Cognitive Archaeology: What Where They Thinking

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Cognitive Archaeology: What Where They Thinking

  1. 1. Amber V. WadlingtonDr. Mary ScogginAnthropology 410 Capstone15 May 2013Cognitive Archaeology: What were they thinking?Cognitive Archaeology tackles the questions of what people of the past thought, how theyarrived at these thoughts, and to what extent did the thoughts of people affect the world aroundthem (Renfrew, Prehistory). It is important to understand what people thought in the past in orderto understand the evolution of human thought. It is also important to understand the thoughtpatterns of humans in the past so that we can better understand how our thoughts shaped andwere shaped by the world around us. From primate stone tool production and the traces of itscreation to petroglyphs and pictographs in Chaco Canyon, Cognitive Archaeology can give usinsight in to the thoughts of the human mind and their manifestations. Cognitive Archaeology isa relatively new theoretical position and methodological approach and is constantly shaped andshaping the research that utilizes its ideas and approaches. It has inspired new ways of looking atlong-established problems and materials in a variety of deep-seated disciplines(Mithen).Cognitive Archaeology presents a systematical and empirical way of looking at the structuresand uses of symbols and the cognitive processes that are at the root of them by utilizingsemiotics, psychology and the wider sciences (Wynn). This article is meant to argue the positionthat Cognitive Archaeology is equipped to give us insight in to past human thought and how theyformed and were formed by the world through the analysis of symbols and symbolic categories. Iwill explain how Cognitive Archaeology as a theoretical and practical concept can answer the
  2. 2. Wadlington2questions it claims. I will discuss two case studies that have utilized Cognitive Archaeology intheir assessment of archaeological remains. Finally I will discuss how Cognitive Archaeology isrelated to my proposed archaeological research in the American Southwest.There are two primary focal points of Cognitive Archaeology. The first is investigatingthe genesis and development of human cognition in modern times. Cognitive Archaeology looksback querying things like: when did we begin to think as we do now and where do our primateancestors exhibit and utilize expanded cognitive capabilities(Wynn). The second point of focus isexamining the degree to which human thought inclined the acuity of perception of the entirehuman environment and how humans interacted with it and in effect createdsociety/culture(Renfrew). I will be addressing the later specifically. Most often the mentalillustration and state of mind that is associated with and artifact is derived from the way peopleuse that object, landscape, building or site(McCauley and Lawson). These connections allowarchaeologists to add to our understanding of cultures, practices and the cognitive representationthat goes along with them (Renfrew and Zubrow 51). These practices are associated with art,religion, politics, education, language, science and many more(McCauley and Lawson). Thesepractices as linked with cognitive representations are very easy to perceive. These practices arebased on the mental representations of the people that practice them. For example a ritual such asa wedding is inspired by the practices of those that are engaging in the ritual and in turn thosepractices are based off of beliefs or mental representations of those participants. In turn thematerial remains that may be left behind as a result of those practices can be accessed in order tovisualize the mental representations of the practitioners (McCauley and Lawson).A central method used by Cognitive Archaeology is to study the ways in which pastcultures symbolically represented their thoughts(Renfrew, Prehistory). This method is of primary
  3. 3. Wadlington3importance to my research. Symbols are described by Collin Renfrew as that with which wespeak, and to a large extent what we think with. Symbolism is used by the human mind throughontological categories. These ontological categories are cognitive concepts allow the mind toarrange and store huge amounts of information categorically. This type of categorization allowsthe mind to access this information without having to know specific details about individualmembers of a category (Renfrew, Cognition and Material Culture). Broad ideas or conceptssuch as ANIMAL provide a great deal of information that cues the human mind to manifestinferences that are separate from that of TOOL. Within each of these categories there are sub-categories that allow the human mind to make further detailed inferences on similarities anddifferences providing a categorical frame. Without these artifacts or material goods a variety ofstructures of human thought could not have formed. This categorical interdependent relationshipof material goods, social relationships and cognitive categories is not only evident in adescriptive sense but an ascriptive sense as well. Descriptively we may conceive of a housewhich may bring up manifestations of floors, ceilings, doors beds and roofs while ascriptivly wemight infer the ideas of comfort and warmth to that same category(Renfrew andZubrow)(Renfrew, Cognition and Material Culture 3).Cognitive Archaeology has been used as a guiding theoretical position in the assessmentof a variety of material remains at many locations from homonin sites that are millions of yearsold to American Indian sites that are only a few hundred years old. My focus is on theinterpretation not of the evolution of human cognition but of the interdependent relationshipsbetween human cognition and that of material goods, landscapes, and architectural features. Thefirst example is based on Archaeology and Religion: a Comparison of the Zapotec and Maya byJoyce Marcus. With this study Marcus accesses the way ethnohistoric forms can be used to
  4. 4. Wadlington4create a framework that arranges archaeological data and conversely how archaeological data canverify and augment ethnohistoric information. Marcus examines ethnohistoricdescriptions of theMaya and Zapotec religion and compares them to information from the archaeological recordfrom the equivalent geographical regions of occupation. Ultimately Marcus compares theZapotec and Maya religion to see what similarities in pattern can be noted. Marcus states thatthe Zapotec and May share so many principles that there is an observable prevalent religiousmodel that existed before Nahua speakers moved into the area. These patterns include conceptssuch as a vital force or „wind‟, „breath‟ or „spirit‟. It also included Lightning as a potent mysticalpower. This was evident in both the Zapotec calendar and Maya universe. An animalistic view ofthe universe was shared by both Zapotec and Maya. Temples constructed by both the Zapotecand Maya included a central room that was highly sacred with an out room that was less so. Bothreligions had a hierarchical structure that included high priests, regular priests, sacrificialcoordinates and diviners. Sacrifices that included children, prisoners of war, animals, birds andeven their own blood were evident in both Zapotec and Maya religions. Both honored theirancestors and royal ancestors were revered even more highly. Zapotec royal ancestors werepainted in tomb murals while Maya royal ancestors were depicted in carved stellae during thesame period in time. Ethnohistoric sources are confirmed by the archaeological record for everyone of these topics. The archaeological record has also corrected and expanded the ethnohistoricrecord. For example the ethnohistoric sources do not reflect the evidence for the greater role thatwomen played in Maya religion which is evident in the archeological record. Archaeologicalevidence can be used to correct these ethnohistoric models. This type of communication betweenthese two paths of evidence, archaeology and ethnohistory, strengthens both. Both Zapotec andMaya peoples believed in a single crucial creator and a succession of supernatural powers that
  5. 5. Wadlington5they represented by joined animalistic features. The Sun and Moon were more important to theMaya while clouds and earthquakes were more relevant to the Zapotec. The ethnohistoric datathat was collected by the Colonial Spanish, of both the Zapotec and Maya, undervalued thefunction of ancestor worship and mistook those ancestors for gods. However the ethnohistoricdata provided a great deal of rich and detailed information which enabled the clarification andcross reference with the archaeological record that solidified the understanding of religion andarchaeology of the Zapotec and Maya (Marcus).Another excellent study is from Ruth Van Dyke and is titled Memory, Meaning andMasonry: A Late Bonito Chacoan Landscape. This study is extremely relevant because it worksdirectly with Chaco Canyon the area that I am planning my future personal research. Van Dykediscusses the epic structural design of Chaco Canyon. She goes on to claim that it “wasconstructed in order to convey, reinforce and challenge ideas about social, ritual, andcosmological order.” At the beginning of the Late Bonito phase between 1100 and 1140 A.D.architecture was used to significantly alter the Chacoan society. Van Dyke claims that socialmemory can help clarify how this was achieved. Before this time during the classic Bonito phasethe fundamental Chacoan worldview was expressed through architecture. The tenets of theirworld view included the Canyon as the center of the universe, the importance of directionalityand an equivalent dualism. At the beginning of the Late Bonito phase social and environmentalchanges caused an interruption in the assurance of the ritual organization. The leadersimplemented a new architectural scheme that would affirm Chaco as a central place ofimportance. The creation of six newly built great houses were pragmatically placed inoppositional and nested patterns in order to invoke and confidence in its leaders and to draw newfollowers by offering innovative and familiar surroundings. This newly constructed center was
  6. 6. Wadlington6justified and accepted through its explicit configuration and reminiscent architectural referenceto Classic Bonito history. Van Dyke goes on to say that they may be unable to examine the worldview of the early Chacoans empirically, but the assumption that Chacoan landscape is instilledwith meaning much like the modern Pueblo people of the area can be made. Finally Van Dykeultimately argues that the idea of social memory extrapolates the connotations of cyclic or linearreferences in architecture and the creation and imbued ideas of that reference in the distant past.And that the leaders of the Late Bonito phase used these ideas to reform their power andconfidence and at the same time draw followers in the recreated world of Chaco Canyon (VanDyke). Van Dyke uses cognitive archaeology in order to interpret architecture, direction, andpower and how those in turn inform cognitive inferences.I plan to do research in the four corners region of the American Southwest. New Mexico,Arizona, Colorado and Utah make up the four corners region of the American Southwest, thisarea was criss-crossed with trade routes running across the continent in many directions forthousands of years pre-contact. It was home to many Native American tribes, including theAnasazi, 19 tribes of Pueblo Indians and the Navajo(Nickens). The land is littered with everytype of relic that they left behind over several centuries. From burial sites to entire cities thewealth of archaeological and cultural knowledge is spread across hundreds of miles of dessertland. Some of the well-known archaeological sites in this area include places like Mesa Verde,Cliff Palace, Chaco Canyon and Pueblo Bonito. I plan on utilizing Cognitive Archaeology whenanalyzing rock art in these areas. Because rock art is basically symbols created by a culture wewould assume that the variety of different images that are created had meaning and are symbolicrepresentations of cognitive relationships between the perceived world and mind. Because wecan infer that the creation of symbols is directly related to though process and those thought
  7. 7. Wadlington7processes relay social and cultural ideas we can utilize archaeological data along withethnographic data from the Pueblo and other research done on the Anasazi Indians to gain insightinto the life ways and cultural identity. I plan to use some of the concepts of CognitiveArchaeology to make inferences about rock art in a variety of locations in the Four-cornersregion. I am also going to attempt to utilize concepts of cognitive archaeology when looking atthe complex road system that was purposefully laid out in Chaco Canyon with Pueblo Bonito atits center. Using this kind of analysis in order to provide some possible insight into these ideascan bring about further discussion and possible understanding of the motivations and ideas of thepeople that inhabited this area.Through Cognitive Archaeology the answers to what people of the past thought and howthey arrived at those thoughts and to what degree the thoughts of those people affected the worldaround them can be analyzed and fleshed out through a combination of professional fieldsincluding, psychology, geology, biology, sociology and archaeology(Renfrew, Cognition andMaterial Culture)(McCauley and Lawson).Through analysis of archaeological remains andethnohistoric data we are better able to understand what people thought in the past. It isimportant to understand the thought patterns of humans in the past so that we can betterunderstand how our thoughts shaped and were shaped by the world around us. CognitiveArchaeology is a relatively new theoretical position and methodological approach and isconstantly shaped and shaping the research that utilizes its ideas and approaches. It has inspirednew ways of looking at long-established problems and materials in deep-seated disciplines.Cognitive Archaeology presents a systematical and empirical way of looking at the structuresand uses of symbols and the cognitive processes that are at the root of them by utilizingsemiotics, psychology and the wider sciences (Wynn). I explained how Cognitive Archaeology
  8. 8. Wadlington8as a theoretical and practical concept has answered questions about religious identities of theZapotec and the Maya and how the idea of social memory extrapolates the connotations of cyclicor linear references in architecture and the creation and imbued ideas of that reference in thedistant past. I have also discussed how Cognitive Archaeology will be useful to me in myintended research of rock art in the Four-corners region and how an implemented road systemcentered in Chaco canyon. Cognitive Archaeology is equipped to give us insight in to pasthuman thought and howthose thoughts formed and were formed by the world through theanalysis of symbols and symbolic categories.
  9. 9. Wadlington9Works CitedFogelin, Lars. “The Archaeology of Religious Ritual.” Annual Review of Anthropology 36.1 (2007):55–71. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.Loubser, Johannes H. N. “Prefigured in the human mind and body: toward an ethnographicallyinformed cognitive archaeology of metaphor and religion.” Time and mind: the journal ofarchaeology, consciousness and culture 3.2 (2010): 183–214. Print.Marcus, Joyce. “Archaeology and Religion: A Comparison of the Zapotec and Maya.” WorldArchaeology 10.2 (1978): 172–191. Web. 2 Mar. 2013.McCauley, R.N., and E.T. Lawson. “Cognition, Religious Ritual, and Archaeology.” Ed. EKyriakidis. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Publications (2007): 209–254. Print.Mills, Barbara J. “The Establishment and Defeat of Hierarchy: Inalienable Possessions and theHistory of Collective Prestige Structures in the Pueblo Southwest.” American Anthropologist106.2 (2004): 238–251. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.Mithen, Steven. “Cognitive Archaeology, Evolutionary Psychology and Cultural Transmission, withParticular Reference to Religious Ideas.” Archeological Papers of the American AnthropologicalAssociation 7.1 (1997): 67–74. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.Nickens, Paul R.; Larralde, Signa L.; Tucker, Gordon C. Jr. A Survey of Vandalism to ArchaeologicalResources in Southwestern Colorado (Cult. Colorado State Office Bureau of Land Management,Denver, 1981. Print.Renfrew, Colin. Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage. McDonaldInstitute for Archaeological Research, 1998. Print.---. Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind. Modern Library, 2008. Print.
  10. 10. Wadlington10Renfrew, Colin, and Ezra B. W. Zubrow, eds. The Ancient Mind: Elements of Cognitive Archaeology.Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print.Van Dyke, Ruth M. Van. “Memory, Meaning, and Masonry: The Late Bonito Chacoan Landscape.”American Antiquity 69.3 (2004): 413–431. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.Wynn, Thomas. “Archaeology and Cognitive Evolution.” The Behavioral and brain sciences 25.3(2002): 389–402; discussion 403–438. Print.

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