Archaeology, Archaeologists and 'Europe.'

By Pluciennik, Mark | Antiquity, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Archaeology, Archaeologists and 'Europe.'


Pluciennik, Mark, Antiquity


Archaeologists, not suprisingly, are generally better at examining the past, including the history of their own discipline, than at considering the present or the near future. In the last decade and at an increasing rate, we have seen the proliferation of analyses of the interpenetration of nationalism, national identities and archaeology (e.g. Arnold 1990; McCann 1990; Dietler 1994; Kohl & Fawcett 1995; Atkinson et el. 1996; Diaz-Andreu & Champion 1996; Graves-Brown et al. 1996; Hamilakis 1996). Nationalism is still the most powerful paradigm within which understandings of the past are popularly presented (see e.g. Kohl 1993; Kristiansen 1993; Dietler 1994; Hamilakis & Yalouri 1996; Mouliou 1996). Even books called Archaeological theory in Europe (Hodder 1991), or Theory in archaeology: a world perspective (Ucko 1995) are largely organized in chapters confined by nation-state boundaries. Historically, it is easy to see why this should be so. Archaeologists generally work in institutions and traditions organized within nation-state boundaries rather than across them. However, whether or not we are entering a post-nationalist phrase in (parts of) Europe, the conditions under which archaeologies are being produced are changing, including the addition of new and increasingly important European dimensions.

Europe and archaeology

Much archaeology has been and still is written within the Enlightenment legacy of a particular form of social evolution (Meek 1976: Rowlands 1989; Tilley 1995) whose framework valorizes European or 'western' concepts of progress, and produces a pattern for 'essentially' European characteristics. This may be achieved by downplaying contributions from elsewhere (Bernal 1994), or by building a particular picture of the Self (Young 1990) and Other (Said 1978). Recent exhibitions and programmes promoted by the Council of Europe (CoE) or the European Union (EU) deliberately have supra-national or European themes, such as the I Celti exhibition (Moscati 1991), the Year of the Bronze Age as the 'first Golden Age' of Europe (CoE 1994), and the EU Raphael programme.

Although archaeologists have been associated with the preparation of these exhibitions and their associated publications, there is an underlying wariness of the context in which they are produced. Firstly, many archaeologists are concerned about the potential abuse of archaeology as propaganda, underpinning some kind of European essentialism, and excluding the archecologies, histories and cultures of many people who make up contemporary Europe. Secondly, the use of the term 'Europe' or 'European' in some of these exhibitions and programmes is clearly anachronistic. Europe is, of course, a geographical term, but as a land-mass it is contiguous with Asia, and contacts within and movements across the Mediterranean mean that it often makes more sense to talk at the largest scale of Eurasia and Africa, or of regions or interactions spanning parts of two or three of those continents. Because there was some idea of Europe, or at least the 'Christian West', from the later medieval period or Renaissance onwards (Hale 1993), the term is less controversial for historians generally (though see e.g, Balzaretti 1992). Histories of Europe, European histories, such as the prestigious series edited by Jacques Le Goff (Bliven 1994), are intellectually acceptable in a way that archaeologies of Europe - meant as anything more than a vaguely delimited geographical area - are surely not (cf. Hodder 1995). Thirdly, many archaeologists are suspicious of the sort of cultural continuities which might be presumed by placing something under the rubric 'European'. Ethnic nationalism notoriously seeks the origins and claims the homogeneity and essential characteristics of specific peoples in specific places (cf. Shnirelman 1995). It justifies exclusive territorial occupation from pre- or proto-historic times, through cultural characteristics, whether material or linguistic, thus claiming continuity of identity. …

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