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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/279243 .
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ARCHAEOLOGY BEYOND ANTHROPOLOGY
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
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-
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-
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-
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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-
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.
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
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
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