Clarke in Mediterranean Archaeology

By Guidi, Alessandro | Antiquity, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Clarke in Mediterranean Archaeology


Guidi, Alessandro, Antiquity


When ANTIQUITY published the historical article by Clarke, I was a 20-year-old student, deeply engaged in field activities and substantially torn away from the 'theoretical' debate.

My archaeological loss of innocence happened only in the early 1980s, when I discovered (thanks to people like Maurizio Tosi and Anna Maria Bietti Sestieri) the enormous explanatory potential of processual theories.

It would be absurd to label the whole of Italian archaeology as 'atheoretical'; as a matter of fact, a powerful theoretical machine, the Marxist theory, had operated from the late 1960s, thanks to the group of Dialoghi di Archeologia. The problem was in the idealistic roots of our (academic) culture, characterized by a programmatic divorce between humanistic and scientific studies and from a substantial lack of interest for the anthropological theories.

For a young Marxist-committed scholar of prehistory, as I was, New Archaeology brought fresh air in this environment, allowing the opening of previously unthinkable perspectives in the explanation of an impressively growing corpus of archaeological data.

The 1980s saw the formation of an 'Italian' group of scholars that in many congresses and seminars in the Anglo-Saxon countries or in Italy could profitably exchange their points of view with the protagonists of processual (and, in some cases, post-processual) archaeology (Cuomo di Caprio 1986; Guidi 1987; 1996a).

This 'burst' of theoretical interest ended in the late '80s (but not our participation in conferences, as demonstrated by the last Bournemouth TAG, with two 'Italian' sessions!). In the meantime, the debate on processual theories spread also in Classical and Medieval environments, with the important consequence of a generalized loss of innocence of our archaeology; in the same years, a parallel debate developed in Spain, building the premises for an ever-improving network of exchanges, projects and experiences in Mediterranean archaeology.

Naive as they might seem, our efforts of the '80s were an attempt to break the overwhelming climate of relativism and intellectual compliance that dominated Italian archaeology. As a matter of fact, the use of processual categories and of the anthropological theory and a complete integration of these 'keys' of interpretation of the archaeological data with our tradition of studies are the best ways to grapple with problems like the study of early state formation in Iron Age Italy, a classical 'taboo' of our archaeology, only in recent years finally acquiring the dignity of an historical question (see, also for the bibliography, Carandini 1997).

Coming back to Clarke's article, it must be recognized that, at the time of its publication, there was no reaction on the Italian scene (probably also because very few persons knew it!). Apart from an article/review of Analytical archaeology by the Polish archaeologist Tabaczynsky - well-acquainted with Italian archaeology and introduced, on that occasion, by the Italian scholar Gabriella Maetzke published in 1976 in Archeologia Medievale (Tabaczynsky 1976), the 'loss of innocence' is quoted (not by chance, in the brief season of Italian 'processual' archaeology) in some 'theoretical' articles of the late 1970s and '80s (e.g. Barich 1977-82; 1982; Maetzke 1981; Cuomo di Caprio 1986; De Guio 1988-89; 1989), often as a symbol of the need for a renewal of archaeology in our own country.

It is more interesting to investigate the general impact of Clarke's works in Italy and in Spain. Examining the bibliography we discover that Beaker pottery of Great Britain and Ireland was readily reviewed in Italy (Cazzella 1971). The same scholar, Alberto Cazzella, critically quotes Analytical archaeology in an article of the early 1970s (Cazzella 1972); this notwithstanding, the book was never reviewed by any Italian archaeologist, and a translation to appear in a new 'theoretical' series was announced only this year, while in Spain the book was already translated in the '80s (Clarke 1984). …

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