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Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice

Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice

Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice, already the most authoritative and accessible introduction in the academic market, has been updated with new discoveries and technological innovations, revised pedagogical features, and improved illustrations in its third edition. Authored by Colin Renfrew, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology and former Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, and Paul Bahn, a prehistorian and writer of archaeological papers, this new title will be found in many survey courses for its accessibility and attractive images.

Written for undergraduate students taking introductory level courses, Archaeology Essentials is rigorous without being over-technical and thorough without being overwhelming. While its geographical scope is “global” and thus ideally suited to new students, the text provides guidance for aspiring archaeologists in the form of compelling interviews with practicing archaeologists. No other book of this length can match its range of essential information and explanation. The jargon -- employed in earlier editions -- has been carefully reviewed and replaced.

Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice was published by Thames & Hudson, 3 edition, on February 1, 2015. It's available in paperback contains 352 pages filled with numerous illustrations and diagrams.

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Writen by Colin Renfrew
ISBN-10 0500291594 | ISBN-13 9780500291597
Published by Thames & Hudson

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Archaeology Essentials, already the most authoritative and accessible introduction on the market, has been updated with new discoveries, new technological innovations, revised pedagogical features, and improved illustrations. Written for today's students, Archaeology Essentials is rigorous without being over-technical and thorough without being overwhelming. The only truly global archaeology textbook available in full color, the text also provides guidance for aspiring archaeologists in the form of compelling interviews with a worldwide selection of practicing archaeologists. The third edition of Archaeology Essentials is destined to become a classic of the field.

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The variety of the human experience

Archaeology is, put succinctly, about using material culture to understand people in the past. Part 2 of Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice forms the bulk of the book and includes eight thematic chapters. The first of these, chapter 5, deals with how societies were organized. Even in this newest edition, the backbone of this chapter is the anthropological classificatory system devised by Elman Service and expanded upon by later writers.

In this system, societies are classified in broadly four types: mobile hunter-gatherer bands, segmentary societies (what used to be called “tribes”), chiefdoms, and finally states. But such classificatory schemes are often unsatisfactory, especially since they’re based on anthropological studies rather than archaeological ones. Reliance on such models may lead researchers to contort the evidence to fit a model rather than try to create a model based on the evidence. If you’re ever tempted to rely on these anthropological models, please read Adam T. Smith’s The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities (2003) first.

Fortunately, newer editions of Renfrew & Bahn’s book have expanded on chapter 5 in meaningful ways, for example by adding sections that deal with the archaeology of the individual, gender and childhood, and recent developments in the sphere of (molecular) genetics.

Chapter 6 deals with environmental archaeology: how did landscapes form and what plants and animals did humans in the past share their environments with? The box features in this chapter are particularly strong, featuring discussions of El Niño and global warming, pollen analysis, cave sediments, and using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to map ancient environments. If any chapter proves that archaeology benefits from a truly multi-disciplinary approach, this is it.

Chapter 7 focuses on the economic basis for ancient societies by asking, “What did they eat?” The focus here is on human exploitation of plant and animal resources, domestication of flora and fauna, and determining the diet of people in the past. Chapter 8 deals with technology, specifically how people made and used tools, the subject people perhaps associate most clearly with the work that archaeologists do.

The next two chapters deal with subjects that are higher up on the “ladder of inference” that archaeologist Christopher Hawkes once proposed. Show According to Hawkes, archaeology could more easily answer questions regarding e.g. how sites were formed and what people in the past subsisted on rather than what people believed. Chapter 9 deals with interaction, and more specifically with trade and exchange. How did certain raw materials or finished goods end up in certain places? Were these part of strictly economic exchanges or were they traded as prestige objects as part of gift exchange?

Chapter 10 turns to what Colin Renfrew refers to as “cognitive archaeology” and asks how archaeologists can figure out what people in the past thought. It’s about art and myth, religion, monuments, and more. But a central theme in this chapter is “symbols”, and I find the use of that term slightly problematic. Adam Smith, in the book cited earlier, explains that symbols are not just symbolic, but are in fact constituent elements in creating (and maintaining) power and authority. So again, I’d recommend you read his book to better understand this chapter and its issues.

Chapter 11 deals with “the bioarchaeology of people”. Concretely, this is about physical attributes of people in the past (e.g. how tall were they?), what diseases they suffered from, and so on. Especially the shorter sections of this chapter should perhaps have been included in chapter 5 (identity and personhood) or chapter 7 (nutrition), but it’s useful for offering a broad-strokes introduction to physical characteristics of people in the past.

What should perhaps be the most important chapter in this part is the final one. In chapter 12, the authors write about how archaeologists try to explain – rather than merely describe – change over time. What follows is a mostly chronological treatment of different theoretical frameworks. The earliest of these believed that change was largely the result of migration: people would make new types of artefacts or construct new types of houses as a result of immigration.

More sophisticated theories were developed from the 1960s onwards. The placement of Renfrew’s own “cognitive archaeology” as the culmination of this process still seems a little disingenuous to me, as does the rather curt dismissal of “postprocessualists” who have embraced Critical Theory (p. 501), in a section that doesn’t seem to have changed much since I first read it in 1998. A new section has been added that deals with agency and materiality, but it’s rather superficial.

On the whole, this final chapter is a bit disappointing. As a very general overview for (first-year) students, this may be fine, but anyone who really wants to delve into archaeological theory is better serviced by other books. Pride of place goes to Matthew Johnson admirably accessible Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (second edition, 2010), published by Wiley-Blackwell. If you care about archaeological theory (and you should), you ought to get yourself a copy of that book.

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Since the early 20th century, most accounts of archaeological methodology have accepted the data that is uncovered by the archaeologist is subsequently interpreted through a theoretical viewpoint. [4] Nevertheless, the archaeological community is divided over the extent to which theory pervades the discipline. On one side, there are those who believe that certain archaeological techniques – such as excavation or recording – are neutral and outside of the bounds of theory, while on the other are those who believe that these too are also influenced by theoretical considerations. [5] Archaeologist Ian Hodder, a prominent advocate of the latter view, criticised the alternate approach by highlighting that methodological decisions, such as where to open a trench, how diligently to excavate a stratigraphic layer and whether to keep every artefact discovered, are all based on prior theoretical interpretations of the site, and that even excavatory techniques could not therefore escape the realm of theory. [6] Those who take the former approach have sometimes tried to separate the raw data from the theoretical interpretations in their publications, but have come under criticism from those, such as Hodder, who argue that theoretical interpretation pervades the entire archaeological methodology, and therefore cannot be separated from the raw data. [7]

In his overview of archaeological theory, the archaeologist Matthew Johnson of the University of Southampton put forward four arguments for why theory was so important to the archaeological discipline, and therefore why all archaeologists should learn about the subject. First, he noted that all of the arguments for why archaeology benefited society were based in theory, and that archaeologists wanting to defend their discipline from its critics would therefore require a grounding in theory. [8] Second, he highlighted that theory was required to compare two different interpretations of the past and decide which one was the more likely. [9] Third, he asserted that theory was needed for the archaeologist to accept and admit to their own personal biases and agendas in interpreting the material evidence. [10] Finally, Johnson put forward what he considered to be the most important reason for the necessity of understanding theory that all archaeologists, as human beings, are innately theoretical, in that they naturally make use of "theories, concepts, ideas, assumptions" in their work. As such, he asserts that any archaeologist claiming to be "atheoretical" is mistaken, and that in actuality they cloud their own theoretical position under such jargon as "common sense". He proceeded to suggest that most of those western archaeologists who claim to eschew theory in favour of a "common sense" approach were actually exhibiting cultural machismo by playing on the stereotype that intelligent discussions and debates were effeminate and therefore of lesser value. [11]

Antiquarianism (antiquities collection) and Imperial synthesis (ancient times through c1880) Edit

People's interest of the past has existed since antiquity. During the Western world's Medieval period six main concepts were formed that would come to influence archaeological theory to some degree:

1) The world is of recent, supernatural origin at best no more than a few thousand years old

2) The physical world has degraded since God's original creation

3) Humanity was created in the Garden of Eden

4) Standards of human conduct naturally degrade

5) History of the world is a sequence of unique events

6) Culturally, socially, and intellectually the people of the past were identical to the present [12]

The coming of the Renaissance stimulated an interest in the past but it was more on the level of collecting artifacts and romanticized theories of their origin. It was not until the 19th century the first elements of actual systematic study of older civilizations began but they tended to be designed to support imperial nationalism. [ citation needed ]

Cultural-historical (historical particularism, national archaeology) archaeology (c1860-present) Edit

Developments in the 19th century with Hutton and Lyell's theory of uniformitarianism and Darwin's theory of natural selection set the stage for the modern scientific investigation into the origin of humanity. [13]

After Darwin came a mode of archaeology known as cultural, or culture history, according to which sites are grouped into distinct "cultures" to determine the geographic spread and time span of these cultures and to reconstruct the interactions and flow of ideas between them. Cultural history, as the name suggests, was closely allied with the science of history. Cultural historians employed the normative model of culture, the principle that each culture is a set of norms governing human behaviour. Thus, cultures can be distinguished by patterns of craftsmanship for instance, if one excavated sherd of pottery is decorated with a triangular pattern, and another sherd with a chequered pattern, they likely belong to different cultures. Such an approach naturally leads to a view of the past as a collection of different populations, classified by their differences and by their influences on each other. Changes in behaviour could be explained by diffusion whereby new ideas moved, through social and economic ties, from one culture to another.

The Australian archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe was one of the first to explore and expand this concept of the relationships between cultures especially in the context of prehistoric Europe. By the 1920s sufficient archaeological material had been excavated and studied to suggest that diffusionism was not the only mechanism through which change occurred. Influenced by the political upheaval of the inter-war period Childe then argued that revolutions had wrought major changes in past societies. He conjectured a Neolithic Revolution, which inspired people to settle and farm rather than hunt nomadically. This would have led to considerable changes in social organisation, which Childe argued led to a second Urban Revolution that created the first cities. Such macro-scale thinking was in itself revolutionary and Childe's ideas are still widely admired and respected.

Historical particularism (c1880-c1940) Edit

Franz Boas argued that cultures were unique entities shaped by a unique sequence of events. As a result there was no universal standard by which one culture could be compared with another. This line of thought combined with John Lubbock's concept that Western civilization would overwhelm and eventually destroy primitive cultures resulted in anthropologists recording mountains of information on primitive peoples before they vanished.

National archaeology (c1916-present) Edit

National archaeology used cultural-historical concepts to instill pride and raise the morale of certain nationalities or racial groups and in many countries it remains the dominate method of archaeology. [ citation needed ]

Soviet archaeology (1917-present) Edit

Adapting some of the concepts of Darwinian natural selection for use outside of the discipline of evolutionary biology while employing the Marxist historical-economic theory of dialectical materialism, Soviet archaeologists resumed the method of use-wear analysis and, beginning in the 1930s, tried to explain observed changes in the archaeological record in terms of internal social dynamics. [14]

Social archaeology (UK) (c1922-present) Edit

Processual archaeology (New Archaeology) Edit

In the 1960s, a number of young, primarily American archaeologists, such as Lewis Binford, rebelled against the paradigms of cultural history. They proposed a "New Archaeology", which would be more "scientific" and "anthropological". They came to see culture as a set of behavioural processes and traditions. (In time, this view gave rise to the term processual archaeology). Processualists borrowed from the exact sciences the idea of hypothesis testing and the scientific method. They believed that an archaeologist should develop one or more hypotheses about a culture under study, and conduct excavations with the intention of testing these hypotheses against fresh evidence. They had also become frustrated with the older generation's teachings through which cultures had taken precedence over the people being studied themselves. It was becoming clear, largely through the evidence of anthropology, that ethnic groups and their development were not always entirely congruent with the cultures in the archaeological record.

Behavioural archaeology Edit

An approach to the study of archaeological materials formulated by Michael B. Schiffer in the mid-1970s that privileged the analysis of human behaviour and individual actions, especially in terms of the making, using, and disposal of material culture. In particular this focused on observing and understanding what people actually did, while refraining from considering people’s thoughts and intentions in explaining that behaviour. A related area is Human behavioral ecology, which models material traces of human behaviour in terms of adaptations and optimisations. [15]

Post-processual archaeology Edit

In the 1980s, a new movement arose led by the British archaeologists Michael Shanks, Christopher Tilley, Daniel Miller and Ian Hodder. It questioned processualism's appeals to science and impartiality by claiming that every archaeologist is in fact biased by his or her personal experience and background, and thus truly scientific archaeological work is difficult or impossible. This is especially true in archaeology where experiments (excavations) cannot possibly be repeatable by others as the scientific method dictates. Exponents of this relativistic method, called post-processual archaeology, analysed not only the material remains they excavated, but also themselves, their attitudes and opinions. The different approaches to archaeological evidence which every person brings to his or her interpretation result in different constructs of the past for each individual. The benefit of this approach has been recognised in such fields as visitor interpretation, cultural resource management and ethics in archaeology as well as fieldwork. It has also been seen to have parallels with culture history. Processualists critique it, however, as without scientific merit. They point out that analysing yourself doesn't make a hypothesis any more valid, since a scientist will likely be more biased about himself than about artifacts. And even if you can't perfectly replicate digs, one should try to follow science as rigorously as possible. After all, perfectly scientific experiments can be performed on artifacts recovered or system theories constructed from dig information.

Post-processualism provided an umbrella for all those who decried the processual model of culture, which many feminist and neo-Marxist archaeologists for example believed treated people as mindless automatons and ignored their individuality.

Current theories Edit

After the turn of the millennium archaeological theory began to take on new directions by returning to the objects of archaeological study. Archaeologists, led by Laurent Olivier, Bjørnar Olsen, Michael Shanks, and Christopher Witmore, argued for taking things seriously not only as mediators in what can be said about the past, but also in terms of the unique ways they hold on to erstwhile actions, events, or changes. For them, archaeology is less the study of the past through its material remains, than the study of things themselves with an aim to generate diverse pasts in the present. (Many archaeologists refer to this movement as symmetrical archaeology, asserting an intellectual kinship with the work of Bruno Latour and others). [16]

This divergence of archaeological theory has not progressed identically in all parts of the world where archaeology is conducted or in the many sub-fields of the discipline. Traditional heritage attractions often retain an ostensibly straightforward Culture History element in their interpretation material whilst university archaeology departments provide an environment to explore more abstruse methods of understanding and explaining the past. Australian archaeologists, and many others who work with indigenous peoples whose ideas of heritage differ from western concepts, have embraced post-processualism. Professional archaeologists in the United States however are predominantly processualist [1] and this last approach is common in other countries where commercial Cultural Resources Management is practised.

In 1973, David Clarke of Cambridge University published an academic paper in Antiquity claiming that as a discipline, archaeology had moved from its original "noble innocence" through to "self-consciousness" and then onto "critical self-consciousness", a symptom of which was the increasing recognition and emphasis on archaeological theory. As a result, he argued, archaeology had suffered a "loss of innocence" as archaeologists became sceptical of the work of their forebears. [17]

Every week we highlight one archaeology/anthropology textbook from our suggested readings, a full list of our suggested resources can be found here, on our Useful Literature page.

by Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn. Rating: *****

“This book is highly acclaimed and is the ultimate archaeology bible for students, or people new to archaeology and want to get stuck right in. After being recommended it by two of my University lecturers, I took it out from the library to use for my assignments so many times I ended up buying it.”

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy?Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice - History

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Three Stones Make a Wall

  • Author : Eric H. Cline
  • Publisher : Princeton University Press
  • Release Date : 2018-11-06
  • Total pages : 212
  • ISBN : 9780500291597

Summary : In 1922, Howard Carter peered into Tutankhamun’s tomb for the first time, the only light coming from the candle in his outstretched hand. Urged to tell what he was seeing through the small opening he had cut in the door to the tomb, the Egyptologist famously replied, “I see wonderful .

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