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Willey and Sabloff 1

Willey and Sabloff 1

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The Modern Period:New and Continuing Ways of Explainingand Understanding the Past (1960-1992)
This is the way of histories; that as they came closer tothe present and future, the errors of proportion becomegreater; so does the writer's subjectivity.
BRIAN ALDISS
CHAPTER SIX
A DEFINITION OFTHE PERIOD214
A DEF1NlTION OF THE PERIOD
215
-
tion, has shown other concerns which also must be considered as a partof the recent history of the discipline.One of the major hurdles in analyzing the intellectual trends of theModern Period is to avoid perceiving them in an overly rigid manner.Would
it
thus be preferable to view the past three decades as a linear sequence from the traditional archaeology to New or Processual Archae-ology, Postprocessual Archaeology, Critical Archaeology, Interpretiveor Hermeneutical Archaeology, Cognitive-processual Archaeology, andso on? We firmly believe that such a linear stance would be mistaken because elements of these approaches are present today and their under-lying themes have been part of the intellectual scene for the ModernPeriod, as well as in preceding periods. After all, thirty years or so is arelatively short stretch of time, and given the large quantity of recenttheoretically oriented articles, it would be easy to err in attempting toargue that one trend was rising while others were falling. Likewise, itwould be easy to fall into the trap ofacting like pollsters who do not revealtheir sampling techniques, so that readers would not be sure if intellec-tual historians were presenting accurate readings of the pulse of contem- porary archaeology or simply indulging in wishful thmking.'
It
hasrecently been argued, for example, in relation to one aspect of the period:
A
ny attempt to view what we call the
Modern Perio
in historical perspective is most difficult. The events are too recent, the time
IS
still upon us. Nevertheless, we must make this period - the three
dec-
ades between 1960and 1992-a part of our history of American archae-ology. Not to do so would be to fail in one of our most irnportanIobjectives to see the developments of the inunediate present in relationto those of the past.
In
our first edition (1974), we devoted only a single chapter to the period after 1960.Then, in the second edition (1980), we expanded
this
to three chapters. We were, at that point, we think, becoming
to.o
obsessed with the present.
It
was a disproportionate history. Here, inthisthird edition, we have returned to a single-if long-chapter. We
lU
ustalso explain our change of the name of the period in this third edtl1On.Previously, we had designated it as the Explanatory Period. NoW,
III
light of some of the developments of the last decade or so, we havechanged this to the more non-committal term Modem Period. In select·ing this term, we should specify that we use it in the very ordin~chronologIcal sense. We are in no way evoking
U  
modernism" as opposeto " derni (seeo post-me ermsm' or entering into that epistemological debate Harvey, 1989). We have done this because we feel that the goal
0
~l
u· . .
p~
 p ana on-In the strict sense of the explanation of process
in
culture change
-IS
too limiting. The course of American archaeologyover the past thirty years, while still much involved with such explana-
New Archaeology was a reform movement launched
by
a handful of 
archaeologists
in
departments of anthropology
in
North America in the
mid-1960s.
It
rose to a peak of intellectual vogue in the late 19605and early1970s, and gradually faded
in
popularity in the mid-1970s. (Gibbon, 1989, p.1)
We believe that given the limited time frame and broad intellectualferment of the Modern Period to date, trying to judge the popularity of various intellectual trends with method and theory articles, chapters,and books as the data base can be hazardous at best, because there seemsto be a wide gulf between what a limited number of scholars are sayingthe field is (or should be) doing and the kinds of research currentlyunderway or recently published. Indeed, this may always have been thecase in archaeology.
In
any event,
it
thus seem~ preferable, at this juncture when our perspective is so short, to examine the vanous intel-lectual trends that have characterized the field during the Modern Penodand look at their historical roots, as well as their interconnections of opposition, rather than attempting to chart their waxing and waning insome deterministic linear fashion.As previously, we begin the chapter with the thesis suggested near the close of the preceding one-that the reemergence of evolutionary
 
216
THE NEWARCHAEOLOGY
 Leslie
A.
vvhite.
1900-1975. (Fromthe Michigan
Hietoricol 
Collections,
 Ben tley Historical Library,
University ofMichigan)
THE MODERN PERIOD, (1960-1992)
THE NEW ARCHAEOLOGY
concepts in the late 1950s, after long years of disfavor, prepared the basefor the
New Archaeology
of the 1960s. We then examine this New Archae-ology, its
Iinks
with the past, and its innovations, especially those thatcan best be summed up under the term
Processualism;
the employmentof systems theory and the concept of the ecosystem; the use of statisticsand the role of the computer; deductive reasoning and the positivist philosophy of science; attitudes about ethnographic analogy in archae-ological interpretation; an emphasis on cultural variability; various problems of archaeological operation; and some selected case examplesof early New or Processual Archaeology from the 1960s. After this, wecontinue with the further consolidations and broadenings of New
Ar-
chaeological procedures and theory. This is followed by a considerationand a selective review of the influences which New Archaeologicalthinking has had upon the course of American archaeology over the pastthree decades, by what we have designated as "mainstream accommo-dations" to the New Archaeology. We then take up the essentially criticalreactions of the British and American Postprocessual Archaeologists tothe New Archaeology.a disinclination to separate evolution from history.
In
one sense, Willeyand Phillips were obviously right; process was not to be plucked easilyfrom the matrices of history. At the same time, their refusal to recognizetheir approach as an evolutionary one -even if no more than a prelimi-nary step in the arrangement of the data - was a hesitancy in keepingwith the antievolutionary attitudes of the times.
4
Much more direct evolutionary statements than those of WilIey andPhillips were also made by a few other American archaeologists in the1950s. Perhaps significantly, these were people. who had been moreinfluenced by White than by Steward. Betty J.Meggers was one of these.We have already referred to her 1954 paper on natural environment asa limiting factor in cultural growth, in which she combined a cultural-environmental approach with evolutionism. In 1955, in an article enti-tled "The Coming of Age of American Archaeology," she defendedevolutionary theory against the criticisms of the historical particul.arlsts by arguing. "Its validity stems from the fact that observable conditionscan be more easily understood and more simply explamed H the law
IS
assumed" (Meggers, 1955, p. 121). Observing that the mam. trends
in
social anthropology between 1930and 1955 had been in the direction of  psychological explanations of cultural phenomena, she pomted out thatarchaeologists, particularly in their area schemes of developme~talstages, had been moving toward evolutionary explanations. Referrmgto the social anthropologist Hoebel's statement about archaeology bemgthe "lesser part of anthropology," Meggers (1955,p. 120) goes on to add:"The strides that have been made [in archaeology]
In
recent yearsindicate that far from being a handicap, there is considerable advantagein being forced to deal with culture artificially separate from human beings." In other words, a concept of cultural evolutio~ came easy fothe archaeologist, given the nature of his or her data;
in
contrast~ thecultural anthropologist Leslie White had to arnve at Itby a more difficultintellecmal route. . .More substantively, Meggers (1956)made a signal contribution as a participant and editor of the symposium group thatproduced thepaper on community patterning referred to in the prevIOus chapte
in
our . d'
In
this work the baSICevolu-dIscussions of settlement-pattern stu les. , . d h. thr h . roved subsistence an t etionary assumptions of progress oug Imp . . dsed tonomadic lifewere rna egreater survival valueofsedentaryas oppo ha b datthe outset- definite explanatory and causal statements t t go eyonanything offered by Willey and Phillips. These assumptions were then. t t e scheme of settlement or examined cross-culturally to arrive a a s agCommunity patterning applicable to the Americas and beyon~. .tinAt the close of the 1950s and the 1960s, a numbe
0
wn
ifi
gslications of It to spec cappeared on evolutionary theory or on app
In
the mid-1950s, when Willey and Phillips published their scheme for  New World prehistory, cultural evolutionism was still largely pro-scribed in American anthropological circles.f For a long time, LeslieWhite had been its only protagonist.
3
Julian Steward, as we have seen, joined the issue in the late 1940s and 1950s with a brand of evolutionarytheory that seemed somewhat more immediately pertinent to the prob-lems of archaeology. Willey and Phillips were familiar with numerousculture sequences in the New World, and they could also see beyond the particulars of these sequences to realize that the story carried in themwas the story of the rise of civilization. At the same time, they were alsoaware of the many areal and regional peculiarities of American Pre-Co-lumbian history and its complex cross-currents of diffusion. They shiedaway from anything that seemed to them to be deterministic or thatwould readily
explain
the series of stages by which they viewed the NewWorld past (1958,p. 200):"The method iscomparative, and the resultingdefinitions are abstractions which
describe
culture change through timem native Arnenca. The stages are not formulations which
explain
culturechange [original italics]." They were, therefore, hesitant to use the word
eoolution
because of what seemed to them to be its deterministic andcausal implications. They felt that explanation must lie in a complexmterplay of diffusion, cultural-environmental interaction, demographiCchange, "homotaxis in a true evolutionary sense," and psychologicalfactors (WIlley and Phillips, 1958, pp. 70-71). Throughout, they showed
 Julian
H.
Steward, 1902-1972.(From Mrs. ].
H.
Steward)
217
 
218
THE MODERN PERIOD, (1960-1992)
THE NEW ARCHAEOLOGY
219
substantive problems.
J.
A.
Ford G I Q . bformer students of 
Whi ' ,. .
uim y, and W.
G.
Haag-allsearches had I be te s-:-were among the authors. Ford's field re-ong en gmded by evolutionary rec . th::~a:~::nd:~r~ ~:~icit ~ord, 1962) Quimby (1~60a)~~~d
~=:~~;
White's evolutio arc aeologlc.al and ethnological-in combiningattempt to expla.narythperspective with environmental determinism tom e nature of north
tern
North ArneriHaag, in a critical review article "Th e;ts
~m
forth
American
cultures.American Archaeolo ," offered e.
a.
s
0
Evolutionary Theory
in
gists: "Evolution ischgy. f a definition of evolution for archaeolo-culture and any bodilangem. orm and function through time of materialy acts Ideas and .therefrom" (Haa 1959 ' , sentiments that may be inferredlong been a part ~f A ' pp. 96-97). He went on to say that evolution had
. mencan
archaeology b .serous level. ' ut essentially on a subcon-Willey, in an article publish d .toward an evolutionary Ike m 1960, moved somewhat fartheevolution are
selecti
out
00
by stating that the processes of culturalve ones and
th
t
thr htheir survival and
fulfill
a , oug these, humans promoteImentHec
ti
d by which this comes be t· au ione ,however, that the coursesa u are not "and further observed th t hi programmed by laws of inevitably"a
w Ie technical .seem easy to plot on a hi
t .
-environmental adaptations
I.
ISoncal-evolutiogical realm (art) are
t
5
onary scale, those of the ideo-no.Old World archaeological and e .make themselves felt in A . volutionaj-v influences also began to
J.
Braidwood, althou h mhencanarchaeology at about this time. Robert
C.
g W
0,
like WIlley .onceivs of cultural e I ti ' was somewhat hesitant tovo u on as a p .contexts, had viewed N rocess outside of specific historical(B. ear Eastern prehi
t .
raIdwood, 1948 1952) H. s ory in an evolutionary light. ,. e like most thgists, had been infIuen db' h
0
er Near Eastern archaeolo-. ce ytearch I·mgs of 
V.
Gordon Child
6
I aeo ogical and evolutionary writ-theorv
i
e. n 1959 h tr d .eery
in
archaeology. ' e ace the history of evolutionaryh m a summary
arti
.on t e Old World but . h
IC
e, focusmg attention mainlyh ,Wit some reow Darwinian co erences to the New and showingncepts as a
Ii
d ' .early De Mortillet us pp e to culture had changed from the1959) ages to those f Chi!
. 0
de and others (Braidwood,A former student of B .dWorld and Americanist.d raJ Wood's, Robert Adams, brought Oldgether by researching. MIeas about cultural evolution even close
to-
. hi m esopotam· d .mg s attention in both la an Middle America and direct-t d areas to theere societies to those f h quantum advance from temple-cen-Pr~cessinEarlYCiVilizat~on:"e(1~:aan) states. In his "The EvolutionaryWlttfogel, arguing that ca I I :Adams was critical of Steward andstage definitions and cro usalre ahonships cannot
be
established byss-cu tural .compansons alone. He challengedsingle-explanation hypotheses, such as Steward's (see, for instance,1949a) belief that population pressure led to warfare or Wittfogel's (1957)insistence that the administrative requirements of large-scale irrigation produced the despotic state. The only way to avoid self-contained causaltheories, in Adams' view, was to recognize the complexity and interde- pendence of events leading up to major stage transformations and to present these to the greatest possible range of historical detail. Herecogruzed no inherent opposition between cultural-historical integra-non and evolutionism, Adams called for two things, one of which wehave referred to before. This is the necessity for contextual-functionalanalysis as an intermediate step between chronological ordering and processual understanding. The other, which is implicit but not explicit~ Adams' writings, is systemic analysis-the only way in which thecomplexity and interdependence of events," in Adams' terms, may beViewed m their proper relationships to one another.Adams' major work along these lines - and one in which he fol-lowed up his call for full historical and contextual detail- is his brilliant
The Evolution of Urban Socieiv: Early Mesopotamia and Prehispanic Mexico
(1966). In it, he traces with great care the parallel evolution of twosocieties, one in the Old World and one in the New World, from kin- based farming villages to stratified, politically organized states. WhileAdams rejected any single-principle explanation of cultural evolution,Steward (1966, p. 730) in reviewing his work, felt that "the author hasdocumented the incipiency of crop improvement, better utilization of microenvironments, and increased specialization and interdependencyof local population segtnents as the new processes or trends that led tostate institutions." Certainly, by 1966, the date of the publication of Adams' book, it was the outstanding example of the cross-culturalcomparative approach to an understanding of cultural evolution, theonly such attempt in which there had been a microanalysis of thearchaeological (and ethnohistorical) data bearing on the cases at hand.Bythe late 1960s, a change had taken place in American archaeology.There had been a tacit acceptance of cultural evolution. Any repre-sentative sampling of the then recent American archaeological literature,with its strong reliance on the ideas of White and Steward and theyounger cultural evolutionists among the social anthropologists, suchas Sahlins, Service, and Fried, bears this out. For example, in the four issues of the journal
American Antiquihj
that were published in 1971,there was a total of 16 references (in 21 articles) to the theoretical worksof these five men. A decade earlier, the four issues of the 1960-61 volumecontained orIly two references to Steward (in 28articles) and none to anyof the other four authors. This swift and quiet change is one of the mostinteresting phenomena of the Modem Period.

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