The Blogaeological Record


Archaeodigms Part 1: Reiterating the Point

This past weekend (March 6th and 7th, 2009) was the first (and hopefully annual) McGill Anthrograd conference. At this conference many Graduate, PhD, and even some Undergrad students presented papers on their research in several sessions, which were chaired by McGill University Anthropology Faculty members. Overall I think the conference went extremely well, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I commend the Graduate students who put so much work into organizing it. Now before I get into what the conference got me thinking about and where I’m going with this whole ‘Archaeodigms’ thing, I want to also tell you that the McGill Archaeology lab band – Megalith – in which I play the bass (plus some vocals and guitar on select songs), played their second ever show to close the conference. We got the whole show on a video camera and will be posting a few of the songs on youtube, so when they are ready I will definitely post them here.

Ok, so back to the conference. One theme I noticed was a general disconnect between Anthropologists and Archaeologists. I don’t want to get too much into this but I just want to say that this is kind of problematic. Archaeology is considered to be a branch of Anthropology here in North America, but too often us Archaeologists seem to to get relegated to a ‘little naive brother’ status within North American Anthropology on the whole, and our work seems to get generally ignored by most Anthropologists. Ok, sure, maybe they don’t find it interesting, but it’s our approach that they should be taking into account, such as something as simple as time depth, which I find is sometimes lacking in Anthropological studies, and can add whole new perspectives. To be a little bit ‘Hodder-ish’, and also a little over-simplistic, I feel like the relationship between Anthropology and Archaeology should be this:

Anthropology Archaeology

instead of what it seems to be currently:

Anthropology ——> Archaeology

Anyway, let me know what you think of this, I’m not sure how clear I’ve made it, but maybe that’s because it’s still kind of fuzzy in my head.

Now this got me thinking about theory in general, and particularly where we stand theoretically as Archaeologists today. Does the one-way relationship between Anthropology and Archaeology exist because we are not theoretically sound enough yet to truly contribute and are still actually the little brother? Are we still playing ‘theoretical catch-up’? Have we truly reached a theoretical middle ground between processualism and post-processualism? or are we still in a polemic debate between the two? To paraphrase one of my Professors here at McGill, maybe this theoretical diversity is what we need, because that way our odds of actually being right may be higher, but the answers to these questions are not clear to me yet. I want to try and hopefully answer some of these questions (clearly with your help) in something I’m going to call the ‘Archaeodigms’ series. This has also been inspired by my reading the Golden Marshalltown article by Flannery a little while ago and the fact that I’m taking a course entitled “The History of Archaeological Thought” right now, which is awesome by the way. We’ve gotten to post-processualism and I’m asking myself “Has there been a Marshalltown-esque article discussing the pitfalls and/or discontent with post-processualism by an actual post-processualist?”…maybe we will find out.

So hopefully through this five part series we will try to find out what constitutes a theoretical middle ground (and, feel free to challenge me, but I feel that a middle ground is the best place to be), and if this middle-ground is being applied today. In each part of this series I want to discuss the pros and cons of the three major theoretical and methodological paradigms in Archaeology (Culture History, Processualism, and Post-processualism). I also want your contribution to these pros/cons lists, so please comment after the posts! I hope that this way we can try to integrate the positives of all the paradigms and see what we get, and see if recent work has gotten to our formulated middle-ground theory, which will be what the fifth and final post will hopefully do!

Now I don’t want this just to be me going through what I think of the paradigms, I want your contributions too, so I will reiterate what I said in the previous paragraph, post your comments/questions/problems/contributions after each post of the series! I want it to be almost like a forum for Archaeological theory….well that’s the idea anyway.

I guess that’s all for for now, stay tuned for ‘Archaeodigms Part 2: Culture History’ as well as Megalith videos!

References in this Post:

Ian Hodder. 1991 (1986). Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology 2nd Ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. (Ch 1, pp.1-18).

Kent V. Flannery. 1982. The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 265-278.




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