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C u r r e n t A n t h r o p o l o g y , Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

q 1999 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved 0011-3204/99/4005-0004$3.00

In archaeology as in most other disciplines, the past two

decades have seen the increasing use of textualist anal-
Archaeological yses, both in terms of using reading and writing as
analogies for all forms of meaningful social practices and
Narratives and Other their analysis and as a way of engaging reflexively with
problems of authority, representation, and politics in dis-
ciplinary discourses. These ideas can be traced in part to
Ways of Telling 1 theories of formal literary analysis in the early part of
this century and to the linguistic studies of Ferdinand
de Saussure at around the same time, though for many
archaeologists and anthropologists the proximate stim-
by Mark Pluciennik ulus came from Levi-Strauss (e.g., 1963 [1958]). However,
while formal (structuralist) analysis has been critiqued
and absorbed within both disciplines, the Saussurian
move to undercut the supposed transparency of language
and any necessary one-to-one correspondence between
With a few exceptions, archaeologists have been far less con-
cerned with the form of their texts or problems of authorship words and things was given new impetus in 1960s Paris
than have ethnographers. Typically, archaeologies are presented (e.g., Foucault 1970 [1966], Barthes 1975 [1970], Derrida
in the form of narratives understood as sequential stories. Ap- 1976 [1967]; for a critical review of the relationship be-
proaches to narrative analysis drawn from literary theory, philos- tween these two strands see Merquior 1986). What has
ophy, and sociology and definitions of characters, events, and
plots are examined, together with particular problems these may come to be called the linguistic turn in philosophy
pose for the discipline of archaeology. It is suggested that neither and the humanities emphasized rather the slipperiness
literary analysis nor the tendency to write and evaluate archaeo- of language and the deferral and indeterminacy of mean-
logical and historical narratives in terms of explanatory value ing, led to both the death of the author and the de-
takes sufficient account of the often hybrid nature and aims of
centring of the subject, and in general promoted a ten-
these texts and the contexts in which they were produced. This
argument is illustrated with particular reference to stories of the dency towards an anti-foundational constructionism.
Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Europe. It is argued that re- Recent debates in anthropology and archaeology have
considering archaeologys positioning across the 19th-century sci- tended to concentrate on the ontological and episte-
ence-humanities divide suggests a broader approach to the idea of mological implications of this second move.
what constitutes a narrative which can offer fresh opportunities
for useful reflexivity and experimentation in presentation. Fur- Simultaneously, the crisis of representation has led
ther roles and possibilities of narrative and non-narrative ways of to renewed interest in the ways in which members of
writing archaeologies are also considered. the disciplines characteristically present their work, in-
cluding the role of narratives. Yet despite much interest
m a r k p l u c i e n n i k is Lecturer in Archaeology at the Univer- in the forms and rhetoric of texts in other disciplines
sity of Wales, Lampeter (Ceredigion SA48 7ED, Wales, U.K. such as anthropology (e.g., Clifford and Marcus 1986,
[]). He was educated at the University
of Sheffield (Ph.D., 1994). His publications include Deconstruct- Strathern 1987, Geertz 1988, Sangren 1988, Roth 1989),
ing the Neolithic in the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition, in archaeologists have rarely explored the formal structure
Understanding the Neolithic of North-Western Europe, edited by of their output. Such few examples as there are tend to
M. Edmonds and C. Richards (Glasgow: Cruithne Press, 1998), concentrate on discourse analysis of the content of
Radiocarbon Determinations and the Mesolithic-Neolithic
particular categories or terms (e.g., Hodder [1989a] on
Transition in Southern Italy (Journal of Mediterranean Archae-
ology 10:11550), and At Home with Others: Anthropologists, excavation reports, Tilley on inaugural lectures at Cam-
Archaeologists, and Historians in Europe (Journal of European bridge [1989], modernist language [1990a], and British
Archaeology 3:22127). He is currently conducting a survey with university prospectuses [1993a], and Thomas [1993] on
Enrico Giannitrapani in central Sicily. The present paper was the changing associations and content of the term Ne-
submitted 11 v 98 and accepted 24 ix 98; the final version
reached the Editors office 15 x 98. olithic). Otherwise the relationship of archaeologists to
text has tended to be on a much more abstract level,
concerning the aptness or not of treating material culture
or social action as text (e.g., Moore 1986, Hodder 1989b,
Baker and Thomas 1990, Tilley 1990b, Gosden 1992).
The role of narratives (or other forms) as a generic class
of writing in archaeology has only rarely been considered
within archaeology (Terrell 1990, Landau 1991, Tilley
1993b, Johnson 1994; see also Bowler 1991). The analysis
of narratives qua narratives has been much more fully
explored within other spheres and disciplines, apart from
fictional literature (e.g., Scholes and Kellogg 1966, Chat-
man 1978, Cohan and Shires 1988, Miller 1990), ranging
1. I thank my colleagues Yannis Hamilakis, Cornelius Holtorf, and
especially Sarah Tarlow for their close readings of and detailed com-
from natural science (Gross 1990, Harre 1990, Myers
ments on an earlier version of this paper and an anonymous referee 1990, Lewin 1994) to anthropology (e.g., Bruner 1986;
for many helpful suggestions. Rosaldo 1993 [1989]; Denzin 1997:23149), sociology
654 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

(Abbott 1990, 1992; Atkinson 1990; Griffin 1992; Qua- and end or past, present, and future) is in narrative form.
dagno and Knapp 1992), psychology (Polkinghorne 1988, Philosophically and in relation to history, this position
Ochs and Capps 1996), philosophy, law, and economics is most clearly and cogently elaborated by Carr (1986a,
(Nash 1990), geography (Crang 1992), ecology (Cronon b) and Ricoeur (1988), though it appears anecdotally in
1992), and, most exhaustively, history (e.g., Gallie 1964; many introductions to narrative studies in the form of
Mandelbaum 1967; Ely, Gruner, and Dray 1969; Mink the question Why are humans storytelling animals?
1978, 1987; Dray 1971; White 1973, 1987a; Gardiner Narratives do not always have to be presented in a
1974; Ankersmit 1983; Ricoeur 1984, 1988; Danto 1985; purely linear sequential form, although one should be
Carr 1986a; Kellner 1987; Roth 1988; Callinicos 1995). able to extract such a chronological sequence and, in-
Although it is not the only form employed, given ar- deed, this is often the intention and effect of the ending
chaeological preoccupations with chronologies and or conclusion: to present the overall view, in effect a
hence sequences whether absolute (e.g., through radio- summary of the plot, of how a certain state of events
carbon dating), relative (stratigraphic), or implied (typo- arose by examination of preceding situations. We are all
logical), archaeology and the writing of narratives, un- used to making narrative sense of scenes, images, and
derstood as sequentially ordered stories, have an obvious arguments which may include distorted (stretched or
affinity. Archaeological topics such as the Mesolithic- compressed) and non-sequential time in the form, for
Neolithic transition, when defined as the change from example, of flashbacks, memories, and condensed or im-
Mesolithic hunter-gatherers to Neolithic farmers, vir- plied biographies of new characters. Thus narratives of-
tually demand the use of the narrative form, as do other ten also include descriptive and explanatory passages and
synthesized issues such as the evolution of . . . or the subsidiary narratives, not necessarily presented in se-
origins of . . . However, rather than revisiting debates quential chronological order.
which have been taking place in history, for example, for Unless we are using narrative in the broadest pos-
the past 40 years and more (and before that see, among sible sense, then, the distinguishing features of narra-
others, Hegel and Croce [White 1987b (1980), 1987c tives as opposed to other forms of writing would seem
(1984)]), I wish to concentrate on the use and status of to be sequentiality and emplotment (Ricoeur 1984:
narrative and narrative types within archaeology and par- 3151)the way in which the story achieves overall co-
ticularly prehistory. I shall examine the concept of nar- herence, the way in which it unfolds so that the end
rative, especially in relation to ideas developed in the result or situation can be understood as a logical or at
philosophy of history, and whether narratives in them- least plausible consequence of previously described sit-
selves need only represent knowledge or explanation. uations or conditions. Out of the selective (re)description
of objects, elements, events, conditions, and characters
and the myriad possible relationships between them in
What Is a Narrative? time, space, and nature, it is the plot, the thread of the
story, which emphasizes particular paths, possibilities,
Although narrative is sometimes used as a synonym and plausibilities of the characters and events and
for texts, I shall use the more common restricted def- which draws the text together as a narrative. It is the
inition of narrative as storya chronologically ordered relationship of emplotment to other concepts such as
and somehow unified or related sequence of events with causality, understanding, and explanation and hence the
a beginning, middle, and end. Propps (1968 [1927]) for- relationship of (narrative) history to science which has
mal analysis of Russian folktales is often cited as the provoked the debate most relevant to archaeology.
origin of modern narratology in its identification of re- In 1858 Johann Droysen suggested in his Grundrisse
curring structural motifs, some essential and others op- der Historik that there were three scientific methods:
tional, within the genre. This kind of analysis has been the speculative (formulated in philosophy and theology),
much extended in the study of fictional narrative (e.g., the mathematical or physical, and the historical. Their
Barthes 1977 [1966], Chatman 1978), and anthropologists respective essences are to know [Wissen], to explain [Er-
and archaeologists are familiar with this type of formal klaren], and to understand [Verstehen] (quoted in Polk-
structural analysis of elements and their repetition and inghorne 1988:38). Droysens statement can be taken as
transformation through, for example, Levi-Strausss a crucial point in the formulation of history and, more
work on myths (1994 [1964]). In archaeology Landau broadly, the splitting of the humanities from the sci-
(1991) and Terrell (1990) have examined tales of human ences as an autonomous realm of understanding and
evolution and Pacific prehistory respectively through the the subsequent development of hermeneutic approaches
lenses of Proppian hero motifs, with the characters un- from Dilthey to Gadamer and Ricoeur. It is in the context
dergoing trials, overcoming setbacks, returning home, of the debate over the validity of this move that the
and so on. Others have preferred to work from the lit- arguments over the status of narratives took place, par-
erary categories described in Aristotles Poetics and his ticularly in relation to history and especially from the
broader identification of narratives in terms of mimesis 1960s onward. This general background has had two con-
and muthos (e.g., Ricoeur 1984). A third strand derives sequences. First, historical narratives have often been
from phenomenological arguments (especially as ad- evaluated according to how they might measure up to a
vanced by Husserl) that a basic structure of human ex- scientific standard of explanation rather than whether
perience (perceptions of duration and beginning, middle, there might also be other legitimate aims or functions
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 655

(see, for example, the papers in Gardiner 1974). Secondly, elty. Thus they can be understood as historical
within history there has been a tendency to take tradi- colligations (Walsh 1974 [1967]), that is (p. 417), as
tional political biography as the epitome of narrative
history, though one might argue for a much broader relational constructs that unify a number of past or
view of what constitutes a narrative. Much of the recent contemporaneous actions and happenings that might
debate about the role and nature of narratives in history otherwise have been viewed as discrete or disparate
has centred round the work of Hayden White (1973, into a coherent, configured whole that gives mean-
1987a). ing to and explains each of its elements and, simul-
taneously, is constituted by them. . . . What is in-
cluded as a description of an event, then, is a
problem of sociological-historical purpose, and that
The Constituents of Narratives is a property of the analyst rather than of history
objectively given.
Narratives can be analysed in terms of at least three plots
constituent parts, often termed characters (subjects), Finally, what is the nature of the emplotment which
events, and plots. In fictional narratives, characters are distinguishes narrative from other ways of (re)presenting
usually human individuals; the archaeological (and so- events? White (1981) and Mink (1981) contrast historical
cial historical) equivalents are normally collectivities, annals, chronicles, and narratives as a way of illuminat-
which may range from gendered subgroups (young men, ing the difference. For White, if annals are mere se-
postmenopausal women) and roles or statuses (elders, quences of (apparently) unrelated events, chronicles dis-
chiefs) to communities or even larger and vaguer social play greater narrative coherency in that they may have
entities (Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, Linear Pottery a central subject. However, they are still reliant on chro-
households) which may either subsume or ignore poten- nology as the organizing principle of the discourse
tial subdivisions. For the purposes of this paper I there- (White 1987b [1980]:16) and lack (moral) closure, that
fore prefer to call them subjects (what Ricoeur [1984: summing up of the meaning of the chain of events. A
197200] calls quasi-characters). Although such sub- narrative, however, as a fully realized story . . . endows
jects may be the focus of a narrative, they are not nec- events . . . with a significance they do not possess as a
essarily the object of analysis or the narrative, which mere sequence (p. 14). For White, it is the moral judge-
may be a site, a landscape, or an event or process such ment involved in possible types of stories (such as epic,
as the transition to farming, adaptation, or evolution. romance, tragedy, comedy, farce, or satire) and the
The relationship between and nature of subjects and ob- readers subsequent recognition of the story type which
jects, as well as the scale of analysis, are neither fixed produce the meaning of the discourse. Comprehension
nor unambiguous. is nothing other than the recognition of the form of the
narrative (White 1987c [1984]:43).
Although it should be emphasized that White is gen-
erally dealing with grand visions of human history (what
Neither are events easily defined or analytically sep- are elsewhere called meta-narratives), for him the
arated. To begin with, events are problematic because narrative serves to transform into a story [emphasis
a given set of happenings can be plotted in many dif- added] a list of historical events that would otherwise be
ferent ways (Abbott 1992:438). Generally, events com- only a chronicle:
prise a sequence or agglomeration of selected elements In order to effect this transformation, the events,
or occurrences. Although some historical events such as agents, and agencies represented in the chronicle
a war may seem to be obvious, it is never clear where must be characterized as the kind of events [etc.]
the boundaries of an eventits antecedents (or causes), that can be apprehended as elements of specific
beginning, end, constituents, and effectscan be drawn. story types. . . . The historical discourse directs the
The search for definitions which can be operationalized readers attention to a secondary referent, different
has perhaps recently been most closely explored in his- in kind from the events that make up the primary
torical sociology within the strand called narrative pos- referent, namely, the plot structures of the various
itivism, referring to the fact that within a field still story types cultivated in a given culture. When the
largely dominated by quantitative and causal analysis, reader recognizes the story being told . . . [e.g., epic,
many sociologists will only be convinced by narrative romance] he can be said to have comprehended the
approaches which can be rigorously modelled and in meaning produced by the discourse.
which the narrative logic can be made explicit (e.g., Ab-
bott 1992, Stryker 1996). According to Griffin (1992:416), It is therefore arguably not enough for a narrative simply
an event is a historically singular happening that takes to list or describe events in sequence as does an annal
place in a particular time and place and sequentially un- or chronicle (for discussion see Mink 1981; White 1981,
folds or develops through time. . . . Events are thus tem- 1987b [1980]; and Waldman 1981), though one should
poral processes characterized by the emergence of nov- note that even an annal may have an unwritten context
656 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

within which it is understood and which may be argued marize as scientific, aesthetic, and social modes of com-
to supply the missing plot. Thus, for example, a se- prehension. An important point to note is that empha-
lection of kings and other apparently disparate occur- sizing in this way the act of comprehension suggests that
rences may be understood to represent the unfolding of the mode is at least partly dependent on the reader rather
Gods will or a genealogy of entitlement, usurpation, and than inherent in the form of the constituted object or
consequences, just as a sequence of pottery styles, simply text (even if Whites forms must be actively recognized
described, may be understood as the record of invasions for comprehension to take place). However, I would also
of different peoples, even though this is never made ex- see more blurring and overlap between Minks catego-
plicit in the text. In some cases these assumed contexts ries: to understand something as analogy, homology, and
comprise meta-narrative pre-understandings or plots through aesthetic judgement, for example (his categoreal
which may be as culturally specific and external to the mode of comprehension), would seem to me to be pre-
text as is the readers recognition of the form. cisely elements which are involved in the overlapping
Archaeologists and others have for a long time been descriptions of his narrative configurational mode. I
aware of the existence of meta-narratives such as social shall return to the notion of complex and simple de-
evolution, evolutionary theory, and marxism. Such scriptions below.
meta-narratives, persistent though often seen, at least In a related view from a historical sociologist, Griffin
since Lyotard (1984), as misguided or untenable, are now (1992:419) attributes narrative coherence to the inter-
generally characterized (usually pejoratively) as all-en- dependence of the actions described and the presence of
compassing though often unquestioned and unstated a single central theme:
frameworks (Klein 1995). Thus Tilley (1995:338) suggests
that probably no other concept has wreaked such dam- Narratives are orchestrated by the narrator to in-
age within the social and historical sciences as the notion clude a particular series of actions in a particular
of social evolution, and similar criticisms are made temporal order for a particular purpose. . . . This very
within archaeology by Rowlands (1989, 1994; cf. Kuper temporal relatedness, when coupled with the purpo-
1988 and Fabian 1983 for anthropology). I take meta- sive nature of narrativethe telling of a central
narratives to refer to the explicit or implicit intellectual theme as a storylends narrative its coherence. In-
framework within which narratives sensu stricto are deed, it is this qualitywhat the philosopher Louis
composed, but clearly such meta-narratives or, more Mink (1987) calls narratives configurational rhet-
broadly, unexamined assumptions can and do provide oricthat fosters intelligibility in ways not reduci-
one sort of coherence or emplotment. It is with these ble to what is learned from theoretical deduction or
grand visions of history, in which events such as the rise classification, causal generalization, or statistical
and fall of nations are seen to have a further significance, covariation. It also is largely this rhetorical form
that White (1973) is mainly concerned. Although nar- that endows narratives with their followability
ratives and meta-narratives are not limited to modern (Gallie 1964) and imbues them with the potential
Western times and places (we have, for example, Judaeo- for rigorous sociological-historical explanation.
Christian tales of salvation), these goal-oriented inter-
pretations which are used to impose a telos on the past This is the crucial point on which narrative viewed as
seem to have a particular political resonance with co- a form of knowledgewhether we call it comprehen-
lonialist, imperialist, and nationalist projects. sion, explanation, or something elserests: that narra-
In contrast to Whites literary approach, Mink (1987) tive is in some way more than a sequential and selective
begins from analytical philosophy in his attempt to char- description of possible events. Thus for these and many
acterize narrative understanding in the form of a Kantian other theorists it is the configuring function of plotits
a priori categorization. For Mink, there are three mu- ability to bring potentially disparate events within an
tually exclusive modes of comprehension (1987:51), the overarching framework and attribute a common mean-
theoretical, the categoreal, and the configurational. The ing which is more than the sum of its partswhich de-
first is typically scientific and refers to the comprehen- fines narrative.
sion of objects as instances of the same generalization.
The second, claims Mink, is comprehension of things as
examples of the same category, including the use of scales, contexts, and explanation
analogy or aesthetic judgements (p. 52). Finally, the con-
figurational mode includes narrative comprehension, There are several different strands here which need to
such as the pattern of words, gestures, and actions be unpacked. We may agree that narratives and their
which constitute our understanding of the personality of constituent parts are selections from a potentially infi-
a friend (p. 53). He suggests, for example, that the ac- nite number of elements, occurrences, and events, which
tions and events of a story comprehended as a whole are are (re)configured into a wholea storyusually by
connected by a network of overlapping descriptions (p. demonstrating spatial and temporal proximity and se-
58). Mink goes on to argue that none of these modes can quence. The nature of the linksthe interrelatedness of
ultimately be combined with another within a single act the events, conditions, and processescan range from
of comprehension, though they may be juxtaposed. Thus the individual, such as reason-action and other proxi-
he too offers a way of separating what we may sum- mate and specified cause-effect explanations, to the
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 657

grand, generalized, and abstract, such as the Hegelian fiction expression and conation may be emphasized.
progressive individuation of Spirit and other philoso- (In fact, recent work on rhetoric in science suggests that
phies of history examined by White (1973). Thus nar- White may have underestimated the role of these latter
rative configuration may be effected by showing simi- functions elsewhere [see below].) According to White,
larity (of nature, form, cause, or effect) between events those who view historical narrative as a form of expla-
widely separated in space and time and hence arguing nation stress the communicative function
for relatedness only in terms of common process. This (1987c[1984]:40) in which the coherence of the narrative
latter strategy is more common in science but can is given by logic (e.g., in terms of sequence and causality).
equally be used or implied in histories which purport to Hence in this view narrative is only a medium for the
identify an underlying facet of human nature (storytell- message (just like a syllogism or mathematical equation).
ing, male aggression, the Oedipus complex) or social pro- However, here and elsewhere White argues that in a
cess (cultural evolution, structuration). sense the forms of narrative possibilities are culturally
In history there has been a tendency to insist that nar- preconfigured, hence his tropological analysis. Thus he
ratives relate only to the historically specific (thus in- emphasizes the performative aspect of narrative, in
validating predictive lawlike explanations). The element which a discourse is seen as an apparatus for the pro-
of choice in what constitutes events and differentiates duction of meaning rather than as only a vehicle for the
them from objects, subjects, and plotsthe ambiguities transmission of information (1987c[1984]:42); to
of analytical scalesuggests of course that what is his- change the form of the discourse might not be to change
torically specific is also a judgement. Griffin (1992:417), the information about its explicit referent, but it would
for example, argues that colligations are formulated certainly change the meaning produced by it. Theorists
through the interpretation of the temporal and spatial such as Ankersmit (1983) go farther by pointing out that
relatedness of historical particulars. . . . Thus the concept any change (e.g., in element, style, or emphasis) will alter
of revolution is not a colligation. . . . The French Revo- the nature of the typically complex referents which are
lutiona singular, unique, historical happeningis. At the (constructed) objects of historical narratives. In fact,
another scale of analysis, however, all modern revolu- historical and archaeological narratives are likely to dis-
tions could be seen as different expressions of some com- play both individually and collectively a range of both
mon historically particular situation or event functions (logic, suasion, explication, description) and
forms of social unrest, the combination of capitalism configurationsnot only plots but ways of producing
and nationalism, or the political aspirations of previously those plots. Nevertheless, even if we refuse to limit our-
excluded classes, for example. Indeed, it is far from clear selves to literary topoi (story types) as does White, we
what distinguishes Griffins definition of an event from can agree that insofar as there is an overall meaning to
his more general definition of a narrative. This is a par- a narrative, the sources of that meaning will include both
ticularly cogent point for (especially prehistoric) archae- the plots that are brought to bear on events explicitly by
ologists, used to dealing also with the long-term and spa- the author and those brought from outside by the reader.
tially diffuse. Is the appearance of anatomically modern White is insistent, however, on the separation of ar-
humans, for example, an occurrence, an event, a process, gument from the attribution of meaning in historical
or a plot? The answer would seem to be any or all, de- narratives, which takes place only via literary (rather
pending on the selection of other facts and the context, than, say, scientific or logical) topoi: Certain narra-
scope, and purpose of the narrative concerned. tive discourses may have arguments embedded within
If there is potential slippage between the categories of them, in the form of explanations of why things hap-
narrative object, subject, event, process, and plot, then pened as they did. . . . But such arguments are more prop-
this would seem to call into question the claim that erly considered as a commentary on, rather than a part
narrative formthe type of storyis itself and only re- of, the narrative (1987c[1984]:43). As we have seen, ac-
sponsible for the overall meaning. White insists that cording to White (p. 44) it is the choice of the story type
there must be more to a historical narrative than the and its imposition upon the events that endow them
simple demonstration or assertion of links between the with meaning. While he concedes that the effect of
various elements and events. Yet why can a historical such emplotment may be regarded as an explanation,
narrative not be (merely) a selective description of related he insists that the generalizations are literary topoi
events and process(es)a plausible and convincing ver- rather than scientific laws. It is this second move which
sion of a chain/sequence of events? Why exclude explic- is the more provocative: that the secondary referent
itly scientific narratives which unify by purporting to for the reader is the plot structure or story typethe form
describe a process or processes without any overt judge- rather than the content or other effects of the style and
ment of meaning? According to White, it is because the configuration. Although I think Whites approach some-
nature of the coherence or configuration is given by dif- times works well in the analysis of meta-narratives, the
ferent factors in different genres or discourses. consequent reduction of the meaning of historical nar-
He suggests (1987c[1984]:39) that in poetry, for ex- ratives to categories of literary topoi is limiting. An al-
ample, coherence may be given by rhyme or meter. An- ternative is to follow Ankersmit (1983) in considering
other candidate is logic, as in scientific discourses, in the effect and function of a historical narrative to be the
which functions such as communication (description, construction of an integrated but complex referenta
demonstration, explication) may be privileged while in narrative substancewhich may or may not draw part
658 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

of its meaning from resonances or homologies with the explanations or descriptions of process, as well as to the
broad literary story types described by White. complex narratives as traditionally understood in the
Whites claim for the importance of story recogni- philosophy of history, whether construed as explanation
tion derives from the human desire to have real events or not. The very act of selection or constitution of events
display the coherence, integrity, fullness and closure of or objects is a form of emplotment as applicable to sci-
an image of life that is and can only be imaginary (White entific equations as to chronicles or more complex nar-
1987b[1980]:24). I think we can accept Whites point ratives. In this view scientific and historical narratives
when applied to human history on the larger scale. Ar- merely represent two points in a constellation of possible
guably, however, life always does appear to us at least ranges of expression and representations of (parts of) the
partly as a series of (variably interwoven) stories be-
world. However, we may note that it is equally possible
cause of repetitions, continuities, beginnings, changes,
to treat historical events and processes as if they were
and closure ranging from completed actions to birth, life,
reducible to causal processes in the same way as scien-
and death and at least the possibility of understanding
the sense of our own lives as projects or biographies. It tific explanations or to provide simplified and homoge-
appears more plausible to argue that stories (like in- neous subjects and historical processesas in many na-
terpretations) go all the way down (cf. Carr 1986a, b; tionalist texts or meta-narrative interpretations of the
Ricoeur 1984:52; see also Ochs and Capps 1996). rise of the West. Different forms of explanation con-
While Whites approach has been immensely stimu- struct different objects of analysis (Mahajan 1992). Sim-
lating, his insistence on the dominance of the literary ilarly, Ankersmit (1983) proposes that whole historical
form over the content seems overdrawn. Arguably, narratives, even when dealing with apparently the same
Whites and others refusal to abandon the idea of a basic object or event, are not strictly comparable, since each
difference in kind between history and the natural sci- narrative contains slightly different facts, emphases, or
ences in the ways in which meaning is comprehended interrelationships and hence constructs its own nar-
is due as much to their philosophical heritage as to any rative substance. While in scientific narratives the ob-
intrinsic contrasts. In fact, because of the 19th-century ject is often the (causal) process or a deliberately sim-
split between the humanities and the sciences noted plified entity, typically described in only one of its
above, the status and function of historical narratives potential aspects, in social or literary explanations the
tend, implicitly or explicitly, to be compared with an object is typically the event or subject(s). Characteristi-
ideal and valorized model of scientific explanation from cally, then, scientific narratives aim to isolate and ex-
which history differs negatively by reason of imprecision
plicate as generalizable examples events or generative
(the lack of quantifiable factors), complexity (the lack of
processes (for example, the production of a chemical
systemic closure), and unprovability (the impossibility
of repetition by experiment). However, in recent years compound or evolution)the medium is the message,
many people adhering to the strong programme of the the process is the object and plot, and the causes and
sociology of knowledge have pointed to the importance conditions are necessary and sufficient. In contrast, so-
of rhetoric, suasion, power, and consensus in the pro- cial and historical narratives often concentrate on the
duction and acceptance of scientific truths (e.g., Latour description of the conjunction of multiple necessary and
and Woolgar 1986, Knorr-Cetina 1993). Others have an- contingent conditions and processes producing complex
alysed the narrativization of scientific discoveries and and often overdetermined events, even if archaeological
ideas (Harre 1990, Myers 1990, Lewin 1994). Going even interpretations are subsequently equally underdetermi-
farther, it is equally possible to consider the most basic ned by the empirical evidence. It is because of the need
of scientific statements and explanations as particular to provide coherence to seemingly various and disparate
and simplified forms of narratives. For example, consider elements that the unifying role or form of the narra-
the chemical equation Na 1 Cl = NaCl. In words and tivethe plotis highlighted. Thus we may agree with
from left to right, the elements sodium and chlorine Polkinghornes summary of Ricoeur when he suggests
brought into sufficient proximity in time-space form salt with regard to human history that the plot, insofar as
(sodium chloride). This (repeatable) idealized event (or it functions to synthesize the heterogeneous, may be the
process) can of course be described in many different way to integrate the variety of explanatory forms . . . into
ways and produce many different images and under-
one intelligible whole to include circumstances, goals,
standings (for example, there was an explosion and this
interactions, and unintended results (Polking-
white stuff appeared, or atoms are like planetary systems
horne 1988:49). However, this does not have to imply
with orbiting electrons and combine by the exchange of
electrons and the binding of nuclei). It should be noted (contra White) that it is therefore the form rather than
that the ability to read this equation meaningfully de- the explicit content of the plot which ultimately deter-
pends precisely on the capacity of the reader to recognize mines meaning.
this particular story type, even though it is clearly not The fact that scientific events, conditions, and pro-
a Whitean literary topos. cesses may be repeatable (though, for example, many
I would argue that emplotment understood as the geological and cosmological events, whether scientifi-
(re)presentation of coherence, a particular configuration, cally or otherwise described, are not) and hence lead to
can at one level be applied equally to such scientific both laws and predictions does not seem to exclude their
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 659

analysis within a broad understanding of narrative.2 Nei- seems clear (however much we may mourn the death
ther does historical specificity have to exclude the aim of the author) that the capacity for emplotment resides
of being general or lawlikethe point of a particular case equally with the reader and is not necessarily given by
study may be precisely to demonstrate the character of the form of the narrative. Although the author may often
certain natural or human processes, such as evolution offer explicit guidance in the form of the moral or pre-
or adaptation, by presenting an exemplar of a quasi-uni- ferred meaning, a discourse that one person may read as
versal plot or process. However, both (or all) types of a romance of social evolutionary progress may be seen
narrative are always framed by and presented within a by another as tragedy or satire. In fact we are all used to
wider contexta preferred meta-narrative, pre-under- doing exactly this, for example, with 19th-and earlier-
standing, or worldviewwhich presupposes the exis- 20th-century historical and ethnographic accounts. This
tence of particular types of entities and hence ways in is more than merely disagreeing with any empirical de-
which the world works and may be described, grasped, tails, premises, or conclusions but rather a reevaluation
manipulated, explained, or understood. by bringing new contexts to old stories. More broadly,
In this view, the coherence of a narrative describing a those predisposed to explanation as causal and scien-
sequence of events could be given equally by, for ex- tific will tend to favour Occams razorthat (ceteris
ample, physical causality in the context of a particular paribus) the simplest explanation is best; those who en-
chemical equation or the demonstration of a particularly visage the world as messy, incoherent, and ruled by con-
complex intersection of physical and cultural conditions tingencies and indeterminacy may justifiably prefer nar-
and social processes. What is clear is that to emphasize, ratives which mirror that vision of the world.
for example, systemic process, material causality, social
agency, or a specific combination of all three is neces-
sarily to engender a particular vision of the world, how archaeological narratives
it works, and by implication our place and powers within Because of the background discussed above, it is impor-
it. In this sense all narratives of whatever type do make tant to understand the different positionings and trajec-
a moral or political judgement and attempt to persuade tories of Anglo-American archaeology and history as
us of the cogency, relevance, and coherence of that par- disciplines.3 To oversimplify, pre-World War II culture-
ticular vision. historical archaeology and traditional historical narra-
What, then, makes a good narrative rather than a bad tive can be seen to have many facets in commonin
one? In science, replicability and material efficacy may essence, the unproblematic description of sequences of
be prime criteria. For the historical disciplines, apart change, however they were explained (e.g., as folk mi-
from decisions about the accuracy and appropriateness gration or as the effects of powerful elite individuals).
of the elements and aesthetic criteria such as breadth, After the war, both disciplines went through phases of
richness, style, and followability (Gallie 1964), eval- modelling themselves on the hard sciences to a greater
uations of narratives will depend on whether consistency or lesser extent, with the advent of cliometrics in history
(the demonstration of same/similar ordering relations) (Stone 1979) and versions of cultural ecology and then
and complexity, for example, are perceived as good things New Archaeology in anthropology and archaeology (Trig-
and whether the choice and nature of ordering relations ger 1989). Similar concerns can also be seen within the
individually and collectively appear both interesting and philosophy of history, with the discipline being charac-
(logically or otherwise) plausible (cf. Cronon 1992: terized as a young or immature science and hence
137176). Hence what makes a narrative good is highly one in which the (desired) explanatory or covering laws
subjective and will ultimately depend on wider cultural, were often unstated, implicit, only lawlike or ex-
communitarian, disciplinary, and individual pre-under- planatory sketches (see, e.g., Gardiner 1974). However,
standings, needs, dispositions, and prejudices (sensu explicitly quantitative scientific and explanatory modes
Gadamer; cf. Lewin 1994, Lampeter Archaeology Work- and rhetoric never became as important in history as in
shop 1997). Any text is the result of a series of choices archaeology. From the 1980s onward there was a partial
regarding form, content, and style. For narratives, certain reaction in prehistoric archaeology against what were
fictional genres such as the avowedly avant-garde are the seen as prescriptive and overly scientistic goals and
least constrained by tradition, while innovation in pre- (again as in many other disciplines) a movement towards
sentation (rather than content) is most frowned upon in hermeneutic, structuralist, and more broadly textual
science, where codes of representation are consensual social or interpretive archaeologies. However, most
and often taken to be unproblematic and transparent. In archaeologists have always acknowledged that their dis-
this sense, ethnographers have tended to be far more cipline overlaps both sides of the 19th-century divide
experimental than archaeologists. between the natural and the human sciences and that
Although virtually all the theorists discussed above
speak of purpose or moral judgement vis-a`-vis the 3. I must emphasize that in the case studies that follow I am con-
plot as though it were the prerogative of the writer, it cerned with American and North European (predominantly British)
examples. In many other parts of Europe, discussion is often still
framed in broadly culture-historical terms, and, consequently, dis-
2. My argument for a broader application of narrative mirrors to a cussion of the tensions between the myriad scientific, processual,
certain extent the arguments of Roy Bhaskar (1989) for ontological historical, postprocessual, ethnographic, postmodern, and other ap-
and epistemological naturalism in the social sciences. proaches to the past is less well developed.
660 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

many of its techniques and specialisms are based on in- as laws (e.g., a person of this type would tend to think
disputably hard science. This suggests that many dif- or do this in this sort of situation) need not concern us
ferent types of description, explanation, and understand- here. Any descriptions or explanations of human history
ing may be deeply embedded in archaeological texts: involve some explicit or implicit assertions and gener-
archaeology may be considered more hybrid in this re- alizations, namely, that humans behave or can be un-
spect than the persuasive fictions of ethnography derstood like this, where this can range from the naive,
(Strathern 1987). personal, anachronistic, and andro- and ethnocentric via
Despite the differences among theoretical schools, ar- the culturally and historically specific to the broadest
chaeology as a discipline has characteristics which may definitions of humans as, for example, language-using,
pose particular problems for or emphasize particular competitive, or biologically constrained. But to argue
forms of writing. Typically, archaeologists are often con- that the acceptability or explanatory value of a his-
cerned with a variety of time spans, and therefore the torical account must therefore only be cast in the form
definition of and relationship between subjects, events, of in principle generalizable laws, processes, and hy-
and processes and plots is distinctive to the discipline. potheses which are either proved or disproved (e.g., Mur-
Unlike those in traditional historical narratives, individ- phey 1994, Nettle 1997) unhelpfully narrows our under-
uals are generally unnamed, and the characters are usu- standing of what form a hypothesis, theory, or narrative
ally collective and may be communities, societies, must take.4
traditions, cultures, styles, activities, technologies, sites, Crucially, archaeological (like any other) narrative ob-
landscapes, or even regions. Archaeologists are often jects are post-hoc constructions. The relationship of
working at three or four removes from, say, a traditional events to their constituent elements, particulars, or oc-
historians text with a purported eyewitness account or currences, which may themselves be complex and de-
record of other people, events, or conditions, let alone pendent on the results of prior analysis or reasoning, is
an ethnographers oral reports and direct observation. analogous to the relationship between plots and events.
While archaeologists do not have to eschew individual Similarly, the constitution of events and their relation-
intentions and reasons as part of their narratives, typi- ship to past occurrences and other cognized or narrated
cally they are dealing with implied constructs and ab- events is analogous to the construction of appropriate
stracted notions of human behaviour or action and their time-scales and definitions for those working within a
outcomes, often with great uncertainty as to their nature, broadly Braudelian temporal framework: what consti-
chronology, intentionality, and representativeness. Es- tutes lhistoire evenementielle, conjoncture, and the
pecially in syntheses, archaeologists must also deal with longue duree will depend upon the intention and pre-
a mix of methods and data from various sources and of figuration of the analyst concerned (for archaeology, see
differing explanatory weight and utility. All archaeolo- Knapp 1992; cf. Ricoeur 1984:21725; Aminzade 1992).
gists routinely use lawlike causal explanation to explain Thus events or processes in archaeological narratives,
outcomes related to the invariable properties of certain such as the origins of agriculture or the Mesolithic-Ne-
types of materials and natural processes such as the ta- olithic transition, are always constructed from elements
phonomy of a site and may invoke broad ecological prin- or occurrences in the past or the present; those elements
ciples, for example, as well as using more contentious may be the presence (or absence) of a single potsherd,
explanations, generalizations, analogies, and specula- domesticated bone, or cereal grain at a particular site or
tions derived from social theory, ethnography, ecology, archaeological facts at a much broader temporal and
or biology. It is generally at the level of the appropriate- spatial scalethe appearance of particular material cul-
ness of approach and attribution of possible mean- tures or practices, settlement patterns, or contemporary
ingthe nature of the plot and the type of narrative ob- gene frequency distributions, for example.
ject constructedthat paradigmatic archaeological As Abbott (1992) notes, since events have duration and
debates take place. overlap, the attribution of sequence may become prob-
While singular and simple narratives may offer a sense lematic despite being a defining characteristic of narra-
of final closure, it is equally possible (and normal in an-
thropology, history, and archaeology) to present partial 4. Thus Murphey (1994:285), discussing Jack Greenes Pursuits of
rather than totalizing narratives, in the sense that the Happiness, about Englands western colonies in the 17th and 18th
centuries, argues that it is implicit in the theory that, were it
end of the story is obviously arbitrary and provisional possible to replicate the exact socio-cultural, psychological, bio-
(e.g., the establishment of a community fully dependent logical, and physical conditions in a different spatio-temporal re-
on agro-pastoral subsistence) without claiming that no gion, the same process would be observed and so this is an example
other stories remain to be told or that other narratives of a testable and generalizable causal hypothesis. Apart from Mur-
pheys peculiar assertion that in principle the exact conditions
referred to within the text (e.g., gender relations, cultural
could be replicated in a different spatio-temporal region, his
dynamics) must begin or finish at the same point. Char- claim seems to be the rather confused one that if history repeated
acteristically, then, archaeological narratives involve a itself exactly, then exactly the same causal processes would be (or
great range of elements and occurrences, from individual, could be said to be) responsible. For further problems with Mur-
cultural, social, species-specific, and natural dispositions pheys approach, see Roth (1995). In a far narrower and less so-
phisticated comment, Nettle (1997:284) merely asserts that there
to local and global conditions. Whether some of the is only one coherent candidate for a background theory on which
causes which may be given in such narratives are de- anthropology can be founded, and that is Darwins theory of
rived from implicit generalizations which could be cast evolution.
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 661

table 1 dominant narrative forms and figures and their affinities

Whites (1973) Narrative Forms (table 1).5 However, White himself commented (p. 29):
These affinities are not to be taken as necessary
Trope Emplotment Argument Ideology combinations. . . . On the contrary, the dialectical
tension which characterizes the work of every mas-
Metaphor Romance Formist Anarchist ter historian usually arises from an effort to wed a
Metonymy Tragedy Mechanist Radical mode of emplotment with a mode of argument or of
Synecdoche Comedy Organic Conservative ideological implication which is inconsonant with
Irony Satire Contextual Liberal
On this reading and Rudebecks analysis, however, al-
tive and one which is especially important for those at- most every prehistorian writing about the transition to
tempting to offer causal explanations. Arguably, because farming in the early-to-mid-1980s could be characterized
of the particular nature of (especially prehistoric) ar- as a master historian. In terms of the arguments, for
chaeological dataindeterminate, ambiguous, or uncer- example, Rudebeck concludes: It is hardly possible to
tain and chronologically imprecise and/or inaccu- discern only one formal argument in the texts. . . . not
ratethis is a particular problem for archaeologists. As one author finds a formist argument to be sufficient as
discussed above, discrete events, characters, and plots explanation [and] . . . therefore the formist argument is
viewed as process may become mutually constituting coupled with mechanistic or organicist arguments. . . .
and their boundaries blurred. However, this changing re- we find tendencies towards both formist and mechanis-
lationship between (textual and analytical) entities may tic and also contextual arguments in [Jennberts] text
itself be symptomatic of certain kinds of archaeologies (1996:74). Rudebeck also finds that Mesolithic people are
(see below). There would seem to be two main strategies variously positioned as romantic, tragic, and comic char-
which can be pursued in the construction of archaeo- acters. In only one of the six works discussed is Whites
logical narratives. First, uncertainties and gaps can be proposed affinity of emplotment with argument fully
subsumed by positing a continuation of the same, often supported.
within a deliberately large-scale and explicit meta-nar-
5. Tropes describe types of indirect or figurative language; thus,
rative, of which social evolution in one form or another through metaphor, phenomena can be characterized in terms of
has been the most persistent. The telos of progress, usu- their similarity to, and difference from, one another (White 1973:
ally understood as the recent or present state of the au- 34); metonymy is a part-whole relation (as in crown for king-
thors society (local, national, or global), is used as a mea- ship); synecdoche uses a part for a quality of the whole (Tilley
[1993b:18] gives the archaeological example of changes in pot design
sure to offer retrospective judgement on past events or standing for changes in social relations), and irony uses the con-
societies and their place within that process. Another tradictory, absurd, or paradoxicalrecently highlighted in the ques-
recent and often explicit meta-narrative is represented tioning of the status of the author or the text. The point for White
by neo-Darwinian views of cultural evolution, which is that metaphor can be considered representational, metonymy
also attempt to give meaning to all events and behaviours reductionist, synecdoche integrative, and irony negational (White
by placing them within a general understanding of cul- The four emplotment types chosen by White (following Northrop
tural process (e.g., Boyd and Richerson 1985, Dunnell Frye) are perhaps more easily recognizable: romance may be sum-
1989). The second strategy is to celebrate or feel liberated marized as heroic transcendence (and hence has obvious resonances
by the apparent openness, discontinuity, and indeter- with progressive, social evolutionary plots), while satire reveals the
ultimate inadequacy of the visions of the world (White 1973:10)
minacy of human affairs. This second strategy rather em- and hence has affinities with postmodern ironic commentaries.
phasizes the importance of contingency and agency over Comedy displays (at least temporary) reconciliation or harmoni-
(especially teleological) process, though such views are zation in a positive sense, while tragedy shows the limits to human
usually underpinned by another generalization such as nature and aspirations.
the understanding of social process as structuration (Gid- In the types of arguments White identifies, those characterized
as formist are largely descriptive classifications of the chosen ob-
dens 1984) or habitus (Bourdieu 1990). In recent years jects, with few or vague generalizations about process. Mechanist
both strategies have had their adherents. explanations seek causal laws that determine the outcomes of
processes (White 1973:17), and Marx is cited as a prime example.
Organicist arguments take individual entities as components of
processes which aggregate into wholes that are greater than, or
qualitatively different from, the sum of their parts (p. 15), while
Archaeology and the Transition to Farming the contextualist strategy is to trace threads linking events out-
ward in space and time, linking (often synchronically) rather than
integrating events and trends.
To my knowledge, the only rigorous attempt to apply White further argues that these various linguistic, literary, and
Whites type of topological analysis to archaeological explanatory levels tend to produce distinctive types of worldviews
narratives (but see Hodder 1995) is Rudebecks (1996) or political ideologies. It should be noted that many of these ap-
excellent analysis of 1980s papers on the transition to parently rigid categorizations are heavily qualified in footnotes.
Thus, for example, regarding tropes, he adds that all of the tro-
farming in southern Scandinavia. Rudebeck draws pological strategies of linguistic usage are present [in 19th-century
largely on Whites (1973) analysis of 19th-century phi- literature], but present in different degrees in different writers and
losophers and historians, in which he identified various thinkers (White 1973:33).
662 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

Although Rudebecks close reading of these texts pro- from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
duces many pertinent comments, the degree of overlap His explanation (or emplotment) is clearly pro-
and lack of agreement with Whites categories suggests videdthough not very explicitly in this textwithin a
that this approach is not necessarily the most fruitful for broadly materialist social evolutionary framework, oc-
archaeological narrative (rather than meta-narrative) casionally using marxist terminology such as mode of
analysis. An examination of a selection of texts dealing production, primitive communism, and ideological
with the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Europe from superstructure. This is not culture history in the ster-
the past 50 years shows that although some can be con- eotyped sense, in which culture change is inevitably
sidered in terms of their meta-narrative emplotment, the equated with folk migration, but rather culture dif-
shifts in approaches, motifs, styles, and arguments can fusion. Characters, then, are peoples, and events are so-
also usefully be analysed in a less programmatic fashion. cioeconomic changes expressed in or shown by material
culture. In the wider sense the narrative substance and
plot is the rather Hegelian manifestation of the human
culture history
spirit, though in pan-European rather than Teutonic
The fourth (1947) edition of Childes Dawn of European form.
Civilization, first published in 1925, represented a major
revision, though it is clear from the reprinting of the
culture process
earlier prefaces that Childe maintained his earlier social
evolutionary thesis in substance even if the detail and This social evolutionary view of culture diffusion
chronology were changed. My theme is the formation (though often with much more emphasis on migration
of European Civilization as a peculiar and individual as the primary force for change) can be said to have lasted
manifestation of the human spirit (preface to the first until the late 1960s. At that time new or processual
edition, reprinted in 1947:xiii). In fact the volume was archaeologies began to make their impact, though fre-
part of the publishers History of Civilization series, de- quently in relation to the origins of agriculture (e.g., Bin-
signed to form a complete library of social evolution. ford 1968) rather than its spread across Europe. Such in-
Childe himself noted that progress is an indivisible novative approaches as systems theory, in which
whole (p. xv) but after the Neolithic revolution the societies were presented as essentially closed systems
leading part was played by the European West, which with supposedly specifiable and quantifiable relations
adapted the gifts of the East and united the contribu- between parts and wholes, provided extremely coherent
tions made by Africa and Asia into a new and organic narratives judged in terms of formal logic (e.g., Flannery
whole capable of developing on its own original lines. 1972). There was a shift to narratives concentrating on
By the sixteenth century b.c. the new organism was al- cultural, biological, and ecological processes rather than
ready functioning and the point had arrived when the historical events and hence providing models and expla-
Westerners were ready to assume the role of masters nations (Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza 1971, 1973; Ren-
(p. xiii). frew 1973) analogous to those found in science. Thus in
The text comprises a series of sequential narratives New Archaeology, process (plot) often became conflated
arranged by chapter in geographical areasGreece, the with the event (or vice versa)which may be valid in
Balkans, western Mediterranean islands, and so on. that perceptions of events and plot are intimately linked
These tend to be largely descriptions of archaeological and mutually determining. But this relative downgrading
materials and burial practices, with very little theoretical of the importance of specific events per se in favour of
exposition or, indeed, clear view of process except in the generalized processes is a large part of the reason this
broadest culture-historical terms (though of course new archaeology was rightly seen as anti-historical (e.g.,
Childe did present such views elsewhere [1951, 1964]). Binford 1977). What made processual archaeology pro-
Childe does make reference to several sorts of transi- cessual was precisely this concentration on highly spec-
tion: in the Pontic zone we have, for example, the ified plots out of which events naturally developed and
conversion of autochthonous food-gatherers to food-pro- could with hindsight be given causal or quasi-causal ex-
duction by agents of Oriental civilization (1947:149); planation. Such attitudes perhaps reached their epitome
the origin and spread of the Danubian are considered in such examples as Renfrews (1978) catastrophe theory
possibly due to migration from the Mediterranean or An- and Renfrew and Cookes (1979) mathematicized
atolia, population overflow from the Morava sites, or archaeologies.
acquisition of Neolithic traits from the Morava or Koros One influential approach in this vein to the Meso-
peoples (p. 101); in southern Sweden we may have im- lithic-Neolithic transition in Europe was that proposed
migrants or merely descendants of hunter-fishers who by Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza (1971, 1973, 1984; see
had adopted various traits (p. 162) and in northern Ger- also Renfrew 1987, 1992; Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi, and
many the development of hybrid cultures (p. 165). Piazza 1994). They argued that the broad south-east-to-
Elsewhere we have acculturation, absorption, in- north-west cline shown by radiocarbon dates for earliest
filtration, invasion, conversion, influence, as farming sites, when plotted for the Near East and Europe,
well as population expansion and trade. In short, Childe suggested a model of roughly steady spread of the Ne-
is perfectly happy to see a mosaic of social processes as olithic. This, they proposed could be understood in
explaining changes in the archaeological record of Europe terms of a wave of advance model in which small
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 663

random moves caused by the fission of settlements under of various forms of evolution continued to frame many
conditions of slow but steady growth of agricultural pop- works. For example, Boguckis (1988) volume, which
ulations produced an outward ripple effect. Although concentrates on central and northern Europe, is ecolog-
they did not deny the possibility of other mechanisms ically oriented: human adaptation as the concatenation
of diffusion, they argued that modern European genetic of solutions to environmental problems will be the un-
distributional data retained evidence of this genetic (and derlying theme of this book (p. 5). However, he is also
cultural) swamping of sparse indigenous Mesolithic pop- interested in regional differences and offers a sophisti-
ulations by people of genetically exogenous origin. These cated and complex understanding of the social and other
cultural, demographic, and genetic processes were mod- contexts of relationships between households and com-
elled mathematically and again represent a scientific and munities. Bogucki criticizes the narrow obsession with
quantifiable version of the transitional event very much subsistence of Jarman et al. and their insistence on the
as a process. long-term as the only scale and focus. Like Gregg (1988)
Almost the last approach exclusively in this vein was and Zvelebil (1986), Bogucki demonstrates much more
that of Jarman, Bailey, and Jarman (1982), which, how- concern with interrelationships between foragers and
ever, drew on and summarized earlier work from the farmers (whatever their origins as colonists or in-
1970s (Higgs 1972, 1975). Explicitly generalizing and sci- digenes) in what can now be seen as part of the 1980s
entific in approach though it was, the authors recognized postcolonial/postimperial reevaluation of this portion
the possibility of other forms of explanation or under- of the past. Nevertheless, one could note that Boguckis
standing: It was never the intention . . . to imply that framing meta-narrative can be regarded as romantic
palaeoeconomy offered the only acceptable framework sensu White or heroic sensu Propp insofar as the process
for the treatment of archaeological data (1982:1). They of adaptation represents the progressive overcoming of
recommended a scientific approach (which would lead adverse conditions through evolutionarily conditioned
to the postulation of laws) and argued that a long-term human cultural advances (p. 8). Bogucki displays a ten-
time-scale and an evolutionary approach were virtually dency towards ecological functionalism but never na-
demanded by the imprecision, poor resolution, and in- ively. Nevertheless, the ultimate cause of the spread of
completeness of prehistoric archaeological data. Humans agriculture by indigenous adoption on the North Euro-
must archaeologically be understood as biological ani- pean Plain, for example, is seen to be climatic deterio-
mals rather than as social beings. Archaeological in- ration. Thus Bogucki tentatively suggests (p. 219):
formation is peculiarly well fitted to such a generalizing
role, but . . . is hopelessly inadequate in almost all cases As the central European climate became more vari-
to deal effectively with the particular (p. 253). They able after 3500 bc . . . the additional carbohydrate
continued: With this in mind, it seemed to us that the source of domestic grain and the protein source of
nature and development of subsistence economies could domestic animals became more important in main-
usefully be viewed in terms of the interplay between taining the growing local hunter-gatherer popula-
three primary variables: the population [population pres- tions. Some areas such as the west Baltic coast were
sure], the available resources, and the technology for buffered against this variability at first by the mari-
their exploitation. Population pressure was regarded as time resources, but soon they too adopted
the key causal factor (p. 71). Further, their (biologically) agriculture.
evolutionary approach was still set within an under-
standing of progressive directionality and in this sense
is part of the set of romantic social evolutionary nar- The most influential volume on the Mesolithic-Neo-
ratives, in which there is a gradual development from lithic transition in Europe in the past decade has been
simple to complex and controlled exploitation systems Zvelebils (1986). The full titleHunters in Transition:
(p. 58). Mesolithic Societies of Temperate Eurasia and Their
Transition to Farmingwas symptomatic of a changed
cultural and political context in which the simple im-
culture contact
plicit identification of the reader and author with the
Although one can point to the work of Bender (1978, progressive farmers in a social evolutionary sense was
1981) and her structural marxist insistence on social con- deliberately challenged, an atmosphere also seen in the
tradictions within and competition between forager contemporaneous reevaluation of hunter-gatherers more
groups as important factors for change, these papers of- generally (e.g., Price and Brown 1985; see Bender and
fered generalized frameworks for understanding subsis- Morris 1988). Drawing on frontier-zone models, Zvelebil
tence intensification. The major switch in approaches to has since gone on to use a descriptive and abstract three-
the European Mesolithic-Neolithic transition can be stage availability model as a heuristic device (1996:
seen in published works from the mid-1980s onwards 325) for examining the transition to farming in the cir-
(e.g., De Atley and Finbow 1984, Bender 1985, Dennell cum-Baltic region in detail. Partly, of course, this is made
1985, Zvelebil 1986). Most important, ideas of the tran- possible by the great increase in data and dating since
sition as highly variable and dependent on social context the time of Childe, but the article also shows much more
returned, only this time with more rigorous definition explicit use of theory and explanatory devices in terms
of the processes involved. Nevertheless, meta-narratives of both specified social processes and ethnographic anal-
664 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

ogies. As part of the central narrative, Zvelebil proposes the criticisms of determinism and lack of agency. People
various social processes such as cooperative forager- have needs, intentions, and desires which are fulfilled
farmer exchange and then those with disruptive ef- on a pragmatic level, but the way in which these acts
fects, including social competition for prestige items, are performed and the conditions that surround them
exploitation of hunter-gatherer lands by farmers, over- necessarily draw on earlier and contemporary practices,
exploitation of certain natural resources used for trade understandings, and meanings and both reproduce and
and/or prestige, and hypergynythe loss of forager transform them. Thus the spread and development of the
women to farming communities (pp. 33738). These tend Neolithic may be read as the reception, reproduction,
to be generalized processes, though in many cases they elaboration, and transformation of binary or tripartite
bear a clear relationship to possible reason-action expla- structures or ideasdomus-agrios or domus-agrios-foris.
nations. For example, the results of the postulated hy- Although Hodder has been criticized for underempha-
pergyny can be cast in terms of males individually or sizing the role of agency (e.g., Last 1995), it is quite clear
collectively seeking to increase their standing with that much of his depersonalized narrative could easily
women as potential partners by increasing their hunting be put in such terms. For the development of the Linear
for exchange purposes or adopting farming to gain access Pottery complex, for example, he often describes changes
to socially valued commodities (p. 338). But clearly the at a general levelvillage formation, the will to ag-
thrust of the paper is towards a narrative form of expla- glomerate, the new emphasis on boundaries and en-
nation, invoking both contingency, historical specificity, trances along linear graded space (Hodder 1990:129), but
and the dialectic of structure and agency, determination elsewhere he refers explicitly to social actors elabo-
and intentionality referred to by Mahajan (1992:100). rating boundaries of the domestic unit in order to cre-
The forager-farmer contacts, through which the tran- ate, compete for, and control prestigious social relations
sition to farming was mediated in many areas, acted as within and between communities (p. 135).
a mechanism regulating the rate of transition, and may Sometimes the mechanisms are unsatisfyingly
be counted as one among the causes of the transition vagueIt is as if the inhabitants of Erteblle sites were
(Zvelebil 1996:341). Simple or quantified causal expla- unable to adopt agriculture until transformations had
nations are rejected, and room is offered for hermeneutic taken place within central European society which made
input. For example, Hypergyny . . . is an ideologically agriculture more compatible with Erteblle principles
contingent practice (p. 338). This paper can be taken as (p. 182)but the typical postprocessualist concern with
an exemplar of a series of regional narratives which Zve- power usually makes competition and dominance the
lebil sees as relevant to the larger plot of the transition driving forces at the individual and the group level: I
to farming in Europe. However, we can note that if the assume that the discourse between the cultural and the
event described is the transition to farming in the Baltic, natural was used within social strategies to enhance the
this event is several thousand years long. During the domination of certain age, gender, descent, and spatial
1980s exploration of (often continent-wide) processes groupings (p. 285). While the event of the narrative is
was emphasized at the expense of that of events (e.g., clearly the spread of the Neolithic understood in sym-
Redding 1988). Plots tended to remain social evolution- bolic terms, again we are faced with the recursive rela-
ary in character, with the progress downplayed or reev- tionship between event(s), structures, and processes, and
aluated, but the transition was not explicitly written as each chapter can also be treated as a regional event or
tragedy. Nostalgia for a golden past of originally afflu- process. The whole is set within a larger plot of culture-
ent hunter-gatherers and identification with Meso- nature elaboration and social competition from the Pa-
liths was often jokingly asserted or admitted but rarely laeolithic onward and in that sense at least can still be
in print. viewed as a progressive and romantic meta-narrative. Al-
though Hodder asserts tentatively that the particular
style, at least, of the origins and spread of the Neolithic
writing culture
in South-West Asia and Europe is contingent and his-
The 1990s in Britain have also seen the publication of torically specific, his wider plot would seem to have to
works which are much more clearly influenced by the be understood either as encompassing the whole of hu-
linguistic turn and can be seen as part of what was manity or, alternatively, as a particular (Western) con-
initially called the postprocessual critique. temporary gloss (culture-nature).
Although pre- and post-faced by reflexive and theo- By contrast, Thomas (1991, 1996) consciously rejects
retical sections, Hodders The Domestication of Europe any possible meta-narrative in the obvious sense of a
(1990) is, like Childes earlier work, largely a narrative telos of history. Both his books are organized themati-
organized by geographical areas. Each area is given a cally rather than chronologically: the first is arranged in
chronological treatment, but the book as a whole also fairly traditional terms of subsistence, monuments, pot-
shows an overall sequence, since the chapter order tery, etc., and the second (on which I concentrate here)
largely mimics the direction of the spread of farming comprises a long theoretical part followed by three case
through time. Hodder is interested in how potentially studies at differing spatial scalesnorthern Europe, Brit-
long-term conceptual structures may relate to practical ain, and a British site. However, the case studies are
strategies and the material remains of archaeology. This themselves arranged in chronological order from the
often binary structuralist analysis attempts to overcome Mesolithic-Neolithic transition to the later Neolithic
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 665

and the early Bronze Age. Each contains overlapping de- rather than drawing on ecological or functional compar-
scription and subnarratives as a way of providing the isons he utilizes insights from ethnography, linguistics,
context for the themes, which can be characterized as social theory, and philosophy (e.g., the importance of the
cultural bricolage, personified artefacts, and landscape, body as metaphor or metonym, the importance and sa-
respectively. If there can be said to be a plot beyond the cralization of landscape to non-Western societies, phe-
sequences of social and material change described and nomenologies of experience) as ways of homing in on
interpreted in the book, it is found in a Heideggerian the practices evidenced in prehistoric Scandinavia. Sim-
notion of the historicality of being. It may be said to be ilarly, his eschewal of meta-narratives is (knowingly)
ironic insofar as the problems of multivocality and reintroduced with an acknowledgement (p. 68) of his debt
representation of the past are foregrounded: the relevance to marxism in a form of primitivism, which we can read
(if not truth) of Thomass account is firmly placed in the either as tragic nostalgia (the loss of an irretrievable past)
(contingent) present context. His plot as generalization or romantic optimism (if we take his reconstruction as
says as much about how archaeologies are produced as also an ideal for the future):
about how past lives were lived. Identity and meaning
are both relational constructions, which emerge through I am politically old-fashioned enough even to want
the process of human Being-in-the-world (1996:30). Al- to describe [late Mesolithic southern Scandinavia] as
most 100 pages of a 238-page text are explicitly philo- a kind of Garden of Eden before the fall. These were
sophical and theoretical, and the three case studies also a series of communities in which ownership of land
involve much focused theoretical discussion. Thomass and resources was common or collective, sharing
account of the spread of the Neolithic in northern Europe was generalized and no one is likely to have gone
involves the explicit rejection of a chronological and so- hungry.
cial evolutionary directionality in which the Neolithic By contrast, after the formation of Early Neolithic prac-
is superior to and more advanced than the Mesolithic tices and understandings through a kind of bricolage (cf.
in favour of processes of cultural bricolage: The Mes- Thomas 1996), Developing notions of group and private
olithic/Neolithic transition was not a one-way process. property were, in the long term, contradictory and had
. . . What seems more likely is that the experimental hy- a pernicious influence in Neolithic societies leading to
bridisations of cultural knowledge created in the en- ever more status competition between groups and the
counters between farmers and foragers . . . had a trans- development of social inequalities and exploitation
formative impact on both Mesolithic and Neolithic within and between them (p. 115). For Tilley, meta-
communities (p. 124). The Neolithic, insofar as it can narrative understood as grand theory is better consid-
generally be characterized at all, was a set of material ered at the meta-levels of language and interpretation.
forms which allowed communities with diverse eco- Yet he insists on the importance of working towards a
nomic strategies to build a sustainable set of relation- systematic general theory of the meanings of things
ships amongst themselves and with their landscape (p. rather than (just) a deconstructionist retreat into a my-
125). Although Thomass books do include subsidiary opic particularism (p. 336), even if working at archae-
narratives sensu stricto, such as the development of re- ology is primarily working with metaphors. Fresh met-
gionalized pottery styles, chapters tend to be themati- aphors will produce new and alternative pasts (p. 341).
cally organized, and chronological differences are used For Tilley, very definite events/social processes fall into
to contrast social strategies and understandings rather a pattern which can be redescribed within a broadly
than to extract generalizing processes. A variety of char- marxist meta-narrative.
acters, events, and processes are all presented at many
overlapping scales within each case study.
Finally, Tilleys (1996) An Ethnography of the Neo- beyond narrative analysis
lithic, dealing with the late Mesolithic and early Neo-
lithic of southern Scandinavia, demonstrates some sim- In this brief digest of selected Anglo-American narratives
ilar concerns to those of Hodder and Thomas. Here the of the European Mesolithic-Neolithic transition I have
characters are the earlier prehistoric societies of the cho- tried to suggest that, given the ambiguities inherent in
sen study area, but the Neolithic is deliberately played the terms, concentration on delineating what each au-
down as an event in favour of ethnographically informed thor might mean by character, event, or process is helpful
social prehistory. Like Hodders, the book is organized but not the whole story. The broader contexts within
in the form of a traditional archaeological narrative with which these works are produced and those in which they
the sections in chronological order. Tilley is also equally are read, reread, and quoted influence not only styles and
self-conscious about language, insistent upon specificity topics but also the meanings read into or out of or at-
or historical particularism, and scathing about tradi- tributed to them. Nor does an analysis predominantly
tional meta-narratives: There are no cross-cultural gen- concerned with the form of the narratives per se rather
eralizations going beyond either the mundane or the triv- than their content necessarily help us make sense of the
ial. Similarly grand evolutionary theories positing stages shorter-term changes and trends within particular topics
or general processes of world historical development and discourses. We might wish to say that until the 1980s
have proved to be blind alleys (p. 1). Inevitably, however, most of these texts were written within some sort of
Tilley does use cross-cultural generalizations, only romantic (progressive, social evolutionary) emplotment
666 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

and that satirical plots or at least partly ironic tropes, nocence about writing. It is notable that Tilley (1996),
understood as a concern with the impossibility of truth- with his Epilogue, Thomas (1996), with his After-
ful representation, have only become more apparent word, and Hodder (1990), with his Beginning by End-
among certain mainly British prehistorians in the 1990s. ing, avoid finishing their texts with anything so final,
For example, the process of adaptation necessarily rep- positiv(ist), or totalizing as a conclusion. That may
resents the overcoming of adverse conditions, even if it suggest the power of agency (writing), the fluidity of in-
does not have to be couched in an overtly teleological terpretation, and the possibility of reappraisal, but it may
manner or understood as a heroic tale analysed via also imply a tragic, overcautious, or pessimistic view of
Proppian motifs. The reevaluation of the status of the postmodern present. Such texts may be read as dem-
hunter-gatherers and hence the Mesolithic can be un- onstrating that all we can do is play around as bricoleurs
derstood partly as a rejection of (simple) social evolution of materialswords and ideasundoubtedly in changed
and consequent moral evaluations (Fabian 1983, Plu- and changing conditions and with different empirical and
ciennik 1998) and as the academic response to broader theoretical resources but without the comfort of either
political postcolonial understandings and desired pasts a secular or a spiritual vision of salvation in the future
(see Ammerman 1989, Zvelebil 1989; cf. Keeley 1992: any more than of truth in the past. For many, our jour-
91). One notable result has been that much of the lit- neys have become circular or spiral in nature, our
erature on the transition (and see also, e.g., Whittle 1996) thought rhizomic (Deleuze and Guattari 1988), and lin-
is now to do with the dynamics of culture contact in- ear certainties no longer act as a measure of progress.
stead of exogenously driven culture change. Equally,
changes in the content, style, and emphasis of archae-
ological narratives are related to wider movements such Other Ways of Telling
as the revival of romantic primitivism in ecological or
spiritual guises and the questioning of the certainties of If we consider other possible functions of narratives and
both meta-narratives and modernism (Kellner 1987, texts, it is clear that prehistoric archaeologists have been
Klein 1995). These shifts are in reaction to the 1960s and generally conservative in their ways of presenting pasts.
1970s attempts to provide simplified, parsimonious, and, All the texts discussed above (and many more) tend to
if not monocausal, at least monoprocessual explanations have at least two things in common: the use of narrative
in an archaeology explicitly understood as a science. Al- as the form of presentation and explanation as the goal.
though much less hard-line, this strand of relatively con- Another important factor to consider is that of the au-
servative processual explanatory narratives continues to thorial or narrated viewpoint which has been the subject
dominate recent Anglo-American versions of the tran- of so much debate in ethnography because of the more
sition to farming in Europe and elsewhere (e.g., Cowan obviously politically charged relationship between the
and Watson 1992, Gebauer and Price 1992a, Price and author and the represented. Ankersmit (1983) among
Gebauer 1995, Harris 1996a). These papers, though look- others highlights the ways in which historical narratives
ing at specific aspects or areas as (long-term) events, tend (and other texts) provide a viewpoint in the sense of an
to fall within a progressive meta-narrative of the tran- intellectual, moral, and political place from which one
sition viewed globally. Thus Gebauer and Price (1992b: is invited to see the events or object concerned, as well
1) in their review and introduction call the transition as constructing unique narrative substances. One re-
the most remarkable happening in our prehistory as a sult of this approach is that once we get beyond com-
species and a dramatic shift in the trajectory of cul- paring narratives in terms of their explanations for
tural evolution. Keeley (1992:92) adopts an unasham- (supposedly identical) analytical constructs, it is clear
edly modernist standpoint to draw a parallel between that very different narratives are not necessarily
potentially violent relations between foragers and farm- contradictory.
ers in prehistoric north-western Europe and recent North This is in contradistinction to the typical narratives
America and to suggest that it is sometimes difficult of hard science, which are often expressed in a logi-
to remember that it was the better organized, unheroic, cally precise notation amenable to confirmation (or con-
yet relentless farmers who eventually remained. For tradiction) by replication of the logical steps or proce-
Harris too the transition from foraging to farming is the dures involved and which may be considered to occupy
most fateful change in the human career (1996b:ix). De- one extreme of the scale of narrative types. At the other
spite changed nuances of language and much more de- end of the scale we might place fictional works, which
tailed data and models, the basic framework of most con- are explicitly imaginative (i.e., they do not claim to rep-
tributors to recent volumes is still that of Childes resent in any direct way aspects of the real world) and
Neolithic Revolution. They have remained equally which may also intentionally problematize modes and
untouched by recent concerns about language and the status of representation itself. However, archaeolog-
representation. ical, historical, and ethnographic narratives typically
In some areas, however, developments in the philos- comprise a complex mixture of descriptions, arguments,
ophy of language and the feminist critique in archaeology tropes, and explanations which often defy overall cate-
and elsewhere (e.g., Conkey and Spector 1984, Haraway gorization sensu White except at the broadest or most
1989, Gero and Conkey 1991) have promoted an increase explicit level, at which it may be useful to employ the
in self-consciousness about language and the loss of in- terms emplotment and ideology. Even if all texts seek
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 667

to persuade, not all are or should be amenable only to quately and fully represent the world or the past, ar-
characterization or evaluation in terms of causal expla- chaeologists (who are emotionally and experientially as
nation of historical process. There are (and were) mul- well as intellectually involved with the worlds mate-
tiple ways of interpreting and constructing pasts and riality) should at least be more open to exploring alter-
presents. If Ankersmits idea of situated perspectives native forms of (re)presentation (cf. Shanks 1992:18093;
(and similarly much feminist epistemology [e.g., Hara- 1995b). A recent book dealing with some of these issues
way 1988]) is accepted, then different viewpoints, goals, in the context of historical colonial culture contact is
and meanings can be welcomed as more in sympathy Schrires (1995) Digging through Darkness. Through its
with the diversity and richness of the past. This should mixture of biography, archaeological and historical evi-
equally be reflected in a variety of styles, approaches, dence, discussion of an archaeologists relationship with
and aims expressed through experimentation with the her site, and constructed autobiographies, Schrires
forms and functions of archaeological texts and images. rigorous yet imaginative, sensitive, and evocative book
What is noticeable in all the archaeologies so far dis- raises questions of narrative form, the history-fiction re-
cussed is that they present not only a characteristic nar- lationship, the role of empathy, and, implicitly, the
rative chronological position and tensethat of hind- ethics and politics of representation in both constructing
sight offered as a sequential story of, rather than in, the and speaking for necessarily silent past Others. Thus
pastbut also a markedly external or birds-eye view. texts can also aim at presenting different understandings
The story is typically told in the third-person passive, of the past, for example, by offering what Mahajan (1992:
giving an often spurious sense of objective description, 92) and Louch (1967) call a proxy experiencethe ev-
and less rarely (though increasingly) in the (authorial) ocation of possible orientations, understandings, and
first person, which at least emphasizes the intervention, emotions. In this context, it is also worth comparing
constructed interpretation, and manipulation of the ma- Schrires work with that of a novelist such as Atwood
terial by the writer. There is usually little sense of ac- (1996). Alias Grace is a culturally and historically sen-
tions, events, or history considered from the actors point sitive imaginative reconstruction of 19th-century char-
of view (but see Spector 1991, 1993; Schrire 1995). If there acters in the form of a novel but based on detailed schol-
is a rhetoric of empathy, it is with the intellectual (and arship and dealing with intentions and emotions as well
less often emotional) journey and experience of the au- as social structures of class, gender, and institutional
thor rather than of any past Others, who are represented power. Using a broader range of sources, Schrire attempts
in a distanced manner. This is just as true of most texts, in various ways (with different emphases and addressed
which even when attempting to engender the past or to different audiences) to give voice to those who often
otherwise put invisible people back into history (e.g., left little more than fragmentary material culture behind
Gero and Conkey 1991, Moore and Scott 1997) still do them. Yet the two texts surely share the aim, among
so within a single voice and story-line. In this context others, of attempting to evoke portions of the past from
it is worth noting Flannerys (1976, 1982) pioneering at- particular perspectives.
tempts to present dialogues between archaeologists. Yet Narratives, then, may not only have functions other
multivoiced or multiple narratives of the past are rarely than explanation, persuasion, or simple description but
explored, and even multiauthored or more reflexive and also attempt to fulfil them by different means. One can
readerly texts seldom present more than an illusion of conceive of anti-narratives whose storytelling purpose
dialogue, either with a conflated aggregate of views or is precisely not only to deny any overall meaning or plot
with the single author generally interrogating himself (as telos or process) but to display fragmentation, dis-
about or commenting self-consciously upon his text continuities, partial and temporary understandings, and
(Bapty 1990; Hodder 1990: chaps. 1, 10; 1992:15559; Til- the lack of fixed meanings while equally claiming to
ley 1991:17277; Shanks 1995a; cf. Olsen 1998:110). Al- mimic or evoke the nature of the past world as experi-
though presenting more voices, a recent paper which in- enced. There are alternative ways, such as multistranded
cludes the phrase alternative narratives in its title narratives and non-consensual collective pieces, of pre-
(Bender, Hamilton, and Tilley 1997) proves to be mainly senting and subverting the dominance and authority of
interested in self-referential narratives by and about ar- single-authored and single-voiced texts, even if archae-
chaeologists working on site rather than exploring ways ologists can never achieve any genuine dialogue with
of constructing or listening to others in the past or the their narrative subjects. Beyond sequential narratives, we
present. However, Benders (1998) volume on Stonehenge can also conceive of non-linear forms and presentations
includes many verbatim dialogues with various people of experience, understanding, and even reading, such
with a present interest in the site, and archaeologists are as visual perceptions, even though these take place in
also beginning to explore the possibilities of hypertext time (Baxendall 1988); memory, which may include the
as a medium for disrupting methods, the order of reading, conflation of times; dreams, with distorted and non-
and the authority of writing and perhaps reaching and time; and simultaneous multisensory experiences from
involving unexpected audiences as participants (Hodder film to artistic installations. In contrast to ethnogra-
1997). phers, archaeologists rarely directly explore other genres
Some may worry that these comments are preparing and media such as poetry, performance, fiction, and film
the way for a further blurring of the line between fact as ways of presenting archaeologies and pasts. Com-
and fiction. Yet if we accept that no language can ade- mentary upon archaeological fiction and film has often
668 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

been critique from inside the academic citadel (e.g., out a type of radical writing and then return to a more
Evans 1993, Piccini 1996) rather than, say, collaborative conventional narrative style.
projects. Many academic archaeologists are still dismis- Other ways of narrating archaeology: But narrating
sive of rather than critically engaged with or interested what? Other ways to talk about the Others who do not
in producing material in the heritage or cultural re- talk? In front of the author is the text. Behind the text
source management context, though it is often in this is the Other. But where is this Other presented? The
context that innovative attempts at multiple narratives Other is prehistoric. The author is modern. The author
have been produced and discussed (e.g., McDavid and is our social I. The author is perhaps the best reincar-
Babson 1997, Kamp 1998;6 see also Leone et al. 1995). nation of the modern subject. Narrative is the way in
Unlike many ethnographers, historians, and philoso- which the author comes to exist. Criticism of the nar-
phers of history, I have initially been concerned not with rative means the death of the author, the reinterpretation
the problem of representationthe possible relation- of the text, and the recovery of the original deconstruc-
ships of texts to either Others, the past, lived experience, tive project. The death of the author means the re-
or truthbut with whether literary and narrative anal- emergence of the Other.
ysis allows us to think about types of archaeologies and This experiment has two objectives: responding to Plu-
archaeological texts in a fruitful and meaningful way. cienniks call to try out new narratives in archaeology
Narratives have been and are the dominant form in and, by doing so, questioning some of his proposals. Any
which the past is presented, yet for historical philosoph- informed reader can construct a meaning from the pre-
ical reasons there has been a tendency to analyse them ceding paragraph despite its conciseness and fragmen-
only insofar as they can be treated as a form of expla- tation; it has an argumentative linearity despite lacking
nation or knowledge analogous to that science. Archae- rhetorical linearity. This illustrates something which
ologists, partly because of the mode of production of ar- should not be forgotten: the antinarratives to which Plu-
chaeological knowledge and ordering and partly because ciennik refers have always been constructed by the
of dominant and persistent structures of Western reader, a free agent. There is no need for the intentional
thought such as the separation of subject and object and intervention of the author. Indeed, the suspicion may
the linearity of time, have tended not only to work arise that the authors pretension to producing a narra-
within limited understandings of the possibilities of nar- tive and its antinarrative simultaneously may be the last
ratives but also rarely to step outside the single-voiced, resort of the modern intention of defending the absolute
third-person narrative form itself. To understand both hegemony of the figure of the author.
the nature of and changes in narratives produced by ar- Plucienniks text demonstrates the extent to which
chaeologists, I have suggested that formal analyses of the the independence of a text and its author are chimeras
kinds proposed by Hayden White or Vladimir Propp may reproduced, rather than simply being produced, through
be illuminating but require broader contextualization the modern model of the author. The author and his/her
and an attention not only to form but also to style, aim, text are part of a far broader discourse. This hypothesis,
and content. I suggest that it is worthwhile not only to which is not new, could be verified through the meth-
reflect on our textual output to date but also to consider odologies of rhetorical and formal analysis that Plucien-
equally valuable but underexplored other ways of telling. nik properly introduces into archaeology. If an objection
could be raised here it would be regarding the need to
conduct an analysis of the rhetorical figures through
which the meaning of the text is created with a certain
Comments autonomy with regard to the authors intention. How-
ever, the author is not to be blamed for having this need;
instead it demonstrates the urgency of establishing a
multiauthor line of investigation of this subject: the or-
felipe criado boado der of words, the character and position of adjectives, the
Laboratory of Archaeology and Cultural Forms, substantivization of adjectival things or expressions, the
University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain verbalization of nouns, etc. These are all rhetorical
( 26 iii 99 mechanisms for imposing a particular narrative style
that is often not intentional but instead reflects the un-
Commenting on an article like this is a risky business, conscious mind of the author. As a teacher I have become
particularly when the commentator starts by recognizing used to recognizing the personalities of students in the
the interest of the subject and its effectiveness in dealing rhetorical procedures that they use.
with it. Applying the methodology and suggestions con- From this point onward I shall go a little farther than
tained in the article, its author (the first author) or any the text. For me, any analysis of the rhetoric of archae-
other informed reader (certainly another author) could ology and any experiment with other ways of narrating
discover behind the critical commentary any possible have to be deconstructive. They must deconstruct the
intention of the second author. I shall start by trying figure of the author and through it the reification of the
modern model of subjectivity which, by privileging the
6. I am grateful to an anonymous referee for drawing these works individuation of the author, has largely inhibited the fig-
to my attention. ure of the reader and still inhibits the figure of the Other.
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 669

Critical reflection about language and discourse is re- cluding social evolution, evolutionary theory, and
quired to deconstruct the model of subjectivity that is marxism, which have different weight and significance
produced, and spoken, through them. Lamentably, the in their explanatory and methodological valences.
development of narrativism in the 1980s and of rhetor- Even emplotment or plot, considered a compo-
ical directions in the human sciences has contributed to nent of narrative, is sometimes equated with meta-nar-
the recovery of the hegemony of the author, which rep- rative, sometimes considered as a process, and some-
licates individualism and is coherent with the current times viewed as a unifying aesthetic element; it is
system of power. (In these proposals I am indebted to defined mainly in terms of its function, which is to com-
Bermejos criticism of Hayden White and rhetorical bine separate events in an understandable form. In my
history.) opinion this very indefinite category oscillates between
Prehistoric archaeology is not anthropology (or history a formal value (as a homogeneous way of narrating,
or sociology), as it has no linguistic subjects available. partly as in White) and a substantive one (as a process,
While the existence of such subjects is what makes his- the opposite of an event), serving as a universal key for
torical archaeology and ethnoarchaeology particularly reading and comprehension.
profitable, the problem of prehistoric archaeology is Pluciennik speaks of the potential overlap of narrative
making sense of a silent society and its individuals from object, subject, event, process, and plot, which may rep-
mute material objects. This silence biases the interpre- resent different times and levels, some objective, some
tive triangle (archaeology and its actual context 1 the more significantly related to the authors intervention.
archaeological record 1 the original context) toward the He arrives at a more complete definition of narrative
first vertex and leads to an increase in the interpreters than Whites through the identification of its functions
self-meaning and a decrease in the original meaning, (logic, suasion, explication, and description) and config-
which is often considered impossible to find (as is the urations (not only plots but ways of producing those
case with many post-processual archaeologists). These plots).
traps of subjectivity are built with narrative resources. One of the most important points of the discussion
Archaeological narrative (re)presents subjectivity. Mak- concerns the complicated question of the historical
ing it visible should be the ultimate objective of narrative split between the humanities and the sciences and its
analysis and other ways of telling archaeology. reflection in language and in narrative. Attempts to raise
historical narrative to the level of scientific explanation
lead Pluciennik to list the characteristics of history that
alessandra manfredini prevent this. However, imprecision, in the sense of non-
Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche, Archeologiche e quantifiability, is not always characteristic of archaeo-
Antropologiche dellAntichita`, Universita` degli Studi logical situations; complexity characterizes both cul-
La Sapienza, Citta` Universitaria, Rome, Italy. tural processes and situations and scientific laws and
10 v 99 experiments, as the applicability to both of models as
simplified representations of reality implies. With regard
The interest of this work consists in the originality of to its non-experimental nature, the repetition of an ex-
its themehow Anglo-American and North European perimentas Pluciennik observesis impossible in
archaeologists present the results of their research: in some natural sciences, such as astronomy or geology, and
recent decades our approach to archaeological data and I would add that it is possible in archaeology, for ex-
consequently to the way in which they are presented has ample, in the reconstruction of a chane operatoire. Fur-
profoundly changed without our having stopped to re- ther, in stressing the minimal difference between the two
flect on the analysis of textson the influence of formal narratives it is important to point not only to the nar-
structure on the argument. This theme is developed ratability of science but to the presence of logical pro-
through a combination of logical passages and references cesses even in the humanities.
to various phases of the history of research, and this Turning to Plucienniks example, it is true that a
makes it difficult to choose what to focus on in this chemical formula can be considered a form of narrative,
comment. a process that is readable from different points of view,
The narrative form is considered as a sequential story, but it is also true that even scientific interpretations
provided with plot, in close correlation with processes change over time as natural-objective-immutable pro-
and changes and especially with concepts of causality, cesses are related to the progressive history of discov-
comprehension, and explanation. In this context consid- eries. From this viewpoint, the history of scientific dis-
erable attention is given to Whites analysis of narrative, coveries can perhaps be considered a kind of narrative
although his essentially formal interpretation is rightly in that it is in history that science finds its cultural di-
criticized. mension. I therefore agree with Pluciennik when he
Particularly interesting is the singling-out of the speaks of plot as a representation of coherence which is
meta-narrative, which according to Pluciennik is an applicable to both scientific and historic explanations
intellectual framework within which narratives sensu and when he considers the possibility of viewing his-
stricto are composed and that provides one sort of co- torical events as referable to causal processes just as in
herence or emplotment. The examples given perhaps scientific explanations.
purposely indicate the vagueness of this category, in- In my opinion not only can archaeological approaches
670 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

be based on lawlike premises or make use of biological ology are well taken and ideally will, as he suggests, lead
categories such as evolution or adaptability but an in- not to the excesses of ethnography and the humanistic
terdisciplinary approach to archaeological issues, even fields (e.g., paralysis of empirical research, dismissal of
specific ones, can yield an explanatory framework in previous research, and excessive emphasis on critical re-
which the two languagesthe scientific and the histor- flection about forms of presentation) but to creative de-
icalcomplement and merge with each other (for ex- velopment of alternative forms.
ample, as an anthropological and genetic study of the
individuals of a cemetery can provide information about
society, economy, and symbols, which are usually the e l i s a b e t h ru d e b e c k
object and the content of historical research properly Institute of Archaeology, Lund University, Sandgatan
speaking). 1, SE-223 50 Lund, Sweden. 15 iii 99
The last part of the article deals with different ap-
proaches to the transition to agriculture, from Childes Pluciennik discusses many aspects of the writing and
Neolithic revolution through the biological models of reading of archaeological texts that are worthy of more
Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza and Higgs and Jarman to in-depth debate. In this brief comment I want to focus
Benders Marxist structuralism, Zvelebils ecological on a few issues that I feel could be emphasized more and
functionalism, Hodders symbolism (Romantic meta- present some variant interpretations concerning the
narrative), and Tilleys skepticism about the possibility meta-narrative of the transition to farming.
of generalizing or creating meta-narratives. From an Narratives and all other forms of telling about the past
initial phase in which the transition was seen in Ro- presuppose an image of the present. Images of the present
mantic terms as progress and social evolution, we have are the point of departure for images of the past, while
arrived at a more pessimistic and skeptical one: the data at the same time the past defines the present (Friedman
are partial and fragmentary, our knowledge is circular. 1989:12021). Irrespective of the particular way in which
The conclusion is more optimistic: the pursuit of a the past is presentedas a linear grand narrative or as
new mode of expression and the revision of a language nonlinear, multivocal and impressionistic fragmentsif
that is now codified and therefore inadequate can lead we are to accept the presentation it has to be conceivable
to a broader approach, a more diversified and articulated as a past. In archaeological narratives the present may
reading of archaeological data. Still open are questions be not only the actual present but also the archaeological
of the connection between plot and causal explanation, period(s) subsequent to the one(s) discussed. For example,
the relationship of content, plot, and the ideological con- since the Bronze Age in Europe is generally understood
figuration of the author, and the readers interpretation, as a time of social competition and hierarchization, the
all of which are nodal points in the work under Late Neolithic must be described as a viable predecessor.
consideration.1 This teleology, the narrative of prehistory, mediates an
image of prehistory as a credible past and an image of
the present as the result of this particular past. It tends
james l. peacock to lock our minds and shut our eyes to other ways of
Department of Anthropology, University of North thinking and seeing. However, it also gives us narratives
Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27599-3115, U.S.A. to confront and contest, frames to bend and break. It
( 15 iii 99 gives us something to oppose, and thereby we ought to
confront images of the present as well. However, images
Pluciennik contributes usefully to reflection about the of the present are rarely made an issue in archaeology.
kinds of narrative conventions that constitute archae- The present is often accepted a priori. I would like to
ology. One could push farther yet, as Northrop Frye did see more debate among archaeologists about how differ-
in his Anatomy of Criticism (1957, mentioned but not ent images of the present relate to different images of
cited by Pluciennik), to postulate which patterns of the past and more self-critical reflection concerning our
thought are generated by which narrative form. An il- tendency to project images of the present onto the past.
lustration of this, with specific reference to archaeolog- Suggestions as how to avoid the reproduction of the tel-
ical, physical anthropological, and ethnological modes of eology of prehistory in teaching would also be welcome.
narrative, was developed in The Anthropological Lens I see some problems with avoiding narrative ways of
(Peacock 1986). Here an evolutionary/historical mode of telling and would argue that it is preferable to be given
narrative associated with a positivistic mode of expla- a narrative to opposethat is, particular characters,
nation and thought was contrasted with an interpretive events, plots, and explanations rather than merely a
form of narration and analysis. (That such points are chronicle or a story (sensu White) of dates, strata, and
ignored, perhaps they are embedded in a textbook di- artefacts. The ambition to present not a linear narrative
rected to students rather than colleagues, is itself an ex- of the past but a past open to contested and multivocal
ample of the relation between knowledge and form of interpretations may lead archaeologists to refrain from
narration.) In any event, Plucienniks analysis and call interpretation and instead to present data allegedly open
for critical reflection on modes of narration in archae- for all to read as they choose, forgetting that data are
theory-dependent. Moreover, to present sites, dates, ar-
1. Translated by Carla Bossola. tefacts, and previous interpretations without explicit
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 671

ideas of relevant contexts and relations would turn ar- of promoting an increase in self-consciousness about
chaeologists into mere compilers of remains and repro- language and the loss of innocence about writing. The
ducers of implicit assumptions. Pluciennik emphasizes answer he gives sounds moral rather than utilitarian. If
that, although having some formal components, narra- we accept that language cannot adequately and fully
tives are not fixed and characters, events, plots and ar- represent the world or the past, then we should at
guments, and the scale of analysis may be constantly least be more open to exploring alternative forms of
redefined and reinterpreted. Hence, the narrative form is (re)presentation.
far from exhausted. We must not refrain from interpre- I agree, but I think (and Ill bet he does, too) that there
tation and narration on the pretext of not having exclu- is more to be gained. Discourse analysis, for example, is
sive access to the past or merely because we choose not a great way to teach students how to look carefully at
to try to explain. I agree with Pluciennik that we should what they and others write (Terrell 1996). Furthermore,
explore more profoundly the possibilities of narrative most archaeological narratives are complex intellectual
ways of telling. We should take responsibility for the models. It is frequently said that a characteristic of sci-
narratives that we present and be able to argue them entific theories is that such presentations of ideas can
openly, fully aware that we have images of the past and be formalized. Even when they are expressed in ordinary
the present that may be contested and criticized. language, good theories are ones that can be made more
Finally, I want to argue against some of Plucienniks precise by stripping away the words used to reveal their
interpretations of texts dealing with the transition to underlying logic. Narrative analysis, as Pluciennik
farming. As I see it, Hodders (1990) Domestication of points out, is one way to accomplish this difficult task
Europe is a tragic meta-narrative (sensu White) and not of rigorous formalization.
a progressive and romantic meta-narrative. According There may be another payoff, too. I am often shocked
to Hodder, the process of domestication was about the by what some biologists and geneticists write about hu-
taming of the wild, about power, about discipline and man diversity and prehistory. How can people obviously
control of species, things, and spatial and human rela- so bright get things so awfully wrong? It helps (and would
tions. People were trapped and ensnared, both prac- help them) to look at the kinds of tropes we use. I suspect
tically and symbolically, by the arrangements of delayed that anthropologists are likely to favor the trope of the
return and the increasing dependencies of agricultural encounter (e.g., Obeyesekere 1992, Pomponio 1992).
labour. Furthermore, I would argue that most narratives
Archaeologists sometimes also use this trope to establish
of agricultural origins during the second part of this cen-
the authority of what they have to say. But archae-
tury have been presented as tragedies, the issue being
ologists may be more inclined to use the one-sided var-
not whether human beings were subjected to forces ex-
iant of this trope, that of discovery.
ternal to themselves (the theme of tragedy) but rather
Now, I suggest that scientists working outside of ar-
whether these forces emerged from nature or society.
chaeology and anthropology may get what we write
According to my interpretation, Darwinian-selectionist
wrong (I cannot possibly support this claim here) because
explanations and sociocultural understandings of the or-
they have a different trope in mind, the trope of the
igins of agriculture have more in common than is usually
acknowledged. The deconstruction of social evolution- crucial element. Instead of paying attention to all the
ary ways of apprehending human prehistory has tended uncertainties and complexities of anthropological and
to obscure an equally pervasive narrative, that of agri- archaeological scholarship that we so love to argue
culture and of culture as the fall of man (Rudebeck 1999). about, outsiders to our fields may not see that we do
not always think the way they do. Not all of us, at any
rate, use what the physicist John R. Platt (1964) called
john edward terrell strong inference (the simple and old-fashioned method
New Guinea Research Program, The Field Museum, of inductive inference that goes back to Francis Bacon).
Chicago, Ill. 60605, U.S.A. ( 9 iii 99 We do not routinely reduce all our issues to neat al-
ternative hypotheses that can be answered by simple
Some anthropologists today write as if they were creating the solution must be either this or that experiments.
historiography out of whole cloth (Geertz 1995); some I suspect that taking the trope of the crucial experiment
archaeologists avoid the word history like the as a universal characteristic of all good thinking leads
plagueperhaps because of its guilt-by-association with some outside anthropology and archaeology to turn our
the word culture in the phrase culture history. Plu- many ways of telling into claims that we judge to be
ciennik clearly knows and respects what historians and astonishingly simple-minded arguments assuming that
others outside archaeology are writing about history. only two alternatives are necessary (i.e., crucial) and suf-
Throughout most of this fine article he takes the stance ficient (i.e., the answer must be either one or the other)
of an observer of the academic scene. It is not always and can be fully (and adequately) specified. The kinds of
clear what he wants us to do and why. While I think he narrative analysis favored instead by Pluciennik may not
is right that narrative analyses of archaeological texts do help people who think like this to understand what we
not always help us make sense of the shorter-term are saying, but it is not just we who need to become
changes and trends within archaeology, it is not obvious more self-conscious about language and our innocence
until the end of his narrative what he sees as the payoffs about writing.
672 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

sebastiano tusa rative in prehistoric archaeology, taking as examples sev-

Via Pietro Bonanno 61, 90412 Palermo, Italy. 26 iv 99 eral cases dealing with the Mesolithic and the Meso-
lithic/Neolithic transition.
If we wanted to find the roots of this essay and, espe- The events of archaeological narrative in the case of
cially, of its most stimulating aspects, we would go back the origin of agriculture have often been elements
to the 80s, when, in prehistory in particular, there was such as the presence or absence of a single fragmenta
an increasing rejection of anything too scientific, in the bone of a domestic animal, a grain of cereal, or an ar-
sense of excessive reliance on the hypothetical-deductive chaeological fact on a larger spatial-temporal scale
approach based on socioeconomic facts and anthropol- such as the appearance of a new way of life. Very seldom
ogy. In reality what was happening in those years was do we find examples of narrative such as Zvelebils,
not new for the discipline; archaeology being a border which give us a sense of ongoing processes. Archaeolog-
science, it has always had a tendency towards an extreme ical narrative often employs a typical narrative logic,
scientific approach as opposed to the extreme baroque chronological and sequential, in the third person, with
philosophizing of a certain mannerist classicism. None- little action.
theless, the subject of this essay is the reproposal of a Far be it from me to offer solutions to this problem,
less technical and more verbal approach. but I think that here, as in many other phases of the
The proposal to improve archaeologys narrative is development of archaeology, a comparison with anthro-
new. This is the first time anyone has addressed the prob- pology and ethnography might be helpful. In these fields
lem so deeply, with so many valid historical, philosoph- narrative has dramatically improved, overcoming sci-
ical, and epistemological facts. A vigorous debate has entific sterility and reaching the level of poetry.
developed on the necessity of popularizing archaeology Alas, even as we speak, all the arguments of this bril-
and, consequently, on the best use of language and nar- liant essay are in danger of being relegated to historical
rative logic. Even in a country like Italy, traditionally so memory by the inevitable standardization that results
conservative in this field of study, there is a need to from the use of hypertexts and other electronic me-
confront and change the format of archaeological diabut we can still have hope for the future.1
publications, both popular and specialized. In this light,
it is also necessary to confront the relationship with
other concepts such as causality, understanding, and ex-
planation and the relationship between narrative and sci- Reply
entific data.
This becomes the more important when we consider
the urgent and difficult problems of preservation of cul- mark pluciennik
tural resources. The broadening of archaeologys narra- Lampeter, Wales, U.K. 22 v 99
tive role and the paradigmatic amplification of certain
broad themes can contribute directly to the development I am grateful to all those who have responded to the
of more effective ways of safeguarding our heritage. article with generally supportive and illuminating com-
Archaeological narrative must be more than just a se- ments about the nature of narrative in archaeology and
quential and selective description of possible events; the the implications of such narrative analysis. Perhaps the
effectiveness of the narrative depends on its consistency, logical point at which to start is with the philosophical
its ability to put all the pieces together and arrive at a issues raised by Criado Boado, who questions the onto-
story that is more than just the sum of its parts. We often logical status of texts and their contents, as well as seek-
lose sight of the fact that the principal elements of nar- ing (if I have understood him correctly) to problematize
rative are characters and events. Archaeological narrative the positionality and constructedness of the writing sub-
is in danger of losing sight of the phenomenal reality of ject. He argues that readers already supply antinarra-
events, of getting lost in theoretical argumentation com- tives to any given text and therefore the subversiveness
pletely unrelated to the real context. of reading acts against any notion of a given meaning or
The crisis of representation has indeed stimulated in- the retention of authorial control. In this context, he
terest in narrative, but, while excessive philologism has suggests, self-conscious theorizing about the problems
been replaced by an enriched archaeological narrative, of narratives and authorial intention may in fact be a
the tendency toward analytical approaches and the wide- way of defending the absolute hegemony of the author.
spread use of multiple media have generated a great I am in considerable sympathy with this view, whose
many overspecialized texts. These two schools, narrative broader implications were well spelled out by Mascia-
and specialist, seem today to be at risk of taking opposite Lees, Sharpe, and Cohen (1989) when they argued that
directions leading to opposite conclusions. Pluciennik the postmodern idea of the death of the author was
addresses this problem by discussing the relationship be- adopted by many of those in academic power (often male,
tween science and fiction, paraphrasing some great the- white) just at the time when many who had been denied
orists of narrative starting with White and then wan- an authoritative voice (women, minorities) were starting
dering through the meandering formalist analysis of to find oneor, rather, were demanding to be able to use
Propp on the way to Husserls phenomenology. Then,
becoming more specific, he discusses the types of nar- 1. Translated by Geri Hoff.
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 673

it. This is one powerful argument against treating texts the avoidance of narrative ways of telling or a return to
only as free-floating chains of signifiers and ignoring both chronicles or stories (sensu White) as Rudebeck seems
the agency and the conditions of production of texts in to suggest at one point; rather, I claim that archaeology
favour of either formal content analysis or the commen- has been both conservative in its representations of the
tators own flights of fantasy. Both old-fashioned criti- past (and the archaeological present) and overly narrow
cism which claimed that the identity of the author per in its self-analysis. Greater awareness in general and a
se was not important and some postmodern work which self-conscious experimentation in both narrative and
dissolves the author into intertextuality and discourse non-narrative forms may have a part to play here.
analysis may end up being equally conservative (cf. Eag- The importance of discourse analysis, along with the
leton 1999). Who is able to write, publish, and read is question of style and medium, is raised by several com-
partly dependent on individual circumstances; the death mentators (Rudebeck, Terrell, Tusa). For reasons of space,
of the author is clearly somewhat exaggerated when the I intentionally gave little attention to this aspect of tex-
authors individual identity (in terms of gender, status, tual critique, which has been more widely evidenced in
personal contacts, institution, and access to word-pro- archaeology than narrative analysis. Some of the pub-
cessing or computer facilities, for example) may influ- lished work in this genre (Tilley 1989; 1993a; 1999:
ence or determine access to different media of publica- 83101; Thomas 1993) relies heavily on the quantitative
tion. I am in agreement with Criado Boado, then, that analysis of the occurrence of key words, with a conse-
authors and their texts are parts of (and structured by) quent failure to see the (contextual) wood for the (sig-
far broader discourses than their individual intentions nifiers of) trees. The most influential aspect of discourse
and, I would add, also by material conditions and not analysis, in my experience, has been the critique of sexist
just verbal traditions of rhetoric and other texts. What- language, which has radically changed the content of
ever it may have added, the interest in narrativism in much archaeological writing and had wide ramifications.
the human sciences, as he argues, may also have served In that instance, the criticism of certain androcentric
to re-create a particular view of the subjectivity of the assumptions expressed through the choice of language
author and authorial power. was of course part of a much wider intellectual, social,
One of the implications of this is emphasized by both and political movement, which again confirms that anal-
Rudebeck and Criado Boado: the need to investigate the ysis of language cannot be the whole answer to questions
importance of the present for conditioning or framing about the reasons for the forms and styles of archaeo-
narratives of the past. Criado Boado also suggests that logical texts. We should also remember the importance
prehistoric archaeology, in contrast to historical and con- as contributors to narrative and other understandings of
temporary studies of society, is particularly prone to visual representations, which may in some ways be even
writing the present into the past (including contempo- more deeply embedded and difficult to deconstruct (Con-
rary notions of subjectivity and authorship). In such sit- key 1995, Hurcombe 1997, Molyneaux 1997).
uations he proposes that the writers narrative may be Tusa broadens the whole question to consider the im-
disrupted by dialogue with, or subsequent rebuttal by, plications of the increasing split between specialist and
the characters of any narrative or through the encounter popular narratives within archaeology. One may cer-
with textual evidence deriving from or directly about tainly agree that the accessibility of texts and consequent
those characters. I am in sympathy with what I see as public understandings of (pre)history gained through ar-
the point of his discussion (how can prehistoric archae- chaeology directly influence the importance placed by
ologists somehow attempt to give voice to the Other?), others (such as politicians) on cultural heritage and
though of course readings, whether of material cul- hence the possibility of financing, conserving, protect-
ture, the archaeological record more generally, or texts ing, and promoting archaeology (cf. Gero and Root 1990).
from different cultures, are all prone to the imposition He also raises the important point of the medium of
of present-day concerns and academic or other fashions. publication, arguing that the use of hypertext, for ex-
However, it is worth noting that even in ethnography ample, is leading to standardization. I would be inter-
the lengthy agonizing over these issues and the crisis ested to hear more from Tusa on this issue. Others have
of representation has so far tended to lead to (single) argued that the increasingly cheap forms of electronic
authors exploring their morally and politically uncom- publication and the exponential increase in numbers of
fortable position of authorial power. I have yet to see an people connected to the Internet can be seen as a de-
ethnography in which the written-about are given equal mocratization of both information and the ability to pub-
textual space with their ethnographer or even a right to lish. Of course, this particular form of globalization is
reply. The myriad factors which constitute the field of also highly unequal in terms of who has access and who
study in the first place inevitably condition perceptions does not, and it is clear that in academic circles at least
of others, as well as the possible narratives which are the process of peer review will continue to maintain
the outcome (Gupta and Ferguson 1997, Pluciennik and standards (or, depending on ones political viewpoint, re-
Drew n.d.). I agree with Criado Boado and Rudebeck that produce existing power structures and exclude others).
making explicit the constructedness of texts is an im- In terms of journals, as with the earlier electronic type-
portant part of narrative analysis; so is consideration of setting revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, the role of the
the debt that texts (and their authors) owe to contingent distributors/publishers is probably more crucial here,
conditions and enabling structures. I am not calling for with the inflated distribution costs of many scientific
674 F c u r r e n t a n t h ro p o l o g y Volume 40, Number 5, December 1999

and on-line journals being more prohibitive than those iable co-presence of these two strandsthe romantic and
of the technological hardware. Nonetheless, some see the tragicin Euro-American attitudes towards indige-
the flexibility of electronic databases and the ability of nous peoples in many fields ranging from theological and
many others to use and read this electronic information anthropological discourse to political policies over the
in different ways as generally beneficial and empowering past 500 years is explored, for example, by Berkhofer
(e.g., Hodder 1999). The World Wide Web and hypertext (1978) and Pearce (1988 [1953]). But without an under-
may be seen as ways of enabling readers to construct
standing and analysis of social, political, and cultural
their own versions of archaeological narratives to a cer-
contexts, purely literary analysis in categories of ideal
tain extent, at least by disrupting linear readings. How-
ever, I share Rudebecks reservations and her fear that tropes or narrative forms is unlikely, in my opinion, to
the ease of making archaeological material available on offer a sufficiently rich understanding of why archaeo-
the Web in an apparently pure empirical form may logical narratives have tended to take the form that they
encourage laziness in archaeologists through failure to have in relation to any particular topic.
engage with and make explicit the process of interpre- That a more flexible idea of what constitutes a trope
tation. Under a banner of multivocality and democracy, may be of help is suggested by the comments of Peacock
it is thus potentially also a way of avoiding responsibility and particularly Terrell, who points to the common use
for specific narratives, which may indeed be attractive of the trope of discovery by archaeologists, in contrast
in certain political and cultural contexts where pasts and to the crucial experiment mind-set of some scientists.
presents are highly contested. Discovery is undoubtedly a common theme, in many
Finally, I wish to comment on issues of tropes and forms: Shankss (1992:5384) Desire and Metaphor: An
forms (Manfredini, Peacock, Rudebeck, Terrell). Rude- Archaeological Erotics contains examples such as the
becks comments on the role of preceding and succeeding
literal uncovering and piecing together the past
archaeological periods and their characterizations are im-
found especially in more popular archaeologies. How-
portant. The need to relate these understandings to nar-
rative structures tends to demand, for example, conti- ever, I find it more difficult to characterize many recent
nuity of development and makes it much more difficult and more specialized works, though Peacock suggests
to deal with radical discontinuity. However, I am less one set of correlates related to the arts/science bound-
convinced by Rudebecks claim that most narratives of aries in archaeology.
agricultural origins during the second part of this century Manfredini usefully emphasizes the overlap in con-
have been presented as tragedies. Although I would not tent, form, tropes, and arguments in texts within the
disagree with her reading of Hodders Domestication of sciences and the humanities. In part no doubt this ab-
Europe, I have trouble with this use of Whites literary sence of master tropes is due precisely to the self-con-
definition of tragedy. As I suggested, I do not find this sciousness about language and suspicion of meta-nar-
form of analysis necessarily the most enlightening when ratives which is characteristic of our times. Discourse
it comes to considering the context and meaning of analysis of figurative language usefully highlights this
the forms and styles of narratives about the transition change, with titles of papers and books more likely now-
to (or origins of) agriculture. In my reading, progressive
adays to include terms such as nodes, networks,
social evolutionary views first systematized in the 18th
contexts, interpretations, and constellations and
century (Meek 1976) have had and continue to have a
hegemonic effect on the nature of archaeological narra- generally less fixed and more fluid metaphors compared
tives about this period and overwhelmingly endorse a with, say, the earlier certainties that archaeologists were
broadly romantic meta-narrative understood as a polit- either supplying answers or at least advancing along the
ical stance, not just a literary motif. The trope of tragedy right road exemplified in the popularity of Towards an
in relation to ethnographic Others and (pre)history may archaeology of . . . as a title. Hayden White, Frederic
be said to have been present from Montaigne (1958 Jameson, and many others are right to point to the recent
[1580]) and Rousseau (1993 [1755]): it is associated with resurgence of the ironic mode of cultural expression, but
a vision of the noble savage and hence of agriculture the forms this irony will take are themselves culturally
as the beginning of the fall from grace and the disruption and contextually mutable and contingent.
of harmony with nature. This latter strand is certainly All this perhaps suggests that the most productive
present now, as I have suggested, as academic irony, but means of analysis of archaeologicaland othertexts
this is itself a reaction to wider changes in attitudes to- will be themselves either variable or a mix of approaches.
wards nature and indigenous peoples (often linked to-
Since closure towards alternative approaches in presen-
gether by those promoting a vision of ecological and spir-
tation is partly what I am arguing against in this paper,
itual harmony which is to be regained), which in its
present form can be traced back to the 1960s. However, it would be ironic (if hardly tragic) if I were then to pro-
further complications arise in that it is precisely the pose a single and rigid mode of either representation or
backdrop of a romanticized and often nostalgic view of analysis. Differences of intellectual perspective and ap-
particular others which enables the tragic reading of proach are usually productive: I am grateful to all the
historythat is, narratives of farmers and the rise of commentators for suggesting valuable ways in which to
civilization seen as the loss of authenticity. The var- think about these issues.
p l u c i e n n i k Archaeological Narratives F 675

b o y d , r . , a n d p . r i c h e r s o n . 1985. Culture and the evolu-

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