebrews from the Lost Tribes of Israel, Phoenicians, Hindus, Chinese, or even people from mythical lands like Atlantis, Lemuria, or Mu. They just could not believe that the Indians could have built such things. It was a result of the colonialist and racist ideas of the time. Unfortunately, they did not read accounts from French explorers in the 1600s who stayed in the moundbuilder cities of the Mississippi River Valley when they were still being used and built by Indians, before the continent-wide disease epidemics in the 1500s-1800s wiped out close to 90 percent of all Native Americans in the Americas.

Thomas Jefferson proved that the mounds were built by Native Americans, in his excavations of mounds in Virginia using stratigraphy, a study of the sequence of earth layers (strata -plural, stratum -singular), their relative age (older strata below, younger on top) and the artifacts found within the strata.

Even though Jefferson had proved that the Indians were responsible for building the mounds, communication of studies was still inadequate, so that even in 1848, E. G. Squier and E.H. Davis in their recording of mounds still refused to believed that the mounds of the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys were built by Native Americans. This was laid to rest finally in 1856 with the publication of Samuel Haven's Archaeology of the United States. Haven examined all the evidence, dismissed the most fanciful interpretations, and concluded the ancestors of the living Indians had built the mounds. By the end of the 1800s, the scientific evidence was overwhelming: Native Americans were responsible for all of the mounds and other sites in the Americas, not Old World visitors.

NOTE: "Old World" and "New World" are terms that we often don't think about, we just use them. Of course, this usage is a European worldview. To Native Americans, the Americas are "The Old World" and the invading Europeans came from "The New World!"

Giovanni Belzoni: looter of Egyptian tombs for the British
Thomas Bruce removed the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon
Rosetta Stone: Jean Francois Champollion used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics

Archaeology as a professional discipline emerged in the 1800s. It immediately had to grapple with how to make sense of all the information, all the STUFF that had been collected up to that point. To make sense of things, to interpret them, you need an interpretive framework. A model is an interpretive framework used in science.

"A model is essentially a form of hypothesis that describes the subject of investigation in a simplified way; it is constructed and tested according to the scientific method" (Ashmore and Sharer 2006: 34).

In the Old World, the first models were based in history. For example, Heinrich Schliemann used a legendary historical source, The Iliad, to locate the site of Troy in 1871. Today, many European scholars still link their profession more with history than anthropology.

The first historical system widely used by archaeologists, the three-age system, is generally credited to two Danish scholars working in the early 1800s, Christian Thomsen and Jens Worsaae, The three-age system is made up of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Archaeology was being improved by such scholars as A.L. Pitt-Rivers (methodology) and Sir John Lubbock, who came up with the division in the Stone Age (Paleolithic "Old Stone Age" vs Neolithic "New Stone Age").

These historical systems did not have much applicability to the Americas, as Native Americans did not have Bronze or Iron metallurgy. So instead of history, anthropology provided the models, through the unifying concept of culture. New World archaeologists were generally anthropologists, and often also did work in linguistics, physical anthropology, and cultural anthropology, such as Frank Cushing who studied the Pueblo of the southwest.

Both came together as cultural evolution. This was the idea that cultures could be classified as they passed through a series of stages based on technology, and associated economic and social factors.

In unilinear cultural evolution (developed by Lewis Henry Morgan, Herbert Spencer, Edward Tylor, et al), the stages were best known as Savagery, Barbarism, and Civilization. This was often used to justify European dominance as the logical endpoint of this development. This idea that sets your own culture and civilization as the standard by which all cultures are measured is called ethnocentrism.

The next change was brought about by the anthropologist Franz Boas and his students. This was due to their extensive work collecting what they could of the disappearing and changing Native American cultures in the early 1900s. The evidence showed that cultures were much more diverse and complex in their developments, that they did not always pass through the same stages because of differences in resources, history, acquiring cultural elements from neighboring cultures, etc. This resulted in the idea of multilinear evolution.

THREE MAIN APPROACHES TO ARCHAEOLOGY: Culture History, Processualism, Post-Processualism


The Culture History Approach depends on a normative model, that is, culture is a set of norms or rules that govern behavior in a society.

The Culture History Approach is recognized by its building chronologies: chronological periods or phases, and then using these eventually to create time-space grids for a region. You can see these for Montana, when you see charts showing diagnostic projectile point types arranged in chronologies, typically within a Northern Plains context. The largest time-space unit is the Culture Area based on ethnographic traits; for Montana, this would be mostly the buffalo-centered Plains Culture Area for the middle and eastern third of the state, and some of the Plateau or Intermontane Culture Area for the western mountains.

Culture area- as seen in Native American culture areas: Plains, Southwest, etc.
Tradition- cultural continuity through time (diachronic)
Horizon- ties and uniformity across space at a single point in time (synchronic)


The Processual Approach was a new generation’s reaction against the Culture history approach. It did not feel that culture history was contributing to understanding human culture in a way that was scientific enough. The processualists wanted to create a Middle Range Theory, that would take the specifics of the archeological record of a site, and interpret the cultural process (the Middle Range Theory), to eventually formulate universal laws to explain human culture.

The Processual Approach is named for its concern for cultural process, how a culture “works,” rather than building chronologies. The Processual Approach depends on ecological and materialist models; it works with material such as technology and ecological resources, rather than social or belief systems, which are not preserved in the archaeological record nor testable by the scientific method. Leslie White and Lewis Binford are two archaeologists noted for working and promoting this approach. Processual archaeology is still the dominant approach in most universities.

Hallmarks of this cultural materialist approach include: Research models and the, Multiple working hypotheses (as many alternative explanations as possible), Cultural systems (subsistence interconnects with social, etc.), Multilinear cultural evolution (specificity to place, etc.).

Compatible with the scientific approach of Processualism:
Evolutionary archaeology: neoDarwinian approach of Dunnell, focused on reproductive success, focus on scientific methodology
Behavioral archaeology: specifically is concerned with the set of processes by which objects are made, are used and become part of the archaeological record (transformation processes—more on those soon); this approach is promoted by Michael Schiffer.


The Postprocessual Approach was developed in reaction to the scientism of Processual Archaeology, which said you can’t study things that do not leave material remains. It was really developed in a time of academia called deconstructionism. Postprocessualists such as Ian Hodder believed that such ideational aspects of culture could be and should be studied alongside the material aspects. By not studying or at least trying to study ideas and thought in the archaeological cultures, too much was left out of understanding the human story. Hodder believed you could do this by using the reflexive method.

Postprocessual research focuses on the reflexive method: evidence does not exist apart from interpretation and theory, so one must continuously interpret and reinterpret; a single interpretation is not the goal. In addition, postprocessualists advocate a cognitive model of culture, as for example, “reading” artifacts as nonverbal texts of the culture that made them.

Other forms of archaeology include interests in how Marxism (class and labor) and Feminism (the place of women in the archaeological record) can inform and shape archaeology.

Reading assignment for next class (Th Jan 31):
Feder, Chapter 2: “Epistemology: How You Know What You Know,” pp. 17-43 and Chapter 3, “Anatomy of an Archaeological Hoax”, pp. 44-63,

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