Migrations in New World Culture History

Migrations in New World Culture History

Migrations in New World Culture History

Migrations in New World Culture History

Excerpt

A remarkable feature of archaeological interpretation is the fact that a migration is one of the most common ways of explaining a wide variety of evidence. Indeed, the inference that a group of people has moved from one place of residence to another seems to be considered by many laymen as the major goal of archaeological research. Unfortunately, the eagerness with which migrations are accepted and even demanded by this reading public is matched only by the ease with which migrations are inferred by many archaeologists. The fascinating accounts which result from the oft-proposed but seldom documented movements of prehistoric peoples only whet the public appetite and lead to an expectation that more must be forthcoming. It should be emphasized that the primary responsibility for this situation rests fully upon the uncritical archaeologist.

Thus, the concept of migration is one of the most dangerous interpretive tools available to the student of man's past. This problem is, of course, not a new one, for migration has traditionally served as a convenient way out for the archaeologist who was expected to produce more than descriptive results. The problem is, however, an acute one, for the integrity and validity of archaeological interpretation and reconstruction are ultimately at stake. The archaeologist who is intellectually honest: about his own use of the migration concept can no longer ignore the problem created by the misuse of the concept by others. The fact that the most flagrant abuse of this interpretive device is often perpetuated by individuals not qualified by either training or experience only serves to compound the problem.

There is, of course, no easy solution. On the one hand the investigator who successfully infers a migration must assume the responsibility for converting his experience into a clarification of the concept of migration itself. On the other hand, archaeologists as a group must examine their collective conscience in an effort to expose the basic causes for the present unfortunate status of migration research. It goes almost without saying that causes of this kind are extremely difficult to find. Even in a time-oriented discipline like archaeology it has long been recognized that the seeking of original or ultimate causes is an essentially futile exercise. Nevertheless, a brief survey of some of the possible causes for the difficulties inherent in the migration concept will help to illustrate the need for caution in any method of interpretation which involves population movement.

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