Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Potential of Analogy in Post-Processual Archaeologies: A Case Study from Basimane Ward, Serowe, Botswana

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Potential of Analogy in Post-Processual Archaeologies: A Case Study from Basimane Ward, Serowe, Botswana

Article excerpt

The aim of this article is to present the results of an ethnoarchaeological study that was carried out in 2001 in Basimane ward, Serowe (Botswana) (Fig. 1). In so doing I shall be addressing the current debate on the application of the structural functionalist model known as the Central Cattle Pattern (CCP) that has been derived from ethnographic data and applied to archaeological data in southern Africa as a form of direct historical analogy to settlement patterns of the Early Iron Age (AD c.o-c.1000), the Late Iron Age (AD c.1000-c.1500), and the pre-colonial period (e.g. Huffman 1982; 1986a; 1986b; 1993; 2001; Pistorius 1992). Since the mid-1980s there has been a sustained critique of the direct historic approach because of its failure to address agency (M. Hall 1986), its failure adequately to address issues of gender (S. Hall 1998; Lane 1998), and its failure to address empirical evidence for change in the archaeological record (Denbow 1986; M. Hall 1986; Lane 1994/5). While the argument might appear to be a polarized one, with advocates of the CCP model concentrating on issues of structure and its critics concentrating on issues of agency, the ethnoarchaeological case study presented here demonstrates that the behaviour of the inhabitants of the Tswana ward of Basimane, Serowe, cannot be understood in terms of agency alone or in terms of structure alone. It is important to address the debate about the CCP model because some of the most thought-provoking work on the potential role of ethnoarchaeology in the post-processual context has been generated as a result of it.


In its original inception ethnoarchaeology was a product of the processual archaeology of the 1960s. Binford (1967: 3) had employed analogy in his work by means of Middle Range Theory, which involved the objective testing of hypotheses about the past in order to produce a quantitative proof that would lead to the production of law-like generalizations. Since the post-processual critique in archaeology in the 1980s rejected processualism for its aspirations to objectivity and its reliance on the philosophy of science as a source of theoretical inspiration, ethnoarchaeology, in Britain especially, has been largely neglected as a methodology by virtue of its association with the paradigm in which it was developed (see Zvelebil & Fewster 2001). However, I aim to demonstrate that ethnoarchaeology has an important role to play in the production of post-processual archaeological narratives (see also Wylie 1985: 107). Although Hodder (1982b: 28) attempted to re-define ethnoarchaeology at the start of the post-processual paradigm as anthropological archaeology, the subdiscipline has not developd epistemologically to suit the requirements of post-processualism. Thus the word 'ethnoarchaeology' will continue to be used throughout this article--prefixed by processual or post-processual to indicate which form of analogical method is being referred to.

African archaeologists have been at the forefront of the debate on the potential role of analogy in the post-processual context. Thus the issues discussed in this article are not exclusive to southern Africa but have a wider relevance. The case study presented in this article aims to demonstrate that ethnoarchaeology in the post-processual context has a greater purpose than that of simply providing the physical patterns for use in formal analogy that were the major concern of the processual paradigm. It can demonstrate that culture is messy, that cultural forms do not correlate easily with physical forms, and that the relationship between the two is under constant re-negotiation. In short, in the post-structuralist forum ethnoarchaeology can contribute at the level of social theory.

Archaeology by analogy

Binford (1967) and other processualists employed analogy by means of the hypothetico-deductive method, which required the testing of hypotheses about the past by increasing the number of observed likenesses and differences between source and subject. …

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