Argentinian Archaeology: Status and Prospects

Article excerpt


The many centuries of Argentinian archaeology have been studied by a number of scholars (e.g. Fernandez 1982; Crivelli 1990; Politis 1995, 2003, 2007; Nastri 1999, 2004; Ramundo 2007a, 2008a, 2008c; Borrazzo et al. 2009). Although the analysis of current topics in the discipline and a tentative view on its future will be the aim of this critical appraisal, it does not pretend to be exhaustive, but the starting point for enriching the discussion. Amongst the topics briefly addressed are the plurality of theoretical frameworks, the variety of areas of specialisation, the protection of archaeological heritage, ethical aspects of the discipline, an analysis of academic training and the relationship between archaeology and local and/or aboriginal communities.

Plurality of frameworks

Argentinian archaeology has a range of theoretical-methodological frameworks that compete for leadership (Ramundo 2008a). We tend to talk about 'theoretical-methodological frameworks' instead of 'paradigms' because we understand that local archaeology has never experienced a period of 'normal science' (sensu Kuhn 1978), that is, a stage where only one 'paradigm' establishes the rules legitimating scientific production and guiding research. In this way, we may support the idea of a partial consensus, or think that we are still in a period of 'pre-science', where the activity is disorganised and diverse (Ramundo 2008a).

I consider, however, that this conflict between theoretical frameworks is not as strong as it used to be--current pluralism is more tolerant to difference, by word of mouth at least. Higher tolerance is perhaps the result of the many years of silence and lack of theoretical variability imposed by the former military government (1976-1983), and/or because access to foreign schools of thought is now more readily available. This situation is affected by the ever-present economic shortcomings, which impact on access to updated bibliography and the possibility of attending specific events both locally and elsewhere. Furthermore, the lack of open access mass media technology in the past (e.g. the internet) should not be neglected. The new multiplicity of views may also be due to the receding influence of the 'personality as an authority', so prevalent in previous times (Ramundo 2008a), as well as an increased disciplinary maturity.

In the mid 1990s, the New Archaeology was a 'collective option' that determined the reception of other schools from abroad (Farro et al. 1999: 223). Bur some local archaeologists have sensed the exhaustion of its models and demanded the reincorporation of cultural factors that, although studied in the past, were scarcely utilised to evaluate historical change: ritual and symbolic issues, studies on social conflict, domination, inequality and social complexity. The incorporation of post-processual schools of thought was becoming more evident, leading to opposing views that struggled to prevail and effect change. A theoretical shift was noticeable in the symposia and workshops taking place in national archaeological congresses and similar events, as well as in specific journals (Ramundo 2007a). Nevertheless, in these same events and journals, papers were written that adopted older approaches, without in any way diminishing the quality of these journals and papers.

The current theoretical scene is a palimpsest, where 'normative' archaeologists who adhere to the European historical-cultural school of thought (the typical approach since the 1930s) coexist with radical and moderate processualists (who have led the theoretical agenda since the 1980s) and post-processualists who feed on traditional Marxism, neo-Marxism and cognitive views, amongst others. These differ in terms of the explanations they provide, but also in their concepts of evidence, data, context and archaeological record. The current millennium finds Argentinian archaeology utilising multiple methodological and technical approaches, often selected independently of the underlying theoretical framework. …