Archaeology beyond anthropology


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Archaeology beyond anthropology

  1. 1. Society for American Archaeology Archaeology beyond Anthropology Author(s): George J. Gumerman and David A. Phillips, Jr. Source: American Antiquity, Vol. 43, No. 2, Contributions to Archaeological Method and Theory (Apr., 1978), pp. 184-191 Published by: Society for American Archaeology Stable URL: . Accessed: 25/07/2011 15:30 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Society for American Archaeology is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Antiquity.
  2. 2. ARCHAEOLOGY BEYOND ANTHROPOLOGY GEORGEJ. GUMERMAN DAVIDA. PHILLIPS,JR. Archaeology's relationship to anthropology in the United States has been one of a naturaland beneficial alliance. Archaeologists are currentlyshowing more of an interest informal models drawnfrom outside anthropology, but the classification of American archaeology as a subdiscipline in anthropology generally remains unquestioned. We argue that at the present time archaeological research is being hindered by its institutionalized relationship to an- thropology and its uncritical use of modelsfrom other disciplines. Archaeologists will make the greatest theoretical progress if they view theirdiscipline as an autonomous technique withno a priori ties to sociocultural anthropology. Archaeology as a technique makespossible a truly interdisciplinaryresearchbase, but requiresin turna reorganiza- tion of researchand trainingprocedure as well as an academic restructuring. ARCHAEOLOGY, at least superficially, seems to have entered a new age of optimism. The verbal battles of the late 1960s and early 1970s appear to have abated, and for the most part, archaeologists feel that the war that existed between the culture historians and the new archaeologists is over and has been won by the latter(Leone 1972;Flannery 1973;Klejn 1977). To be sure, there are still isolated skir- mishes, but the concern now seems to be with the quality of archaeology, rather than breast beating over new or traditional. What dissatisfaction there is with the new status quo of archaeology has been reflected mainly in at- tempts at refinement, either in the ability to recover or interpret data, or in the specific models used, without questioning the epistemology of archaeology. True, occasionally there is serious concern ex- pressed about our methodological and theoretical directions (Binford 1977; Butzer 1975; Flannery 1973; Schiffer 1976), but the word "crisis" is most often used to refer to the destruction of sites by struction activities, the non-renewable aspect of our resource base, the scarcity of funds, or organiza- tion problems (Brown and Struever 1973; Davis 1972; Lipe 1974). While we agree with those scholars who suggest that there have been great improvements in archaeological method and theory in the last decade, due largely to the proponents of the new archaeology, we feel that the case for complacency is poorly founded. A major symptom that something is amiss in current archaeology is the disparity between the ideal and real situations in the application of models to the archaeological record. For this paper a catholic definition of model is most appropriate. A model, in most general terms, is an experimental analogue, or the hypotheses that emanate from that analogue (Clarke 1972:10). It is a simplified and idealized representation of an assumed real situation. The use of formal models, explanatory or descriptive, is one of the hallmarks of new archaeology. In contrast, the more traditional archaeologists have tended to work from implicit models. The scope and variety of the explicit models used, and especially the formal models, have contributed greatly to archaeologists' feeling of progress. In our opinion, the ac- tual application of these models has generally been trivial or fairly crude. Computer packages and philosophers of science have been "used" in the most mechanical sense; systems theory, ecology, and other disciplines have been raided for concepts that are used out of any warranted generalizing context. The disingenuous manner in which such models have often been applied is one of the most disturbingaspects of the last decade of archaeological work. Many practitioners seem to feel that continued improvements in technique will upgrade the quality of archaeological information, and serve to bridge the gap between data and models; hence the interest in sampling, behavioral chains, microwear analysis, and the like. It is, however, not the quality or precision of the models, or the methods used to connect them with data, that are at fault. The basic problem is the abuse of the models often leads to elegant but faulty conclusions. The source of these problems lies not only in the realm of archaeology itself, but also in the relation- ship of archaeology to anthropology, the major discipline from which archaeologists have traditional- 184
  3. 3. ARCHAEOLOGYBEYONDANTHROPOLOGY ly drawn their intellectual sustenance. If, as is the current majority feeling in the United States, ar- chaeology is an integral part of anthropology, then at least some of our methods and bodies of theory should relate to general anthropological methods and principles. An examination of the relationship of archaeology to anthropology reveals that we may have been hindered, as well as helped, in recent years by adopting anthropology as the mother discipline and by adherence to rigid disciplinary bound- aries. THE RELATIONSHIP OF ARCHAEOLOGY TO ANTHROPOLOGY Archaeology's stance vis a vis anthropology has not always been obvious, but archaeologists seem to have taken this as an indication that they were not "anthropological enough." In 1948, for example, Walter Taylor castigated archaeologists for dressing themselves in the trappings, but not the substance, of anthropology. Taylor's criticism of American archaeology was not that it was unan- thropological, but rather that most archaeologists calling themselves anthropologists and housed in anthropology departments were not in fact doing anthropological archaeology. His complaint was, in part, that archaeologists were guilty of misleading packaging practices. More and more, however, the trend has been to associate archaeology with anthropology in fact as well as in name. A decade after Taylor's work appeared, Willey and Phillips (1958) published their now classic Method and Theory in American Archaeology and in it the statement quoted ad nauseum, "American archaeology is an- thropology or it is nothing." Willey and Phillips were saying, correctly, that archaeologists should be making more statements about human behavior, and in the intellectual climate of the 1950s this meant being "anthropological" to most American archaeologists. During the mid 1960s to early 1970s ar- chaeologists utilized mainly anthropological models to construct their theoretical base, and continued to exhort one another to make archaeological research more "anthropological" (Binford 1962; Longacre 1970;Spaulding 1973). Ironically, there was at the same time some indication that archaeologists increasingly looked to other disciplines for their basic precepts for understanding human behavior. Clarke (1972:6-7), a British archaeologist, lists four contemporary paradigms of archaeology only one of which is an- thropological. In a review of a book of articles by Southwestern archaeologists, Woodbury (1974:400) notes that there are as many references to titles such as Biometrica and the Journal of Economic Geography as there are to anthropological works. MacNeish (1974:463) and Fitting (1973) have ex- pressed a feeling that many archaeologists in the last 15 years are expressing more interest in non- anthropological models. Indeed, there have been calls for archaeologists to become more independent of their anthropological heritage. Marvin Harris (1968), commenting on the ethnological orientation of the Binfords' landmark New Perspectives in Archeology (1968), urged not greater, but lesser con- cernwith ethnologically derived models. As Deetz (1972:115) has noted, . . . Perhapsit'stimewe(archaeologists)stoppedtryingto findpostnuptialresidence,descent,ormarriagepat- ternsin ourdatabecausethesein factareclassificatoryrubricswhichareaboutthirdor fourthorderabstrac- tionsthemselves.. . In short, although the vast majority of archaeologists in the United States claim allegiance to anthropology and anthropological models, there is visible uneasiness with this state of affairs. The irony is that while archaeologists attempt to become more anthropological in their orientation they in fact are testing or applying more and more models from other disciplines or models that cut across severaldisciplines. In noting the growing interest in models from outside anthropology, we feel that the automatic association of archaeology with anthropology has hindered archaeologists' willingness and ability to fully exploit such models. Arguments can be made, of course, for the necessity of archaeology's af- filiation with sociocultural anthropology. It has been argued that both sociocultural anthropology and archaeology traditionally study non-literate societies, and since the sociocultural anthropologists study them as living societies it is only natural that archaeologists should find models of sociocultural an- thropology suitable for their needs. In many cases this position is of course justified, especially in a situation where a modern society provides a source for analogies to be tested against the archaeological record, as in the Pueblo southwest. Gumermanand Phillips] 185
  4. 4. AMERICANANTIQUITY Another argument that has been made for the archaeologist's use of anthropological concepts and models has been that general anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology more specifically, are themselves eclectic and borrow from a variety of disciplines. This attitude is reflected in the common statement of the recent past, "Anthropology is the study of man." But while anthropologists have proclaimed their eclecticism they have never approached that ideal state nor are they likely to in the near future. Thus, it appears that archaeologists presently have limited use for the research skills of sociocultural anthropologists; archaeologists are finding it increasingly necessary to do their own studies of living people as evidenced by numerous symposia at national meetings and a recently pub- lished volume on ethnoarchaeology (Yellen 1977). Even the concept of culture, often claimed as the major unifying thread holding anthropology's subdisciplines together, is often misunderstood or only given lip service by archaeologists while developing more appropriate concepts (Mellor 1973; Hill 1974). In short, there are some justifications for archaeologists use of models from sociocultural an- thropology, but while archaeologists claim to be anthropologists and dependent upon anthropology for concepts and models, in fact archaeologists seem to have little use for much of the researchresults of sociocultural anthropology and are increasingly turning to other disciplines for inspiration. The more important problem, however, is not whether archaeologists should draw models from other disciplines because they always have and always will, but rather the manner in which such models are applied to researchproblems. Archaeologists have been inclined to treat models developed in other disciplines independently of the conceptual framework in which they were developed. Though archaeologists have in theory claimed to be intellectual scavengers, utilizing a variety of disciplines, the practice has been to pluck out isolated bits and pieces of wisdom or technique to be forced into an- thropologically derived archaeological frameworks. The degree to which this way of using other disciplines has been a successful undertakingcan be seriously questioned. ARCHAEOLOGY AS AN INTERDISCIPLINARY SCIENCE Archaeologists have used the so-called interdisciplinary approach in two very different ways. The one method, which has established a solid record of success, is that which uses the results of other disciplines, for example, botany and zoology, to help answer certain questions, such as the origin of maize agricultureor the changing degree of dependence on certain animals for food. These kinds of ar- chaeological research projects are exemplified by such well known studies as Braidwood's work in the Near East (Braidwood and Howe 1960)and MacNeish's project (1967) in the Tehuacan Valley of Mex- ico. Often the published results of these projects have diagrams or entire chapters demonstrating how the results of the various discipline, subdiscipline, or specialty studies have fitted together to meet the overall goals of the project. Such studies are recognized as a valuable means of addressing many ar- chaeological problems. The second kind of interdisciplinary approach involves the borrowing of concepts and models of causation from other academic disciplines (for example, Fitting 1966; Marcus 1973; Rippeteau 1972). This is the interdisciplinary approach that concerns us here, for archaeologists are increasingly bor- rowing concepts rather than results. In the first kind of interdisciplinary study archaeologists usually hire the service of specialists in other disciplines. In the borrowing of concepts from other disciplines, however, archaeologists are more like do-it-yourself handymen. Furthermore, the results have often been as unsatisfactory as most do-it-yourself jobs. An example of piecemeal borrowing across disciplinary lines is the use of the ecotone concept in ar- chaeology. This concept relates transition zones between larger biological regions to increases in population density of certain species and increases in the number of species (Odum 1959). Originally developed by wildlife management specialists as a limited explanatory tool, it was then carried over in- to general ecology, where in practice it seems to have lost some of its precision. From that field the concept was then borrowed for archaeological use as an aid in explaining the character of cultural boundaries (for example, Fitting 1966; Gumerman and Johnson 1971). Biological systems and cultural variability were uncritically equated. The relationships between two archaeological "cultures" were treated as the relationships between life zones. Furthermore, the term ecotone was itself used to cover almost any kind of biological transition zone; in some cases the transition was perceived in terms of broad classificatory categories of life-zones, and not actual local communities. Even the logic relating 186 [Vol. 43, No. 2,1978
  5. 5. ARCHAEOLOGYBEYONDANTHROPOLOGY population density to community edges was muddled, and the ecotone model lost its explanatory usefulness as a result. Attempts to apply the ecotone concept to archaeological researchhave generally given negative results in large part because archaeologists have not appreciated the context of the bor- rowed concept and they have tried to force it into an anthropological framework. Another example is the use of locational analysis by Marcus (1973, 1976) in a synthesis of her epigraphic studies of the Classic Maya. According to Marcus, Maya settlement distribution featured four regional capitals corresponding to the four cardinal directions. The distribution of this first rank of sites was cosmological in origin. In contrast, sites dependent on the four capitals reflect a polygonal distribution presumably related to economic factors. Marcus presents two models for that distribution taken from locational geography, one by Christaller (1933) and one by Losch (1954), and feels that while site size supports L6sch's model of settlement hierarchy, the epigraphic evidence bears out Christaller. Marcus concludes that for the Maya site size and site rank are not necessarily correlated (Marcus 1976:24-25). Here again, we see a model (or in this case, two models) transposed from another discipline and fit- ted within an anthropological framework. Marcus' concern is with fitting the archaeological data to models, and their applicability is assumed. As Hodder and Orton (1976:239) point out, simply because there is a good fit of archaeological data with a specific model there is not necessarily a confirmation of that model. Why, after all, are the hierarchies of Losch and Christaller appropriate models for the distribution of some Maya sites and not others? And, since the two models are somewhat in opposition to each other, (Bell, Lieber, and Rushton 1974), or at best partially overlapping (Marshall 1977), what is the logic of using both to subsume the data? Our concern here is not so much with Marcus' applica- tions of distributiofial models as it is with the question of the rational justification and the empirical confirmation of such applications. Why is a model sometimes appropriate, sometimes not? And what is the basis for deciding when it is appropriate? Archaeologists cannot simply adopt models because they are useful ways to organize particular sets of data; a more adequate justification for the process of selection is needed, one that examines the basic validity of those models in their new application. To do so it is probably necessaryto consider not just the particular model used to organize data, but its en- tire logical development within its own body of theory. ARCHAEOLOGY AS A TECHNIQUE If archaeologists are to consider entire schools of thought ratherthan isolated models as sources of inspiration, they are quickly led to the awkward task of trying to fit those whole disciplines into some part of their anthropological framework. This awkwardness disappears, however, if archaeology is not considered part of anthropology, but instead is viewed primarily as a technique, just as Walter Taylor proposed in 1948. We realize, of course, that this particular solution is anathema to most ar- chaeologists (for example, Wheeler 1956:228). There are variations on the "archaeology as a technique" theme. Rouse (1972) considers ar- chaeology separately from prehistory. The former he sees as a topical discipline limited to the study of material remains and the latter is viewed as a holistic discipline that uses the results of archaeology and other synthetic disciplines, such as linguistics, to reconstruct prehistoric life ways. Woodbury (1973) has suggested more specialized technical training for some archaeologists resulting in a cadreof techni- cians to assist more theoretically-oriented archaeologists. In the United States, the major reaction to the theme that archaeology is a suite of techniques has been to wrap ourselves more tightly in the cloak of anthropology. The claim is that, as an- thropologists, we are scientists and not mere technicians. It is as just such a reaction that Willey and Phillips' dictum is most clearly understood: archaeology is anthropology or it is not intellectually respectable. We question, however, whether given the historical development of the discipline since 1958, the automatic association of archaeology with anthropology is currently philosophically justified, and not merely the institutionalization of historical accident. And what if archaeology is, as Taylor claimed, mainly an autonomous technique? If so, then ar- chaeologists owe no automatic allegiance to anthropology or any other discipline, and there is no over- whelming need to fit non-anthropological concepts into an anthropological framework. Describing ar- chaeology as mainly a body of techniques can provide the basis of truly interdisciplinary Gumermanand Phillips] 187
  6. 6. AMERICANANTIQUITY communication-a research methodology and philosophy which can be related to any or all of the social sciences or it can be dismissed as a sign of intellectual weakness: the incapacity to develop a ma- jor conceptual framework. By recognizing archaeology (or more precisely, the doing of archaeology) as technique, independent of any specific theory in a behavioral science, the archaeologist can perhaps more objectively view the social and natural sciences as providing models to test with archaeological data. We do not suggest that archaeologists have neglected to use other traditional academic disciplines besides anthropology as a source for models, but we do feel that by binding themselves to the academic discipline of anthropology they are destined to understand only superficially other models and the body of theory from which those models are derived. Viewing archaeology primarily as technique, then, permits the archaeologist to test more freely the theories and models that have emanated from many disciplines while not denying we can develop our own body of theory. The statement that anthropology is eclectic, borrowing from many fields itself, does not obviate the fact that archaeologists (like other scholars in this age of specialization) are only able to fit so many courses and so much reading into their graduate and professional careers-and, once trained as anthropologists, tend to remain anthropologists in fact. Treating archaeology as technique does not solve the problem of intellectual dabbling, but it does permit archaeologists, as a first step, to face the problems of a multidisciplinary theoretical base more realistically. If general an- thropology can be viewed as only one of a number of traditional academic disciplines available to ar- chaeologists the paths are then open to exploration of ways archaeologists may marshal the intellectual resourcesneeded for their exploitation. The concept of archaeology as technique need not be interpreted as abandonment of the effort to develop a theoretical interdisciplinary framework; there is no conclusion that archaeology is incapable of theoretical contributions. On the contrary, it remains at the core of the study of human behavior from material remains, an enquiry that is not limited by any particular social or behavioral theory. Certainly, archaeologists have been extremely creative in recent years, and there is no need to justify archaeology either socially by attempting to demonstrate that archaeologists can offer solutions for presentday slum dwellers (Martin and Gregory 1973), or scientifically, by showing that whole series of laws, which are really methodological postulates, have been independently generated(Schiffer 1975). THE ORGANIZATION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH In trying to create a truly workable interdisciplinarybase, a major problem will be organizational. A number of archaeologists have bemoaned the fact that archaeology is essentially organized on a level no higher than it was 30 years ago (Struever 1971:18; Gumerman 1973), i.e., that even major projects are conceived of and executed by a single individual, the principal investigator who heads up a team ef- fort. If this is indeed the case then the inadequacies of the anthropologically trained archaeologist will ensure glaring theoretical gaps no matter how open the individual may be to suggestions of his an- thropologically trained staff and crew because they will all share the same relatively constricted theoretical base. Suggestions have been made to correct this situation. Brown and Struever(1973) pro- pose the large, highly integrated and interdisciplinary archaeological foundation as a solution; an ex- ample is the Illinois Archaeological Foundation. Gumerman (1973) feels that many individuals from different institutions working on the same problems and sharing their data might be a partial answer. These archaeological cooperatives use the Southwestern Anthropological Research Group as an im- perfect model (Gumerman 1971). Archaeological foundations as envisioned by Brown and Struever, archaeological cooperatives, as well as universities with strong interdisciplinarythrusts, might all pro- vide sound institutional settings for generating archaeological projects with a broad interdisciplinary base. This interdisciplinary base, however, can only be developed by individuals at home in a wide rangeof traditional academic disciplines in addition to anthropology. Some universities have developed interdisciplinary archaeology majors, drawing on a number of traditional disciplines, such as Classics, History, Near Eastern Studies, and History of Art, as well as Anthropology, but these are the rareexceptions; moreover these are often jury-rigged arrangementsor unsatisfactory in other ways (Butzer 1975; Whittlesey 1977). Radical reorganization of archaeological training is necessary for the vigorous intellectual evolution of the discipline. Inappropriate for most contemporary archaeological training is the traditional four-field anthropology department that re- 188 [Vol. 43, No. 2, 1978
  7. 7. ARCHAEOLOGYBEYONDANTHROPOLOGY quires grounding in linguistics, physical and cultural anthropology as well as archaeology. Perhaps more appropriate today is an interdisciplinary archaeological academic setting independent of an an- thropology department. To insure the future success of the interdisciplinary nature of archaeological research some ar- chaeologists must have more than a passing acquaintance with economics for example, and others may need a thorough understanding of ecological theory. We are not suggesting that all archaeologists divorce themselves completely from anthropology, but ratherthat individuals on large projects be con- versant with different disciplines. Then, by working under the aegis of an interdisciplinary ar- chaeological department, a federation or cooperative, and using the methods of archaeology they may find themselves successfully doing what the practitioners of new archaeology say is important, that is studying human behavior from material remains. SUMMARY More and more archaeologists are using models derived from other disciplines, but the profession has not seen this trend as a fit subject for extended discussion. This may well be because archaeologists have found it somewhat disconcerting that while they are urging themselves to be more "an- thropological" they are in actuality actively raiding other disciplines for usable causal models. While in itself, this borrowing is to be applauded, the actual use of borrowed models and concepts has been all too often reduced to intellectual dabbling. Part of this trend is traceable to the inevitable academic specialization, or to a lack of sophistication on the part of archaeologists. We feel more scrutiny should be given to the process of borrowing, building, and applying those models, and urge that more attention be paid to the models themselves in terms of the larger bodies of theory from which they were derived. Archaeologists have perhaps tried too hard, in the last decade, to be eclectic and at the same time to remain an anthropological archaeology. By lifting concepts piecemeal out of other disciplines, archaeologists have achieved syntheses that seem more elegant than profound. The time is perhaps right for the application of whole bodies of theory to archaeological problems, and not just fragments of those theories transposed into an anthropological setting. If sociocultural an- thropology is a framework for understanding archaeology, then so are economics, psychology, and geography. What we are questioning, then, is the near-sacredprinciple in American archaeology that at present sociocultural anthropology provides the most appropriate grounding for archaeological researchand for archaeological training. To those who ask what we consider the appropriate framework to be, we would answer that perhaps there is no single home for all of archaeology's activities. The search for a single, global theory, anthropological or otherwise, is perhaps misdirected; it may well be that ar- chaeology is best served by a plurality of models, not only at the level of specific investigations, but also at the most general and abstract levels of theory. Acknowledgments. We are grateful to R. Euler, J. Muller and W. Rathje for comments on an earlier and quite different draft. J. Handler, G. McClure, M. Schiffer, L. Shelby and anonymous reviewersmade useful remarkson latermanuscripts. Bell, Thomas L., Stanley R. Lieberand Gerald Rushton 1964 Clusteringof servicesin centralplaces. Annals of theAssociation of American Geographers64:2. Binford, Lewis R. 1962 Archaeology as anthropology. American Antiquity 28:217-225. 1977 General introduction. In For theory building in archaeology: essays onfaunal remains, aquatic resources, spatial analysis, and systemic modeling, edited by Lewis R. Binford, pp. 1-10. Academic Press, New York. Binford, Sally R. and Lewis R. Binford, Editors 1968 New perspectives in archeology. Aldine, Chicago. Braidwood, Robert J., and Bruce Howe 1960 Prehistoric investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 31, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Brown, James A. and Stuart Struever 1973 The organization of archaeological research: an Illinois example. In Research and theory in current archeology, edited by C. Redman, Pp. 261-80. Wiley-Interscience,New York. Gumermanand Phillips] 189
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