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

By Janet Rafferty; Evan Peacock | Go to book overview

accord with the other main concern of archaeological work, which is preservation of the record— in place, if possible, or in the form of artifacts and documentation if archaeological recovery is necessary. We believe that the choice of methods should be rationalized in terms of both concerns: in terms of theory, which leads to tackling particular scientific problems in particular ways, and in terms of using proveniencing and sampling methods that are attentive to preserving the maximum amount of information possible.

One way the tension between problem-oriented research and preservation can be lessened is to employ recovery methods designed to meet preservation requirements, assuring that the resulting data will be suitable for addressing many different kinds of research interests. If field methods are designed to be spatially extensive, to include the full range of artifact sizes, and to incorporate detailed proveniencing from all kinds of contexts, they will produce data that can be used repeatedly for many different purposes (Peacock and Rafferty 2007). The rationale for using such methods is already well-developed, as they derive from general archaeological theory, which archaeologists mostly hold in common whatever specific explanatory theory they subscribe to. Unfortunately, while both preservation and research goals ostensibly are met by the research-design approach to CRM, expedient field methods currently in use typically do not produce truly representative samples at a full range of scales. Thus, they create systematic bias in what is left for future generations of archaeologists to study (Dunnell 1984). This is evidenced by the continuing fixation on large, deep sites at the expense of smaller, less artifact-rich ones, and by the rote application of stripping and other methods that sacrifice surface or other contexts without a scientific rationale for doing so.

The analysis phase of a project is more amenable than the recovery phase to being oriented toward research goals. As properly curated artifacts can be reanalyzed numberless times in light of various research topics, and as most analytic methods are non-to minimally destructive, there is much scope for problem-oriented research to be carried out during the analysis stage. However, despite broad acknowledgment that there is no one correct way to classify artifacts, but that this should depend on the problem being investigated, general descriptive categories are routinely employed across the board, minimizing the generation of new knowledge. This is true both in prehistoric archaeology, where pottery and point types, flake stages, and other traditional categories are used as a matter of course, and historic archaeology, where folk categories are employed as though they were units created for scientific analysis.

This methodological and analytical homogenization is visible at the outset of most CRM products. Archaeologists who work in the United States and who have had any contact with CRM are familiar with the “cultural background” chapter of technical reports. All too often these chapters are rote cut

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