Time's River: Archaeological Syntheses from the Lower Mississippi River Valley

By Janet Rafferty; Evan Peacock | Go to book overview

1
Introduction
Reconsidering the Archaeology of the
Lower Mississippi River Valley

Janet Rafferty and Evan Peacock

I mention the incestuous nature of archaeology in the [southern Central
Mississippi Valley] area because it is sometimes advantageous to introduce
new blood into old debates.

— Starr 2003:27

Much of the archaeology done in the world today is carried out via cultural resource management, or CRM. We believe that CRM is first and foremost a research pursuit, in the sense that documenting the archaeological rec ord in order to learn from it is the main justification for the field. But it is a research pursuit with its own particular set of difficulties. The gray literature status of most CRM reports, and the fact that CRM archaeologists publish journal articles on their projects only infrequently (a result of job expectations, time pressures, and other influences), lessen the scholarly impact of this kind of work. It also allows agencies to tolerate workmanlike description rather than insisting on new approaches and demonstrable increments to knowledge. There are admirable exceptions, but all too often CRM work languishes in the backwaters of archaeology, not only in terms of theory but also in terms of method and contributions to substantive knowledge. One can see this in many recent synthetic volumes, where CRM reports are poorly represented in the bibliographies.

It could be argued that CRM is primarily a vocation, a set of methods for retrieving materials so that their research potential remains intact. But, because methods derive from theory, an emphasis on method alone cannot be defended. Clearly there is more than one way to do things, and clearly there should be theoretically justifiable reasons for doing things one way rather than another. CRM archaeologists— indeed, all archaeologists— also must contend with the need to accommodate future investigations using the materials they have collected. No one set of research problems should be an excuse for collecting data in such a way as to preclude addressing other problems. This is in

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