Method and Theory in American Archaeology

By Gordon R. Willey; Philip Phillips | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Archaeological Unit Concepts

"Culture-historical integration" is the term we have chosen to designate what we regard as the primary task of archaeology on the descriptive level of organization. The procedural objectives of culture-historical integration have tended to be divided, in theoretical writings on American archaeology, between the reconstruction of spatial-temporal relationships, on the one hand, and what may be called contextual relationships, on the other.1 Operationally, neither is attainable without the other. The reconstruction of meaningful human history needs both structure and content.

Cultural forms may be plotted to demonstrate geographical continuity and contemporaneity, but, when we move to establish historical relationships between them, we immediately invoke processes like diffusion, trade, conquest, or migration and in so doing shift the problem from the bare frame of space and time into the realm of context and function. Conversely, the processes named have no historical applicability without control of the spatial and temporal media in which they operate. Taylor was undoubtedly correct in stating that American archaeologists have placed heavy

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1
Taylor, in the work already cited ( 1948), puts these procedures on two distinct levels of interpretation, which he calls "chronicle" and "historiography." See also Willey ( 1953a) use of the terms "historical" and "processual." The latter term was used by Willey in reference to the description of the way in which specific cultures function in specific times and places, not as we are using it in the present study in reference to the attempt to draw generalizations from culture-historical data. All four terms, "chronicle," "historiography," "historical," and "processual," in the writings cited, refer to operations on the descriptive level of organization as defined in the present study.

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