Epistemological change and a history of American Archaeology "Your history, why it's a joke; Bygone times are a sevensealed book. The thing you call the spirit of the past, what is it? Nothing but your own poor spirit with the past reflected in it. An it's pathetic, what's to be seen in your mirror!" Faust, speaking to Wagner, in Faust: a Tragedy, by Von Goethe (trans. Martin Greenberg) (1992 Yale University Press, p. 19) "Archaeology is the study of the past. The practice of archaeology is a reflection of the present." Sharman Russell, When the Land was Young: Reflections on American Archaeology (1995 Addison Wesley, p. 7) What does this mean? • We must separate out what archaeology is and does as a discipline (its practice), from what it does and how (its substance). • In one sense, archaeology never changes. Its goals have always been the same -Who was where, when, with what, and why? • How we go about answering those questions or achieving those goals is in constant flux New theories, new technologies New political realities, ideologies These reflect the contemporary situation of the North American archaeologist That archaeology is ‘political’ is sometimes difficult for us to accept because of our attachment to the ideas of objectivity in science. Also difficult for us because of our ideas of cultural relativism. Anthros are not supposed to be biased toward their own culture. Our archaeological epistemologies are derived from our own cultures, not some ‘natural’ or objective standard The Willey and Sabloff Period Scheme from A History of American Archaeology 1. Speculative Period, 1492-1840 2. Classificatory-Descriptive Period, 1840-1914 3. Classificatory-Historical Period Concern with Chronology , 1914-1940 Concern with Context/Function, 1940-1960 Gordon WIlley 4. Explanatory Period-1960-1980 5. A post-processual? 1980-present Jeremy Sabloff Europe, Theological Models, and the Beginnings of Science The Dominance of Theological Epistemologies All is explained by the will of God The Bible is the key to understanding the past Challenges to Biblical authority were put down, or at least marginalized Copernicus, 1473-1543 Until the 1700s Galileo, 1564 to 1642 Christian Jürgensen James Hutton, 1726 - 1797 Thomsen, 1788-1865 Charles Lyell 1797-1875 Evolution provides a mechanism for understanding biological (and cultural) change Flinders Petrie 1853-1942 Charles Darwin 1809-1882 Scientific and systematic archaeological methods helped to break theological explanations of the past The Speculative Period, 1492-1840 A prelude to real archaeology •Filled with questions about the origin of Indians and speculation about the answers •Three trends •Latin American emphasis based on chronicles of the conquistadors, priests •Explorer and traveler accounts of the interior of NA and Latin America •An almost ephemeral trend that began the next period was a series of efforts to undertake excavation and survey of archaeological sites The Speculative Period, 1492-1840 Dominance of speculation as a mode of thought was due to a number of factors 1. Most important was the lack of reliable data 2. Acceptance of theological modes of explanation limited other possibilities 3. Non-existence of a tradition of scientific thought 4. A continuing sense of wonder at the exotic nature of the New World . What we are talking about really, then, is nonscientific conjecture The Speculative Period, 1492-1840 The Moundbuilder Myth 1. Explorers who were used a natural scientific approach which is still reflected in the fact that Indians and archaeology tend to be in natural history museums instead of history museums 2. Most were not directly on the scene or as involved Armchair explorers using a literary approach Why the Moundbuilders? 1. The need for an heroic past that would resemble that of Europe. •The colonists were in one sense a "people without a history" •Those living in Europe thought that something must be wrong with the environment here to cause such revolutions •Needed a "white" history to claim the land - a precursor to Manifest Destiny 2. Second reason is the relative comparison of the mounds and earthworks to the pyramids of Mexico. How could the Indian people they saw have built such thing? 3. Little attention paid to the traditions of the people themselves. That would come later, and it showed a long tradition of moundbuilding . As part of the destruction of the Moundbuilder Myth, the discipline of anthropology developed. John Wesley Powell Cyrus Thomas Frank Hamilton Cushing Lewis Henry Morgan Out of their data gathering and that of those who followed, the culture area concept developed. Key elements behind the culture area concept: Cultural ecology and adaptation (cultural evolution) Form, Function and Meaning Diffusion Oral Tradition Cultural Ecology & Adaptation Cultural Ecology, Adaptation, and Cultural Evolution Earlier notions of cultural evolution from the late 1800s, especially Unilinear Evolution, were discarded. •In unilinear evolution, cultures evolved from savages to barbarians to civilized. •The notion of progress was associated with it. Indians were savages. •Association with Social Darwinism •It became part of "Manifest Destiny." Progress & Unilinear Evolution Multilinear Evolution: A More Realistic Model Cultures change at different rates based on adjustments to environments. Cultural ecology :cultures adapt to the changes in the natural and social environments in which they live. Cultural ecology: the dominant viewpoint of most anthropologists and many other social scientists. Julian Steward Multilinear evolution and cultural ecology are related concepts that help us account for the extreme diversity of American Indian cultures. Form, Function, and Meaning Form—physical characteristics or attributes of an object or concept Function—the role of the object or idea, what it does Meaning—what the object or idea means to the people who have or use it Diffusion and its processes Stimulus diffusion—ideas, from simple contact Single trait diffusion—a few things, from trade Complex diffusion—whole cultural complexes, from colonization Independent Invention Independent Invention: roughly the same ideas , concepts or physical forms appear in different places without contact between the places Just because things seem to be alike doesn’t mean they are so because of contact and diffusion! Similar environmental and social conditions lead to similar adaptations. Oral Tradition Historicity―Just how historical is it? Does it contain temporal information that we can use? Does it contain information about geography we can use? Does it contain material "markers" that are archaeologically recoverable? Oral tradition's advantage is its immediacy, but that causes you to think in terms of a "present" past Organizing the information: The functional prerequisites of culture People Language Territory/Technology Social Organization Ideology (belief systems) Alfred Kroeber There was huge variation in languages. Language Variation For such a small population, Indian languages are extremely diverse. 57 families grouped into 9 macro-families or phyla 300 distinct languages 2000 dialects California—at least 20 families West of Rockies—17 more Rest of the continent—20 more Today English is the most commonly spoken language, and many native languages are gone or will soon be so. Cultures Areas or Food Areas? The Culture Area Concept The Problem with Culture Areas Actually, these categories have entered into the popular culture in a big way. They are now the main descriptors of Indian groups. One needs to question whether it is still a useful concept: It locks Indian groups in time, using descriptions of groups at the time of Contact. Pan-Indian cultural activities and massive influences of media have "blended" lots of cultural traits. Doesn't account for the ability of groups to adjust to white and other Indian influences.