'The Loss of Innocence' in Historical Perspective

By Trigger, Bruce G. | Antiquity, September 1998 | Go to article overview

'The Loss of Innocence' in Historical Perspective


Trigger, Bruce G., Antiquity


The dual tasks of this paper are to examine David Clarke's ideas about the development of archaeology as they relate both to the era when 'the loss of innocence' was written and to what has happened since. In his treatment of the history of archaeology offered in that essay, Clarke subscribed to at least two of the key tenets of the behaviourist and utilitarian approaches that dominated the social sciences in the 1960s: neoevolutionism and ecological determinism.

Clarke viewed the development of archaeology as following a unilinear sequence of stages from consciousness through self-consciousness to critical self-consciousness. The first stage began with archaeology defining its subject matter and what archaeologists do. As its database and the procedures required for studying it became more elaborate, self-conscious archaeology emerged as a 'series of divergent and self-referencing regional schools . . . with regionally esteemed bodies of archaeological theory and locally preferred forms of description. interpretation and explanation' (Clarke 1973: 7). At the stage of critical self-consciousness, regionalism was replaced by a conviction that 'archaeologists hold most of their problems in common and share large areas of general theory within a single discipline' (1973: 7). Archaeology was now defined by 'the characteristic forms of its reasoning, the intrinsic nature of its knowledge and information, and its competing theories of concepts and their relationships' (1973: 7). Clarke looked forward to a fourth (and ultimate?) phase of serf-critical self-consciousness, when the new archaeology would monitor and control its own development.

Clarke maintained that these changes could be explained adaptationally. He defined an academic discipline as an adaptive system 'related internally to its changing content and externally to the spirit of the times' (1973: 8). Past archaeological states were appropriate to past archaeological contexts, but 'a new environment develops new materials and new methods with new consequences, which demand new philosophies, new solutions and new perspectives' (1973: 8-9). 'Epistemological adaptation to the empirical content of . . . new observations' (1973: 11) plays a major role in bringing about disciplinary change. While Clarke saw new problems promoting theoretical diversification and competition, and characterized this as a progressive tendency, he also believed that 'in each era archaeologists represent the temporary state of their disciplinary knowledge by a metaphysical theory which presents appropriate ideals of explanation and procedure' (1973: 12). Such adaptive behaviour transforms archaeology from one 'level of practice' to another. There is a close resemblance between Clarke's explanation of the development of archaeology and the views that American neoevolutionists, such as Elman Service, the young Marshall Sahlins and Lewis Binford held concerning cultural change in general. Clarke believed that other disciplines, such as biology, geology, geography and the social sciences were transformed in analogous ways by similar environmental factors.

Clarke characterized the 'revolution' from consciousness to self-consciousness as mainly technical in nature and the one from self-consciousness to critical self-consciousness as 'largely a philosophical, metaphysical and theoretical one brought upon us by the consequences of the first' (1973: 7). He interpreted the latter changes as adaptive responses to alterations in the social and technological environment of archaeology. The social changes included a vast increase in the numbers of archaeologists and in the resources for carrying out archaeological research. The technological changes were a revolution in the techniques used to analyse archaeological data. Clarke provided a litany of innovations, which summarized the extensive literature that British archaeologists in particular had published on methodological topics during the 1950s. …

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