ARCHAEOLOGY AND -
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ARCHAEOLOGY AND MODERNITY Archaeologists have long recognised that they study past worlds which may be quite unlike our own. But how are we to cope with the difference of the past if our own circumstances are unique within human history? What if archaeology itself depends on ways of thinking that are specific to the modern Western world? This is the first book-length study to explore the relationship between archaeology and modern thought, and to demonstrate that, while we may believe our approaches to be based on value-free techniques and thinking, archaeology is still dominated by philosophical ideas that developed in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Julian Thomas discusses the modern emphasis on method rather than ethics or meaning, our understanding of change in history and nature, the role of the nation-state in forming our views of the past, and contemporary notions of human individuality, the mind, and materiality. He also addresses the modern preoccupation with depth, which enables archaeology to be used as a metaphor across other disciplines. Archaeology and Modernity concludes by calling for a reformed, ���counter-modern��� archaeol- ogy, which refuses to separate material evidence from political, moral, rhetor- ical and aesthetic concerns, as well as meaning. Julian Thomas is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Manchester. He writes and teaches on the neolithic of Britain and Europe, and the philosophy of archaeology. His publications include Time, Culture and Identity (Routledge 1996) and Understanding the Neolithic (Routledge 1999).
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ARCHAEOLOGY AND MODERNITY Julian Thomas
First published 2004 by Routledge 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group �� 2004 Julian Thomas All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Thomas, Julian. Archaeology and modernity / Julian Thomas. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index. 1. Archaeology. 2. Archaeology���Philosophy. I. Title. CC72.T48 2004 930.1���01���dc22 2003018161 ISBN 0-415-27156-8 (hbk) ISBN 0-415-27157-6 (pbk) This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2004. ISBN 0-203-49111-4 Master e-book ISBN ISBN 0-203-57029-4 (Adobe eReader Format)
IN MEMORY OF MY BROTHER, GAVIN RICHARD THOMAS, 1963���2000
vii CONTENTS List of figures viii Preface x Acknowledgements xii 1 The emergence of modernity and the constitution of archaeology 1 2 Archaeology and the tensions of modernity 35 3 The tyranny of method 55 4 History and nature 78 5 Nation-states 96 6 Humanism and ���the individual��� 119 7 Depths and surfaces 149 8 Mind, perception and knowledge 171 9 Materialities 202 10 Towards a counter-modern archaeology: Difference, ethics, dialogue, finitude 223 Bibliography 249 Index 268
viii FIGURES 1.1 The Aristotelian cosmos 9 1.2 The Ptolemaic universe 10 1.3 The cabinet of Ferrante Imperator 14 1.4 The cabinet of Olaus Worm 14 1.5 Aldrovandi���s illustration of ���Pesce Istrice��� 25 1.6 Aldrovandi���s illustration of Mandragora 25 1.7 Title page of Jonston���s De Insectis 26 2.1 Stone tools from the Somme gravels 45 2.2 Comparison of the Magdalenian skull with that of a recent Eskimo 52 3.1 Descartes��� representation of the human sensory apparatus 58 3.2 Pottery design change at Snaketown, Arizona 68 3.3 The Carter Ranch site 71 4.1 Georges Cuvier 88 4.2 The Divine Cow of Queen Hapshepsut 92 5.1 Title page of Hobbes���s Leviathan 102 5.2 Neolithic settlement at the Knap of Howar, Orkney 114 5.3 Skara Brae, Orkney 114 5.4 Map of hypothetical tribal areas in neolithic Orkney 115 6.1 The Bronze Age warrior: equipment from northern Italy 142 6.2 Memorial messages following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales 145 6.3 The ���Ice Man��� in the Alps 146 7.1 Ditch section from the Wor Barrow long mound, Dorset 159 7.2 Sigmund Freud with his collection of antiquities 162 7.3 Freud���s ���topographic��� model of the psyche 167 8.1 Descartes��� illustration of the brain 172
ix 8.2 Descartes��� image of visual information being conveyed to the mind 178 8.3 Spear-thrower from Mas d���Azil 193 8.4 The ���Sorceror��� at the cave of Trois Fr��res 197 9.1 Image of a mammoth at the cave of Bernifal, France 220 9.2 Garnwnda chambered tomb, south-west Wales 221 FIGURES
x PREFACE Over the past few decades the role of contemporary preconceptions in form- ing our image of the past has become a growing concern for archaeologists. Very often it has been a familiarity with anthropology that has alerted us to the likelihood that our own everyday practices are not shared by all human beings, and cannot be assumed to have prevailed in the past. As a result, it has been possible to interpret prehistoric and protohistoric societies in counterintuitive ways, which emphasise gift exchange, ritual, the collective appropriation of resources, the meaningful character of landscape or the symbolic role of material things. However, it has often been pointed out that there is a danger of imposing the ethnographic present on the past, particularly as many of the communities that we study through archaeology have no close analogues amongst living groups. An alternative, or comple- mentary strategy is to attempt to identify those aspects of our own existence that are diagnostic of a particular contingent condition, which we might identify as ���modernity���. This, at least, would provide us with an indication of what we should not expect to find in the past. Where this has been attempted it has often been on a piecemeal basis, and I have personally been as guilty as anyone of referring rather glibly to the influence of Enlightenment ideas or ethnocentric modernism on archaeological practice. This book is an attempt to be a little more systematic about the identifi- cation of modern ways of thinking and acting, with the aim of facilitating a more productive engagement with the past. As such, it follows up some of the issues that were addressed in Time, Culture and Identity (Thomas 1996), while being more explicit about the connections between the Western philo- sophical tradition and the formation and subsequent development of the archaeological discipline. Such an approach leads one very quickly to a sig- nificant irony. It is arguable that the modern world is qualitatively different from any other epoch of human history: its defining features are quite singu- lar. Consequentially, the worst possible location from which to attempt to understand past societies is in the modern West. Our contemporary habits, ways of life, commonplace ideas and daily experiences conspire to make it all but impossible to comprehend lives that were ordered in entirely different
xi ways. But at the same time it may be that our desire to investigate those past lives through the medium of material culture is itself distinctively modern. If we were not modern, it might not occur to us to do archaeology at all. It is this double-bind that inspires the principal aim of this book: to identify those aspects of modern thinking which have contributed to the formation of archaeology, and to consider whether archaeology���s attachment to modernity can be transcended. At the very least, it is hoped that this project will help to identify those conditions from within which we presently conduct our archaeology, inherited as they are from quite specific traditions of thought. The volume is structured in such a way as to lay out the general issue of the interconnectedness of archaeology and the modern experience in a broadly chronological fashion over the first two chapters, and then to address a series of more specific themes. These are epistemology, historical and natural change, the role of the nation-state, humanism, depth, mind, and materiality. Finally, the conclusion makes some suggestions regarding the overcoming of modern thought in archaeology. It will be noticed that the arguments in the various chapters cross over and interconnect at various points. This demands a certain amount of recapitulation and overlap, but my decision has been to accept this, and to make each chapter as far as possible complete in itself. This enables each to be read to some degree as a separate essay. PREFACE
xii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank all of my colleagues in Manchester who helped in the production of this book in various ways. Thomas Dowson, Chris Fowler, Si��n Jones, Stephanie Koerner and Colin Richards have all read parts of the text, and provided invaluable comment and encouragement. Ina Berg, Suzy Butters, Stuart Campbell, Eleanor Casella, Mark Crinson, Tim Insoll and Lynne Vickers have all given support of one kind or another. Thanks to Bob Eaglestone, John Pickstone and Peter Ucko for discussions and references over the past few years, and to Richard Bradley and Alasdair Whittle for help that made the book possible. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Board and the University of Manchester for providing two semesters of research leave in 2002���3, which gave me the opportunity to write most of the text. Thanks, finally, to Sue, Morag and Rowan, who have done so much to make life better while this book has been coming together. Every effort has been made to obtain permission for the use of copyright items. If any proper acknowledgement has not been made, we invite copyright holders to inform us of the oversight.
THE EMERGENCE OF MODERNITY 1 1 THE EMERGENCE OF MODERNITY AND THE CONSTITUTION OF ARCHAEOLOGY Archaeology . . . a discipline devoted to silent monuments, inert traces, objects without context, and things left by the past. Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge Introduction: why modernity? Archaeology investigates the past through the medium of material things. Yet it is increasingly clear that we do not simply reconstruct the way that things were. Instead, we establish a relationship between the past and the present. This relationship can be conceived as a kind of conversation, to which we bring a variety of expectations and prejudices, and from which we receive challenges and surprises (Gadamer 1975: 236). The past never fully reveals itself to us, but through our continued engagement we learn more, both about past worlds and about ourselves. The self-recognition that emerges from this process involves an increasing awareness of our own assumptions and prejudices: the conceptual ���baggage��� that we tend to impose on the past. Considered in this way, the perceived distance between the past and the present is not so much a barrier to understanding as a productive space (ibid.: 264). Yet the dialogue between the two cultural and historical contexts is one that requires our active participation in giving the past a significance, and in appreciating our own position in the present (Warnke 1987: 68 Johnsen and Olsen 1992: 426). It is arguable that while archaeology has made considerable advances in the methodological and theoretical skills required in order to address the past, we often lack an appreciation of the conditions under which we ourselves operate in the present. Indeed, in many disciplines that seek to draw up a contrast between the modern West and some other society the conception of our own context is superficial, based principally on personal experience (Pickstone 2000: 34). This in turn means that our understanding of the past continues to be hamstrung by what Gadamer calls ���the tyranny of hidden prejudices��� (1975: 239). This book is intended to facilitate some
THE EMERGENCE OF MODERNITY 2 recognition of the circumstances in which the discipline of archaeology finds itself at the start of the twenty-first century, and of the reasons why we address the past in the ways that we do. The central argument that I will be seeking to make is that modernity represents the condition of the possibility of archaeology. By that I mean that archaeology as we presently practise it is intimately connected with the modern experience, and indeed amounts to a distillation of a modern sensibility (see Olsen 2001: 43). In everyday language, something that is ���modern��� is generally contempor- ary, up to date, or progressive. It is worth saying at the outset that the sense in which I will be using the word is a philosophical one, which refers to a phase of history that succeeded the medieval era in the West. According to some commentators this period may be coming to a close (or may even have ended). Over the years, a number of historians of archaeology have suggested, whether implicitly or explicitly, that the growth of the discipline coincided with this epoch. For instance, Crawford (1932) argued that the Industrial Revolution promoted archaeological discovery through the excavation of canals, railway cuttings and coal mines, and created a leisured middle class who had the opportunity and the motivation to study the past. Piggott (1976) drew attention to the incremental process by which improve- ments in transport opened up the landscape to antiquarian travellers. Schnapp (1996) emphasised the growth of learning that facilitated the appreciation of artefact typology and stratigraphy. Trigger (1989) foregrounded both changing social relations and developing conceptions of history. While agreeing with the importance of all of these factors, I will seek to subsume them within what I consider to be a more fundamental process: the emergence of modernity. Modernity may represent a chronological division of human experience, but more importantly it is distinguished by the growth of a particular philosophical outlook, and by particular ways in which human beings have operated socially. A range of obvious characteristics are particular to the modern era: capitalism, the emergence of nation-states, industrialisation, improvements in communications and transport, mercantilism, the control of violence by the state, surveillance, constant political struggle, an increas- ingly urban way of life, and an experience of agitation, turbulence and continuous change (Giddens 1991: 15 Berman 1982: 18 Olsen 2001: 42). Equally important has been the decline of tradition and (in the West at least) of religious conviction. Moreover, the erosion of established sources of social stability has been widely recognised within modern communities, with the effect that the modern condition is also characterised by general unease and dissatisfaction. Modern societies are unusual in recognising their own material and social conditions as being unlike those of the past, and this has fuelled a continuous critique of modernity from within (Kolakowski 1990: 12). The recognition that ���things could be otherwise��� promotes a sense of continuous crisis, yet without any clear prospect of resolution. All of these conditions have been related to increasing social fragmentation, individualism,