Changing Perspectives on Hunter-Gatherers in Continental and in Anglo-American Archaeology
Reybrouck, David Van, Antiquity
How different are the intellectual traditions of Continental and of Anglo-American archaeology, and how is each changing? Counting papers in the standard journals which address aspects of hunter-gatherer archaeology may show.
Until very recently Continental archaeology has always been considered mainly an empiricist enterprise, in which theoretical issues are rarely discussed. Rather than losing themselves in sterile philosophical and social-scientific discussions, most Continental archaeologists, it has been assumed, confine themselves to 'real archaeology': meticulous excavations, detailed and analytical studies of archaeological material and scrupulous publications of excavation reports. This was the way most Continental researchers considered themselves (and implicitly still do). It was also the dominant conception in the Anglo-American world (and implicitly still is): empirical research as the main occupation of Continental archaeologists, theoretical reflection primarily a product of the English-speaking countries. This division of labour in reality reflected a mutual lack of interest in what each tradition considered as primary important.
In recent years, this has changed considerably. Regional traditions on the Continent (such as the Dutch and the Scandinavian) have shown an increasing interest in the Anglo-American debate. It is not a coincidence that precisely these countries are characterized by a good knowledge of English. The publication in English of theoretical periodicals (Norwegian Archaeological Review for Norway and Archaeological Dialogues for the Netherlands), both organized by the Anglo-American peer review system, is in this respect significant. In Germany, an interest in Anglo-American debates, existing already in the seventies (Eggert 1976; 1978), has had an increased attention (Harke 1989; 1991). But mainstream German archaeology remains atheoretical in the sense that there is no need to state explicitly one's theoretical position (Sommer 1991; Klejn 1993). This can also be said about France (Cleuziou et al. 1991; Olivier & Coudart in press; see for example Courbin 1982), despite the work of authors such as Gardin (1979) and Gallay (1989) whose theoretical reflections developed independently from Anglo-American discussions.
On the other hand, the publication of Ian Hodder's edited volume on Archaeological theory in Europe (Hodder 1991) and the 1992 EuroTAG in Southampton show a recent Anglo-American interest in Continental archaeology and its theoretical positions.
Before investigating the origins of this recent mutual and valuable interest between Anglo-American and Continental archaeology, we need to look at the nature of certain specific research traditions. The study of hunter-gatherers provides an interesting domain in which the regional differences between Continental and Anglo-American approaches can be seen. In this article I compare English and North American approaches on the one hand, with the Continental school of the so-called traditional countries (Germany and France) on the other. The terms 'Anglo-American' and 'Continental' are used only with reference to these specific countries.
If science is a discourse, then texts are its vital and tangible products. A study of some of these texts such as articles in scientific periodicals can offer insights into this discourse.
For each country, an important periodical was chosen: Current Anthropology for the USA, Antiquity for the UK, Gallia Prehistoire for France, Prahistorische Zeitschrift and Quartar for Germany. The specifics of each periodical may not always reflect the general characteristics of their countries. Gallia Prehistoire, originally set up to publish excavation results, might have a profile different from, for example Bulletin de la Societe Prehistorique Francaise. Nevertheless, in France Gallia Prehistoire is recognized as a leading periodical for hunter-gatherer studies and was therefore selected. …