Archaeologists and Objects Urban Archaeology Session 7
What is an artefact?“any portable object used, made or modified byhumans.” - Renfrew and Bahn, 2001• Artefacts and Ecofacts
Primary Context of Artefacts• Matrix – what is around the object (usually sediment)• Provenance – the horizontal and vertical position of the object in the matrix• Principle of Association – other finds that the object is associated with (usually in the same matrix)• If something has been moved, it can be in a secondary context.
Formation ProcessesHow archaeologists understand how somethinghas come to be buried:• Cultural Formation Processes – Deliberate/accidental human behaviours that lead to the burial of an object• Non-cultural / Natural Formation Processes – Natural events that lead to the burial of an object - Renfrew & Bahn, 2001: 52
Objects in the Urban LandscapeBut what about when the object is not wherepeople left it?• Processes of moving objects• Variety of primary contexts / secondary contexts – It is not always in an excavation context – e.g. looking in the attic, a wall cavity, digging a new bed in the garden.
Dating Objects• Spot Dating (during excavation)• Post-excavation dating• Absolute Dating – computed numerical date• Relative Dating – order of events – Stratigraphic Dating • Terminus Post Quem / Terminus Ante Quem • ‘Limit (Date) after which’ / ‘Date before which’
History of thinking about objects 1950s• “The archaeologist is digging up, not things, but people” – Wheeler, 1954: 13• Childe developed the idea of cultures, which represented peoples/societies and associated material culture traits in the same time and place – Childe, 1956: 3• Classify things then look for connections between entities. i.e. “diffusion of ideas, migration, invasion or internal innovation” – Shanks and Tilley, 1992: 117
History of thinking about objects 1970s• Renfrew (1978) questions classification. Cultures are arbitrary.• Shennan (1978) looked at locations and variability of Beaker finds to challenge the idea of a coherent cultural tradition.• Binford (1972) criticized the definition of artefacts as expressions of social norms specific to distinct groups. He argued there were not distinct cultures and interactions between those cultures, but there were culture systems that were adaptive and this explains where there is variability in the archaeological record.
Normative vs. Social Archaeology 1970-80s• Normative Archaeology could not tell us anything about non-material things in society such as religion, beliefs or politics• Social Archaeology can tell us what the relationship between society and environment is, with material culture as the mediator. This led to attempts to reconstruct past societies using schemes of social evolution, often based on analysis of existing societies.
Social Archaeology might not work 1980s• Tilley (1981) and Hodder (1982) questioned this approach.• The issue is that this approach relies on being able to explain a social element by referring to the part that something plays in maintaining keeping the social ‘whole’.
An example of how it might not work• Understanding a ritual.• Rappaport (1967: 224-42) says a ritual is: – “an information exchange device communicating cultural, ecological and demographic data across the boundaries of social groups”.• So a ritual is doing something in the society: – “rituals regulate the dispersal of human populations, preserve a balance between farmed and fallowed land, and keep domestic animals within an adaptive goal range (Rappaport, 1971)
But… its too functional an explanation• This tells us something about the ritual’s presence, but it doesn’t tell us: – The form of the ritual – The content of the ritual – Why one type of ritual should occur rather than another. - Shanks and Tilley, 1992: 117