Archaeology: The Discipline of Things

Archaeology: The Discipline of Things

Archaeology: The Discipline of Things

Archaeology: The Discipline of Things

Synopsis

Archaeology has always been marked by its particular care, obligation, and loyalty to things. While archaeologists may not share similar perspectives or practices, they find common ground in their concern for objects monumental and mundane. This book considers the myriad ways that archaeologists engage with things in order to craft stories, both big and small, concerning our relations with materials and the nature of the past.

Literally the "science of old things," archaeology does not discover the past as it was but must work with what remains. Such work involves the tangible mediation of past and present, of people and their cultural fabric, for things cannot be separated from society. Things are us. This book does not set forth a sweeping new theory. It does not seek to transform the discipline of archaeology. Rather, it aims to understand precisely what archaeologists do and to urge practitioners toward a renewed focus on and care for things.

Excerpt

This book is an outcome of a collaboration that has lasted nearly ten years. The births of children, conferral of PhDs, first jobs, international moves, promotions, a wedding: all are bound up in the completion of this project. It has been the proverbial journey, fostering intellectual challenges, development and unexpected partnerships, and is the manifestation of our collective destination. It began with Bjørnar visiting Stanford University in 2003 where all four of us were united in our unease with ‘the state of things’ in archaeology. Archaeology deals in the material remains of society, in things, their associations, assemblages, environments and contexts. While materiality and material culture have grown as objects of concern, things nevertheless are too often treated as secondary expressions of society, of social structures and cultural values. Different platforms and agendas have proliferated in seeking a social, cultural, or biological significance to the shape of things; what unites the diversity, even the incommensurability of most is an embarrassment that archaeology might primarily be about things, rather than other typical concerns of the social sciences and humanities such as norms and values, social structures and change, behavior and social psychology, historical agency, cultural geography. A question motivated us: where was the care for things in a discipline that is surely ‘the discipline of things’? We wanted to write a book that would offer guidance to archaeologists in a return to things.

A very early iteration of this project was a presentation by three of us at Stanford Archaeology Center’s workshop series in 2003. There . . .

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