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Archaeological Theory
An Introduction

Matthew Johnson

~A Blackwell
'-.b Publishing

I i,1 of Figures v1
1\lknowledgements v111
l'rd;H:c: The Contradictions of Theory x

( :ommon Sense is Not Enough 1
! The 'New Archaeology' 12

Archaeology as a Science 34
I 'lcsting, Middle-range Theory and Ethnoarchaeology 48
Culture as a System 64

'' I ooking at Thoughts 85

7 Pmtprocessual and Interpretative Archaeologies 98
8 Archaeology and Gender 116
'' Arlhacology and Evolution 112

10 1\n:haeology and History 149

11 An hat>ology in a Postmodern World 162
I, l :ondu~ion: Conflict and Consensus 176

'll'ln 11v1 (;(os~:1ry 188

I 111 1lur lk1ding 196
l\1hl1n):r.q1hy 21 1
l11d1 \ 232

2 many beads were found in this grave?' 'Do we see a shift to intensive
exploitation of llamas in the Formative Period?' 'What was it like to
live in the Bronze Age?' 'What degree of social inequality do we see in
this period?' We make general or particular statements about the past:
The 'New Archaeology' 'There was increased use of obsidian in Phase 3B of this site'; 'There
were more elements of cultural continuity between Mesolithic and
Neolithic populations than have hitherto been asswned'; 'Gender
relations became less equal through time'; 'The Romans were a
cruel and vicious people'. These are all statements made here, now,
in the present, as I write and you read. They do not belong to the past.
It is only in works of fiction, or if you believe in ghosts, that past

and present can really be made to collide and merge into each other. It
is striking that many writers have used this collision with great effect
Most archaeologists fall in love with rhe subject hy getting 'hooked' to disturb and horrify the 'rational' Western mind (the novels of Peter
on things. The things vary from case to case - ca~tlc~, Roman baths, Ackroyd are excellent examples of this). This collision of past and

Native American arrowheads, Neolithic pots, .M aya temples - but in present is also possible within 'non-Western' schemes of thought;
most cases the immediate appeal is of mystery anJ romance, of the hence in part the conflicts between different cultures over, for exam-
past calling to us through its remains. This romantic appeal is often ple, excavation and reburial of Native Americrn human remains,
aesthetic and sensual as well as intellectual. We all love clambering where the belief that time moves in a cycle rather than in a line
makes archaeological excavation a threat to the present through its

round medieval ruins or handling pottery sherds. We try to persuade
ourselves, however, that these ruins or sherds are mere 'data'. (One desecration of the past.
colleague told me that as a result of the acute boredom of his Now it is the task of archaeologists to find out about the past. We
researches he now loathes Neolithic pottery to the depths of his want to know what really happened hack then. Our source materials
soul, but I interpret this as another, rather twisted form of love.) - scones, bones, pots - are in the present, and the past that we create is
Artefacts, whether as small as an arrowhead or as large as a royal also in the present. We will never 'know' what the past was 'really

palace, fascinate us. like', but we all can and do try to write the 'best' account we can, an
This love of artefacts, in itself, has nothing to do with archaeology account that is informed by the evidence that we have and that tries to
in the strict sense as the study of the past. Artefacts tell us nothing be coherent and satisfying to us.
about the past in themselves. I have stood in the middle of countless One of the basic problems of archaeology, then, is summarized in

ruins of castles and ancient palaces and listened very carefully, and figure 2.1. Somehow we have to take the archaeological materials
not heard a single syllable. Colleagues tell me that they have had that we have and through our questioning get them to give us in-
similar distressing experiences with pottery, bones, bags of seeds. formation about the past. There is a gulf between past and present, a
They love handling and experiencing their material, but it remains gulf that the archaeologist has to bridge somehow even if it can never
silent. In and of itself, it tells them precisely nothing. be bridged securely or definitively. Otherwise we risk a descent into
Artefacts can't tell us anything about the past because the past does mere antiquarianism: that is, of simply assembling and collating old
not exist. We cannot touch the past, see it or feel it; it is utterly dead objects for their own sake, rather than as evidence for the past.
and gone. Our beloved artefacts actually belong to the prese11t. Thq I :im labouring rhis point because it is easy to fall into the trap of
exist in the here and now. They may or may not have heln m;1de ,111d hclicvi11g 1h:ir rlw very physicality of archaeological material will in
used hy real people tho11~:111ds ol years ago, h111 our l%t'1>1>llll'nt ol lh<' it~l'lf rdl 11~ wh:11 llw p;1s1 w:is like. It will not. Kick a rmgalith and it
datl' of their 11ia1111ht,1111t .1ml u~l' 1 ~ 1hdf .111 ;1 ~w" 11w111 1h.11 w1 h11n ~; ~r.111d in .1l:1,rl11.h.1111lw1 .111d ''T 11othi11g hut mnlivval fabric.
111:1kl', 1h:11 is m:1dt i11 liw pn''i'lll. 1\111 ki1 k111g tlw 111<g11lirl1 01't.1m'111n111 that ve1ld d1.1111lw1wi ll1rll you
\J111tl \VI' lll Vl' lll ,1 111111' 111,1\ l1111r , //11 /ol/ fll/~/j II/I/\' 11/ //11 //J111,~' 11'1 11nrl1111g .1h11111 \\ h.11 tl1r N1 1l11 lt1 , 111 I II, l\l1ddl1 i\)'.I"\ \\'l'l t' n-.1 lh
'I\' ,i/1p11f 1/ \\'C' .i11l<'~t 111 ,1\J 11111111 IJlh fll1t11!1'.t 11111 111 Ill 11,ti ' llo\\ ltl,,' ct1 l\h,1t p11111,w,lnl1nd11 11111~111111l1111111d11\11111 111 11111,.tl11h

view artefacts like literary texts, to 'read' them as we would a piece of
PRESENl writing, and so begin to uncover the rich complexity of past cultural
There are a multiplicity of other views; and the problem has been
perceived for some centuries. The English humanist Sir Thomas
Browne centred his wonderful mid-seventeenth century essay Hydro-
taphia around the discovery of cremation urns that we now believe to
be of Anglo-Saxon origin, fifth to seventh century AD in date. Browne
contrasted the physical solidity of the urns with the impossibility of
understanding the religious beliefs that they expressed, or even the
impossibility of assigning a date to them (he speculated that they

might be Roman).
The question of how to link present and past, however, surfaced in
its most explicit form with the New Archaeology of the 1960s and

Before the New Archaeology

There is an ongoing debate about the nature of archaeological theory
(EVIDENCE. (OUR GOAL - PAST before the New Archaeology. There is not space here to do this debate
STONES. SHERDS. DYNAMICS', 'PAST Some historians of archaeology maintain that the century before
EXCAVATED FEATURES: LIFEWAYS'. 'WHAT 1960 was the 'long sleep' of archaeological theory, in which very little
WORLD OF THE REALLY HAPPENED'. l'Xplicit discussion of theory took place. They argue that archaeolo-

ARCHAEOLOGIST) 'SOCIAL ACTION) gists concentrated on collecting masses of archaeological material
within an unquestioned, generally assumed framework. Others deny
Figure 2.1 The gulf between present and past. rhis, maintaining that this period did see lively theoretical debates of
various kinds. They further maintain that the importance of the New

Archaeology for the development of archaeological thought has been

or castle. We only see megalith and castle in the present, the here and gros<>ly overestimated.
now. This is a present that is framed by our ideas, attitudes and What I do want to stress is that one of the starting points of the so-
assumptions. We see megalith and castle through our eyes, not the l.1llc<l 'New Archaeology' lay in what I have discussed above, that is
eyes of the prehistoric or medieval observer. . 111 the notion that mere data collection - the acquisition of more stuff
I am also labouring this point because it can be seen as the poml J1d not in itself lead to a better understanding of the past. David
of departure for very different views of archaeological theory. One C'brke, one of the principal proponents of the New Archaeology,
of the few areas of common ground for most archaeological theorist~ \lnrtcJ Im classic book Analytical Archaeology with a telling quote
is that we all want to talk about the past, and we all use archaeolo fr 0111 I cwis Carroll:
gical material in the prt's<:nl LO do so. But how do we do ~hil> ?
Ont posl.ihk ~11ggt'~lio11 1s 1ha1 wt should 11se the methods ol dw Now lwn, you '11, It tnkc~ .111 dw rn1111i11g you c:111 do, to k11p in thl'
nnl ural st ic11c1s 011 1>111' m.1tni.1l, to try 10 ttsl altn11.1tivi: hypotlW~t'S ~1111w ph11c
.1houl p.1,1 C'Vl'llh .11111 p1111l ''M'~ .l~\.lill'I th .11 111.1111ijd a11d '>0 I Ill' 0111111 111 1\111.1, J'/i11111gl t/11 I 1i11/.J11111 <,/,1"' ( 'h,1p111 2, I l'wi'

1,p.111d .11111 1knle1p 11111 11rnl1 I I 11111111: \11111111 I , d11llt \ ,, Ill \ .111111!, llH l IK

Every year produces a fresh crop of archaeological excavations, a new are in fact ideals (in this case crude stereotypes) that don't neces-
harvest of prehistoric artefacts.. . . The archaeologists come and go, sarily correspond to reality in every case.)
new names and sites outshine the old, while hundreds of years of 2 The Linearbandkeramik archaeological culture differs from the
collected material overflows and submerges our museum storerooms. Trichterbandkeramik in Neolithic Europe: in LBK areas we find
At the same time a relentless current of articles and books describe and rectangular house forms, pottery decorated with linear designs, a
label the new material so that the intrepid archaeologist, by dint of
certain form of arable economy. In TRB areas house form, pottery
furious activity, can just maintain his [sic] status quo against the con-
stant stream of data. However, the nebulous doubt arises in our minds decoration and economy are all different. (Again, this is an ideal:
that a modern empirical discipline ought ro be able to aim at more not every TRB or LBK site will share all the features of all the
rewarding results than the maintenance of a relative status quo and a others.)
steady flow of counterfeit history books. (Clarke 1972:3)
Such a concept of culture is also polythetic: that is, it depemls on a

Clarke, then, was not at all sure that the methods of archaeologists number of different traits occurring together rather than on one trait
actually gave us better and more reliable versions of the past: alone. Drinking coffee does not make an English person French; a
we seemed to dig up more and more things but stay in the same single rectangular house does not turn an TRB settlement into an LBK
place in terms of our ideas. Our knowledge of artefacts in the village. It is a number of traits occurring together, as Chi Ide stressed,
that defines culture. Jn North America, lists of traits were talmlated

present grew better and better, but because we did not bridge the
gulf with the past very well, progress in understanding that past did and added up from site to site.
not follow. So to summarize, in the traditional view we translate present into
What were the theories Clarke was dissatisfied with? In other past by collecting artefacts into groups, and naming those groups as
words, how did archaeologists before the 1960s translate archaeolo- archaeological cultures. We then make the equation between an

gical material into statements about the past? It is easy to over-gen- archaeological culture and a human culture by making the assump-
eralize here, and exceptions can always be found. One of the basic tion that artefacts are expressions of cultural ideas or norms.
building-blocks, however, was the idea of an archaeological culture This approach has several consequences. In the first place, it leads
and what it meant in terms of past human populations. In the words to a tendency to particularize what archaeologists say about the past
of Gordon ChiJde: rather than generalize. What this means is that instead of stressing

the similarities between things, one stressed the differences and
We find certain types of remains - pots, implements, ornaments, burial particularities between them.
rites, and house forms - constantly recurring together. Such a complex One might, for example, want to generalize between the LBK and
of associated traits we shall term a 'cultural group' or just a 'culture'. TRB, to stress that these different groups were at the same 'level' of
We assume that such a complex is the material expression of what

social or economic development. They might both be classified as

today would be called a 'people'. (Childe 1929: v- vi)
~ocieties with a certain level of social ranking, for example, or with
certain similar modes of subsistence economy, or exchange and trade.
Such an idea of culture has been called normative. That is, i1
The culnire-o.riented approach, however, tends to direct attention
depends on two assumptions: first, that artefacts are expressions of
away from such general features towards what makes the TRB and
cultural norms, ideas in people's heads, and second, that those non w.
define what 'culture' is. I will give two examples, one from the prcsc111 I.BK d istinctive, both from each other and from other cultures. It
r ncourngcs us to stress their differences, their diagnostic and peculiar
and one from the past.
re;irurts, their particular forms of house type and burial rite, the
1 The English are the English because they drink tea, speak Engli-.h, l'Ol1t 1-.1"1 between the zigging o f one form of pottery decoration and
don't eat horse, and queue in an orderly fashion , often for hour 1ht 1.agg111g of i1110tlwr form, r;Hher than those they have in common.
without complaint. This distinguishes them from rhr French who 'I hi ~l't rnrd 1.0 ll ~lq11c11ct of :l normative view of culture is that
drink coffee, speak French, eat hor~t :ind do 1101 qtll'lll" with 11dtu1 1.., tr 111l 10 he v1nvtd a~ 11111h1111gi11g. To repeat , the normative
equanimity. (These are, of com-.1-. .di 111ln11.d 11 111 nv., id1:1:-. .1 h111 11 1tp p11i.11h ~rr" .11 trf111 h ,,.., rxp11"i1111 ol h;11 n l id1;1 ~. If pl'npk in 1h1.
what is t'lw right way to heh av1, .1nd 11111 1111 11<dv w1 1h.11 1hn 111" .di .. h.111d thr ~.1 111 1' 11lr.1' 1111 h11w In h111ld h1111,1,, 111.11.. 1 pot' :111d

bury their dead, where did change come from? The easiest way to
explain change is to suggest that it was brought in from outside, from

"""' 1
another human group. Such outside 'influence' can be of one of two 2
forms: migration of peoples, or of diffusion - the spread of ideas 0 3
through contact between groups.
Accounts of prehistory before the New Archaeology, then, tended
to consist of two elements. The first was a chronological sequence of
cultures, a sort of timetable with culture groups listed instead of
trains. The second was a map full of arrows to indicate the migration
and diffusion of ideas that marked change between cultures (for
example figures 2.2 and 2.3}.

SAXO S'llllT:C~I
M!IOD a!IOIUSO:~ ~~:UN tT!OR1.Vl1. Sll.Sl1. THUltlH!jl1. lt11111 1-'Slll , (1'$1' WI

1 '11\CRO- ?PIP,t..l1.fOUllllC

l~~ OAIWV\ la OAIW81A~
Vlrtf.r. I 11uKJ(..


Figure 2.3 Piggott's (1968) view of culture. Piggott's caption reads:

Ill 'Distribution of mature La Time culture and influences; 2, Sword scab-
bards in Swiss style; 3, British derivatives; 4, Many scabbards'.

IV The whole synthesis thus pro<luc.:ed tended 10 be desai/1tive. That
is, it described phases and areas of culturnl change: Lhis culwrc
followed that culture, this innovation spread or diffused al that rate.

Much traditional prehistory read like much traditional history, that is

like a chronicle of events held together by a narrative. There was little
explicit explanation of why this or chat pottery style changed, why
this or that culture spread or changed.
9()0~<>-+ -+-+-+-+-+-"+-L~-.--+---.---~--4-....L.-f---f
........ I gt!MD
u s1.i.'m 11.>.n
Lewis Binford called this view of change 'an aquatic view of cul-
ture' (Binford 1964). Binford's image was a caricature, but like a ll
good c.:aricaturcs it contained an essence of truth. What Binford meant
w;1s 1h:i1 1radii io11al an:h:1colo~ist~ ~aw the map of the prehistoric
Vil ~ 11.lf 5TATT

de. l/JlRtlll ' M>.ll\1~1
woild ,1.., hc111~ ,, l111k lik1 .1 l.1rgl' pool of watn. When an innovation
" " 111.1111 Im \\ h.11rH1 11 1\1111 111 1 g1vt11 pl.11T, ii would ttnJ to
91 ..""llSQKR Zl;:Qll(l)llf~'"l. W1 ft< WAUtlUlliltlUlg IK1llUU~ J.)Ql!MltS.niiHL
... p11.1d 1h111111-1li 1li1 p11111 ~ 111 111111111111 rn ddh1..,10n 111.dl dirci.:tion~,
&1<1<. 1
TA.6\ g1vtttg COllRC:L'l\.TIOttS' OF Tiie )\'eR~L CUl.TURS' IN. Tl1U.O ANO ~PAC~
hl..1 1h1 11ppl1" 110111 11 .,11111r 1l111pp1d 111 tlw pool 111 .111v giv111

Figure2.2 'Cultures' in spaH~ clncl linu. 110111 < l11lcl1 ll'l}'))

1111.lll"ll dhll 111\1 \\llltlil I! I \Ill lllltllr llJ1pl1> 11l 1t1ll111'll"'

I want to repeat that this characterization of archaeology before the larger and larger and deeper and deeper its understanding of the
1960s is far too brief, over-simplified and over-generalized. Sugges- world. The natural sciences were developing better and better under-
tions for further accounts are given in the Further Reading section. In standings of the world around us.
particular, it leans coo heavily on what New Archaeologists such as Why was culture history seen as not anthropologica l? Traditional
David Clarke, Colin Renfrew and Lewis Binford said that traditional archaeologists, in sorting artefacts into cultures, often seemed to ignore
archaeology was like. Many have complained that the New Archae- human beings: pottery styles seemed to get up and march around with
ology set up a distorted image of traditional thought for its own no reference to the humans that produced them. In this sense it was
polemical purposes, a 'straw person' that could easily be knocked fetishistic. A fetish is a thing that comes to stand for something else
down. But if this is what New Archaeology thought traditional think- such as a human or a human group: traditional archaeologists often
ing was like, this was what New Archaeology was reacti11g against. seemed to spend their time describing the movement o( these things
without thinking a bout the human beings, the cultural sysI c111s, heh ind

them. Pottery styles and house types seemed to Jevdop littk kgs and
Origins of the New Archaeology run around without any help from human beings.
At a deeper level, traditional archaeology was not anthropological
What, then, was the 'New Archaeology'? One thing is certain: it is no in the sense that there seemed to be no guarantee that the archae-
longer new. The term 'New Archaeology' is applied to a school of ological 'cultures' so lovingly produced by culture historian~ had any

thought that swept through Anglo-American archaeology in the 1960s relationship to ren t human communities. Many New Archaeologists
and early 1970s. It must be seen in the contexts of similar currents of questioned the link between archaeological cu ltures - Childc's rcrn r-
thought in other disciplines - the New Geography in particular. ring assemblages of traits - and past peoples. Chi Ide himscl f had come
The 'New Archaeology' was also not a single set of beliefs or to doubt whether we really could equate :1rchacological cultu res and

theories. One does not expect all members of a political party to past peoples:
have identical views on all policy matters; there are rather certain
core ideas and values that inform the approach of any one party. Tr would be rash co define prl'cisdy wh:ir ~orr of \ocial group corn-
Similarly, under the banner of the New Archaeology was a very diverse sponds to the archaeologist's 'culrure' .... Culture and langua~c need
set of archaeologists with different approaches and beliefs. What nor coincide. (Childe 1942: 26-7)

united them all was a sense of dissatisfaction with the way archaeology T his i.s why many New Archaeologists moved away from the norm-
was going, a sense that things had to change and that they, as a ative conception of culture and looked for other ways to expla in the
thrusting new generation of 'young Turks', were going to change it. things we dug up. In Clarke's phrase, archaeology experienced a 'loss
This dissatisfaction with traditional archaeology was crystalJized in
of innocence'. The innocent equations archaeology had made

the phrase: 'we must be more scientific and more anthropological'. In

between artefacts, cultures and peoples, or between data and inter-
this one phrase can be seen New Archaeology's source of disaffection
pretation more generally, had to be questioned.
with what went before, the foundations of its rise, and in my view the
To repeat, the New Archaeology must be understood as a move-
seeds of subsequent developments.
ment or mood of dissatisfaction rather than as a specific set of beliefs.
Why was culture history seen as unscientific? We must go b.ick to David Chuke called it 'a set of questions rather than a set of answers'.
David Clarke's comments on running harder and harder to stay in 1lw
fr was certainly marked with revolutionary fervour. Lewis Binford, its
same place. Traditional archaeologists accumulated more and nmn most fomou~ figure, tells a story that sums up both this fervour and its
information, but this did not automatically mean a better and lw11tr
1rrita1 ion with dw p:irticularic;m of traditional methods:
idea of what the past was like, for all the reasons discussed :1hm1. \VJ('
simply fitted more and more archaeological material i111<> dw ,.11111 I n11w111hn 11111 d.11 "11111 11111 ol ilw 11.1ditinnal Criffin studcncs had
endless sequence of cultures. 'Science', argued the Ntw /\it h.1nil11 11"111111rd 111 1111 .1 l1t'ld 111p 111 1111 \ lpp11 111111111~ v;1 lky. I k li:id hurst into
gists, used its data to test hypo! hcscs a houl I he way 1hl' wrn Id il w 1111l'rtt111 wll li 1!11 ,1111111111111111 <'111 1h,11 hr h.1d f1u111d .1 ' 11 rnq111' i11111 ,
worked, and gcnrrn from 1lwsl' l 011rl.1,i1 >11 ~. " " 1t'lll 1' p1<1g1 ''"<'t I,
.1 111'};.11111 I' 111111 d lu 111 1111111 tin Ill' ( .1111111 w.1 .. 11lw1111"lv
ii did notsimplvloll.111 ii:-. l.llh 111111111d11h p111t111\, 1.111111 1111111lr ' 1111111l 11nl 111111 1 1p\'<11ll1 ii.I I tI Ill '" I le lcu>~- lhc , 1111 .J, l .... ~ .. I
at it and then threw it on the floor and ground it to pieces with the heel
of his shoe. 'That's what I think of your "unique" shcrd'. Griffin was in
total shock, the student was practically in tears, and 1 was laughing
inside. (Binford 1972: 130-1)

New Archaeology: Key Points

As the New Archaeology developed, certairr key themes came to be

repeated in the writings of its proponents. I will try to summarize
these under seven points. If the descriptions seem brief and over-
simplified, many of these themes will be discussed further in future

chapters. The important thing here is to get an overall sense of the
spirit of the movement.
First, an emphasis on cultural evolution. The word 'evolution' has a
series of different though related meanings stretching back to the

work of Darwin in the nineteenth century (see chapter 9). For some
within New Archaeology, it meant in part that societies could be
classified on a scale from simple to complex. Cultures in this view
evolved from one state to another, for example from 'band' societies

to ' tribal' networks to 'chiefdoms'.
This stress was in part a rejection of the aquatic view of culture,
with its random ripples spreading across the map. Instead New
Archaeologists wanted to look at the internal dynamics of a society,
what was driving its general direction of social development (the

phrase often used was 'cultural trajectory').
Evolution was also part of a conscious stress on generalities rather
than particularities. Cultures might differ in their specific forms of
jewellery and house type, one pottery style might zig and the other Time

zag. But both societies might be comparable on the same level on an

evolutionary scale. So we could generalize about, say, the evolution of Figure 2.4 David Clarke's (1976) systemic view of culture. In language
state level societies from chiefdom level societies, without worrying too characteristic of the New Archaeology, Clark's caption reads: 'A static
much about the different art styles or pottery decoration in each case. and schematic model of the dynamic equilibrium between the subsys-
tem networks of a single sociocultural system and its total environ-
Second, an emphasis on systems thinking (see figure 2.4 and chapter mental system. Sn represents the summation of the effects of alien
5). Culture wasn't just a mixed bag of different randomly acquired sociocultural systems connected to S by cultural 'coactions' (dashed
norms, as culture history had implied; rather it was a system. L('wis lines) and to the environment by 'interactions' (solid lines). To set the
Binford (1964) defined culture as 'man's extrasomatic mcilns of model in motion all the components must oscillate randomly along
adaptation'. intercorrelated trending trajectories'.

To clarify Bin ford's point, olhl'r anima ls an ad;1ptcd w 1hcir e11vi1

onmcnt through their bodies ilw gir:1ffr h:1s :1lnng1wck to n.1l h 10 wt.11 1111 ~ ,111d ltv1 111 i~:lou~. t ltr lh.111114 ~1 111 h.1 w .111 txtensiw range of
th<' tops o l 11('1 ~ 111 ilw ~:1v.11111.1h, pol.11 lw.11 \ lt.1v1 1 111~ ol Im to de.ti ~ pn i.il11 l'd l11111t111H Lq111p11u 111 I lw~1 1 1111111 .d .1d.1p1.11ions .ire all
w 1d1 th <' i\ w111111 I l11111.11h .1d .1p1 tlt1 1111~h , 1tl1111r th1 1111111 1111\~ld( (t'\f/1 1) 1h1 ltt1d\ (1t1111,I) h111\1 I \ (ht Mll ll .llll '

So past cultures were: forward. According to Watson, Redman and LeBlanc in their Ex-
planation in Archaeology: An Explicitly Scie':tific Approach ( 1 97~),
(a) not just a bag of different, randomly acquired norms - the one index of the progress of archaeology is the extent to which
different parts of the system were related one to another as hypotheses are scientifically tested. .
part of a functioning system; Fifth there was stress on the idea of culture process. The idea of
(b) comparable to other kinds of system such as those found in the 'proces~' was central to N ew Archaeology, but it is a difficult idea to
physical and animal worlds. grasp. It involves several related themes that have already been
Systems thinking will be expanded on in chapter 5. But note here that touched on:
it allowed New Archaeology to do two things. It firstly helped the (a) We want to explain rather than be merely descriptive - to ask
stress on generalization. Diffe rent cultures may have had different 'why?' rather than merely 'when?' A traditional c ult~1rc seqt~ence
pottery styles and burial rites, but the underlying social system could such as that of Childe's (figure 2.2) may be valuable 111 clt>scnhmg

be shown to have underlying similarities (they were both more or less a sequence, but it cells u~ nothing about w~y one cultt~re suc-
complex, practised similar systems of gift exchange even if the specific ceeded another, or why, for example, innovations like agriculture
goods traded were different, and so on). or metallurgy spread quickly or slowly. You can, se7 that ~he
It secondly helped New Archaeologists to be more optimistic about 'why?' questions link with the New Archaeology s firsr pomt,

what archaeology could achieve. One of the least attractive features looking at cultural evolution. , . ,
of traditional archaeology was its pessimism: we can never recon- (b) We want to look at the underlying process rarhcr than the nmsc
struct the religious or social life of past peoples, we can only build on top. Why pottery decoration zigs or zags is unimportant in
chronologies. J ames Deetz wrote: this view; instead, what ic; importalll is to look at pottery as one

artefact of t rade or of craft specialization, and to c hart the
Srress on the essential interrelatedness of cultural systems allows us to process by which, for example, t he l~mg-te.rm d~vcl.opmcnt of
reach understandings of many aspects from a relative few ... this cer- marker networks relates to such spcc 1ahzat1on. I artt<.:ular phe-
tainty is at least a partial answer to the problems posed by the incom-
nomena will always vary: as w ith economics or sociology, what
pleteness of the archaeological record. (Deetz 1972: l I 2)
may be important is the underlying trend.

(c) We want to look at change in the long term. Many New Archae-
Third, if cult ure was adaptive, it was adaptive to an external environ-
ologists argued that if yo~ wanted to do nnthropol<~gy, the
ment. For the archaeologist Kent Flannery, we were not just lookin~
obvious place to start was 111 the present._ Archaeology s great,
ar objects and trying to learn about human c ultures through them; we
possibly its only, contribution to the wider. study . of human
were trying to reconstruct the whole ecological system behind both
beings had to be through its long-term perspective wlm:h cultur~l

'the Indian a nd the artefact'. This theoretical stress on the importancl'

anthropologists, working only in the present or recent past, did
of the external environment led to interest in cultural materialism (in
which the material world is seen as more imponant than the mcnt;1I not have.
world), cultural ecology, modelling of the subsistence economy. I !ere, In this sense the New Archaeology shared man y of the concerns
new theoretical attitudes went hand-in-hand with the new scil'llti/i1 with the rhyth~s of long-term history as discus~ed by Anna/es histo.r-
techniques that were developed in the postwar period: fauna I anal>'i', 1,rns such as Pemand Braudel, though at the nme these parallels. m
palaeoethnobotany, carbon-14 dating, dendrochronology, and -.o 011 rhinking were little noted and it fell to a later generation of theonsts
Fourth, there was stress on a scientific approach. New Ard1.Ht1lo writing in 1he 19801-o to point out t he similarities (see chapter 10).
gists saw traditional archaeology as moddli11 itself on the red111 1q11l'' M:inr Nl'w Arc:hatol ogi~I~ contra<;ted cu ltme proc~ss to culture
of traditional history, with culr11n~ taking lhl' pl.llt' ol lmt1111Lil 111.. ron. In tlw. v1tw. r rn<l111u11.1I hi,lrn y -.imply descnbed a set of
actors and the aim hlin th<' ll'lom1111\11011 of 111d1\ld11.1I (' \I 111'> 111 mmt 0 1 In' 1.111d11111 1'Vl'llt' ,mh ''" hattlt' and hirths and
time. This may not h.t Vl' htt11 .1 l.111 d1111 1H 11111.1111111, t11hcr oi \\h,11 di,1111 .. ol 11m11.11d1' w1tlwu1 1v11 H".tlly nqil11111111g .111ytl1111g. l\y suh-
:1rrhacn l 111.dst~ :tl'lu.1111' did 111 w h.1111 ,1.11111111 d hl\11111111~ .1t11 1.1 ll) dul, ti.t11i11111~~ p11 ll "~' I111 111~1111 \, 1111 11111~ 11 1111 l 1r11d, 1>1 111"l l'"<'' h(1w:1 tl1
h111 11 lnl Nn\' ,\11.h.w11l11)'."I' 111 p111 1 .111h1 L S1111h1'"1h1" I\ th ..111111 1 111 ~mh1\ 1Hl I 11111 1h1 1111111u1111111h1n1,11l-.1111h
Sixth an? .more generally, there was a trend co attempt to become at the very least we had to be sure we were looking at a representative
more explicit about one's biases. A good scientist, argued New sample of sites. Kent Flannery told a memorable parable of a Mes.oa-
Archaeologists, did not use intuition and implicit assumptions he or merican archaeologist who only stopped to record archaeological
she made clear their aims and interests. Much of the New Archa~ology sites if he was forced to put his Jeep into first gear to get over the
'~as concerned with making what had been unspoken formally out- top of them. In response, New Archaeologists explored methods of
l~ned. A g~od example is the technique of typology, or the classifica- sampling randomly or at least systematically.
t10n of obiects according to their changing form. It had long been Many of the worst aspects of the traditional attitudes the New
accepted that one could classify objects, and that this classification Archaeology castigated still survive today. A few years ago I remem-
had something to do with chronological order: archaeologists made ber asking a prominenr, senior scholar who had written several infl~
~tatements like 'pottery vessels get baggier through time', or 'this ential books on traditional architecture how many houses of a certain
ie~ellery style g~es out of fashion ~this period'. But the criteria by date and type there were in a certain county of England. 'Oh', he said,

which a typolog1st suggested one piece of jewellery or architectural 'an awful lot'. Yes, but how many? Tens, hundreds, thousands? 'Well,
style ~as 'early' and another one was 'late' was rarely dearly spelt out. a lot, but l really couldn't put a figure to it' came the reply. And how
In his book Analytical Archaeology, David Clarke used many of the many were there in an acljacenr area? 'Oh, not many at nll. :': And
concepts of traditional a.rchaeology - typology, assemblage and cul- what, statistically, was the proportion of Type /\ ho~1ses to . 1ype. B

ture for example-: but discussed openly, explicitly and at length how houses in the two areas? 'Ah .. .'. And yet you arc qu1Lc confident 111
~hey should be defined. For Clarke, the need to be explicit and precise saying that Type A houses arc more frequen~ly found than Type ~
m one_'s ter~s ~o r!J?lace 'the murky exhalation that passes for " inter- houses in this area but not that, and we can mdecd go on from tl11s
pretative thmk1ng 111 archaeology' was one of the main thrusts of the observation to draw conclusions about relative levels of wc::ilth in tht
New Archaeology.

two areas? 'Oh yes, that's quite dear .. .'. One docs not haw to he a
A ~elated aspect ~f making one's biases explicit was problem ori- paid-up New Archaeologist to sec 1hal such rc:isoning is an insecure
entation, or the belief that one should survey and dig sites, or do foundation for any understanding of the archaeological record.
re~ear_ch mo~e ge1~erally,. with ~lea~ ~esearch questions in mind. Again,
this linked m with bemg sc1enuf1c - the scientist tested specific I'm a bit sceptical about all this. In the first place, archaeologists
hypotheses, he or she brought specific questions to the data. In before New Archaeology were not the dry, traditional dullards

chapter 3, we will see how asking specific questions or testing specific that New Archaeologists made out. They did many of these
hypotheses was central to the idea of archaeology as a science. things already. Look, for example, at ~rahame Cla~k's work at
A s.eventh and final concern of New Archaeology was the under- Star Carr, where environmental analysis was used in the 1950s.
standmg o~ va:iabili'J'. .What this meant was a basic understanding of Or Alfred Kidder's work in Mesoamerica and the American

our material m statistical terms. Previous archaeologists had often Southwest. And Gordon Chi/de can hardly be accused of many of
concentrated on the biggest and best sites, or the most beautiful the sins the New Archaeology tried to pin on culture historians.
artefacts. New Archaeologists pointed out that we couldn't under- His books Man Makes Himself and What Happened in History
~tand, say, a major urban civilization without looking at its rural Dre full of dynamic pictures-they try to exp/ain things, they deal
mfr~structure (the importance of looking at the whole system with underlying processes . ..
agam), and we couldn't understand the rural infrastructure without
knowing just how many rural sites there were on the ground. So to Yom analysis contains a lot of truth. Traditional archaeology was
re~lly g~t to grips with understanding that civilization, the archaeol 1101 llt'Cl''~nrily du' narrowly descriptive, sterile pursuit tha~ ~ew
og1st might want to forgo digging yet another elite site wi1h lots ol 1\rd1 :wolo~y p.11111nl i1. II C;HI ht ;1rgurd, for example, that,trad1t1~nal
prett_Y. exotic nrrcfacts a~1~I in~l ea d c1_mccntTnlc 011 :-.ysrn11a1 ir ~urvey 11ru 111 111 ., ol 1111g1 .11 io11 .1 nd d1If11 ~11>1 1 drd .1ddn~:-. 'why? questions
of 01d111;Hy forn1stt:ids. I he finds 1111glit lw k's ' Pn r.iuil. 11 , hu1 tlw i.ulw 1 1h,111 ,1111ply d1~1.. 1 ilw tl11' d,11.1. ( 'n 1.1111l y honks lik(' Childc's
1111.d.crs1;111di11g of 1lw st1 ll_111w111 sy~ 1n11 W(lt1fd li1 111111 Ii jtll'Hll'I. t 'l w /'11 /11 , /111v 11/ I 11111/n.r11 S1111tf~ ptl'M 111nl .1 d y11.1mi\ mmld in

l o 11111l1r,t.1111I v.1n.1hd111, N1w 1\1< h.1r11l11wI l1111~1d 1m 11 h ii1<1r i wh11 li t1111l1-11111111~ 111111111 ~ w11r -.1 ii u' l ll'1lll\1 .111d d v 11.111m .111d
11111 .tlh .11 .. 1111pli11g llu 1111 .111d In l1111 qu1 111 hL 1111 1111 1111hil11 1 , 111 "huh 11111dilt1 'd 1\ill1111111 p\1 y11 I ,1I1 \ 1111! 111 r'pl.111.1111111 1\H.1111 ,
in North America the 'culture history' model was in part caricatured Underlying this institutional difference are different perceptions of
by New Archaeology. the past. American archaeology is split between study of 'native' New
Nevertheless New Archaeology's criticisms were pertinent. For our World cultures and the Old World and the ' historical archaeology' of
pu_rposes .in trying to understand where theory is today, it isn't of its colonies, to the extent chat Native American archaeology is often
pnmary importance to ascertain whether New Archaeology was spelt differently - ' archeology'. The anthropologist rranz Boas played
accurate in its criticisms; we want to understand why New Archae- a pivotal role in keeping archaeoloi,ry within the amhir of anthropo-
ology developed in the way it did. Our all-too-brief sketch serves for logy in North America in the earlier twentieth century. Now anthro-
this purpose. pology has traditionally been co~cerncd ~ith 'other cultures' r~th~r
Ir is .equally true that r:nuch of New Archaeology was not really than with 'us'. As very few Native Americans arc employed w1tbm
new. Like so many theoretical movements in archaeology, it borrowed American archaeology, New World cultures were and arc perceived
from other disciplines. The work of the cultural anthropologist Leslie very much as 'them'. If you go to the Smithsonian Museum_ in

White was especially influential. His book The Science of Culture Washington, the Museum of American History ii. in one place; Native
stressed the need for a scientific approach and the idea of culture as a American exhibits are kept in the Museum of Natural History, along-
system. Again, another anthropologist, Julian Steward, had stressed side the flora and fauna of the New World (though as I write plans nrc
cultural ecology and adaptation in his work. Binford's early work unfolding to change this situation). Jn the past, archaeological

makes clear his profound debt ro both White and Steward. Finally, remains such as burial mounds and cliff dwellings had been inter-
stress on systems thinking owed much to Walter Taylor's emphasis on preted as evidence for the Lost Tribes of Israel or analogous grnups, it
what he called a 'conjunctive Jpproach' in his 1948 A Study of being assumed that Native Americans were too 'primitive' to have
Archeology. But don't forget that White, Steward and Taylor were produced suc.:h cultures; but such theories hml been completely aban-
in a minority within their own disciplines. White in particular was

doned by the archneological profession by the 1960s.
writing against the orthodox cultural anthropology of his time when For British archaeologists the situation is different. 'lfa prehistoric
his thinking was adopted by archaeologists. site of Stonehenge is used as a symbol of 'English l lcritage', thongh it
The New_ Archaeology~ particularly in its stress on anthropology, was built 2-3,000 years before the 'English', according to tradition:tl
can be parttcularly associated with the New World. In Britain New history, arrived on what is now the English coast. The British, like
Archaeolog!sts such as Clarke and Renfrew had a great impact, but Europeans generally, perceive preh istoric archaeology as part of

overall the 1~~act of ~he New Archaeology was not as revolutionary 'their' past. Right or wrong, this perct:ption h:is rncanr that both
or as hard-hitting as m North America. I suggest there were several past and present archaeological intrrprt:tat ion has been thoroughly
reasons for this. permeated with nationalist concerns, often of a politically unpleasant
One is the institutional set-up of archaeology. In North America, variety. Also, prehistory and history arc seen as much more .of a

there are few Departments of Archaeology. Mose academic archae- continuum: Iron Age studies blend into the Roman and early medieval
ologists have posts within Departments of Anthropology and form a periods. There is therefore nor such a radical divide between prehis-
'minority' within those departments. Some classical a~d historic~! toric and historical archaeology.
archaeologists are employed elsewhere. By contrast, in Britain So British archaeologists tend not co worry so much about the need
Departments of Archaeology arc largely separate institutions or are to make explicitly theoretical generalizations in order to justify their
more closely linked to Departments of History. Hence, an ~crican work and are much more comfortable with the idea of archaeology
graduate student in the 1960s and 1970s intending to do their Ph.D. <l\ rh~ 'handmaiden of history'. New Archaeology had even less
on an archaeological topic and go on to an academic career would h(' 1111pnl..l in l<llltinent:1I Europe than it did in Britain, again for complex
expected co read extensively and take courses in anthropologic.:al lmtoric 1I n:1sons. It :ilso had less influence on the study of later
theory, where she or he would encounter many of the ideas ol (WI 1od1.: 'N1w /\rl l1.1l'olof:v' h.1d :i 111:1jo1 impact on the. st~1dy of
ev?l.ution and systemic analysis discussed ahovl'. By rn11trns1, ,1 l11 10 1w.111 p1ih1qo1y, 1l tf\ll,1h l)' 111mt ol .1 11 on tiH P:1httolt1h1c, hut
British graduate stu_d rnt would prohahlv h:1 vc In.~ t hn 1111 it ,1 I 1r.1111111g It~" 011 R11111.111, 1md1rv1il ,111d po~t 111rd 11v11 I ,,I l h .woln~i.y.
m general and 01!('11 vny littl(' t111.01111111 1'\' llh .1111hropolt1g!l .1 l I tl1111!. tli.11 t IHn WtU i1~11 1 11111111 .d 1 h111111t 111 tlH' dille1111t
lllt'thod . 111 1p.11 t1l Nn'll i\1 h.11 <1lu11,, . S1111111 11 d11 11111hll1 111 th1 i\1111111.1 d1,111

an~ the need for sampling tlllory, understanding of variability, and so

on 1s ~II too.clear. Hy con1r.1't, thl British landscape is cramped; it has
been mtens1vely settled for millennia, and intensively studied for
centuries. Most of its basic m1its (administrative boundaries, patches
of woodland) are irregular in shape and are themselves hundreds if
not thousands of years old. As a result, many of the techniques of
~ew Archaeo~ogy such .as sampling theory make dear sense as prac-
tical strategy m the Arizona desert, but are counter-intuitive in the
densely settled palimpsest that is Wessex.

Anyway, what happened to all this youthful enthusiasm? I bet it

didn't get very far.

~any of t~e ways in which New Archaeology developed will be

- Northern
picked up tn later chapters. One thing that inevitably happened is Group

that New Archaeologists got older. From being pushy young research
students intent on causing a fuss, they became tenured lecturers and
professors with job security, positions on powerful committees and
fu11ding bodies and supervising pushy graduate students of their own.

Indeed, many of the key youthful figures in early New Archaeology
are today's generation of senior academics.
. As New Archaeology got older and developed as a body of thought
1t became known as processualism. Processualism is so called because
of its stress on culture process (point five above); processualists also
like to generalize, and tend to use a systemic or functional model.

Case Study: The Enigma of the Megaliths

An ~ce~lent example of the way New Archaeology led to new ways Figure2.5 Glyn Daniel's (1941) view of megalith origins.
of thmkmg about the past was that of megalithic tombs in Western
Europe. These are burial monuments built with large stones within
which collective burials often took place. ' reference to the literate civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Traditio~al s~udies of megaliths had concentrated on dating, typo- There was a clear link here between theory (the importance of typol-
l?gy ~nd d1ffus1on. Scholars such as Glyn Danjel had defined mega- ogy and the dominant idea of diffusion) and archaeological practice
liths mto sub-groups based on their position around the Western (the need to set up a working chronology, without which we couldn't
Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboard (figure 2.5). They tried to d:11t really s:1y anything at all).
these groups in the absence of scientific dating techniques such :1., Colin Rtnfnw qut"stio1wJ this work. H e used the tree-ring calibra-
carbon-14; the only way of doing this was to look for simil:iritics i11 im11 ol r:1dio1.11 hon d.111, IO 'how 1hat lht mcg;iliths on the Atlantic
the form of the monuments and assume th:it similaritif's h:1d htt 11 't.1ho.11d wtn 111 f.111 11111d1 nhk1 1h,111 lht"ir :-upposcd 'origins' in the
produced through contnct. l llti111:1tdy, tht"n, 11w:1 li1 lis n)uld lw d;11nl M1d11t 11 lW1111. ~rn 11r ,d1nl1111o 1('~JH1111kd hy :-i 111pl y nvtrsi ng rhc
by reference to thtir pns1111wd :111us1ors 111 d1r f\lnli111 1.111t.111 '"l h '' .11111w~ ~o 1li.11 dw ' 111ll1wm1 ' w1111 111 ilw opp11~1H dinl'linn, h111
the Maltl'Sl' tc111pl1' Tlll'~1 , 111dd dw11 h(' , , ",, ti 111 d 111 111111 w111 1 ltnt111w ~ 111~111~11d llur 111 l 1.I 111 11\lllH 111 1111111 111 d1.,p111H
diffusionary links, we should insttad ask why the monuments were
built in the first place. In short, we slmuld look less at chronology and
di(fttsion and more at the 1mdcrlyi11R process involved. Or to put it
another way, we should not be content with dating and describing; we
should try to explain the phenomenon of the megaliths.
Renfrew suggested that megaliths might be territorial markers. He
pointed out that whereas early agricultural communities moving from
east to west across Europe had plenty of land, being able to simply
expand westwards into new territory when things got cramped, when
such peoples reached the Atlantic coast there was nowhere left to go.
Additionally, these areas also had a high population level in the

preceding Mesolithic period, populations who would also be pressing
for territory. In such a situation he suggested that different commu-
nities would be competing for land. The megalithic tombs, then,
would mark out the land of particular groups, by referem:e to the
ancestors buried within them.

So Renfrew's arguments:
1 explained rather than merely described the existence and distribu-
tion of megaliths;

2 used ethnographic analogies from societies asswned to be at a 0
similar level of social development to strengthen his argument - L._

monumental structures in Polynesia, linked to particular descent

groups in competition over land;
3 stressed environmental factors and hence adaptation to the envir- Figure 2.6 Renfrew's megaliths on Rousay, Orkney Islands, showing
onment - the shortage of land; 'distribution of chambered tombs in relation to modern arable land

4 saw megaliths not as one diagnostic trait to define cultures, but as (stippled), with hypothetical territorial boundaries' (Renfrew 1973).
one functional element of a total cultural system;
5 'tested' his model - by drawing hypothetical divisions between ask: What do we really mean by the word 'tesring'? Chapter 5 will
megaliths on the Scottish island of Orkney, Renfrew claimed to ask: How do societies work, what do we really mean by 'anthro-

demonstrate that the megaliths were spaced at the centre of pos- pology'?
sible territories, each territory being of approximately equal size We shall see in the process that debates within archaeological
(figure 2.6). theory mirror debates in the human sciences such as history, soci-
ology, cultural anthropology, politics and economics very closely.
Conclusion Questions of science, testing and how societies really work are central
to the human sciences as a whole.
If the New Archaeology was a revolution, it suffered the same funda -
mental problems of any revolution. New Archaeolot:,>y had a douhll
slogan: science and anthropology. But like many rcvolutio11:1ry slo
g:im, discord :ind disagrccnw111 hrokl 0111 whl'11 .11d1.wolog1~1s 1ril'd
lo work 0111 in pr:11:1in what thoM' .~ 101:.111' rr.illv 1111,1111 .
Till lli''-1 1w11 d1ap1n~ will w1 ll1 1111~1 q111 111111 ~ l li.1p111 I
\\ill ,1'k Wh.11 dn \w 11-.dl\' 1111-.111 liy d1r 111111 h II 1 t lup111 I'' di

7 felt that there was no way to test absolutely between these alternat-
ives. This is often referred to in subsequent lirerarure as a problem of
A reading of Hodder and Orton's Spatial Analysis in Archaeology,
Postprocessualand published in 1976, shows this shift. In case after case - attempting to
simulate trade patterns and settlement systems using computers -
Interpretative Archaeologies Hodder and Orton showed how difficult or impossible it was to
'prove' or 'test' anything.
A good example was the study of goods used in prehistoric trade.
Goods such as obsidian Aakes or polished grcensto11c ;1xes were often
found on sites thousands of miles from the original source ot the raw

material. Such finds clearly represented trade or contact in some form,
but ambitious New Archaeologists wanted to go lurrher than this.
'Postprocessual archaeology' grew out of a very specific context that Renfrew and others had suggested that different forms of trJdc would
it is important to understand. Part of that context within the human leave different traces in the archaeological record. If, for example,

sciences as a whole - developments in structuralism and Marxism 'down-the-line' exchange was occurring, with community A collect-
was presented in the last chapter. Now, I want to look briefly a1 ing the material at source before giving commw1i1y B half, the com-
developments within archaeology in the 1980s. munity B keeping half and handing half on ... then diffe rent
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of archaeologish quantities of traded material would be present in site n~semhlagcs
became increasingly dissatisfied with the direction archaeology w:"

than if everyone was going back to source and mnking their own
taking. It seemed to them that the New Archaeology was 'drying up collation of material.
in intellectual vitality in various ways. In particular, they pointed 111 Hodder found that if 'down-the-line', direction;il or other modes of
the need to address cognitive factors, the difficulties of positivi,1 exchange were modelled by computer simubtion, similar rather
epistemology, and the problems with developing middle-range theon than different curves were produced. Different forms of proce~s left
- issues dealt with in chapters 3 to 6. the same archaeological trace: in other words, they were eq11ifinal

One such archaeologist was Ian Hodder, and his intellectual dew I (figure 7.1).
opment epitomizes this shift in many ways. I-fodder's early work w." Lessons also came out of Hodder's ethno<uchaeological work.
very much within a processual mould. Hodder was heavily influenud I fodder realized that however many archaeological facts you col-
by the 'New Geography' and the work of New Archaeologist D.w11l ll-c.:ted on a computer, the only way to get a handle on what they

Clarke on spatial models in archaeology. Hodder used statistics :111d meant in terms of past activities is to look at the rel:itionship between
computer simulation to develop a series of spatial models, particul.111 1 p.lltern and process in the present. This, of course, was Binford's
relating to trade, markets and urbanization in Iron Age and Roni 111 perception of the problems underlying the 'Mousterian debate' as
Britain. This period was seen very much as an evolving system, w11 h discussed in chapter 4. Like Binford, Hodder decided to tum to
rrnde and urbanism being linked as part of an overall proni., I ~1 udies of 'archaeology in the present' to try to establish correlations
Romanization'. lwtwcen behaviour in the present and archaeological patterning. So
But as time went on and the research progressed Hodda hl't.11111 I !odder went out to East Africa to examine, among other themes,
morl' ;111d more doubtful that such models and simulations did rl'.1'1) how rl'al living 'rnlrurcs' cou ld he mapped archaeologically, what
'rl'st' or 'prove' ;inything. The same pattern or trace in thr .11d1.11 Lil tor' affn:tl'd rd11 ~1 di1.pos:1I, ;llld so on.
ologirn I record, for example a pottery distribution or mt wo1 ~ 111 \Xlh.11 l loddl'r l111111d, .lg.1111 111 .I V.ll itl y o( in'it;lllCCS, was that tO
111 h.111 un1 re~. could be produced by a range of diffl'rl111 \1111111.11r.I 1111d11,1.1ml p.111111111111 1111 1h1 )\I 01111.I II \V;I\ llt'tl''i'i;lry Ill nfrr to
prnu,ses. Thl'rdore, a given pattern in the archacologiL.11 rn 111.I 111opk\ .1111111dr, .11111111 l11f, \V/1 lol)krd .11 I lrnldn \ work with thl'
u111 ld lw ~:11 isfat'torily interpreted or explained in di! l1n111 w.1\ ~ N11b.1 Ill\ h 111111 I I ht 11 d 111111 111
w11h 1d1t11u tn .1 1111111hn of diff1n11t po,o.;1hll' pn>H''i'il'' l loddr1
3 a belief that material culture was actively manipulated by people;
that is, that people used things in different ways as part of parti-
cular social strategies, rather than material things being a passive
reflection of a set of rules.

1.------ For a small but growing group of archaeologists in the early 1980s, a
2.------ key buzz-phrase was 'material culture should be seen as meaningfully
3,10.- - - - constituted'. That is, artefacts were more than just devices to cope
4.------- with the environment. If we wanted to w1derstand why this pottery
5.--- - --- - had that decoration or why this farmstead was laid out in that way,
6.--- -- - - - we had to look at the cultural meanings behind their manufacture

7. - - - - -- - - - -
8. - - - - - - -
and use.
9. ---------- --- - How might we do this? Several theories of 'mind' were looked at in
11. - - - - - -- -- the previous chapter. In the early 1980s a new generation of students,
12. -- -- -- -- - - many of whom were studying with Hodder at Cambridge, and others

with Mark Leone as part of the Archaeology in Annapolis project,
turned to these theories. Many turned to structuralism as a way into
understanding the mind. Others 'read around' Marxist and neo-
Marxist texts and in particular critica l theory. Others were influenced

by feminist thinking, while others still looked at the writings of figures
like Clifford Geertz in 'interpretative anrhropology'. Together, these
very diverse strands of thought coalesced into a loose cluster of
traditions that came to be known by both supporters and critics as
'postprocessual archaeology'.

Postprocessual Archaeology

There is no such thing as a 'postprocessual archaeologist'. Whenever I

Distance .,cc the phrase 'the postprocessualists' used in the archaeological

lucrature I expect some gross over-generalization of theoretical atti-
Figure 7.1 The results of Hodder and Orton's simulation exercise show t udcs to follow, and I am rarely disappointed. Just as New Archae-
ing that 'different spatial processes can produce very similar fall off olo~y was actually a very diverse set of concerns and ideas that
curves', implying that 'this advises great caution in any attempl ,11 p>,1ltsccd around certain slogans, so the catch-all term 'postproces-
interpretation' (Hodder and Orton 1976: figure 5.35 and p. 145. ~ual' lonccals a great diversity of viewpoints and traditions. Indeed,
m.111y of tlw"l' ;1ssoci<1ted with this label have recently preferred the
111111 '111tn prlt ;llt Vl' archaeologies', the plural indicating the stress on
1 a rejection of Binford'" confide nn in tlw 'llt:Ct ' " of 1111ddk 1.111 ~:~ JtVl"l\tl y.
theory a" :1 m111ral ;1rhit tr httwt111 d1flnl111 txpl.i11.1111111.,; \o 111\tt-.111 f .. 1t.1ll rrv to ch.1r.1ut111.1 posrprocessual thinking in the
2 a hclid in 1lw i111prn t.111u 111 1wopl1\ 1li11111:h1 ' .111d ' y 111hol1 ~111 , 1111111 of nght k1r ' 'lt'tlll'llh. Ag.1111, ltk1 rlw New Arch:wology, not
:111d with this .1 lwlid tlt.11 1 ttli1111, l n11ld 11111 lw vww1d p11111\ ,1 di ol 1l1m1 ' ~'Ill 11111d w1tlt tlw p11, 1p rm , .,,11,11 ' l.llwl' wou ld fully
.1.l.1p1i111~ 111 .1111\11'111 .tl 11111111111w111 'tl11 Ii \l l \\ nf ' thrtt ' w111ld 1111101 .,r .tll nl tlH' \I' Wit ti I t111p111t11111 " 1h,11 1h1.,1 ..1.1t t' t1H111 o; onvey
\\ , I ., llllf'tlll.1111 , il11 f/ 11't1lll 111 1"''11'' '" r-1111 ll 1d1t t1111 ~ , I \\'. I \ t>I 111111 Ill )', .ti .111.J
thinking about the world. They should also indicate the debt owed II interpret things, it is argued, archaeologists do this by assigning
the intellectual movements described in the previous chapter. meanings to them, meanings that we assume were also in the minds
of the ancient peoples who made and used them.
(1) We reject a positivist view of science and the theory/data s/1/it.
Postprocessualists argue that all archaeologists do this whether they
The data are always theory-laden. Postprocessualists reject the dai1m
overtly admit it or not. They deconstruct accounts of 'scientific'
of Science as a unique form of knowledge, for the reasons advanceJ 111
testing to show that even Binford and others implicitly assume mean-
chapter 3. Generally, they align themselves with other non-positiv1;.1
conceptions of what science is or does, particularly social constru1 11 ings and values i.n the minds of ancient peoples. Hodder (forthcom-
vism whether in its 'strong' or 'weak' forms. ing), for ex.ample, looks at the day-to-day process of reasoning during
an archaeological excavation and argues tlult this is always a 'herme-
Or to put it another way, postprocessualists do not argue that 'w1
neutic circle' regardless of whether or not the excavators consic.ler
should not test things'; rather, they suggest that in practice neitlu1
themselves theorists.

scientists not archaeologists ever test things in ways that satisfy pos11
ivist criteria. They would point out, for example, that Renfrew \
(3) We re;ect the opposition between material and ideal. We have
'testing' of his territorial model of megaliths in figure 2.6 was 1111
such thing; the territories delineated are far from uniform, with m:1111 seen how normative and cu lture-historical approaches were re jected
by processual archaeology as idealist, and how proccss11al ;lrchaeo-
megaliths centred within totally unconvincing territories; we simph

lngy introduced a materiolist cmph;.Jsis. We have also looked at the
agree (or disagree) that Renfrew's is a convincing argument. Posi-p1 ..
idealist approach taken by structuralism, ;lnd at how Marxism moved
cessualists suggest that we can never confront theory and tL.1.1 ,
away from a purely materialist base.
instead, we see data through a cloud of theory (figure 7.2; conr r.1,1
with figure 4.1). Many postprocessualists daim that we should reject the whole

opposition between material and [Jeal in the first place. A good
(2) Interpretation is always hermeneutic. This is a variant on 1'111 rxample is the idea of landscape. On the one hand, a materialist
position One. Hermeneutics is the study of meanings. When w<" vil'w of landscape tends to stress how it may he see11 in tc:rms of a
Sl' l of resources, for example: for hunter-gatherer or early forming
groups. This leads one to turn, for example, to optimal foraging
tlit"ory and other economic models for an understanding of how

people exploited the landscape 'rationally'.
Postprocessualists like to argue that landscapt:s are always viewed

c,p\-.QUO OJ:-
__ ~ ,-, ----- ,-,
111 different ways by different peoples. They reject the 'raLional' view
o f 'landscape-as-set-of-resources' as tlwt of our own society and one 1s ideologically loaded in its own way, loaded towards ideas of

', I \ I I I \
1 ~0111modity and exploitation found in our own society. They suggest
I"'' 1 I \ r.. - r - I " I
I I I I ," I : I 1 I I 1 111.,t1:1d 1hat am:ient peoples would have had different views of what
I I I I I .!. I 1 1
w11., ' r1:i l' in that' landscape.
'-' I I I I 1- \

.. __ .... -' ,_, ._ .. -' '-

I ;I I II I On 1he ot hn hand, an exclusively idealist view of landscape
dol"' 11 0 1 work t:ithcr. Postprocessualists like to stress that such
1t1t 11111krhta11di 11g of landscape was not formed in the abstract -
1li11 I t hr w.1 y p1ople moved a round and used that landscape
ullrl trd tlwi1 1111dn~t .111di11g of ii. They argue that ancient
1111pli~ undn.,t.111d111 ol ,, l.11Hl~LIJll' was not just a set of thoughts
il1t\ h .1pp111nl to flOh\\'\\; l'Vl"r)'Cl.1y lllOVl'llll'llf S tl1ro11gh the
Flgure7.2 The relationship of theory and data in postprotc~su.11 1 11tl1iw l1111d1.111 p1 , lu111t11111,, drn1t1~1 1 1 ill fl\lllc '' wt11 .1 11 111nli.1 rhrough
oloqy, d,1t<l PXi\l, hut ;m~ fH'1<P1v1d f11Ndy throuqh ,, dornl of lllmty ''Ith Ii 11tulc-1 ~t . 111cl1t1p. 111 tl1 r l11t11 l ~1 ,q11 w.1~ 1w 1111111,1td .111d tr.111.,
(c n1111.l\I Willi fiq111P 4.1} Ii 11 Hll'd

(4) We need to look at thoughts and values in the past. The most A different way of saying a similar thing was borrowed from the
coherent example of this proposition is Hodder's advocacy of R. G. work of the French anchropologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu was
Collingwood's position of historical idealism. Collingwood was a reacting to the orthodox structuralist anthropology of his time, in
philosopher by training, though he also practised history and archae- which he felt humans were simply seen as passively acting out a set of
ology. He argued that, in practice, historians always try to rethink the structural rules. Bourdieu showed how in different ethnographic
thoughts of the past. Take for example a classic historical question: situations different actors had their own ideas about social rules and
why did the British naval leader Lord Nelson not change into plain situations. He argued that we needed a theory of practice - a theory of
dress before the naval battle of Trafalgar? (In the battle Nelson's how individual social actors actually practised living in, reproducing
medals and gaudy appearance made him a natural target for snipers, and transforming the culture around them.
and he was fatally wounded.) Historians, says Collingwood, explain In terms of interpreting the archaeological record, then, we need to
that it was considered dishonourable for a commanding officer to go look at rules that are not just followed, but are creatively manipulated

helow deck once battle had commenced; and that Nelson had no such by social actors. A good example of such manipulation comes from an
opportunity before the first shots were fired. So, argues Collingwood, unpublished anecdote from Hodder's work with the Nuba. In one
when historians 'understand' or 'explain' Nelson's actions, they area, there was a cultural belief that women were associated with the
explore by definition the culture and assumptions of a British naval 'inside' of the domestic compound, and with the hearth; also, that

officer, they rethink his thoughts - in other words, they use empathy. women were 'polluting'. Women were therefore enjoined to dump the
Hodder, following Collingwood, argues that archaeologists do this ash from the hearth inside the compound, rather than outside where it
:t ll the time no matter what theoretical pose they claim to adopt. would pollute the male sphere. But Hodder once saw a woman self-
When, for example, traditional archaeologists 'explained' the place- consciously gathering up the hearth ash and dumping it outside, some
ment of Roman forts on the northern frontier of Britain, they did so in way from the compound where all the men could see it. Now in so

terms of an evolving military and political strategy - in other doing she was acknowledging that rule existed, but deliberately
words, they ended up trying to rethink the past thoughts of Roman breaking it. We cannot understand her action and the archaeological
commanders and emperors. Again, the argument is that all archae- signature it produced without (a) understanding the cultural system of
ologists actually practise empathetic thinking whether they admit it rules, hut (b) understanding her position towards those rules.
or not. Postprocessualists also claim to take:

( )) The individual is active. Postprocessualists dislike the way they (a) A ' bottom-up' rather than 'top-down' view of society. Postpro-
fttI 'the individual' is lost in most archaeological theory. Individuals, cessual work has often taken an interest in the routines of every-
lill'Y complain, are just pawns in some set of normative rules or day life, the way ordinary people would experience the
landscape around them. Indeed, many argue that such routines

adaptive systems or set of deep structures. They argue that all thesl'
diffrrcnl views of the world portray people as passive dupes who emhody what society is rather than a series of abstract rules.
l>l111dly fo llow i>ocial rules. (b) A conflict-driven rather than consensus model of society. Where
l11 ~tc;1d, postproccssualists want to look at agency. Agency is a lt'rt11
systems thinkers often look for elites who manage a system,
11~nl to rdcr to the active strategies of individuals. They suggest 1la:11
postprocessualists look for conflict between social groups, for
wnmrn and mtn :uc not passively duped by the system Mo11nd rht111. example along gender or class lines.
i.,omt .1rcla.1tologists borrowed the idea of a recursi11e rrl111inll,-.IJJ/1 (6) M11/l'ri1il mlture is like a text. How do we understand the mean-
/JtLu1ct11 5frttcture1111d cJKency from the sociologist Anthony C idd111, , ing:-. of 111;11aial culture? Think about the way you read any written
( 1ald c 11 ~ s ugge~ tnl that there arc social mies in the world around ll~. lt'X I:
li11t that ptopk undcr,rand thc~t ruks and m:t11ipulntt' rlwm nc:111vdy
Htllil' I tlw11 f11llow the111 P"~iv1 l y 111 ~o doing, tlwy ni1dw,t' 01 (.1) A tnl t.1 11 111t:111 d1f11r1 111 things 10 difftr1nt peopk, and differ-
,d1 r 11rn1tvrly 11,111~101111 the \ l1UUtt1C' 11~~11 dw rtl,1t1rni-l11p "1hr 1t 1111 pl'oplt t".111 ,.,.,ad tc\. 1 ~ 111 difltrc111 way~.
l111r 1r1111~1vc', 111, .111d l111tl1 ( 11d1k11~~ 11lr11~ 1111 11ltn11rln 1n l t11 (h) l'hn1 1m-.11111I)\' 1.1 11 hr.HI vl'I\' 111.111ip1d:11nl. \V.k all do this with
I ~ ~fl 111 t1111lf/t1ll t/wrll 1' 11 lolh'l l.d I 11lr 111 r Ill " ' "' 11HI'. ,111d It I I 1,d w.11 ' lllt1,I n hvin11,h

with clothes (we can define the formality of a meeting according some of these may be quite at odds with the reading that the
to whether we put on a skirt or a tie, for example). author might consciously prefer. We cannot therefore refer to the
(c) Such manipulation is often implicit and unspoken. We don't author's intention in producing a text, whether literary or
consciously think through grammatical rules as we read a text; archaeological, as the only correct reading.
similarly, we don't consciously think through rules governing (7) We have to look at context. For Hodder, context is the central
material culture. and defining feature of our discipline. For this reason, postprocessual
Consider for example the acrion of coming into a room with- approaches are often referred to as 'contextual archaeology'.
out knocking; we might consider somebody doing this to be How do we get at different meanings? Through looking at the
'impolite'. At the same time we might deliberately break the context of the artefact or the practice we are discussing. Let's return
rule, for example not knocking if we thought the room was to our burial. We see that a particular grave good, say an axe, has a
'our' space and we wanted to make that point to the person particular meaning through its context - where it is buried in the

currently occupying it. Underlying this grammar of actions are grave, the person it is buried with, the objects with which it is
assumptions and cultural values about the nature of space, rules associated. We then widen that context and look at other axes in
of 'privacy', respect for the individual, and so on. We know what other graves from the same cemetery. We find that the axe is used
those rules are in our own society, and we manipulate them, differently in different contexts - it is associated with different assem-

though we do not consciously articulate them - we would not blages, or is placed in a different position in the graves of women and
give a lecture on cultural anthropology to someone breaking that men. We infer differences in meaning from these differences in con-
code, we would simply ask them to be more polite in future. text.
Postprocessualists suggest similar things go on with ancient We might then expand our argument contextually by looking at

material culture in general. They point to ethnoarchaeological axes within our ancient culture generally- whether they are deposited
studies in which the meanings of space in houses and compounds in other contexts such as 'domestic' or 'refuse', or by looking at how
are rarely overtly discussed, for example, but which are manipul- they are used in domestic arenas. Gradually, we build up a whole web
ated by social actors with reference to certain rules. of associations and placements for the axes.
(d) If the meanings of material culture are really this complex, then
its different meanings can never be definitively or finally tied (8) The meanings we produce are always in the political present,

down in some final 'conclusion', a single all-embracing analysis. and always have political resonance. Interpreting the past is always a
Therefore there can be no 'final' reading of a text - each gen political act. For postprocessualists, if scientific neutralicy is a myth,
eration, and even each individual, brings fresh readings to .1 then our statemenrs about the past are never cool objective judge-
Shakespeare play, and each reading has its own validity. Tlwn ments detached from the real world. They are always made here, in

can also be no 'right' or 'wrong' reading of a text in any absol11t1 the present, with all its heady and complicated, jumbled mixture of
sense. A text can always be deconstrucred and shown to conta111 political and moral judgemenrs.
hidden meanings opposite to those on the surface, as we ha\'I' Note rhat this does not mean that individual archaeologists are
seen in the last chapter. Similarly, the meanings of a polllry insincere in their attempts to be objective. If the meanings of a text
design or a burial rite can never be finally tied down; there '" an' out~ide the control of its author, then readings of a text can
no one 'right' or 'wrong' reading. prolifa:irc in ways never consciously intended by its 'author'. It bas
Postprocessualists therefore encourage experimen1a1io11 w11 It hclt1 ;1rgucd for example that some New Archaeologists working on
multiple interpretations, and deny the necessity of u1m1111, 11p N.11 ivc t\nwrican sites stre~sed that the value of their work lay in their
with one fin:il rn11d11~ion th:ll expl:iins 'everything'. Chm 'l'ilky .1hil11y 10 ll~l' 1hi~ m:11eri,1I to gnH:ratc cross~cultural generalizations,
writ<''" 'lln1h1...1.111ding 11f .111y "d:lt :1" in tlw hu111:111 sue11,1... drn, rh.11 ~ '""t'111t11h 1h.11 war 1ni1 :1h< 1111 ;111 human populations in all
1101 ,0111 l11d1 It 111\1 ' l"P' wlw11 we g11 hor(I 01 do 1101 h.1\1' pl.1u' l\y drn11g \O, \llllll' .11 gun I, rlw~1 .1rch.wologi~1s implicitly
.1 11 v il1111g d~c II !II\\' ('I 1llrv 111'1 I I 7l). dPvnh11d tlw 1mpo11 1llht' 111 l11t1l111111 .11 N.1t1v1 1\11111 j,;111 1rad11io11 in
(I') 1IH 111r;111ltlJ" 111 111 I Ill 111whh 1111 lllllillll 11111 ... .1111liw du II \ ow11 111'.111 tltr ll111'l11 II 11H -11-11 1 onld !>1 11.111 "'Ilic 1111lv v.d1d
iii 1th 111 iii 111ilH11' II I 1 1 1111111111 11111h1pl1 t1lll' llll1 c.1111111' l\'11} 111 111111 ti llllloi 111 ll.1111\11p\ I ! 11 ~II" II\ 1r ln,11111 111 wl1111
people'. Such a 'reading' is not to argue that such archaeologists w~re the smoke rising to and dispersing in the rafters and thatched roof
being consciously racist; indeed, many such archaeologists were active (figure 7.4).
campaigners for Native American rights. !r~ditional arc~a~ologists had done much work identifying these
buddings and ass1gmng dates to them, often on the basis of techno-
logical, stylistic and typological features. We knew much also about
case Studies: Rock Art and Medieval Houses who lived in them. Such houses had been built by socially middling
groups - tenant farmers, often combining farming with rural industry.
In Material Culture and Text: The Art of Ambiguity Chris Tilley We had analysed the technology and building practices embodied in
(1991) explores the interpretation of a group of rock carvings in the houses - the carpentry and framing techniques. Much work had
Namforsen in Sweden (figure 7.3). At this site, figures and motifs also been done on the economic background to these houses - how
were pecked into the stones in the third millennium BC. This material :ind why such non-elite groups could afford a substantial, permanent

was recorded by the Swedish archaeologist Hallstrom around the turn house for the first time.
of the century; many of the carvings have now been destroyed. Tilley These questions were interesting, but I wanted to ask why was the
does not choose to organize his analysis in an orthodox way, with lull the form that it was and what meanings did that form have for
chapters on approach preceding those on material. He starts instead those that built and lived in it? Many previous writers had claimed

with a consideration of the material itself and of Hallstrom's record- 1har the hall was simply a marter of common sense: the openness to the
ing of it, moves on to develop a grammar of design form, and then 1oof space was needed to allow smoke from the open fire to disperse
tries to understand that form throi.igh its 'structural logic'. Having .1111ong the rafters. I felt this was not the whole story - chimneys had
developed such a logic and explored different ways in which that hnn known in this society and used at upper social levels in buildings
might relate to the communities that produced the figures, Tilley likt castles and palaces for several centuries. The peasants occupying

moves on to look at different ethnographic parallels, both of a direct '"~ h houses were wealthy enough to afford chimney-stacks if they so
historical nature with modem groups such as the Saami and of other 1k-;ired; they simply chose not to have them.
traditions such as the Australian Aborigines. The hall was an open space, but was divided into upper and lower
Thus, two-thirds of the way in, we have reached the critical point of r11d~ by a series of architectural features. The doors were symmetric-
the book. Tilley has given us an interpretation of the meaning of thl' dly placed at the colder, draughtier, 'lower' end, which also offered

carvings. But in the final third of the book, he proceeds to deconstruc1 llHrss to 'service' rooms. At the other, 'upper' end there were often
his own interpretation. Tilley refuses to give the reader one 'pat' I11111gs for a raised chair or bench to seat the master and wife; the area
answer to the meaning of the carvings: 'the point I am really trying ,.,,,,., lit by a large window. The bay in the upper end was often one
to make is char these rock carvings invite a response from us.... Then I 1lhl'r longer than that in the lower; the bench at the upper end was

is no fixed meaning and we must remember that images cannot in fac1 I 11ml hy pegs to the wall.
be reduced to words, "read" ... I do not present a proper conclu-.;io11 It was easy enough to see the hall, then, as a piece of ideology.
because this is an impossibility' (1991: 172). TilJey, then, has giVl'll u. I lpp1r and lower ends reflected upper and lower social divisions. The
one fina l answer, but has then deconstructed that answer and sh >w11 Ii.ill presented the social divisions of the household as fixed and
that it is nor final at all. 1111111111:1hk through the architecture. The master and wife occupied
On the basis that one should practise what one preaches. I w.1111 111 rl11 11ppl'r end and the chamber beyond; servants worked in and
talk about an example from my own work: the interprcrari1111 111 tlu 11 1 11111d rill' lower end. At mealtimes, the hall acted as a microcosm
rural house in the later medieval period in Englaml {t. ,\I> I I SO 11 rlH '>Ou.ti ordl'r. Everyone ate in the same place, stressing the
1530). 1111i.c>h11ld .... 1111111111111itv, hut .1r difftrent ends, stressing differences
In son them and e:i~tern Env;la nd, t hou~:rnd' ol 11 d111.1 I\ 111 '> l.1111'> lw1wn11 dilf111111 !'111111111~ of that household.
houses h111lt during 1hi1- pl'riod ~ill '>Lllld .111d .1n ""d " 11111111111 1\111tl1r111111p111.1111111 1111h111.1111rndd 11111 h1 thi~ simple. There
h111111s, alhril 11s11:dly lw:1vilv 11111dd111 I. '1'11111 pl.111 v.11w,, 11111 1111 .111 11 orl 1r1 d1v1.,11111'> 111 dw l.111 lu111"h11ld 111:11 , 111 :1rross rhc
.1hh 11." n1w u1111.d 1l111w111 .1 l.111'.1 Ii.d i 111 1rn1111, "1" 11 111 11pp! 1/Jo\\1 I .II\ 1d1 .11111I1111).J 11111 ho 11111'11 lllllO ,I '> 111!', lt 1'.1111'1'11 Sii
du 1..111 1111' 11111111 \\.I'. th11dll 111 111.I h\ 1 1r1111 ti "1''11I,.111'1, I th \\11111, 11111111p11,l t1tljHl.llll 1111l p.. \\rol 11l n1111101tlll 1''"'111<111'>
ff b:tJ ~~, i
Types of elk-ooat associations from
different calVing surfaces at

Namforsen on which only elks
and boats occur.

~ r-r

A linearity
f!:t t: ~dl.d
I B Opposition
c Opposition
I / 0
Linearity and opposition
Three examples of merging
1 ~ B c elks and boats taken from
different calVing surfaces
F Linearity, opposition and
~ -~; ~
. ~'*"~

11= 1 ~,;,

~ ~ ~ -- I

I i\f~~~
I .

11 ::

~C ~(1)


sea people; outsiders: east) (land people: insiders; west)

l l
.~ e:k double-line tool (scythe) outline fish shoe sole : : scooped elk single-line tool (elk : scooped fish : bird
boat boat head on
a:y;f (water) (sky) (water) (land) (land) (water) (sky) (water) (sky)
(,'e'"la.e (male) (female) (male)

7: ~2)
{land people; insiders; west) (sea people; outsiders; east)

outline elk double-line boat scooped elk single-line boat
(land) (water) (land) (water)
(female) (male) (female) (male)

:i;"..i:re 13 Above: carv ngs from Namforsen, with below, part of Tilley's structural scheme for interpreting the carvings.
everyday routine of women's lives and the formal ideology of patri-
archy. So I tried to explore how other groups, women and servants in
particular, may have had different 'readings' of the same space. These
different 'readings' were rarely overtly articulated; they were, rather,
I also tried to look at the context of the open hall by looking at
other kinds of use of space in the same period. first, I looked at fields,
and argued that just as the open hall was open to all but in fact
subdivided, so it was in the 'open field': medieval fields were often
unbounded and farmed co-operatively, but divided into strips. Then I
looked at churches, and suggested that ritual space was also divided,

between the nave and chancel of the parish church. So I was arguing
that a series of common spatial metaphors ran across ordinary peo-
ple's experiences of the world around them, that ran between the
domestic, the agrarian and the religious.
The whole debate between archaeologists over the meanings of the

open hall could not be seen independently of its cultural and political
0 2 context. The 'vernacular house' occupies a central place in images of
m rural England. In particular, these images implied continuity with an
essential, unchanging rural past of 'old England' in which 'the Eng-

lish' are seen as a traditional, conservative organic community. In the
same year that I published my work, Conservative Prime Minister
j ohn Major linked 'old England' to a vision of 'British' continuity
when he exclaimed that:

Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows
on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers

0 and pools fillers and - as George Orwell said - 'old maids cycling to
holy communion through the morning mist' and - if we get our way -
Shakespeare still read even in school. Britain will survive unamendable

in all essentials. (John Major, speech to Conservative Group for Eur-

ope, 22 April 1993)

In placing these houses within a context of profound rural crisis

.111d c.:hange, and emphasizing their different meanings to different
~lc111e111s of the household, I was implicitly commenting negatively
Figure 7.4 A medieval hall (after Johnson 1989: figure 2).
o n rh.1t profoundly conservative image of the English countryside and
' Fngli~hncs~' i11 gtneral. This political comment was unavoidable; it
wir hin the lnt e medieval housd1old: Ihey controlled hnw111g .11111 w,1, t hl't l' wh1ilwr I liked it or 1101. 1'11 the time, it wasn't my conscious
d :111 y 111g :1d iv111es, nnd Wl'f\' 1dt111 il1nl in idealized rd1g1om .11ttl lllll' t1l1t111 to t111 1111 w11 1 1111pliutly o r 1x plit.iily 011 .John M:1jor'~ views, with thl'
l t'X f !> \ lomt, 11 t' , 1dl 111 tlw hot1\1 .1~ nppmnl 111 '1111 .1 ~ 11h,eq 11e 111 r1-.1di11g ol ' r11 v' work in ~ 11d1 .\ lig h1 wo11ld never-
tlw ' p11hli1 ' oi11,1dt' ~p l 1111' nl tltt 111.111., 11111 l1 lilk 'l l w11 w.1. 1111"1111 thrlr~' lw .1 1111tr1 llv v.tl1d 11111 1h1111f\h 11 " rnw nt , pn~~ihk
,111d 1111tll11 1, tl1111 , ht' l\\l'l II 1h1 lftl\'llll Hfl n l\IHlll\I\ l'll,lllltll ,\lid II .1dt11f!.'
Stop - I've lots of questions already! Can I drag you back to Point processual' case studies have been done in historical archaeology,
Six? Surely there are lots of problems with this analogy with text. where there is plenty of documentary and ethnohistoric dara co
bring to bear on questions of mentality (see chapter 10). This shows
Yes, there are. Many archaeologists have ;trgued within the post- the importance of having plenty of contextual information.
processual tradition that we should ger away from this analogy, tha~ it A more complex answer to your question is that we may never be
is fundamentally limited. In particular, it j, argued that marenal able to fully grasp the content of ancient belief systems: we will never
things convey meaning in fundamentally dissimilar ways to texts. 'know' that this figurine was a depiction of that goddess, or 'know'
I've emphasized text here because it is a good introduction to the the stories and myths told about the goddess using the figurine as a
underlying ideas. We all read texts, and can all grasp the analogy prop. But we can move towards an anthropological description of
quickly. what a figurine or architectural space might have meant at a deeper
Some thinkers have turned instead to traditions of phenomenology level, for example by noting that 'female' figurines are found on the

as developed by philosophers like Schutz, Husserl, Heidegger and left side of a temple while male figurines are on the right. Anthropo-
others. Phenomenology is the study of conscious human experience logists do this as standard practice, for example moving beyond the
in everyday Life. For example, instead of thinking about monuments overt stories cold by a community or folk tradition to inferences about
as texts being read in different ways, people like Chris Gosden, Julian the 'underlying meanings' of those stories - underlying meanings that
Thomas and Chris Tilley have talked about how people move through might be overtly denied by the commuruty in question.

monuments, what they see from different points, how the physical So, to give an example, we might take the story of Little Red Riding
experience of the monument affects its perception - much more a Hood and interpret it in terms of ideas about gender and fears of
hodily metaphor than a linguistic one. 'Thinking through the body' adolescent sexuality in Western culture. With prehistoric or ancient
has become a buzz-phrase of the late 1990s. cultures, we will never know the stories, but we can use the archae-

One of the advantages of such a bodily metaphor is that it stresses ological material and its contextual associations to get some sense of
the falsity of the opposition between material and ideal mentioned what such underlying ideas might be.
above. The body is undeniably real and physical - as Shakespeare
..aid, 'there was never yet philosopher I T hat could endure the tooth- I've heard an awful lot about 'the postmodernists' lately. Is
;H:hc patiently' - and yet at the same time undeniably constructed postprocessual archaeology the same thing as postmodern ism?

;11:rnrding to certain ideas - different societies have different ideas of
the individual, of gender, of how the body works. Oh dear, I was hoping you wouldn't ask that. This is a thorny issue
that had better wait till chapter 11.
So postprocessualists deny the value of testing. Doesn't this
mean they are open to the charge of relativism?

Wdl, to repeat, they don't 'deny its value'; they claim that, in
pr ,it t ll'l', no archaeologist whatever their theoretical stripe actually
1t>1orou... ly tests theory against 'raw data' io such a way.
Well we certainly can't 'test' people's thoughts. How can we
<'Ver understand what people were really thinking? Not only are
th ey now dead, but their culture and values were almost
cC'r lainly very, very different to our own. It's striking that the
two examples you chose (Nelson and Roman forts) were from
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