Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Irresponsibility in archaeology/Vastutustundetus Arheoloogias

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Irresponsibility in archaeology/Vastutustundetus Arheoloogias

Article excerpt

Introduction

Mathew Johnson on the first page of his book, titled "Archaeological Theory: An Introduction", challenges an important question. He states, "Archaeology can be very boring, distressing and physically uncomfortable. Every year we excavate thousands of sites, some with painstaking and mind-numbing patience, and some in a great and undignified hurry. Every year we get chilled to the marrow or bitten half to death by mosquitoes while visiting some unprepossessing, grassy mound in the middle of nowhere. Miles from decent restaurant or even warm bath, we try to look interested while the rain comes down in sheets and some great professor whose best work was 20 years ago witters on in a monotone about what was found in Trench 4B. Every year we churn out thousands of interminable, stultifying dull with site reports, fretting over the accuracy of plans and diagrams, collating lists of grubby artifacts to go on microfiche that few will ever consult or use again. Why?" (Johnson 1999, 1). He continues, "The question 'why do we do archaeology?' is therefore bound up with the question 'why is archaeology--the study of the past through its material remains--so important to us?' And this again leads on to the question of "us", of our identity--who are we? And these are all theoretical questions" (Johnson 1999, 2). The most important point in his view is the reconstruction of the past. This is also the main aim of archaeology, to answer questions about our identity. It seems, that the answer to this question--who are we?--helps us to have a better future. If we believe in human-environment interactions, then we will believe that similar environment needs similar human behaviors. Therefore, learning our ancestors' experience could help us to make a better future. To have a better future based on our ancestors' experiences, we need to extract their behaviors from archaeological data properly, because it is a result of their endeavors in unreliable environment.

In archaeology, theory has been defined as the conceptual basis of studying material data from the past (Dark 1995, 1); therefore, it is completely subjective (Shanks & Tilley 1987, 212). In culture-historical archaeology, it simply represented the knowledge that material remains could inform archaeologists about the past (Dark 1995, 3 ff.). Hodder believes that although culture-historical archaeology contained theoretical assumptions, it remained a methodology rather than a theory (Hodder 1991, 4). But it seems that culture history is also a form of archaeological theory, in which archaeologists use inductive reasoning. Describing and classifying finds into groups are important parts of culture-history theory. In contrast, theory in the "New Archaeology" tries to explain change and recognize the process by which it came about. Therefore, it represents an important movement from the main traditions of archaeology, in which description was considered more important than the explanation of change (Dark 1995, 3 ff.). Shanks and Tilley believe that although theory is not a technical outcome of a specialist, it is a surrounded and localized production, and the way in which archaeologists manage to arrive at a particular picture of the past based on the archaeological remains (Shanks & Tilley 1987, 212 f.).

In fact, archaeologists have an admirable series of responsibilities; firstly it is the responsibility to interpret the data they discovered to the best of their abilities. They should care about the outcomes of their interpretations of the people and places they study, and they should deem the environmental impact of the processes that they do on the world. Therefore, we need to know four reasons of why theory is 'relevant' to archaeological practice "1--we need to justify what we do", "2--we need to evaluate one interpretation of the past against another, to decide which is the stronger", 3--"we must be explicit in what we do as archaeologists", "4--we don't 'need' theory, we all use theory whether we like it or not" (Johnson 1999, 3 ff. …

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