CRITICISMS OF ETHNOGRAPHIC ANALOGY
Depresses Time and Denies Change
The Problem of “Equifinality”
Many paths to the same outcome
Is the archaeological record “frozen
Can we directly translate archaeological
expressions into meaning social, political, or
Binford’s definition of the archaeological
record as static and contemporary. Translate
statics into past dynamics
Is the Archaeological record like Pompeii
ARCHAEOLOGISTS DECIDE TO EVALUATE THIS
SEVERAL METHOLOGICAL APPROACHES
TO THE STUDY OF THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN ARTIFACTS AND MEANINGFUL
RECORD FORMATION PROCESSES
New archaeologists committed to anthropological
archaeology. But before you could address questions about
culturally meaningful behavior, the nature of the
archaeological record had to be investigated
Here’s the problem:
1. The archaeological record is composed of artifacts
on the surface and buried. Those artifacts are “static”,
meaning they don’t interact.
2. New archaeologists are interested in what people do
and how they do it ( that’s active or dynamic). The question
is how to move from statics to dynamics?
3. And before you do that you have to consider
whether the archaeological record has changed over time.
RECORD FORMATION PROCESSES
Several components to this model:
A) The systematic relationship between artifact
acquisition, production, use , discard and the
formation of the archaeological record. Schiffer
wants to know the relationship between life histories
of artifacts, the archaeological record, and cultural
B) Breaks culture down into a set of activities that
transform material into something useful track the life
histories of artifacts
C) differentiates kinds of artifact contexts
ASSUMPTIONS THAT SCHIFFER MAKES
TO CONSTRUCT SYSTEMIC AND
CULTURE IS A SYSTEM ( HAVE YOU
HEARD THAT BEFORE?)
HUMAN ACTIVITY IS A
TRANSFORMATION OF ENERGY
THAT TYPICALLY INVOLVES
ARE THERE OTHERS? WHAT ABOUT
WHAT ARE RECORD FORMATION
WHEN DO THEY OPERATE?
WHY DO ARCHAEOLOGISTS STUDY THEM?
WHAT IS SCHIFFER’S ULTIMATE GOAL?
WHAT DOES HE WANT TO “RECONSTRUCT?
Binford’s methology for linking
Statics to Dynamics
Research with the
Nunamiut at Anatuvak
What is Mid-Range Theory?
IT’S Not general Theory
1. Because the archaeological record is
contemporary, can not know the past
directly. Can only know the past
indirectly through “static” artifacts
2. Required to make that linkage are
observations, experiments, and analysis
designed to link the present statics with
Questions regarding Mid-Range Theory
[based on the Binford article]
• What are the goals of Binford’s article: Dimensional
Analysis of Behavior and Site Structure?
• Does Binford build a model to address these goals? Or
does he address through the analysis of a single place
• What are expedient artifacts? What are curated artifacts?
• Is Schiffer’s distinction between systemic and
archaeological context relevant to this article? How
• What is the site function of the Mask site? Is there a
relationship between site function and artifact deposition?
• Is Binford’s approach to the relationship between cultural
activity and artifact different than Schiffer’s? How?
• What does Binford want to explain?
Culture Process: General Systems Theory
The goal of Culture Process: To create explanations of
culture change…. THE CAUSES OF CULTURE
Systems Theory (or General Systems Theory) was the
initial model that was used to construct explanations.
So: we need to ask what is system? And how is that
definition built into the structure of systems theory
• A System: A bounded entity that is made up of component
parts. The parts of “interdependent”. That means that
the action of one component affects the action of another.
• All components of a system have boundary conditions.
This means that each component has a range within which
they operate Because all components have a range, the
system itself has a range within which it can operate.
• Homeostasis: maintenance of a system within its
• Postive feedback: component deviations are amplified
– This can change the system
• Negative feedback: Component deviations are depressed
and system is maintained at the current or previous state
SYSTEMS THEORY, MORE DEFINITIONS
• This definition of system is functional.
– Function: as in each component solves a
– Function: as in each component has a goal—
• Keep the system running… human adaptive
• CULTURE AS A SYSTEM
– Components, many of which are not observable
– Each of those components have goals and boundary
– The system has goal---- human survival
Archaeological Systems Theory Model
HOW DOES A CULTURAL SYSTEMS THEORY
• System change caused by one or more
components exceeding their boundary
conditions ( positive feedback)
• But what throws a component out of
equilibrium? New Archaeologists relied on
– Climate change, population growth, resource
Systems Theory in Mesoamerica
What is the role of Systems
Theory in this article?
What are the causes of
change from hunting and
gathering to agriculture?
Why do Mesoamerican
Strengths of Systems Theory Explanations
• A major improvement over culture
historical explanations of change :invasion,
independent invention, or diffusion
• Provided a framework for discussing new
adaptation: agriculture or the evolution of
Weaknesses of Systems Theory
• Causes of change were external (And
Post-processualists really really disliked
• System size and complexity required
‘major’ events to result in change
• Description of how change occurs; not