Urban Archaeology Session 5: Archaeologists and Text


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Session 5 of Urban Archaeology. Archaeologists and Text. Delivered 1st November 2012. http://urbarch.wordpress.com/

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Urban Archaeology Session 5: Archaeologists and Text

  1. 1. Urban Archaeology Session 5 Archaeologists & Textual Sources Flickr Commons, Swedish Heritage Board
  2. 2. Archaeologists’ use of texts • Texts began to be collected as early as Sung Dynasty (920-1279) • C15th - in Europe, Roman and Greek inscriptions collected • C16th - we begin to collect post-Classical text • C17th - interest in runics in Sweden and Denmark • C17th - non-European texts (Maya, cuneiform, hieroglyphs) collected (but not deciphered) – Based on Andren, 1998.
  3. 3. What can texts tell us? • Historical records from literate societies can answer questions about social organisation. • Different societies used writing for different functions/purposes. – E.g. in Mycenean Greece nearly all clay tablets from c.1200BC are for recording of commercial transactions in the palaces. • One of the most important written sources for archaeologists are: COINS. – Based on Renfrew & Bahn, 2001.
  4. 4. Next Few Slides • Material Culture Studies • Object-Centred Approach • Descriptive Criteria • Categorisation/Grouping • Danger of Categorisation/Grouping • Object-Driven Approach • Objects with Text • Archaeology as Text
  5. 5. Material Culture Studies • Archaeologists use (amongst other approaches) material culture studies (MCS) • MCS began in the late C19th • MCS uses ‘object biography’ and ‘life cycles’ of objects – WARNING: MCS can be said to be functionalist, ignoring the importance of things such as intercultural dynamics, with a preference for aesthetic models . A problem addressed by Gell’s work on social agency (1998). Flickr Commons, Cornell University Library
  6. 6. Textual Source as Object: Object-Centred Approach • Begin with the descriptive criteria: – How was the object made, and what materials was it made with? – What is the object’s shape, size, texture, weight, colour? – What is the object’s design or style? – When was the object made and for what purpose? “everything is made from something… there are reasons for using particular materials in a thing” (Friedel, 1993: 41–50).
  7. 7. Why Describe an Object? • Then, using the descriptive criteria, objects can be put into categories/groups or attributed to individuals/movements. • But the description is not enough. We need to move from the description to thinking about the broader context.
  8. 8. On the Danger of Grouping Material Culture • Ian Hodder looked at female ear decorations of different tribes in Lake Baringo, Kenya (1982). – How material culture as personal decoration was used to express differences between tribes. • Other material culture from these tribes (pots, tools, etc.) did not show these patterns of differences. • If we’d used pots instead of ear decorations, our understanding of the ‘social units’ formed by groups of ‘culture’ (in our instance pots), would not have shown tribal distinctiveness. • Conclusion: We can’t use material culture to reconstruct supposed ‘groups’.
  9. 9. Object-Driven Approach • How objects relate to the peoples and cultures that make and use them. • Contextualisation and function are important. • An object’s meaning can change over time and place. • Object is not passive. They have an active role and create meaning. An object can have power/authority.
  10. 10. Objects with text • Text provides COGNITIVE information. Information about how societies saw themselves and saw the world. • But there is always BIAS: – BIAS from accident of preservation – BIAS from uses of literacy in a society – BIAS from perspective • When we use historical records WITH material remains, we must ensure that “questions are carefully formulated and the vocabulary is well defined” (Renfrew & Bahn, 2001: 186)
  11. 11. Archaeology as Text • Tilley looked at Swedish Rock Art (1991, 1994) • This is post-processual archaeology • To regard the archaeological record as a text composed of meaningful signs: – “all material symbols require a contextual interpretation because their meanings are a function of the specific associations they evoke in a culture and of the actual ways they are combined with other symbols and behaviour.” (Patrik, 1985)
  12. 12. Rock Art with Elks Rock art at Nämforsen called Lillforshällan, c.4000 BC. Image credit: Mark Sapwell
  13. 13. What Tilley Did • Tilley took a mass of carvings, and carried out analysis. • Assemblages of carvings, made up of text with grammar. • He found motifs (elks and boats) and used: 1. Structural logic – i.e. boats and elks are linked, implying there is a binary class system 2. Hermeneutics of meaning, where ethno-historical perspectives are considered. i.e. anthropological studies of Saami drums, Siberian Evenk Shamanism and cosmology. 3. Analytics of power, where social complexity, exchange, ethnicity, domination and the body are considered. • Does not result in a unified interpretation. Reader as a participant. • Incorporates a variety of perspectives into the interpretation.
  14. 14. Next Few Slides • Interpreting Sources • 5 Ws Approach: What, Where, When, Who, Why? • Approach for Primary Sources • Approach for Primary and Secondary Sources: – SCIM-C: Summarising, Contextualising, Inferring, Monitorin g, Corroborating Flickr Commons, National Galleries of Scotland
  15. 15. Interpreting Sources • There are many different approaches to interpreting a historical source. • Generally all approaches use a combination of: – What – Where – When – Who – Why
  16. 16. What? • What am I looking at? – Initial visual observation of object.
  17. 17. Where? • Where was this photograph taken? • Where was this coin found?
  18. 18. When? • When is the object from? – Once you have a date, think about the context. – What happened before/on/after this date? – Place the object on a timeline.
  19. 19. Who? • Who is depicted in this photo? • Who used this tool? • (This is where some archaeologists try to place themselves in the ‘shoes’ of the person/people they have identified.)
  20. 20. Why? • Why has this glass bottle survived? • Why was this photograph taken? • Why was this tool made? • Why was this letter written?
  21. 21. For Primary Sources 1. Place the source in its historical context 2. Classify the source 3. Understand the source 4. Evaluate the source as a source of historical information – Based on Koeller, 1995. Flickr Commons, Cornell University Library
  22. 22. 1. Place the source in its historical context • Who wrote the source and what do you know about the author/s? • Where was the source written? • When was the source written? • Why was the source written? • What is the intended audience of the source? • What do you know about this audience?
  23. 23. 2. Classify the source • What kind of work is the source? • What was the purpose of the source? • What are the conventions/traditions governing this source? • What are the legal/political/religious/philosophical traditions within which the source is based?
  24. 24. 3. Understand the source • What are the key words in the source ? • What do the key words in the source mean? • What point is the author trying to make? This is a summary of the writing. • What evidence is the author using to support the writing? • What assumptions underlying the argument? • What values does the writing reflect? • What problems are addressed by the writing? • What is the historical situation of the source, and do those problems reflect that situation? • What action does the author expect as a result of this work? Who is to take this action? How does the source motivate that action?
  25. 25. 4. Evaluate the source as a source of historical information • How typical is the source for the period? • How widely was the source circulated? • If identifiable, what problems, assumptions, arguments, ideas and values does the source share with other sources from the period? • What other evidence corroborates these conclusions?
  26. 26. SCIM-C Approach for Primary and Secondary Sources • Summarising • Contextualising • Inferring • Monitoring • Corroborating – Based on Doolittle, Hicks, Ewing, 2005. Flickr Commons, National Archives UK
  27. 27. Summarising a Source • What type of historical document is the source? • What specific information, details and/or perspectives does the source provide? • What is the subject and/or purpose of the source? • Who was the author and/or audience of the source?
  28. 28. Contextualising a Source • When and where was the source produced? • Why was the source produced? • What was happening within the immediate and broader context at the time the source was produced? • What summarizing information can place the source in time and place?
  29. 29. Inferring from a Source • What is suggested by the source? • What interpretations may be drawn from the source? • What perspectives or points of view are indicated in the source? • What inferences may be drawn from absences or omissions in the source?
  30. 30. Monitoring a Source • What additional evidence beyond the source is necessary to answer the historical question? • What ideas, images, or terms need further defining from the source? • How useful or significant is the source for its intended purpose in answering the historical question? • What questions from the previous stages need to be revisited in order to analyze the source satisfactorily?
  31. 31. Corroborating Multiple Sources • What similarities and differences between the sources exist? • What factors could account for these similarities and differences? • What conclusions can be drawn from the accumulated interpretations? • What additional information or sources are necessary to answer more fully the guiding historical question?
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