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Archaeology and Anthropology

Julian Thomas
School of Arts, Histories and Cultures
University of Manchester

Introduction: emerging disciplines

Archaeology and anthropology came into existence alongside each other,
and the subsequent development of their relationship has been both complex and
revealing. At different times each has claimed affinity with or distinction from the
other for rhetorical purposes, so that the two disciplines have been to some degree
mutually constitutive. For reasons of space what follows will neglect physical and
linguistic anthropology, and concentrate on the British and American contexts: it is
acknowledged that this will result in a degree of simplification. Chris Gosden
(1999: 10) has quite rightly pointed to the role that colonialism played in forming
both anthropology and archaeology, the encounter between Europeans and
societies unfamiliar to them fuelling an awareness of, and an imperative to
investigate, human difference. However, the conditions that made archaeology
possible were rather more extensive. The practice of archaeology rests on the
notion that new knowledge can be created, and that material things as well as
written texts can provide information about the past, as well as on a conception of
time as linear and irreversible. Archaeology was nourished by the demand on the
part of the emerging nation-states for a legitimating narrative based on evidence
rather than myth, and the vision of deep time that emerged from geological
uniformitarianism. Finally, archaeology drew on the ideas of human finitude,
technological change, and the relationship between culture and nature that were
associated with the Enlightenment (Daniel 1950: 38; McVicar 1984: 59; Thomas
2004: 2).

Yet it was undoubtedly the colonial enterprise that enabled exotic people in
distant places to be equated with Europeans in the distant past, conflating spatial
and temporal difference. This had the positive effect of reducing the dependence
on the accounts of barbarians that had been provided by classical authors, but it
also began to establish the identification of non-Europeans as primitives (Wylie
1985: 65). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Native Americans were
commonly cast as the least cultivated form of humanity, so that John Locke was
able to claim that in the beginning all the world was America (1965: 343), while
John Aubrey argued that the Ancient British had been two or three degrees less
savage than the Americans (Daniel 1980: 29). Similarly, John Whites
illustrations of Britons and Algonquians are to some degree interchangeable, and
importantly Robert Plot used American evidence to suggest how prehistoric stone
tools might have been hafted (Piggott 1976: 7). This equation of the past with the
present took on a greater significance in the eighteenth century, when ideas of
social evolution that had been neglected since Greek and Roman times began to
resurface. The evolutionary schemes of the Enlightenment were at first
conjectural histories, composed of a succession of abstract social forms which
illustrated the way that humankind had progressively transformed their conditions
of existence through the application of reason (Cassirer 1951: 47; Horowitz 1987:
87). Montesquieu, in his Spirit of the Laws (1748) had sketched the idea that
different kinds of society were organised in quite different ways, but it was
Turgots planned universal history (eventually published 1844) that introduced a
scheme in which successive modes of subsistence (hunting, pastoralism,
agriculture) reflected humanitys gradual mastery of nature. In the manner of
Voltaire, these imagined histories posited a universal human spirit and a knowable
human nature, which are realised through the historical process.

Once social development was understood as a series of distinct stages, these could
be used as a basis for classification, and the past could be populated by analogies
drawn from the present. Thus conjectural prehistory came to be replaced by
ethnographic prehistory (Adams 1998: 34). An early example of the latter was
Adam Fergusons Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), which made use of
descriptions of Native Americans in order to distinguish between stages of
savagery and barbarism. It would be some time before archaeological evidence
was used in a similar way. A significant step was Christian Thomsens work at the
museum of the Danish Antiquities Commission at the start of the nineteenth
century, in which exhibits were organised according to a three-age scheme of
stone, bronze and iron (Klindt-Jensen 1975: 50). Having studied in Paris it is
probable that Thomsen was familiar with Mahudels abstract formulation of the
three-age system of 1734 (Trigger 1989: 60), but his innovation was to employ a
stadial scheme as a means for classifying artefacts. This kind of ordering itself
represented a significant break from the cabinets and collections of the early
modern period, which had been organised on the basis of perceived
correspondences and sympathies between objects (Hooper-Greenhill 1992: 124).

While the early ethnographic prehistories proposed sequences of social

development, they lacked any clear sense of temporality or chronology. Some
notion of the possible antiquity of humankind began to emerge with the
discoveries of stone tools alongside the remains of extinct animals at Kents
Cavern, Narbonne and Abbeville in the earlier nineteenth century. However, these
results were not generally accepted until 1858-9, with Pengellys excavations at
Brixham Cave and the separate visits of Joseph Prestwich and John Evans to
authenticate Boucher de Perthes finds in the Somme (Gruber 2008: 39). As the
canvas of human history expanded, a debate developed between progressivists,
who argued that contemporary savages were comparable with the people who
had lived in Europe in prehistoric times, and devolutionists, who considered them
to represent the scattered remnants of lost civilizations (Jones 1980: 18). The
argument was effectively decided by the publication of Charles Lyells Antiquity
of Man (1863), which pointed out that the animal remains associated with the
ancient Egyptian civilization were those of modern domesticates, and that the
finds from Brixham and the Somme must therefore have been earlier in date.
Accordingly, the rise of civilization must have been slow and gradual, rather than
instantaneous and divinely-inspired. Lyells use of archaeological and geological
evidence to support a progressivist argument is a clear indication of the way that
the new sciences were transforming evolutionary narratives from the middle of the
nineteenth century onwards (Adams 1998: 50). The first truly archaeological
prehistory, however, was John Lubbocks Pre-Historic Times, of 1867. Lubbock
organised his evidence according to Thomsens three-age scheme, adding a
distinction between the Old and New Stone Age. Yet while he discussed the
subsistence activities of prehistoric people, Lubbocks account of the growth of
human society was focused tightly on technological change.

In this respect, Lubbocks arguments differ subtly from those of Lewis Henry
Morgan, which represent the culmination of the tradition of ethnographic
prehistories. While Morgan agreed that technological change was the motor that
drove social evolution, his sequence of stages elaborated on Robertsons
terminology of savagery, barbarism and civilization, and each stage was
characterised by a distinctive form of kin organisation (Morgan 1877: 12). Where
Lubbock uses archaeological evidence to document the process of evolution in
specific areas, Morgan draws on ethnography to establish generalised stages that
might be expected to apply more widely, if not universally. Yet while this suggests
a degree of divergence between nascent anthropological and archaeological
approaches, in the period following the publication of Darwins Origin of Species
(1859) there was some commonality of purpose amongst those attempting to apply
evolutionary insights to human society. For instance, Lubbock, Tylor, A.L.F. Pitt
Rivers (then known as Lane Fox), Thomas Huxley and John Evans were all close
associates in the Ethnological Society and the Anthropological Institute of Great
Britain during the 1860s and 1870s (Bowden 1991: 46). This was the milieu in
which General Pitt Rivers, the father of modern field archaeology, was able to
develop a set of ideas that compared the evolution of material culture to that of
biological organisms (Bowden 1991: 54). On the basis of his interest in weaponry,
Pitt Rivers asserted that types of spears and clubs that proved successful in warfare
would be retained, while those that failed would be abandoned. It followed that it
should be possible to create evolutionary typologies of artefacts, using the forms
of classification that were already in use in biology (Thompson 1977: 34). Pitt
Rivers early excavations were principally designed as a means of acquiring
stratified sequences of artefacts (and particularly weapons), and it was only later
that he developed the analytical approach to sites and landscapes for which he is
renowned. His existing interest in ethnography and the collection of artefacts
from around the world fuelled his belief that the study of non-western peoples
could inform the study of prehistoric Europe (Bradley 1983: 4). But it equally fed
a deeply conservative version of evolutionism, in which social as well and
biological change were perceived as progressing very slowly, and savages (as
well as the lower orders) were not to be advanced toward civilization by reform or

Diffusionism, culture-history, structural functionalism

The success of evolutionism in the later nineteenth century displaced the
perception of tribal peoples as degenerate survivals, but at the same time the
trend toward social Darwinism began to erode the Enlightenment conviction of the
psychic unity of humankind. Pitt Rivers and Huxleys view that some peoples
were more capable of social progress than others chimed with a growing interest
in race, manifested in the late Victorian enthusiasm for anthropometry. By the end
of the century, social evolution was starting to appear to some to be at once
monolithic and uncomfortably implicated in imperialism. One alternative was to
explore the possibility that human diversity was generated as much through
cultural as biological processes, and this gave rise to diffusionism (Stout 2008:
75). The diffusionists held that innovations are unlikely to arise independently in
different societies, and pass from one community to another forming complex and
unique cultural configurations. The methodology of diffusionism relied on the
distribution maps of cultural traits that had been pioneered by the geographer
Friedrich Ratzel, which demonstrated the spread of artefact types and cultural
practices from one region to another. Necessarily, such an approach committed
diffusionists to a view of culture as particulate, composed of discrete entities,
rather than possessing an organic wholeness. In anthropology, the diffusionism
was used by W.H.R. Rivers (1914) to explain the complex patterns of cultural
variation observed in New Guinea. In the period following the First World War,
however, his associates Grafton Elliot Smith (1929) and William Perry (1923)
developed rather more grandiose arguments, in which all cultural change
throughout the globe had had a single origin. In their view, human beings were
not naturally violent and competitive, but peaceable and conservative (Smith
1937: 20). For Smith, the Egyptian miracle of seasonal abundance in the Nile
valley stood in for the deity of the devolutionists as the motor behind all world
civilizations, although in Perrys account advanced forms of culture had been
imposed on the passive communities of Asia and the Americas by force (Stout
2008: 89).

The hyper-diffusionism of Smith and Perry was very much a British

phenomenon, and yet was never fully accepted by more mainstream British
archaeologists, who employed the notion of cultural diffusion more sparingly (e.g.
Childe 1936: 169). In the United States, archaeology and anthropology were
developing in a rather different context from that of Europe. Prehistoric remains
were investigated almost exclusively by people of European origin, so there was
less of a sense that a national past was being addressed. On the other hand,
Native American communities existed alongside the dominant community, and a
greater degree of continuity was to be expected between past and present
(McGuire 2004: 376). As a consequence, ethnography and archaeology shaded
into one another, and patterns observable in the present were projected backwards
in what became known as the direct historic approach (Lyman and OBrien 2001:
6). Throughout the nineteenth century the Indians were often considered to have
been changeless over time, effectively a part of the natural history of the continent,
only ever transformed by contact with white society (as for example with the
introduction of horses, facilitating the mobile way of life of the Plains tribes).
This picture was finally overthrown by the discovery of the first Palaeo-Indian
finds, such as the stone projectile points found with Pleistocene bison bones at
Folsom, New Mexico in 1927 (Trigger 1989: 186). Suddenly the First Nation
communities were the inheritors of changing traditions, rather than exemplars of a
timeless way of life. These developments had been to some extent anticipated by
Franz Boas, whose culture-historic form of anthropology drew on Ratzels
geography to present human cultural groups as distinguished by unique
combinations of traits appropriate to life in a specific region, brought together
through the process of diffusion. For Boas, the uniqueness of individual cultures
is such that they possess quite specific ways of perceiving and understanding the
world. The particularity of human societies could only be appreciated by
understanding the historical sequences of cultural change that gave rise to their
present configuration, and thus Boas upheld the notion of a four-field
anthropology, integrating cultural, archaeological, biological and linguistic
studies (Gillespie, Joyce and Nichols 2003: 156). Indeed, Boas himself undertook
archaeological fieldwork in the Valley of Mexico with his student Manuel Gamio
(Willey and Sabloff 1980: 91). This work set the tone for much of the archaeology
that would be conducted under Boas influence, in which artefacts were
understood principally as manifestations of cultural traits, whose position in
stratigraphic sequences enabled the construction of classificatory tables (Lucas
2001: 47). The culture-historic approach was well suited to forcing some form of
spatial and temporal structure on the mass of archaeological material that was
beginning to build up in the Americas. But in both the New and the Old World, it
imposed a view of the past in which people could only be apprehended as bearers
of a uniform set of cultural norms (Childe 1946: 243).

As a consequence of Boas influence, United States archaeologists working on the

prehistoric cultures of the Americas were by the 1930s closely aligned with
anthropology, in a way that their colleagues working on the Classical world and
the ancient Near East were not. This was to have profound consequences
following Franklin Roosevelts accession to the presidency in 1931. One of the
principal features of Roosevelts New Deal was the provision of federally-funded
job creation schemes, in areas that did not compete with the private sector.
Prominent amongst these were programmes of infrastructural works, like those of
the Tennessee Valley Authority, and major archaeological surveys and excavations
that ran ahead of dam and highway construction (Patterson 1995: 74). The result
was the public employment of large numbers of Americanist archaeologists to
supervise these projects, the majority of whom had been educated in Anthropology
departments in the universities. The effective alliance between these
professionalised archaeologists, museum professionals and academics was the
force behind the formation of the Society for American Archaeology in 1934
(Willey and Sabloff 1980: 115). Another effect of this development was a period
of sustained reflection on archaeological theory, heavily informed by the
anthropological background of the protagonists. This culminated in a series of
significant philosophical statements in the immediate post-war period, the most
celebrated being Walter Taylors A Study of Archaeology (1948). Taylor was
critical of the direction of much culture-historic archaeology, which had contented
itself with the collection and description of evidence. He argued that this was
because the discipline gained its identity from a series of technologies for
acquiring information about the past, and that in order to explain this data
archaeologists needed to draw on anthropological or historical conceptual
frameworks (Taylor 1948: 44). Moreover, these ideas needed to be employed in
generating research questions, rather than being brought in to make sense of
existing evidence. In this respect, Taylor was reflecting a shift toward a more
generalising, scientific and law-based perspective that was growing in American
archaeology and anthropology, which would culminate in a rejection of Boasian
culture-history (Phillips 1955: 246). This trajectory would only increase the
separation that had developed between anthropological prehistory and Classical
archaeology (Renfrew 1980: 291).

Ironically, just as archaeology and anthropology were growing closer together in

the United States during the inter-war years, the precise opposite was occurring in
Britain. The emergence of structural functionalism was presented as a coming of
age for British anthropology, in which the division between amateur collectors of
field information and professional synthesisers and theorists was dissolved
(Clifford 1988: 28). Bronislaw Malinowski advocated a form of participant
observation in which the ethnographer immersed themselves in the life of another
society for an extended period, and used functionalist ideas ultimately derived
from Durkheim as a means of organising the mass of observations that would be
generated in the process. Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown rejected the shreds
and patches approach to culture promoted by the diffusionists, in which disparate
elements are understood as being brought together by historical happenstance
(Radcliffe-Brown 1935: 401). While they did not totally reject either history or
evolution, they were wary of both stadial models of social development and the
elaborate narratives of the hyper-diffusionists (Radcliffe-Brown 1940: 11). The
approach that they adopted retained the notion of human communities as behaving
like organisms, which might or might not be functionally integrated. However,
their focus was synchronic, concerned with how a society works now, as opposed
to how it has changed over time. As well as efficiently structuring the results of
fieldwork, this approach proved helpful for colonial administrators, as Radcliffe-
Brown recognised during his time spent teaching in South Africa (Gosden 1999:
83). Although the structural functionalists were principally concerned to
distinguish themselves from diffusionism and unilinear evolutionism, the result of
their eventual dominance of British anthropology was a growing rift with
archaeology (Stout 2008: 104). Aware of this, Gordon Childe attempted to
combine a vision of societies as organic wholes with a recognition that they also
represent historical entities (1946: 248). However, his efforts were not strongly
supported on either side, and the immediate post-war period was marked by a
phase of single-minded empiricism within British archaeology.

Ethnographic analogy and ethnoarchaeology

Even at times when archaeology has distanced itself from anthropological
theories of culture and society, one area in which there has been some level of
interaction between the disciplines has been that of ethnographic analogy. It is
arguable that the identification of any artefact or structure relating to a past society
is analogical, relying on information drawn from the contemporary world, and we
have seen that this process was considerably enhanced by exposure to non-western
communities (Hodder 1982a: 11). In the Americas the possibility of relating
archaeological finds with still-living societies made analogy an integral part of the
disciplinary apparatus (Anderson 1969: 134; Lyman and OBrien 2001: 9).
However, even here concerns were raised concerning the legitimate use of
analogies, given continued attempts to identify contemporary hunter-gatherers as
survivals of past cultures, pushed to the extremities of the earth by more
successful peoples (e.g. Sollas 1911: 269). Moreover, as Robert Ascher (1961:
317) was to point out, many of the cultures identifiable in both American and
European prehistory had no obvious close analogies in the modern world.
Consequentially, criteria needed to be defined for what might constitute a useful or
credible analogy. One attempt to establish such criteria was provided by Grahame
Clark, in connection with his excavations at the Mesolithic site of Star Carr in
Yorkshire (Clark 1954; 1972). Clark argued that analogies drawn between
societies that existed in similar environmental conditions, and possessed a similar
subsistence economy would be more robust. On this basis, he used information
from studies of Native American groups in northern latitudes to draw inferences
concerning the sexual division of labour in Mesolithic Europe. The flaw with this
argument was that it effectively implied that social relations were determined by
ecology, economy and technology (Hodder 1982a: 13).

In the American context, Aschers attempts to place analogy on a firmer footing

(1961: 324) were perhaps more successful. Ascher recommended that
archaeologists should make themselves familiar with a wider range of
ethnographic material, so as to avoid reliance on a standard set of examples. He
also made the important point that human societies are constantly in the process of
change, and this will limit the extent to which any present society will map
directly onto the material traces of a past community. Finally, he noted that the
kinds of information that archaeologists might be interested in would not
necessarily have been recorded by ethnographers, and this might require that they
should undertake their own observations of living communities: a suggestion that
would gain in significance in the decades to come. Yet as the demand for a more
rigorous and scientific archaeology grew during the 1960s, the practice of
ethnographic analogy came to be regarded with increasing scepticism (Wylie
1985: 84). Since analogy projects information drawn from the present into the
past in order to create an interpretation, it is effectively an inductive procedure,
whose results are difficult to evaluate (Wylie 1985: 85). This was hard to
reconcile with the deductivist approach of the New Archaeology (see below). At
best, analogies were viewed as sources of hypotheses that might be tested using
archaeological evidence, but in their initial phase of optimism the New
Archaeologists imagined that, given a sufficiently rigorous methodology,
archaeology could answer any question on the basis of its own evidence alone
(Flannery 1972: 105). Analogy was therefore superfluous. Later, Lewis Binford
(1983a: 417) would come to the much more pessimistic conclusion that arguments
generated from observations on people in the present cannot be tested on the
archaeological record, since they relate to entirely different kinds of phenomena:
dynamic human behaviour in the former case, the static material outcomes of that
behaviour in the latter.

While the more anthropologically-oriented archaeology of the United States

remained cautious about analogy, a more positive attitude began to emerge in
Britain. The subtle difference was that some British archaeologists identified
ethnographic analogy less as a means of identifying specific artefact types, sites or
social formations than as a way of confronting a set of assumptions about the past
that are generated in contemporary western society (e.g. Ucko and Rosenfeld
1967: 153). According to this view, our problem is not that we lack an
understanding of the past, but that we implicitly imagine that we know more than
we really do. Equally, British archaeologists have sometimes been quicker to
accept that analogy cannot be done away with in archaeological interpretation, and
that the best that one can do is to make ones analogies as reliable and informative
as possible. To that end, Ian Hodder (1982a: 16) draws a useful distinction
between formal and relational analogies, where the former denotes analogy
between two contexts which have only the outward appearance of similarity, and
the latter a comparison between societies which are alike at a structural level.
Similarly, Bruce Trigger (2004: 47) stressed that a comparison between past and
present that stresses differences can be as helpful as analogy. In any case, much
recent British archaeology has made use of ethnographic evidence as a source of
information concerning the potential breadth of variability of gender relations,
conceptions of personhood, and forms of identity, rather than in search of specific
analogies (e.g. Fowler 2004). More recently, Matthew Spriggs (2008) has offered
a critique of the use of analogy in post-processual British archaeology, which he
considers to suffer from imposing the ethnographic present on the prehistoric past.
Many of the source ethnographies concerned are drawn from colonial contexts in
Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia, which have been subject to population
decline and pacification, and where documented forms of social organisation may
be products of colonialism. Spriggs proposes that the archaeology as much as the
anthropology of these areas may serve as useful sources of analogies, and that we
should be comparing long-term sequences of development rather than
ethnographic snapshots. Disappointingly, though, he provides no indication of
how this procedure would provide counter-intuitive insights into areas such as
personhood and social organisation, and he actually appears to advocate a return to
Clarks comparison of societies with similar subsistence regimes (Spriggs 2008:

Aschers call for archaeologists to undertake their own research amongst living
societies in order to investigate the relationship between social processes and
material conditions was increasingly responded to from the end of the 1960s
onwards. A new sub-discipline of ethnoarchaeology began to address such issues
as the location and process of waste disposal, the manufacture and variability of
artefacts, the spatial organisation of social life, and mobility patterns associated
with economic activities (Stiles 1977: 91). Some ethnoarchaeological research
attempted to concentrate on physical processes that were not dependent on human
intervention, such as the dilapidation and collapse of dwelling structures, the role
of scavenging animals in the formation of bone assemblages, or the dispersal of
artefact assemblages by wind and water action (Lane 2006: 406). However, in
practice these happenings do not take place in abstraction from any social context,
and ethnoarchaeological research has had to take this into account. Much of the
early work was concerned simply with demonstrating that intuitive interpretations
of artefacts and structures could be thoroughly misleading, as with Bonnichsens
(1973: 285) account of the explanation of structures and deposits at an abandoned
Native American camp in the Canadian Rockies provided by a former inhabitant.
In its mature phase, however, ethnoarchaeology was able to reveal something of
the intricacy of everyday material life, and the complex re-working and cycling of
objects and materials that contributes to what eventually becomes an
archaeological site. As such, it laid to rest forever the impression that sites could
be read as a map of a past society, stopped in its tracks (Lane 2006: 410). This
recognition was bought at the price of a loss of innocence, however. Some
practitioners have come to argue that studying living people in order to provide
insights about the past treats them in an unacceptably instrumentalist fashion, an
ethical situation quite distinct from other forms of ethnography (Fewster 2001).
The New Archaeology: archaeology as anthropology
The dissatisfaction amongst American archaeologists with a largely
descriptive culture-history resurfaced during the early 1960s. Revealingly, Lewis
Binfords (1962) polemic against the status quo was framed in terms of a need to
make archaeology more anthropological, and it is highly significant that there had
been a return to theories of social evolution within American anthropology by this
time, inspired by the very different approaches of Leslie White (1959) and Julian
Steward (1955). Although American archaeology was institutionally lodged
within anthropology, Binford argued that it had failed to contribute to the major
debates of the broader discipline, because it had not managed to relate its subject
matter to the study of human society. Archaeologists continued to follow Boas in
seeing material culture as a set of mutually equivalent traits, whose function was
barely considered. Binford advocated a systemic approach, in which artefacts
operated in a number of different ways in an adaptive process that linked culture,
population and environment (Binford 1962: 21). Material culture was not simply
technology, but was engaged in social, political and ideological relations. So
although there may be aspects of past societies that cannot be directly observed in
the material record, these would always have been linked systemically with
material culture, even if the latter is generally recovered in incomplete form
(Binford 1972: 91). Material culture was not only adaptive, but strategically
employed. Culture should be seen not as a set of cognitive norms, passed down
between generations or transmitted by diffusion, but as a range of behavioural
options, that are participated in differentially (Binford 1965: 125). Once it is
recognised that archaeology addresses societies as adaptive totalities, rather than
material fragments, the subject actually has an advantage over other aspects of
anthropology, since it has access to a broader range of societies and can study
these over appreciable depths of time.

The optimism of the early New Archaeology that grew out of Binfords arguments
was forcefully expressed in a series of studies of mortuary practice (Binford 1971;
Saxe 1971). While previous generations of archaeologists had considered funerary
activity to be part of the realm of ritual and religious belief, and thus beyond their
interpretive competence, Binford argued that death rites played an adaptive role.
On the basis of the comparison of a series of ethnographic cases, he suggested that
mortuary practice represented a signalling system, whereby the social persona and
status responsibilities of the deceased were conveyed to the surviving community,
enabling them to adjust to their loss (Binford 1971: 23). It followed from this that
societies with a more complex set of statuses and roles would have a more
elaborate and diverse set of funerary customs, and that more or less ranked
communities could be distinguished on the basis of the burial record that they left
behind. The belief that the structure of past societies was reflected in, or could be
correlated with the pattern of traces that they left behind was also seen in studies
of the spatial organisation of settlement patterns (Renfrew 1973: 15), and the use
of variations in pottery decoration to infer patterns of residence and descent (Deetz
1968: 41). The latter relied on the notion that micro-traditions of ceramic
manufacture might be discerned within groups of rooms at south-west United
States pueblos, such as the Carter Ranch Site, if potting were a female skill passed
down between mother and daughter, and if communities had been matrilocal and
matrilineal (Longacre 1964: 317; Hill 1970: 33). As we have seen already, it was
in part the development of ethnoarchaeology that demonstrated the complexity of
site formation processes and their articulation with social practices, revealing these
attempts to read off social relations from the archaeological record as somewhat
simplistic (Plog 1978: 148). At around this time, David Clarke argued that one of
the emerging aspects of contemporary archaeology was an anthropological
paradigm (Clarke 1972: 7). Yet it is clear from his description that what he was
referring to was not the application of anthropological insights to archaeological
evidence, but the attempt to extract social information from the material record. In
a sense, this was not archaeology acting as one element of a four-field
anthropology, but attempting to supplant anthropology.

It was Binford himself who reacted against the hubris of this position. Culture-
historic archaeology had made inductive statements about the past, based on
material evidence. The New Archaeology had employed a deductive approach,
but had failed to recognise that its hypotheses related to dynamic systems, while
its evidence took the form of static matter (Binford 1972: 89; Binford 1977: 6).
The project of understanding past societies needed to be separated from that of
rendering the evidence meaningful, and the two required different kinds of theory.
Binfords middle range theory was effectively an artefact physics, intended to
unravel the formation of the archaeological record. This required actualistic
research in the present, in order to identify law-like relationships between forces
and impacts, which Binford compared to Rosetta stones (1983b: 113). Some of
this work could be experimental: a person skilled in flint knapping could generate
observations regarding the sequence of acts involved in making a particular type
of tool, the character of the removals left on the surface of the core, and the nature
of the debitage that would be generated. These could then be used to give
meaning to scatters of knapping debris encountered on archaeological sites. But in
practice, much of Binfords own actualistic research took the form of
ethnoarchaeology, conducted amongst the Nunamiut Eskimo (Binford 1978) and
the Australian Alyawara (Binford 1986). While Binford held that this work had
general significance, the fact that it was conducted in specific cultural settings
rendered it just as analogical as any other form of ethnoarchaeology (Lucas 2001:
192). Moreover, it raises the ethical problems of using contemporary people as a
vehicle for addressing the past in an even more severe form.
Divergent anthropological archaeologies in America and Britain
While the New (or processual) Archaeology was responsible for very
considerable methodological developments, its focus on systems theory and
evolutionary ecology, and consequent neglect of human agency and social conflict
was soon subject to criticism (e.g. Kushner 1970: 131). Moreover, the kind of
anthropological archaeology that it offered was not always highly rated by
anthropologists. Edmund Leach, for instance, provided a negative commentary on
the attempts of archaeologists to construct social models (1973: 767). Leach
maintained that while anthropologists have direct access to social practice,
archaeologists must content themselves with lifeless residues (1977: 166).
However, it is notable that elsewhere Leach was to argue that culture needed to be
decoded, revealing structures and messages that are not self-evident (1976: 2). If
we adopt Leachs structuralist approach, anthropology is just as inferential a
discipline as archaeology, since it is concerned not with the practice itself, but the
structure hidden behind the practice. In America, some commentators began to
question whether archaeology really did have a closer affinity with anthropology
than other disciplines (Gummerman and Phillips 1978: 187). This tendency
accelerated at around the turn of the millennium, with a call for the break-up of the
four-field model of anthropology, and the establishment of separate archaeology
departments in United States universities (Gillespie, Joyce and Nichols 2003:
159). The complaint of some American archaeologists was that while they were
still conducting anthropological research (of an evolutionary, functionalist,
ecological kind), their social and cultural colleagues had embraced post-modern
relativism and ceased to be anthropologists at all (Gosden 1999: 6).

In Britain, entirely different forces had begun to come into play in the later 1970s,
and were to have the effect that archaeology was to take an anthropological turn
just as America was travelling in the opposite direction. Louis Anthussers
structuralist revision of Marxist ideas had had a profound impact on anthropology
in France and Britain, introducing new ways of thinking about economic
relationships in pre-capitalist societies (Godelier 1977: 127). In particular, the
way in which the exchange of highly-ranked valuables can serve to establish
prestige and alliance, and the role of the circulation of goods in relations between
radically different social formations proved extremely suggestive to archaeologists
(e.g. Frankenstein and Rowlands 1978). These ideas connected directly with the
distributions of exotic artefacts that archaeologists routinely investigate, and were
to prove highly influential in the study of both prehistoric societies and early states
(Bradley 1984; Hodges 1982). Yet the renewed engagement with Marxism was to
have other consequences. Both the New Archaeologys use of positivist
philosophies of science that stressed objectivity and value-neutrality and its
ecological functionalism were identified as being linked to the grounding
assumptions of contemporary capitalism (Rowlands 1982: 159). At much the
same time, a series of ethnoarchaeological studies of material culture were
beginning to move in a new direction, concerned with meaning and symbolism
rather than function and taphonomy. For instance, Polly Wiessners work on
artefact style amongst the Kalahari San demonstrated that while in some cases
objects operated to routinely convey information about a persons status, at times
people consciously used their style of dress and adornment to actively negotiate
their social identities (Wiessner 1983: 257; 1984: 195). In a similar study, Roy
Larick described the way that young men amongst the Loikop (Samburu) adopted
styles of spears that positively differentiated them from elder generations (Larick
1986: 279).

Perhaps most significantly, the ethnoarchaeological research that Ian Hodder

undertook in East Africa during the late 1970s addressed the significance of
assemblages of mutually-associated artefacts that had hitherto been described by
archaeologists as cultures. A survey of compounds belonging to the Njemps,
Tugen and Pokot groups in the Lake Baringo area of Kenya revealed that styles of
dress, ornaments, ceramics and even hearth positions were not reproduced
unthinkingly between the generations. Instead, people used material things
knowingly and strategically in order to present themselves in advantageous ways.
Moreover, different groups within tribes, such as women and young men,
understood and manipulated particular kinds of objects in specific ways, so that
the meanings of artefacts were not universally shared (Hodder 1982b: 27).
Hodders concern with artefacts as symbols led to the conclusion that material
culture is meaningfully constituted, and this fed into the developing critique of
New Archaeology functionalism. If artefacts are symbols as much as technology,
they need to be read in a specific context, so that the post-processual
archaeology that Hodder advocated was one that rejected universal laws of culture
for historical specificity (Hodder 1982c: 1). Eventually, the imperative to
elaborate a contextual archaeology would suggest a new kind of anthropological
archaeology, which drew on Clifford Geertzs notion of thick description in order
to construct ethnographies of the past (Geertz 1973: 21; Hodder 1992: 14; Tilley
1996). By the 1990s, then, some British archaeologists were less enthusiastic
about the disciplines capacity to investigate great depths of time than the prospect
of exploring unique and otherwise inaccessible cultural contexts.

Material culture studies

One way of understanding the post-processual era in archaeology would
be as a continuation of the process by which a rather sheltered discipline began to
engage in a more extensive theoretical dialogue with the human sciences as a
whole. We have seen that during the nineteenth century archaeology and
anthropology were equally engaged in the study of social evolution, but thereafter
the relationship became a less balanced one, with ethnography often understood as
a source of analogies that could be borrowed by archaeologists. In a general
sense, this has contributed to a concern on the part of archaeologists that their
discipline represents a parasitic importer of ideas from outside (Garrow and
Yarrow 2010: 3). The balance has arguably begun to be redressed with the
emergence of a distinct field of material culture studies since the 1980s. While
this is a genuinely interdisciplinary enterprise, involving contributions from areas
as diverse as fashion, design, technology studies and human geography, much of
the initial impetus came from the group of students associated with Ian Hodder in
Cambridge at the end of the 1970s. Thus while both Daniel Miller and Henrietta
Moore now self-identify as anthropologists, their initial doctoral research was at
least in part inspired by archaeological problems: ceramic production and
variability, and the use and meaning of domestic space (Miller 1985; Moore 1986).
Part of the success of material culture studies has lain in the ability of its
practitioners to articulate a sophisticated theoretical framework for the study of the
object world, applicable in both ethnographic and archaeological contexts. A
central strand in this has been the theme of objectification, first outlined by Miller
(1987: 21) in terms of a dialectical process in which human beings first externalise
their ideas, beliefs and values in making material things, and then re-incorporate
them. There is thus a recursive relationship in which people and things are
mutually constitutive: in making the world of artefacts, human beings realise
themselves (Tilley 2006: 60).

The emergence of material culture studies has coincided with a growing concern
with the embodied and physical character of social life within anthropology
(Miller 1998). The past two decades have seen a proliferation of material
ethnographies and archaeologies of the present, and there have been indications in
the past few years that the two are beginning to bleed into one another (Buchli and
Lucas 2001a; Dant 1999; Holtorf and Piccini 2009; Graves-Brown 2000).
However, it has been notable that for much of this period archaeologists and
anthropologists have been carrying on parallel debates on landscape, architecture,
the body, personhood and material culture without talking to each other as much as
they might have done (Henare, Holbraad and Wastell 2007; Carsten and Hugh-
Jones 1995; Lambeck and Strathern 1998; Hirsch and OHanlon 1995). Perhaps
the principal distinction is that archaeologists are likely to approach the nexus of
people and things by starting with the objects. The results can be impressive, as
with Buchli and Lucas (2001b) evocative study of an abandoned council house in
Britain. Despite this, important reservations regarding the whole project of
material culture studies have recently been raised by Tim Ingold (2007: 8). Ingold
points to the way that the notion of material culture enshrines a distinction
between a world of mental representations and one of inert matter, and casts the
practice of making as one in which form is imposed on substance. In its place, he
advocates a concern with human engagement with the world of materials. It
remains to be seen how this shift of emphasis might affect the two disciplines.

Conclusion: prospects for the future

Archaeology and anthropology developed out of the desire to understand
human diversity and the emergence of human society. One of the similarities
between the two is that their formation as professional disciplines was connected
with fieldwork, and having worked in the field remains an important source of
authority within the two disciplines (Gosden 1999: 33). Unlike contemporaries
such as Lubbock, Pitt Rivers undertook extensive survey and excavation,
establishing a model of argument based upon meticulous recording that is perhaps
comparable with Malinowskis role in anthropology (Lucas 2001: 4; Clifford
1988: 32). The difference is that while the work of the lone ethnographer has
often been understood as an interpretive project from the start, the collective
investigation of an archaeological site by a large team has usually been portrayed
as a data-collection exercise, with interpretation deferred to a later stage (Andrews,
Barrett and Lewis 2000: 526). Interestingly, the current use of ethnographic
methods by archaeologists attempting to understand archaeological field practice
(Edgeworth 2010: 53) or the public perception of the archaeological heritage
(Jones 2005) presents another way in which the subjects are apparently

At the same time, the merging of archaeology and anthropology found in a more
subtle appreciation of material things is bringing about a re-evaluation of the
perceived asymmetry between the disciplines (Garrow and Yarrow 2010: 9).
Leachs argument that anthropologists have direct access to their subjects has been
slow to die, but there is an increasing recognition that both professions are
concerned with fragmentary evidence (Yarrow 2010: 21). It is even suggested that
if archaeologists have leaned to cope with absence and incompleteness,
anthropologists might have something to learn from them. As we have already
suggested, if human society is understood as a hybrid network composed of people
and things, the main distinction between the two disciplines is that they enter the
network at different points (Lucas 2010: 30). The potential for a productive
dialogue between archaeology and anthropology is greater now than it has been
for decades, but the conversation has barely begun.


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