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Voutsaki 2008 Greek archaeology and theory

Voutsaki 2008 Greek archaeology and theory

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Published by Sofia Voutsaki
(2008) Voutsaki, S. Greek archaeology: theoretical developments over the last 40 years. Tijdschrift voor Mediterrane Archeologie 40, 21-28.
(2008) Voutsaki, S. Greek archaeology: theoretical developments over the last 40 years. Tijdschrift voor Mediterrane Archeologie 40, 21-28.

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Published by: Sofia Voutsaki on Sep 15, 2010
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Classical archaeology is often perceived as a self-contained,introverted and conservative discipline, concerned mostly  with high culture, monumental temples, artistic master-pieces and the urban elites. This perception of classicalarchaeology as separate and different from the rest of thearchaeological discipline is reinforced (and reproduced) by the institutional separation between classical archaeologand other sub-fields, usually local prehistory or medievalarchaeology. This conceptual and institutional gap is usually referred to as Renfrew’s ‘Great Divide’.
I would like to arguein this paper that the ‘Great Divide’ has been bridged overthe last 40 years, during which classical archaeology hasundergonepervasivechanges.To start with, classical archaeology, and classical studies ingeneral, are no longer privileged fields. The erosion of the‘Classical Ideal’ already at the end of the 19th century, theonset of modernism during the 20th century, the abuse of classical ideas by fascism (from Nazi Germany or Mussolini’sItaly to the Greek junta (1967-1974)) had already broughtabout a reaction against what was becoming a body of staleand conservative ideas, used to uphold authoritarian regimes.Mostrecently,debateswithinthediscipline,triggeredbyfemi-nist
, post-colonial
, or post-structuralist critique
haverevealed how classical scholarship had distorted andmythologizedtheclassicalpastinordertomaintainthedom-inant ideology of male / white / bourgeois supremacy, butalso,inamorenarrowsense,inordertodefendandmaintainitspositionintheacademicestablishment.The notion of the ‘Great Divide’ further implies that clas-sical archaeology is an internally homogeneous field. Noth-ing could be further from the truth. How could classicalarchaeology possibly be a unified body of knowledge, if itencompasses a millennium of human history, diverse geo-graphical settings and deeply dissimilar political formationsranging from minute Archaic
to the Roman Empire?Howcoulditbehomogeneouswhenitoperatesacrossdiffer-entacademic,nationalandarchaeologicaltraditions?Precisely because of its internal heterogeneity classicalarchaeology has opened itself gradually to different influ-ences. As I will discuss in the rest of the paper, classicalarchaeology is being transformedunder the influence of pre-historic archaeology (and indirectly the influence of anthro-pology and social theory in general). New methods andtheories are being adopted and adapted to suit the particularcircumstances and opportunities provided by the wealth of data available in the classical world. Influences are also com-ing from other directions, particularly from ancient history in all its different guises, i.e. from economic
, social
Most interestingly, classical archaeology itself exerts influ-ences on other fields. For instance, the debates surrounding attitudes to death
, gender
or ethnicity 
in the classical world – to give just a few examples – are by far more sophis-ticated than the equivalent discussions in prehistoric archae-ology. As a result, classical archaeologists nowadays featuremore often than ever in general theoretical discussions.
Conversely, ancient historians are becoming more and moreaware of the significance and usefulness of archaeologicaldata. It is impossible nowadays to discuss city and country-
1 Renfrew1980.2 E.g.Fantham
1994.3 Bernal1987.4 Larmour
1997.5 Scheidel
et al.
2007.6 Wallace-Hadrill2008.7 Cartledge1993.8 Morris1992.9 Loraux1995.10 Hall2002.11 SeereferencestoMorris1992byParkerPearson1993:205.
TMA jaargang 20 (2008), nr. 40Voutsaki, pp. 21-28
side relations in the ancient world without incorporating results of archaeological field surveys. If we only take a look at the situation in the Netherlands today, all departments of ancient history, without exception, are closely collaborating  with archaeologists, and are integrating archaeological data intheirresearchprojects.If we want to get a sense of how classical archaeology ischanging, we only need to go through the themes covered inthe 20 years of the
Tijdschrift van Mediterrane Archeologie 
, whose jubilee we celebrate in this issue: titles such as
Gender,Kolonialisme, Culturele confrontaties, Wonen in de Oudheid,Het Mediterrane Landschap
,etc.giveagoodindicationofthechanging emphases and interests in the discipline over thelastdecades.To conclude: classical archaeology is not a privileged andseparatefieldofstudy,norisitinsulatedfromwiderdevelop-ments in archaeology. But – and this is the crux of my argu-ment- it is different from other branches of archaeology. Ishould emphasize that it is not better than or superior toother forms of archaeology – it is simply different. In my mind, its difference lies in two inherent components of clas-sicalarchaeology:theweightoftheclassicaltraditionandthesignificance of written sources. Precisely because of the usesand abuses of classical antiquity over several centuries, classi-cal archaeologists are much more sensitive to the ways theirdiscipline has been formed by prevailing ideas, changing mentalities and divergent academic traditions; indeed thehistoriographyofclassicalarchaeologyisproducingworksofsubtletyanderuditionnotparalleledinequivalentaccountsof prehistory.
Many prehistorians may still believe that theirdiscipline is objective, scientific and impervious to ideologicalfactors, social distortions, or gender bias. According to suchviews, the way archaeology is being practiced today is guidedby practical, common-sense considerations. Classical archae-ologistsknowbetter;they(oratleast,manyofthem)havelostthis kind of innocence a while ago.The significance of written sources, and the integration of archaeological and historical data are complex problems, which cannot be discussed at length here. Needless to say,historical sources contain several biases: they were written by and for the male, urban, educated minority; they reproducethe distortions and biases of the specific literary or historicalgenre; they are the product of their own
rather thana faithful or accurate description of past events; their preser-vation and coverage is dramatically uneven. This is allundoubtedly true, but we archaeologists also need to be awareof the biases inherent in our own evidence: the problems of preservation, representativeness, equifinality – but more thananything else, the ambivalence of material data. In addition,the very definition of written sources is undergoing a trans-formationatthemoment,aspapyri,graffiti,inscriptionsandcoins become more widely used as sources of information. I will return to this point below, where I will try to demon-strate that written sources and material data do not necessar-ily offer incompatible readings of the past. In fact, I wouldlike to argue that they 
be used in combination.Effectively, my point is that written sources can prove invalu-able,
they themselves are treated as archaeological artefacts –that is, if they are placed in their archaeological, historical andsocial context.
Before I start my discussion about the changes that havetakenplaceinclassicalarchaeologyoverthelastfourdecades,IshouldclarifythatIemployaratherloosedefinitionofclas-sical archaeology: I include the archaeology of different peri-ods (from prehistory to the Roman period) as practiced by Greek and foreign archaeologists in the Greek lands (whichencompassGreece,westernTurkeyandsouthernItaly).I will first present the changes in method, and will thendiscuss the changes in theoretical outlook. Of course, thetwo are interdependent: our interpretations are shaped by the analytical techniques we use, which are guided by thekind of questions we ask, which in their turn are dictated by ourtheoreticalchoices.
Classical archaeologists no longer spend most of their timegazingatancienttemples,ordepictionsofsatyrsonared-fig-ure vase. Connoisseurship, attribution to artists, andaestheticizing descriptions are still components of the disci-pline, but many classical archaeologists now use very differ-ent data, acquired by means of very different methods.Classical archaeology long ago emancipated itself from phi-lology; by now it has also liberated itself from the close gripofarthistory.Moreandmorepurelyarchaeologicalmethods,as well as innovative scientific techniques are being used. Icannot do justice to all these methodological developmentsin a short paper; I will only refer to some examples I haveencounteredinmyownresearch.I do not need to say much about the new methodsused tosurvey past landscapes, as an entire section of this volume isdevoted to field survey and the way it has revolutionized ourunderstanding of land use in the past. We now have at ourdisposal a new and constantly expanding dataset for thehuman occupation, utilization and organisation of the land-scape. This allows us to observe changes through time, as wellas diversity in practices between different regions. Although a lot remains to be done, the Greek lands (and the Mediterra-nean as a whole) are becoming one of the most intensively investigated areas of the world. As a consequence, classicalarchaeologists are at the forefront of methodological refine-
TMAjaargang20,nr.4012 Schnapp1993;Marchand1996.
 Atthesametime,thewealthofdataacquiredbythesenearchaeologicalmethodshasadirectimpactoneconomichis-tory. A good example is Engels’ recent study of Roman Cor-inth, in which he integrates archaeological and historicaldatato challengethe ‘consumer city’ modelwhich has domi-nated the debate on the ancient economy since the 1970s,presentinganalternativemodel,thatofthe‘servicecity’.
Other scientific methods provide us with new data thattransform our understanding of the changing economic baseof ancient societies. Pollen analysis and the study of palaeobotanical remains provide new evidence not only about wine production, but also about the expanding economy inHellenistic farmsteads and villas.
This kind of analysisallows us not only to reconstruct the local environment orsubsistence, but to demonstrate the interconnectedness of localeconomies.AnotherexcellentexampleisCappersanal-ysis of plant remains in Roman Berenike.
By integrating palaeobotanical data, ancient written sources and modernethnographic research, Cappers reconstructed the ‘interna-tional’ trade in luxury products (e.g. pepper) operating fromBerenike, a site located in a hostile physical environment attheverymarginsoftheRomanEmpire.To give a different example, the analysis of animal remains,givesusnewinsightsnotonlyintosubsistencein thepast, butalso to ancient ritual and social practices. For example, theanalysis of animal remains from the Mycenaean palace at AnoEnglianos, in Pylos, southwestern Peloponnese, has revealedthe importance of feasting and conspicuous consumption forMycenaean palatial ideology.
 Although a lot more needs tobe done in this field, studies of animal remains from classicalsanctuaries (and their manner of deposition)
not only helpto identify deities and the nature of cult, but are also begin-ning to reveal a complex picture of diverse and localized prac-tices that transform our view of ancient religion.To move to a different topic, the study of social organisa-tion of past societies has benefited enormously from thespread of osteological analysis and related methods.
Mod-ern day osteological analyses investigate mortality rates andsexratios,andattempttoreconstructpathologiesanddietary variation as well as the broad categories of physical activitiesthat past populations engaged with during life. The ultimateaim is to detect variation along age and sex divisions, as wellasbetweensocialandkingroups. TheuseofsuchtechniqueseveninrescueexcavationsinGreeceisindicativeoftheirsuc-cessinreconstructingsocialrelationsinthepast.
These few examples show that classical archaeology hasmoved a long way away from typology and connoisseurship.Classical archaeology is nowadays employing innovativemethods, and is in a position to provide new and betteranswers. Looking back over its development in the last fourdecadesorso,wesurelyhavereasontobeoptimisticandpos-itiveabouttheprospectsandfutureofthediscipline.The proliferation of new methods and analytical tech-niques, however, brings with it new problems which at timesremain unnoticed. To start with, these new techniques havecertainlimitationsofwhichweneedtobeaware.Second,ana-lytical techniques are methods of analysis, and not tools of interpretation. Finally, the constant introduction of new ana-lyticaltechniquesisbringingaboutincreasingspecialization,growing fragmentation of the field and an unwillingness toattempt broader syntheses across disciplinary boundaries. I would like to illustrate these cautionary remarks with threeexamples.I start with the example of ancient DNA analysis. Thisnew method, which is now becoming more widely used, is a powerful and accurate technique which gives unequivocalresults about sex identification. DNA analysis can thereforesubstitute, or complement the more traditional osteologicalanalyses, especially in cases of poor preservation. Mitochon-drial DNA can also give invaluable evidence about kinshiprelations.
Here, however, some caution is necessary: mito-chondrial DNA can only reveal kinship relations down thematernal line, and can therefore provide at best a partial pic-ture ofkin relations. The mostimportant problem, however,is that reducing the whole gamut of relations based on con-sanguinity, affinity (marriage, adoption, baptism, etc.) andsocial exchanges (e.g. hospitality ties) to only their biologicalparameter,i.e.tobloodrelations,amountstoasevereformof biologicaldeterminism.AncientDNAanalysisinitself,i.e.if carried out in isolation, can tell us only a limited amountabout kinship relations in past societies. Only if undertakenin combination with a careful contextual analysis of allaspectsofthemortuarydataandasystematicexaminationof variation among age, sex and social groups, can thetechnique help us understand the role of kin in structuring 
13 Alcock&Cherry2004.14 Engels1990.15 Margaritis2003.16 Cappers2006.17 HalsteadandIsaakidou2004.18 Bookidis
1999.19 AscanbeevidencedinMacKinnon2007.20 GrammenosandTriantaphyllou2004.21 Sullivan

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