Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology

Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology

Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology

Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology


The third edition of this classic introduction to archaeological theory and method has been fully updated to address the burgeoning of theoretical debate throughout the discipline. Ian Hodder and Scott Hutson argue that archaeologists must bring to bear a variety of perspectives in the complex and uncertain task of constructing meaning from the past. While remaining centred on the importance of hermeneutics, agency and history, the authors explore cutting-edge developments in areas such as post-structuralism, neo-evolutionary theory and whole new branches of theory such as phenomenology. With the addition of two completely new chapters, the third edition of Reading the Past presents an authoritative, state-of-the-art analysis of contemporary archaeological theory. Also including new material on feminist archaeology, historical approaches such as cultural history, and theories of discourse and signs, this book represents essential reading for any student or scholar with an interest in the past.


In some ways I am surprised that a book of this nature, discussing widely varying theoretical approaches to the past, can be written. in an important article, David Clarke (1973) suggested that archaeology was losing its innocence because it was embracing, in the 1960s and 1970s, a rigorous scientific approach, with agreed sets of procedures, models and theories. the age of unreflecting speculation was over.

However, archaeologists have always claimed to be rigorously scientific. Indeed, I argued (Hodder 1981) that archaeology would remain immature as long as it refused to debate and experiment with a wide range of approaches to the past. in grasping positivism, functionalism, systems theory and so on, and setting itself against alternative perspectives, archaeology remained narrow and out-of-date in comparison with related disciplines.

But over recent years, alternatives have emerged, largely from the European scene (Renfrew 1982), and one can now talk of Marxist and structuralist archaeology, as well as of processual, positivist approaches. Certainly such alternatives existed before, on the fringe, but they did not constitute a distinctive approach with a body of practitioners. the older normative and culture-historical schools also continue to thrive today. While many of these developments, and the erosion of the old 'New Archaeology' debates, have far to go, archaeology is now beginning to lose its innocence and is gaining maturity by being fully integrated into wider contemporary debates. This book seeks to capture this new spirit of debate and to contribute to it from a particular point of view.

At the same time, it seems to me that far from becoming submerged within other disciplines, archaeology has, through the wider debate, become better able to define itself as a distinct and productive area of study. the debate picks out the differences from other disciplines as well as the similarities.

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