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Archaeology: The Discipline of Things

Bjørnar Olsen
Michael Shanks
Timothy Webmoor
Christopher Witmore
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Archaeology has always been marked by its particular care, obligation, and loyalty to things. While archaeologists may not share similar perspectives or practices, they find common ground in their concern for objects monumental and mundane. This book considers the myriad ways that archaeologists engage with things in order to craft stories, both big and small, concerning our relations with materials and the nature of the past. Literally the “science of old things,” archaeology does not discover the past as it was but must work with what remains. Such work involves the tangible mediation of past and present, of people and their cultural fabric, for things cannot be separated from society. Things are us. This book does not set forth a sweeping new theory. It does not seek to transform the discipline of archaeology. Rather, it aims to understand precisely what archaeologists do and to urge practitioners toward a renewed focus on and care for things.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95400-7
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Caring about Things
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book is about archaeology and things. It considers the ways in which archaeologists deal with things, how they articulate and engage with them. The book offers a series of snapshots of archaeology as design and craft; archaeology is proposed as an ecology of practices, tacit and mundane, rich and nuanced, that work on material pasts in the present. We argue that a mark of archaeology is its particular kind of care, obligation, and loyalty to things. Our purpose in this introduction is to specify why archaeology should carry the moniker of the “discipline of things.”

    There is a growing...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Ambiguity of Things: Contempt and Desire
    (pp. 17-35)

    Since the nineteenth century, industrial design and manufacture have delivered a mass of goods rooted in systems of technological knowledge fitted to an increasingly urbanized and global modernity. The constant offering of new products, combined with ever more effective marketing and advertising, have made the people of today seemingly more conscious about goods—about changes in design and fashion and the apparently urgent need to keep up with “the latest thing” in an age where the accelerating cycle of material replacement has outdated even last year’s novelties. Still, despite the new awareness created by the irresistible attractiveness of the most...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Engagements with Things: The Making of Archaeology
    (pp. 36-57)

    Histories of archaeology are typically compiled around key figures, traditions of thought or wider social processes. These histories, often rich in biographical details, philosophical influences, and social context, have provided insights into how and why archaeology came into being and on its subsequent development and configuration in the various parts of the world. These are all important and effective accounts, and they have been constitutive for the way we understand our disciplinary past. Thus we do not seek in this chapter to abolish the many excellent stories of archaeology. Our objective is rather to enlarge, nuance, and complicate these stories...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Digging Deep: Archaeology and Fieldwork
    (pp. 58-78)

    Doing archaeology usually brings to mind the “down and dirty” of fieldwork. Fieldwork is done outside, away from the amenities of institutional or contract firm offices. Archaeologists labor hard to collect their data, their information. The artifacts and ruins from the past are brought to light and documented through expending time and energy in archaeological surveys and excavations. Over the course of the professionalization of the discipline, persevering scholars have plied new and increasingly more sophisticated techniques for the “prime directive” of archaeology: to maximize information collection while in the field. Why? Because, as the rationale goes, excavation destroys what...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Things in Translation: Documents and Imagery
    (pp. 79-101)

    Archaeology abounds not only in artifacts from the past but in modes of documenting and studying them. In this chapter, we look at the way visuality works in archaeology, from the graphics, maps, and photographs themselves to the roles they play. Along the way, we question the stress placed in much discussion of visual media on their mimetic and representational qualities—that is, their fidelity to what they are taken to represent and their degree of correspondence to what is represented.

    Looking at what might be called the political economy of visual media—the work they do in archaeology through...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Futures for Things: Memory Practices and Digital Translation
    (pp. 102-135)

    Chapter 4 took a closer look at the craft of archaeological fieldwork and made visible the collective and tacit labor that must be performed in order to translate the material world into the material past (the archaeological “record”). Archaeologists are keenly aware of the effort that is invested in crafting documents and imagery, and chapter 5 presented a range of vignettes to underscore the active and collective work necessary to relate material and media. Arguing against notions of “representation” as mimetic copy, with its philosophical pedigree rooted in correlationism (Bryant 2010, 277; Harman 2010, 22; Meillasoux 2008), we explored the...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Timely Things: From Argos to Mycenae and Beyond
    (pp. 136-156)

    Archaeologists tend to regard time as linear. It is along the timeline,the modernist image of time par excellence, that “time” is ordered into a succession of events or laminar phases. Most archaeologists take it for granted that the Iron Age commences with the end of the Bronze Age; that the Bronze Age brings about the end of the Neolithic. This image of a series of successions and replacements, where one era is irrevocably lost and supplanted by a new one, runs to the heart of the discipline. Mortimer Wheeler offers an archetypical image of this linear time. In drawing...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Making and the Design of Things: Human Being and the Shape of History
    (pp. 157-195)

    Previous chapters have explored the ways in which archaeology and cognate fields are best treated as active engagements with things. We have explained the proposition that archaeology is itself a mode of cultural production, a creative enterprise of authoring, delivering goods and artifacts, and involving material modes of production.

    In this chapter, we turn to the history of human engagements with things, and to making and consuming in particular. Archaeological research occurs at the hinge between materiality and immateriality, culture and artifacts, people and things. Archaeology has a unique view because of its long-term, comparative perspective on these relationships, with...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Getting on with Things: A Material Metaphysics of Care
    (pp. 196-210)

    Throughout this book we have made the case that we are more than ever merged with our material pasts, and that the things of those pasts push back. As we have often repeated, the reason why—and how—they push back cannot be reduced to this imbrication itself. Things are not merely “enslaved in some wider system of differential meaning” (Harman 2002, 280). They possess their own capacities, inhabit their own compartments; in short, they have at least partial autonomy.

    As a discipline concerned with things, archaeology helps one realize that objects cannot simply be sorted into the easy categories...

  13. References
    (pp. 211-244)
  14. Index
    (pp. 245-255)