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B R U C E G.


A history







l'~~hlisl,cciby thc l'rcsa Syt~dicntcof rhc Uni\,crsitp of Calllbridgc

Thc I'itt Du~ldirlg,T ~ - ~ r n ~ p i l ~ Srrcct,
g t o r l Calmbridge c;e2 II<I>
32 E.1st 57th Street, NC\YYork, N Y toozz, USA
lo Sr.l~nti,rdRc,.ld, O.tklcigh, Mclbou~-ncit(>(,, Austl-.lli.~

First publisllcd 198s

Bntisi~Lil.i-nv cntalqpz;y

it/ p l d d i ~ ~ t l data

Trigger, Bruce G. (Bruce G r a h ~ m )1937,

A hlstory of arch.~cologicalthought
I . AI-cliacolog)' to 1988
I. Titlc

~ l 7 t l l ~ ~ ~ q111
~ /~~l lilll ll q
l l 1 ~ l 1lilltll
Trigger, l3ruc.c C;.

A history ot'.~rchacoIogicalt l l ~ ~ ~/gBruce

h t G . Trlggcr
Uibliography: p.
Includcs index.
I S B N 0 521 33812 2 (fbk)
I S B N 0 321 32878 0
I . Arcl1acology - History.
2 . Archncology - l'hilosophy - History.
I. Titlc
c c l o o . ~ ; ~ry8y
930.1- tic19
88-16926C I i 7


I S B N 0 521

32878 o h x d co\.crs
33818 2 ~ d p ~ r h d ~ k





Thc rclcva~lccof archncological history

appro ache^ to the history of archaeology
The environment of archaeology
Archaeological interpretation

Page x



Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

The ancient wovld
The mcdieval paradbm of history
Development oj'bistorical archaeology
A~ttiquarianismin Northern Europe
Recognition ofstone tools
The Enl&htenment paradbm
Scientijic antiquarianism
Antiquarianism and romanticism
The New World
The impasse of antiq2~arzanism

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

Relative datincq
The development and sprcad of Sca?zdinavian archa~ology 80
The awtiquity of humanity
Palacolithic archaeology
Reaction against evolution
Archaeology in North America


4 The imperial synthesis

Tdjc rise ofvacis~z
Lubboch's yttbesis
i ~ A~wcrim
lcncist ni~cl/ncolrpp~
in Apicn
A ~ c 1 1 n ~ o291l ~NL.II~
q ~ Z~a1171ld
,4 ~ntl-nlini~

5 Culture-historical archacology
TIYEMo~ztelinnqvrtljesis of Eziropeatl prchistoy
Tlje cotzccpt oj'cztltzlre
IZossi~lnanizd the crllttlrc-l~istoricalnppronch
Cl?ildc ma' Thc Da\v11of Europcan Ci\lilizntion
Nntiorral nrcl~ncologp
ivr Noi*tllA~lzcricn
Tcc.111ricnl I ~ L - I ~ C / O / I I I I L . I ~ ~ S

Sovjct archaeology
A i*cl~ncol(~qy
z 71 tsrrrzst Rzi~szn
d1ir11gthe N C I IEJC O ~ I Ul'olzcy
T l ~ bzrtll
~ ' J o t v rnrc/';laeol~qy
I < C C E I Zdc~lclo~t~fictlt~


Functionalism in Western archacology

The dc11clop~r~errr
of'social authl*opolr@1
Ecotlorrlic nppvu~~c/lcs'
Childc nird Soviet nrchaeolcqy
C l ~ i l kus n ~Cfarsirtnrcl~acol~qist
Errl-(y fi~rrctio?znIi.r~11
ill thi- G'i~itedStntei
Tl7c co~rju~zcti~~c
Ecolqicnl nrld scttlct~rciltn r c l ~ n c o l ~ ~ ~

8 Nco-evolutionism and the New Archaeology 2 8 9

The Neiv Archaeology
Catnclysrnic nrcl~ncolr~q-y

The explallation of diversity

I?rtcrsocietal car1tact
Idealism atzd taco-Marxism
Contextual archacolo~y
Archaeol~qyas itself

Archaeology and its social context;

Archncoh~qy:hutoi j arrd scrcrrcc
Rclativzst ci,ztzgues
Data collcctzon'atzd c~zpi~icalgc~zcvalizatiuns
Itftenzal dmluguc
T l ~ achzc~vmc~rts
Extenla1 dialogue










Important movcn-rcnts in archaeology and some major figures associ10
ated with them
Relationships b c t w c c ~Ic\-cls
of gcncrtllizatio~ls
Merlin erecting Stonchcngc, from a fourteenth-ccntt~ry British manu32
script (British Library MS Egertoll 3028, f.3or.)
lligging at tlcrculancum, 1782 ( S a i ~ ~ t - N OJ:C.
I I , Voyngcpittovesyrrc et
description du voyarrmc de Naplcs ct dc Sicile, l'aris 1781-6
Layard's reconstruction of an Assyrian palace, from iMonurnents of
Nincoeh, 1853
Shang cast bronze ritual vessel, illustrated with rubbing of illscriptio~ls
and their transcl-iption into con\rentional characters, from twelfthcentury A.D. catalogue Boyutu (Pcrcival Davici Foi~ndationof Chinese
Art, London)
Aubrey's plan of Avcbury, from his Mu;r~imentaBvitarririca, c. 1675
(Rodlcian MS Top. Gcn. C. 24, f.39~-40)
Engraving of t u n ~ u l i and rune stones at Jelling, Denmark, 1591
(Drawing cxccutcd for Henrik Ratzau and published in 1591)
Stukclcy's view of Avcbury, published in Abuvy, 1743
Succcssi\~cstyles of ornamentation, from Thornsen's Guidebook (older
forms at top) (C. J . Thornscn Lcdetvaad ti1 Nordisk Oldky?rdighcd,
Copenhagen 1836)
Thornsen s I i o \ v i ~ ~visitors
around thc Museuln of Northern Antiquities
Worsaac boring into one of the large tumuli at Jelling; he explains the
procedure t o King Frcdcrik VII of Denmark ( D r a w i l ~ gby J. Korn81
crup, 1861)
Achculcan handasc found by Frcrc at Hoanc, publ~shcdin Archa~olu88
qra, 1800
Profile s l l o w i n"~locanon of Palacol~thic~n'~rcrlal,
frocn Bouchcr dc
Perthes' A ~ z t i q u i t sccltiljucs ct nirtcdtlu~~icn~~es,
hlortillet's epochs of prehistory, from Fov~rratio;~
dc la ~rationfian~aisc,
Plan of prehistoric carth~'orksat Portsmouth, Ohio, from Atwater's
'Ilcscription o f the anticluitics disco\rcrcd in the St.~tcof Ohio' (Trails100
I T ~ - ~ ~ I o/.~/Jc.
I I I ~ A I I I C I ~ I L ~ I I I, I~ I I ~ I ~ I I , ~ I ' I I, ISI OI L . I ~ . ~ISZCI)

17 Grave Creek Mound, West Virginia, from Squicr and Davis Aircieirt
rl/loirrrnzclrtsc f t / ~Mississip/~i
Vallry, 1848
13 John 1,ubbock (Lord Avcbury) (1834-1913) (Radio Times Hultoll
I'icturc Library)
19 'Cultural characterization areas' o f North America, based o n archacologic'1l criteria, by Holmcs (Anaei-icarrA;ithropul(~~ist,
2 0 l)r.~\villgo f the C;rc.~tScl-pent Mound o f Ohio, from a article
I)!. I'utl~.lln ( ( , ' L V I ~ I I ? Y I ~ i ~ ~ t ~ - n t ~ ~ i i l . l18yo)
21 'Approach to the acropolis', from J. T. Bent's The Ruined Cities of
22 'Native police dispersing the blacks', Westcrl-r Quccnsland, c . 1882
(C. L ~ ~ n i h o lAnzong
Cairlribals, 1890)
23 Oscar Montclius (1843-1921)
2 4 I ~ ~ O I I Z C -.~rtifilcts
arranged according t o Montclius' system, 1881
25 Childc with a party ofworkme11at Sk;m Brae, Orkney, 1928-30 (Royal
Commission on Ancient Monuments, Scotland)
26 Childc's first chart correlating the archaeological cultures o f Central
Europe, fro111TIJCDanube in Pvcbistoiy, 1929
27 Kidder's profile of refuse stratigraphy and construction levels at Pecos
Ruin, New Mexico, from A n I;ztvoductiovz to the Study of Soutl~western
A ~~chacolu~y,
18 Cl~ronologicalchart from Ford dncl Willey's synthesis of castern North
American prehistory (AmcvicanAnthropologist, 1941)
29 l'ctric's profile of Tell el-Hesy, 1890 (Tell cl Hcsy, 1901)
3 0 Grave from Hallstatt ce~neter!., Austria, recorded by the painter Isidor
Engcl in the mid-nineteenth century
31 Pottery of successive periods in I'ctrie's predvnastic sequence, from
Diospolis Pnrvn, 1901
32 \'. I. lid\8do~~ik.ib
(189.~-1976)(Institute of Archaeology, Leningrad)
33 Plan o f Palaeolithic hut found at Buryet, reproduced in Antiquity by
Childe, 1950
34 Plan from cxca\rations dt Novgorod, 1977-83 (Institute ofArchaeology,
35 Exca\rations at No\rgorod, 1977-82 (Institute o f Archaeology,
36 Escavations at Novgorod (Institute of Archaeology, Leningrad)
37 1'1.1n .lnd section of Cutting 11, S t ~ Carr
(E.~cavntioizsat Star C a w ,
38 Structures o n mound platform, fro111Hi~vasseeIsland, by T. Lewis and
M. Kneherg, 1946
39 M'~cNcish's interpretation of suhsistencc-setclement pattern o f Ajucrcado PII~ISC(11,000-7,000 B . c . ) in Tchudcan Valley ( T l ~ eScience of
Archncology ? 1978)
28 1
40 Willcy's interpretation of community patterns in thc Viru Valley,
Pel-u, in the EIu.1nc.ico I'criod ( A . n. 8oo-1000) (I'vcl~istovicScttlciirc~rt
l'tzrtr7.11.r211 t l ~ rVil-~iVtrllcy, I'CYU, 195;)








Important ~novcmcntsin archaeology and some major figures associI0
ated with them
Relationships bctwccn lcvcls of gcncmlizations
Merlin erecting Stonchcngc, from a fourteenth-ccntury British manu32
script (British Library MS Egerton 3028, f.3or.)
Digging at Hcrculancum, 1782 (Saint-Nan, J.-C. Voyngepittovesque ct
descviptiort du voyaunze de Napla et de Sicilc, Paris 1781-6
Layard's reconstruction of an Assyrian palace, from Monuments of
Nincveh, 1853
Shang cast bro~lzeritual vessel, illustratrd with rubbing of inscriptions
and their transcription into conventional charactcrs. from twelfthcentury A.D. cataloguc Bagutu (Pcrcival David Foundation of Chinese
Art, London)
Aubrey's plan of Avebury, from his Monzrmenta Britannica, c. 1675
(Rodleian MS Top. Gcn. C. 24, f.39~-40)
Engravillg of tuniuli and rune stones at Jelling, Denmark, 1591
(Drawing executed for Henrik Raczau and published in 1591)
Stukclcy's view of Avcbury, published in Abury, 1743
Successive styles of ornamentation, from Tho~ilsen'sGuidebook (older
forms at top) (C. J. Thomscn Lcdetvaad ti1 Novdisk Oldkyndigged,
Copenhagen 1836)
Thomsen showing visitors around the Museum of Northern Antiquities
Worsaac boring into one of the large tumuli at Jelling; he explains the
procedure t o King Frederik VII o f Denmark (Drawing by J. Koi-1181
crup, 1861)
Achculcan liandasc found by Frcre at Hoxnc, published in Avchaeolo88
@a, 1800

Profile showing location of Palaeolithic material, from Boucher de

Pertlies' Antiquitb ccltiques et antcdiluviennes, 1847
t h , from Atwater's
16 Plan of prehistoric earthworks at P o r t s ~ ~ ~ o uOhio,
'Description o f the antiquities discovered in the State of Ohio' ( T r a i ~ s irrtiorls c!ftl~c
A rrri.r?snri A~~tlqr~rzl.icl~r
Sosic?, 1S2o)

17 Grave Creek Mound, West Virginia, from Squier and Davis Aacieiit
rMo)rrrt?rcntsr f t / ~Mississippi
Vallcy, 1848
18 John Lubbock (Lord Avcbury) (1834-1913) (Radio Tinics Hulton
I'icture Library)
19 'Cultural characterization areas' o f North America, bascd o n archacological criteria, by Holmcs (Antcrica~i
2 0 I)~-,iwi~
~ g C; Scrpcnt Mound o f Ohio, from a pop~il.lrarticle
by 1'11t n i m (<,'cnt~ty
I I l ~ ~ t ~ Mqqaziirc,
21 'Approach to the acropolis', from J. T. Bent's The Ruined Cities of
M a s / ~ u n a ~ n t1892
22 ' N ~ t i v cpolice dispersing the blacks', Western Quccnsland, c. 1882
(C. Lumholtz Among Canizibals, 1890)
23 Oscar Montcli~ls(1843-1921)
2 4 Bronze-age artifacts arranged according t o Montclius' system, 18x1
z.5 Childc with a party ofworkmen at Skara Brae, Orkney, 1928-30 (Roy;~l
Commission on Ancient Monunicnts, Scotland)
26 Childc's first chart correlating the archaeological cultures o f Central
Europe, from The Daizube in Prcbistoiy, 1929
27 Kidder's profile of refuse stratigraphy and construction levels at Pecos
to the Study of Soutr'~~veste~n
Ruin, New Mexico, from A n Zi~t?*oduction
28 Chronological chart from Ford and Willey's synthesis of eastern North
American prehistory (American Anthropologist, 1941)
29 l'etric's profile of Tell el-Hcsy, 1890 (Tell el Hesy, 1901)
30 Grave from Hallstatt cemetery, Austria, recorded by the painter Isidor
Engel in the mid-nineteenth century
31 Pottery of successive periods in Petrie's predynastic sequence, from
Diospolis Parva, 1901
32 V. I. lia\ldonikas (1894-1976) (Institute of Archaeology, Leningrad)
33 Plan o f Palaeolithic hut found at Buryet, reproduced in Antiquity by
Childc, 1950
34 Plan from exca\lations at Novgorod, 1977-83 (Institute ofArchaeology,
35 Excavations at Novgorod, 1977-82 (Institute o f Archaeology,
36 Excavations at Novgorod (Institute o f Archaeology, Leningrad)
37 Plan and section of Cutting 11, Star Carr (Excavatioizs a t Star C a w ,
38 Structures o n mound platform, from Hiwassee Islaizd, by T . Lewis and
M. K~leberg,1946
39 MacNcish's interpretation o f subsistence-settlenient pattern of Ajuercado Phase (11,ooo-7,000 B . c . ) in Tchuacan Valley (TIJEScience of.
A r c h n e o l g ~ ?1978)
28 1
40 Willcy's interpretation o f community patterns in the Viru Vallcp,
Pcru, in thc I'criod ( A . I I . 800-1000) (I'rchistovic Scttlcnrcnt
1'nftcr~r.rit^ t l ~ cVini Valley, I ' c r ~ ,1 ~ 5 3 )

The settlement pattern o f the Basin o f Mexico for the Late Horizon
(Sanders et al., T h e Basin ofMexico, 1979)
42 Binford's plan o f a modern Nunarniut butchery .ma at Anavik Springs,
Alaska, showing where caribou wcrc dismembcrcd dncl waste prociucts
were disposcci (In Purstrit $the Past, 1983)
4 3 System flow chart for Shoshonean Indian subsistence cycle, by D. H.
Thomas (13. H. Thomas in 1). I*. Clarkc, cd., Modcls iu A r r t ~ n c o l q v ,
44 Flow diagram of prcsumed f o o d / m o n ~ ~ m c allocation
in the Classic
Maya civilization (J. A. Hoslcr, J . A. Sabloff .~nciD. liungc in N.
Hammond, ed., Social Process il.1 M a y a Prehistory, 1977)
45 Sampling at Broken K Pueblo, J. N. Hill, 1968 (J. N. Hill in S. R. and
L. R. Binford, New Perspectives i n Archeolofiy, 1968)
46 Modul'~r housing unit .lt Gl.istonbury Iron-agc site, as idcntificci by
I). I,. Clarkc (Modcls in Alz/~aeof!qy,1972)
47 and 48 Hodder's recording of ethnographic distribution o f shield types
and calabash motifs alllong different ethnic groups it1 the Baringo area
of Kenya (Sy~rzbolsi;z Action, 1982)
49 Eighteenth-centur~rWilliarn Paca Garden, Annapolis, Maryland; the
outlilies of the garden are archaeologically cietcrmincd (M.Leone in
D. Miller and C. T i l l e ~ cds.,
Ideol~qy,I'ul~~crand l'rcl~istoly, 1984)
50 Model of drop and toss zones, as de\,elopcd by Rinford from his
ethnoarchaeologic31 study of the Nunamiut of Alaska (ITZPursuit of the
Past, 1983)


This study is a conlbiilcd product of book-learning, archacological

cxpcricncc, and oral tradition. It grew out of a coursc on thc
'History of Arcl~acologicalTheory' that I havc taught annually sincc
1975. Since I began thc coursc, I intcndcd to writc a book on this
subject. My first efforts rcsultcd in thc original essays published in
Time and Traditions (Trigger 1978a) and Gordon Childe: Revolutions
inA~chaeology(Triggcr 198oa). While I continued to writc papcrs on
various aspects of the history of archaeology (see cspccially Trigger
1g8ob, 1981a, 1984a, 1984c, 1985a, rgSjc, 1986b), for various rcasons
two more attcrllpts in the carly 1980s to bcgin this book camc to
nothing. Onc of thc rcasons was my fccling that thc timc was not yet
propitious. Then, in the spring of 1986, I made a third attempt and
found that thc book was 'writing itself. I bclicvc that this changc
rcflccts my growing satisfaction with currcnt dcvclopmcnts in
archacological intcrprctation. Many arcl~acologists,not only in thc
Wcst but '~pparcntly also in thc Soviet Union, arc cxprcssing
conccrn about what they pcrccivc as thc thcorctical fragmentation of
thcir discipline. On thc contrary, I bclievc that current developments are helping archacologists to transccnd thc limitations of
narrowly focuscd sectarian approachcs and resulting in more holistic
and fruitful intcrprctations of archacological data. Thcrc is alsc
growing rcalism in assessing thc limitations of archacological data at
the samc timc that there is grcatcr flcxibility in sccking ways to
ovcrcomc these limitations. Thcsc dcvclopmcnts draw upon past as
well as present archacological accornplishmcnts. It is therefore a
useful timc to review archacological thinking from a historical pcrspcctivc.
A brief statcmcnt of my own thcorctical position is in order. I
havc always rcgardcd a matcrialist outlook as bcing more productive
of an understanding of human behaviour than any other approach.
Iiltclligcntly applicd, it in no way diminishes an apprcciation of the

uniquc characteristics of thc human mind, whilc it facilitates the
inscrtion of social science thcory into a broader biological undcrstanding o f human origins and bchaviour. Yet I havc ncvcr found
that ecological determinism, nco-evolutionary theory, or cultural
materialism provide satisfactory explanations of the f ~ ~range
variation found in human bchaviour or of the various complcxitics
of concrctc scqucnccs of cultural changc. T l ~ r o ~ l g l ~my
o u tcarccr I
Iiavc soi~glitto reconcile a materialist approach with efforts to
account for the historical diversity that cl~aractcrizcsthe archacological record. This has fostcrcd my growing appreciation of.historical materialism, to which I was initially attracted by my efforts to
understand thc past rathcr than as a result of dogmatic political
convictions. In particular, I havc found Gordon Childc's historically
and co~ltcxtuallyoricntcd Marxism to bc infinitely prcfcrable to the
more dctcrministic forms of evolutionary Marxism or the flirting
with idealism that characterizes much so-called 1x0-Marxism.
Whilc this book has bccn writtcn as a unit, I havc drawn to varying dcgrccs upon my previous writings. Thc outlinc of thc study of
the history of archaeology in tlic bibliographical essay for chaptcr
one is bascd heavily 011 Triggcr (1985a). Many of the ideas uscd to
structure chapters four and fivc wcrc dcvclopcd in Triggcr (1978a)
and (1984a), while the sections dealing with Childc in chaptcrs fivc
and scvcn arc bascd on Triggcr (198oa) and morc particularly Trigger
(1984b) and (1986~).
Chaptcr six is bascd in part on Triggcr (1984c),
although thc views that I havc cxprcsscd about Sovict archaeology in
that papcr havc bccn consicierably modificd. Chapter nine makes use
1988). Some
of idcas devclopcd in Triggcr (1982a, 1984c, 198sb, 198~d,
of the rcfcrcnccs citcd in chaptcr six wcrc located by Rosemarie
Bcrnard in thc course of writing hcr McGill undcrgraduatc honours
thesis 'Marxist Archacologics: A History of thcir Development in
the U.S.S.R., Europe, and the Americas' (1985). I am also gratcful t o
Peter Timmins for his advice in drafting the section of chaptcr ninc
dealing with site-formation pi-occsscs. For factual infor~liationand
bibliographical assistance I thank Chcn Chun, Margaret Dcith,
Brian Fagan, Norman Hammond, Fumiko Ikawa-Smith, Junc
Kcllcy, Philip ICohl, Isabcl McBrydc, Mary Mason, Valcrie Pinsky,
Ncil Silbcrman, Robcrt Vogcl, Alexander Iron Gcrnct, Michael
Woloch, and Alison Wylic, as well as many other collcagucs around
the world who have sent me reprints of thcir papers.

The history of archaeology is not a new subjcct. Hence anyone

writing a general study is standing on the shouldcrs of his prcdeccssors. Because of that, wherever it has seemed appropriate to d o so,
I havc citcd authoritative secondary sourccs rather than cxtcndcd
an already mammoth bibliography with rcfcrcnccs to still morc
primary sources that arc impossible to obtain in most libraries. I
havc, howcvcr, whcncvcr possiblc, cxamincd thcsc primary sourccs
and whcrc discrcpancics havc bccn found I have abandoncd dcfcctivc secondary oncs or drawn attention to thcir shortcomings. Whcrc
old and inacccssiblc works arc casily available in reprinted form (and
in English translation), I have cited the lattcr, adding thc date of the
original in squarc brackcts.
Rcsearch for this book was greatly assisted by a sabbatical leave
from McGill University and a Canada Council Leave Fellowship in
1976-7, while some further work was done during another sabbatical
leave when 1 held a Social Sciences and Humanities Rescarch
Council of Canada Lcavc Fellowship in 1983. I wish t o thank both
undcrgraduatc and graduatc students who havc takcn 'History of
Archaeological Thcory' for thcir many contributions to thc dcvclopmcnt of thc idcas expounded in this book. I also thank my daughters,
Isabcl and Rosalyn, for help with word-processing and encouraging
maximum clarity of cxprcssion. Finally I dcdicatc this book to my
wifc, Barbara.


The relevance of archaeological history

Though there exists one major academic industry . . . telling the
social scientists . . . how they can turn themselves into genuine
scientists, there exists another, with at least as flourishing an
output, putatively establislging that the study of man and society
cannot be scientific.
E R N EST G E L L N E R, Relativism nnd

the SocialScicnces (1985), p.


Since the 1950s archaeology, especially in North America and

Wcstern Europe, has shifted from a seemingly complacent culturehistorical orthodoxy to ambitious theoretical innovations. The
latter, far from producing an anticipated ncw consensus, have led to
growing disagreement about the goals of the discipline and how
these goals can be achieved (Dunnell 1983: 535). Increasing numbers
e historians and socioloof archaeologists, following in the w ~ k of
gists, have abandoned positivist certainty and begun to entertain
doubts about thc objectivity of their research. They see social factors
as dctcrnlining not only thc questions that they ask but also thc
answers that they judge to be convincing. Extreme versions of this
view deny that archaeologists can offer interpretations of their data
that are other than a reflection of the transient values of the societies
in which they live. Yet, if archaeology cannot produce some kind of
cumulative understanding of the past and a commentary that is at
least partially independent of specific historical contexts, what
scientific, as opposed to political, psychological, or aesthetic, justification can be offered for doing archaeological research?
This book examines the relations between archaeology and its
social milieu from a historical pcrspectivc. Such an approach provides a comparative viewpoint from which problems of subjectivity,
objectivity, and the gradual accumulation of knowledge can be
asscsscd. In recent years a growing number of archaeologists have
conic to agrcc with thc philosopher and archaeologist R. G.

A history of archacological thought

The relevance of archaeological history

Collingwood (1939: 132) that 'no historical problem should be
studied Githout studying . . . the history of historical thought about
it' (Dunnell 1984: 490). Historical investigations of archacological
i~ltcrprctationhavc multiplied and morc sophisticated methodologies havc been adopted (Trigger 198sa). This approach is not,
howcvcr, without its critics. Michael Schiffcr (1976: 193) has asserted
that graduate courses should ceasc to be 'histories of thought' and
instcad should systematically expound and articulate currcnt theorics. His position embodies the vicw that the truth o r falseness of
thcorctical formulations is independent of social influences and
hence of history but can be dctcrmi~icdby applying scicntificallp
valid procedures of evaluation to adequate bodies of data. Taken to
an cxtrcmc, this vicw implies that the history and philosophy of
archacology arc totally unrclatcd to each othcr. Ironically, historical
analysis provides a privilcgcd viewpoint from which thc rcspcctivc
mcrits of thcse opposing positions can bc cvaluatcd.
The followi~lgchaptcrs will survey the main idcas that have
influcnccd the intcrprctation of archacological data, especially
during t l ~ clast 2 0 0 ycars. I will cxaminc in detail some of the social
factors that havc helped to shape thc idcas that havc structured this
work and the reciprocal impact that archacological intcrprctatiotls
havc had on othcr disciplines and on society. T o d o this it is
necessary to compare the way in which archacological thought has
dc\rclopcd in \larious parts of the world. It is impossible in a singlc
\lolunic to cxaminc cvcry archacological theory or even cvcry
regional archaeological tradition. I hope, howcvcr, that by concentrating on a limited number of significant dcvclopmcnts it will be
possiblc to lcarn something about the niajor factors that havc shaped
arcliaeological intcrprctation. Following L. R. Binford (1981), a
distinction will be drawn bctwcc~iall intcr~laldialoguc, by which
archacologists have sought to dcvclop methods for inferring human
bchaviour from archaeological data, and an cxtcrnal dialogue, in
which they use thcsc findiugs to address general issues conccming
human bchaviour and history. While I d o not claim that thcsc two
lcvcls of discourse arc clcarly separable, the internal dialogue
embraces the distinctive concerns of archacology as a discipline,
while the external one constitutes archaeology's contribution to the
social scicnccs. This is, howcvcr, a distinction that has only rcccntly
become clear to most archacologists.

Thc public reaction to archacological findings indicates the need

to vicw the history of archacology in a broad social contcxt. Thc
popular imagc of archacology is of an csotcric disciplinc that has n o
rclcvancc for thc nccds or conccrns of the prcscnt. Erncst Hooton
(1938: 218) oncc dcscribcd archacologists as bcing viewed as 'thc
scnilc playboys of scicncc rooting in the rubbish heaps of antiquity'.
Yet for almost 200 ycars a widesprcad conccrn for thc broader
implications of archacological discovcrics has contradictcd this
imagc of archacology. No onc would dcny thc romantic fascination
arouscd by spectacular archacological finds, such as thosc by Austen
Layard at Nimrud or Hcinrich Schlicmann at Troy in thc ninctccnth
century, and thc more recent discovcrics of thc tomb of Tutankhamcn, thc Palacc of Minos, thc lifc-sizc ceramic army of the Chincsc
Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, and scvcral million-ycars-old fossil hominids in East Africa. This docs not, howcvcr, cxplain the intcnsc
public intcrcst in thc controversics that havc surrounded the interprctation of many morc routinc archacological findings, thc attcntion that divcrsc political, social, and religious movements
throughout the world linvc p.iid to nrchacological research, and
efforts by various totalitarian rcgimcs to control thc intcrprctation
of archacological data. During thc sccond half of thc nincteenth
century, archacology was lookcd to for support by both sidcs in thc
debate about whether cvolutionism or thc book of Gcncsis providcd
a morc reliable account of hun~anorigins. As rcccntly as thc 1970sa
archaeologist found his position no longer
tcnablc wlicn hc rcfuscd to cast doubt on thc cvidcnce that stone
ruins in Central Africa wcrc built by thc anccstors of thc modern
My adoption of a historical pcrspcctivc docs not mcan that I claim
any privilcgcd status for such an approach with rcspcct t o objcctivity. Historical interpretations arc notoriously subjectivc, t o the
cxtcnt that many historians havc vicwcd thcm as mcrcly cxprcssions
of personal opinion. It is also rccognizcd that, bccausc o f thc
abundancc of historical data, cvidcncc can be marshalled t o 'provc'
almost anything. Thcrc map bc some truth in William McNcill's
(1986: 164) argument that, even if historical intcrprctation is a form
of myth-making, thc myths hclp t o guidc public action and arc a
human substitute for instinct. If this is so, it follows that thcy arc
subject to thc operation of thc social cquivalcnt o f natural sclcction

A history of archaeological thought

The relevance of archaeological history

and hcncc may morc closely approximate reality ovcr long periods of
time. This, howcvcr, is a tenuous basis on which to base our hopes
for thc objcctivity of historical intcrprctations.
I do not claim that thc historical study prcscntcd hcrc is any morc
objcctivc than arc thc intcrprctations of archacological or cthnological data that it cxanlincs. I bclicvc, howcvcr, as do many others who
study thc history of archacology, that J historical approach offcrs a
spccial vantagc point fro111 which thc changing relations bctwccn
its soci.11 snd cultur.11111ilic~1
can be
cxamincd. The timc pcrspcctivc providcs a diffcrcnt basis for studying the ties betwccn archaeology and socicty than d o philosophical
or sociological approachcs. In particular it pcrmits the researcher to
idcntify subjcctivc factors by obscrving how and undcr what circumstances intcrprctations of thc archacological rccord havc changcd.
Although this docs not climinate the bias of the observer, or the
possibility that thcse biases will influcncc the intcrprctation of
archacological data, it almost certainly incrcascs thc chanccs of
gaining morc rounded insights into what has happcncd in thc past.

1982: 42). In the past most of thcse frameworks were not formulated
explicitly or even consciously by archaeologists. Today, especially in
thc contcxt of Amcrican archacology, many thcorctical propositions
are systematically elaborated. Yet it is surely misleading to restrict
the status of thcory to the self-conscious formulations of rccent
dccadcs. Morcovcr, a closc examination of thc history of archacological intcrprctation suggcsts that carlicr thcorics wcrc not always
as implicit or disjointed as thcy arc oftcn bclicvcd to have bccn.
Others acccpt that arch;lcologists cmploycd thcorics in thc past
but maintain that until recently there was not ,enough consistency in
this process for thcse thcorics to havc constituted what Thomas
Kuhn has called a research paradigm. Kuhn (1970: 10)has defincd a
paradigm as an accepted canon of scientific practice, including laws,
thcory, applications, and instrumentation, that providcs a modcl for
a 'particular coherent tradition of scientific research'. Such a tradition is sustained by a 'scientific community' and is propagated in
journals and textbooks that arc controlled by that community. D. L.
Clarke (1968: xiii) dcscribcd archacology as an 'undisciplined cmpirical disciplinc' and suggcstcd that its thcorctical dcvclopmcnt, at
least until very rccent times, must be rcgarded as being in a preparadigmatic state. Until the 196os, archacological theory remained
a 'disconncctcd bundlc of inadcquatc subtheories' that had not bccn
structurcd within a con~prchcnsivcsystem. H c also implied that only
approaches that arc recognized internationally can qualifjr as paradigms (ibid. 153-5). Yet detailed studies of earlier phases in the
devclopment of archaeology are revealing much more comprehensive and internally consistent formulations than were hitherto
believed to have cxisted. This is especially true of studies that respect
the integrity of the past and judgc the work donc in terms of the
idcas of the pcriod rather than modern standards (Meltzer 1983;
Grayson 1983, 1986).
Some archaeologists combine Kuhn?sidca of scientific revolutions
with an evolutionary view of thc development of their disciplinc.
They maintain that successive phases in the devclopment of archaeological thcory display enough intcrnal consistency to qualify as
paradigms and that thc rcplaccmcnt of onc paradigm by anothcr
constitutes a scicntific revolution (Sterud 1973). According to this
view, successive innovators, such as Christian Thomsen, Oscar
Montelius, Gordon Childc, and Lcwis Binford, rccognizcd major

Approaches to the histoy of archaeolo~y

Thc nccd for a morc systcmatic study of the history of archacological
interpretation is indicated by scrious disagrccmcnts about thc
nature and significancc of that history. A major controvcrsy ccntrcs
on the role playcd by explanation in thc study of archaeological data
over the last two ccnturics. G . R. Willcy and J. A. Sabloff organized
their A History ofAmerican Archaeology (1974, 1980) in terms of four
succcssive periods: Spcculativc, Qassificatory-Dcscriptivc, Classificatory-Historical, and Explanatory, the last of which began in
1960. This schcmc implics that archacology in thc wcstcrn hcmisphcrc cxpcricnccd a long gestation during which dcscriptivc and
classificatory objcctivcs prcdominatcd, prior to dcvcloping significant thcorics to cxplain i'ts data. Yct, as thc British historian
E. H. Carr (1967: 3-35) has rcmindcd us, the mere characterization
of data as bcing relevant or irrclcvant, which occurs cvcn in the most
dcscriptivc historical studics, implics thc cxistcncc of somc kind of
thcorctical frarncwork. It can furthcr be argucd in opposition to thc
idca of a ncutral observational language, that not even thc simplcst
fact can bc constituted indcpcndently of a thcorctical contcxt (Wylic

A history of arcl~acologicalthought

The relevance of archaeological history


anomalies and. inadequacies in convcntional intcrpretations of

archaeological data and shaped new paradigms that significantly
changcd tlic dircction of archacological rcscarch. Thcsc paradigms
not only altcrcd the significancc that was accorded to arcl~acological
data but also dctcrmincd what kinds of problcms wcrc and wcrc not
rcgardcd as important.
Yet archacologists d o not agrcc about the actual scquencc of
major paradigms .ire supposcd to have ch,iractcrizcd thc dcvclopmcnt of arch~cology(Scllwartii 1967; cssdys in Fitting 1973).This
may partly rcflcct a I ~ c kof clarity in Kuhn's conception of a paradigm (Mcltzcr 1979). Somc critics havc assumed that a discipline
may bc cliaractcrizcd simultaneously by a number of f~~nctionally
different typcs of paradigms. Thcsc may be only looscly related to
onc anothcr and may altcr at difErcnt rates to produce an ovcrall
pattcrn of changc that is gradual ratlicr than abrupt. Margaret
Masterman (1970) has differentiated thrcc main typcs of paradigm:
metaphysical, relating to the world vicw of a group of scientists;
sociological, that dcfinc what is acccptcd; and construct, that supply
the tools and mcthods for solving problems. No onc of thcse typcs
alone constitutes 'thc' paradigm of a particular cra. Kuhn has also
bccn accuscd of ignoring thc importance of compctition and mobility bctwccn rival 'schools' for bringing about changc in a disciplinc
(Barnes 1974: 95). It n1.1y JISO be that, ~ C C ~ I L I Sof
C the complexity of
thcir subjcct-matter, thc social scicnccs havc morc such schools and
competing paradigms than d o the natural scicnccs and perhaps
bccausc of this individual paradigms tcnd to cocxist and rcplace one
anothcr relatively slowly (Binford and Sabloff 1982).
An altcrnativc vicw, which is morc in accord with thcsc critiques
of Kuhn and with Stephcn Toulmin's (1970) thesis that scicnccs d o
not cxpcricncc revolutions but rather gradual changcs or progressions, holds that the history of archacology has involvcd a c~~mulativc
growth of knowlcdgc about tlic past from carly timcs to the prcscnt
(Casson 1939; Hcizcr 1962a; Willey and Sabloff 1974; Meltzcr 1979).
It is maintained that, although various phascs in this dcvclopmcnt
may be delineated arbitrarily, archacology changes in a gradual
fashion, with no radical breaks or suddcn transformations (Danicl
1975: 374-6). Somc archacologists view the dcvclopment of thcir
disciplinc as following a coursc that is unilincar and incvitablc. The
data base is seen as c ~ n t i n ~ l o ~expanding
and new intcrprctations

are treated as the gradual elaboration, rcfinemcnt, and modification

of an existing corpus of thcory. This vicw docs not, howcvcr, takc
account of thc frequent failurc of archacologists to dcvclop thcir
idcas in a systematic fashion. For cxamplc, whilc ninctccnth-ccntury
naturalists with archaeological intcrcsts, such as Japctus Strccnstrup
(Morlot 1861: 300) and WiIliam Buckland (Dawkins 1874: 281-4)
carried out experiments to dctcrminc how faunal rcmains wcrc
introduced into sites, rcscnrcli of this sort did not bcconic routilic in
archacology until thc 1970s (Binford 1977, 1981).
A third vicw treats the dcvelopmcnt of archacological thcory as a
process that is lion-linear and frequently unpredictablc. Changcs arc
vicwcd as causcd not so much by new arcliacological data as by novel
idcas about 11~1manbehaviour that arc formulated clscwlicrc in the
social scicnces and may reflect social valucs that exhibit fluctuations
in popularity. Bccausc of this, archacological intcrprctation docs not
change in a linear fashion, with data bcing construed evcr more
comprehcnsivcly and satisfactorily. Instcad, changing pcrccptions
of human behaviour can radically altcr archacological intcrprctations, rendering information that previously secmcd important of
relatively little interest (Piggott 1950, 1968, 1976; Danicl 1950;
Hunter 197s).This view accords with Kuhn's (1970: 103) obscrvation
that shifting paradigms not only sclcct ncw issucs as bcing important
but also dcflcct attention fro111problcms that othcrwisc might havc
been thought worthy of further study. This vicw, unlike the evolutionary ones, does not regard it as ccrtain that most changes in
theoretical orientation result in thc forward movcmcnt of archaeological rcsearch.
Some archaeologists doubt that thc intcrcsts and conccpts of thcir
discipline changc significantly from one pcriod to anothcr. Bryony
Ormc (1973: 490) maintains that the archacological intcrpretations
offcrcd in thc past wcrc morc likc thosc of thc prcscnt than is
commonly belicvcd and that archaeological preoccupations havc
changed little. A remarkable antiquity can be demonstrated for some
ideas that arc commonly bclicvcd to bc modcrn. Archaeologists
argucd that growing population dcnsitics Icd to thc adoption of
more labour-intensive forms of food production long before thcy
rediscovered this idea in the work of Estcr Boscrup (Smith and
Young 1972). AS carly as 1673, the British statesman William Temple
had adumbrated this thcory with his obscrvation that high popu-

A history of arcl~acologicalthought

The relevance of archacological history

lation dcnsitics forcc pcoplc to work hard (Slotkin 1965: IIG-11). 111
1843 the Swedish archacologist Svcn Nilsson (1868: Ixvii) argued that
increasing population had brought about a shift from pastoralism to
agriculture in prehistoric Scandinavia. This concept was also implicit in the 'oasis' thcory of the origin of food production, as cxpoundcd b!. Raphael Pumpclly (1908: 65-6) and adopted by Harold Pcakc
and H. J. Flcurc (1927)and by Gordon Childc (1928).They proposed
that postgl.~cialdesiccation in the Near East Il.ld compcllcd pcoplc
to cluster around surviving- sources of water, whcrc they had to
innovate in order to fccd higher population dcnsitics. Yet, while
idcas persist and recur in the history of archacology, this docs not
mean t11;it there is nothing new in the intcrprctation of archacological data. Such idcas must be examined in relation to the diffcrcnt
conceptual frameworks of which they wcrc a part at each period. It is
from these framcworks that tl~cscconcepts derive thcir significance
to the discipline and, as the frameworks change, thcir significancc
docs also. According unduc importru~ccto particular idcas and not
x t lead archacpaying enough attcntion to their changing c o ~ ~ t cwill
ologists to undcrcstimatc the amount of significant changc that has
characterized the clcvclopnlcnt of arcl~acologicalintcrprctatio~l.
Many archaeologists note that one of the principal characteristics
of archacological intcrprctation has bccn its rcgio~lal diversity.
David Clarkc (1979: 28, 84) nnil Leo Klcjn (1977)llavc both trc;ltccl
the I~istoryof archacology as one of rcgional scl~ools.Clarkc maintained that archacology had only recently begun to ccasc being a
series of divergent traditions, each with its own locally cstccnlcd
body of thcory and prcfcrrcd form of description, intcrprctation,
and explanation. It is clear that there have bccn, and still arc,
rcgional traditions in archacological intcrprctation (Daniel 1981b;
Evans ctnl. 1981:11-70; Trigger and Glover 1981-2). What has not yet
been studicd adequately is the nature of thcir divergences. T o what
dcgrcc do they rcprcscnt irrcconcilablc differences in the understanding of human bchavioi~r,differences in the questions being
asked, o r the same basic idcas bcing studicd undcr thc guise of
different tcrminologics? Cultural diffcrc~lccsarc important. Yet, on
closer inspection, most interpretations bv archacologists working 1
within different national traditions can bc assigned to a limited
nu111bcr of gcncral
orientations. Elscwhcrc I havc identified thrcc
types: colonialist, nationalist, and imperialist or world-oriented

(Triggcr 1984a). Tl~cschave rcplicatcd thcmsclvcs in thc archacology of countries that arc gcographically rcmotc from onc anothcr
and the archacology of a particular nation may switch from onc type
to another as its political circumstanccs change. Such approachcs to
archacological intcrprctation will bc cxamincd in dctail in later
Yet studics of rcgional traditions, with a few notable exceptions
(12crn;il 1980; Chakrabarti 1982), havc failed to take account of the
vast intcllcctual exchange that has charactcrizcd thc dcvclopmcnt of
arc11acology in all parts of thc world during thc ninctccntl~and
twentictl~ccnturics. This is dramatically illustrated by the carly
s t ~ ~ of
d ys11cll mounds. Reports of the pioneering studies by Danish
scholars, who bcgan thcir work in thc 184os, stimulated a large
number of investigations of shcll hcaps along the Atlantic and latcr
the Pacific coasts of North America in thc latter half of the nineteenth century (Triggcr 1986a). When the Amcrican zoologist
Edward Morse went to tcach in Japan, aftcr analysing matcrial from
shcll 111ounds along
- thc coast of Maine for thc Harvard University
archaeologist Jcffrics Wyman, 11c discovcrcd and cxcavatcd in 1877 a
large Mesolithic shcll deposit at Omori, near Tokyo. Some of his
zoology students dug another sl~cllmound by thcmsclvcs and it was
not long bcforc Japancsc archacologists who had studicd in Europc
cstablishcd the s t ~ ~ dofp the Mcsolitl~icJomon culture on a professional basis (Ikawa-Smith 1982). The Scandinavian studics also
stimulated the carly invcstigation of shcll mounds in Brazil (Ihcring
1895) and Southcast Asia (Earl 1863). Even thc ideologically opposed
archacological traditions of Wcstcrn Europe and the Soviet Union
have significantly influc~lccdcach other, dcspitc dccadcs whcn
scientific contact of any sort was very difficult and cven dangerous.
For all these reasons it s c e r ~ ~
to over-estimate thc indcpcndcncc or thcorctical distinctivcncss of thcsc rcgional archaeologics.
Less attention has bccn paid t o thc cffccts of disciplinary specialization within archacology on the ways in which archacological data
arc intcrprctcd (Rousc 1972: 1-25)> Yet diffcring oricntations along
these lines may account for as many diffcrenccs as d o regional
traditions. Classical archacology, Egyptology, and Assyriology have
been strongly committcd to studying epigraphy and art history
within a historical framework (Bietak 1979). Medicval archaeology
has dcvclopcd as an invcstigation of matcrial rcmains that corn-

A history of archaeological thought

The relevance of archaeological history

plements research based on written records (M. Thompson 1967;

D. M. Wilson 1976; Barley 1977).Palacolithic archaeology developed
alongside historical geology and palacontology and has maintained
close ties with these disciplines, while the study of later prehistoric
periods frequently combines data from numerous other sources with
archaeological findings. Thcsc include linguistics, folklore, physical
anthropology, and comparative ethnolog!~(11. McCa111964;Trigger
r968a; Jcnnings 1979). Yet, while several of thcsc types of archacology 11a\.e developed in considerable intcllcctual isolation fro111
each other over long periods and havc been further estranged as a
result of the balka~~izatioll
of their respective jargons, historical
coiincctions, sporadic interaction, and common mctl~odological
interests have bccn sufficient for all of them 10 sharc numerous
intcrp rctativc concepts.
In an effort to avoid at lcast some of the problems outlined above,
tlic present study will not survcy trcnds in archaeological intcrprctation from a specifically chronological, geographical, or sub-disciplinary perspccti\~e(Schuylcr 1971).Illstcad it will investigate a number
of interpretative trends in rougl~lythe chronological order in which
they originated. These trends frequently overlapped and interacted
d work
with cach other, both temporally and geographically, ~ n the
of many illdividual archaeologists reflects several trends, either at
diffcrcnt stages of their careers or in somc combination. This
appro~challows a historical study to take account ofchanging stylcs
of arcl~acologicalinterpretation which cannot be fitted into clearly
defined cl~ronologicalor geographical pigconholes but which reflect
waves of iniiovatio~ithat have transformed archaeology.

the investigator. Other arcl~aeologistsbclievc that, because their

discipline's findings concerning the past are consciously or
unconsciously seen to have implications for thc present or about
human nature generally, changing social conditions influence not
only the questions archacologists ask but also thc answers that they
,Ire prcclisposcd to find acceptable.
David Clarke (1979: 8s) had these external tictors in mind when he
described archaeology as an adaptivc system 'related internally to its
changing content and cxtcrnally to the spirit of the times'. Elsewhere
11c wrote: 'Tl~rough exposure to life in general, to educatio~lal
processes and to the changing contemporary systems of belief we
acquire a general pl~ilosophyand an arcl~acologicalphilosophy in
particular - a partly conscious and partly subconscious system of
beliefs, concepts, values and principles, both realistic and metaphysical' (ibid. 25). Still earlicr Collingwood (1939: 114) had
observed that every archaeological problem 'ultiniatcly arises out of
"real" life . . . we study history in ordcr to see more clearly into the
situation in which we are called upon to act'.
In recent years arcl~aeologyhas been powerfully influenced by the
attacks that relativists have launched against the concept of science
'IS a rat~onaland objective entcrprisc. These attacks have their roots
in the anti-positivism of the para-Marxist Frankfurt School, as
represented 111ostrecently in thc writings of Jiirgcn Habcrmas (1971)
and Herbert Marcuse (1964). These scholars stress that social conditions influence both what data arc regarded as important and how
they arc interpreted (IColakowski 1978~:341-95). Their views have
been strengthened by Kuhn's paradigmatic concept, by the arguments of the sociologist Barry Barnes (1974, 1977) that scientific
lu~owledgeis not different in kind from any otller forms of cultural
belief, and by the anarchistic claims of the American philosopher of
science Paul Feyerabend (1975) that, because objective criteria for
evaluating theories do not exist, sciencc should not be fettered by
rigid rules and that personal preferences and aesthetic tastes should
be relied on to evaluate rival theories. Ideas of this sort have
attracted a considerable following in recent years among self-styled
critical archacologists, especially in Britain and the United States.
While some argue that in the long run greater awareness of social
biases will promote more objectivity (Leone 1982), others maintain
that even basic archacological data are mental constructs and hence

The envi~onmentof a~chaeo1og;y

No one denies that arcliacological researcl~is influenced by many
different kinds of factors. At present the most controversial of these
is the social context in which"archaeologists live and work. Very few
archacologists, includillg those who favour a positivistic view of
scientific research, would deny that the qucstions arcl~aeologistsask
are influenced at lcast to somc degree by this milieu. Yet positivists
maintain that, so lollg as adequate data arc available and these data
are analpsed using proper scientific methods, the validity of the
resulting conclusions is independent of the prejudices or beliefs of

story of a

;ical thou;

-r A-L" ,.,arc nor ~nacpc~ldent

J I L L ~~ I Lin
are utlllzc
(Gallay 1986: 5s--61). Thc morc extreme formulations ignore tf
qualifications of Habcrmas and Barncs that 'knowledgc arises out (
our encounters with reality and is continually subject t o feedbacl
correction from thcsc cncountcrs' (Barncs 1977: 10). Instcad, thc
concludc that ar&acological intcrprctatio~lsarc dctcrmincd cntire
by thcir social context r ~ t h c rthan by any objective cvidcncc. Tht
statcmcnts d b ~ i the
~ t P.IS~ cdnnot be cv.ilu.ltcci by m y critcri.1 othcr
than the ~ntcrnalcohcrcncc of any particular study 'which can only
be criticiscd in terms of intcr~lalconceptual relations and not in
tcrms of externally imposcd standards or crltcria for "measuring" (
"dctcrmining" truth or falsity' (Millcr and Tillcy 1984: 151).A broa
spectrum of altcrnativcs separates those hypcr-positivistic archac
ologists who believe that only the quality of archacological data an
of analytical techniques determines the value of archaeological inte
prctations and the hyper-rclativists who arc incli~ledto accor
archacological data no role, but instead explain archacological intc
prctations cntirclp in tcrms of thc social and cultural loyalt~csof tlrcscarchcr.
While the influcrlccs that socictics cxcrt on archaeological intc
( prctations arc potentially very diverse, the dcvclopment of archat
ology has corrcspondcd temporally with the risc to power of ti
mi ddlc clas,scs in Wcstcrn society. Although many of the car
Pa trons of classical archaeology belonged to the aristocracy, sin(
Ci riaco dc' Pizzicolli in the fifteenth century archaeologists ha1
becn predominantly men~bcrsof thc middlc class: civil servant
clergymen, merchants, country squires, and, with increasing prc
fcssionalization, university teachers. In addition, much of the pub1
interest in archaeological findings has bcen found among the edi
cated middlc classcs, includi~lgsometimes political leaders. A
branches of scientific investigations that have developed since ti
scvcntccnth century havc donc so under thc aegis of the midd
classcs. Yct archacology and history arc rcadily intclligiblc disc
plincs and thcir findings have strong implications concernir
human naturc and why modcrn socictics havc come to be as they al
(Levine 1986). This transparent relevance for current politica
economic, and social issues makes relations bctween archaeolog
and society especial,ly complex and important. It therefore seen
reasonable to cxamiric archaec
in cxprcs.sion of th

relevance of archac
if the miduLLL l a a a u d l l u L" LIY.. *LU U
L ~ C O to
cxtcat change,- --rchaeological interpretatio n reflect the altcring fort1ines of that
This is not to cla~mthat the middlc classes are a unitary p11t-11~
non. The bourgeoisie of the Ancicn Regime, composcd largely, of
Ierics, professionals, and royal administrators, has to be dist.inuishcd from the cntrcprcncurial bourgcoisic of thc Indust]rial
1 (Darnton 1984: 113). Thc intcrcsts and dcgrcc of dcc,elf the middle classcs also have varicd grcatly from c)nc
3unri-y ro another and within cach country they havc been divialed
ito various strata, while individuals who prefer eithcr more radi cal
r morc conservative options arc found in cach stratum. It is aIs0
~idcntthat archaeology has not been associated with the whc3lc
liddlc class but only with that part of it, 1argcly cc)mposcd
rofessionals, which is inclined to bc interested in schola rship (Kr
ansen 1981; Lcvine 1986).
Relations bctween intcrcsts and idcas arc contextually mediat
a largc number offactors. Archaeologists therefore cannot expc
1 establish a onc-to-one c o r r c s p o ~ ~ d c bctwccn
~ ~ c c spccific archac
gical intcrprctations and particular class intcrcsts. Instead th
ust analysc the ideas influencing archacological intcrpretations
01s with which social groups seck to achicvc thcir goals in p;
ticular situations. Among thcsc goals arc to cnhancc the groul
sclf-confidcncc by making its success appcar natural, prcdcstinc
and inevitable, to inspire and just@ collective action, and to d
guise collective interests as altruism (Barncs 1974: 16); in short,
provide groups and whole societies with mythical charters (McNe
1986). Without denying the significance of individual psychologic
tr;kits and cultural traditions, the relations betwc:en archa eology ar
thle middle classes provide an important focus; for exatnining tl
re1ationship between archacology and society.
Most professional archaeologists also bclicve their discipline to t
,ignificantly influcnccd by a largc numbcr of otllcr intcrnal ar
bxternal factors. All but the most radical relativists agree that one (
thc:sc is the archaeological data base. Archaeological data have bec
acc:umuIating continuously for several centuries and ncw data ai
tra ditionally held to constitute a test of earlier interpretations. Y
. wnlat data are collected and by what me1thods are influence
:d by eve1
of what i
int, whiclh in turn reflects h

A history of archaeological thought

or her theoretical presuppositions. This creates a reciprocal relationthat lcavcs both

ship bctwccn data collection and i~ltcrprctatio~l
open to social influences. Moreover, the data recovered in the past
arc often ncitlicr adcquatc n o r appropriate to solve the problems
that arc considered important at a latcr timc. This is not simply
because archacologists were ~~nfamiliar
with tcchniqucs that bccamc
importa~ltlatcr and therefore failed to prcscrvc charcoal for radiocarbon dating or soil samplcs for phytolith analysis, although such
gaps in documc~ltatio~l
can be cstremcly limiting. New perspectives
frequently open up whole new lincs of investigation. For example,
Grahamc Clark's (1954) interest in the ccolaolny of the Mesolithic
period led him to ask questions that simply could not be a~lswcrcd
using data collcctcd when the main intcrcst 'of Mcsolithic studies
was typological (Clark 1932). Likewise, the dcvclopn~c~it
of an
i~ltcrestin scttlcment archaeology rcvol~itionizcdarchacological site
surveys (Willep 1953) and provided a stronger impetus for the
recording and a~lalysisof intrasitc distributio~lsoE features and
artifacts (Millon et al. 1973). Hcncc, whilc archacological data are
being collected constantly, the rcsults are not nccessar~lyas cumulative as many archacologists believe. Indeed, archacologists ofteB
secm t o build more on what their predecessors c o ~ ~ c l u d cabout
past than on the evidence on which these co~lclusionswere based.What archacologists can study is also influenced by.thc resources
that are madc available for archaeological research, the i~lstitutio~lal
contexts in which rcscarch is carried out, and the kinds of investigations societies or governments arc prepared to let archaeologists
u~ldertake.T o obtain support archaeologists must please their sponsors, whether these be wealthy patrons (Hinsley 1985), colleagues
and politicians managing the allocation of public funds (Patterson
1986a), or the general public. There map also be social restrictions on
excavating certain kinds of sites, such as cemeteries or religious
localities (Roscn 1980). In thcse ways considcrablc constraint may
be exerted on the rescarc11"archaeologists d o and how they interpret
their finds.
Until the twentieth century, few archaeologists were educated in
the discipline. Instead they brought to arehacology a variety of skills
and viewpoints acquired in Inany different fields and avocations. All
of them had studied a curriculum in which 'classical and biblical
Basic principles derived from 3 widematerial was c~i~phasizccl.

The releva~lceof arcl~aeologicalhistory

spread interest in numismatics played an important role in the
d e v c l o p ~ n cof
~ ~typology
and striation by Christian Thomsen, John
Ev.uis, and othcr early archacologists (McICay 1976). In thc nineteenth century a growing number who took up the study of archacology been ccl~ic~~ted
in tlic physical and biological scicnccs.
Even now it 1s cl,limccl that diffcrcnccs can be noted in thc
donc by professional .~rcl~,~cologists
wliosc early training was
in the humanities or natural scie~lccs(Chapman 1979: 121). More
recently, a large number of prehistoric arcl~acologistshave bcci~
trained in anthropology o r history dcpartmcnts, dcpenditlg on local
preferences. The role played by particularly successful tcaclicrs o r
charismat~carchacologists as cxc~liplarsin shaping the practicc of
/arcliacology 011 a national and an intcrnatio~lalscalc is also sign~ficnnt.Younger arcliacologists map striltc off in new directions .uid
plonccr novel techniques of analysis or i~ltcrpretatio~l
in ordcr to try
to establish a reputation for thcmselvcs. This phcnomc~ionis particularly comnlon during periods of rapid growth and a broadcni~ig
range of cmploy~ncntopportunities.
Archacological interpretation has also been influcnccd by dcvclopments in the physical and biological sciences. Until recent
decades, whcn collaborative rcscarch involvi~lgarchacologists and
~laturalscicnt~stsbccamc routine, with rare cxccptions the flow of
infomlation bctwec~i these disciplincs was unidirectional, with
archacologists being the recipients. Hcncc rcscarch in the ~iatural
scie~lccswas only fortuitously rclatcd t o the needs of archaeologists,
although from time t o time discovcries were madc that were of
trcnicndous lmportallce for arcl~aeology.T l ~ c ~ d c v c l o p mof
e ~radio~t
carbon and othcr geochronomctric dating tccl~niqucsafter World
War I1 provided archacologists for the first timc with a universally
applicable c h r o ~ ~ o l o gand
y onc that allowed the duration as well as
the relative order of archaeological rnanifestatio~~s
to bc determined.
Pollen analysis has providcd valuable new insights into prehistoric
climatic and c~lvironn~ental
changes, whilc trace-clement analysis
has added an important dimension t o the study of thc prehistoric
n~ovemcntof certain kinds of goods. I ~ l ~ l o v a t i oderived
from the
phys~caland biological scienccs have generally bee11 incorporated
Into archacological rcscarch throughout the world rapidly and with
little resistance. The maill obstacle t o their sprcad is thc lack of funds
and tr'lincd scientific pcrs01i11e1in smaller and poorcr countries, a

A history of archae:ological thought

.e of archaeological history

factor t hat probs~blycrcatces more d.isparity bctwecn t he archae

-..L -.of rich and poor countrlcs that1 any othcr. Yet cvcn now, wllcll 11lurc
pllysical and biological rcscarch is being undcrtakcll spccific;
solvc archacological problems, discovcrics in these fields r
some of the least predictable happenings that influence arclldcvlogical intcrprctation.
ata processing has
The proliferation of electronic fc
. .I..-:.
lutionizcd archacological analpsls ILU Icaa than did radiocaLuv..
dating. It is now possiblc to corrclatc in a routine fashion vast
~ I I I O L ts
I ~ Iof dat a, which in thc past only an exceptional archaeologist, sucn as W. M. F. Pctric, would havc attempted t o analyse
(Kcndall 1969, 1971).This allows archaeologists t o usc the abundant
data at their disposal to search for morc detailed patterning in thc
arcl~acological rccord and to test morc complex hypo+'-+~~.c
(Hodson e t al. 1971; Doran and Hodson 1975; Hoddcr 1978; 1Orton
1980; Sabloff 1981).New theoretical oricntations have been er
agcd by spccific dcvclopmcnts of a mathcmatical naturc. GbLXGLu.
systems thcory (Flanncry 1968; Stcigcr 1971; Laszlo 1972a; Bcrlinski
1976) and catastrophe theory (Thorn 1975; Rcnfrcw 1978; Renfrew
and Cookc 1979; Saundcrs 1980)arc both n~athcn~atical
have bccn emphasized less than the underlying concepts in applying
them to archacological problems.
Thc intcrprctation of arcl~acological data has also bee n significantly affected by thc changing theories of hun~anbeh,aviour
ced bv,
cspoused by the social scicnccs. It has bccn cspccially influcn~
concepts dcrivcd from cthnclogy and history, the two disciplines
with which arcl~acoiogyhas maintained thc closest ties. Theoretical
concepts dcrivcd from geography, sociology, economics, and political scic~lcchavc also influenced archacology, either directly or
through anthropology and history. Yet, inasmuch as all these disciplincs have becn shaped by many of the same social nlovcrncnts that
have influc~lcedarchaeologp, it is often difficult to distinguish social
science influc~lceson archacology from those of society at lar'ge.


forn~ulatedin accordance vvith a ger
- .
v ~ c wtnat bas bccn rcjcctcd. For cxamplc, whcn K. S.
(1952) uscd pottery striations to demonstrate that local dcvclopme~~t
explained the origin of thc Northern Iroquoian culturcs of eastern
North A111crica bcttcr than did migration, hc continucd to acccpt
small-scale migrations as accounting for the origins of a few specific
groups. H e and other archaeologists forgot that these mi cromigrations wcrc not bascd on sound arcl~acologicalevidcncc
had bccn part of the largcr-scale migrationary theorizing that A
Neish himsclf had disproved. In this fashion specific vicws about
past can persist and influcncc arcl~acologicalintcrprctation 1ong
~ f t cthe
r reasoning that led 1-o tllcir for~i~ul.~tion
llas bcc11discrcd i tcd
~ n dahnndoncd (Trigger 19,78b).


Thc intcrprctation of archacological data is also significantly

influcnccd by established bclicfs about what has bccn learned from
thc archaeological record. It often happens that spccific interpretat i n l i c nf the past arc uncriticallv accon~n~odatcd
to challgi~lggencral
cd, cvcn when
vicws, rather tl Ian carcf

hocial scien~c111 rnc scnsc that it trics to cxplaln

hat has happcncd to spccific groups of human bcings in thc past
~ n dto gcncralize about processes of cultural changc. Yct, unlikc
:thnologists, gcographcrs, sociologists, political scientists, and
:conomists, archaeologists cannot obscr\~cthc bchaviour of thc
)eople they arc studying and, unlikc historians, most of thcm d o not
lavc direct acccss to the thoughts o f these people as they are
ecorded in written texts. Instead archaeologists must infer hul;nan
)ehaviour and ideas from the illaterial rcmains of what hurl11an
)cings have madc and usccf .~ndof their physical inlpact on +I. ,.
nvironmcnt. The interpretation of archaeological data dcpel
[pon an understanding of how human bcings bchavc at the prcs
ime and particularly of how this behaviour is reflectcd in mate
ulture. Arcl~acologistsmust also invoke uniformicaria~lprinci~
I order to use an understanding of modern geological and E
3gical processes to infer how such processes have helped to sh;
le archacological record. Yet they are far from agreed how sl
nderstandings can be applied legitimately and comprehcnsively
erive an understanding of past huma~?behaviour from their d
Binford 1967a, 1981; Gibbon 1984; Gallay 1986).
Archaeologists have begun to follow thc example of philosopl~
f scicnce (Nagcl 1061) and othcr social-sciencc disciplines In
assifying tllcir thc
to high, Imiddle, a
I I C ~ L ~ C U I U15


'hc rclc\~anccof archacologicRI history

or)?of arc
L ~ V G I ~





1 coherence I correspondence
. -~

(length of arrow indicates

relative importance of relationship)

ships betwm

984). Thi1s schcmc

tb and Gc
d SI I I C I ~ C3 y 3 L C l l l l l L 1 C U l l d c r ~ t a ~ l d
o ~t the
~ l gnature 01 arcllacoat charactcrizc the
logical theory and of proccs scs of rea
. .
....,, 1-uccll
,.,. u,.LI,a.*c "k .l.h;,v.c,d as e~nplrical
OW-1evcItheories I.ldvc
research with
gcn(:ralizations (IClejn rd77: 2 ) . Thcsc appear to be the same as
E r ncst Nagcl's (1961: 79-105) cxpcrimcntal laws, ofwhich hc gives as
aIi cxamplc the proposition that all fcmalc whales suckle their young.
Suclh gcneralizatiolls arc normally bascd on rcgularities that arc
rcpc:atcdly observed and which can be refuted by the observation of
- .cull;rar)r
cases. The vast ~najority
generalizations on which further
, of :s of this
11 intcrprct.ltions arc bascdI are cmp

- .

low categoric

...-,.,."- -.



dc most typological classif ications c)f artifact

sort. TI
identifications of spccific archacological cultures; the dc~llonstration
by means of stratification, seriation, or radiocarbon dating that one
archacological manifestation dates earlier, or later, than a ~ ~ o t h cand
. .
crvation that in an individual culture all humans arc buried in
ular position accomp.illicd by spccific typcs of.~rtiticts.Tlicsc
t/,,ltIons arc b.lscd o n observations that spccific attributes or
.lrtIr,lct typcs occur rcpc,ltcdly in a particular association wit1i cach
other, correlate with a specific geographical locality, or datc:to a
certain period. The dinlcnsions of such gcncralizations ar,c the
classical ones ofspacc, time, and form (Spaulding 1960; Gardill 1980:
62-97). Archaeologists also map assume that spccific types ofprojcctilc points served particular functions and that cach archacological
culturc was associated with a spccific people. Thcsc infcrcnccs, \1J.;rl,
refer to human bchaviour, differ substa~~tially
from gcncraliz:
which arc bascd on empirical obscrvatiolls of correlations bet
two or more categories of archacologically tangible data. In Inany
instances the bc11'1vioural assumptions turn out to be intorrcct,
unprovccl, or m~slc.lding. Uccausc of the nature of archacolc
data, low-lcvel gcncralizations never rcfcr to human beha\
From the point of view of such bel~aviour,they arc rcgularitics
explained rather than explanations in their own right.
Middle-lcvcl theories have been defined as gcncralizations
attempt to account for the regularities that occur betweell t v
more scts of variables in multiple instances (Raab and Gooddycar
1984). Social-science ge~lcralizatio~ls
should have cross-cul*----'
validity and also make some refcrcllcc to human bchaviou
addition they must be sufficiently spccific that they can bc tcstc
applying them to particular scts of data. An cxamplc of a mil
level anthropological gc~lcralizationis Ester Boscrup's (1965)pr'opesition that among agricultural cconomics populatio~lpressure leads
to situations that require more labour for each unit of food y,
-duccd in ordcr to derive more food from each unit of arable land.
This theory would be archacologically tcstablc if archaeologists
could establish rcliablc measures of absolute or relative changes in
population, the labour intcnsivcncss and productivity of spc
agricultural rcgimes, and a sufficiently prccisc chronology to spccify
the temporal rclatio~ishipbetween c h a ~ ~ g in
c s population and fnnJ
on. l3oi1i g this 1~oulclre
C L U I L -

- ..: relevance of archaeological ...-.-.


A history of arcllaeological tnougnc

calls middle-range thcory, which attempts to use

ologically obscr\.ablc phenomena and archacologically untobscrvable human bchaviour. Althougl~'middle-level' and 'middlc
thcorics arc not idc~ltical,in that middle-level thcoql can rerer
cnclusi\lcly to 1i~11ii;un
wliilc ~iiicidlc-r;~ngc
ones must refer
both to h~lmanbchaviour nncl archacologically obscrvablc traits, all
of I{infi)rd's ~niddlc-rangetheory can be regarded ns n type of
middle-lc\lcl thcory. Middle-range thcory is vital for thc tcstir~gof all
middle-lcvcl thcory rclating to arcl~acologicnldata.
High-level, or general thcorics, which Marvin Harris (1979.
calls 'rcscarch strategies' and David Clarke (1979: 25-30) labelled
'controlling modcls', have been defined as abstract rules that explain
the rclationsl~ipsamong the thcorctical propositiolls that arc rclevant for understailding major categories of phenomena. Darwinian
evolutionism and morc rcccntly the synthetic thcory of biological
cvolution, which combines Darwinian prii~ciplcswith genetics, arc
cxamplcs of gcncral thcorics relating to the biological scicnccs. In
the human domain, general thcorics refer exclusively to human
bcl~aviour;hcncc there arc no thcorctical formulations at this level
that pertain spccifically to archaeology rathcr than to the social
scicnccs in gcncral. There arc also no general theories that have ever
been as universally accepted by social scientists as thc synthetic
thcory of evolution has bccn by biologists. Examples of rival highlcvcl theories that currently influence archaeological rcscarch arc
Marxism (or historical materialism), cultural n~aterialisn~,
and cultural ecology. Thcsc arc all matcrialist approaches and hcncc overlap
to varying degrees. Although idealist approachcs, such as were
inherent in Boasiail anthropology earlier in the twentieth century,
arc less elcga~ltlyarticulated than are thcir materialist counterparts,
this orientation still inspires much of the work that is done in the
social scicnccs (Coc 1981; Conrad 1981). Bccausc these bodies of
theory attempt to interrelate concepts rathcr than to account for
spccific observations thcy cannot be confirmed or falsified directly
(Harris 1979: 76). In that respect thcy rcscmblc religious dogmas or
creeds. Their credibility can, howcvcr, be i;nflucnccc
success or failure of middle-lcvcl theories Ithat arc I(
.ependcnt on them.
plc mattt
ting is n
such inc

middle-range theories may have significance for distinguishing

bctwccn materialist and non-materialist modcs of explanation,
social scientists exhibit much ingenuity in dismissing rcsults that d o
not agrcc with thcir presuppositions as cxceptions and even in
reinterpreting them as unexpected confirmation of what they
bclicvc. Givcn the c0111pIcxity of human bchaviour, thcrc is considcrablc scopc for such mcnt.11 gymnastics. It is cvcn morc difficult
For archaeologists to distinguish anlong thc three matcrialist positions listed above. Bccausc of the indircctncss of tcsts, thc risc and
Fall in the popularity of spccific high-level gcneralizations seems to
JC influcnccd morc by social proccsscs than by thc scientific cxamin%tionof logically rclatcd middle-level' theories. Between 1850 and
945 a strong emphasis was placed on biological, and morc spccificilly racial, explanations of variations in human bchaviour. Scientific
icmonstratiins that explanations of this sort did not hold in spccific
nstances were inadequate to undermine the widespread faith of
icholars in the general validity of a racist approach (Harris 1968:
$0-107). Yet racial theories were almost totally abandoned as a
,cientific explanation of human behaviour following the military
iefeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 and the consequent revelation of the
ull extent of its racist-inspired atrocities.'
Ideally it should be possible to establish a logica~llycohelrent
rlationship among high, middle, and low 1~
zvels of t.heory an~d a
:orrespondence between middlc- and low-level gencralizations and
)bservablc data. In recent years American archaeologists have
ierccly debated whether middle-levcl thcory should be derived
ieductivcly as a coherent sct of intcrrclated c o ~ ~ c cfrom
~ t s high-lczvcl
hcories or may also be constructed inductively from data ;and
ow-level gcneralizations. Thosc who support the deducltive
pproach argue that explanations of human bchaviour, as opposed
o empirical gencralizations about it, can only bc based o n covcr,ing
aws statcd as hypothcscs and tcstcd against indcpcndent sets of clata
Watson et al. 1971: 3-19; Binford 1972: 111). Those who favour a
leductivc approach seek to establish explicit, logical connections
ctwcen high- and middle-level thcory. Generally, however, they
~ndercstimatcthe tcnuous, complcx, and intractable nature of thc
elationship between thcsc two Icvels. O n the othcr hand, hyperqductivists tend to view gcncral thcory as an ultimate goal that can
~cconsidcrcd only after .I large corpus of rcliablc generalizations has

A history of archacological thought

The relevance of archacological history

been established at the low and middle Ie\~cls(M. Salmon 1982: 33-4;
Gibbon 1984: 35-70; Gallay 1986: 117-21). Yet, because numerous
i~nplicitassumptions about the naturc of human bchaviour colour
what is believed to be a sound expla~latio~l
of archacological data,
high-level concepts can be ignored only at tlie risk that implicit ones
unwittingly will distort archacological interpretations. Most succcssf~~l
scie~itificthcory-building in\rolvcs a combination of both
call be for~iiulatcd
approaches. 111 the first instance, expl;~natio~is
citlicr inductively or deductively. Yet, howcvcr they arc formulated,
their status as scientific theories depends both on their logical cohcrcncc, intcmally and with other acccptccl explanations of human
bchaviour, and o n establishing a sutisf.~ctory correspondcncc between t11cm and any logically rclatcd empirical gcncralizatio~ls,and
finally with an adcquatc corpus of factual evidence (Lowthcr 1962).
Archaeologists also disagree about the formal naturc of the gcncralizations tliat they seek to elaborate. In modern American archacology, as within the positivist trnclition gcncrally, it is assumed that
311 luws must be ~~ni\,crsul
in nnt~lrc.'l'liis mcuns thnt thc)~provide
st.ltcmcnts about relations bctwccn i~a~-i;~blcs
that arc assumed to
hold true rcgardlcss of the tc~iiporalperiod, region of the world, or
specific cultures that are being studiecl. These ge~lcralizationsvary in
scale from ni;ljor ass~~iiptions
about historical processes t o regularitics dealing wit11 relatively tl-i\,inl aspects of h ~ ~ m ahclin\liour
Suln~on 1982: 8-30), Illis ;I~F)SO;ICII
is cxc~ii~liticdb y fi)snl;~list
economics, ~ ~ h i c rnLlint.lins
that the rules used to csplnin the
ceononlic bcha\,iour of Western societies explain the bcliaviour of a11
human beings. Such an approach accounts for significant variations
in human beliaviour in diffcrcnt societies by viewi~lgthem as the
rcsults of novcl co~iibi~iations
and permutations of a fixed set of
cting variables (Burling 1962; Cancia111966; Cool< 1966). Uni111tet-a
vcrsul generalizations arc frequently interpreted as reflecting an
invari ant human nature.
Otl1cr arcliacologists ~%aintaintliat general laws of this sort con~g Iiu~iiannature arc rc1ativeIy f e r ~in numbcr. A much largcr
numb,cr of gcncralizatio~isapplies only to societies that share the
SaIlle Ior closcly rclatcd modes of production. This position is si~nilar
in its general orientation to that of the cconomic substantivists. In
r n st
to the positio~ladopted by the for~nalists,substantivists
ain that the rules, as well as tlic forms, of economic bchaviour

arc fundamentally altered by c\rolutionary processes (Polanyi 1944,

1966; Polanyi e t al. 1957; Dalton 1961). Thc substa~ltivistapproach
implies that novel properties can and d o cmcrgc as a result o f
sociocultural change and that hu~llallnaturc can be transformed as a
consequence of it (Childc 1947a).This distinction betwccn universal
generalizations and more rcstrictcd oncs may not be as far-reaching
or absolute as its proponents maintain. SOIIICgcncralizatiolls that
apply only to specific types of socictics can be rcwrittcn in tlic form
of universal gcncralizations, while universal oncs may bc rcformulatcd, usually in grcatcr detail, so that they apply spccifically t o a
particular class of society. Yet thosc who stress the importance o f
restricted generalizations argue that all o r most of thcm cannot be
transformed into universal gencralizatio~lswithout a scvcrc loss in
content and significance (Triggcr 1982a).
The third typc of generalization is specific to an individual culture
or to a single group o f historically rclatcd cultures. An cxamplc
would be the dcfin~tionof the canons that governed ancient Egypti,un o r c1,lssical GI-cck.lrt (Childc 1947.1: 43-9; Montane 1980: 130-6).
This kind of gcncr,ll~zat~o~i
is potc~lti~llly
very iniportant inasn~uch,IS
most cultural patterning is probably of this sort. Yct no convincing
in interpreti~lgthe
way has been found to move b e y o ~ ~speculation
meaning of such patterning in the archaeological record in situations wlierc supp1cmentar)r historicnl documentation or cthnogr,~phicci.~ta'u-c not available. Where thcy 'Ire not, si~chrcgularitics
remain at the level of e m p ~ r i c gcncrali~~ltions.

A final question is whcther a historical study can measure progress in

the interpretation of arcl~acologicaldata. Arc steady advanccs bcing
~iladctowards a niorc objcctivc and c o n ~ p r c l ~ e ~ ~undcrstanding
of archaeological findings, as many archaeologists assume? O r is tlie
interpretation of such data largely a matter of fashion and the
accomplishments of a later period not necessarily morc comprchensive or objcctivc than thosc of an carlicr onc? I11 cxamining the
successive patterns that Iiavc influenced tlic intcrpretatio~i of
archacological data, I shall attempt t o dctcrminc t o what extent an
undcrstanding of human history and bchaviour has bccn irrcvcrsibly
altered as a result of archaeological activity. Yet it is likely that thc

A history of arcl~aeologicalthought
social influenccs that have shapcd a scicntific tradition in the past are
rcvcalcd morc easily aftcr social conditions have changed, while
current influenccs arc much hardcr to recognize. This malccs prcscnt
interpretations of archaeological data gc~lerallyappcar to bc morc
objcctivc than those of the past. Hcncc, by tliemsclvcs liistorical
observations do not necessarily distinguish objcctivc progress from
changing culturally shared fantasies. T o do that, historical invcstigators must scck to cliscovcr to what extent this irrc~crsibilityhas
bccn assurcd not o n l ~by thc logical appeal of archacological interprctations but also by their continuing factual corrcspo~ldcncewith
a growing data base. If this can be done, wc may hope to lcarn
something about the objectivity or subjectivity of arcl~aeological
interpretations; to what extent archaeology can be morc than tlie
past relived in the prcscnt, in the scnsc Collingwood defined that
process; the degree to which any sort of understanding is communicable from onc age or culture to anothcr; and tlic cxtcnt to which an
understanding of thc history of archaeology can influcncc archacological intcrprctation.
T o d o justicc to thcsc topics, I will scclc to avoid writing a history
of archacological interprctation that is unduly prcsentistic and strivc
to understand thc intellectual history of each major trend in its social
contcxt. In order to keep this boolc within reasonable limits,
however, I rcfcr more to works that have contributed to the longterm dcvclopmcnt of archacological interpretation than to unsuccessful and repctitious studies or to the many publicatio~lsthat
havc mainly addcd to our factual k~~owlcdgc
of tlic remains of the
past. In his survey of the history of the interpretation of Stonclicngc,
Chippindalc (1983)has shown that works of thcsc lattcr sorts constitute the bulk of archacological literature.

Classical archacolog)~and antiquarianism

I<nowzvg the past is as astonishing a

performance as knoning the stars.
6 t O R G L K U H L L R, ~ / J CSbapr

of T C M


Somc recent treatments of the history of arcl~acologyhavc suggcstcd

that the current conccrn with explanation is a modern dcvclopmc~lt
(Willcy and Sabloff 1980: 9-10). It is alleged that prior to tlic 1960s
there was no established body of thcory. Instcad each scholar was
frcc to build his disciplinc ancw on thc basis of his owl1 ideas. Yct
general bclicfs about human origins and dcvclopmc~~t
that are
potentially tcstablc using archacological data long antcdatc any
recognizable disciplinc of arcl~acology.It is conccpts such as thcsc
that either implicitly or explicitly constituted thc carlicst high-level
thcor~csthat gave purpose and direction to tlic collcction and study
of arcli~cologicaldata. Hcncc ,~rchacologp,no morc than any othcr
scientific discipline, passed through n stagc in which data wcrc
collected cntircly for their own saltc or in thc hope that in the future
enough would be lulown for serious questions to be asked. From the
time when archacological data bccanic an objcct of serious study,
scholars examined them in the liopc that they would shed light on
problcnis that wcrc significant from a philosophical, historical, o r
scicntific point of view.

The ancient 147odd

All human groups appcar to have somc curiosity about the past. For
much of human history, liowcver, this intcrcst has bccn satisfied by
myths and legcnds concerning tlie crcation of thc world and of
humanity, and by traditions cl~roniclingtllc advcnturcs ofindividual
ethnic groups. Anlong tribal pcoplcs thcsc accounts frequently refcr
to a continuing supernatural rcalm and scrvc as a mythical charter

A history of archaeological tl~ouglnt

for present-day social and political relations, as is thc case with the
Australian Aborigine co~lccptof dream-time (Isaacs 1980). In other
cascs oral traditions claim t o prcscrvc accurate accounts of human
activities ovcr many gcncrations (Vansina 1985).
A diffcrcnt approach developed in those early civilizations whcrc
Ivritten records provided a chronologicul fi-31ucworicand inforrnation ; I ~ O L I\\{hat
had happened in the past that wns independent of
human memory. Even so, the compiling of annals did not givc rise t o
the writing of clct,lilcd histories of the past o r narratives of current
c\~entseither in the Mediterranean region or in China until after 500
B.C. (Van Sctcrs 1983; Kcdford 1986).Moreover, thc dcvclopnnc~ltof
history as 3 literary gcnrc did not ensure the concurrent growth of a
disciplinccl intcrcst in the material remains of carlicr timcs.
Artifacts from an unlcnown past havc bein collcctcd by at least
some tribal societies. Projectile points, stonc pipes, and native
copper tools madc thousands of years carlicr arc found in Iroquoian
sites of thc fifteenth and sixtecntln ccnturics A . D . in eastern North
America. Thcsc objccts must havc been discovered in thc course of
c\~erpdayactivities and ltcpt by the Iroquoians (Tuck 1971:I;+), just
as 'thundcrstoncs' (stonc cclts) and 'elf-bolts' (stonc projcctilc
points) wcrc collcctcd by European peasants in the mcdicval period
(European stonc cclts wcrc also sold t o goldsmiths who used them
for burnishing [Hcizer 1962a: 631). While \ve lna\lc no direct record
of how the Iroquoians regarded thcsc finds, they map have treated
then1 as charms, as they arc said to havc done various types of
pcculiarlp shaped stoncs, which they belicvcd bclo~lgcdt o spirits
who lnad lost thcm in the woods (Thwaitcs 1896-1901, 33: 211). I11
many culturcs such artifacts wcrc bclicvcd to havc a supcrnatural
rathcr tlnan a human origin and were credited with magical powers,
which may havc bccn the main rcason thcy wcrc collcctcd.
The rc~nainsof the past wcrc also used in the religious obscrvanccs
of thc carly civilizations. In the sixteenth century thc Aztecs pcrformed rituals at regular intervals in tlnc ruins of Tcotihuacan, a city
that lnad bccn inhabited in t11c first millcnniunn A . D . and which was
bclicvcd to be whcrc the gods had rc-cstablishcd the cosillic order at
the beginning of thc nnost recent cycle of cxistcncc (Heyden 1981).
They also included much older Olrncc figurines, as wcll as valuable
goods from many parts of thcir cnnpire in the ritual deposits that
\verc periodically buried in the walls of thcir Great Tcmplc in

Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

Tcnochtitlan (Matos 1984). Yet t o idcntify such activities as archacology, even 'indigenous archaeology', is t o dilutc thc mcaning of the
word beyond u s c f ~ limits.
In later stagcs of thc ancic~ltcivilizations artifacts came t o be
valued both as thc relics of spccific rulers o r periods of national
grcatncss and as SOLISCCS of informntion about the past. In Egypt,
consc~ous,~rch.lism w,ns alrc.ldy displayed in thc construction of
royal tombs beginning in the Twclfth Dynasty (1991-1786 B .c .)
(Edw,~rds1985: 210-17). In the Eigl~tccnthDynasty (1552-1305 B.c.)
scribcs left graffiti t o record thcir visits t o ancient and abandoned
m o n ~ ~ m c n twhile
s , a fragmentary prcdynastic palcttc has been found
~nscnbcdwit11 the nmnc ol' Quccn Tiyc (14-05-1367 B.c.). In thc
Ninctcctntl~Dynasty (1305-1186 B.c.), I<hacmwcse, a son of Ramcsscs I1 whose fame as a sagc and magician was t o last into GrccoRoman timcs, carcf~illystudicd thc cults associated with ancicllt
monuments near thc capital city of Memphis as a basis for rcstoring
these observances (Icitchen 1982: 103-9) and by the Saite Period
(664-525 B. c.) knowlcdgc of Old Icingdom relief carving was sufficiently dctailcd for an attcmptcd stylistic rcvival (W. Smith 1958:
246-52). A collection of ancient Babylonian artifacts, including
inscriptions, amassed by Bcl-Shalti-Nannar, a daughter of King
Nabonidus, in the sixth century B.C. has bccn dcscribcd as the first
lunown ~ n u s c u ~ofn antiquities (Woolley 1950: 152-4). This growing
interest in the physical rcmains of thc past was part of a hcigl~tcncd
preoccupation with f o r ~ ~ l tinlcs
among thc litcratc classes. Such
intcrcsts had a strong religious component. It was believed that the
gods or a scrics of culturc hcrocs had cstablishcd civilization in a
perfect form at the beginning of timc. Latcr gcncrations of human
beings had failed to maintain this ideal form. The monuments as
wcll as the written records of the past therefore constituted tangible
links to eras that were closer to the timc of crcation and hcncc were
the lncans by which the sacred prototypc of civilization could be
more nearly approximated. Bccausc of thcir greater proximity t o the
cosmic drama of creation these artifacts werc probably also thought
to bc endowed with unusual supcrnatural powcr.
In the classical civ~lizationsof Grcccc and Rome thc production o f
substantial narrative histories based on written records and oral
traditions, as well as an interest in ancient religious practices, local
customs, and civil institutions, wcrc accompanied only by a sporadic

nlsrury of archaeological thc

i thc physical rcn
thc past. T11c Grcck histo~
l'hucydldcs noted that sonic of t ~ l cgravcs dug up on Delos, w hen
that island was purificd in thc fifth ccntury B . c . , belonged to
Carians, sincc tlicy contailled armour and wcapons rcscniblilig th10SC
of the Carians of his day. In his opinion this confirmed a tradit ion
that Carians had oncc lived on thc island (Casson 1939: 71). In his
Description of Greece, written in thc scco~ldcc~lturyA.D., thc ph ysician Pausanins s!~stcmatically dcscribcd thc public buildings, art
\vorks, rites, and customs of diffcrcnt regions of that c o ~ l n
togcthcr with tlic historical traditions associatcd with thcm. 1
\vhile he bricfly described the cclcbratcd Brol~zcAge ruins at Tir
and Mpccnac, for him and othcr classical \vritcrs of guide boc>ks,
ruined buildings were 'hardly worth mentioning' (Lcvi 1979, I: 3).
Thc Greeks and Romans prcscrvcd valucd rclics'of the past as voltivc
offerings in tlicir temples and gravcs were somctimcs opcncd1 to
recover the relics of 'hcrocs'. In support of literary cvidence that thc
warriors of thc Honicric agc had all uscd bro~izcwcapons, Pausaxlias
~lotcdthat the blade of the alleged spear of Achillcs in tlic temple of
Athcna at Pliasclis was made of bronzc (Lcvi 1979, 2: 17). Yct such
historical infcrcnccs arc notable for their rarity. Ancient bronzes and
pottcry vcsscls that were accidc~itally~ilic:~rtllcdor plii~~dcrcd
dcalcrs sold for high prices to cvcalthy art collectors (Wacc 194
sc1iol;lrs maclc n o effort to recover such artifacts i
svstcmatic fashion, nor, cicspitc sonic classicists' claims to the cl
trary (Wciss 1969: z), did these artifacts bccomc a special focu:
study. Thcrc was absolutely no awarcncss that thc,matcrial rcmz
of the past could be uscd to test thc IIUIIICSOUS co~lflicti~lg
ph110sophical speculations about human origins and thc gcncral outlincs
of hun~anhistory that charactcrizcd classical civilizatio~ij
Si-ma Qicn, the first great Chincsc historian, who wrote in tllC
sccotld ccntury B . c . , visited ancient ruins and csamincd rclics of the
past as well as tests wlicn compili~lgmaterial for thc Shi Ji, his
influential account of ancicnrChincsc history. Thc systcrnatic st1
of the past was valued by Confuciall scholars as a guide to mc
bchaviour and, by stressing a common hcritagc going back at lcas~
thc Xia D y n a s t ~(2205-1766
B.c.), it pla)lcd a powcrful role
unifying Chinese cultural and political life (Wang 1985). Yet
almost a millcnlii~i~n
Chilicsc historians co~ltinucdto base tlbooks on written records, \vhilc bronzc vessels, jadc carvings, :
olther anc
tcd as curiositics



arid antiq~atbattta11t

the Mcd itcrhcirloom S, as thcy wcrc in 1thc classic:a1 civiliz

rancan rcgion.
While a few scholars of thc ancient world occasionally us1
artifacts to supplc~iic~it
what could bc lcarncd about thc past fro
written records, thcy did not dcvclop spccific tcchniqucs for recovc
ung or studying such artifacts and uttcrly failcd to cstablish a tr adition of such research. Nothing resembling a discipline of arc1haclogy can be said to liavc csistcd in any of thcsc civilizatitons.
philosophers rcpl.1ccd religious bclicfs with various st,
:yclical, and cvcn evolutionary cxplanatiol~sfor thc origin:
urnan bcings , ~ n dcivilizatio~i,thcsc rcmaincd purely speculati\

In mcdicval Europe prehistoric tumuli and megalithic monumc:11ts

were objects of local intcrcst and priests occasionally rccordcd thc
folk tales that surroundcd thcm. Few of thcsc monuments cscaped
>lundcring by lords or pcasants who bclicvcd thcm to con
xasurc (Klindt-Jcnscn 1975: 9). Ancicnt buildings wcrc also pl
icred in search of building matcrial, holy rclics,and trcasurc (K
lrick 1950: 18; Sklcn6I 1983: 16-18). The only ccrtain k n o w l c d ~
>ast times was thought to bc what was rccordcd in thc Bible,
,urviving histories of Grcccc and Romc, and historical rccc
ncorporating traditions going back into thc Dark Ages. O n
,asis a mcdicval Christian vicw of thc past was cvolvcd tha~
:crtain ways has colltiliucd to influe~lcc thc intcrprctation
~rchacologicaldata to the prcscnt. This vicw can bc sum111arizcn 111
erms of six propositions:
Tlic world was thought to DC or rcccnr, supcrnamra~o r p n ann
ulllikcly to last morc than a few thousand ycars. Rabbi11ical
authoritics cstimatcd that it had bccn crcatcd about 3700 B .C.,
whilc Pope Clement VIII datcd the creation to 5199 B.C. an('
late as tlic scvcntce~~tli
ccntury Archbishop James Usshcr wa:
set it at 4004 B.C. (Harris 1968: 86). Thcsc dates, which n
co~ilputcdfrom biblical gencalogics, agrecd that thc world was
only a fcw thousand ycars old. It was also bclicvcd that thc prcs,cnt
world would cnd with thc return of Christ. Although thc prcc
timing of this cvcnt was unknown, thc carth was zcncr
bclicvcd to bc in its last d aps (Slotkin 1965:

ysical wc~ r l dwas i n an advalnccd stat.c of dcge

most narural cnangcs rcprcscnrcd the decay or,- b o a s original
crc;ltion. Since the c;lrtl~was intended t o c ~ l d ~ for
~ r collly a few
thousand years thcrc was littlc nccd for divinc provision t o
counteract depletions resulting from nitural processes and human
cxploitatio~l of its resources. Thc biblical documcntatior
~ I . L X ~ C Ihuman
longevity in ancient times providcci a warrant
I>clic\, human hcings ;IS \vcIl as the cn\liro~-imcnthad I.
ills pll!~sic.~ll!~
.11lcI i n t ~ l l c ~ t ~ ~
n l l ytlicir creation.
d c i a \ and impovcrishmcnt ofthc ph!lsical \\~or-lcialso bore wit1
t o h;ln,anit!I of thc transicncc of all material things (Slotkin
37; 'l'oulmin and Goodfield 1900: 75-0).
; Humanity was created by God in the Garden of E d c11,
~ which was
located in the Ncar East, and spread from thcrc t o otncr part s of
the world, first aftcr the expulsion of the original humans from
Garden of Edcn and again following Noah's flood. The sect
dispersal was hastcncd by the difkrcntiation of languages, wl
IS imposed o n h~uuanity
as divinc retribution for their prcsul
tion in building the To\vcr of l<alfcl.The centre of c\lc.rld hist
long rcm;iincd in the Ncar East, whcrc the Riblc chronicled
dc\~clotxncntof Juduism and from \vhcrc Christianity was car1ried
to Europe. Scholars sought to link Northern and Western Eur ope
to the recorded history of tlic Ncar East and the classical worlciby
that idcntificd biblical personages
constructing f i ~ n c i f pedigrees
or individuals known from other historical accounts as the founders of European natlons o r early kings in that region (Kcndrick
1950: ;). These cl~inis,which \Ircrc often based o n folk etymc
glcs, h ~ thc
d Goths desccndcd fro111 Gog, one of Noah's gra
sons (I<lindt-Jcnscn1975:I O ) , and Brutus, aTrojan princc, bccc
ing the first Icing of Britain aftcr hc dcfcatcd a race of giants v
had previously lived tlierc. P.lgan deities wcrc often intcrprctcc
deified mortals who could bc idcntificd with minor biblical f i ~
or their descendants (Kcndrick 1950: 82). Continuing links w'crc
sought with the Near East, such as the claim first made by thc
monks of Glastonbury in A. D . 1184that Joseph o f Arimathca 1lad
brought the Holy Grail thcrc in A . D . 63 (Kcndrick 1950: IS).
It was bclicvcd t o be natural for standards of human conduct
and his dcsccnda
dcgcncratc. TIlc Bible affirnied t l i ~ Adam
had bee
and hcrc
d that irc
ng had bc



:rccting Stc

from n fou

A history of archaeological thougl~t

practiscd in thc Ncar East only a few gcncratio~lslater. The

earliest humans sharcd in God's rcvclatio~lof himself to Adam.
Knowlcdgc of God and his wishcs was subsequc~ltlymai~ltaincd
and claboratcd through succcssivc divine rcvclations made to
Hebrew patriarchs and prophets. These, togcthcr with the rcvelations contai~ledin the New Testament, became the propcrty ofthc
C ~~pholdChristian Church, which henceforth was I - C S ~ O I I S ~ ~ I for
i11g standards of hunlan conduct. 0 1 1 the other hand, groups who
11;1ci mo\rcd aw,ly horn thc East and fi.~ilccito have tllcir i~litli
rc~lcwcdby divine revelation or Christian teaching, tended to
degenerate into polytheism, idolatry, and immorality. The theory
of dcgcncration was also used to account for the primitive technologics of hunter-gatherers and tribal agriculturalists when thcy
wcrc cncountcrcd by Europeans. Whcn applied to the spheres of
tcch~iologyand matcrial culture, the concept of dcgencratio~l
found itsclf in co~npctitionwith the altcrnativc view, promotcd by
Roman historians such as Cornelius Tacitus, that material prosperity cncouragcd ~noraldepravity. Medieval scholars wcre pri~iiarilyconcer~lcdwith explaining moral and spiritual rather than
technological progrcss and decay.
5 The history of the world was interpreted as a succcssion of unique
cvcnts. Christianity cncouragcd a historical vicw of human affairs
in t l ~ cscnsc that world history was seen as a series of happenings
that had cos~llicsignificance. Thcsc events were interpreted as the
rcsults of God's prcdctcr~ni~lcd
intcrvcntions, the final one of
which would ternlinatc the struggle between good and evil. Thcrc
was tlicrcforc no sense that change or progress was intrinsic to
human history or that human beings, unaidcd by God, were
capable of achieving anything of historical significance (Kcndrick
1950: 3; Toulmin and Goodficld 1966: 56). Between God's interventions, human affairs conti~lucdin a static or cyclical fashion.
6 Finally, medieval scholars wcrc even less conscious of historical
changes in material culturc than ancient Grccli and Roman ones
had been. A few popes and emperors, such as Cl~arlemagncand
Frederick Barbarossa, collected ancient gems and coins, reused
clcmcnts of Roman architecture, and imitated Roman sculpture
(Wciss 1969: 3-15). Yet, in general, there was no cxplicit awareness
that in classical and biblical tirncs human'bcings wore clothes or
lived in houses tIi,lt \vcrc signific;untly difkrcnt fsom thosc of the

Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

Middle Ages. Whcn statues of pagan deities wcre discovered, they
wcrc often dcstroycd or mutilated as objccts of devil worship or
indcccncy (SklcnG 1983: I S ) . Almost universally, biblical tirncs
were viewed as culturally, socially, and intcllcctually identical to
thosc of ~ncdicvalEuropc.
l>uring the Middle Age5 an interest in the matcr~.ilremains of the
past was even more restricted than 'it had bccn in classical tirncs;
b c ~ n g1,lrgcIy 111n1tcdto the coll~ctionand prcscrvdtlon of holy relics.
This did not encourage thc dc\~clopme~it
of a systematic study of thc
m.1tc1-1'11remains of the p.~st.Yet the view of the past t h ~WAS
t held at
this time formed the conceptual basis on which the study of archacology was to dcvclop in Europe as social conditions changed.

Development of l.listorica1 a~chaeology

By the fourtccnth ccntury A.D., the rapid social and economic
changes that marlced the end of feudalism in northern Italy led
scholars to try to justify polirical innovations by demonstrating that
thcrc were precedents for them in earlicr times. Rcnaissancc intclIcctuals turncd to tlic surviving litcraturc of the classical era to
provide a glorious past for the cmcrging Italian city states and to
justifjr the increasing secularization of Italian culture (Slotkin 1965:
x). T h c ~ views
generally reflected thc intcrcsts of thc rising nobility
and bourgeoisie upon whosc patronagc thcy depended. Whilc thc
use of h~storicalprcccdcnts to justify innovation had its roots in
medic\ial thinking thc cxpanding scarch for thcsc prcccdcnts slowly
led to a realization that colitcmporary social and cultural life did not
rescmble that of classical antiquity. As a result of growing familiarity
with the historical and litcrary texts of ancicnt Grcece and Romc,
which had rcmaincd unknown or unstudicd in Wcstern Europc
since the fall of thc Roman Empirc, scholars canic to rcalizc that the
past was scparatc from thc present and different from it, that each
period in the past had to bc understood on its own tcrms, and that
the past should not be judged by thc standards of the present (Rowc
1965).The cultural achic~ementsof ancient Greece and Romc were
~nterpretcdas evidencc of cultural degeneration since that time,
wh~chin turn rcinforccd the traditional Christian vicw of human
scIiol,~rswas to undcrst,und and try
history. The ,lim o f Rcna~ss~uicc

A history of ~ r c l i a e o l o ~ ~L cI IaO~L I E ~ ~ ~
I C could
thc gloric us acliic
)f antiqui
first tlicrc was ~ ~ t t belief
that ill tilclr present acgclicratc st,
uman bcings could cvcr hope to cxccl those acliicvcnic~its.Only i~
.s possession o f a religion based o n divinc revelation could th
lodern age be vicn~cd;is ~ ~ t ~ ; i n ~ b i g u osi~~~s Jpyc r i to
o r n~icic~lt
Tlic appreciation of classicnl anticluity was not restricted t o lite 1-.Ire.
. ~ r cbut rapicily cstcndcd into the fields of 31-t 2nd architcct~~
'licsc \\,ere of pal-ticular concern to the Italian nobility 2nd \vcalt l!'
\vho \ircl.c ri\~,llli~ig
c,l~-Iiothcr .is patrons of the a1
;otliic styles wcrc rejected ,ind an effort \V;IS 1ii;1c1cto c111~1;ltcthe
11' arcliitccturc o f ancient Rome. This dcvclopn~cntsrndually nia
3rd but also ~natcrialobjcl
clear that not only the \v
ort;l~itsources of inforniati~
~r\,i\.ingfrom the past caul'
lout c1;issical ci\~ilizatiori.
Both currclits of intcrcst arc csprcsscd in the \vorIc o f Cyriacus
ncona (Ciriaco dc' l'izzicolli, A . D . 1391-1+52), I V ~ O S C ~ e s e a r
ltitlcs him t o be considered the first archaeologist. H c nl;is
alian rncrch;uit \\rho travcllcd cstcnsivcly in Gscccc and thc caste
Icditcrrancan over ;i period of 25 \~c;I~s,
o f t c ~spccific;i11y
in order
)Ilcct ciat;~; ~ b o.11icicnt
~ ~ t monuments. In t l ~ c~ O L I I - S Cof his travels
)pied hundrcds of iiiscriptions, mitdc dru\vings of m o ~ i ~ r m c ~ nl
)Ilcctcd books, coins, ancl w o r b ofart. tlis chief intcrcst, howc\,c
as public inscriptions. While his six volumes of commcntnrics c
lcsc inscriptions \\7crcdestroyed in a fire in irl+, some of his oth
orks survi\~c(Casson 1939: 93-9; Wciss 1969: 137-42).
By the late fifteenth century, popes, such as Paul I1 anc
I, cardinals, and other mc~iibcrsof the Italian nobility \yere co~lcc
g; and displaying ancicnt worlts of art. They also began to spolis
c systematic search for and rccovc~-yo f such objects (Taylor 194
-10). As early as 14-62Pope Pius 11 passed a law t o preserve alicie
lildings in the papal states and in 14-71Sistus IV forbade the cspc
'stone blocks o r statues from his domains (Wciss 1969: 99-IOC
par a long time thcrc \\{as lio excavation in the niodcr~isense b
mcrcly digging in seurcli o f objects that had acstlictic and conimc
cia1 value. The cscat.ations that bcgan at the \ilcll-prcscrvcd ROIII;
sites o f Hcrcula~ieurnand Pompcii in the first half of the ciglitccn
century were treasure hunts of this sort, although a desire to rccov
statucs and othcr \vorlts of art gradually came t o bc accornpa~iicdI
I ilitcrcst in Koniii~idonicstic 21-cliitcct~~rc.
Tlicrc was. howcvc

3 c~nulatc


A history of archaeological thought

little concern for undcrstandi~lgthc context in which finds wcre

madc. The owners of the land undcr which Pompeii was buricd
rented the right to cntrcprcncurs to dig thcre by the cubic yard
(Lcppmann 1968).
An interest in classical antiquity gradually sprcad throughout the
In d11e c o ~ ~ r mcmbcl-s
ot'tlic nohility became :l\?id
I-csto f ELII-ope.
collectors ol'C;l-ecknnci Komun art, which tlicil- :~gciitsp~ll-cIi,~scd
folthem in thc Mcciitcrl-anc,un region. Early in the sc\,cntccnth century
(;liarlcs I , the 1)~llicof I<~lckingh.un,nnci the ELI-lof-Arundcl wcrc
friendly rivals in importing such works illto E~igland.In 1734 a
group of English gcntlcmcn who had travcllcd in Italy formed a
Society of Dilettanti in Lolldoll to encourage a tastc for classical art.
Ovcr the next 80 years this society sponsored archacological research
in the Acgcan rcgion (Casson 1939: 202-5). Classical inscriptions,
monuments, and works of art found it1 England, Francc, West
Gcrmany, and othcr lands that had been part of the Roman Empire
were bciilg studied systcrnatically by local antiquarians, such as
Williani Cnmdcn (1551-1623) in England, as early as the sistccnth
century. Yet thc great monctnl-p vzluc placed o n high-clunlity works
d thc
of art tc~idcdto restrict the invcstigation of such ~liatcrial~ n of
classical archacolog!~of thc Mcditcrranenn region to the nobility or
those scholars wlio c~ijoycdtheir patronage (Casson 1939: 141).
Thc cstablishmcnt of art history as a distinct branch of classical
studics was thc work of the Geriiian scholar Johann Wi~lckclma~l~i
(1717-68). His Geschichte deu Icunst des Altevtuvns (Histoy ofAncient
Ayt) (1764) and other writings providcd thc first pcriodization of
Grcck and R o ~ i i a ~
styles, as well as meticulous descriptions of individual ~vorltsand discussio~lsof factors influc~lcingthe
dcvclopmcnt of classical art, such as climate, social conditions, and
craftsmanship. H c also attcmptcd t o dcfinc ideal, and in his opinio~l
ctcrnally valid, standards of artistic beauty. Winckelmann's work
shaped thc future dcvclopmc~~t
of classical studics, which until
modem times have continucd~tobe based on the dual invcstigation
of writtcn documents and art history. Writtcn rccords wcrc viewed
as psoviding an indispensable accoulit of the history atid develop~ n c ~of
i t thought of ancicrtt Grcccc and liomc. Art history, whilc
dcpc~idingupon written records to provide the chronological and
contextual data required t o study changes in art styles, cxtc~ldcdthc
study of the past into .I spIic~-eof 1i13tc1-i.11C L I ~ ~ Lthat
I ~ C co~lld11ot he

Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

systematically investigated using only literary sources. While it was
not an independent discipline, art history, as a properly constituted
branch of classical studics, did more than illustrate what was already
understood from written records.
Classical studics provided a model for the development of Egyptology .und Assyl-iology. I n the I,nte cightccntli century almost
nothing was known c~lbouttlic ancient civilizations of Egypt and tlic
Near Edst cxccpt what had bcc~irecorded about them in the Biblc
and by the ancicnt Greeks and Ron~ans.Their scripts could not be
read and tlicir writings and works of art wcrc unstudied and largely
remained buried in thc ground. The systematic invcstigation of
ancient Egypt began with observations by the French scholars who
accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt in 1798-9 and
produced the multi-volume Description de L'Ejypte beginning in 1809.
Another result of this military campaign was the accidental discovery of the Rosetta Stone, a bilingual inscription that played a
major role in Jean-Fransois Champollion's (1790-1832) decipherment of the ancicnt Egyptian scripts, which began to produce
substantial rcsults by 1822. Egyptologists, such as Champol',ion and
Karl Lcpsius (1810-84), visited Egypt recording temples, tombs, and
the m o n u m c ~ ~ t ainscriptions
associated with them. Using these
inscriptions, it was possible to produce a chronology and skeletal
history of ancient Egypt, in terms of which Egyptologists could
study the development of Egyptian art and arcl~itecture.At the same
time adventurers, including the circus performer and strong man
Giovanni Belzoni and the agents of the French Consul-General
Bernardino Drovctti, were locked in fierce competition to acquire
major collections of Egyptian art works for public display in Frante
and Britain (Fagan 1975). Their plundering of ancient Egyptian
tombs and temples was halted only after tlic French Egyptologist
Auguste Mariette (1821-81), wlio was appointed Conservator of
Egyptian Mo~iumentsin 1858, took steps t o stop all unauthorized
work. Even his own cxcavations were designed t o acquire material
for a ~iationalcollectio~irather than t o record the circumstances in
which it was found.
Although rcports of cuneiform inscriptions reached Europe as
early as 1602, the first successfid attempt t o translate such writing
was madc by Gcorg Grotefcnd (1775-1853) in 1802. I t was not until
1849 that Henry Rawl~nson(1810-95) s~~ccccded
in publishing a

A history of archaeological thought

thorough study o f the Old Persian version of the long trili~lgualtext
that the Achae~~lenid
king Darius I (reigned 522-486 B.c.) had
carved o n a cliff at Bisitun in Iran. By 1857 he and other scholars had
dcciphercd the \rersion of the text that was conlposed in the older
Babylonian language, tlicrcby providing the means t o unravel the
1iisto1-yof vicicnt Rub!rlonia ;uid Assyl-ill. S ~ 0 1 - a d digging
in seal-cli
i l l Iraq galre w;ly i l l the 18+os to l'aul-E~nilc Rotta's
(~Soz-70) cscn\r,~tionsin the ruins of Ninc\~ch2nd I<lior-snbad ;lnd
Austcn Layard's (1817-94) at Nimrud ;111ci 1\;~1!~~11ijik.
Tliesc exc;~vations of elaborate neo-Assyrian palaces yielded vast amounts of
ancient sculpture 2nd textual niatci-ial. Tlic latter ~ r o i ~ s eg~-c;lt
intcrcht hccai~scsome ol'thcni pnrnllclcd early htol-ics in the liihlc.
E \ ~ c n t ~ ~ a as
l l yfor
, Egypt, an outline chronology was established for
Mesopotamian civilization that allowed scholars t o study changcs in
thc st!~lcs of art and monumental arc11itcct~11-c
from tlie earliest stages
of writing onward.
The dc\~elopmentof Egyptology and Assyriology in the course of
the nineteenth century added 3,000 years of history t o two areas of
thc wc>rld that \\rcrc of pnrticul,lr i~itcrcstin terms ol'hiblicul s t ~ ~ d i c s ,
but for \vIiich no direct d o c - ~ ~ m c n t a t ihad
m hccn ,~\,ailnhlc.130th
disciplines mociclled tllcmselvcs o ~ classical
studies. They relied on
written records to supply chronology, historical data, ;lnd information 3 b o ~ 1 the
belief~ m d \,alucs of tlic pLlst, but also were
consel-nccl with the dc\,clopmcnt of ,lrt a n d m o n ~ ~ m c n t nrchitccal
t~11-c;IS r ~ ~ c a lby
~ carcIi;~col~gy.
130th Eg!ytology ,lnd Assyriology
depended c w n more heavily or1 archaeology than classical studies
did, since the vast majority of tests they studied had to be d u g o u t of
the ground. Thus, \vhile the in\.cstigation of art history continued to
depend 011 written records for the chro~~ological
ordering o f its data,
the extension of this method t o earlier periods made a g r o w i ~ ~ g
number of archaeologists more aware of thc extent t o which archacologically recovered objects constituted important sources of infor~
TOthis dcgrcc the dcvclopmcnt
mation a b o ~ l It I U I ~ I ~ I;~chievcnic~it.
of classicai archacolog!~, which began in the Renaissance, helped to
point tlie way towards a niorc purely archaeological stucly of prehistol-ic times. Nc\,crthelcss, classical arcliaeologists, such as D. G.
Hogarth (1899: vi), continued t o regard prehistoric archaeology as
g r c ~ t l yinferior t o the urc1i;lcological study of pcriocls that can be
illuminntcd by \\.I-ittc~itests.


A history of archaeological thought

In China, as we have already noted, the writing of history had
emerged as a significant literary genre with the work of Si-ma Qien
early in the Han Dynasty. In the Song Dynasty ( A . D . 960-1279) a
new interest in antiquity was stimulated by thc unearthing of bronze
vessels of the Shang Dynasty, following a displacement in the course
of the Ycllo\v River. These vcsscls for11icd the nucleus of an imperial
collection of antiquities still preserved in Bcijing (Elissceff 1986:
37-9). Song scholars began t o publish dctailed descriptions and
studies of ancient bronze and jadc objects, especially o ~ i e sbcaring
inscriptions. The carlicst surviving work of this sort, Kaojzttu by LLI
Dalin, describes in words and line drawings 210 bronze and 13 jadc
artifacts dating from the Shang to the Han Dynasties which were
kept in the Imperial collcction and in 3 0 privatc ones. The inscriptions on these objects were studied as sources of information about
ancicnt epigraphy and historical matters and the artifacts themselves
wcrc minutcly categorized in an cffort t o acquire information about
early forms of rituals and other aspects of culture that was not
supplied by ancient texts. Inscriptions, decorative motifs, and the
gcnual shapes of objects WCI-c also used .IS criteria for dating them
and assuring thcir authenticity and in due course scholars wcrc able
to assign dates to vcsscls on thc basis of formal criteria only.
Although traditional unticluarianisn suffcrcd a severe clcclinc after
the Song Dynasty, systematic studics of this sort revived in thc latc
Qing Dynasty ( A . D . 1644-1911) and arc viewcd as providing an
indigenous basis for the dcvelopmcnt of archaeology in modern
China. This i~lcludedearly studics of inscriptions on Shang oracle
~ O I I C S that wcrc unearthed at Anyang beginning in 1898 (Chang
1981). Until the rgzos, howcver, Chinese scholars madc n o cffort to
recovcr data by carrying out excavations, and arltiquarianism
remained a branch of traditional historiography rather than devcloping into a discipline in its own right, as classical studies, Egpptologp, and Asspriology had done in thc Wcst.
In Japan, during the prosperous Tokugawa period ( A . D . 16031868) gentleman-scholars of the samurai (warrior) and merchant
classes collected and described ancient artifacts and recorded burial
mounds and other ancient monuments as data relating t o local and
national history. By the end of the Tokugawa period these scholars
wcre engaged in careful surveys of sites and artifacts even in areas
that wcre remote from the urban centres of learning where such

Classical archaeology and alltiquaria~iisrn

Shang cast bronze ritual vessel, illustrated with rubbing of inscriptions and
t h c ~ tr~~iscrlptlon
into convent~onalcharacters, from twelfth-century A.D.
catalogue Bogutu

A history of arcliaeological tl~ouglit

studies had begun (Ikawa-Smith 1982).Michael Hoffman (1974) has

suggested that these activities were a response to European influence
but this is by no means certain. It is possible that in Japan, as in
China and Italy, an interest in material remains of the past dcvclopcd
as an extension of historical studics beyond the use of written texts.
0 1 1 the other hand, systematic anticluarianism did not develop in
India prior to the colonial period. Despite imprcssivc intellectual
achicvcmcnts in other fields, Indian ci\rilizntion did not evolve a
strong tradition of historical studies (C1l;llirabarti 1982), perhaps
because the Hindu religion directed efforts to understand the
meaning of life and of historical events Inore towards cos~nology
(Pandc 1985). Antiquarianism also failed to develop in the Ncar East,
where Isla~nicpcoplcs lived in the midst of impressive monuments
of antiquity. Yet in that region there was a strong interest in history
and efforts had been made to explain history in naturalistic terms,
especially by Abu Zayd Abd ar-Rahman ibn Ichaldun (A.D. 133214-06), that modern historians judge to have bcc~lin advance of
l~istoricalresearch a n ~ ~ w l ~ else
e r c in the world (Masry 1981). The
failure of antiquariailisnl to develop in the Arab world may be
attributed to its rejection of pagan pre-Islamic civilizations and their
works as an Age of Ignorance, t o a tendency to view many features of
Islamic history as cyclical, and t o a religiously based disdain for
works of art that i~lvolvcdthe portrayal of human forms. India and
the Arab world indicate the highly particularistic factors that must
be taken into account in explaining the origins of archaeological
researcli in any specific culture.
Nevertheless the parallels between Europe, China, and Japan
suggest that, where traditions of historiography are wcll established,
the chances are good that studies of written documents will come to
be supplemented by systematic research 011 palacography and art
history. The much more extensive and systematic dcvelopme~ltof
such studics in Europe, although they began there later than in
China, can at least partly be ittributcd to the particular importance
that medieval Christian thought attached to schemes of human
history as a basis for understanding the human condition. The
rediscovery of classical antiquity was seen as providing i ~ l f o r ~ n a t i o ~ l
about the glorious past of Italy, which received little attention in
traditional biblical accounts, whilc the study of Egypt and Mcsopot:umia in the ninctccntli century was largely moti\.:~tcd by a desire to

Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

know more about civilizations that had fcaturcd promi~lcntlyin the
Old Tcstamcnt. A scnsc of tlic discontinuity and diversity of origins
of European civilization cncouragcd rcscarch that rclicd cver morc
heavily on archacology as a sourcc of tcxtual data as well as artifacts.
This situation, wli~cli contrasted with the greater continuity in
Ch~ncscand Japalicsc history, may have hclpcd t o stimulate thc
dcvclopmcnt of archaeology as a major source of inforniation about
the litcr,itc c~vilizationsof dncicnt times.

Antiquarianism in Noytbem Europe

Yet what did the development of text-aided archaeology signify for
most of Central and Northern Europe, where historical rccords
usually d ~ not
d antcdatc the Roman pcriod and in somc areas bcgan
only after A . D . ~ o o oAs
? long as people believed that the world had
been created about 4000 B .C . and that the Bible provided a reliable
chronicle of events in tlic Ncar East for thc whole of human history,
relatively little appeared to lic beyond the purview of written records
or folk traditions. In the course of the Middle Ages chroniclers, who
were often priests, had co~lstructcda colourful picturc of the remote
past for each of the peoples of Europe. These accounts wcre based
011 legends and sheer invention as wcll as documents. In an uncritical
clinlatc of scholarship cvc~lwritten records wcre often succcssfully
forged (SlilciiliF 1983: 14). English scholars proudly claimed that
Arthur and before him Icing Brutus had conquered much of the
world (Iccndrick 1950: 36-7). Individual chroniclcs wcne frequently
composed to support o r oppose particular ruling groups. For
example, Gcoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote in the twelfth century,
stressed England's earlier British, rather than its Anglo-Saxon past
in order t o please his Norman mastcrs (ibid. 4). Prehistoric
rnoliuments werc sometimes mentioned in these chronicles. Geoffrey of Monmouth associated Stonehcnge with Arthurian legend,
whilc in Germany megalithic graves and tumuli werc often ascribed
to the Huns, who had invaded Europe in thc fifth century A.D.
(Sklenii 1983: 16).
The stirrings of patriotism in Northern Europe, which led t o the
Reformation, stimulated a new and more sccular interest in the
history of these countries that was alrcady cvidcnt by tlic sixteenth
strong among thc urban
century. This p.1triotism w ~ espcci,llly

Classical arcliaeology and antiquarianism

A history of archaeological thought

middle class, whose growing prosperity, whether based on royal

service o r profcssio~lal training, was linked to the decline of
feudalism and the dcvclopmcnt of national states. I11 Engla~ldthe
Tudor dynasty was glorified by renewed historical studies of Arthurian legends that reflected the family's British, as opposed t o narrowly English, origins. Thcrc was also a marked increase of intcrcst
in the history of England before the Norman Conquest as scholars
combed early records in an attempt to prove that Protestantism,
rather than engaging in inno\iation, was restoring clcrncnts of true
Christianity that had been destroyed or distorted by Rolnan
Catl~olicism(I<enclricI~1950: I I S ) .
Yet T. D. I<cndrick (1950) has intcrprctccl the growth of historical
scl~olarshipin England during the sixteenth century as a slow
triumph of Renaissance over medieval thought. Historians, such
as Polydore Vergil, rejected the uncritical approach of medieval
chroniclers and sought to base their work on reliable documentary
sources. This involved denying the historicity of many national
Icgcnds that could not sustain careful comparison with the historical
rccords of other countries (ibid. 38).
In England already by the fifteenth century John Kous (1411-91)
and William of Worcester (1415-82) werc aware that the past had
been materially different from the present. Willianl was working on
a description of Britain that involved measuring and describing old
buildings (Kendrick 1950: 18-33). This concern with the niatcrial
rcmains of the past was strengthene~iby the destruction of the
monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. The dismantling of these
familiar landmarks and the dispersal of their libraries spurred scholars to record what was being destroyed as well as monuments of the
more remote past. In this way the study of physical remains began to
supplcment that of written rccords and oral traditions, giving rise to
a new tradition of antiquarian, as distinguished from purely historical, scholarship. These leisured, although not rich, antiquarians
were drawn from the professional and administrative middle class,
which was expanding and prospering undcr the more centralized
rulc of the Tudors (Casson 1939: 143). For thcse patriotic Englishnien local antiquities were an acceptable substitute for thosc of Italy
from the medieval,
and Grccce. They visited n ~ o n u m e ~ l dating
Roman, and prehistoric periods and described thcm as part of
county topographies and histories. They also rccordccl the local

legends and traditions relating t o these sites. In addition, some antiquarians made collections of local (as well as exotic) curiosities. John
Twy~ie,who died in 1581, collcctcd Romano-British coins, pottcry,
and glass, as wcll as studying carthworks and megaliths (Kendrick
1950: 105). A more varied and cxtcnsivc, but less archaeological,
collection of curiosities by the royal gardener John Tradcscant was
to become the nucleus of thc Asl~molcanMuseum, cstablishcd at
Oxford in 1675 Hitherto collections containing antiquities had
consisted either of church relics o r the family heirlooms of the
At first no clear distinction was drawn bctwcc~lcuriosities that
were of natural and those that werc of llunlan origin. Scholars, as
well as uneducated people, believed stone celts to be thundcrstones
(a view endorsed by the Roman naturalist Pliny [Slotkin 1965: x])
and stone projcctilc points t o be clf-bolts, while in Poland and
Central Europe it was thought that pottcry vcsscls grew spontaneously in the earth (Abramowicz 1981; SklcnPi- 1983: 16). In a
world unaware of biological
evolution, it was not self-evident that
a prehistoric cclt was man-made while a fossil ammonoid was a
natural fornlation. Most of these curios were found accidentally by
farmers and manual labourers and therc was as yet n o tradition of
excavating for prehistoric rcmains.
John Lcla~ld(1503-52) was appointed Icing's Antiquary in 1533. H c
played an important role in rescuing books following the dispersal
of monastic libraries. H e also toured England and Wales recording
place-nanics and genealogies as wcll as objects of a~~tiquarian
intcrest, including the visible remains of prchistoric sitcs. Although hc
was only vaguely aware cvcn of major changes in architectural styles
in nicdicval times, his great innovation was his desire t o travel t o see
things rathcr than simply to rcad about them (Kendrick 1950:
45-64). William Camden, the author of the first comprehensivc
topographical survey of England, concentrated mainly o n Roman
and early medieval remains. His Britannia, first publishcd in 1586,
was to g o through many posthumous editions. Camden was also a
founding member, in 1572, of the Society of Antiquaries, a Londonbased association for the preservation and study of national antiquities. This society was supprcsscd by James I in 1604, presumably
because the Scottish-born monarch feared that it was encouraging
English nat~onalismand Ilcncc opposition t o his rulc (Taylor 1948:

Class~calarchaeology and antiquarian~sm

A history of archaeological thought

Aubl.c\.'s pl.ln o f i \ \ ~ c h u ~ - ti-om

his A ~ f o r r ~ l l i ~ ~Ri.ltta1iriri7,



10; Joan Evans 1936: 14).John Aubrey (1626-97), the niost f a n ~ o of

thc scvcntccnth-ccnturp English anticluarians, worlicd mainly in
Wiltshire. H c prepared descriptions of Stonchcngc and Avcbur):,
arguing that these great prehistoric monuments wcrc probubly
druidical temples (Hunter 1975).The research of these carly a n t i q ~ ~ ; ~ rians was continued by a succession of historians ancl topographers,
most of whom worked at the county level. They dicl little deliberate
digging and had no scnsc of chronology apart fro111ivhat was known
from written records. Lilic classical archaeologists, they sought to
explain ancicnt monuments by associating them wit11 peoples mew
tioncd in historical accounts. This ~ i ~ c a that
n t what we now rccognizc as prchistoric rcnlai~rjwcrc generally ascribcd quite arbitrarily
either to the Britons, whom the R o ~ l ~ n nencountered
when they
first invadcd England, or to the Saxons and Danes, who had invaded
Britain aftcr the fall of the Roman Empire.
Systematic anticluarian research de\~elopcd somewhat later in
Scandinavia than in England, as part of the political and nlilitary
rivalr~lthat folloivcd the separation of Sweden ancl Dcnmarli in 1523.

Rcnaissancc historians soon became as fascinated with thcir

rcspcctivc national hcritagcs as wcrc thosc in England. They wcrc
cncouragcd by Icings Christian IV of Dcnnlark (rcigncd 1588-1648)
and Gustavus I1 Adolphus of Swcdcn (reigncd 1611-32) to draw from
historical rccords and folklore a picturc of primordial grcatncss and
v,lloul- w,ls flattering to thcir rcspcctivc nations. This intcrcst
qu~c-lilyc\tcndcd to the s t ~ ~ col'ancicnt
inonumcnts. Rojlal patronage enabled Icad~ng~ n t ~ q u a r i ct os record thcsc monuments in a
thorough and systematic fashion. Johan Burc (1568-165z), a Swcdish
civil scrvant, and Olc Worm (1588-1654), a Danish medical doctor,
documentcd large numbers of rune stones. Thc inscriptions on thcse
stoncs, which dated from the latc Iron Age, pcr~nittcda classical
archaeological approach to latc prchistoric and carly historical
times. Thesc antiquaries also collcctcd information about much
oldcr megalithic tombs and rock drawings. Burc and Worm lcarncd
from each other dcspitc the tensc political relations bctwccn their
countries and thcir own commitment t o promoting patriotic scntimcnts (Iclindt-Jcnscn 1975: 14-21). Some of tllcir work was carried
out by mcans of q~~cstionn.lircs
that wcrc distributed nationwide.
Museums wcre also cstablisl~cdin which hunlanly fabricated objccts
and natural curiosities wcre asscmblcd. In Denmark ollc of thc first
of thcsc was Worm's own muscum which became thc basis for the
I<unstkammcr, o r Royal Collection, that was opcncd t o the public in
thc 1680s. In Swcdcn an Antiquarics Collcgc was cstablishcd at
Uppsala in 1666 in ordcr t o pursuc antiquarian rcscarch and national
laws wcrc passed to protcct ancicnt monuments. Tl~cscrcquircd thc
surrcndcr of valuablc finds t o the king in rcturn for a rcward. Olof
Rudbcck (1630-1702) trcnchcd and drew vertical sections of Vikingagc tumuli at Old Uppsala, and in this way he dctcrmincd the
rclative age of thc burials within individual mounds. H c also
bclicved that the thickness of sod accumulated abovc a grave could
be uscd to indicatc to thc nearest ccntury how much time had
elapsed sincc a burial had bcen placed in it (Klindt-Jcnscn 1975:
29-31). Unfort~~natcly,
antiquarian rcscarch tcndcd t o languish in
Sweden and Denmark as the political ambitions o f thcsc states and
thcir cconomics faltcrcd toward thc end of thc scvcntccnth ccntury.
A similar, although lcss intcnsc, intcrcst in the physical rcmains o f
the past dcvelopcd throughout Wcstcrn and Central Europe. In
mcdicval France, Roman and prchistoric ruins alilcc were ascribed t o

Classical archacology and antiquarianism

heroes, such as Charlcniagnc and Koland, and to local saints. With
the Rcnaissancc, Ro1na11a~ltiquiticswere so011 identified for what
they wcrc and Francis I (rcigncd IS](-47) and Hcnri IV (rcigncd
1589-1610) built u p substantial collcctions of local and importcci
classical murblc statues and brorlzcs. Mucll scholarship \\.
'15 cOIlccl1tl-~tcd011 Komiln inssl-iptions, while for a long tinlc prc-Romar~
antiquities wcrc littlc valued. Only in the cightccnth century dici 311
intcrcst develop in the earlier Celtic i~iliabitantsof France and their
origins. This led to the cscavation o f somc prehistoric monuments.
In the latter purt of the cightccntli century a gro\\~ingclcsirc t o
dcmonstratc the c~ilturalacliic\-cmcnts of tlic Cclts, who \\,ere I-ccognized 3s tlic a ~ ~ c e s t o rosf tlic French, encouraged the s t ~ ~ do yf
prc-IZoman times t o clcvclop indcpc~ldentlyo f classical arcllucology.
This movement, which continued into tlic ninctccnth century, \\us
linked t o growing nationalism. Liltc early English s t ~ ~ d i oc fs prcKornan remains, it encouraged nlorc f a ~ ~ c i fspeculation
than sober
investigations and ~~ltinlatcl!lcontributed littlc t o the dc\~clopmcnt
of archaeology (Laming-Empcrairc 1964).
In Germany thc rcciisco\~c~-y
in 1451o f the Koman historian
Col-nclius Tacitus' (c. A . D . 56-120) Gc~,~.lwn~rin,
which contained a
c1ct;lilcd clcscription of the customs o f the ancient Gcrnmans, Icd
sc1iola1-s to use classical sourccs ratl1c1- th;ln 111cdic\1a1Icgcnds to
study their early history. l'his trend laid the hasis for the first general
I~istoric.11st~~c!y01. ;111sic11tC;cr~ll.~~iy,
l'llilip I<li~\,cr's(;CT.J/~I~IIIIIL,
A?rtiqr,in~(Ancient Germany), published in 1616(Sltlc11;iiI$!,;:
As happcncci clsc\zlhcrc, this ~-csc;~rcli
led t o il growing intcrcst in the
tnatcrial remains o f the past. The csca\ration of bi~rro\vsat M ~ I - ~ J ~ I I I ; I
in SL1xonyin 1587was one of tlic first in Europe tliut souglit to viswcr
a specific question (whctlicr the vcsscls found in such structures
\vcrc I I ~ ~ I I L I ~ ~ I Co ~r for~ncd
L I ~ C ~ natirally) rather than t o tinel treasure
o r enrich a collection (ibid. 38). A few efforts were also ~ i i a d ct o
class if)^ mcgalitl~sand funerary vcsscls according to shape and i ~ s c
(ibid. 3 3 ) .
Analogous dc\~clopmcntsoccurred in H u n g a r ~ land thc Slavic
countries. l'olitical figur-cs, c l ~ ~ ~ r c h r n:uid
c ~ l ,scholars incorpor:ltcci
archaeological finds into their collcctions o f curiosities. In somc
princes' collcctions local discoveries considercd t o h a \ ~ cartistic merit
\irere ciisplaycd alongside S ~ : I ~ L I C ;111ci
paintcci vcsscls imported from
It;ll!l ancl Grcccc. Some digging \+'ascarried o u t t o I-CCOVCI- urtif.~cts

A his

rchaeolog;y and antiquarianiz

cal thoug




ncw finds for natio~lal collcctio~~s

(Sklenil 1983: 32-3). Whilc
arcliacological discoveries wcrc often fa~lcifullyassociatcd with his
toricallp know~lpcoplcs, no systcln was devised for dating prc
historic artif~ctsanywhere in Europe. Indeed, in the abscncc o
written inscript~ons,it was not eve11clwr \vliich finds datcd prior tc
c,irlicst written records in any particular arca and which did not.
rze tools

carly In the s~xteenthcentury by Pictro M a l ~ i u

~ AI1f;lllCrd
when he compared the nativc peoples of the West Illdies with
classical traditions of a primordial Goldcn Age (Hodgcn 1964: 371).
The Italian geologist Gcorgius Agricola (1490-1555) exprcsscd the
opinion that stonc tools wcrc probably of human origin (Hcizcr
1962.1: 62); while Michcl M c r c ~ t(1541-93),
who was Supcrintcndcnt
of the Vatican Botanical Gardcns and physician t o Pope CI-----+
VII, suggcstcd in his Metallutl7eca that, bcforc thc usc of ironI, StOllC
tools might have bccn 'bcatcn out of the hardest flints, to bc uscd for
the madness of war' ([1717] Hcizcr 1962a: 6s). H c citcd biblic--I
classical attestations of the use of stonc tools and was famili:Lr with
ethnographic spcci~ncnsfro111the New World tliat had bccn scnt as
prcserlts to the Vatican. Ulisse Aldrovandi (1522-1605) also A1 L ~ U L U
that stone tools wcrc human fabrications in his MuseuwzMetallicum,
published in 1648. In 1655 tlic Frenchman Isaac de la Pcyrtre, onc of
thc first writers to challcngc thc biblical account of the crcat;nt- nf
humanity, idcntificd thu~idcrstoncswith his 'prc-Adamitc ' racc,
which he claimcd had cxistcd prior to thc crcation of thLC first
Hcbrcw, which was dcscribcd in tlic Book of Gcucsis.
111 131-itain increasing knowledge of tlic nativc pcoplcs of thc New
World rcsultcd in a growing conviction that stotie tools wcrc madc
. A u ~ l l ; u n bcings. In 1656 the antiquarian William Dugdalc
(1605-86) attributed such tools to thc ancicnt Britons, asserting that
thcy h ~ uscd
tlicm bcforc thcy learned how to work brass o r iron.
Robert Plot (1640-96), Dugdalc's son-in-law and thc ICccpcr of thc
Ashmolean Museum, sharcd this opi~iionto the extent that in 1686
he wrote that the ancient Britons had uscd mostly stone rathcr than
iron tools and that one might learn how prchistoric stonc tools had
been haftcd by conlparing them with North Amcrican Indian oncs
that could be observed in thcir woodcn mounts. In 1699 his assistant
Edward Lliwyd drcw specific comparisons bctwccn clf-arrows and
chipped flint arrowhcads made by the Indians of New England.
Similar vicws wcrc cntcrtaincd by the Scottish antiquarian Sir
Robert Sibbald as carly as 1684. Around I766 Bishop Charles Lyttclton spcculatcd that stonc tools must havc bccn made bcforc any
nictal oncs wcrc available and thcrcforc that thcy datcd fro111somc
time prior to thc Ronian conqucst (Slotkin 1965: 223). A decade later
the writ cr Samuc,I john so^
comparcci British stonc with tools mat
nhabitant-sof thc P'acific

The sixteenth and scvcntccnth centuries marltcd the beginning o.

worldwide Western Europca~i cxploration and colonization
Marincrs startcd encountering largc numbers of hunter-gathcrcr:
and tribal agriculturalists in thc Americas, Africa, and the Pacific
Dcscriptio~lsof these pcoplcs and thcir customs circulated in Europc
and collcctio~isof thcir tools and clothing were brought back a:
curiosities. At first the discoverj~of groups who did not know how
to work metal and whose cultures abou~ldcdwith practices that were
contrary to Christian teaching sccmccl to confirm the traditional
nicdicval vicw tliat those who had wandered hrtlicst from the Neal
East and lost contact with God's continuing rc\~clationhad dcgcncr.
ated both morally and tcchnologically Gradually, howc\rcr, ar
awareness of tllcsc people and thcir tools gnvc rise to an altcrtiativc
vicw, which drcw a parallel bctwccn modern 'primitive' pcoplcs anc
prchistoric Europeans. Yet it took a long timc for this compariso~ltc
bc gcncrally acccptcd ;and cvcn longer for all of its implicatio~lsto bc
worked out.
The first step in this proccss was thc realization by scholars that
the stonc tools being found in Europc had bee11 n~anufacturcdb)
human beings and wcrc not of natural or supernatural origin. Unti
the late ~c\~cntcenth
ccntilry crystals, animal fossils, stone tools, anc
othcr distinctively shaped stone objects werc all classified as fossils
In 1669 Nicolaus Stcno (1638-86) conlparcd fossil and moderr
mollusc shells and concluded that thcy rcscmblcd each othcr morc
closely than either did inorganic crystals. Hcncc hc argued that fossil
shclls wcrc the rcmai~lsof oncc living animals. Ethnographic analo.
gics played a similar role in establishing the human origin of stonc
tools (Graysc111 1983: 5:). Thc po ssibility t hat pcopl c had on(:c lived ill
Europe who did not kr~owtl:Ic LISC of nlctal tc101s was implicitl)






Classical archaeology and antiqu;xianism

A history of archaeological t

Lslauub auu ~ ~ ~ ~ c l that

u d cthe
d former had bccn manuracture
nation that did not l u ~ o wthe use of iron. By the eighteenth century
such observations had encouraged a growing realization in the
United Kingdo111 that antiquities c0~11dbe a SoLirce of information
about thc past as well a:i curiosit ics wort1ly of bcirng rccorcicd in
county topographies.
J .
I, ~'110
In Francc in 1719Dorrl acrnaru uc m o ~ ~ ~ f a u c(1o655-1741)
24. VC;II-s carlicr had puhlishcd 311 account of the cscavution of a
megalithic stone to~nt)containing polished stone axes, ascribed such
tombs to a nation that had no knowledge of iron. In reaching this
coiiclusioil hc was influenced by knowlcdgc of archaeological
research in England and Scandinavia (Laming-Emperairc 1964: 94).
Five years later the French scholar Antoine de Jussieu (1686-1758)
drew sc,me detailed compariso~lsbctween Europcan stonc tools and
ethnographic spccimcns brought from New France and the Caribbean. IYc stated that 'the people of France, Germany, and other
norther^^ cou~ltricswho, but for the discovcry of iron, would have
much resemblance to thc savages of today, had no lcss necd than
they - bcforc using iron - to cut wood, to rcmove bark, to split
branches, to kill wild animals, to hunt for their food and t o < "
thcmsclvcs against their cncmics' ([1723] Hcizcr 19623: 69). I
Kilian Stobcus, Professor of Natural History at the Univcr:
Lund, argued that flint inlplcmc~ltsantedated nictal ones in Scanuinavia and compared them with ethnographic specimens from
Louisiana, an opinion echoed in 1763 by the Danish schola r Erik
.Poiltoppidan (Klindt-Jcnsen 1975: 35-9). As late as 1655, as alstinguishcd an antiquarian as Ole Worm had continued to think it likely
that polishcd stonc axcs wcre of celcstial origin rather than fossilized
iron tools or stonc oncs, cvcn though he had ethnographic cxamplcs
of stone tools from thc New World in his collection (ibid. 23).
Nevertheless, by the sevcntecntll century both the human fabri. and t:heir co~lsiderablc
antiquity in Europr were
cation (3f stone t~ools
widely accepted
n used
on that stone tools had prot
Yet 21 growinp
&L ..
prior to metal oncs 111 kurope and clscwhcre did not neccsslcarc LIK
adoptioli of an cvolutionar~lperspective (cf. Roddcn 1981: 63), sincc
stonc tools could bc seen ill usc alongside metal oncs in the con+-*--l-nraty
world. Noting that according to thc Bible iron workine:
fi-om early timcs, A/ Icrcati argucd tha.
was pr;





nctallurgy must have bccn lost by nations th;at migrat cd into a ceas
where iron ore was not found ([17r7] Hcizer 1962a: 66). Similar
lcgcncrationist vicws wcrc widcly hcld. Othcr antiquariaris mainaincd that stonc tools wcrc used at thc samc timc as mctal ones by
:ommunities or nations that wcrc too poor to own mctal. As late as
857 it was argued in opposition to thc tlicory that stonc t<,ols
ntcdatcd mctal oncs that stonc tools must bc iniitatio~isof m ctal
)riginnis (O'Lavcrty 1857; 'Trcvclyan' 1857). Without a d c qlatc
I~ronologicalcontrols and any archaeological data from many p;arts
~fthc world, it remained possiblc that iron working and lack of SI~ c h
nowledge had cxistcd sidc bv sidc tliroughout most of hunlati
iistory. Prior to thc ninctc cnth cen~
tury thcrc was n o factual (:viencc to make an evolutiona~
ry vicw ol'human history more plausi blc
han a degenerationist one. '1rkIIL ~ L I U I religious
I ~
sanctioiis cnjoinrn
y tlic dcgcnerationist posit)ioii also rnade many antiqu,arians rcl
Int to challenge it.

he development of an evolutionary .,Lvv ,

y , , ~ w,, CULU
gcd far less by a growing body of arcliacological cvidcncc than b
radual tr.~nshrmation in tlio~~glit
that bcgan during the scvc
cnth century in northwcstcrn Europc, thc region which
rapidly emerging as thc economic hub of a new world economy
(Wallcrstcin 1974; Dclige 1985). This vicw was bascd on rapidly
increasing coi~fide~lce
in the ability of human b'cings to excel and *:velop both economically and culturally. Early in the century t
nglish philosophcr and statesman Francis Bacon protested agair
c idca that thc culture of classical antiquity was supcrior to that ,,
odcrvi timcs. A similar thcmc was cchocd in France in the latc
vcntcciith-century Quarrel betwccn the Ancients and the
odcrns, in which the 'moderns' argucd that the human talcr+c
wcre not declining and hencc present-day Europeans could hope
produce works that equalled o r surpassed thosc of the ancic
Greeks or Romans (Laming-Empcrairc 1964: 64-4). While Ralcig,.
d many other Elizabethan writers had continued to bclicvc, in the
:dicval fash~on,that thc world was hastening toward its cnd, by
:second half of the scvcntccnth ccntury many Wcstcrn Europcar,~
:re confic
.lt the ~ Llturc

A history of archaeological thought

108-10). The reasons for this growing optimism included the scientific revolutions of the sixteenth and sevcntce~~th
ccnturics, as
ma~lifcstcdabove all in the work of Galilco and Newton, the application of scientific discovcrics to the ad\~ancemcntof technology, and a
widespread appreciation of the literary creations of English writers
in the reign of Elizabeth I and of French ones under Louis XIV.
Especially among the nliddlc classes, thcsc dcvclopmcnts cncouraged a growing faith in progrcss and a belicf that to a large degree
human bcings wcre masters of their own destiny. They also inclined
Western Europeans t o regard the ways of life of the technologically
less advanced peoples that they wcrc encountering in various parts
of the world as survivals of a primordial human condition rathcr
than as products of dcgcneratiorl.
Neither the Renaissance discovery that the past hacl been diffcrcnt
from thc prcscnt nor thc realization that technological dc\lclopmcnt
was occurring in Western Europe led directly to the co~lclusionthat
progrcss was a general theme of human history. In the scvcntcc~lth
ccntury succcssivc historical periods were viewed as a series of
kaleidoscope variatio~lson themes that wcrc grounded in a fixed
human nature, rather than as constituting a dcvclopmcntal sequence
worthy of study in its own right (Toulmin and Coodficld 1966:
11;-14). The Italian philosopher Giamh;lttist;l Vico (1668-1774)
viewed history as having cyclical characteristics and argued that 311
human societies evolvc through similar stages of d c \ ~ c l o p i ~ ~and
dccay that reflect the uniform actions of providence. H e p r ~ d c n t l y
stressed, ho\ve\lcr, that this view of human history as govcrncd by
strict laws did not apply to the Hebrews, whose progrcss was
divinely guided. Although he was not an evolutionist, his views
helped t o encourage a bclicf that history could be understood in
terms of regularities analogous to those being proposed for the
natural scicnccs (ibid. 125-9).
An cvolutio~laryview of human history that was sufficie~ltlycornprehcnsivc to challcngc the medieval formulation not only on specific points but also in its entirety was formulated by the Enlightenment philosophy ofthc eighteenth century. This movement began
in France, whcrc it is associated with Icading philosophers, such as
Montcsquic~i, Turgot, Voltairc, and Condorcct, but it also
flourislicd in Scotland in the school of so-called 'primitivist' thinlccrs,
which included John I,oclcc, William Robertson, John Mill;~r,Aciam

Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

Ferguson, and the ccccntric Jamcs Burnett, who as Lord Mollboddo
remains notorious for his ciain1 that human bcings and orangutans
belong to a single species (Bryson 1945; Schncidcr 1967).
The philosophers o f the Enlightcnmc~~t
combined a more naturalistic understanding of soc~alproccsscs with a firm bclicf in progrcss
to produce an intcgrated set of conccpts that purportcd to explain
soc1.11 ch,~ngc.They c~lso
crc.lrcd a methodology that they bclicvcd
enabled them t o study the general course of human dcvelopmc~lt
from earliest times. In England and the Ncthcrlands, whcrc political
powcr was already in the hands of the n~crcantilcmiddlc class,
intcllcctual activity was dircctcd towards asscssing the practical
political and cco~lonlicsignificance of this changc. Tllc co~lti~luing
wcalincss of the French middlc class in the face of B o u r b o ~autoc~
racy Jppcars t o havc encouraged French intcllectuals to cngagc in
broader speculatio~lsabout the nature of progrcss. The grcat inlpact
that these ideas had on scholars in Edinburgh rcflcctcd not only the
close cultural tics bctwccn France and Scotland but also thc greater
powcr and prosperity sudde~llyacquired by the Scottish middle class
following Union with England in 1707.
The following arc the nlost important tcncts of thc Enlightenment that were to become the basis ofpopular evolutionary thinking
among the European middlc classes:
Psychic unity. All human groups wcrc bclicvcd t o possess csscntially thc same kind and level of illtclligc~lceand to share the same
basic emotions, although individuals within groups diffcred from
one anotl~crin thcsc fcaturcs. Becausc of this there was n o biological barrier to thc degree t o which any race o r nationality could
benefit from new Iu~owlcdgc
- o r contribute t o its advancen~ent.All
groups werc equally perfcctable. In its most cthnoccntric form
this constituted a bclicf that all human bcings wcrc capable o f
benefitting from European civilization. Yet it also implicd that an
advanced technological civilization was not dcstincd t o rcmain
the exclusive possession of Europeans. Cultural differences werc
generally either ascribed to climatic and other environmcntal
influences o r dismissed as historical accidents (Slotkin 1965: 423).
z Cultural progrcss as the dominant feature of human history.
Change was bclic\7cd to occur continuously rathcr than episodically and was ascr~bcdt o natural rather than supernatural causes.

'l'i tus
Carus (98-55 B . C .) in his poem DE
** ..,.,4 ti...
( 0 1 1 tllc L ~ , ~ L of
L ~ Things).
~ ~ '
H c aisuccl
L L I , L ~ tlic c;lrlicst i
~ n p
\\,cl.c linnds, nails, and teeth, as well as stones vicl pieces of \\rood.
OI~I!,I.1tc.r \\.crc tools made of bronze nnci then of iron. While liis
\\!.IS s~ll>lxwtc~l
h\' \,.~riol~s
\\,ritings I-cfcrrcd t o .I
\\.llc.11I > I - O I I Z ~tools .lnd \\,c,lpons 11.1~1n o t yet bccn rcpl.~e~cl
1 1 ~ 5i,t \\*.IS h.1sc.d o n c\.ol~ltioll.lryspccirlatio~ls,\\,hiell
.~tctl1l1.1t thc \\,orld .~nci1111 li\fing species had d c \ ~ l o p c dns .I
. ) I i~-l.~.~luiihlc
.und ctcrn,ll p.1rticlcs of m,lttcr, \vhich hc c,\llcd
combining in cvcl- morc complex ivays. Neither Lucrctius
. i l l \ , otllcr Romnn schol,lr sought to pro\.c his theory ;lnd it
~ c donl!, one of many spcci~lnti\.cschcmcs kno~1.n to the
1s. A polx1l.11-nltcrnnti\lc postulatcci the moral dcgencrution of
lit!, t l ~ r o ~ ~succcssi\~c
ages of gold, sil\.cr, bronzc, and iron.
y i l l thc cightccnth ccntury E'rcncl~scholars wcrc familiar both
lc. of1 .ucrctiils and \\,it11 the growing c\,idcncc that stonc
irrc,lh 11.d once hccn used tlirougliout Europe. They were also
I;lmili.ll. \\.it11classical nnci bi!>lical tests \\.liich silggcstcd that bronzc
r o o l 5 11.1~1hccn used prior to iron ones. In 17;+ Nicolas Maliudcl rend
.I I ' . I ~ ~ I .l o (Ilc Ac.~dcmicdcs Inscriptions in Paris, in \\,hich lie cited
i . ~ n dset O L I ~the idea of three S L I C C C S S ~ \ ~ages
Cofstonc, bronzc,
) I I .IS .I pl.~l~siblc
account o f humun dc\~clop~ncnt.
Rcrnard dc
111co1i;111ci1ii.1ny other scholars I-cpcntcd this idea throughout
~ l l cciglltc.cnth century. In 173s Antoinc-Y\.cs Goguct (1716-j8) sup~ ~ ) r t c tlic
c l 'Ilircc-Age theory in a book that was translated into
Ill~glishthrcc vcars later \\fit11the title 7.116 O~.i_lJi~z
qflntm, Arts, and
,SI.;I.IICIT, nud t / ~ c 1-'1~$qrcss
~ I Y L O Pthc
~ Most A V I L Z E
I>clic\, modern 'savages set bcforc us a striking picture o f the
ig11or.lnccoftlic ancient tvorld, and the practices of primitive times'
( 1 17011 Ilcizcr 1962;1: 14). Yet t o S ~ L I ; ~ I -this
cvolutionar~\.ic\\r \\,it11
I hc biblical assertion that iron \\,orking 1i;ld beeti il1\rcntcd before the
flood, he cl,~imcd,like Mcrcati and some other contcrnporary c\.olut ionists, that this process had t o be rcinventecl after 'that d r
cal.lmity dcprit'cd the greatest part of mankind of this, as we1
ot1ic1-;1rts1. GI!JII D1111icl (1976: 40) correctly \varncd against csi
,lting the influence t h ~the
t Thrcc-Age theor!. cscrtcd o n antiquarian
tlio~rglitcluring the cightecntli century. Yet, as a n interest in cultural
1~.ogrcssgrc\v morc pcr\..~si\rc, the Tlircc-Age theory gaincci in
r cstccm.

n his History of Norway, Denmark.

ian P. F
~ (1776)
~ ~ and
~ by
~ the
~ ant~quarianSkuli Thorlacius (1802), as well ,
L. S. Vcdcl Simonscn in liis textbook of Danish history published in
1 8 ~ Yet,
despite 3 growing number o f supporters, the Thrcc-Age
thcol-!l rcmnincd ;IS spcculativc aiid i~nprovcdas it l i d bccn in the
01' ~IA~~crcriils.
I%!, c o ~ ~ l p ~ ~ r i the
s o l ohscr\,atioli
tIi;lt sometime in
the rclilotc past at Icnst some 1luropc;lns l ~ c made
;uicl ilscd stonc
tools \\,.IS morc \vidcly accc~>tcd.

The study of prehistoric antiquities \\,as also infl ucnccd h!

~ c n u a dc\lclopmcnt
of scientific mctliodology, \vIiicli i l l turr
intimately related to the growing ability o f Europeans t o m,inip
their cn\,ironmcnt technologically. The philosopher R c ~ l>csc
i ~ artcs
(1596-16~o),as part of his efforts t o account for all natural plicl 10lllcna in tcrnis of a single system of ~ilcchanicalprinciples, cspou ndcd
tlic idc;~that the laws governing nature wcrc i~nivcrsaland ctcrnal.
Goel \\71isviewcd as existing apart from the i~ni\,crsc,which lie had
created ;IS ;I ~iiaclli~ic
that \vas capable o f functioning without fi~rthcr
intcr\~cntion(Toulniin and Goodfield 1966: 80-4). Dcscartcs' views,
together with Francis Bacon's emphasis o n inductive methodology
and the csclusion of negative cases, produced a new spirit o f scicntific inquiry that was rcflcctcd in the importance that the E
Society of London, founded by Charles 11 in 1660, place(
classification, and cxpcrinicntation. T h e mcmbc
the Royal Socict)l rejected the authority that mcdic\~alscholars had
assigned t o the Icarncd worlts o f antiquity as the illtimate sources of
scientific linowlcdgc and dcvotcd thcmsclvcs to stuclying things
ratlicr than \lrhat had bccn written about thicm. Yet c\'cli son1c of
these rcscarchcrs \vcrc pleased hen they th(>ught thc:y found thcir
most rcccnt discovcrics anticipated in the grcat scicntifie writin gs of
ancient times. Antiquarians were clcctcd fcllows o f the Royal
Society and thcir work was encouraged and published by the society,
except when Isaac Newton was its president bctwccn 1703 and 1727.
Although Nc\vton was a great physical scientist, his illtercs ts in
human liistory were dccidcclly mystical and ~ncdievalin charac:tcr.
Mcmbcrs o f the Royal Society provided accumtc and dct,nilcd
ical finds. They icIcntificd

A history of ~ r c h ~ c o l o g ltch~o~~l ~ g h t
fl-0111nrch~cologicalsites and sought
to dctcl-mine ho\v tools had bee11
m.ldc and ~ l s c d .They also tried t o
\\,ark o u t lie\\, 1.1rgc stones might
h.~\.chccn lno\,cd .111d monltmcnts
i l l \ l l l L ~ l c ~ l l 1i111cs.
liillcis of' ~-csc~.~rili
tl1.1t [ h e I<o!.al
Socicrj. cnco~~r.lgccl
h!. the c,irl! \\.orI\ ot' \l'illi,~rn
(iOS--i-Oc). I,ilic (-;,urncicn
llciill-c Ililll ( I ~ J l l i ~ loo-:
I-c.~li/ rhc gcomctric.ll (1-01,
m.~rlis th,lt iirnicrs had notcci in
\ . , ~ r i o ~p.11-t
~ s of' l-;ngl%~~ncl
since the
mcciic\z.~l pcrioci ( m d \ v h i i l ~ they
h,ld interpreted ;IS supcrn,lt~~rul
p11cnomcn.l) outlincci the buricci
fi)lind,ltions ot' \..lnishcd s t r ~ ~ c t i ~ ~ ~ e s
(l'iggott tc)Sj: .;.).
t Ic g ~ - o ~ ~ p c c i
together as tlPpcs monuments 01'
simil,ll- form, sc~clias linc,~rc,l~-th\\,o~-lis01-ciiffci-c~ltIiinds of huri.11
~ l i o ~ ~ i i c111
i s , l ~ o l > ~01.. s i i i t c . ~ - p ~ ~ c ~ i ~ i g
them in the light of the mc.igrc historii.ll c\.idcncc t h ~ \\,.IS
Stl1.11-tl'iggott j IC)S<:
0-1 h,is noted
th.1t Stt~liclc!. \\,.IS one of the til-st
liritish ,~~iticl~~~ll-i,lils
t o r c c o g n i ~ cthe
possil>ilit\,o f .I length!. prc-1<ornc~~n
o c ~ u p ~ ~ t i during
\\.liich clibtincti\.c t\,pcs of ~,rcliistoricmonuments
h,ld bee11 cc~nstt.l~ctcd
. ~ tdiffci-cnt
times ,lnd diffci-cnt pcoplcs might
occupied s o i ~ t h c r n
Engl.ind. E\.cn this, lio\\.c\.c~-,\\.CIS
b\. J11lill.c Cncs.lrls ~ O C L I -mcnt,ltion of ,I Rclgic inixsion of
so~lthcastcl-nEngland shortly befi)rc the Rom.ln conquest. At the

A history of archaeological thought

Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

same timc, Stukelcy and other antiquarians took the first steps
towards trying to ascertain relative dates for archaeological finds for
which there were no historical records. H e observed construction
layers in barrows and argued that Silbury Hill, the largest artificial
~ n o u n din Europc, had been built prior to the constructio~lof a
Roman road, which c~lrvcdabruptly to avoid it (l>nnicl 1967: 122-3).
H e also noted that R o ~ n a ~roads
C L I ~through Bronze Age disc
('Druid') barrows in several places (l'iggott 1985: 67) and used the
prcscncc of blucstonc chips in some burial mounds ncar Stonchcnge
to infer that these burials were contemporary with the building of
the temple (Marsdcn 1974: 5). In 1758 his daughter Anna dated the
White Horse cut in the chalk at Uffington, and which had been
thought to be a Saxon memorial, to the pre-Roman period on the
basis of its stylistic similarity to horscs portrayed 011 pre-Roman
British coins (Piggott 1985: 142). In 1720 the astronomer Edmund
Hallcp cstinlatcd that Stonchcngc might be 2,000 or 3,000 years old,
following an examination of the depth of wcnthcring of its stones;
while a later comparison of rclativc wcathcring convinced Stultclcp
that Avebury was much older than Stonchcnge (Lynch and Lynch
1968: 52). In Dcnmarlc Erik Pontoppidan carefully excavated a megalithic tomb on the grou~ldsof a royal palace in northwest Sjaelland,
the main Danish island, in 1744. H e reported on the structure and
the finds it contained in the first volume of the Proceedivjgs of thc
Danish Royal Society, concluding that cremation burials found ncar
the top of the mound dated from a more recent era than the stone
chamber below them and the mound itself (I<lindt-Jcnsen 1975:
35-6). When three megalithic tombs opened in 1776 wcre found to
contain stone and bronze artifacts but not iron ones, 0. HocghGuldbcrg, the excavator, assumed that they wcre very ancient (ibid.
Studies of these sorts helped to advance the investigation of
prehistoric times by encouraging more accurate observations and
descriptio~lsof ancient artifacts and monuments, more disciplined
thought about them, and efforts t o date a few of them in either
relative or cale~ldricalterms. Altl~oughthis research was too fragmentary and the results too discon~lcctcdto co~lstitutea discipline of
prchistoric archaeology, it helped to lay the groundwork for the
cventual dcveloprne~ltof such a discipline. Noting similar trends in
the antiquarian rescarchcs of the eighteenth century in conti~lc~ltal

Europe, Karcl Sklenii- (1983: 59) observed that 'the vcry fact that
arcl~acologistsin Central Europc prcfcrred analytical description of
the facts t o the formation of a synthetic picture of the past' shows
how small was the contribution that the new scientific approach
made to the dcvelopme~ltof a better knowlcdgc of prehistory. This
statcmcnt cannot be nppl~cdto England and Scandi~iavia,whcrc
a n t i q u x ~ a ~were
s making substantial progress in conceptualizing
the problems confronting the study of prchistoric times and tcntativc steps werc being taken to resolvc these problems.

Antiqua~iunismand oma antic ism

The growing i~lflucnceof cultural-evolutionary thought during the
eighteenth century spawned a conservative rcaction that at that timc
had even greater influence on antiquarian rescarch than did cvolutionism. In 1724 the French Jcsuit nlissionary Joseph-Fran~ois
L.1fitau (168~-1740),who had worltcd among thc Indians of Canada,
his Moeurs dcs sauvaacs ameriquains cumpart2es aux nzoeurs
despremzers temps. Although this book has often bccn described as an
early contribution to evolutionary anthropology, Lafitau argued
that the religions and customs of the Amerindians and thc ancient
Grcclts and Romans rescmblcd each othcr because both wcrc
corrupt and distorted versions of the true religion and morality that
God had revealed t o Adam and his dcsccndnllts in the Near East.
These views, which revived the doctrine of degeneration, were
similar to those held by Stukeley, who in latcr lifc was obsesscd by
the belief that the religion of thc ancient Druids was a relatively pure
survival of primordial monotl~eismand therefore closcly akin t o
Christianity. Stukelep associated all of the major prchistoric
monuments 111 Britain with the Druids and based extravagant interpretations of them on this premise. His writings wcrc directed
against the Deists, who believed that reasonable people could apprehend God without the help of revelation, a view that had much in
common with the Enlightenment.
Stukeley's thinlting also reflected a growing trend towards romanticism. This i~ltellectual movement, which began in thc late
century, was anticipated in the back-to-nature philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although hc bclicvcd in the
importa~lccof reason, he empl~asizedemotion and sensibility as

u aIsslcal arcnaeology ana antlquarlanlsm

ological tliought

A history

importa lit aspect:s of liuma

~ u rH. e a1ISO stress(
goodncss of human beings and attributed grccd and envy tl
corrupting influences arid artificiality of civilization. In Gcri
and Englanci romanticism flourished in part as a revolt 32
French cultural domination and the literary unci artistic rcstrictlons
of nco-classicism. In its championing of strong cliiotions, romanticis111mingled a prcoccupatiorl with horror anci evil with a delight in
natural beauty. liomantically inclined individuals dcvclop--' strong interest i l l ruincci abbc!ls, graves, 2nd othcr symbols of c
and decay, including human sltclctons grinning 'a ghastly s
(Marsdcn 1974: 18).TIicp also treated 'prirnitivc' or 'natural'soc
and the 'spirit' of Europcan nations as prcscrvcd in their moniln
and folk traditions, cspccially those of the medieval period, a
ideal inspiration for arts and letters (I<. Clark 1962: 66). In L I I I ~
fashion romanticism bccamc closcly linked to nationalisrn. It
appealed to the morc conscrvativc members of the middle class, who
identified nco-classicism with the values of tlic aristocracy -d-lAl u
cquatcd rationalism with athcism and political radicalism. Significantly, the Socicty of Antiquaries of London, which was fou nded
in 1717 and received its charter in 1751,was far morc intcrcstc,..A
medieval England than in Koman or prehistoric Britain (l'iggott
1985: 43-4). The romantic movement was strcngthcned in conscrvativc circles in tlic years followitig the French rcvolution, w1ic1- t l i c .
was dcnounccd for encouraging popular libert)i and
republicanism. In thc conscrvativc restoration that followcc1 t11c
defeat of Napoleon Bonapartc, a conccrtcd effort was macIr to
supprcss Enliglitcnmcnt ideas in Ccntral and Wcstcrn Europc.
Tlic late eighteenth century has bee11 viewed as a pcrio
i~itcllcctualdcclinc in historical and antiquarian studies in Br-----(Piggott 1985: 108, 115-17, 154-5). Yet, romanticism appears to have
bccn instrumental in encouraging a growing emphasis on
.vation, and cspccially the excavation of graves, that contributed
thc dcvelopmcnt of antiquarianism in the later part of the eighte en tll
century. Betwccn 1757 and 1773 the Reverend Bryan Fau ssett
(1720-76) excavated more than 750 Anglo-Saxon burial mounti s in
south caster^^ England. James Douglas (1753-1819), in his Nenia Britannica, or Sepulchral Histovy of Great Britain, whic11 was pubii shed
,I1 of
in parts bctwccn 1786and 1793vid based on a massive com~ilatic
is rhroug
rcd from barrow i




Ithat gray
ining only stonc ar
:re earlier
those that also contalncd metal oncs (Lyncl, ,,,, bYIILII..,-i. I- -YLUO D . 40).
Some of thc bcst work donc during this pcriod was by William
Cunnington (1754-1810) and his wealthy patron Sir Richard Colt
Hoarc. They silrvcycd a large arca in Wiltshirc, locating ancient
vill,zgc sites ~ n dearthworks and excavating 379 barrows. Thcy
1-ccordcd their observations carcfillly, dividcd barrows intc five
types, and cnlploycd stratigraphy to distinguish bctwccn pri
'ind sccondClr)ri~ltcrrnc~lts.
Thcy used coins to date sornc bar rows
fro111the historical pcriod and, like Douglas, thought it possiblc:that
-..gravcs containing only stone artifacts might be earlier than r.urc-historic burials accompanied by ~nctaloncs. Yet, dcspitc thcsc t~Cllt'ltivc advanccs, they wcrc unablc to dcmonstratc to 'which o f thc
successive inhabitants' of Britain various classcs of monurncnts wcrc
.. - - to be ascribed o r cvcn whcthcr thcy wcrc the work o f morc tliarI one
peoplc. Morcovcr, Cunnington could not discover enough rcgularity in typcs of grave goods associated with particular b arrow
styles to iniplc~iicntthc antiquary Thomas Lcman's suggestion that
stonc, bronzc, and iron wcapons could bc used t o distinguish t.hrce
successive ages (Chippindale 1983:123). Thus, in Glyn Danicl's ( I ~* w .
31) words, they 'failed to find any way of brcaking down the appacent
contc~iiporancityof prc-Roman remains'. Evcn at thc most clcrncntary Icvcl, thcrc were always antiquarians prcparcd to arguc +I.L ,*L l d L
gravcs contaiiiing only stone tools wcrc not necessarily older than
the rest but mcrcly belongcd to rudcr tribcs or poorer social groups.
As yct thcrc was n o satisfactory rcbuttal for this claim.

7e New

The first historical questions that Europeans askcd about the naltive
inhabitants of North and South America wcrc who they were and
from where they had conic. Betwccn the sixteenth and eightcc:nth
:cnturics scholars speculated that tlic Indians might be descenldcd
%om Iberians, Cartliaginians, Israelites, Canaanites, and Tart:as.
Still more imaginative writers claimed that they came from the
~anishcdcontine~itof Atlantis. Most of thcsc speculations rcflecxed
-lie prctcnsions or biases of particular groups of scttlcrs. Some c arly
Spanish colonists denied that thc Indians had souls, which mc:ant
not h ~ l m
an being:
exploit tt

A Iiistory of archaeological thought

as they could animals. The Spanish Crown, l~owever,wanted recognition from the Church that the Indians had souls, since that allowed
the Spanish government t o assert its right t o govern them and to
curb thc indcpe~ldcnccof its colonists. W h c t ~the Roman Catholic
Church proclaimed nativc people to be human beings, it also meant
that Christians were rcquircd to recognize that they wcrc clcscc~ldcd
from Adam and Eve and hencc had originated, like othcr pcoplcs, in
thc Near East (Hankc 1959).
Some of thc leaders of the seventee11t11-cc~~tury
Massachusetts Bay
Colony liked to think of thcir own colonists as constituti~lga New
Isr;~cIand the Indians as C.uiaanitcs, whosc possessions God was
dcliveri~iginto their hands as he had given Palestine to the ancient
Hebrews. This was interpreted as giving the Puritans the right t o
seize land and enslave the Indians. As recently as 1783, Ezra Stiles, the
President of Yale University, was promoting the idea that the
Indians of New England were literally descended fro111 Canaanites
\vho had flccl f1-0111 Palestine at the tirile of Joshua's invasion, as
recorded in thc Bible (Haven 1856: 27-8).
Over timc, howc\~cr,there was growing support for the theory,
first cspounded in 1589 by the Jesuit priest JosC dc Acosta in his
Historia ~latural?~
nzo18aldc las Ir~diasthat tllc Indians had crossed the
Bering Strait as wandering hunters from Siberia (Pagdcn 1982:
193-7). Although Acosta bclieved that the Indians had lost all
knowlcdgc of scdcntar)i life in the course of thcir migrations, later
saw in Anlcrica evidence of what the chilclhood
ot'.lll h~im.lnit!, h.ld hccn likc. I n thc 1.1tc sixteenth ccntur!, it \\,,IS
being suggested that in ancient times the nativc inhabitants of
Britain had been as primitive as the n ~ o d e r ~Indians
of Virginia
(Kcndrick 1950: 123). O n the other hand, dcgcncrationists viewed
native cultures as the corrupt remnants of the divinely revealed
patriarchal way of life described in the Book of Genesis and also saw
amongst them evidence of the half-remembered teachings of early
Christian rnissionarics. Inrhc sevcntccnth century the technological
inferiority and alleged cultural degeneracy of native American culturcs by comparison with European ones were interpreted in theological terms as manifestations of divine displeasure (Vaughan
1982). During thc nest century some leading European scholars
advanced the morc naturalistic argument that the New World was
climatically inferior to E~tropcand Asi,~and that this accounted for

Classical archaeology and antiquarianism

the inferiority of its indigenous cultures as well as of its plant and
animal life (Haven 1856: 94).
In Mcxico and Peru archaeological monuments were frequently
effaced o r destroyed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
in an attempt t o eliminate the memories nativc people had of thcir
prc-Christian past (Bcrnal 1980: 37-9). A particular cffort was made
to destroy synlbols of Aztcc sovcrcignty and national identity. Only
a small numbcr of European travellers discussed the great prcHispanic monuments of Mcxico and Peru prior to the nineteenth
13cforc the I ~ t ccightecntli century almost no notice WAS taken of
prehistoric remains in North America apart from occasional rcfcrenccs to rock carvings and rock paintings which wcrc usually
peoples. Few collcctions o f
thought t o be the work of n ~ o d e rnative
artifacts recovered from the ground were assembled in North
America and the excavation of sites was rarely attcmptcd. Among
the exceptions is a splendid collection of polished stone tools from
the late Archaic pcriod found near Trois-Rivitrcs, in Qucbcc, in
1700 and preserved in a convent from that timc t o the present (Ribcs
1966). Equally exceptional wcrc Thomas Jefferson's carefully
reported excavation of an Indian burial mound in Virginia in 1784
(Heizcr 1959: 218-21) and the alleged exploration of a burial mound
111 ICansas a decade earlier (Blakcslcc 1987).Throughout this pcriod a
pervasive ethnocentrism caused Europeans t o doubt that anything
significant could bc learned about thc history of pcoplcs whom they
viewed as s<~vages
fit only to be swept asidc, o r in rare cascs assimilated, by thc advance o f Europcan civilization. Because o f thc
paucity of archaeological data, most discussio~lsof native history
had to be based on oral traditions (oftcn garbled in trans~nissionand
not understood in their cultural context), comparative ethnology,
and physical resemblances. A notable cxccption t o this was the
naturalist and explorer William Bartram, who in 1789 used contemporary ceremonial structures belonging t o the Creek Indians o f
the southcastern United States as a basis for interpreting prehistoric
mound sites in that region. Ian Brown (n.d.) has pointed out that
this is one of the earliest known examples o f the employment o f the
dircct historical approach to interpret archaeological remains in
North America.

Llasslcal arcliacology and antiquar

Avcbury and Stonchcnge . . . rcmai
:d in obsc
. , ar1t1ublivion' (Daniel 1963a: 35-6). In 1802 rnc uanlsn
uarian Rasmus Nycrup cxprcsscd a similar dcspair:. 'cvcrythi "g
rhich has come down to us from hcathcndom is wrappcd in a th ick
)g; it bclongs to a spacc of timc wc cannot mcasurc. Wc know thar
is olcicr than Cliristcndom but whether by a couple of ycars o
~ u p l cof centuries, or even by more than a millennium, we can
s niorc than gucss' (ibid. 36). The English cssayist and lcxicog
lcr Samuel Johnson, who had little paticncc with antiquarial
-csscd thc casc against a future for thcir rcscarch cvcn mc
cnchantlp: 'All that is rcally known of thc ancicnt statc o f Britain
)ntaincd in a fcw pagcs. Wc can know n o more than what c
ritcrs have told us' (ibid. 35). Even J. Dobrovsky, 'the fathcr
-zcch prehistory', who ill 1786 argucd that archacological finds wc
'speaking documents' that by tlicmsclvcs might illumi natc as j
unknown pcriods o f national history (Sklcnli- 1983: sz), M/as not vc
succcssful in determining how this could be donc.
Antiquarians continued to bclicvc that thc world had bccn crcatl
lout 4000 B.C. They also thought that rcliablc written rccor
wzrc available as far back as the time of crcation for the most cruc
gion of human history. If humanity had sprcad from the Near Ez
the rcst of the world, in most rcgions tlicrc was likcly t o havc bcc
~ l y,I brief pcriod bctwccn the earliest human occupation and tl
d it w11 of history. Antic~u.tria~l
IS were LIInccrt,tin whether the gcncr
coursc of human history liacI bccn orle o f dcvclopnicnt, dcgcnc
ation, o r cyclical change.
Yct the situation was not as stagnant as it is oftcn rcprcscntc(
twccn the fifteenth and cightccnth centuries European antiqu
s had learned t o dcscribe and classify monuments and artifacts, I
CX(zavatc and record finds, and t o use various dating method
int:luding stratigraphy, t o cstimatc tlic agc of somc finds. Some (
thc:m had concludcd on tlic basis of archacological cvidcncc th,
thcrc had probably bccn an agc whcn only stone tools had been usc
in Europc prior t o the use of mctal and tliat thc usc o f bronze migt
havc preccdcd that of iron. Thcsc dcvclopn~ents rcprcscntc
iuine progress and carried thc study o f prchistoric rcmair
iond what had bccn accomplislicd in China, Japan, and othc
-ts of the world prior to Wcstcrn influence. The most s c r i o ~
dock t o t:he cstabllishmcnt o f a rcla tive chro

In North America n o lcss than in Europc antiquarians who wcrl

intcrcstcd in what arc now recognized to be prehistoric remain
looked t o written rccords and oral traditions to provide a historic3
contcxt for thcir finds n o lcss than clid c1:lssicnl urchncologists. Yet
the casc of prehistoric remains thcrc wcrc no adccluatc writt
rccords. In his book on tlic antiquities of the island of Angle:
publislicd in 1723the Rcvcrcnd Henry Rowlands noted that 'in thc3sc
inextricable rcccsscs of antiquity we must borrow otlicr lights t o
guidc us through, or content oursclvcs to be without any' (Danicl
1967: 43). H c went on to declare that 'analogy of ancient names a
words, a rational cohcrcncc and congruity of things, and pl:
natural inferences and deductions groundcd tliercon, arc the bc
authorities we can rely upon in this subject, when more warrantal
relations and rccords arc altogcthcr
silcnt in the matter'. Gcncra
the explanation of a monument consisted of trying t o idcntify w t
people o r individual nientioncd in ancicnt rccords had constructed it
and for \vIiat purpose. This approach left Camdcn to spcculatc
whether Silbury Hill hacl been crcctcd b!, tllc Saxons or the Ro~nans
and whcthcr it had served t o comnicmoratc soldiers slain in a bat1tlc
or was crcctcd as a boundary survey marker. Wliilc Stulcclcy demon stratcd stl-atigraphically tliat this mound was older than the ncal-lby
Roman road, his conclusion that it was the tomb of the British lci~
Chyndonax, the founder of Avcbury, was a mcrc flight of farita
(Joan Evans 1956: 121). Stonchcnge was altcrnativcly attributed
' e Dancs, Saxons, Romans, and either gencrically to the ancie
-itons or spccifically to thc Druids.
As a result of their dcpcndcncc on written Iaccords, t
c cightccnth and into the early ninctccnt~iccnturics antlquarla.
,ncrally dcspaircd of ever learning much about the pcriod bcfo
ch rccords became available. 1111742 Richard Wise commcntc
here history is silcnt and the monuments d o not spcak for thennIvcs, demonstration cannot bc expected; but the utmost is conje Crc supportcd by probability' (Lynch and Lynch 1968: 57). Ccllt
oarc concluded 'we havc evidence of the very high antiquity of our
iltsliirc barrows, but none respecting the tribcs to whom they
pertained, that can rcst on solid foitndntions'. Later in his Tour in
hc 'Alike will the histories of those stupendot


A history of arcllacological thought

prcl~istorictimes and hcnce to acquiring a more systematic knowwas tl>$ assumption that artiE~cts
lcdgc of early human dcvclopmc~~t
and monuments merely illustrated thc Iris~oricallyrecorded accomplis11111ents of the past. This was bascd on the bclicf shared with
can be acquired
classical archaeologists that historical lt~~owlcdgc
only from written documents or reliable oral traditions 2nd that
understanding of carlicr
without thcsc there can be no con~~cctcd
times. The creation of prehistoric archacology required that antiquarians find the means to libcratc thcmsclvcs from this restricting

Thc beginnit~gsof scientific archaeology

Within no vegl distant period the study of antiquities has passed,
in popular esteem, from conternpt to comparative honour.

O L D i- I E L D,

Ititrodt~ctoryAddress, Arc/~aeo~ogrcai/ozrrnal
(181z), y.

The dcvclopment of a self-containcd and systcmatic study of prchistory, as distinguished from thc antiquarianism of carlicr times,
i~ivolvcdtwo distinct movcnlcnts that began in the early and middle
parts of thc ninetecnth century rcspcctively. The first originated in
Scandinavia and was bascd 011thc invention of new techniques for
dating archacological finds that made possible thc comprehensive
study of the latcr pcriods of prehistory. This dcvcloptnc~~t
the beginning of prehistoric archacology, which was soon able to
take its placc alongside classical archaeology as a significant component in the study of human development. The second wave,
which began in Francc and England, pionccrcd the study ok tllc
Palacolitl~icpcriod and added a vast, hitherto unimagincd timc
depth to 11uma11 history. Palacolitl~icarchacology was conccrncd
with questions of human origins that had bccome of major conccrn
to the cntirc scientific community and to the gcncral public as a
result of the debates bctween evolutionists and creationists that
followed the publication of O n the Origin of Species in 1859.

Relative dating.
The creation of a controlled chronology that did not rely on written
records was the work of the Danish scholar Christian Jiirgcnsen
Thomscn (1788-1865). The principal motivation for Thomscn's
work, liltc that of many carlicr ailtiquarics, was patriotism. The
antiquarian rcscarch of thc eighteenth century and the evolutionary
conccpts of the Enlighte~lmentwere indispensable preconditions for
c ~ ~ t s havc been of littlc
his succcss. Yct thcsc a c c o ~ ~ ~ p l i s h mwould

A history of archaeological thought

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

value if Thomsen had not developed a powerful new technique for

dating archaeological finds without recourse to written records.
Unfortunately, because Thomsen wrote little, the importance of
what he acco~nplishcdhas bee11 underrated by historians and
detractors. It is tliereforc necessary to clarify what he actually

tradition, although it had not been as flourishing in recent decades

as that in England. Most English antiquaries were conservatives
who had rejected the ideals of the Enlightenment and taken refuge in
romantic nationalism. By contrast, Scandinavian archaeologists
were inspired to study the past for nationalistic reasons but these
interests did not exclude an evolutionary approach. For them
history and evolution wcrc cornplcmentary rathcr than antithetical
In 1806 Kasmus Nyerup, the librarian at the University of Copenhagen, published a book protesting against the unchecked destruction of ancient ~ n o n u n ~ c n tand
s advocating the founding of a
National Museum of Antiquity modelled on the Museum of French
Monuments established in Paris after the Rcvolution. In 1807 a
Danish Royal Commission for the Preservatio~land Collectio~iof
Antiquities was established, with Nyerup as its secretary. It began to
amass a collectio~lof antiquities from all over Denmark. This collect ~ o nsoon became one of the largest and most representative in
invited Thomscn to catalogue and
Europe. In 1816the Co~lln~ission
prepare it for exhibition. His chief qualifications for this post, which
was not a salaried one, were his knowledge of numismatics and his
independent means. For the rest of his life Thomsen was to divide
his time between his family busi~lcssand archaeological research.
The main problc~iithat Tliomscn faced was how the material in
the collcction could be exhibited most cilicicntly. Vcry early he
decided to proceed chronologically by subdividing his prehistoric or
heathen period into successive ages of stone, bronze, and iron.
Presumably he knew of Lucretius' Three-Age scheme through the
work of Vedel Simonsen, if not the writings of French antiquarians
such as Montfaucon and Mahudel. H e also appears to have been
aware of archaeological evidence suggesting an era when stone but
not metal tools had been used and of the classical and biblical texts
which suggested that bronze had been used before iron. The notion
of three successive ages of stone, bronze, and iron therefore was not
mere speculation (as often has been maintained) but a hypothesis for
which there was already some evidence.
In attempting to sort the prehistoric material in the collection into
three successive periods, Thomsen faced a daunting task. H e recognized that even for the stone and metal objects a mechanical sorting
would not work. Bronze and stone artifacts had continued to be

Thonlscn was born in Copenhagen in 1788, the son of a wealthy
mcrcliant. As a young man he studied in Paris and, after he rctur~led
home, he undertook to arrange a local collection of Roman and
Scandinavian coins. Collecting coins had become a popular
gentleman's hobby during the eightcent11 century (McICay 1976).
From the inscriptions and datcs thcy bore it was possible to arrange
thcm in series according to the country and reign in which thcy had
beer1 minted. It was also often possible to assign coins on which
dates and inscriptions wcrc illegible to such series using stylistic
criteria alone. Working with this coin collectio~lmay have made
Thomscn aware of stylistic changes and their value for the relative
dating of artifacts.
Thc beginning of the nineteenth century was a period of growing
nationalism in Denmark, which was greatly strengthened when the
British, who were fighting Napoleo~land his reluctant continental
allies, clcstroycd 11iostof the l>anish navy in Copenhagen harbour in
1801 and bombarded Copenhagen again in 1807. Worsaac latcr
argucci that these cal:umitics encouraged l),incs to s t ~ ~ dtheir
y past
glories as a source of consolation and encouragement to facc the
future. Yet he also noted that the French Rcvolution, by encouraging greater respect for the political rights of a broader spectrum of
the population everywhere, awakened in Denmark a new popular, as
opposed to dynastic, interest in the past (Daniel 1950: 52). Many
middle-class Western Europeans who laclzed political rights saw in
the Rcvolution, and latcr in Napoleon, hope for their own political
and economic improvement; while those who enjoyed a mcnsurc of
political power viewed them as a threat to their interests.
Denmark was at that time politically and economically less
cvolvcd than Wcstcrn Europe. Hence the ideals of thc French
Revolution appealed to many middlc-class Danes. These same
Danes were also receptive to the teachings of the Enlighte~~ment,
which in popular thinking were closely associated with the Revolution (Hampson 1982: 251-83) Denmark had a strong antiquarian

A history of arcliaeological thought

made in the Iron Age, just as stone tools had been used in the Bronze
Age. Tlic cliallenge was therefore to distinguish bronze tools madc
during the Iron Age from those made during the Bronze Age and to
differentiate which stone tools liad been madc in each pcriod. There
was also the problem of assigning objects made of gold, silver, glass,
and other substances to each pcriod. Individual artifacts were no
help in bczinning this work. Yet in the collection there were sets of
artifacts that had been found in the same gra\lc, hoa~-d,o r other
assume had been buried at the
contests and that one c o ~ ~ saf'ely
same time. Thomsen called these 'closed finds' and believed that by
carefully coniparing the various items from each such discovery it
would be possible to dctcrmille the sorts of artifacts that were
characteristic of different periods (Graslund 1974: 97-118, 1981).
Thomsen sorted and classified his artifacts into various use catcgories, such as knives, adzes, coolting vessels, safety pins, and
necklaces. H e further refined each category by distinguishing the
artifacts according to the material from which they wcrc made and
their specific shapes. Once types had been defined, lie began to
examine closed finds in order to dcterniinc which types werc and
werc not found together. H e also examined thy decorations o n
artifacts and found that these varied systcniatically fro111 one closed
find to another. O n the basis of shape and dccoration it becanic
possible for Thoniscn to distinguish bronzc artifacts made in the
Bronze Age from oncs made in the Iron Age. H e was also able to
demonstrate that large flint knives and spearpoints that had similar
shapes to bronze ones liad been made in the Brolizc Age. Eventually
he could assign single artifacts to his sequence on the basis of stylistic
similarities. I11 this fasliio~ilie worlicd out a rough chronological
sequence for the whole of Danish prehistory.
Thomsen did not stop at that point but procccdcd to examine the
contest in w l ~ i c lartificts
were recorded as having been found.
Ultimately this process yielded a devclop~ncntalsequence of five
stages. The first was the eaply Stone Age, when only stone tools were
uscd. This was followed by a later Stonc Age, whicl~he described as
the pcriod when metal first came into use. At this time the dcad were
buricd, uncrcmated, in megalithic tombs, accompanied by crude
pottery vcsscls with incised decoration. In the full Bronze Age,
\ Y C ~ ~ O I Iand
cutting tools were madc of coppa- 01-bronze, the dead
were crcmatcd and b ~ ~ r i cind urns ~111dcr
small tumuli, and artifacts

The bcgin~li~igs
of scientific archaeology







Successive styles ofornamentatlon, from Thornsen's Guidebook

(older forms at top)

wcrc decorated with ring patterns. In t l ~ cIron Age, tools and
weapons were made of tcnlpcrcd iron, while bronzc conti~luedt o be
uscd for ornalilents and luxury goods. The Iron Agc was divided
~ n t otwo stages, the earlier characterized by curvilinear serpent
designs and the later by dragons and other fantastic animals. The
d thc historical pcriod
latter forms of orn,uncntat~onc o n t i n ~ ~ cinto
(118371 Hcizcr 1962~:21-6).

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

A history of archaeological thought

I11 the past a few archaeologists had attempted to subdivide

prehistoric materials into various temporal segments. Possibly the
nlost elaborate of these efforts was Pierre Lcgrand d'Aussy's (17371800) six-period classification of burial practices from earliest times
to the Middle A ~ c s(1,aming-Empcr:iirc 1964: loo-I). Thcsc
schemes were bascci largely o n intuition and failed to convince many
pa)plc. Thornsen o\.ercnmc this impasse by developing 3 crude but
cffcctive form of scrintion, \vhich provided scientific c\iiciencc to
support the histol-ical v;llidity of his chro~lologicalseries. For this
schc111cto work, it was insufficient that only one class of data formed
a sequence. Instead, all the characteristics of individual artifacts and
of those found together in closed fiiids hacl to be arranged in n
in which material, stylc, decoration, and the co~itcstof
discovery formed a cohcrcnt pattern of variation. Discrepa~lcicsin
any part of the pattern (sucll as the disco\icry of iron tools decorated
with Bronze Age ring pattcr~ls)would have caused the entire schcmc
to fall apart. Thomscn's assumption that his scqucncc had evolvcd
from stonc to iron, rather than nlovcd in the opposite direction, was
confirmed by decorative continuities bct\vccn his late I r o ~ Age
the early historical period. Although sonic antiquarians mocked him
for not adding ages of glass, wood, and gold to his scqucncc and
others tried to ascribe his stonc, bronze, and iron objects to diffcrcnt
economics that had cxistcci ,~longsicico ~ i .~nothc~-,
thcsc critics fiilcd
to recognize that his phases were not the result of a ~iicclianical
sorting of artifacts but instc,lcl wcrc based o n the concurrent analysis
of style, decoration, and contest, which reinforced each other to
p r o d ~ c ca rough but cfkctivc chronology.
Tliomsen's Museu~ilof Norther11 Antiquities, with its collcctio~l
arranged in accorda~lccwith his new system, was opened t o the
public in 1819,but the first written account of his research appeared
otily in 1836 in the L e d e t ~ a a dti1 Novdish Oldlzyndghed (Guide Book to
Antiquity), which was available in a German translation the next j~carbut not in English until 1848. At least part of the
appeal of Thornsen's work was that it offered indepe~ldcntsupport
for an evolutionary view of early humatl dcvclopnicnt, which slowly
became Inore popular, cspccially in England, as fear of the French
Revolution and of Napoleo11 rcccdcd. It is true that neither
Thomscn nor his successors regarded the Three Ages as constituting
within Scariciinavia. Instead they argued
an cvolutionnrj~sccl~~c~lce


Thomscn sliowing visitors around thc Museum of Northern A I I ~ I ~ L ~ I ~ I C S

that lt~iowlcdgeof bronze and iron working was brought into thc
region either by successive waves of immigrants from the south o r as
a result of 'intercourse with other nations' (Daniel 1967: 103). They
did, however, assume that somewhcrc in Europe o r the Near East all
cvolutio~lary dcvclopmcnt had taken placc. Ninetccnth-ccntury
archaeology did not view diffusion and migration as concepts that
were antithetical to evolution but as factors that hclpcd to promotc
cvo~utionarychange (Harris 1968: 1 7 4 ) .

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

A history of archaeological thought

The development and spread of Scandinavian a~chaeolog-y

Even in his earliest work Thomsen was i~ltcrestcdnot merely in
artifacts and thcir dcvclopn~cntover time but also in tllc contexts in
which they had bccn found and what this might reveal about
changing burial customs and other aspects of prchistoric lifc.
I>uring tlic first half of the nineteenth centur!! arcliacology contiliucd to dc\~clopin Sc:indinnvin as a discipline concerned with the
c\lolution ol'\vays of lifc t h r o ~ ~ g h oprehistoric
times. This developmcnt was po\vcrf~illyassisted by the work of SVCIINilsson (17871883), who had studied under the leading French palacontologist
Gcorgcs Cuvicr and for many years was Profcssor of Zoology at the
Univcrsity of Lund. Nilsson strongly believed in cultural evolution
unlike Thomscn, he was mainly interested in the dcveloprncnt
ubsistencc economies rather than technology. Like some
rccnth-century philosophers, he believed that increasing popu... n had bccn the principal factor co~npclling Scandinavia11
hunt cr-gathcrcrs to bccomc first pastoralists and then ngriculturall y prehistory w,is
ists. His 11iost important contribution to the s t ~ ~ cof
his s.
_ystcmatic effort to dctcrminc the uses made of stone and bone
artit'icts by means of dctuilcd comparisons with cthnographic spccimcns from around the worlci. Since m:uiy Scundinavinn artifacts had
bccn parts of compound tools now dccaycd, inferring the sort of
imp11cmcnts to wliicli they hncl belonged w:ls often fir from easy. As
an cliponcnt of unilincar evolution, hc bclicvcd that cthnographic
spccirncns from North America, the Arctic, and the Pacific Islands
cultures that were at
coulc1 shcd light on prehistoric Scandi~lavia~l
thc s;amc lcvcl of devclopmc~lt.H c also advocated that ethnographic
should be vcrificd through the study of wear patterns on
istoric artifacts, which could help to confirm what they had
used for (Nilsson 1868: 4). In thcsc ways hc sought to infer
istoric patterns of hunting and fishing directly from archaeological data. His most imp"ortant study of the Stone Age was
published in four parts bctwccn 1836and 1843 and was translated into
English as The Primitive Inhabitants of Scandinavia in 1866.
An even more influential contributor to the dcvelopmcnt of
Scandinavian archaeology was Jcns J. A. Worsaac (1821-85). H c
bccamc thc first professional prchistoric archacologist and was the
first pcrson to bc trained in the discipline, albeit informally as a





Worc.i~cboring into one of thc Iargc tu~nul~

at Jelling; lie csplains the
proccduic to K~ngFrrcicr~kVII of 1)cnmark

volunteer \vork~ngwith Thomsen. H c was appointed Denmark's

Inspector for thc Conscrvatio~lof Antiquaria11 Monunlcnts in 1847
and thc first Profcssor of Archaeology at the Univcrsity of Copcnhagen 111 1855. Unlike Thomscn, who remained a lnuscunl rcscarchcr,
Worsaae became a prolific field worlicr. His excavations hclpcd t o
g closed fiads and
confirm Tliomscn's chronolog)r by p r o v ~ d ~ nmorc
,ilso by rnc'lns of st~-~lt~gr.ipli~c
csc.i\~ations, wli~clioffcrcd a morc
concrete dcmonstrat~onof cultural change ovcr time than d ~ scrid
atlon. Major strat~gr,~phic
cvidcncc in support of thc Thrcc-Agc
tlico~y w,ls prov~dcdby the excavations the h ~ o l o g ~Japctus
Stccnstrup c.~rr~cd
out In the peat bogs of Dcnm,irk In his efforts to
11 .ice ch,ungc\ In the p.ittcr~i\o f flora .uici f.i~~n.i
slncc the end of thc
last Ice Age. Many art~f'icts wcrc found In the course of thcsc
cxcavatlons. These showed that the initial pinc forcsts corrcspondcd
with the Stone Age occupation, while thc Bronzc Age was roughly
cocval w ~ t hthe succeeding pcriod of oalc forests, and thc Iron Age
with beech forcsts. Stcenstrup's findings were confirmed as archacologlsts sought to rclatc thcir own discoveries to thcsc cnvironmental changes (Morlot 1861:309-10).
Worsaae was a prolific writer and in his first book Danrnavlzr
Oldtzd (The Prl~ncvalA n t ~ q u ~ t i cofs Denmark), published in 1843
(Engl~shtranslat~onr849), he used Thomscn's findings as the basis
for a prch~storpof Denmark. In 1846-7, with financial support from
I<ing C h n s t ~ a nVIII, hc v ~ s ~ t cBritain
and Ireland, mainly to study
V ~ l c ~ nrcma~ns
there. HISobservations of prchistoric finds in thcsc
countries convinced him that Thomscn's Thrcc-Agc schcmc was
appl~cablcto large parts, if not all, of Europe.

A history of archaeological thought

Worsaae also played an important role in developing interdisciplinary research related to archaeology. As early as 1837 o n Sjaelland,
moiulids of oyster and cockle shells containing numcrous prehistoric
artifacts had bcen observed a short distance inland from the present
coastline. As the rcsult of a desire to lcarn morc about geological
changes, in 1848 the Royal Ilanish Academy of Sciences establishcd a
commission to stncly these shell middcns. Thc commission was
lic;iJcd by Wors;lnc, the biologist Stccnstt-up and J . S. Forchhamlncr, the Siithcr of l3anish geology. In the carly 1850s thcse scholars
published six volunles of reports on their studies of these 'kitchen
middens'. Their interdisciplinary rescarch dcmo~lstratcdthat thc
middens werc of human origin and traced the patterns of their
nccumulation. They also detcrmined that, when the middens had
lijrmcd, the palaco-ct~vironmcntdsetting had consisted of fir and
pine forests and some oak, that the only animals likely to have bcen
dolncsticatcd wcrc dogs, and that the middens had been occupied
during the autumn, winter, and spring but not during the summer.
'I'hc distributions of hearths and artifacts \vithin the middens wcrc
;iIso studied to learn more about IILIIII~II activities at these sitcs.
I'spcrimcnts, which involved feeding animal bones to dogs, were
carried out in order to explain the numerical preponderance of the
middle part of the long bones of birds over other parts of their
skclctol~(Morlot 1861: 300-1). Thc one issue Worsaae and Steenstrup did not agree about was the dating of the middens. Steenstrup
maintained that they were Neolithic, and hence contemporary with
the megalithic tombs, but, because they containcd no ground or
polishcd stone impleme~lts,Worsaac correctly believed them to be
earlier (Klindt-Jctlscn 1975: 71-3).
The archacology that was developing in Scandinavia provided a
n~odclfor work clscwl~cre.Contacts with Worsaae inspired the
Scottish antiquarian Daniel Wilso~l(1816-92) to use the Three-Age
system to rcorganizc the large collection of artifacts belonging t o the
Society of Alltiquarics of Scotland in Edinburgh. This work providcd the basis for his book TheA~ehaeologyand Prehisto~icAnnalsof
Scotland published it1 1851. In this first scientific synthesis of prchistoric times in thc English languagc, Wilso11 assigned archaeological data to the Stone (Primeval), Bronze (Archaic), Iron, and
Christian eras. Yet his study was not merely a slavish imitation of
Scandinavian work. H e demonstrated that, while Scotland and

The beginnings of scientific archacology

Scandinavia had passed through the same stages of development in
prehistoric times, Scottish artifacts differed stylistically from their
counterparts, especially in thc Iron Age. I11 this work
Wilson also coined the term prehistory, which he defined as the
study of the history of a region prior t o the carlicst appcarallcc of
writtcn records relating to it. H e stressed that the ~~ndcrstanding
the p.1st could be dcrivcd fro111,irtif,icts alonc w,ls very diffcrcnt
fi-oln the k ~ n dof ~lndcr-stclncling
that could bc derived from written
~ccorcis.Yet he expressed the hope that in due course arcllaeologists
would be able to learn about thc social life and religious belicfs of
prehistoric times. In his ready commitment to an cvolutio~lary
pcrspcctive Wilson showed himself t o be a true product of thc
Scottish Enlightenment. Anlong English antiquarians there was
much morc resistance to accepting the Scandinavian approach
(Daniel 1963a: 58-9) and Wilson's call to reorganize the collectiolls
of the Br~tishMuseum in accordance with thc new systcm long fell
on deaf ears. Unfortunately for British archacology, Wilson,
although honoured for his accomplishn~cntswith a doctoratc from
the University of St Andrcws, failed t o find satisfactory cmploymcnt
in Scotland. In 1855 he left to teach English and history at University
College in Toronto, Canada.
Scandinavian archaeology also provided a model for significant
research in Switzerland. Thcrc, as the result of a drought in the
winter of 1853, lake levels fell unprcccdcntedly low, rcvcaling the
rcnlai~lsof ancient settlcments preserved in waterlogged environments. The first of these sitcs, a Bronzc Age settlement at Obermeilcn, was studied the following summer by Ferdinand Kcllcr
(1800-81), a Professor of English and President o f the Zurich Antiquarian Society. His initial report led to the identification o f several
hundred such sites, including the Neolithic village at Robenhausen,
which was excavated by Jakob Messikommcr beginning in 1858
(Bibby 1956: 201-19). These so-called 'Lake Dwellings' werc intcrpreted as settlemc~ltsbuilt on pilcs driven into lakc bottoms o n the
basis of the traveller C. D u n ~ o ~d'UrvilleJs
dcscriptions o f villages
of this sort in New Guinea (Gallay 1986: 167). They arc now believed
to have been constructed on what would have been swampy ground
of lakes.
around the edge
These cxcavatio~lsyielded the remains of wooden pilcs and house
platforms, stone and bone tools still mou~ltcd in their wooden

3ry of arc haeologic

The bcgi nnings of scientific archaeolc

ctry, and a vast ar.ray of foodstuffs. Villages
dating from both the Neolithic and Bronzc Agcs provided Swiss
archaeologists with the opportunity to study changcs in the natural
cnvironmc~lt,economics, and ways of life of thcsc people. The Swiss
finds not only revealed many sorts of pcrishabic artiFacts not usually
found in Scaiidiriavia and Scotland but also verified the rcc 011strLlcwas
tio~isof stonc and bone tools by Nilsson and others. Switzcrland
,- .
already a major centre of tourisni and the continuing study o t thcsc
prcliistoric remains attracted wide intcrcst. It played a major rolc in
convincing Western Europeans of the reality of cultural evolution
and that ancient times could bc studied using archacological cvidcncc alone (Morlot 1861: 321-36).
l'rchistoric archacology had thus dcvclopcd as a well-defined
discipline in Scandinavia, Scotland, and Switzerland prior to 1859.
The basis for this ncw discipli~lcwas the ability to construct rclativc
chronologies from archacological data alone using seriatiot~and
stratigraphy. Thomscn had pionccred scriation using a large and
rcprcscntative museum collection, whilc Worsaae had employed
stratigraphy to confirm his findings. For the first timc rclativc
chronologics wcrc offered into which all known prchistoric data
could bc fitted. This demo~lstratcdthat artifacts from reaso~lably
wcll-documented archacological contexts could be uscd as a basis for
understanding human history.
The dcvclopmcnt of prehistoric archaeology has lo1~g been
ascribcd to the influcncc of geological and biolog;ical evol ution. It
has bccn assumed that thc stratigraphically derived chronologies of
gcological timc constructcd by geologists and palaeontologists provided a model for the devclopme~ltof archaeological chronologics of
prehistory. Yet in Tl~on~sen's
work we scc a seriational
chronology of l ~ u n ~ aprchistory
inspircd by social-evolutionary
tlicorics of the Enlightenment combining with the data collected by
of stylistic
carlicr antiquaria~lsand with an implicit k~~owlcdgc
change probably derived from the study of numismatics. Prehistoric
archacology did not begin as thc result of borrowing a dating device
from other disciplines. Instead it started with thc d c v c l o p n ~ e of
~ ~at
ncw tcclinique for rclativc dating that w
logical material.
"' c kind of llistorv p ~ ~ by~Scand~nav~a~l
~ ~ c archaeology
-. also
cctivc of
in tern;is of the cultural-c
: sense o r~ l p

the E

mcnt. H istory hac1 traditior ~lallybcelil concerrleu wlrn

recounting the thoughts and deeds of famous individuals. Even
classical archacology and Egyptology, insofar as they wcre intercstcd in material culture rathcr than epigraphy, werc conccrncd with
' s of fine art understood in rclation to rccordcd history. Yet
Wors aac pointed out that in many cases prchistoric ~rchacologists
co~llcinot even dctcrn~incwhat pcoplc had liladc the implc~llcnts
rncy were studying. H c and Wilson protcstcd against thc idca that
the earliest pcoplc to be mentioned in rccordcd history wcrc the
original inhabitants of Europe (Daniel 1950: 50). A chronology
- rr- 'ng indepcndcnt confirmation of thc dcvclopmcnt of Europcan
socicty fi-om Stone Agc beginnings was only of interest to pcoplc
who ,wcrc already prcdisposcd to rcgard cultural cvolution as a
wortnwl~ilctopic. The groundwork for such an i~itcrcst had bccn
cstablishcd by E n l i g l ~ t c n m cvicws
~ ~ t of human nati~ r c By
. thc carly
nincteenth century, and despite periods of economic contraction
such as the one that lasted from 1826 to 1847 (Wolf 1982: z ~ I )many
members of the expanding and now increasingly entrepreneurial
middlc class imagincd thcmsclvcs to bc t11c spcarhcad o f dcvclopmcnts that wcrc crcating a ncw and bcttcr life for cvcryonc. By
identifying moral and social progr'CSS as corlcomitants of tcchnological dcvclopmcnt and the latter a1s a fund amcntal charactcristic of
Iiun~anhistory, Enlightcnlnc~itthcorrcs rcassurcd thc middlc classcs
of Western Europc of the cos~iiicsignifica~lccand llcncc of the
inevitable succcss of their rolc in history and portrayed their personal ambitions and those of thcir class as promoting the gencral
good of society. Tec1111ological progress was also attributed to the
initiative of individual human beings who uscd thcir innate intel1'-,-+%3.71
capacities to control naturc bcttcr. This was an opt' ' '
view a1>propriatcto the middlc classcs at the dawn of an era thlat was
to see their power and prosperity incrcasc througllout W'cstern
R ~ ~ r n n rThus, by providing what appcarcd to be matcrial I
connrmation of t11c reality of progrcss throughout human history, S candinavian-style archaeology appcaled to those who werc bcne,fitting
from the Industrial Revolution. Wliilc Danish archacolog~
r continued to be strongly nationalistic and to enjoy thc patron,age of
successive generations of t l ~ royal
family, its innovators and inlcreas:JJt_
i- -n
a growing comnlcrcial n-llluule
- b A J -class (I
11 1981), for whorn nation.




A history of archaeological t l ~ o u g l ~ t

were both attractive concepts. By contrast, in the politically

reactionary environmc~lt of post-Napoleonic Germany, archaeologists, while inspired by nationalisn~,tended to rcjcct the Scandinavian approach partly because its evolutionisrll was too closcly
aligned with Enlightcnmcnt pl~ilosopl~y
(13011ncr 1981; Sl<lcnif 1983:
Scandinavian and Scanciinavian-st*
archaeologists clid not,
however, linlit thcir efforts to dcmonstrati~~g
the reality of cultural
evolution. They also sought to undcrsta~ldthe technologics and
subsistcncc economics of prehistoric peoples and the e n v i r o ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ c ~ ~ t s
in which they had lived, as well as son~cthingabout thcir social lifc
and religious bclicfs. Their aim was to learn as much as the archaeological evidence would permit not only about the patterns of lifc at
any one period but also about how those pattcrns had changed and
dcvclopcd over time. In order to understand the bchavioural significance of archaeological finds they wcrc prcparcd t o makc spstcmatic compariso~lsof archacological and ethnographic data, to
carry out rcplicative cxpcrimcnts to determine how artifacts had
been manufactured 2nd used, and to pcrfor~ncspcrimcnts t o explain
the attrition patterns on boncs found in archaeological sites. They
also lcarncd how to coopcratc with geologists and biologists to
reconstruct p a l a e o c n v i r o n ~ ~ ~and
c ~ ~clctcrminc
prehistoric diets.
What archacoiogists of this pcriod did not clo was to challcngc tllc
traditional biblical cl~ronologywhich allowed a total of about 6,000
ycars for the whole of human history. For Thomscn, Worsaac, and
others, scvcral thousand ycars appeared long enough to encompass
thc past that was being revealed by the archacological record.
Worsaac dated thc first arrival of human beings in Dcnmark around
3000 B . C . and the beginning of the Bronze Age between 1400 and
roo0 B . C . By an ironic coincidence Scandinavia, Scotland, and
Switzerland had all been covcrcd by glaciers during the Wiirnl
glaciation and to this day have produced little evidence of human
habitation prior to the Holocene era. Hence the absolute chronology imagincd by the Scandinavians, Scots, and Swiss for their
finds was not significantly out of line with reality as we currently
undcrstand it.

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

The antiquity of humanity

The prchistoric archaeology pioneered by the Scandinavians influenced archacology in somc of the smaller countries o f Western and
Northern Europc. Yet it was largcly ignored by the antiquarians of
Francc and England, who, a l t h o ~ ~ gsomc
h of thcm wcrc prcparcd t o
translate the writings ofT11omscn and Worsaac into thcir languages,
wcrc unwilling to follow thc cxamplc set by colleagues from a
peripheral country such as Dcnmark. Thcir conscrvativc attitudc
ensured that the scicntific study of prehistory did not bcgin in thcsc
countries bcforc the late 1850s and that it devclopcd largcly indcpcndently of Scandinavian-stylc archacology. Unlikc Scandinavia, carly
scientific archacology in England and France was conccr~lcdprimarily with thc Palacolithic period and ascertaining thc antiquity of
humanity. The prcscncc in France and southern England of cavcs
and glacial deposits containing traccs of human activities going back
into Lowcr Palaeolithic times provided archaeologists in thcse
countries with an opportunity to study early phases of human
cxistcncc that was wholly lacking in Scandinavia, Scotland, and
The dcvclopment of Palacolithic arcl~acologydcpcndcd on the
cmcrgcncc of an evolutionary pcrspcctivc in gcology and also of
somc knowlcdgc of palacontology. Progrcss in thcsc ficlds was
necessary for a scicntific study of human origins t o replace reliancc
on the traditional biblical accounts. While the major archaeological
brcaktl~roughsin studying thc antiquity of humanity slightly prcceded the first major statement of Darwinian evolutionism, Palaeolithic archaeology was quickly drawn into thc controvcrsics that
surrounded Darwin's work and was strongly influenced by concepts
derived from biological evolution.
When a flint handaxe was found near the skeleton of what was
probably a mammoth beneath a strcct in L o n d o ~ towards
thc cnd of
the scvcntccntl~ccntury, the antiquary John Bagford interpreted the
find as that of a war elephant brought t o Britain by the Roman
emperor Claudius in A . D . 4 3 and slain by an ancicnt Briton armed
with a stone-tipped spear (Grayson 1983: 7-8). This interpretation
was clearly in the tradition of text-aidcd archaeology. O n thc other
hand, in 1797 John Frere described a collection of Acheulean handaxes that were found together with thc bones o f unknown animals at

The beglnliings of scie~ltificarchaeology

A history of archaeological thought

13 A c h c ~ ~ l c ahnnclosc
found by Frcrc at H o s n e ,

published in Arcbncolgin, 1800

a depth of four liictrcs in eastern Engialid. H c argued that thc

overlying strata, which inclydcd a prcsumcd incursio~iof the sea and
the formation of half a nictrc of vegctablc carth, could o ~ i l yhave
been built up over a long period and co~lciudcdthat 'thc situation in
which these ~ilcaponswere found mag tempt us to rcfcr thcm to a
rcrjr rclllotc period indeed; cvcn beyolid that of the present world'
([18oo] Heicer 19621: 71). BYthis lie n~cantthat they were probably
niorc t h a i 6,000 ?cars old. Tllc Society of Antiquarics thought his
plpcr wo~-thyof publication but it aroi~scdoo contemporary dis-

cussion. While the i~ltellectualclimate was clearly opposed t o assigning a grcat antiquity to humanity, Donald Grayson (1983: 58) has
pointed out that Frcrc's failure t o idc~ltifycithcr the animal bones o r
thc shells in his stratigraphy did not demand agreement with his
< l1llS.
In the course of tlic cightccntli ccntusy scic~~tists
such ,IS Gcorgcs
Buffon began to propose natural~sticorig~nsfor thc world and t o
speculate that it might be tens of thousands or even millions of years
old. This in turn suggcstcd the nccd for a symbolic rather than a
htcr,~llntcrprctatlon of the biblic~laccount of the scvc~ldays of
creation. The Frcnch zoologist Gcorgcs Cuvicr (1769-1832)' who
cstabltshcd p~laeontologyas a scientific discipline, uscd his knowledge of comparative anatomy to reco~istructcomplete slccleto~lsof
hitherto unknown fossil quadrupeds. In this fashion hc was able t o
assernble cvide~lcethat numerous species of ani~nalshad become
extinct H e also obscrved that older geological strata co~ltai~ied
scmallls that were increasingly dissimilar to thosc of modern
tlmcs. S ~ n c chc assumed 1' relatively short span since the crcatio~iof
the world, he concluded that a scrics of natural catastrophcs had
destroyed cntlrc bpcc~csof an~malsand shaped the niodcrn gcological configuration of the planet. W h ~ l clie believed that devastated
arcas wcrc repopulated by mlgratlons of anlmals from areas that had
hccn \p.l~cd, other gcolog~\t\,\i~zIi,IS W~lli.lm 1Suclil.lnd (178+18~6),~111A11glic.1n prrcst and Professor of Mineralogy at Oxford
viewed many catastrophcs as u~iivcrsaloncs that had
w ~ p c dout most speclcs. T h ~ srcqu~rcdGod to CI-catcnew oncs to
replacc them. The increasing co~iiplcxityof plant and animal life
obscrvcd 111 succcssi\~egeological strata was thcscforc not vicwcd as
a dcvclopmcntal scquc~icebut rather as a scrics of ever lnorc coniplcx
creations. H e co~iceivcdof evolution as having occurrcd in God's
mind rather than in thc natural world.
In the first half of the ninctccnth cclltury ~laturalistsand antiquarians ci~coullteredhuman physical remains and stone tools associated with the bones of extinct animals in stratified deposits in cave
sites in niatiy parts of Wcstcr~iEurope. The most inlportant work
was that of Paul Tournal (1805-72) near Narbonnc and Jules de
Christ01 (1802-61) northeast of Montpellier, both in France,
Philippc-Charles Sch~ncrling(1791-1836) near LiPgc in Belgium, and
the Rcvcrcnd John MacEncry (1796-1841) at Kent's Cavern in


A history of arcl~aeologicalthought

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

I:,ngland. Each of these men bclicvcd that his finds might constitute
cvidcncc of tlic co~ltcrnporancity of human beings and cxtinct
r~nimalspccics. Yct thcir tcchniqucs of excavation were not sufficic~itlydcvclopcd to rule out thc possibility that thc human material
was intrusive intb older dcposits. MacEncry's finds wcrc scaled
beneath a layer of hard travcrtinc that nlust havc take11a long timc to
form. Buckland maintained that ancient Britons had dug earth ovens
tlirougli the travcrti~lcand that thcir stone tools had found rl~cirway
through thcsc pits into much older dcposits containing the bones of
t;)ssil animals. While MacEncry denied this claim, hc accepted that
tlic human boncs, while old, need not bc contemporaneous with the
cxtinct animals. It was argued that dcposits clsewhcrc contained
mixturcs of animal boncs and artifacts from divcrsc pcriods that had
bccn waslicd into caves and mixed together in fairly recent times
(Grayson 1983: 107). It becamc obvious that caves were not going to
bc conclusive. Their deposits were notoriously difficult to date and it
was hard t o rule out the possibility that human rcmains had become
niixcd with tlic bones of extinct animals as a result of human or
geological activity in recent timcs.
A much-dcbatcd question was whethcr traces of human beings
and thcir works should be found associatcd with cxtinct manlmals.
Tlic boncs of mammotli and woolly rhinoccros wcrc cncountcrcd
frcqucntly in the glacial deposits that covcl-ed Fra~iceand southcrn
England. At the beginning of thc linet tee nth century thesc wcsc
gcrtcrally bclicvcd to have rcsultcd from Noah's flood, the last great
catastrophe to convulsc the earth's surface. Since thc Bible rccordcd
the existence of human beings prior to that timc, it seemed possible
that human rcmains might be fou~ldin thcsc diluvial deposits. Yet
fundamentalist Christians believed that the Biblc implied that as a
rcsult of divine intcrvcntion all animal spccics had survived the
flood; hence the prescncc of cxtinct spccics in thcsc levels indicatcd
that they dated beforc the creation of humanity rathcr than simply
beforc the last flood. Evcn~hosepalacontologists who wcre inclined
to interpret the Biblc less literally bclicvcd that a beneficent God
would havc brought thc earth to its modern statc prior to creating
thc human spccics. By thc 1830s it was gcncrally acccpted that all thc
diluvium had not bee11 deposited at thc same timc. It was also
believed to be oldcr than the flood and therefore should not contain
human rcmains (Grayson 1983: 69).

Thc intellectual problcms of this pcriod arc clcarly cxcmplificd in

tlic work of Jacqucs Bouchcr dc Cr2vccocur dc Pcrtlics (1788-1868),
who was the dircctor of customs at Abbcvillc, in thc Sommc Vallcy
of northwcstcrn France. In thc 1830s Casimir Picard, a local doctor,
rcportcd discovcrics of stonc and antler tools in thc rcgion. Bouchcr
dc l'crthcs began studying these finds in 1837. Soon aftcr, in the c ~ n a l
and railway excavations of the pcriod, hc startcd to find Lowcr
Palacolithic I~andaxesassociated with thc boncs ofextinct mammoth
and rhinoceros, dccply buried in thc stratificd gravcl dcposits of
r~vcrterraces that prcdatcd tlic local peat for~nations.
Bouchcr dc Pcrthes' sound stratigraphic obscrvations convinced
him t h ~tlic
t stoiic tools ~ n cxtitlct
animals wcrc equally old. Yct, ns
a catastrophist, hc dccidcd that thcsc tools bclongcd to an antcdiluvia11human racc that had bcc~icomplctcly annihilated by a rtiassivc
flood 'prior to the biblical deluge'. Aftcr a lengthy ycriod of timc
God had crcatcd a new human racc - that ofAdam and Evc and thcir


Profile show111g location of Palacolithlc nlaterial from Boucher dc Perthes'

A~ztrqtittbceltfqucsct antcdzlu~~tcnncs,

A history of archaeological

;rayson 1983: 126-30). It i5i scarcely surprisilng that

, , , '
\\l~lcntl~cscrancif~llidcas wcrc publishcd 111
tnc nrst volume orr nls
A~rtiqtlitCsccltiqztcs ct a~ltLdilul~icnrccs
in 1847, they were dismissed by
French and English scholars alike. Yet cvcn wlicn his field obscrvawere ciu~licatcdby the physicia~n Marcel-JCrBmc Rigollot
-1854)at St. Auchcul 2nd another site ncur Amicns, 40 kiloi upstream fsom Abbcvillc, vicl tlicsc cicposits wcrc confirmed
L O ~ J of"dilu\.ial
age' by geologists, including Edmond Hthcrt fro111
the Sorbonnc, geologists and a~~ticluarin~is
contini~cdto express
concern that the artifacts might be intrusive. Grayson (1983: 207) has
concluded that the rejection of Rigollot's sound cvidcl~cc'stcmmcd
from the sliccr bclicf that such things could not be' and Rigollot's
status as an outsider with respect t o the scientific clitc of his day.
The resolution of such controvcrsics concerning the antiquity of
humnnity required 311 improved i~nderstandingof the gcological
record. In 1785 the Eclinburgh physician James Hutton (1726-97)
proposed a unifol-~iiitarianview of gcological history in which the
slo~verosion of roclis and soil ~ 3 baianccd
by the ~ ~ p l i f t i nofg 0thc1Innd surfiiccs. Hc believed that 311 geological strata could be
accounted for in terms of the forces currently at work operating over
long pcriocls of timc. In the years that f o l l o ~ cWilliam
Smitln (1769-1839) in England and Gcorgcs Cuvicr and Alexa~ldre
Rrongniart in France, rccognizcd that strata of difftrcnt agcs each
possessed thcir o\vn cliaractcristic asscnlblagc of organic fossils and
concluded that such asscmblagcs could be used to identify coeval
formations over Iargc areas. Smith, unlike Cuvicr, accepted the
tions ovc.r long
principle of the orderly deposition of roc
pcriods of timc.
12ctwccn 1830 and 1833 the English geologist Cliarlcs Lycll (17971875) published liis lJ~inciplesof G c o l o ~ in
~ ~which
hc asscmblcd an
o\lcrwhclming umount of data, much of it bascd on liis observations
n t in Sicijy, to support the i~nifonnitariannssumparound M o ~ ~Etna
tion that gcological changes had occurred in thc past as a result of
the same gcological agencies acting over long pcriods and at
approximately the sanlc rate as thcjl d o at present. Lycll's book
quickly won support for the principle of uniformitarianism in
gcology. Contrary to catnstrophism, it indicated the past to have
bccn a lo11,r
and geologically i~nintcrruptcdperiod in which other
;for scho
icd. This
could ha1

,a concc pt that L:yell

l c possibility o f biological (
.:~cctca, although Jean-Baptistc lam arc^ (1744-1829) naa alre~-,
argued in favour o f it.
This new view of gcologilcal histor y also left thc question of thc
~ntiquityof humanity as one &L
rnar rccluircd
an empirical answer. Thc
reception given t o Lpcll's gcology rcflcctcd thc incrcasng openness of British scholars and thc public t o evolutionary idcas.
,)I the middlc of the ninctccnth century, Britain had bcconic thc
vorltsliop of the world' .u1d tlic growth of industrialism hiid greatly
:rcngtlicncd the political power and self-confidcncc of thc niiddlc
lasses, who had comc to vicw thclnsclvcs as a major force in world
istory. This new .lttitudc was rcflcctcd in thc writings of Herb
pcnccr (1820-1903), who in the 1850s began t o champion a gcnc
volutionary approach to scic~itificand philosophical problems.
rgued that the dcvclopmcnt of thc solar systcm, plant and anirnal
fc, and 11iim~11nsociety was fro111 simple, uniform homogcncity t o
lcrcasingly c o ~ ~ i p l cand
x diffcrcntiatcd entities. By cmphasiz~
~dividualismand frcc enterprise as the driving forces bchind c:ul~ r a cvolution,
lie rescued thc latter from its formcr revolution arY
jsocl.ltlons and helped to ~nalccit the ideology of a substan tial
ortion of the British middlc class, whose faith in progrcss had
rc.idy been csprcsscd in the Great Exhibition hcld in London in
151 (Harris 1968: 108-41). In s o doing hc inclincd all but the
:ligiouslp most conscrvativ c membc rs of thc middle classcs t o
~mpathcticto argumcnts f avouring biological evolution and I
~tiquityof humanity.
In 1858 W~lliamPcngclly (1812-94) excavated in Brixham Cavc
car Torquay in southwcstcr~~
England. This was a 11cwlydiscovcrcd
tc known to contain fossilizcd boncs. His work was sponsorcd by
ic Gcological Society of London and was carcfully supcrviscd b Y a
mmittcc of prestigious scientists, including Charlcs Lycll. In 1:he
Iursc of 1iis cxcavatio~~s
stone tools and fossil animal boncs wlcrc
)und bcncath a11 unbroken layer of stalagnlitic deposit 7.5 cni thick,
hich suggcstcd considerable antiquity (Grubcr 1965). As a rcsult o f
rowing intcrcst in the antiquity of humanity, in the spring and
lmmcr of 1859, first the gcologist John Prcstwich and the arch aclogist John Evans and then a number o f other British scicnti: its,
~cludingCharles Lycll, visited thc sites in thc Sommc Vallcy. All. of
resc scicn tists wcrc:convinccd of thc, validity of thc finds Boucl


A history of archaeological thought

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

dc Pcrthcs and Rigollot had madc thcrc and the geologists also
rccogllizcd that the strata in which these finds occurred must havc
hccn deposited long bcforc 4000 B . C . In their reports to leading
I<ritisli scic~itificassociations, includillg thc British Association for
the Ad\~;1ncctne11t
of Science, thc Royal Society of London, and the
C;cologicnl Society of London, they agreed thnt thcrc was now solid
cvidcncc that human beings had coexisted with extinct lllarnrnals at
somc time that was fat- removed from the present in terms of
calcndnr ycars (Chorlcp c t al. 1964: 447-9; Grayson 1983: 179-90).
'This new vicw of the antiquity of human beings won what
; ~ ~ n o u n tto
c dofficial approval in Lpcll's The Geolojical Evidences of the
Alrtiq14ityofMan (1863).
(;hnrlcs Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published in
No\~cmbcr1859. This book, which summarized the results of almost
to ycars of rcscarch that had been inspired by uniformitarian
ga)logy, accornplishcd for cvolutio~larybiology what Lyell's Prinrilrlcs had donc for geology. Darwin's concept of natural selection
wns ncccptcd by Inany scientists and members of the general public
;is providing a mechanism that madc it possible to believe that a
lwowss of biological cvolutio~laccounted for modern species and
c.spl;~incdthe c h a ~ ~ g observed
in the palaeontological record. The
ohvio~lsi~nplicationthat humanity had evolved from somc ape-like
not otily madc the anticluity of the Iluman species a burning
isst~cthat had to be empirically studicd but also madc this invcstigarion ;I vital part of the broader colltrovcrsy that was raging
concerning Darwin's theory of biological evolution. Palaeolithic
;ircllacology thcrcforc quiclily acquired a high-profile role alongside
gcolog)l arid palaeontology in the debates concerning a question of
csc;ilating public interest.

some stone tools, such as axes and gouges, had been ground and
polished (Danicl 1950: 85). Aftcr 1860 thc main advances in Palacolithic archaeology took placc in France, where thc river terraces of
the north and the rock shelters of the south providcd bcttcr evidence
than was available in England. Thc principal goals of these studics
were to determine how long human bcings had bee11 in the area and
whether evolutionary trends could bc dctcctcd within the Palacolitllic period. Evolutionary theory predicted that ovcr time human
beings would havc bccornc both morphologically atid culturally
more complex. The first goal of Palaeolithic arcl~acologistswas
thercforc to arrange their sites in chronological order.
The leading figure in early Palaeolithic rcsearch was Edouard
Lartet (1801-71), a magistrate who had turned to the study of
palacontology and had publicly aclcnowlcdgcd the importance of
Bouchcr de Perthes' discoveries in 1860. Supported by the English
banker Henry Christy, he began to explore cave sites in the Dordogne in 1863. H e quickly realized that the Palaeolithic was not a
single phase of human development but a series of phases that could
be distinguished according to artifacts and associated prehistoric
animals. H e preferred a classification based on palaeontological
criteria and distinguished four ages o r periods, which from most
recent to oldest were: (I) Aurochs o r Bison, (2) Reindeer, of which
the cavc sites at Laugcric Bassc and La Madclcinc wcrc typical, (3)
Mamn~othand Woolly Rhinoceros, and (4) Cave Bear, although hc
gradually recognized that the last two periods could not be temporally separated. The Le Moustier site was designated as typical of a
new Cave Bear and Mammoth period. T o Lartet's three periods
Fklix Garrigou added a still earlier Hippopotamus one when human
beings had inhabitcd mainly open sitcs and which was not rcprcsented in the caves of southern France (Danicl 1950: 99-103).
Lartct's work was continued by Gabricl dc Mortillct (1821-98), a
geologist and palacontologist who turncd to the study of archacology. H e was assistant curator at thc Museum of National Antiquities at Saint-Germain-en-Layc for seventeen years bcforc becoming
Professor of Prehistoric Anthropology at the School of Anthropology in Paris in 1876.Although he admircd Lartct's work, he bclicvcd
that an archaeological subdivisioll of thc Palaeolithic had to be based
on cultural rather than palacontological criteria. In this respect he
chose to follow the example of Lubbock and Worsaac.

The subject-matter of Palacblithic archaeology was first given its

11;1mcin 1865 when, in his bookPrc-historic Times, the English bankcr
iund naturalist John Lubbocli dividcd the Stonc Age into an earlier
I'alacolithic or Archacolithic (Old Stonc) and a nlorc recent Ncolitllic (Ncw Stonc) period. H e was, however, merely formally labelling a distinction that was already obvious betweell an initial pcriod,
when all tools had bccn chipped fro111stone, and 3 later pcriod, when

Tlie beginnings of scientific archaeology

A history of arcl~aeologicaltliouglit

In spite of this, liis approach tp archaeology was greatly influc~iccdby liis knowledge of geology and palacontology. H c sought to
distinguish each pcriod by spccif~ringa limited number of artifact
typestthat were cliaractcristic of that pcriod alone. These diagilostic
nrtif;icts were the archaeological equivalent of the index fossils that
geologists and palaeo~itologistsused to identify tlic strata belonging
to ;I el articular gcological epoch. Mortillct also followcd gcological
practice in naming cach of his subdivisions of the Palaeolithic aftcr
rhc t)lpc sitc that had been used t o define it. Liltc palacontologists he
rclicd on stratigraphy t o cstablisl~a chronological sequence. I11 the
rcscarcli of the ninctccnth century, striation played only
;I minor role as a nlcans of cstablishing chronology. This was n o
tlot~htpastly because technological and stylistic sequences were
I~;irdcrto rccogni~cin Palacolithic ston; tools than in latcr artifacts
illid also because the issues being discussed were so controversial
tl~:itonly the clcarcst stratigraphic evidence was u~iivcrsallyagrccd
t o hc ;iblc to provide coiiclusivc tenlporal scclucnccs. The rcliancc on
stratigraplly also reflected Lartct's and Mortillct's training as natural
1,artct's N ~ P P O ~ ~ O ~ Age
; I I ~bccanic
I L ~ S the Chcllcan Epoch, namccl .I sitc 1ic3r l';iris, ;111dmost o f La-tct's C;I\JC1<c;1rvncl Mammoth
Age bcc;imc the Moustcri;ui, a l t h o ~ ~ gMortillct
assigned finds from
A u l - i g ~ itli;it
; ~ 1,urtct 1i;id placccl late in liis Cave 1Scar and Mviimotli
Age to 3 separate A~~rignacian
Epocli. Lartct's Rci~idccrAge was
di\lidcd into an earlier Solutrean Epoch and a latcr Magdalenian
one. Mot-tillct was uncertain about the date of the Aurignacian. H e
latcr placcd it aftcr the Solutrcan and finally dropped it from his
c1;issification of 1872. H e also added a R o b c ~ ~ l ~ a u s iEpoch
rcpcscnt the Neolithic pcriod and in latcr studies, such as Fovmation
dc la nationfiangalse (Dcvelopmciit of the Frcncli Nation) (1897),he
added still more cpoclis to incorporate the Bronze and Iron Ages
into his system. It is doubtful, however, that he was cvcr serious
about tlic univcrsalitp of these highly distinctive Wcstcrn European
periods (Cliilde 1956a: 27).
Mortillct also invcnted a Thenaisiaii Epoch and latcr a Puycour~iiaiione to cover prc-Chcllcan finds. Bctwccn 186; and 1940 ai-chacologists discovcrcd eoliths, or prcsumcd artifacts of exceptionally
crude nianufacturc, in early Pleistocclic as well as still earlier
Pliocene and Miocene deposits in France, England, Portugal, and



1 ;2









-- . --- .
( L!/Oll , 1~11o11e )
.\ l>[ll*e,)







tic Irr .Il(ir.rle.)




dl1 B Y O ~ L C'r~lz,tl~icnllp.

ccrnior~cle I'ciarl, Suibae.,

(L(c 'l'~,~i~.rih\c',
, \ I I C ~ ~ I IIIi;tLt~s.




1 :-

(Lu .Mutleleirze, Dor5tloyrte.)







cle In



(Le ,Iloustier~, L)ortlogrle.)

(Snirtl-Arheul, Sornn~e.)


(Chelles, Srinc-ct-,ll~irrie.)
( P ~ I I J - C V ~ ~C(i111cil.j


15 Mort~llct'sepochs


of prchrstory, fro111Formanon dc la natton franpise, 1897

A history of archaeological thought

Belgium>Evolutionary theory implied that the earliest tools would
be so crude that they could not bc distinguished from naturally
broken rocks; hence in the abscncc of human bones or otlier convincing proofs of hun~anprcscncc the authenticity of thesc finds was
challcngcd. In the late 1870s Mortillct and othcrs who supported the
nrtif~ctualst.~tusof col~thsb e g ~ nto develop a set of criteria t h ~ t
n ~ ~ g lbc
i t used to dist~ngu~sh
~ n t c n t i o nstone
~ l work~ngfrom natural
breakage. Challenges to these criteria alternated with efforts to
g Comparat~vcstudies werc
elaborate new and more c o n v ~ n c ~ ntests.
made of coliths and rocks from formations hundreds of millions of
pears old and experimental work was carried out, including S. H.
Warren's (1905) observations of striations on flints broken by
mccl~anicaipressure, Marcclin Boulc's (1905) study of flints rccovcred from a cement mixer, and A. S. Barnes' (1939) quantitat~ve
analysis of edgc angles fabricated by human hands and by natural
processes. In the course of these studies much was learned about
stone working and many sitcs werc disqualified as evidence of
human antiqu~ty(Grayson 1986). Either as a rcsult of direct influcncc or by coincidence, this research carried 011 the traditions of
arcliacological experime~ltatio~i
cstablishcd by Scandinavian investlgators in the 1840s.
Mortillct's training in thc natural sciences was reflected in more
than his classificatory approach. H e and most other Palaeolitl~ic
arcliacologists wcre primarily concerned with establishing the antiquity of humanity. Within their evolutionary framework, this meant
trying to trace cvidencc of human prcscncc back as far as possible in
the archaeological record and demonstrating that older cultures
were more primitive than later ones. The sequence that Lartet and
Mortillct established stratigraphically and palacontologically carried
out this task admirably. Comparing later with earlier stages of the
Palacolithic, thcrc was evidence of a grcatcr variety of stone tools,
more stagcs and grcatcr prccisio~lin their preparation, and an
increasi~lgnumber of bone tools. This demonstrated that the technological progrcss that Thomsen and Worsaac had documented
from the Stone to the Iron Ages could also be found within the
Palaeolithic period.
While archaeologists discussed what Palacolithic populations had
eaten at diffcrc~itstagcs and it was debated whether certain art work
might indicate that horses had bccn domcsticatcd in the Magdalc-

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

iian period (Bahn 1978), Palaeolithic archaeologists were far less
l~ltcrcstcdin studying how pcoplc had lived in prehistoric times than
Scandinavian archaeologists had becn. In this rcspect Palacolithic
archaeologists rcscmblcd palaeontologists, who at that time were
more conccr~icdto demonstrate cvolutionary sequences than they
were to study ccologic,ll I-elations within rock foniintions from
individual pcriods. The main units of archacological cxcavation
were strata, although cvcn thesc wcrc oftcn rccordcd in surprisingly
udimcntary fashion. Sitcs wcrc frcqucntly cxcavatcd with minimal
upcrvision, which mcant that detailed cultural stratigraphy and
leatures within major levels went unrecorded. Particularly in rock
shelters where living floors had becn prcserv cd, this I-csulted in a
scvcrc loss of information conccr~linghow plcoplc ha1d livcd. Tlic
.-.-c-artifacts that wcre kcpt for study in muscums w
~ ulLcn
c- CA.. only those
recognized as bcing of diagnostic valuc for ascertaining thc agc and
cultural affinities of sitcs. Dcbitage and artifacts that wcre not
thought to havc diagnostic significance wcrc frcqucntly discarded.
This cncouragcd a lion-cultural view of artifacts as dating dcviccs
and cvidence of progrcss, which was very diffcrcnt from thc Scandinavian approach to archacological data. Evcn Boyd Dawkins, who
criticized Mortillet for his preoccupation with evolutionary dcvelopmcnt and his failure to allow that some diffcrcnccs between
Palacolithic assc~nblagcs
rcflcct tribal or ethnic variation as
well as varying access to different types of stone, did not produce any
satisfactory altcrnativc analyses (Daniel 1950: 108-9).
Mortillet, like the geologists and palacontologists of thc midnineteenth century, was caught up in thc evolutionary enthusiasm
that characterized scientific rcscarch at that time. H e viewed his
Palacolithic sequence as a bridge bctwecn thc geological and palacontological cvidencc of biological evolution prior to the Pleistocene
era and the already cstablislicd docunicntation of cultural progrcss
in Europe in post-Palaeolithic timcs. As Glyn Danicl (1950: 244) has
noted, one of the kcynotcs of evolutionary arcliacology was the idea
that humanity's cultural development could be represented in a
single sequence and read in a cave section, just as the geological
sequence could be read in stratified rocks.
Mortillet was also influenced by a strong ethnological interest in
cultural evolution during the second half of thc ninctccnth ccntury.
In 1851 thc German ethnologist Adolf Bnstian (1826-1905) began a

A history of archaeologicai thought

series of voyages around the world in order to build up the collcctions of the Royal Museum of Ethnology in Berlin. Impressed by the
cultural similarities that he e~lcountcrcdin widcly separated regions,
he emphasized the Enlightcnmcnt doctrine of pspchic unity by
arg~iillgthat as a resitlt of uni\~crsallyshared 'clcmcntary ideas'
peoples at the salnc Ic\~elof dc\lelopmcnt \vho
arc facing similar problems will, within the constraints imposed by
thcir cnviro~~mcnts,
tend to develop similar solutio~lsto them.
After 1860 thcrc was a grcat revival of thcorctic history, as cthnologists sought, by comparing modern socictics assu~ncdt o be at
differc~ltlevels of dcvclopmc~~t,
to work out the stagcs through
which European societies had cvolvcd in prehistoric times. These
rescarchcs rangcd from studies of specific .issues, such as Johann
Bachofcn's (1861) theory that all socictics had evolved from matrili~lcalbcgin~li~lgs
2nd John McLenna11's (1865) arguments that the
oldest human socictics had been polyandrous, to gc~lcraldelincations of dcvclopmc~~t
from savagery to civilizatio~lby E. B. Tylor
(1865) and Lewis H . Morgan (1877). Unlil<c the 'thcorctic' histories
thcsc ethnological formulatio~lswcrc
of the cightcenth cc~ltur)~,
prcscntcd as scientific thcorics rather thail as philosophical spcculations. While reflecting the gc~lcralvogue for cvolutio~larystudies
in the mid-nineteenth century and usunllp addressing questions that
archaeological data wcrc ill ccluippcd to hnndlc, thcsc ~ ~ o r lderived
ruuch of thcir self-confidcncc from growing .~rchaeologicalcvidcncc
that tech~lologicaladvances had bee11an important feature of human
history. Reciprocally thcsc c t l ~ ~ ~ o g r a pformulations
archacologists to i ~ ~ t e r p rthcir
c t data in a unili~lcarpcrspcctivc.
In his guide to the archaeological displays at the Paris Expositio~l
of 1867 Mortillct declarcd that prchistoric studics rcvealed human
progress to bc a law of nature, that all human groups passed through
similar stages of dcvclopmcnt, and the grcat antiquity of hurnanit~~
(Daniel 1967: 144). The first two co~lccptshad thcir roots in the
philosophy of the E n i i g h t c ~ ~ m cand
~ l t the third had been recognized
as a result of research carried out prior to the publicatio~lof On the
O~iginof Species. Yet, while Palacolithic archacolog~~
had vindicated
an evolutionary origin for hurnanit~r,Mortillct's first two laws wcrc
far from validated. Not enough work had been done outside of
Wester11 Europe to dctcrminc whether or not human groups cvcry\vhcrc hacl developed - i11sofi.11-us thcy had dc\,clopcci at 311 -through

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

thc same Palacolithic scqucncc. While some scholars wcrc prcparcd
o f simple artifacts, such as spcars o r
t o accept the multiple i~lvcntio~l
calabash containers, thcy suspected that morc complcx ones, such as
boomerangs or bows and arrows, wcrc morc likely to be traccd t o a
common origin (Huxlcy [1865] 1896: 213). Likcwisc, ovcrly rigid
,~ppllcationsof notions bout what constituted progrcss lccl many
although not Mortillct (Danicl 1950: I ~ I )to
, reject
thc authenticity of cavc painti~lgson thc ground that thcy wcrc too
advanccd t o havc been produccd at an early stage of human dcvclopmcnt. This v ~ c wwas only overcome as frcsh discovcrics of boric
carvi~lgsand cavc paintings wcrc madc in c o ~ ~ t c xthat
t s clcarly datcd
this art t o the Upper Palacolithic period (ibid. 131-2). Oncc validated, howcvcr, European cave art was largclp intcrprctcd in tcrms
of the totcmism associatcd with the Australian aborigincs (Rcinach
1903; Ucko and Roscnfcld 1967: 123-8).
Palacol~thicarchacology was scic~~tifically
important and aroused
grcat public intercst because it rcvcalcd the hitherto uncxpcctcd
antiquity of hu~nanitpand the gradual cvolutio~lof European civilization from vcry primitive beginnings. I t also sct new standards
for stratigraphic analysis in archacology. Palacolithic archacology
enjoyed grcat prestige bccausc of its close tics with gcology and
pal.lcontology, which wcrc both sciences in thc forefront of crcati~lg
a new V I S ~ O L Iof the history of the wdrld. All thrcc of these discipli~lcs
were valued bccausc thcp wcrc viewed as demonstrating the reality
of progress in prchistoric tiincs. Palacolithic archacology also was
respected bccausc it had cvolvcd in France and England, which wcrc
the cc~ltrcsof political, economic, and cultural devclopmcnt in thc
world at that time. Bccausc of its prcstigc Palacolithic archacology
provided a model for studying post-Palacolithic prchistory in
Wcstcr~lEurope. Yct its vicw of artifacts n ~ a i ~ l as
l y dating dcviccs
and cvidcncc of cultural cvolutio~lwas a vcry narrow onc by comparison with Scandinavian prchistoric archacology, which was conccr~lcdwith studying cultural evolutio~lbut also sought in a more
r o u ~ ~ d cfashion
t o learn as much as possible about how human
beings had Iivcd in prchistoric cnvironmcnts. Thc intcrdiscipli~lary
cooperation of Scandinavian arcl~acologistswith geologists and biologists in thcir pursuit of thcsc objcctivcs contrasts with the wholesale modelling of archacological rcscarch upon often inappropriate
natur,ll science methods by l'a1a~oIithic :~rchaeologists.AS a result

A history of arcliaeological thought

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

thc prehistoric archaeology that dcvclopcd in France and England

was limitcd in thc range of its intcrcsts just as it was enhanccd in its
time dcpth by con~parisonwith Scandinavian archaeology.

represent idiosyncratic local trcnds or the accidental interdigitation

of neighbouring, contemporary groups with different cultures.
From this he concluded that there was no evidence that cultures at
different levels of complexity had not coexisted throughout human
history (Dawson 1888: 166-7; 214; Trigger 1966). While in retrospect
Dawson can be sccn as defending a lost cause, in thc ninctcenth
century it was easier for his opponents to ignore his objections than
to rcfutc them. Not cnougb was yet known about prehistoric
scqucnccs outsidc Europe to establish evolution
human history.
Still morc links existed between Near Easter11 dlLlldCUlUglbLb n ~ l d
those who sought to prove the literal truth of the Bible. Intercst in
Mesopotamian archaeology was rcvived in the 1870s aftcr Gcorgc
Smith published a clay tablet from Nineveh containing a Babylonian
account of the deluge. The Daily Telegraph offered 1,000 pounds
sterling to send an expedition to Iraq in search of the missing
portions of this tablet, which were duly found (Daniel 1950: 132-3).
Much of the early work of the Egypt Exploration Society was
dircctcd towards sitcs in thc Dclta, such as Tcll el-Muskhuta, that
were associatcd with biblical accounts. In 1896 W. M. F. Pctrie was
quick to idcntify thc cthnic name ri. ar?, which appeared on a
ncwly discovered stela of the Pharaoh Merneptali (reigncd 12361223 B.c.), as thc first known mcntion of Isracl in Egyptian texts
(Drowcr 1985: 221). As late as 1929 Leonard Woolley excited great
interest by claiming that the thick silt deposits that he had found in
his cxcavations of prehistoric lcvcls at Ur attested a great flood in
Mesopotamia that had given rise to tlie biblical account of th
deluge (Woolley 1950: 20-3). While Egypt and Mesopotamia prc
duced spectacular archacological discoveries that excited the pub11
in their own right, those that related to the Biblc and appeared t
confirm scriptural accounts cklsurcd widcsprcad support fc
archacological research carried out in these countries as well as i11
Palestine. Individual archaeologists were on both sides in the
strugglc between the supporters of revealed religion and of evolutionism during the late nineteenth and earlv twentieth centuries
(Casson 1939: 207-8).

Reaction against evolution

Those who objcctcd to cvolutio~iaryaccounts of human origins or
thc dcnial of biblical accounts of human liistory fought back in
various ways. During tlic 1860s creationists who acccptcd current
i~ltcrpretationsof the archacological rccord could still hypotlicsizc
that human beings had been created much earlier than had previously been thought and hope that early hominid skeletons, when
discovcrcd, would rcscmblc thosc of modcrn human bcings rathcr
than the 'pithccoid forms' prcdictcd by the Darwinians (Grayson
1986: 211). Yct not cvcryonc acccptcd an evolutionary interpretation
of tlie archacological record. As early as 1832 Richard Whatcly,
Archbishop of Dublin (1787-1863), had breathed new life into the
doctrinc of dcgcncrationism. H c argucd that thcrc was no cvidcncc
that savagcs, unaidcd, had ever dcvelopcd a less barbarous way of
lifc. It follou~edthat humanity originally must havc existed in a statc
'far superior' to that of modcrn savages, a vicw which lie fclt was in
accord with tlic Book of Gcncsis (Grays011 1983: 217-20). This
popular among conscrvativcs in the
position bccamc i~~crcasingly
186os, altliough not all dcgencrationists denied the grcat anticluity of
humanity or attributcd its earliest cultural achievements to divine
rcvclation. Onc of thc most cmincnt dcgcncrationists was the
Canadian gcologist and amatcur archaeologist John William
Dawson, who was Principal of McGill University in Montreal from
1855 to 1893. Dawson acccptcd the association between human
rcmains and cxtinct mammals but argued that thcsc associations
confirmed the rcccncy of the l'lcistoccnc gravels in which they wcrc
found. 0 1 1 a trip to Europc in 186s hc inspcctcd the geological
dcposits of the Sommc Valley and dcscribcd his mcntor Charlcs
Lycll as taking 'very good-naturcdly' his opinion that cvidcncc was
lacking 'of the cxccssivc antiquity at that timc attributcd to [thcsc
forn~ations]by some writers' (Dawson 1901: 145). H c also maintained tliat North American ethnographic cvidcnce rcvcalcd that the
pcoplcs who uscd the bcst-madc stone implcnicnts also uscd the
rudest and tliat the dcvclop~ncntalsequcncc found in Europc might

A history ofarciiacolog~calthought

The beginnings of scientific archaeology

Avchaeolo~yin N O YA

Thc Amcrican public wcrc anxious that their continent should

have its own h i s t o ~ yto rival that of Europe and hence wcrc intrigued
by these finds, just as they were to be intrigued by John L. Stephens'
discovery of lost Maya cities in the jungles of Central America in the
r~+os.Yet, apart fro111those ~ 1 1 0interpreted them as cvidcncc of
clcgcncration (I%icdcr1986: 33-4), most scholars and the general
public were not prepared to ascribe the finds in the Mississippi and
of the American Indians. Thcy attriOhio Valleys t o thc a~~ccstors
buted them to a race of Moundbuildcrs who wcrc imagined to have
been destroyed or driven out of North An1crica by savage hordcs of
Indians. The various Moundbuilder theories thus offcrcd a chronicle of American prehistory but, by attributing the major accomplishments of the past to a vanished non-North Amcricun Indian
people, thcy continued to emphasize thc static and hcncc potentially
~incivilizablenature of the Indians. The archaeological record was
intel-prcted as further cvidcncc of the menace posed by the Indians,
\vho \irere rc\~calcdas destroyers of civilization when given the
opportunity. Victims wcre thus portrayed as bloodthirsty monsters
ancl new reasons wcre provided to justifjr white Americans waging
war on them and scizi~lgtheir lands. Books expou~ldingthe thcory
that the Moundbuildcrs werc a lost 'race of civilized people, such as
Josi:lh l'ricst's Amevicnw Aatiqzdities andL)iseo~~cries
in the West (1833),
q ~ ~ i c kbccamc
best scllcrs. So great was the attraction of this theory
that, even after the American physician and anatomist Samuel
Morton (1799-1851) had failed t o find any sig~lificantdiffercnccs
bct\vcen the slculls of Moundbuildcrs and thosc of recently deceased
Indians, hc divided his American race into Toltcc and Barbarous
families o n purely cultural grounds (Silvcrbcrg 1968).
More positively the discovery of mounds and earthworks west of
the Appalachians crcatcd for the first time a widespread interest in
describing prehistoric monuments and collecting artifacts from
them. Between 1780 and 1860 archacology in the ccntral and eastern
United States passed through an antiquarian phase which rccapitulatcd the devclopmcnt of archacology in England and Scandinavia
bct\vccn rsoo and 1800. In the late cightccnth century, army officers
stationed in the Ohio Valley began to draw plans of thc earthworks
and the Reverend Manassch Cutler counted the number of rings of
trccs that had grown on the top of the cartl~worltsat Marietta as
thcsc were cleared for town b ~ ~ i l d i n In
g . 1813 H. H. Brackcnridgc

While European visitors and to a limited dcgrcc local scholars

studied isolated facets of Latin Amcrican PI-c1iistor)r(Bcrnal 1980:
j j - I O ~ ) ,tllc United States was the only country o~~tsiclc
dc\rclop an indigenous tradition of 3rchacologic.d rcsc,u-ch priol- t o
the late nineteenth century. 13y the time Europcun settlement
prcsscd \vcst\vard beginning in the 1780s, rscial myths had gcncrally
cclipscci religions oilcs as a justification for waging war o n the
Indi,~nsc~nci\riolating their treaty rights. It \vns widely maintained
that the Indians were brutal and warliltc by nature and biologically
incapable of sig~lificantcultural dcvelopnicnt. Thcy werc also pronounccd, despite substantial cvidcncc to the contrary, to be unable
to adjust to a European style of life and therefore destined to die out
as civilization spread westward (Vaughan 1982). Many white
Americans saw these arraligcmcnts as a manifestation of divine
providence, \vhich indicates that the ncuTbiological csplanations of
alleged native inferiority did not exclude religious ones.
As Europc.lns began to settle west of the Appulachian Mountains
thcy discovcrcd lllounds and earthworks throughout the Ohio and
Mississippi watcrshcds. Thcsc arc now ltnown to have been built by
the Adcna and Hopcwcll cultures that had bccn ccntrcd in the Ohio
Valley bctwccn 8 0 0 E . c. anti A . D . coo 2nd the Mississippian culture
distributed throughout the southcastcrn United Statcs from
A . D . 5 0 0 to 1500. Tllcsc carthworlts, \vhich often contained claborate artifacts made of pottcrp, shell, mica, and native copper, challenged the belief that native American cultures wcrc invariably
primitive. They also quicltly bccamc the focus of thc most varied
speculations. Some Americans, such as thc naturalist William
Bartram, the Kcvcrcnd James Madiso~l,and most i~llporta~ltly
James M c C ~ ~ l l o hconcluded
that thcy had bee11 constr~ctcdby
Indians but the traveller Bcnjamin Barton attributed them to Danes,
who had gone on to become the Toltccs of Mexico, wl~ileGovernor
Dc Witt Clinton of Ohio said they were the work of Viltings, and
Anclos Stoddard identified them as bcing of Welsh origin. The
sagacious ethnologist Albert Gallatin linlted them wit11 Mexico,
although he was uncertain whether the Mexicans had moved north
or the builders of thcsc mounds had cvcntually moved south (Silverbcl-g 1968; Willcy 2nd Sabloff 1980: 19-25; Blakcslcc 1987).

The b e ~ i n n i n ~o br scicnrinc arcnaeolc.

ory ot archaeolog~calthougll t
distingulshcd bctwecr1 burial and tcmplc mourids and corrcctly
-.--..-: ones wcrc carlicr (Willcy and S a b,.fL--,.o-.
t h a-.l~.ulr LUUllal
l u ~, y~o u .
23). Research and thc publication of rcscarch gradually bccamc morc
systematic. The Amcrican Philosophical Society took an active interest in the Moundbuildcr debate. In 1799, as one of its numerous
scicntific projects, its President, Thomas Jcffcrson, distributed a
circular soliciting information about prchistoric fortifications,
+lltnuli, and Indian artifacts. In 1812 the p~iblishcrIsaiah Thomas
~ndcdthe Anicric,~nAntiquarian Soc~cty,which provided a focal
po:int for thc diffuse but growing interest in archaeological qucstin ns. The first volume of the society's Transactions, which appeared
in 1820, contained Calcb Atwater's 'Description of the antiquities
disccwered in the Statc of Ohio and othcr western states'. This study
preserved valuable plans and descriptions of carthworks, many of
which were latcr destroyed. He divided the remains into three
classes: modcrn European, modcrn Indian, and Moundbuildcr. H e
speculated, on thc most meagre cvidcncc, that thc latter had been
built by Hindus, who had com~
:h Amcricca from tlsia and
latcr moved south into Mexico.
-. ncxt major contribution to nmcr~can archacology was
A ncir:nt Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848) by Ephraim G.
Squic:r (1821-88) 3nd Edwin H. 13avis (1811-88). Squier, a ncwspapcr






, I?,". ,,-d.o.,;**<:/.







.,.#+" d , ~ & , , ~ .

r l a n or prehistoric carthworks at Portsmouth. Ohio. fiom Atwater's


o f thc ant



thc Statc of Ohio'.

Grave Crecrk Mound, West Virg;inia, from Squier an(1 Davis, AI

Monunzl x t s of thellImiss+pi Valley, 1848

editor, and Davis, a physician, both livcd in Ohio. Thcy carefully

survc)lcd a I.~rgc number of mounds and carthworks, cxcavatcd
some, ,uid drew together the findings of othcr rcscarchcrs. Thcy
assembled a vast amount of data about prchistoric carthworks ovcr
the eastern Unitcd States, many of which concern sitcs that have
since been dcstroyed. Yet, while they wcrc firm supporters of the
Moundbuildcr theory, their work was primarily descriptivc in tone.
Their classification, which was bhsed on formal criteria, distinguishcd betwccn the effigy mounds of the upper Mississippi
- - Vallcy,
the symmetrical enclosures of Ohio, and the trunc:ated mol~ n d sto
the south. Speculation was gcncrally limitcd to posing some questions about the possible uscs of such structures.
The general tone of the volume was sct by Joseph Henry, a
rcnow ncd physicist and thc first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
.._ _
, which had bccn founded in 1846. Thcir volume was the
Smith:sonian's first publication and began its Contvibutions to Knowledge scries. Hcnry was dctcrmincd to purge Amcrican archacology
of its 5;pcculativc tcndcncics and to cncouragc scicntific rcscarch in
ductivc 1
traditior1. H c in:

A history of archaeological thought

Squier and Davis' speculations about the Moundbuilders so that
their 'positive addition to the sum of human knowledge should
stand in bold relief (Washburn 1967: 153; Tax 1975; Willcy and
Sabloff 1980: 36). Henry also commissio~ledSamuel Haven, the
librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, to prepare a historical review of the Archaeology of the United States, which was
published in 1856. I11 it numerous speculations about American
prehistory were rigorously examined in the light of available information and shown to be ~intc113ble.The M o ~ ~ ~ l d b ~ ~theory
i l d e rwas
one of the principal objects of Haven's attacks. In order to cncourage a more profcssio~laloutloolz Henry also published reports on
devcloprnents in European archacology in the Annual Report of the
Srnithsonian Institution, which was widely distributed in North
America. The most successful of these was 'General Views on
Archaeology', a translation of a paper originally published in French
by the Swiss geologist and amatcur archacologist Adolf Morlot
(1861). Morlot carefully sumnlarizcd recent advances in European
archacology, especially in Denmark and Switzerland. In particular,
his account of the excavation of I>a~lish'kitchen middens' stimulated
the excavation of shell niounds along the cast coast of North
America from Nova Scotia to Floricla beginning in the carly 1860s
(Trigger 1986a).Although Henry's convictio~lthat the collcctio~lof
data should precede theorizing did not significantly diminish the
of the past that prevailed among amateur
fanciful i~itcrpretatio~ls
archaeologists vid the general public, his official encouragement for
archacology and his promotion of morc systematic research helped
to prepare archaeologists for the more professional era that was to
dawn after 1860.

In Europe prehistoric archaeology developed in the early and middle

part of the nineteenth century, primarily as an evolutionary study of
human history. It revealed not only that the most complex industrial
technologies had developed from Stone Age beginnings but also
that the Stone Age itsclf bore witness to the gradual elaboration of
the ability of human beings to control their environment. Prehistoric archacology originated in two complementary waves. The first,
which began in Denmark in 1816, mainly studied cultural develop-


Thc beginnings of scientific archaeology

ment in Neolithic, Bronzc Age, and Iron Age times, while the
second, which started SO years later in England and France, developed around the study of the Palaeolithic period. While Palaeolithic
archaeology did not begin completely independently of that practised in Scandinavia, they were distinctive in terms of goals and
methods. Palaeolitl~icarchacology tended t o model itsclf on the
n ~ t u r a lsciences, while Scandinavian archacology was morc intcrcstcd in learning from archaeological data how specific peoples had
lived in the past. It also pioneered seriation as a form of chronology
appropriate to ordering cultural remains.
Both branches of prehistoric archacology rcvcal thc~~~sclvcs
intellectual products of the Enlightenment. Thcy wcrc comrnittcd to
believing that the evolution of material culture bctokcns social and
moral improvement as well. Large numbers of middlc-class pcoplc,
whosc economic and political power was increasing as a result of thc
Industrial Revolution, were pleased to view themselves as a wave of
progress that was inherent in human nature and perhaps in the very
constitution of the universe. White Americans wcrc happy to sharc
t h ~ soptinlist~cview but were not prep'ircd to cxtcnd it to embrace
the native peoples whosc lands they were seizing. For them native
pcoplc were an exception, who as a result of their biological inadccluacics were unable to participate in the progress that destiny
had made the prerogative of Europeans. Far from being discordant,
these two views were so011 to be combined in a powerful international synthesis.

The imperial synthesis

1840s to bc rcgardcd as diffcrcnt bra~lchcsof anthropology, which
was idc~itificdas thc study of nativc pcoplcs. Thc pri~icipalgoal of
American anthropology was romantically dcfitlcd by thc cthtlologist
Hcnry Schoolcraft as being to prcscrvc somc rccords of a dying racc
for futurc agcs (Hinslcy 1981: 20).
One of thc main protllcms that had confronted cultural cvolutionis111from the beginning was to explain why s o n ~ csocictics had
dcvclopcd rapidly whilc others apparc~itlyhad rcmai~icdstatic ovcr
thousands of ycars. In thc cightccnth ccntury such disparitics commonly had been attributcd to c~ivironnlcntalfactors. Yct specific
explanations often wcrc far from convincing. A
growing intcrcst in cultural cvolutio~lcould not fail to draw attcntion to this deficiency.

Thc imperial syntl~csis

Felv of us can obsenx such indications of the habits and physical
condition of the earliest inhabitants of this island [Britain] as are
afforded by the remains of their rude dwellings, and by the rude
inzplements occasionally fo and, without a sense of thankfulness
that our lot has been merciftlll3, cast in times of improved knowledge, of advanced civilization, and more refined habits.
'111aupur~IAJdrcssl at E S C ~COII~I-CSS,
Avcbaeolo~lcalJ o r r v n 30 (1873), 206

E A K L 0 F 1) E V O N,

A sharcd commitment to an evolutionary approach promoted a close

alignment bctwecn prchistoric archaeology and ctllnology in
Westcrn Europc and the United States in the 1860s and 1870s. In
Europc the basis of this alig~lmcntwas thc belief 111 un~li~lcar
evolution evolved by Enlightenment ph~losophcrs.It was accepted
that arranging modern cultures in a serles fro111 simplcst to no st
co~nplcxillustrated the stagcs through which the most advanced
cultures had developed in prehistoric t~nics.Glyn Danicl (1950:
185-6) has argued that the mcagrcncss of the archaeological record
compelled archaeologists to employ the conclusions of physical
anthropolog~sts,linguists, and ethnologists in their efforts to reconstruct the past. Yct it appears that French and British archaeologists
did not try harder to elucidate the past using archaeological data
because, as a result of their commitment to unilincar evolutionism,
they bclicvcd that ethnology revealed almost everything that they
wished to hiow about prehistoric ti~ncs.From this stricture we must
exempt the Scandinavia17x archaeologists, especially Nilssoil, who
used ethnographic parallels to infer specific forms of behaviour, such
as the use that had been made of particular types of artifacts, rather
than the nature of whole cultures.
In the Unitcd States, where it was assumed that relatively little
cultural evolution had occurred in prehistoric times, archaeology,
cthnology, physical anthropology, and linguistics had begun by the

The rise of mcism

At the samc timc that this closc rclationship bctwccn prchistoric
archacology and ethnology was dcvcloping in Wcstcr~lEuropc and
Arncrica, somc of the principal idcas of thc E~llightc~imcnt
on which
significa~itcliangcs and cvcn being
it was based wcrc u~ldcrgoi~ig
abandoned. I11 particular thc ninctccnth ccntury witncsscd thc slow
dcclinc in Wcstcr~lEuropc of thc bclicf in psychic unity. Thc
Napoleonic conquests had stimulated a nationalistic reaction, which
was c~lcouragcdby tlic conscrvativc rcgimcs that wcrc rcstorcd to
power in Francc, Gcr~nany,and Italy aftcr his dcfcat. I11 placc of thc
rationalism of thc Enlightcnmcnt, this ncw co~iscrvatismfavourcd a
romantic idealization of national and cthnic diffcrcnccs. This
cncouragcd intcllcctuals to vicw allcgcd national charactcristics as
being rooted in biological disparitics bctwcc~lhuman groups. I11
placc of thc ciglitcc~itli-century bclicf in thc i~ltcllcctual and
cmotional similarity of diffcrcnt cthnic groups and in rclativcly
quickly acting cnvironmcntal i~lflucnccs as tlic main causcs of
physical and bchavioural diffcrcnccs (Grayson 1983: 142-9), somc
scholars bcgan to vicw thcsc diffcrcnccs as rootcd in biological
factors that wcrc impervious to changc. Thcsc idcas found cxprcssion in thc writings of Joseph-Arthur, comtc dc Gobi~lcau(1816-82),
cspccially his four volumc Essai sur L'inifalite' des races humains
(Essay on the Inequality of thc Human Raccs) (1853-5). A mcmbcr of
an aristocratic and royalist Frcnch family, Gobincau bclicvcd that

A history of archaeological thought

The imperial synthesis

the fate of civilizations was determined by thcir racial composition

and that the more a successful civilization's racial character was
'diluted', the morc likely it was to sink into stagnation and corruption. In particular he proclaimcd that Europca~lsocieties would
flourish only so l o ~ i gas thcir members avoided 'miscegenation' with
uon-European strains. Gobincau's teachings were t o influence
European racists from Richard Wagner to Adolf Hitlcr and in
America they wcrc popularized by worlis such as Madison Grant's
The Passirg of tl~cGreat Race (1916). It was not long before novelists
as well as scholars were invoking alleged racial factors instead of
cn\~ironmcntalones to explain variations in the degree to which
ciiffcrcnt groups had evolved in the course of human history.
S o ~ n of
e these theories were related to the doctrine of polygcncsis,
which can bc traced back to the twelfth century (Slotkin 1965: 5-6),
but was first raised as a major issue in ~llodcrntimes by the French
Ca1vinist librarian Isaac de La Pcpri'rc (1594-1676) in 1655.H e argued
that the biblical Adam was the ancestor of the Jews alone, while the
ancestors of othcr human groups had been created separately and
earlier. While church authorities compelled La Pcyrtrc to retract his
thesis, his ideas continued to be debated. In 1774 Edward Long
(1734-1813), who had worked in the West Indies, argued that Europeans and ncgrocs were separate spccics, while in 1799 Cl~arlcs
White (1728-1813) proclaimcd that Europeans, Asians, Anicricans,
black Africans, anci Hottentots constit~~tccl
a gracicd scclucncc of
increasingly pri~nitivespecies.
Samuel Morton suggested in his CmniaAmericana (1839) that the
American Indian constituted a homogcncous type that providence
had adapted from the beginning for life in the New World. In his
Crania Agyptiaca, published five years later, he argued that Egpptian skulls and depictions on thcir monuments rcvealcd that human
types had not changed in that part of the world for 4,500 pears;
almost as far back as the biblically recorded creation of the carth.
While Morton initially believed that God had differc~ltiatcdthe
races after he had created a common humanity, by 1849 he was
advocating divine polygcncsis, a position that was endorsed by the
influential Swiss-American naturalist Louis Agassiz (1807-73) and
popularized by the Alabama physician Josiah C. Nott (1804-73) and
the amateur Egyptologist George R. Gliddon (1809-57) in their
book Tvpcs ofManlri~~d
(1854). Yet polygcnism remained a scientific

fad which was generally repudiatcd by devout Christians, who were

offended by its rcjcction of biblical authority. Despite thcir allcgcd
proof that ncgrocs werc inferior t o whitcs, Nott and Gliddon's ideas
Unitcd Statcs
wcrc not popular in the slavc-owning so~ithcastcr~l
~ C C ~ L I Stheir
attacks 011 biblical authority offcndcd thc conscrvativc
religious sensibilities of that region (Stanton 1960: 161-73). Even thc
leading British monogcnist Jamcs Cowlcs Prichard (1786-1848),
who argucd that I~umanbeings had differentiatcd as thc rcsult of a
process of self-don~cstication,maintained that the more civilizcd
peoples became thc morc they grew to resemble Europeans. Hcncc
while the most primitive groups had black skins, morc civilizcd oncs
bccamc progrcssivcly lighter (Prichard 1813: 174-242).
13clicf in the inccluality of r x c s gained scientific credibility as ;I
result of Darwinian evolutionism. In their dcsirc to makc crcdiblc
the cvolutionary origins of the human spccics, Darwin and many of
his supporters argucd that human societies varicd in thcir biological
evolutionary status from highly evolved groups t o ones that differed
only slightly from the most evolved apes. Darwin bclicvcd that lcss
civilized pcoplcs wcre also less developed intcllcctually and
cmotionallp than wcrc Europeans; hence his cstimatio~lof biological devclop~ncntcorrespo~ldedwith the conventional scale of
cultural evolution. In 1863 Thomas Huxlcy noted thc similarities
between two N c a n d c r t l ~ ~skulls
~ l and those of 111odcrn Australian
aborigines 2nd argued that they wcrc also culturally alike (Huxlcy
[1863] 1896). Culturall)~advanccd socictics wcrc vicwcd as ones in
which the operation of natural selection had produced individuals
who possessed superior i ~ ~ t e l l i g c and
~ ~ cgreater
self-control. Alfrcd
Wallace (1823-1g13), the co-discovcrer o f natural sclcction, had as a
naturalist livcd for long periods of timc among tribal groups in
South America and Southcast Asia. 0 1 1 thc basis of his pcrsonal
knowledge of such groups he dcnicd that these pcoples differed
significantly from Europeans in intclligcncc o r othcr innatc abilitics
and m~intaincdthat humanity's higher mcntal capacities could not
have been produced by natural selection. Darwin dcplorcd thcsc
observations as lack of support for thcir joint theory (Eisclcy 1958).
To those who werc predisposed t o believe it, Darwin's view of
natural selection offered a far more convincing explanation of how
biological inequalities had developed among human groups than
polygcnism had done. Darwinism also reinforccd an cvolutionary

The in~pcrialsynthesis

A history of archaeological thought

perspective on cultural evolution by malzillg it appear t o be an
extension of biological evolution and implying that they were inscparablc. While Darwin vchcmcntly opposed the mistreatment and
exploitation of non-Western pcoplcs, liis theorizing about human
measure of scientific respectability
evolution Save an ~u~iprecedcntcd
of human bchaviour. These i~ltcrprctations
to racial interprctatio~~s
provided a biological counterpart t o romantic nationalism in challenging and ultirnatclp superseding a bclicf in ps)ichic unity.

Lubbock's sy~zthesis
A Darwinian view of human nature was incorporated into prchistoric archacology by thc versatile John Lubbock (1834-1913), who
latcr became Lord Avcbury, with his book Pre-historzc Times, as
Illustrated by Ancient Remains, and the Manners and Customs of
Modern Sava~es.Betwee111865 and 1913 this book went through scvc~l
editions both 111 England and the United States and it long served as
a textbook of archacology. It was almost certainly the most influential work dealing with arch~cologypublished during the nineteenth
century. A second book The Origin of Czvzlisation and the Przmitive

o h n 1,ubhock (1,ol.d A\.chury)




Condition of Man (1870) also went through several cditions. It

expounded Lubbock's ideas in a morc extreme fashion and with less
emphasis o n archaeological data. Lubbock grcw up as a ncighbour
of Charles Darwin, whose house bordered on the Lubbock family's
estate in ICcnt. At the age of 22 he bccainc a partner in his father's
bank and latcr as a member of parliament he secured passage of the
Bank Holidays Act (1871) and of an act to provide protcctioll for
anclent monuments (1882). His rcscarch as a nat~ralistcstablisl~cd
hlrn ,is a leading ~ ~ ~ t h o r011
i t yanimal bchaviour. It was as an early
supporter of Darwin's theory of evolution that he began t o study
prehistoric archaeology.
Times (to adopt the spiclling of latcr
At first glancc, Pvd~isto~ic
editions) appears to bc a curious collection of dispara te ~natcri
al. A
first section, comprising more than half the book, prescnts a scrics or
chapters dealing in roughly chronological order with archaeological
topics: the use of bronze in ancient times, the Bronze Age, the usc of
stonc, megaliths and tumuli, lakc-dwellings, lzitchc~i middens,
North American archaeology, Quaternary mammals, 'primeval man',
Plcistoccnc deposits, 'und the anticluitp of human beings. Lubbock
then argued that just as inodcrn elephants provide information
about the nature of extinct mammoths, so modern primitivc societies shed light on the bchaviour of prehistoric human beings. This
is followed by a series of sltctcl~csof the ways of life of modcrn tribal
soc~etics: Hottentots, Vcddahs, Andamail Islanders, Australian
Abongincs, Tasmanians, Fijians, Maoris, Tahitians, Tongans,
Eskimos, North American Indians, Paraguayans, Patagonians, and
Fuegans. The ordering of these chapters is clcL1rlygeographical
rather that evolutionar)~and n o attcmpt was made t o indicate what
particular modcrn groups providc evidence about specific stages of
prehistoric development. Among the few spccific parallels that he
suggcstcd was the long-standing Sc.lndin,ivi,~n cl,iim that Eslc~mo
stonc tools LVCI.C \ u - y tliosc 01' tllc E L I ~ O ~Upper
Palacolithic. H e also drcw a parallel bet\vccn the Fucgans and the
llanlclcss people who had produced the Danish lzitchcn middens,
~lthoughhe noted that the latter had cxccllcd the Fucgans because
they manuticturcd crude pottery.
Lubboclc was deeply co~iimittcdt o the idea of unilincar cultural
evolution. The parallel that he drcw between palacontological
analogies and those in\,ol\iin~modern 'primitive' peoples and prc-

A history of archaeological thought

The inlperial synthesis

historic oncs sccms to have bccn an attempt to enhance the scientific

respectability of the cultural comparisons rathcl- than mcthodologicallp innovative. He notccl, howcvcr, that there was no clcur cvidcncc that humanity hael invented spccific types of tools in an!! o11c
En\lironmcntd factors liud produced variations
in 'l<incl' us well as 'dcg~-cc'among h ~ ~ r n F; I~- OnL I ~ S .None 01' tllcsc
arguments limiting the uscfulncss of a unilincar approach was new.
What was nc\v was his 13nrwini;ln insistence tllrlt as a rcsult of
natural sclcction humrin groups 11.1cl hccomc diffcrcnt from cuch
other not only cult~irallybut also in their biological crlpacities to
utilize culture. Lubbock viewed modcrn Europeans as thc product
of intcnsivc cultural and biological evolution. H e bclicvcd that
technologically less ad\~anccdpcoplcs were not only culturully but
also intellectually and cniotionally morc primitive than civilizcd
oncs. H c also mai~~taincd
that as a rcsult of the diffcrcntial operatio11
of natural sclcction among Europeans, the cri~lli~lally
inclined and
lower classes wcrc biologically inferior to the more successful middle
and upper classes. Thus a sillglc explanation accounted for social
inequality in Wester11 socictics and for the allcgcd supcrioritp of
Europcan societies ovcr other human groups.
Like other evolutionists, Lubboclc argued forcefully against the
idea that cultural degeneration had played a significant rolc in
human l~istory.H e consistently portra~~cd
dcgcncrationism as 311
old-fashioned and discredited doctrine. Hc also s o ~ ~ gto
h t counter
romantic followers of Jean-Jacques Rousscau, who qucstioncd that
thc dcvcloprncnt of civilizatio~lhad Icd to an incrcasc in human
l~appincss.I11 order to reinforce an evolutionary perspective, he
went out of his way to portray primitivc pcoplcs as inevitably few in
number, wretched, and depraved. Hc described mociel-n tribal
groups as being unable to control naturc and having intcllccts
rcscmbling those of children. Their languages were allcgcd to lack
abstract words and they wcrc claimed to be incapable of undcrstanding abstract concepts. ?hey wcrc also said to be slaves to thcir
passions, being unablc to coiltrol anger or t o follow any spccific
course of action for more than a short timc. H e maintained that they
wcrc more dcficicnt in moral scnse than was gc~lerallybclicvcd and
took pains to documcnt how spccific groups regularly mistreated
children, murdered agcd parents, ate human flesh, and practiscd
human sacrifice. To demonstrate their luck of routine Vict+wi.t~m

values, he also cmphasized thcir dirtincss. H e argued that cultural

dcvclopn~cntrcsultcd in an increasing population; whilc lcft to thcir
own dcviccs primitive pcoplcs rcmaincd static or declined in
numbcrs. Cultural dcvclopmc~ltalso cxpandcd human consciousncss and Icd to growing material prospcrity and spiritual progress.
Nc vicwcd ci1lt~1r.11
.IS c o ~ i t i n l ~ i i~iclcfi~litcly
ill .I futiirc
marked by ever grcatcr technological and moral improvcmcnt and
by increasing human happincss and comfort. Prc-historic Times
cndcd with a rousing cxprcssion of this evolutionary crcdo:
Even in our own time, we may hope to see some improvcment; but the unselfish mind will find its highest gratification
in the beliefthat, wl~atevermay be the case with oursclvcs, our
cicsccndants will understand Illany tllings wllicll arc lliddc~l
from us now, will better appreciate the beautiful world i
which we live, avoid much of that suffering to which we a]
subject, enjoy many blessings of which we are not yet worth:
and escape many of those temptations which we deplore,
but cannot wholly resist. (Lubbock 1869: 591)
The growth o f a capitalist industrial economy, in conjunction with
the operatioil of natural sclcction on human beings, was clearly
leading to an earthly paradise. By offering evidence that such progress was thc continuation of what had been occurring cvcr more
rapidly throughout human history, yrchistoric archaeology bolstered the collfidcilce of the British middle classes and strcngthened
their pride in the lcading rolc that they werc playing in that process.
Yct not all l~umangroups wcrc to sharc in this happincss. T l ~ c
most primitive were doomed to vanish as a result of tllc spread of
civilization, sincc no amount of cducation could compcnsatc for thc
of years during which ilatural sclcction had failcd to adapt
them biologically to a more complex and orderly way of life. Nor
was their rcplaccmcnt by morc cvolvcd pcoplcs to bc seriously
regretted, sincc this rcsultcd in an overall improvement of the
human race. Thus, by applying Darwinian principles, Lubbock
came to much the samc conclusion about the unbridgeable biological differences between Europeans and native pcoples that
American anthropologists and historians had evolvcd in thc late
cightccnth and early nineteenth ccnturics. His vicws of native
pcoplcs justified British colonization and the establishment of politic.11 'ind ccononlic control ,ibroad o n thc grounds that thcy pro-

The imperial synthesis

A history of archaeological thought

n ~ o t e dthe general progress of the human species. H e also absolved
British and Amcrica~lsettlers of much of the moral respo~~sibility
the rapid decline of native peoples in North America, Australia, and
the Pacific. Thcse populatio~lswere vanishing not because of what
colonists \vcre doing to thcm but rather because, over thousands of
pears, natural sclcctio~lhad not equipped them to survive as civilization spread. The impositio~lof inferior roles on native groups was
made to appear lcss a political act than a consequence of their limited
natural abilities. Whether dealing with the worlcing classes in Britain
or with native peoples abroad, social Darwinism transferred human
inequality fro111the political to the natural realm by explaining it as a
conscclilcncc of'biological dillkrc~lccsthat could bc ultcrcd only vcrp
slowly, if at all.
This view nlarkcd a major break with the ideals of the Enlightenment. The aspiring bourgeoisie of eighteenth-century France had
expressed thcir hopes for the future in terms of a belief in progress in
which all human beings could participate. In contrast the middle
classes that dominated Britain in the nlid-nineteenth ccntilry werc
increasingly concerned to ctcfcncl thcir gains :und did so by trying to
define natural linlits to those who could reasonably hope to sharc in
them. Beginning in the 186os, Darwinian evol~itionisn~
this function admirably. Through Lubbock's vcrsio~lof cultural
evolution, prehistory was linltcd to a doctrine of European prccmincncc.
While Lubboclr's synthesis was clearly a product of Victorian
England, thcrc was nothing narrowly chauvinistic about it. Argurnents about superiority werc formulated in terms of a contrast
between European civilization and technologically lcss developed
societies. They sought to explain the expanding world syste~llthat
was dominated by Western Europe. England's political and
ccononlic h e g c m o ~ ~was
y SO great compared to that of any other
nation that it did not require any specific defence. I11 framing
arguments in terms of8uropea11 civilization, Lubbock took his own
country's leadership for granted. Because of that his works had
appeal far beyond Britian and influenced the interpretatio~lof
archacological data in nlany parts of the world.




Colonial archaeolo~yin America

Lubbock's writings played a significant role in reinforcing and
shaping the development of American evolutionary archaeology in
the late nineteenth century, even if some leading American archaeologists did not whole-heartedly accept the relevance of Darwinism
for understanding human affairs (Mcltzer 1983: 13). Euroamerican
anthropologists had no difficulty applying an evolutionary pcrspcctive to their own society. The Enlightcnn~cntconcepts of reason and
progress that had played an important role in the American Rcvolution, and the econornic and territorial expansion of the United
tile ~ l i n ~ t e e century,
~ ~ t h sustai~~ed
a bclicf that
progress was inherent in the human condition. In works such as
Lewis Henry Morgan's (ISIS-81) Ancient Society (1877) and Otis
Mason's (1838-1908) The Orgins ofInvention (1S9s) anthropologists
traced the development of culture in a perspective that placed
Euroamerican society in the forefront of human advancement.
Lubbock provided Americans with a Darwinian cxplanation for the
biological inferiority that thcy had attributed to An~crica~l
since the late eighteenth century. Many found his explanation more
persuasive than any previous one, n o doubt partly as a result of the
great prestige that leading biologists and the general public
c~ccordcdto Darwin's work. The declining numbers of native people
and their lessening ability to withstand Euroamerican expansion
also encouraged a growing belief that they were doomed to extinction, which accorded with Lubbock's views. As a result most North
_American archaeologists conti~luedto stress the changeless quality
of the archaeological record and tricd hard to attribute changes to
processes other than alterations in native cultures.
The archaeology of Mexico, Central America, and Peru constituted a challenge to this view. Somc writcrs, including thosc who
identified the native peoples of Mexico with the Moundbuilders,
regarded them as racially superior to the North American Indians.
J. L. Stephens' discovery of the ruins of Maya cities in Mexico and
Central America was welcomed as proof that the New World had
developed its own civilizations by American scholars who were
anxious to refute the claims advanced by eigl~teenth-centuryEuropean naturalists and historians, such as Georges-Louis Leclerc,
comte de Buffon, Guillaurnc-Thomas Raynal, and William Robert-

A history of archaeological thought

The imperial synthesis

son, that the climate of North Amcrica was conducive t o thc dcgcncration of a~linlaland human lifc (Haven 1856: 94). William H .
Prcscott's celebrated Histo7.y of the Conquest ofA4exico (1843) and his
of Peru (1847) portrayed the Aztccs and
later Histoql of tJge &~z~uest
Incas as civilized pcoplcs, although 11c ~ilaintaincdthat, as a result of
their superstitions 2nd aggrcssivencss, the Aztecs were destroying
the ~ccomplishmcntsof their morc civilized PI-cc1ccesso1-s.The
ethnologist Albert Gallatin (1761-1849) defended Enlightenment
vicws of c u l t ~ ~ r evolutionism
and strongl!~opposed polygcncsis,
but by the 1840s his argurnellts appeared old-fashioned and unconvi~lcing(Bicdcr 1975). Ncvcrthclcss E. G. Squicr continued to
defend both u~lilincarc v o l ~ ~ t i o ~ i and
i s m psychic unity (Bicdcr 1986:
104-45) Finally in 1862 Daniel Wilson, who was now teaching at
University College in Toronto, published the first edition of Prehistovic Man: Researches iwto the Or$in of Civilization in the Old and
the New Wovld. This book was a rcniarlcablc synthesis of all that was
hiown about the a~lthropologyof thc Nc& World. Wilson, as a
continued, lilcc Gallatin,
product of the Edinburgh E~ilightct~nicnt,
to resist ~-aci;lli~ltcrp~-ctations
of human bchnviour. A significant
portion of his book was co~lccrncdwith thc impact that Europea~i
colonists and African slaves wcrc having upon the native pcoplcs of
the wcstcrn hemisphere and the eftkcts thar a new e ~ l v i r o ~ ~ r nwas
having on them. 111the section of his book dealing with prehistory,
Wilso11, while ncccpti~lgthe M O L I I I ~ ~ Lmyth,
I ~ ~ ~skctcliccl
evolutionary sequence which, indcpclldcntly of outside i~lflucncc,
had produced in Mcxico and Peru civilizations that were comparablc
to tliosc of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
These vicws cncountcrcd great opposition. Tlic war between the
United Statcs and Mcxico that cndcd in 1848 unleashed a flood of
anti-Mexican feeling in tlic United Statcs. The Mexicalls wcrc
widely ugrccd to be racially inferior to Euroa~~~cricans
Spanish settlers had intcrbrcd with the nativc population (Horsman
1975). Thc ctl~~iologist
Ecwis Henry Morgan, doggedly ignoring
archaeological cvidcncc, maintained that the sixteenth-century
Spanish had cxaggcrated the sopl~isticationof the Aztccs and Incas
in ordcr t o glorify tlleir own achievements in conquering them. H e
argued that the traditional ways of lifc of thesc peoples had differed
littlc from that of the Iroquois of Ncw Yorlc State and that 110native
g r o ~ in
~ pthe New World hacl ever c\~olvcdbeyond the level of a tribal

society (Morgan 1876).H c did not rule out thc possibility that nativc
Americans on their own might have cvolvcd morc complcx ways o f
lifc, but he bclicvcd that any cultural adva~lccmcntdcpcndcd o n an
increase in brain size which could occur only vcry slowly (Bicdcr
1986: 194-246). This position was long maintai~lcdby many Euroamericans who saw littlc t o adnlirc in the nativc pcoplcs of thc
U111tcdStates. Thcrc w'ls strong support by the 1860s for thc vicw
that thc native cultures not only of North Amcrica but of the entire
New World were ~~lhcrcntlp
prinlitivc and had bccn static tllro~1g11out prchistoric timcs.
It has bccn suggcstcd that thc lack of conccrn with chronology in
North Amcrican archaeology prior to thc twcnticth century r c s ~ ~ l t c d
fro111 the failurc of any native group t o advance bcyo~ldthc Stolic
Age, a dcarth of stratified sitcs, and lack of familiarity with tcchniqucs for dcriving chronology in thc abscllcc of major tcchnological cliangcs (Willcy and Sabloff 1980: 80-1). Thcsc factors d o not
explain, howcver, what happcncd. A low frcqucncy of stratified
post-Palacolithic sitcs among thosc that wcrc known in northcrn
and wcstcrn Europc in the ninctccnth cc~lturpdid not inhibit the
constructioll of dctailcd chronologies in those rcgions, mainly by
employing Thomscn's principles of striation (Childc 1932: 207).
Morcovcr, all of thc cl~ronologicalmcthods uscd in Europc wcrc
applied by archacknown in America and had bccn succcssf~~lly
olog~sts In sltu,ltlons where thcy sought t o c m ~ ~ l a tEuropcnn
research. After 1860 shcll mounds were studied both scriatiollally
and stratigraphically and on the basis of such cvidc~lcclocal cultural
chronologies werc constructed that wcrc cllaracterizcd by changing
pottery styles o r adaptivc patterns. Such observations wcrc made by
Jcffrics Wyman (1875), S. T. Walkcr (1883), and Clarcncc B. Moorc
(1892) 111 the soutl~castcrnUnitcd Statcs; Willia~llDall (1877) in
Al,~slca;,ind the visiting Gcrm'ln archaeologist Max Uhlc (1907) in
Calitorn~a.Stratigraphic methods were also c~llploycdin ~lioutld
studies by Squicr and Davis in thc 1840s and by Cyrus Thomas in the
1880s, as well as by W. H . Holmcs and F. W. Putnam in their
'Palacolithic' research in thc 1880s (Mc~tzcr1983: 39). The cvidcncc
of local cultural change that tl~escarcl~acologistsadduccd was
rejccted o r dismissed as being of trivial significance by most contemporary arcl~acologists, including so111eti1~1cs those who
these ~ncthods(Thom,ls 1898: 29-34) 1)iscussing Uhlc's

A history of archaeological thought

cvidencc for 'the gradual elaboration and rcfi~icmc~lt
of technical
proccsscs' withiti the Enicryville shell~noundin California, A. L.
I<roebcr (1909: 16) proposed that the native cultures found in tliat
region in historical times had becn so primitive as t o rule out any
possibilitp that there could have been significant cultural cliangc in
the past. It is also significant tliat not even local studies of slicll
mounds displayed cu~nulativedcvelopmcnt at this period. The most
insightful and productive research in an)l one region was not nccessarily tlic most recent (Trigger 1986a).
I11 accordance with the belief tliat change had bee11 minimal in
prehistoric times, the systematic study of cultural variation ill the
archacological record was orieiitcd primarily towards defining gcographical rather than cliro~iologicalpatterns. This paralleled the
tendency of American eth~~ologists
late in the ninctee~lthccntuly to
orgaliizc the study of cultural similarities and differences in terms of
cultural areas. In 1887the ethnologist Franz Boas had argued tliat the
- material from across the United States that was accumulati~igin major museums should be exhibited according to geographical areas and tribes rather than in terms of hypothetical
cvolutionar~lsequences o r typological categories applicable t o the
entire continent. Otis Mason published tlie first detailed etlinographical treatment of the cultural areas of North A~iiericain 1896
and was followed in this approach by Clarli Wisslcr (1914).
Arcl~aeologistshad long been aware of geographical variations in
the distributions of certain classes of archacological data, such as
different types of mounds. Cyrus Thomas (182j-1910), an entom01ogist who worlccd as an archaeologist for the Bureau of America11
subdivided these mounds into eight geographical units
\vhicli lie suggested represciited more than one nation or group of
tribes, some of which liad survived into historical times (1894).
Later, in his Introduction to the Study of North American Archaeology
(1898), lie divided all of North America into three major cultural
zones: Arctic, Atlantic, 2nd Pacific, wit11 the latter subdivided into
several districts. J. D. McGuire (1842-1916) examined the distribution of different typcs of Ilidian pipes in terms of fifteen geographical divisions (1899) and W. H . Holmcs (1846-1933), who liad
been trained as an artist, used stylistic :unalyscs as well as tccllnological criteria to define a series of pottery regions for tlie eastern United
States (1903) In 1914he divided the \vIiolc of North America into

The imperial synthesis


'Cultural characterization areas' o f North America based o n

archaeolog~calcriteria, by Holmes, 1914

26 'cultural cliaractcrization arcas' on the basis of arcl~acological

data, in a maliner that paralleled tlie proccdurcs being followed by
ethnologists. I11 all of this work littlc cffort was madc t o assign
relative chronological significance to diffcrcnt units o r t o tracc
cl~ronologicalchanges within them.
It was generally assumed that thc way of lifc of cach prehistoric
tribe had not changed significantly ovcr timc. Evidcncc of change in
the archaeological record was intcrprctcd as resulting from move-

A history of archaeological thought

mcnts of pcoplc rather than from alterations within individual
culturcs. For exampic, the change from what would now bc called
Archaic to Middlc Woodlalid culturcs in upper New York State was
attributed to the rcplaccmc~~t
of an Inuit-likc populatio~l by
Algonlcian-spcakcrs, who in turn wcrc displaced by Iroquoianspc;iking pcoplcs carrying yet another distinctive cultural pattern
northward from thc Mississippi Valley. That pattern included an
agricultural subsistcncc ccononiy and incised pottery and in gcncral
was tllo~~glit
to rcsc~nblcmore closcly the ways of life found in the
sourhcnstcrn Unitcd Statcs than it did earlier cultures that had in its historical homcland (Beauchamp 1900; Parker 1916,
t o ~ o )'The
. ctlinologist R. B. Dixon (1913)interpreted the complcxit!! of the nrcl~acologicalrecord, which by that time was becomi~ig
c\lidc~itin eastern North America, as a 'palimpscst' resulting fro111
rclwawd sliif'tsof population in prehistoric times. Thcsc shifts were
;IS largely random liiovcnlcllts that charactcrizcd aboriginal
l i l ? on a 1;ll-g~and thinly populated continent.
I t \v;is ;ilso ugrccd that, wherc there had been no major shifts in
cthnographic data concerning tribes that had livcd in a
tq:iotl i n Iiistorical ti~iicsC O L I ~be
~ U S C ~relatively straightforwardly
to csplnin prehistoric archacological data. Cyrus Thomas (1898: 23)
rhat once Anicrica had been settled by ~iativcpcoplcs they
tc.ticlci1 t o t.ctnnin it1 the same place; Iict~ccthe archaeological rccot-d
11.1~1 hcc11 ~nostlyproduced by the same pcoplc who h.ld livcd it1
~ j . ~ . t i c ~ regions
~ l ; l r in historical times. Hc s~~ggcstcd
that such stabilit\! i-o~tld
hc assu~iicdunlcss thcrc was clear cvidcncc to the contrary.
At~i.ll;icologistssuch as Franlc Cushing (18~7-19oo)and J. W. Fcwlces
(1Xco-r030), in thcir studics of the Pueblo I~idiansof the southwestc3l.lrUnitcd States, paid much attention to dctcrrni~ii~ig
by mcans of
c..\rcli~lcthnographic parallels what prehistoric artifacts liad been
t~sc.illi)r ;uid how they liad bccn made (Cushing 1886; Fcwlccs 1896).
11 \vns gcncl-ally assumed that thcrc were no significa~ltdiffcrcnccs
Ix~twccnlife in prehist~ricpueblos and in modern ones. Hence
c.lli)rrs to Icnrn about the past brought archaeologists into close
r*ollt;lctwith ethnologists and often with native pcoplc. Studics of
this sort constitute early cxan~plesof the dircct historical approach
to the intcrprctation of archacological data. Only Edgar Lee Hcwctt
(1805-1946)cxprcsscd significant rcscrvations about the relevance of
I his method (1906: 12).

Thc imperial synthesis

For the anthropologists cmploycd by thc Bureau of Ethnology
(rcnarncd the Burcau ofAnlcrican Ethnology in 1894) this 'flat' vicw
of native history unified the study of ethnology and prehistoric
archaeology as closcly related branches of anthropology. Founded as
an arm of the Smithsonian Institution in 1879, thc Burcau grew
under the Icadcrship of its dircctor, thc rc~lowncdgeologist and
explorer John Wcslcy Powcll (1834-I~OZ),into the lcading centre of
anthropological rcscarch in North Amcrica. Althougl~originally
intended to study cthnograyhic and linguistic problems in ordcr to
promote the more effcctivc administration of Indian affairs, it also
laid 'the empirical f o ~ ~ ~ i d a t i oofn sarcheology in thc Unitcd Statcs
. . . o n bi-o.ld gcogr,~phic.llsc,llc' (I-Iclllowcll 1960: 84). While the
'flat' past was advocated as a sclf-evident mcans for understanding
archacological data, it depended on the assumption that prchistoric
tinlcs wcrc not qualitatively distinct from thc cthnographic prcscnt.
Samuel Havcn (1864: 37) had observed that 'Thc flint utensils of tlic
Age of Stone lic up011 the surface of the ground. . . Thc pcoplcs that
made and used them have not yct cntircly disappcarcd'. Yct this
denial of cultural change, to no lcss a dcgrcc than thc cxtrcrnc
unilincar evolutionism of European archacologists, subordinated
archacological to ethnological rcscarch by suggesting that nothing
could be learned from archacological data that could not be asccrt'llncd more c.lsilp by mc.lns o f ctlinogr.lp11ic rcsc,lrch. Wliilc unifyIng c~nthropology,
the 'flat' vicw also rcinforcccl negative stcrcotypcs
of native pcoplcs. As Mcltzcr (1983: 40) has notcd, this vicw was 'a
prcdictablc co~iscquc~icc
of the government approach to archaeological rcsearcli [which was] groundcd in a subliminal and dcnigrating stereotype of thc Nativc American'.
In ordcr to pursue thcir programmc, thc anthropologists at thc
Bureau of Anicrican Ethnology sought to climinatc thosc aspects of
prehistory that could not be studicd by mcans of thc dircct historical
approach (Mcltzcr 1983). Tlic first of thcsc anomalies was thc lost
Mou~ldbuildcrrace. Because of grcat public interest, the United
States Congress had insistcd that thc Burcau should spcnd $5,000
cach pear on mound studics. In 1882 Powcll sclcctcd Cyrus Thomas
to head this rcscarch. Thomas bcgan an cxtensivc programmc of
survey and excavation which led him to conclude that many mounds
had bccn constructed after carlicst Europcan contact and that all of
them had bccn built by thc anccstors of modcrn nativc Amcricans

A history of archacological thought

The imperial synthesis


(Thomas 1894). H c also sought to dcmonstratc that the cult~ircsof

the Indians wlio liad built tlic mounds in no way cxccllcd thosc of
the Indian groups who had livcd in tlie eastern United Statcs in the
scvcntccntln and ciglitccntli centuries. TIILISthe refutation of the
Mounclbuilclcr niyt11 involvcd not only the wholcsalc rejection of
inflatcd claims tliat had bccn made about them (such as that they
were able to produce iron) but also ~~ndcrvaluing
many of the
qcnuinc accomplishnicnts of the various groups that had built the
mounds. It appe:irs that at this time :~rcIiacologistsliricl either to
credit the Mo~lndbuildcrswith possessing an adv:inccd culture and
deny that thcy were Indians or to accept them as Indians and deny
that their culture was morc advanced than thosc of any Indian
groups living north of Mexico i l l historical ti~lics.No arcl~acologist
was prepared to believe that in prehistoric times native Nortli
might have cvolvcd cultures that wcrc morc complex
than those observed in the historical pcriod, although by then most
Indian groups had been scvcrcly reduced by epidemics of European
diseases and 1iian)i liad also been shattered and dislocated by European aggrcssion and by warfare arisin_~as a result of European
scttlcmcnt. Under thcsc circurnstanccs, it is scarcely surprising tliat
tlie demolition of the Moundb~iildcrnijltli 'did nothing to change
the prevailing popular attitudes against the American Indian'
(Willey and S:zbloff 1980: 42).
The archacologists at the Bureau of A~ncricanEthnology also
adopted a vcry sceptical attitude towards claims that thcrc cxistcd in
Nortli America cvidcncc of human antiquity to rival the Palacolithic
assc~nnblagcsof Europe. The most sigliificant of thcsc assertions was
based on cxca\~ationsthat Charles C. Abbott (1843-1919)' a physician
by training, carried out in gravel deposits on his ancestral farm near
Trcnton, New Jersey. 13y 1877 he was convinced tliat these finds had
bccn produced not by the recently arrived ancestors of modern
Native Americans but by inhabitants of the region during the glacial
pcriod \vho were probably not related to tlic Amcricaii Indians. H c
latcr suggested that this earlier race ~iiighthave been the ancestors of
the Inuit (Abbott 1881).For a ti~iiehis research e~ijoycdthe limited
support and patronage of Frcdcric W. Putnam (1839-I~IS),
who had
been trained as an iclitl~yologistbut since 1874had bcen the curator
of the Pcabody Museum of American Arcliaeolog~rand Ethnology
; ~Har\.ard
University. Mcan\vliilc, scientists in other parts of the

Unitcd Statcs began to find similar 'Palaeolithic' tools, sometimes in

gcological contcxts suggesting gk-cat antiquity. Holmcs and Thomas
Icd the attack on thcsc claims. Thcy argucd that tlic so-callcd
Palacolithic tools wcrc quarry rcfusc marking thc early stagcs in thc
manufacture of implcnicnts by Amcrican Indians. Doubt was also
cast on the geological contcxts in which thcsc finds wcrc bcing
made. Latcr AlcS HrdliZka (1869--rgq3), a Czcch physical antliropologist wlio was brought to thc Unitcd Statcs National Muscum in
1903, studied all of the skclctal matcrial tliat had bccti clai~~icd
evidence of 'Early Man' and dcmonstratcd that thcrc was no clcar
cvidencc tliat any of it dated prior to thc post-glacial pcriod. While
tlicsc onslaugl~tsIcd arc~iacolo~ists)
and geologists to abandon the
idca of a strictly Palacolitliic agc in Nortli Amcrica, thcy did not
cxcludc thc possibility that human beings had livcd in thc Ncw
World for Inally tliousands of years. Thcy did, howcvcr, dcnionstratc the need for more rigorous evidence. I t is clcar that in this case
scicntists in thc cmploy of thc fcdcral government were using their
power and prestige not only to put archaeology 011 'a rcally scicntific
basis' but also to promotc a vicw of thc past tliat accorded with thcir
commitment to thcir own conccption of how archaeology and cth~iologyfittcd togctlicr as branches of anthropology (Mcltzcr 1983).
Archaeologists were prcprircd to aclcnowlcdgc that a limitcd
amount of innovntion had occurred in prchistoric timcs. Warrcn K.
Moorchead (1866-1939) cvcn bclicvcd that some progress was likcly
bccausc 'thc Indian brain is fincr than thc Australian o r African
brain' (1910, I: 331). Thcrc was, however, a tendency, where clcar
indications to tlic contrary wcrc lacking, to intcrprct
high-quality artifacts, such as stonc cffigp pipcs o r claborately dccoratcd stone and ~ilctalornaments, as reflecting Europcan influence,
which took the form of iron tools and artistic inspiration. Thc
implicatioii of such intcrprctations was that nativc culcurcs had bcen
even si~~iplcr
in prehistoric timcs than thc archacological rcillai~lsof
thc past viewed as a wliolc would suggest.
The pcriod bctwccn 1860 and 1910 wit~icsscdthe growing profcssionalization of archacology in tlic Unitcd Statcs. Full-time positions became available for prchistoric archacologists in major
museums in the larger cities and latcr tcaching positions were
established in universities, bcgitining with Putnani's appointment as
Pcribody Professor of Amcrican Archacology and Ethnology at

1 4

The imberial synthesis

A history of'arcl~aeologicalthought


Drawing of the Great Serpent Mound of Ohio,

from a popular article by Putnam, 1890

Harvard in 1887.Thc-first doctorate in prehistoric archaeology in the

United States was granted at Harvard in 1894 (Hinsley 1985: 72).
Euroamericans cxprcsscd their convictio~lsabout their own ethnic
superiority by locating collectio~~s
of native American archaeology
and ethnolog~rin museums of natural history rather than together
with Europca~land Near Eastern antiquities in museums of fine art
and by teaching prehistory in dcpartme~ltsof antl~ropologyrather
than of history. Despite the pleas ofa~~thropologists
such as John W.
Powell and Lewis H . Morgan that 'humble Indian antiquities'
should not bc allowed to perish, it was generally nlorc difficult to
securc thc support of wealthy patrons for rcscarch on North
American India11prehistory than for collecting the classical antiquitics of Europe, which it was argued would 'increase the standard of
our civilizatio~land culture' (Hinsley 1985: 35). Despite these problems, much new information was collected, new standards of
rcsearch were establisl~ed,and the first steps were taken to preservc
major prehistoric monuments, such as the Great Serpent Mound in
Ohio and Casa Grande in Arizona. The Smithsonian Institution and
the Bureau of American Ethnology played a major role in providi~lg
Icadcrship to archaeology. This sometimes involved directi~lgtl~cir
prestige and resources against amateurs, who bitterly resented interfcrcnce in t h e ~ activ~tics
by profes~ion~ll
scic~ltistsenlployed by the
federal government (McICusicl~1970). Yct, dcspitc these developments, there was 110 change in the view of Indians that had prevailed
in ~rchacology ~11dAmcnc,ln soc~ctpgcncrally since the 1,ltc

eighteenth ccntury. Instead, the belief that Indian societies were

fossilized entities, incapable of progress, and therefore doomed t o
extinction was rcinforccd as a rcsult of being ratio~lalizedin tcrms of
Darwinian cvolution and seen to accord with the universal pcrspective on human cvolution that had bee11 popularized by John
Lubbocli. The vicw of native Amcricans as inhcrcntly primitive and
static was now shared not only by vast numbcrs of whitc Amcricans
at all social levels but also by an jnternational scientific community
that was increas~nglyreccptivc to racist cxplanations of human
bel~aviour.Without significant changes, thc traditional view that
Euroamerican arc1~aeologistshad held of American prehistory could
be identified as congruent with that part of Lubbock's imperialist
archaeology that applied to colonial situations.

Racist 'a~cbueolo~y
in Apica
These developments in American archaeology foreshadowed ones
that were to occur later in other colonial settings. Archaeological
research was carried out sporadically in sub-Saharan Africa by
European visitors beginning in, the eighteenth ccntury. According
to Brian Fagan the earliest recorded excavation was by the Swedish
naturalist Andrew Sparrman in 1776. H e dug into one of a number of
stone mounds near the Great Fish River in southern Africa.
that thcsc mounds
Although he discovcrcd nothin$, hc concl~~dcd
offcrcd irrefutable proof that a morc powerful and numerous population had lived in the area bcfore being 'dcgradcd to the prescnt race
of Cafres, Hottentots, Boshiesmen, and savages' (Fagan 1981: 42).
Systematic archaeological research did not begin in Africa before
the 189os, by whicl~time the continent had been divided among the
various European colonial powers. Archacologists and colonizers
both regardcd the indigenous cultures of sub-Saharan Africa as a
living museum of the human past. There was much more diversity
among thcse cultures than among those of North America, which
could all be formally assigned to t l ~ cStone Age. In Africa technologies werc based on iron as well as stonc tools, whilc socictics rangcd
in co~nplexityfrom tiny hunting bands ro largc kingdoms. Yet most
Europeans agreed that the technological, cultural, and political
achieve~nentsof African people werc less significant than they
appeared to be. This position was sustained by attributing such

A history of archaeological thought

accomplishments as were recognized to diffusion from the north.

Explorers and missio~larieswho first e~lcountcrcdblack Africa's
many complex societies concludcd that agriculture, metallurgy,
urban life, and various art forms had bee11introduced by the ancient
Egyptians or from other Mcditcrrallean or Near Eastern civilizations (Fagan 1981: 43; Schrire et nl. 1986). In his study of the
archacology of southern Africa, Miles Burliitt (1890-1971), a lecturer
in Prehistory at Cambridge University, saw northern, and frequc~ltlpspccificallp Europea~lLower Palacolithic, Moustcrian, and
Upper Palacolithic, influences in stone-tool assemblages and rock
art (1928).His view of the region as a cul-de-sac was shared in a less
extreme form by his pupil A. J. H. Goodwin (Goodwin and Van
Riet Lowe 1929).
I11 1880 the German Egyptologist Icarl Lcpsius suggested that
the indigenous peoples of Africa were composed of two major
stocks: a lighter-skinned Hamitic populatio~lin the north and a
Negro populatio~~
to the south. A large llumber of ethnologists,
Charles Seligman (193o), icicl~tificdthe Hamitcs as thc
'great civilizing force' of black Africa. They sought to account for the
more advanced aspects of sub-Saharal~cultures by claiming that
culturally liiorc creative Hamitic pastoralists had conqucrcd 2nd
i~nposcdthe rudiments of a more advanced tcchnologp and culture,
that was ulti~n;ltclyof Neat- Enstel-11origin, upon tlic culturally inert
Negro popuintions of Africa ~ ~ n ttheir
i l own creativity was undcrmined as a result of 'misccgcnation'. This dichotomy bctwccn
Negroids and Caucasoids, and the accompanyi~lgdisparage~nc~it
African creativity, lingered on in studies of prehistory and ethnology
into the 1960s. The role that was assigned to the prehistoric Hamitic
conquerors bore a strilii~lgrescmblance to the civilizillg missions
that European colonists had been claiming for themselves since the
late nineteenth ccntury (MacCnffep 1966).
Soon archaeological discoveries wcrc made that seemed to be too
extc~lsiveor sophisticated to be the work of people who were as
primitive or indole~ltas the Africans wcrc supposed to be. The most
spectacular example of the colo~lialistmentality at work in African
atchacology is provided by the co~ltroversicssurrounding the stone
ruins found in what is now Zimbabwe. Fagan (1981: 43-4) has
observed that these co~ltroversicsco~lstitutcan African counterpart
to the Mou~ldbuilderdebate in North America. Early European

The imperial synthesis

i~lvcstigatotsof these monuments saw them as proof of prehistoric
white colo~lizatio~l
in southcrn Africa.
I11 the sixteenth ccntury Portuguese colo~listsit1 Mozambique
recorded Swahili reports of stonc cities in the interior. These
accounts encouraged European spcculatio~~
that thesc cities had
been built by Icing Solomon or the Qucc~iof Shcba in the course of
gold-mining activities. The identification of the stone co~~structio~is
of Zimbabwe with the biblical lalid of Ophir continued to cxcitc the
irnagiilatio~lof those who studied the geography of Africa in succeeding centuries. 111 the late nineteenth c e ~ ~ t u thcsc
r y spcculatio~~s
had particular appeal to the Afrikaancrs, who wcrc ~icwlyscttlcd in
the Transvaal and whose Calvi~listfaith led them to hopc that thcir
new homeland bordered on a region that had biblical associations.
collected in the Transvaal about ruins to thc norti1
inspired H. M. Walms1e~~'s
The Ruined Cities of Zululand, a novcl
published in 1869. Already in 1868 the Gcrman rnissio~laryA. Mcrcnskp h ~ pcrsu'ldcd
the you~igGerman geologist Carl Mauch to
the first European known
look for these ruins. 1111871 M a ~ ~ bcca~nc
to have visited the ruins of Grcat Zimbabwe, which, on the basis of
was the lost palace of the
what Merenslcy had told him, he co~~cludcd
Queen of S1icb.l.
of this sort were actively promoted by Cecil Rhodcs
'lftcr his British South Africa Company forcibly occupied Mashona1.1nd in 1890, .lnd nciglibouri~~g
M.ltahclcland thrcc years later, in
order to exploit the region's gold resources. Grcat Zimbabwe soon
became a symbol of the justicc ofEuropca11colonization, which was
portrayed as the white racc returning to a lalid that it had formerly
ruled. The first serious study of Grcat Zimbabwe was s p o ~ ~ s o r cbyd
the British South Africa Company with the help of the Royal
Geographical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The man chosen for this t.1~1~
was J. Thcodorc Bent
(1852-97), a Near Eastern explorer with antiquarian interests.
Although his excavations revealed cvidc~iccof Bantu occupatio~l
containing foreign trade goods no more than a few ccnturies old, he
on the basis of an ullscie~ltificselcctio~lof architectural
and stylistic features that the ruins had been built by 'a ~ l o r t h c rracc'
that had come to soutl~ernAfrica from Arabia ill biblical times. O n
the basis of alleged astro~lomicalorielltatio~isthe stone ruins were
dated bct\veen 1000 and 2000 B.C. (Bent 1892).

A history of archaeological thought


s A p ~ , ~ - o . ~toc Ithc
~ acropolis', from Rclir's
TIICKzliucd Citics oJ'Mnsl~o~mln~~d,
I Xgz

The imperial synthesis

In 1895 a company called Rhodesia Ancient Ruins Limited was
licensed to hunt for gold in all the architectural sites in Matabeleland
except Grcat Zirnbabwc. This operation, which mainly involvcd
grmc robbing, was stoppcd,in 1901; after which, in an effort to give
his plundering some rcsycctability, one of thc prospectors, W. G.
Neil, collaborated with liichdrd Hall (1853-1914), a local journalist,
to PI-oduccThe Ancient RuinsofRhodesia (Hall and Neal 1902).This
book prcscntcd tlic first gcncr.ll survey ofthc ruins of the region. On
thc \trc.~igtho l ' l t , tlic. I<riti\hSoutll Ali-1c.1<:o~npariyappointed II.1II
.~s(:~rs.~torof' C;rc,lt Zimb.lbw\k, \vlicrc hc proceeded to remove
stratified archaeological deposits on the grounds that by doing so hc
wv;ls clc.iring the site of 'the filth and dcc,lcicncc of the K,~ffiroccupation'. I11 his second book 11c defined thrcc architcctural stylcs,
~ h i c hhc claimed rc\~ealcdprogressive degeneration from thc fincly
drcsscd walls of the elliptical enclosure, and interpreted Grcat Zimbab\vc as the lost metropolis of a Phoenician colony. In recent years
careful architectural studies have revealed that the regularly coursed
and drcsscd walls at Zimbabwe arc later than short, wavy ones but
wcrc followed b\r w.llls witli t ~ ~ ~ c o u r stoncs
s c d (Garl.tkc 1973: 21-3).
Arch.lcolog~cal crit~cismof Hall's work led to his in
~c,o+,fi)llo\v~ng\vhicIi tlic ISrit,ish Associ,ition for tlic Adv,inccmcnt
of Sc~cncc,trs~ngfi~ndsprovided by the Khodcs Trustees, invited
lI,l\,id Rand.lll-M,icI\ler (1873-1945), I, professional archaeologist
\\rho had worked with the Eg!lptologist Pctric, to investigate Grcat
Zinib.tb\\.e .lnd other ruins in RhodcsiL1(1906).More cstcnsivc , ~ n d
sophistic'itcd work was carried out under thc same
cluspiccs by the cclcbrdtcd By-itis11 archacologist G c r t r ~ ~ dCc ~ t o n
Thompson (1894-1985) in 1929 (Caton Thompson 1931).These two
archaeologists dctllo~lstratccl~conclusi\~el!~
that these r~1in.swere
cntircly of 13,untu origin .111~i dated fro111 the cr.1. While
their conclusions were accepted by the world arch~eologicalcoinmunity, they were unwelcome among the whitc settlers in Rhodesia
and South Africa, wherc ainatcur nrcl~~~cologists
kept dlivc the
notion that the ruins of Zirnbabwc wcrc the work of invaders,
merchants, or nlctalworlzcrs coining from such varied places as the
Near East, India, and Indonesia (Posnansky 1982: 347). In 1909 Hall,
supportcd by subscriptions from a ,broad cross-section of leading
whitc South Africans, published Prehistoric Rhodesia, a massive and
emotional work in which he attcmptcd t o rcfutc Randall-MacIvcr's

A history of archaeological thought

findings. H e maintained that the 'decadence' of the Bantu is a

'process which has been in operation for very many centuries [and] is
admitted by all authorities', attributing this proccss to a 'suddcn
arrcst of intclligcncc' that 'befalls cvcy n ~ c n ~ bof
c r the Bantu at the
age of puberty'(p. 13). Thus, as Peter Garlakc (1973: 79) has noted,
Hall made cxplicit for thc first time thc racial thcorics that were
implicit in cxcludillg Africans from the consideration of Zimbabwe's
past. Notions of cxotic origin havc becn kcpt alivc sincc that timc by
A. J. Bruwcr (1965), K. Gayre (1972), Wilfrid Mallows (1985), and
Thomas Huffmall in an official guidebook to Great Zimbabwe
writtcn undcr tbc Ian Smith regime. For thc whitc scttlcrs, who
constitutcd lcss than ten pcr cent of thc population of Southern
Rhodcsia, such claims scrvcd to dcprcciatc African talcnts and past
accomplishmcnts and to justify thcir own domination of thc
country. These claims bccamc particularly insistent aftcr thcy illcgally proclaimed the colony to be independent in 1965. In 1971Peter
Garlalcc, who had bccn Inspector of Monurncnts sincc 1964,
resigned in protest over a secrct order issued by the Smith governlilcnt that 110 official publication should indicatc that Grcat Zimbabwc had becn built by blacks. By this timc thc govcrllmcllt was
particularly conccrncd that the ruins had bccon~ca syn~bolof thcir
cultural hcritagc to local Africans struggling for majority rulc. Since
the indcpendc~lceof Zimbabwe in 1980, some nationalists havc
claimcd that only Africans havc thc moral right or undcrst.~nding
ncccssary to intcrprct thc ancicnt ruins of Zi~nbabwcand attcmpts
havc bccn madc to promotc new, and in this casc black African,
mythologies (Mufuka 1983; Garlake 1984).
A comparison of the controversies surrounding the Moundbuilders in North America in the ninctccnth century and Zimbabwe
beginning in the 1890s reveals striking similarities but also significant differences. In both cases amateur archaeologists and public
opinion rejected an association of thcsc remains with i~ldigellous
native peoples in an efforrto disparagc the latter's accomplishrncnts.
Similarly, thc scientific cstablishtnellt of the day exprcssed some
reservations about thc morc fanciful intcryrctations that wcrc being
offcrcd of thcsc monuments. What is significant, howcvcr, is that
aftcr 1905 the intcrnatiollal archacological community ~lnanimously
rejccted the claims that Zimbabwe had not been cbnstructcd by the
Bantus, lcaving thc ruaiiitcnancc of the Zin~babwcmyth to local

The impekial synthesis

amateur archaeologists and the general public. This suggests that,

while the same social
to distort the past existed in both
situations, by 190s advances in archaeological techniques for resolving historical qucstions had reachcd the point whcrc thesc pressurcs
no longer distorted the interpretations of most professional archaeologists. Work donc in Zimbabwe sincc the 1950s by locally bascd
professional archaeologists such as Kcith Robinson, K. Summers,
and Peter Garlake has made a distinguished contribution to understanding thc history of Zimbabwe during the latc Iron Agc. During
the Smith regime only on,e ,professional archaeologist yielded,
against his own bcttcr judgement according to later statcmcnts
attributcd to him (S. Taylor 1982), to pressures to satisfy the political
requirerncnts of white settlers.
Anothcr feature of African colonial archaeology was t l ~ cgrcat
attention paid to Palaeolithic studies. In the 1890s the geologist J. P.
Johnson studied the geological contexts of Palaeolithic tools in the
Orangc Free State and Transvaal. In 1911 Louis PCringuey, the
Director of the South ~ f r i c a nMuseum in Cape Town, divided
South African prchistory into a Palacolithic phasc, cl~aractcrizcdby
implements from river gravels, and a later Bushman phase, represented in shell middcns and rock shcltcrs (Fagan 1981: 42-3).
Bcnvecn 1913 and 1924 remains of'fossil humans wcre discovered in
South Africa covering the range of human development from Upper
Palacolithic Homo sapiens to the first idcntificd skull of an Australopithccine.
Stone tools werc identified'in Kcnya as early as 1893 but systematic
work did not begin there until 1926, when the Kenyan-born Louis
Leakey (1903-72) organized the first East African Archaeological
Expedition from Cambridge University. In The StoneA~eCultures of
Kenya Colony (1931) Leakey outlined a culture-historical framework
for East Africa that continued to be used into thc 1950s. Stone tool
assemblages wcrc labelled, a; beforc, with terms used in European
Palaeolithic studies, such as Chellean, Achculean, Mousterian, and
Aurignacian, and he worked out,a succession of pluvial and interpluvial periods that werc generally believed to correlate with glacial and
interglacial periods in Europe. In due course it was realized that
many finds did not conform to European categories and in the late
1920s a set of designations for,cultural assemblages that were recognizcd to bc specific to Africa was proposcd (Goodwin and Van Rict

A history of archaeological thought

The i~l~perial

Lowe 1929). Thc two systcn~scontinued to bc uscd alongside onc

another until the European tcrms were discarded, except to dcsignate tool-manufacturing techniques (Posnansky 1982: 348).
Between 1936 and 1962 a large number of Austraiopithccinc discoveries were made at Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, Makapansgat, and
Swartkrans in South Africa. Thcsc finds cncouragcd growing Interest in an earlier phase of the arcl~aeologicalrecord than had hithcrto
been studied anywhere else in the world. In thc latc 1950s new
geological chronolog~cswere cstabl~shcdfor the Plcistocenc and
Pliocene epochs in Africa, potassiumn-argon dating strctchcd thc
period that was covcrcd by evidence of cultural remains from an
assumed 600,ooo to ~ , o o o , o o oyears, Palacolithic artifacts found in
river gravels wcrc shown to be of limited interprctatlvc value, and
interest shifted to the excavation of presumed 'living floors', which
favourcd the prcservatio~lof fossil pollens and other palaeocnvironmcntal data. In 1959 Louis and Mary Lcakey, who had pioneered
Palacolithic living-floor arcl~aeologyat Olorgcsaillic in the 194os,
madc the first of ~nanyspectacular early horninid finds 111 the primitivc Oldowan tool levcis at O l d o v , ~Gorge
(M. Lcakcy 1984).Thcsc
finds arouscd world-wldc intcrcst 111 Lower l'alacol~thic archacology. International futldlng for such rcscarch vastly increased and
large nurnbcrs of arcl~acologistsfrom Amcrica and Europe began to
work in East Africa. Their d~scrovcricswcrc SCCII .IS confirming
Darwin's conclusion that Afr~cawas lil<clpto have been the cradle of
human~ty.Wl~llcthese finds wcrc procla~mcdto be of great scientific
importance, much of the interest rcsultcd fi-omthcir being perceived
as marking thc origins not only of humanity as a whole but morc
spccifically of Europeans and Euroamcricans. Altl~ougl~
thc carlicst
scgrnents of European and Euroan~crica~l
prehistory wcrc clcarly
not going to be found in Europe, it now appcarcd that they could be
traced in Africa.
By contrast, prlor to the latc 1950s Europca~lsgencrally regarded
morc recent phases of African prehistory as a tlmc of cultural stagnation. T o arcl~acologistsin other parts of thc world thcsc pcriods
werc of littlc interest compared to carlp Paiaeolithic oncs and many
resident arcl~acologiststcndcd to be prcoccupicd with Palaeolithic
archaeology. Fagan (1981: 49) has observed that almost no historians
wcrc conccrncd with prc-European Africa. In their vicw, the history
of Africa began with the carlicst records of Europcan activltics. This

reinforced the beliefthat there was little for arcl~aeologiststo discover

about recent millennia. There were, however, significant exceptions.
Kenneth Murray, an art teacher who had long sought to conserve
Nigeria's indigenous traditions and to convince scholars that these
traditions were worth studying, was appointed first Director of the
Nigerian Antiquities Service in 1943. H e persuaded Bernard Fagg, a
Cambridge-trained archaeologist, to join his staff and founded a
numbcr of regional museums throughout the colony. This work
brought traditional art and culture closer t o thc currents of emerging
African nationalism. John Schofield's Primitive Pottery (1948) presented thc first typology of Iron Age ceramics from sites in Rhodesia
and tllc Transvaal but major uncertainties about thc cl~ronologyof
the Iron Age were not resolved until the 1950s (Fagan 1981: 48-9).
Especially after 194s there was a marked expansion of museums,
antiquities services, and university departments employing archaeologists, especially in the British and French colonies. Newly trained
expatriatc scholars combined thc latest technical and conceptual
advanccs of Wcstcrn Europcan archaeology with the pioneer efforts
white) '~mntci~rs.
AS thc prospects for indcpend~ncc
of loc,~l(LISLI~III~
brigl~tcnedtl~crcwas in somc colonies a growing interest in learning
more 'about thc actual peoples who were now to govern Africa
rather than about thcir rcmotc Stone Age ancestors' (Posnnnsky
I 982: 149). Thcrc was ,llso ,111 increasing dc111dnd to teach African and
not solcly Europcan and colonial history in African schools, as had
been done in the past. Archaeologists began to study the development of early African states and,to investigate important late precolonial sitcs such as Bcnin, Gedi, and I<ilwa. At the samc timc
African historians insisted that more attention be paid to the Iron
Agc. In the 1960s they encouraged the introduction of the first
regular courses in archaeology in Uganda and Ghana (Posnansky
1976). Iron Age archaeology learned to draw upon l~istoricaland
ethnographic sources. At the samc time archaeologists ceased to
attribute changes in prehistoric.times almost exclusively t o external
stimuli and began to try to understand the internal dynamics of the
later phases of prehistoric African development. This reorientation
was supported by a rapid accumulation of evidence that in precolonial times Africa had played a major role in the development of
agriculture and metallurgy and that without major extcrnal stimuli
its peoples had created numerous civilizations.

A history of archaeological thought

The imperial synthesis

Thc history of African archaeology reveals that changing social

conditions have influenced the pcriods of prehistory that were
studied at different times, the questio~lsthat have been posed, and
the degree to which internal or external factors have been invoked to
cxplain change. It is also clear that a growing corpus of archaeological data, produccd by an increasing number of professional
arcl~acologists, and new internationally acccptcd tcchniqucs for
studying the past havc restricted thc freedom of archaeologists to
support thc views of prchistory that wcrc congenial to colonial
idcologi~s.At the samc timc changing Oshions in archacological
interpretations in the European countries where most archaeologists who havc worked in Africa wcrc trained have also influenced thc i~lterpretatio~l
of African prehistory. These fashions wcrc
not directly related to the changing colonial milieu. This suggests a
significant b ~ c011~plcx
~ t
relationship bctwccn archaeology and the
colonial setting in which it was practised in Africa.

Hereafter the main historical research concerned the origins of thc

Maori. In the coursc of the nineteenth century a strong interest
developed in their custom;: mythology, folklore, and physical
anthropology. Much of this &search was stimulatcd by a decline in
Maori population and by rapid cultural change, which suggested
t11.1t soon little of thcir traditional culturc might bc available for
study. Bctwccn 1898 and 1915 Percy Smith (1913, 1915) sought to
synthcsizc various tribal' accounts of Maori migrations that had bccn
collcctcd in thc 185os, in order,to crcatc a uniform history of thcir
scttlc~llcntin Ncw Zcaland. H c concludcd that thcy wcrc Polynesian
seafarers who had ultimately originated in India. New Zealand had
first bccn scttlcd by thc Maruiwi, an allcgcdly inferior Mclallcsia~l
pcoplc who wcrc latcr conquered by thc Maori. In 1916Elsdon Bcst
(1836-1931) identified the Maruiwi with the South Island Moahuntcrs. Sonic Maori tribes wcrc claimed on thc basis of oral
around A.D. 950 and 1150
traditions to have reached ~ e wZealand
and these were followed in A.D. 1350 by a Great Fleet, which carried
the groups from whom the major tribes are descended. It was
gcncrally concludcd that t l ~ cbasic pattcrn of Maori culturc had not
changed since that time (Sorrenson 1977).
This scheme of origins was widely accepted by white and Maori
New Zcalanders, including thc Maori anthropologist Peter Buck
(Te Rangihiroa, 1877-1951). Peter Gathercole (1981: 163) has drawn
attention to the parallels that'this account, based on Maori traditional scholarship, drew between the coming of the Maori and the
arrival of the Europeans in New Zealand. The Maoris were established in European opinioil as being recent colonists in Ncw
Zcaland, who had seized it tiom an earlier, culturally lcss dcvelopcd
people. Therefore they had little more historical claim to the land
than the European settlers had. It was also assumcd that ethnology
and oral traditions rcvcalcd all that nccdcd to be known about Maori
In the 192os, Henry D. Skinncr, who had studied anthropology at
Cambridge University, began to examine Moa-hunter sites on the
South Island. Combining archaeological, ethnographic, physical
anthropological, and linguistic data with oral traditions, he sought
to demonstrate that the Moa-hunters were Maori, and hence Polynesian, in origin. By debunking the Maruiwi myth, he established
the rolc of thc Maori as thc 'first pcoplc of thc land' and put

AYzhaeolo~yin New Zealand

In New Zealand the small and dispersed British settlements that
began to be established in the 184os, in the wake of earlier activities
by European missionaries and whalers, werc for a loilg timc unable
to subdue the indigenous Maori, who, especially on the North
Island, were numerous and warlike. Armed conflict between the
natives and settlers lasted until 1847and broke out again in the 1860s.
Although the Maori wcre weakened by European diseases, thcir
continuing resistancc won them a measure of grudging respect from
the European settlers.
No full-time archaeologist was appointed to a university position
in New Zealand prior to 1954. Yet as early as 1843 European settleis
had noted stone tools associated with the bones of thc giant moa and
othcr extinct spccics of birds. In thc 1870s Julius von Haast
(1822-87), who was influchced by the writings of Lyell and Lubbock
concerning the antiquity of human beings in Europe, argued that
the Moa-hunters wcrc a vanished Palacolithic people, who had
subsisted mainly on fish and shellfish and werc distinct from the
much later Ncolithic Maori. H e was soon compelled, however, to
admit that the Moa-hunters were culturally not very different from
the Maori (1871,1874).



A history of archaeological thought

The imperial synthesis

archaeology in the forefront of the movement for re-enfranchising

them (Sutton 1985). Skinner was also sensitive to regional variations
in Maori culture, which he interpreted as partly adaptive in nature,
and he argued that indigc~louscultural changes had taken place
(Sutton, personal c o ~ ~ ~ n ~ u ~ ~ iYet
c a t his
i o ~arcl~acological
lacked any systenlatic trea'tment of scque~~cc
or cultural change apart
from the ccono~llicimpact of the extinction of the nloa (Skinner
elsewhere, he continued t o
1921). Like coloilialist archaeologists
view archaeology mainly as a way to recover material culture that
would augnlcllt and complement ethnological collections rather
than as an independent source of historical information. IHe did.,
however, support the expansion of arch,rcological rcscarch, includn~
ing the appointment of David Tcviotdale (1932) at the urago
Museum. Tcviotdale thus ~ C C J I I I C the first prof
archacologist in New Zealand. Into the 1950s archaec
continued to concentrate on the study of the Moa-nun~ers(Duff
1950), while later periods remained understudied ((
le 1981).
Although oral traditions had involved an awaren
c c inter~
events, Ncw Zcaland archaeologists had not yet d e v c ~ u ~ a11
est in accompa~lyingchanges in material culture and styles of life that
would have stimulated a comprehensive study of changes in thc
In rcccnt years New Zcaland archaeology has become increasingly
professionalized and redefined its traditional association with Maori
ethnology, which had discouraged the study of later prehistory.
Much recent work has been done on the North Island, which
archaeologists had hitherto ignored, but where most of the Maori
population lived and the greatest elaboration of their prehistoric
culture had occurred. This work, which is increasingly involving the
Maori themselves, has not only already pushed the original settlcment of New Zealand back several centuries but also revealed
dramatic changes in the material culture and the economic and social
organization of the Maor'i, as well as the effects of climatic change
and considerable regional diversification as they adjusted to life in
New Zealand. The Moa-hunters are now interpreted as an episode
in the Polynesian settlement of the South Island (Davidson 1979).
There is also increasing interest in the archaeological investigation
of contact between New Zealand and neighbouring regions of the
Pacific (D. G. Sutton, pcrson.11 communic,ltion). New Zcal,lnd

provides an example of a colonial situation in which there was a

measure of respect for the native inhabitants. Yet amateur archaeologists there, as elsewhere, viewed native cultures as static and
attributed alterations in the archaeological record to ethnic changes
rather than to internal dcvclopmehts. It is also truc, however, that in
the coursc of the twentieth ccntury a more profcssio~~alized
archaeology has played a significant role in dispelling such beliefs


~ u s t r a ~ i prehisto~
In Australia studics of Aboriginal custon~sbegan with thc first
European cxplorcrs and scttlcrs. 13)~1850
most of sourhcrn Australia
was occupied by Europeans and the Aborigines had bccn drivcn
from their lands or were dead as a result of discasc, ncglcct, and
outright murder. As in North! America racial prejudice helped t o
reduce any feelings of guilt that European scttlers may have had
about the way they were treating native people.
Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, etbnologists it1 Europe and America ckouragcd thc study of Aborigincs as
examples of the 'most primitive tribes' known to anthropological
science. By 1900 major studies, such as Baldwin Spcncer and F. J.
Gillc11's The Native Tribes of Central A w t a l i a (1899), had placed
Aboriginal ethnography on an internationally rcspccted basis.
Spcnccr, likc his English mentors? was to dcscribc the Aborigincs as
'a relic of the early childhood o f mankind left stranded . . . in a low
condition of savagery' (Spencer 1901: 12).
Early investigations of Aboriginal prehistory failed to uncover
any clear evidence of the association betwecn human beings and
prehistoric animals, such as had been found in Europe. Nor did the
artifacts discovered in archaeological sites appear to differ significantly from those in recent use. By 1910 naturalists abandoned the
search for early cvidcncc of native people in Australia./The assumptions that they had arrived recently and that their cultures had not
changed significantly accordod with the ethnologists' belief that
these cultures were primitive and essentially static. From 1910 until
the 1950s amateur arcl~aeologistscollected artifacts 'secure in the
knowledge that Aborigines were an unchanging people, with an
unchanging technology' (Murray and White 1981: 256). Spencer,
'lllcging tcclinologic~lopportunism and lack of conccrn with formal

A history of archaeological thought


'N;lti\>cpolice dispersi~lgthc blacks', W c s t c r ~Queensland,

c. 1882

The in~pcrialsynthesis
tool types in Aboriginal culture, attributed variations in thc form
and function of artifacts t o diffcrcnccs in raw material, thus ignoring
the alternative possibilities of change over timc, idiosyncratic cultural prcfcrcnccs, and functional adaptation (Mulvanc)l 1981: 63).
John Mulvanc)r (1981:63-4) lias argued that this concept of tlic
'unclinnging savage', which \vas in accorci with the popular cicnigration of Aboriginal culture, inhibited the dcvclopmcnt of prchistoric nrcliacology in Australia throughout this period. It is also
notc\r~orthythat the first nrclincologp dcpurtmcnt that was cstahlislicd in Australia, at the University o f Sydney in 1948, initially
studicd only the archaeology of Europc and the Near East.
The cscavation ill southern Australia, beginning in 1929, of a
stratified scrics of different tool types suggested 3 longer hunlan
occupation and callcd into question the image of a static prehistory.
Cultural change was attributed initially, howcvcr, to various groups
rcplucing o n c another, some of them recent invaders. In 1938
Norman Tindalc linked his scqucncc to the An~crican physical
anthropologist, J. B. Birdscll's, tri-racial hybrid theory ofAustralian
racial origins. Tindalc also suggcstcd that cnvironmental changcs
might have occurred during tile pcriod of Aboriginal occupation.
Concern with cultural cli;lngc and regional variation did not charactel-izc Australian arcliucology until a nl~mbcrof young professional arcliacologists began t o study Australian prehistory following John~Miil\~ancy's
apptziiltn~entat the University ofMi-lbournc in
195;. Most of these archucologists had been trained at Cambridge
Uni\.crsity, \\~licrcGrahamc Clark had cncourugcd them to work in
Australia. As 3 result of their rcscarch, it 112s become clcur rhat
lit11ii31ihcings have l i \ d in Australin for at least -1-0,000 years.
Archaeologists ha\.c documcntcd numerous changes in technology,
udapt.~tion,and no11-tccllnologic;~I;~spcctso f nntivc
.l' i t ~ l t ~ ~ . i. ll il ~ . o ~ i o l o ~h,1\,c
i c s .dso di.\\~cllcclrhc bclicl'
that nll cultural cliangcs in prehistoric times came about as a result of
cstcrnal stimuli.
Sincc the 1970s the interpretation of archaeological data lias also
rcflcctcd a gro\ving concern for a distinctive national identity among
whitc Australians. White artists draw i~ispirationfrom native art
forllls and Aboriginal art is viewcd as part o f Australia's national
hcritagc t o a far grcatcr dcgrcc than is thc case with nativc arts in
North America. Within the :context of this, growing nationalism,

A li~storyof archacological thought

Australian archaeologists arc no lo~igcrcorltcrlt to trcat their

country's prchistory ns a mirror of the Palacolithic stage of human
dcvclopnlcnt. Instcad they have begun to c~nphasizctlic singularity
o f Australian prcl~istor!i, includi~lgthe considel-:tblc dcgrcc to which
Abol-igincs managed ;111d ~ I t e ~ - csignificant
aspects of
thcir environment. The current i ~ l ~ a gofc prehistoric Aborigi~lcsas
'fircstick farmers' is f,tr removed from thc traditional one of thcm as
IJppcr Pnl.lcolitI~ichuntcr-gathcrus.
It is taking longer fi,r Australian archaeologists to considcr the
possibility that their country's prehistory [nay be morc than nineteenth-century ethnology rctrodictcd for 50 millc~l~lia
(Murray and
White 1981: 258; Mulvnncy and Whitc 1987).Thcrc is now, howcvcr,
lively discussion about wl~cthcr it is scic~ltificallylcgitilnatc to
regard the whole of Australian prehistory as that of the ancestors of
the modcrli Aborigincs (cf. Whitc and O'Conncll 1982: 6; Flood
Archaeologists have also been compelled to reassess thcir goals as
a result of the increasing political activities of Aborigines. The
federal Labour Party that was clcctcd in 1972 passed legislatioti
granting Aborigiilcs significant rnemhcrsl~ipon decisionmaking
bodies considcri~lgmatters of concern to them, including the protcctio~iof archacological sitcs. As a result nrchacologists havc corllc
~ ~ n d gc rro w i ~ ~pressure
to consider the rclcvance of their research
for native pcoplc (Ucko 1983; McBrydc 1986). The situatio~lhas beell
a c o m p l c and rapidly changing one. Some Aborigirics' traditional
world view leads thcrn to regard all archaeological activity as usclcss
or profaning; others appreciate the value of arcliaeological work for
land-claim disputes and for enhancing their general image. Thc
desire of the latter to use archacological f i l ~ d i ~ for
~ g spolitical ends
somcti~llcs bri~igsthe111 into conflict with \vliitc archaco1og;sts
wishing to pursue 'scientific' goals. Difficult cultural issues include
whcthcr o r not fcnlalc archaeologists may visit sacred sitcs, which
only Inale Aborigi~lcsr&iy approach.
Alllong wliitc Australian acadcinics there arc significant differcnccs of opinion concerning the dcgrcc to which Australian prchistory should be regarded as a ~latiorlalheritage o r as tile csclusivc
yosscssion of the Abol-igincs. At least s o o ~ Aborigine
activists view
a wliitc Australian interest in thcir heritage as yct another attcrnpt to
appropriate what belongs to nativc pcoylc. The). rcniinci Australian

arc11acologists oftheir past complicity in dc~ligrati~lg

Aborigincs as a
primitive pcoplc who wcrc d o o n ~ c dto extinction (Langford 1983).
Thc rcsolution of such conflicts bctwccl~Aborigines and archacologists cannot occur i~ldcpcridcntlyof a rcsolutio~lof thc major
grievances that Aborigines have against rnodcrn Australian socicty.
Ncvcrthclcss Australian :u-cliacologists have been making significant
cffbrts to involvc Aboriginal pcoplc in their work. T l ~ cgcncral
orientation of modern Australian archacologists towards a historical
ratl~crtha11 311 cv~lutionaryview of prcllisto~)~,
whicll r ~ s u l t sfro111
tlicir British training, niakcs the rcsolution of thcsc problems in
some respects casicr than it is for a~~thropologically
traincd North
American archacologists.

Lubbock's lgacy
In tlic 1860s and 1870s archaeologists continucd to bclicvc in tlic
cvolutio~iaryorigins of Europcan socicty. Yct by that pcriod thcy
wcrc inclined to o f i r racial cxpla~iationsfor tlic failurc of other
socictics to cvolvc to tlic same cxtcnt as thcp had done. Thc Darwinian cxplanatiori of thcsc racial diffcrc~icesthat was popularized by
Lubbock reinforced thc racist views inhcrcnt in colollial situatio~is
and which had already i~lfluc~iccd
tlic intcrprctations of arcliacological cvidcncc in thc United Statcs. Tlic arcliacology that dcvcloped wherever Europcan colonists were seclcing to establish themsclvcs jn the rliidst of native populations had much ill common.
Native socictics werc assumed to be static and cvidcncc of changc in
the archacological record, when noted, was attributed to migratio~ls
rather than to irltcrnal dynamism. The racist vicws undcrlyi~~g
specific intcrprctations wcrc morc oftcn implicit than explicit.
Either way, colo~lialistarchacology served to dctiigratc thc native
socictics that Europcan colonists wcrc scclcing to dominate o r
replace by offering evidence that in prehistoric times thcy had lacked
tlic initiative to develop on thcir own. Such arcliacology was closely
aligned with cthnology, which docu~nentcdthe primitive condition
of traditional native cultures and their gcncral inability t o changc.
This priniitivcrlcss was widely bclicvcd to justify Europeans seizing
co~itrolof thc territories of such peoples. While tlicse archacological
vicws did not survive thc collcctio~io f archacological cvidcncc
which indicatcd that internal' changes had takcn place in nativc

A history of archaeological thought

cultures, they impeded the search for such evidence and significantly
delayed the development of prehistoric archaeology in countries
such as Australia, whcrc it was assumcd that archacology had little to
reveal about thc past. Morcovcr, this dcvclopment did not occur
until evolutionary archaeology had been replaced in Europe by a
historical view of prehistory.
This was because unilinear evolutionism, whether of Lubbock's
racist variety or the oldcr, ulliversalistic sort championed by Mortillet, shared ccrtain major wcaknesscs as a model for collecting and.
interpreting archacological data. Thcsc wcakncsscs wcre cspccially
evident in the cvolutio~laryarchacology that had evolved in England
and France around the study of the Palaeolithic period. By arguing
that modcrn culturcs arranged from simplcst to most complex
recapitulated the sequence through which European societies had
evolved, unilinear evolution denicd that there was anything novel to
be learned from the archaeological record. The main value of archaeology was its proof that evolution had in fact occurred, to varying
degrees and hence at varying rates in different parts of the world.
Lubbock and othcr archaeologists argucd that ethnographic evidence provided an easy way to achieve a rounded understanding of
how people had lived in prehistoric times. As long as archaeological
data, in the form of diagnostic artifacts, could rcvcal thc level of
dcvclopment that a particular culture had reached, ethnographic
data concerning ~nodcrnsocictics at thc same stage werc capable of
supplyi~lgall that needcd to be known about the nature of life
associated with that culture. Only the earliest archaeological finds
were believed to lack corresponding ethnographic evidence. As late
as 1911 Lower and Middlc Palaeolithic cultures wcre being equated
with the Tasmanians and Australian Aborigines (Sollas 1911).These
holistic analogies invited a revival of antiquarianism, to the extent
that they returned archaeology to a situation where artifacts once
again merely illustrated the past, rathcr than constitutcd a basis for
studying prehistoric human behaviour. Within the context of unilinear evolutio~~ism
the matrix for undcrstanding archaeological
data was no longer historical documentation, as it had been prior to
Thomsen's work or remained in classical studies, but rathcr had
become ethnography.
Another major problem was that none of the unilinear evolutionary archaeologists succeeded in devisi~lga niethodology for

The imperial synthesis


implementing holistic compa;isons. N o systematic effort was made

to correlate specific tool types with ethnographic cultures so that
these tool types could in turn be used to draw detailed and controlled comparisons between ethnographic and archaeological
assemblages. Efforts to do this might have revealed in greater detail
some of the problems of unilinear evolutionism. Archaeologists
were aware of the difficulties posed by geographical and environmental variations, but they pevcr confronted this issue systematically. As a result, compacisons between archacological assemblages
and ethnographic cultures rcmaincd impressionistic.
The failure to deal adequately with these problcms prod~lccda
growing sense of ililprsse and sterility in evolutionary archacology
after the European Palaeolithic sequence had been delineated. The
problem with unilinear evolutionary archaeology was that it had
bccome too integral a part of anthropology and too dependent on
ethnology. Far more creativity had survived in Scandinavian-style
post-Palaeolithic archaeology, although it had been temporarily
eclipsed by thc momelltous di~covericsconccrning still carlicr
phases of-human dcvclopmcnt. Whik Scandinavian archaeology had
been inspired by an evolutionary perspective, it shunned holistic
analogies and sought to use parallels to interpret individual faccts of
thc arclincologicnl record. Recause gf their growing realizatioll of
tlic inadcquacics of thc unilin~arevolutionary approach, a ncw
generation of profcssior~alarchaeologists was to view h s decline as a
liberation rather than a loss. "

Culture-historical archaeolc

a1 archaeolog

( - ~ - ~ ~ J..
- T - ~ IJI ~
I YC L Z / C Inntio7rnlirt
SS n ~ y t 1
~ ~ ~~c~zlzt~l:
tCTl'aSZ 1 1 ~ f ; l lC~O cI ~ J C ~ ~ Z L S I L CIt>
zt . . . c laims topyotect an oldfolk soczety while infact
- to build up an anonymous mass society.

G t. 1. L N B I<,

Nntionnlisnt I

!epatriot 1

necessity 2
icnl C;ullccrion



~ a t ~c i i n c t ~ ~
, , ~ , cultural cvo~utiotlislnwas si~ilu
ously challcngcd across E~tropcby growing natiollalism and c
ing faith in thc benefits of tcchnological progrcss. Thesc two
oplncnts wcrc closcly linlicd, sincc a rcduccd commitmc
evoluti onis~ilmade cthnicity appear to bc the most importa~ltfactor
in liunIan history. I11 Western Europc ~iationalisniincreased as
iodustri~lizatiohcightcncd competition for markcts and
resources. Towards tlic cnd of tlic century it was cncourag
intcllcctuals who sought to pro~iiotcsolidarity within thci
countries in the facc of growing social unrest by blatni~igcco
and social problems on neighbouring states.
In England and France nationalism cxprcsscd it:self stroll gly in
historical writing, which cmphasizcd the solidarity o f thesc na~tional
111 IIIC

groups. Yct its impact on arcliacology was quitc muted, 111 part as a
rcsult of thc continuing influc~iccof Lubbock and Mortillct. The
French Enipcror Napolcon I11 ordcrcd large-scale excavations to bc
carricd out bctwccn 1881and 1865 at tIic Ccltic oypida, o r fortified
towns, at Mont Auxois and Mont R i a in Burgundy. These sitcs,
which had bccn bcsiegcd by Julius Caesar when lic invaded Gaul,
rcvcalc d the material culturc of thc Ccltic inhabitants of France in
thc fir:st ccntury B.C. Napolcotl sought, by encouraging nationausm, to cnhancc the powcr of his regime (Danicl 1950: 110-11). By
tasking about p c ~ ~ i h l ~
dent Bri

Druidical assoclanons of Neolithic and Bronze Age s~tcs,which had

bccn tlic main forr11of patri otism inclulgcd in by antiquaria~lsin the
cightccnth ccntuqI , was ba nishcd toI thc rcallms of popular history
and folltlorc (A. 0wen 1962: 239).
I11 Central and Northcrn Europe, archaeology was associated with
throughout the wholc of the ninctccnth ccntury. By
~romotinga sense of ethnic identity, it playcd a significant rolc in
hc unification of Gcrnlany in 1871 and aftcrwards by cxprcssing thc
)ride of the Germans in thcir accomplishments as a pcoplc. 'rllc
cvival of Gcrnlan literature in thc cightccnth ccntury had b~ccn
haractcrized by a revolt against thc classical hcritagc of Wcstcm
3uropc and a glorification of Gcrnuny's nlcdicval and ancient past.
k t thc samc time the philosopher Joliann Hcrdcr had dcfincd history
s the account of tlic dcvclopmcnt o f a pcoplc as cxcmplificd by thcir
lnguage, traditions, and institutions (Hampson 1982: 241, 248-9).
'he study ofprchistory continued to bc part of tlic Danish rcaction
3 territorial losscs to niorc powerful ncighbours. In Eastern Europe
rchacology, by encouraging a sense of cthnic identity among Polcs,
:zechs, Hungarians, and other groups living under Austrian,
".ussian, and Prussian domination, played an i
t rolc in I~ h c
cstruction of thcsc
and the eventual (
e of a serics
fnational statcs.
Throughout thc n~nctccntl~ccntury, growlng amounts
material wcrc rccovcrcd througl~outCcntral Euro
a rcsult of thc construction of roads, railways, canals, and fi
~rics;the founding of museums and research institutes; and t
establishmcnt of reaching positions for archaeologists in univt
sirtics. As morc evidcncc was collected, the attention of arclia
ogists turncd from a preoccupation with megaliths, hillforts, and
muli to the study of artifacts. Their main objective was t o dctcrine, often using failciful criteria, to wliich ctl~nicgroups various
1111dsbclongcd, so that cmcrging tiations might lcarn morc abo
thcir early history and how tlicir ancestors had lived (Sklcnilrg8
91). In thc 1870s and 1880s archaeological research in this region w
by the evolutio~~ary
archacology o f Francc and England.
TI-is cncouragcd the morc carcful classification and comparison of
arc:Iiacological finds. Thc dcvclopmcnt of local chronologies was
ILLarded.howevcr, by a rcluctaricc to adopt the Scandinavian Thrc,
;c system, which was opposed, largcly for natio~lalisticIreasons, t

A history of archaeological thought

a number of prominent German archaeologists (Bohner 1981;

Sklcnit 1983: 87-91). Yct this flirtation with cvolutionary anthropology was short-lived and in thc late ninctccntl~century arcl~acology
oncc again rcsffirmcd its tics to thc study of national histories. A
conccrn with l~istoricaland cthnic prob1~111sled archaeologists to
pay increasing a t t c n t i o ~to~the geographical distribution of distinctive types of artifacts and artifact assemblages in an effort to relatc
thcm to historical groups. A nationalistic orientation encouraged
the archaeology of Central Europe to concentratc on the study of the
Neolithic and morc rccent pcriods rather than on Palacolithic times.
Because of the role that archaeologists played in promoting a sense
of ethnic identity, ~mpcrialgovcrnmcnts somctimcs sought to
hinder or prevent arcl~acologicalrcscarch. For the samc reason, it
enjoyed the support of nationalist elements, such as the Czech
middlc class and the Polish landed aristocracy.

By the 1880s growing social and economic problems in Western

Europe were encouraging a new emphasis on conservatism and the
rigidity of human nature, and hcnce on cthnicity, in the heartland of
evolutionary anthropology. Thc problems of thc Industrial Rcvolution wcrc bccoming increasingly cvidcnt, cspccially in Britain
wherc it had been going on the longest, in the form of slums,
economic crises, and growing foreign competition. At the same time
the political supremacy of the middle classes was being challenged
by the first labour movements. As a result of these developments, the
younger generation of intellectuals turned against the idea of progress. Industrialism, which had formerly been a source of pride, was
now seen as a cause of social chaos and ugliness (Trevelyan 1952: 119).
The efforts that wcrc madc to cxtcrnalizc conflicts encouragcd a
growing emphasis on racial doctrines. It was argued that French,
Germans, and English vGere biologically different from one another
and that their behaviour was dctermined, not by economic and
political factors, bht by essentially immutable racial differences.
National unity was encouraged by arguing that within each nation
everyone, regardless of social class, was united by a common biological heritage, which constituted the strongest of all human bonds.
Disillusiohn~cnt with progrcss, togcthcr with thc belief that

Culture-historical archaeology
human behaviour was biologically determined, promoted growing
scepticism about humah creativity. Writers and social analysts maintained that pcople were not inhercntly inventive andthat change was
contrary to human naturc and potcntially harmful to pcoplc. It was
argucd that a static condition was most congenial to human bcings,
who werc naturally prcdisposed to rcsist altcrations in thcir styles of
life. This led to dccliniog credcncc in indepcndent development, a
belief that particular inventions wcrc unlikcly to bc madc morc than
once in human history, and hence a growing rcliancc on diffusion
and migration to cxplain cultural change. I t also encouraged an
increasing intercst in the idiosyncratic fcaturcs associatcd with particular ethnic groups rathcr than with thc gcncral characteristics of
succcssivc stages of cultural devclopmcnt. If thc insccurity of thc
middle classes of Western Europe in the 1860s had Icd Lubbock and
othcr Darwinians to abandon th; doctrine of psychic unity and view
native peoples as biologically inferior to Europeans, the still greater
insecurity of the 1880s led intellectuals to jettison the doctrine of
progress and regard human beings as far more resistant to change
than they had been viewed since before the Enlightenment.
Increasing reliance on diffusion and migration, as well as the
concept of cultures as ways of life relatcd to specific cthnic groups,
wcrc soon cvidcnt in thc work of Gcrman ethnologists such as
Fricdrich Ratzcl (1844-1901) and Franz Boas (1858-1942). Ratzcl, a
geographcr and ethnologist, rejected Bastian's conccpt of psychic
unity. In works such as Anth~opogeog~aphie
(1882-91) and The Histoly
ofMankind ([1885-81 1896-8) he argued that, because the world was
small, ethnologists must bcware o f thinking that even thc simplest
inventions were likely to havc bccn made morc than once, Ict alone
repeatedly. Both invention and diffusion were dcscribcd as capricious processes; hence it became impossible to prcdict whcthcr a
particular group will borrow cvcn a uscful invention from its ncighbours. Ratzel argued that because of this it was necessary to rulc out
the possibility of diffusion in order to provc that the same type of
artifact had been invented more'than oncc. H c tried to demonstrate
that items such as thc blowpipe and the bow and arrow, whcrcvcr
they occurred in the world, could be traccd back to a common
source. H e also sought to show that, dcspitc its capriciousness,
diffusion created culture areas, or,blocks of similar cultures adjacent
to each othcr.

Culture-historical archaeology

A history of archaeological thought

Ratzcl's ideas influcnccd the youngcr Boas, who introduced them

into North America. Boas opposed thc doctrinc of cultural cvolutionism and argucd that cach culture was a uniquc entity that had
to bc understood on its own tcrms. This involvcd accepting two
doctrines: cultural rclativism, which denied the existence of any
~inivcrsalstandard that could bc uscd to compare thc degree of
or worth of diffcrc~ltculturcs, and historical particularism, which vicwcd cach culturc as the product of a unique
scqucnce of dcvclopmcnt in which thc largely chance operatio11 of
diffusion played the major role in bringing about change. Boas
bclicved that if the dcvclopmcnt of culturcs displayed any rcgularitics, thcsc wcrc so complcx as t o dcfy understanding. Thc only way
to cxplain thc past was to determine thc successive idiosyncratic
diffusio~iaryepisodes that had shaped thc development of cach
culturc (Harris 1968: 250-89). About thc same time the Vicnncse
school of anthropology, dcvclopcd by the Roman Catholic pricsts
Fritz Gracbner and Wilhclm Schmidt, argucd that a singlc scrics of
culturcs had dcvclopcd in Central Asia, from wherc culturcs of
diffcrciit types had bccn carr~cdto various parts of thc world. Thc
C O I T I ~ ~ C cultural
variations obscrvcd on cvcry continent rcsulted
from thc mingling of culturcs at different lcvcls of dcvclopmcnt
( i bid. 382-92; Andnolo 1979).
Diffilsion displaced an c v o l ~ t i o n ~ ~approc~ch
in English cthnology as a rcsult of thc work of thc Ca~ilbridgcscholar W. H. R.
Rivers (1914). Unablc to dctcct an evolutionary pattcrli in his
detailcd study of thc distribution of cultural traits in Oceanic
socictics, he rejected an cvol~itionaryapproach and adopted a diffusionist one (Slobodin 1978). Diffusionism was carricd further in
British anthropology by Grafton Elllot Smith (1871-1937). Born in
Australia, Smith studicd mcdiciilc and bccamc interested in mummification wliilc hc taught anatomy at the University of Cairo, prior to
moving to the U~iivcrsityof London. Noting that cmballning was
practised in various fotms clscwhcrc, he dccidcd that it had been
invented in Egypt, whcrc it had rcachcd its most highly developed
form, and that it had dcgcncratcd as it sprcad to other parts of the
world. H e then tl~corizcdthat all carly cultural dcvclopment had
occurred in Egypt. Prior to 4000 B.C. therc had been no agriculture, architccturc, religion, or govcrnmcnt anywhere in the
world. Then t11c accidcntal harvesting of wild barley and millet Icd to

the development of agriculture, which was followed by the invcntion of pottery, clothing, konumental architecture, and divine
kingship. Smith believed that these events had occurred in a unique
cnviro~lmcntand wcre ynlikely ever to have happened elsewhere.
Egyptian innovations had been carried to all parts of the world by
Egyptian mcrcl~antswho wcre searching for raw matcrials that had
thc power to proloilg huma~ilife.While these influences acted as an
'exotic leaven' encouraging the development of agriculture and
civilization in other parts of the world, civilizations such as that of
the Maya declined when cut off from direct contact with Egypr
(Smith 1923, 1933).
Smith's hyper-diffusionist ideas were elaborated using ethnographic data by W. J. Perry, who taught cultural anthropology at
the University of London. His two major works, The Children of the
Sun (1923) and The Growth of Civilization (1924) still makc fascinating
reading, although the explanation of his world-wide parallels in
political organization and religious beliefs rcmains illusive. Lord
Raglan (1939) also advocated hyper-diffusionism but believed Mesopotamia rather than Egypt to have been its source. The ideas o n
wl~ichthese three men agreed were that most human beings are
tlaturally primitive and will always revcrt to a stagc of savagcry if not
stoppcd from doing so by, the ruling classcs; that savagcs ncvcr
invcnt anything; that thc dcveiop~llciltof civilization, and by extrapolatio~lthe Industrial Revolution, were accidents that produced
results contrary to human nature; and that religion was a prime
factor promoting the development and spread ofcivilization. Yet, in
denying that progress was natural or that therc was any plan t o
human history, the hyper-diffusionists were only carrying to an
extreme ideas that had been shared by a growing number of anthropologists sincc the 1880s. Marvin Harris (1968: 174) has observed
that diffusionists generally were far more dogmatic in dismissing the
possibility that thc samc invention had bccn madc twicc than cvolutionists ever had been in denying the importance of diffusion.
Some European archaeologists were influenced by Elliot Smith to
the extent that they argucd, that megalithic tombs might be a
degenerate form of pyramid, the, idea of which had been carried to
Western Europe by Egyptians seeking for life-giving natural substances (Childe 1939: ~ o I - ~ , I ~ s69).
+ ' : Yet, by the 1920s the archaeological rccord was sufficicntly well known that hyper-diffusionism

A history of archaeological thought

had little appeal to archaeologists as an explanation of world prehistory. Insofar as archaeologists thought about the problem, culturcs in thc Old and New Worlds wcrc rccog~~izcd
to be stylistically
distinct and wcrc bclicvcd to havc dcvclopcd indcpcndcntly from
hunting and gathering to civilization. Yct, within the diffusionist
milicu that had bcgun to cvolvc in thc 188os, thc human capacity for
innovatioll was considcrcd to bc sufficiently lin~itcdand quixotic
that basic discovcrics, such as pottery and bronze working, sccmcd
unlikcly to have bccn invented twice and hcncc wcrc bclicvcd to
havc spread fro111one part of the world to another. Thc cl~ronologics~
that had been elaborated prior to radiocarbon dating, especially on
an intercontinental scale, were not sufficiently calibrated to rule out
such interpretations. Almost all cultural change in the archaeological record was attributed to the diffusion of ideas from one
group to another or to migrations that had led to the replacement of
one people and their culture by another. Because they accepted the
capacity of one group to learn from another, archaeologists who
stresscd diffusion werc generally morc optimistic about the capacity
of human societies to changc than wcrc thosc who attributed almost
all change to migration. Thc latter fashion is exemplified in the work
of W. M. F. Petric (1939)~who, in discussillg the prehistoric dcvelopmcnt of Egypt, explained all cultural changes in tcrrns of mass
migrations or the arrival of smallcr groups who brought about
cultural change by mingling culturally and biologically with thc
existing population. Petrie saw-no possibility of significant cultural
change without accompanying biological change.
The transition between evolutionary and diffusionist modes of
thought was gradual and diffusionist explanations often shared
many of the features of evolutionary ones. W. J. Sollas, in his
Ancient Hunters and their Modern Representatives ( I ~ I I )based
or, a
scrics of lccturcs dclivercd in 1906, appears to bc following an
evolutiollary modcl whcn hc compares succcssivc agcs of Palaeolithic development with "dfferent modern hunter-gatherer groups.
Thus the Mousterians are 'represented' by the Tasmanians, the
Aurignacians in part by the Bushmen, and the Magdalenians by the
Inuit and the American Indians. Yet he maintains that most of these
modern countcrparts are appropriate analogues because they are the
literai descendants of thesc Palaeolithic groups, who, as more
'intclligcnt' raccs cmcrgcd, wcrc 'cxpcllcd and drivcn to thc uttcr-

Culture-historical archaeology
most parts of the earth' where, they remained in an arrested state of
development (1924: 599). Under the impact of diffksionism, holistic
analogics bascd on thc assumption that historically unrclatcd groups
at thc same levcl of dcvclopmcnt arc culturally similar gradually werc
replaced by the assumption that because cultures are inherently
staticonly the comparison of hisforically rclatcd ones could facilitatc
thc intcrprctation of ar~hacolo~ical
data (Wylic 198sa: 66-7).

The Montelian synthesis of European prehistory

The growing interest in cultural variation and diffusion in the social
sciences provided a framework that allowed archaeologists to
account for the evidence of spatial as well as temporal variation that
was becoming obvious as archaeological data accumularcd across
Europe. As early as 1851 ~ a n i e Wilson
had noted major stylistic
differences between Iron Age artifacts in Scandinavia and Scotland.
In the course of the nineteenth century archaeologists in Britain,
Francc, Switzerland, Germany, and Central Europe traced the geographical distributions of coins (J. Evans ISSO),megaliths, and other
Stone, Bronzc, and 1roi Agc remains (Daniel 1950: 303-5; Sklcnif
1983: 111-12). As La Ttne finds were morc firmly identified with late
prchistoric Ccltic groups, its status as a culturc rathcr than a stage of
devclopmcllt or a pcriod bccamc clcarcr; a proccss that was accclcratcd in 1870 whcn Mortillct intcrpretcd, La TCne artifacts found in
northern Italy as archaeological evidence of a historically recorded
Celtic invasion of that country (Daniel 1950: 111). In 1890 Arthur
Evans identified a late Celtic urnfield in southeastern England with
the Belgae, who the Romans reported had invaded England in the
first century B.C. John Abercromby (1902) associated Early Bronze
Age beaker pottery, probably wrongly (Harrison 1980), with a
putative 'Bcakcr folk' whom hc had migrating ovcr much of Wcstcrn
Europc. In 1898 thc Danish archacologist Sophils Miillcr (18461934) argued that, although the Singlc Graves and Megalithic
Burials of the Danish Ncolithic wcrc at lcast partly contcmporary,
the weapons, pottery, and ornaments associated with them were
different and hence they must kprcsent two distinct peoples (Childe
1953: 9). By 1909 the Mesolithic period in Western Europe had been
divided into contemporary Azilian and Tardenoisian assemblages.
As early as 1874 Boyd Dawkins'(p. 353) suggcstcd thc posgibility of
2,: ' (

A history of archaeological thouglit

regional \rari;~tionsi n the 1';llacolithic .uid b!: 1916I3cn1-i0hcrm;licr

Ilad divided the Lower Palacolithic into contcmporary flake ;~ndcore
This irowing emphasis on thc geographical distribution as well as
the cl~ronologyof archaeological finds led to inlportallt crcati\x
work bcing done by archacologists who wcrc intcrcstcd pri~llarilyin
the European Neolithic, Bronzc, and Iron Agcs rathcr than the
Palacolithic period. Their work was to replace the cvolutionar)~
preoccupation of Wcstcrn Europca~lprchistoric archacology with a
historical oricntatiotl, but this challgc camc about slowly. Thc first
major figurc in this transltio~lwas the Swcdish arcl~acologistGustav
Oscar Montclius (1843-1921). H Cwas traincd in the natural scicnccs
but soon became intcrcstcd in archaeolog~land begall to work at thc
State Historical Musc~lmin Stockholm in 186;. He shared T l ~ o m sen's and Worsaac's intcrcst in elaborating a prehistoric chronology,
to thc cxtcnt that 11c was lcss conccrncd than wcrc many of his
Sca~ldinaviancontcmporarics with understandi~lgthc ecological
background of prehistoric cultures. Hc spent part of cach year

Culture-historical archaeology
travelling throughout Europe in ordcr to study collections and thus
bccamc tllc first arcl~acologist,to invcstigatc prchistory on a continental scalc. Thc cnlargcd scopc of his rcscarch was madc possiblc
by the increasing tempo of arcl~acologicalactivity throughout
Europc and by thc dc\rclopmcnt of a nctworlc of railways, which
m ~ d travel
The typoIog~c.~l
method, 1' s Montcllus dcvclopcd it, was a rcfincmcnt of Thomscn's .ipproach. Hc rioted v,lrintions In
l o 1 1 1 1 .11111 d c c o ~ . l t ~ o101.
~ i \ * . I ~ I O L I \cl,~ssesof' .lrt~f.lct\ t l i r o ~ ~ g l i o ~ t
I - ; u ~ o.11id
l ~ o n tli~sh.l\~\~ o i ~ g ltoi t\\,ark o ~, ~~n dcorrcl,ltc
.I series o f
I-cg1on.11cl~ronologics. H c did this by examining material from
closcd finds, such .I\ gr.~\~cs,
ho.lrds, .lnd 111~ii\'idt1.11
rooms, to dctcrrl111lc. \ \ rypc\ ol'.~r.c~l;
o z c ~ ~ r r c.111d
d 11c\,croccurrcd together.
Espcricncc t , l ~ ~ ghl~~nt that,
,lfter comparing zoo to 300 finds of this
sort, clustcrs of association \vould form that rcprcscntcd, not largc
units of timc such as the Bronzc Agc, but subdivisions of thcsc ages
that he bclic\rcd could cach ha\;e 1,zsted only a few hundred !cars. B\.
' ~ r r ~ ~ n g thcsc
i n g clusters so that clcmcnts that were most ,dike wcrc
pl,lcccl ,~clj,~ccnt
to cach other, hc created a chror~ologicalscqucncc.
Fol s ~ ~ c.Il iscqucncc to be co~i\~incing,
ho\vc\~cr,ni.~tcrials, tccliniclucs of rn.lnl~f.~ct~~rc,
sh.~pc,.lnd dccor.itton had to form an intcrn,llly coherent series, just .IS they h,ld donc with Tt~omscn'sc r ~ ~ d c r
scriation (Bibby 1956: 176-81; Klindt-Jcnscn 197s: 87-96).
Montclius notcd evolutionary trends ovcr the course of his
periods. Bronzc cclts, for cxamplc, began as flat axes that wcre latcr
flanged to strcngthcn them. Ncxt thcy wcre providcd with a crossbar
and cylindrical shaft and finally with a hcavy cast socltct to facilitatc
mounting. H e vicwcd,such a sequcncc as a natural and logical one
and drcw parallels bctwccl~thc cvolution of matcrial culturc and of
biological organisms. Yct, as Graslund (1974)has shown, dcspitc his
training in thc natural scicnccs, Montclius' thinking about human
bchaviour owcd littlc to Darwinism. 011 the contrary it continued
thc traditions of Scandinavian archacology. Montclius believed, as
had thc philosophers of the Enligl~tcnmcnt,that technology dcvclopcd because Iiumai beings used thcir powers of rcason to dcvisc
morc cffcctivc ways of coping with naturc and thcrcby makc thcir
livcs casicr and more sccure. His rcfcrcnccs to biological evolution
sccm to havc bccn intcndcd mainly as analogics that would enhance
the status of archacology in an cra dominated by Darwinian cvolu-

icological thought
L I V I I . ~t 1s s~gnlhcant
that not all of Montclius' evolutioilary
wcrc unilincar. H c dcmonstratcd, for cxan~ple,that during the
Bronze Agc fibulac (safety pins), which were uscd t o fasten clorhing,
had bccn manufactured in Italy as onc piecc with a coilcd spring and
in Scar~dinaviaas two picccs with a hinge (Bibby 1956: 180-1). I n due
course thc best fcaturcs of both types wcrc merged to form a new
pan-European variety. Hence hc took account of how historical
as logical ones influcnccd the cvolutio~lof material
developed his typological method and
In t nc Iaaos Lvlonrcuils
dividcd thc Europcan Bronze Agc into six pcriods. In the following
dccadc he divided thc Neolithic into four pcriods and thc Iron Agc
into ten. While he regarded thcsc periods as applicablc t o the whole
of Europc, he noted considerable rcgional variation within each one
and rcjcctcd thc idea that all parts of Europc had reached the same
stage of devclopment at thc same time. Instead he sought to use
artifac.ts which hc assun~cdhad bee11cschangcd from one region to
anothc:r, or copied from more advanced areas, to correlate various
period s in rliffcrclit parts of Europc. As a rcsult of the discovcr!r of
Mjlccnacn11 GI-cck pottc~-yin historically dated Egyptian sitcs and
Egyptian goods in Greece, it was possible for nrcl1:icologists to date
the Mpccnacan period in C;rcccc to the fifteenth century B.(:.
Faicnc c bends found across E ~ ~ r o ptliat
c \vcrc prcsitmcd t o hnvc
come iFro111 Egypt through the Mycenaean civilization provided a
bench-mark calcndrical dating for Bronze Agc cultures. This corrc. .
l a t ~ o nalso gavc rise to what was later called the 'short chronolnr+v'of
European prehistory (Bibby 1956: 181-2).
Moiltclius bclicvcd that his cultural c'hronolog
. - I
prchistory was dcrivcd objcctivcly ft-0111 t11c arcllacologlcal
Today ~ v carc not so ccrtain that prcsuppositions did not plly a
significant rolc in dctcrlnillillg his selection of thc cross-tics that he
l x c t3
correlate the chronologies of diffcrcnr parts of Europc.
~t that his c h r o ~ ~ o l o gindicated
that in prchistoric times
11 devclopment had occurred in the Ncar East and that
...-- UL-laclllcvcmcnts had bee11 carried from there t o Europc by wavcs
diffusion and migration malting their way through thc Ballza~lsand
Italjl. Because of that the lcvel of cultural dcvclopment in southcastI U l LII
ern Europe in pi-chistoric times was always ahead ofthat to thc;I---+II whole 'was for long but the pale rcflIcction
and west and El

ulturc-historical arc

Belt b m ~ ,


S "



c Bronze Age artifacts arranged according

A history of archaeological tl~ougl~t

of Eastern civilization'. Montelius became thc most distinguished
c x p o ~ ~ eof~ al tdiffusionist explanatio~lof Europcan cultural dcvclopment, the so-called ex oriente lux ('light from the east') school
(Rcnfrew 1973a: 36:7).
Montclius' (1899, 1903) interprctatio~lof the development of
European civilizatio~lrequired a bcl~cfnot only in diffusion but also
that over long periods innovation tended to occur in particular xcas
and to diffuse outwards froru these nrcas to peripheries. A similar
belief in c~~ltural
cores and pcriphcrics played -1 signific.unt role in
Boasian anthropology, togcthcr w ~ t hthe agclarca assumption,
which maintained that morc widely distributed traits tended to be
older than ones sprcad over a smaller territory. 111 general broad
natural zones, such as the Great Plains or boreal forests of North
America, were seen as constituti~lgthe most active spheres of diffusion by American anthropologists. The concepts of cultural cores
and agelarea were subjected to a withering critique by the anthropologist R. B. Dixon in 1928. In Europc, however, these theoretical
assumptions were neither articulated nor criticized so clearly.
Many archaeologists supported Montelius' intcrpretat~o~l
European prehistory. Moreover, the nlost vocal objections wcrc
directed not against his idea of diffusion from a centre of innovation
but rather against his claim that this centre was located in the Ncar
East. Many scholars objected to an intcrpretatio~lthat ran counter to
European convictio~lsof their own superior creativity and which
derived civilizatio~lfrom outside Europc. Carl Schuchardt, Adolf
Furtwangler, and other German archaeologists maintained that
Mycenaean civilization was the creation of 'Aryan' invaders from the
north; while Montclius' thesis was opposed in a more general
fashion by scholars such as Matthaus Much (1907) and the French
prehistorian Salomon Rcinach in his book Le Mirage oriental (The
Eastern Mirage) (1893) (SklenPi- 1983: 145). Overthrowing Montelius' scheme required, however, either ignoring or refuting his
chronology, which most4mpartial prehistoria~lswere convinced was
based on sound evidence.
There were, however, non-scientific reasons as well as scientific
ones for the support given to Montelius. His diffusionist views
opi~lions about human
clearly accordcd with the co~~servative
that wcrc fasl~ionablcat the end of the nincteenth
century. T r ~ c i n gthe origins of European civilization to the Ncar

Culture-historical archaeology
East also appealed to many Christians as a reaffirmation of the
biblical vicw of world history. It furthcr accordcd with a biblically
based intcrprctation of history dating from thc mcdieval period that
saw successive empires - Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic Greek,
and Roman - transferring the centre of powcr and crcativity westward from the Ncar East to Europc. Finally, throughout thc nineteenth ccntilry Europea~lpowers, cspccially England and France,
had bccn intervening to an ever greater dcgrcc it1 thc political and
cconomic .~ff.~irsof thc Ncar East (Silbcrn~an1982). A vicw of
prehistory which saw the Western Europcan nations rather than the
Arab peoples as thc true hcirs of thc ancicnt civilizations of the Ncar
East helped to justify Europc's colonial intcrvcntions in that region,
just as such folk lore justified the European colonization of Africa.
This interpretation of early cultural development in the Ncar East as
constituting thc origins of Epropean civilization may help to explain
why Montclius' arguments wcrc morc popular in France and
England than in Germany, where intcrventio~lsin the Ncar East
began only towards thc end of the ninetcentl~ccntury.
Montclius did not subscribe ,to racial intcrprctations of human
history. Moreover, while he belicvcd that diffusionary proccsses
accounted for the sprcad of civilization to Europc in prehistoric
times, he saw evolutionary oncs explaining its origins in thc Ncar
East. As the citizcn of a geographically pcriphcral nation whose
cultural and academic lifc 'was bcing transformcd in thc nineteenth
century by influences coming principally from Germany, hc must
have regarded diffusion as a powcrful stimulus for changc. Whilc he
was the first great archaeological innovator to bc strongly influcnced
by a specifically diffusionist view of culturc, his position in the
debate about human inventiveness was a modcratc one and much of
his thinlcing continued in an evolutionist mode.

T h e co&ept ofcuZtwe
In the late nineteenth century a growing preoccupation with cthnicity encouraged the development of the concept of thc archaeological culture and of the culture-Historical approach to the study of
prehistory. Archaeologists in Scandinavia and Central Europe
began to draw an explicit analogy bctwccn thc numcrous gcographically restricted remains of n distinctivc chnractcr that thcy

A history of archaeological thought

were finding and ethnographic culturcs. Kroeber and Kluckhohn

(1952) have documentcd how in the course of the eighteenth century
pl~ilosophersbegan to use the French word
French and Gcr~lla~l
'culture', which originally had bcen applicd to agricultural pursuits,
to dcsignatc human progress and cnlightenmcnt (sclf-cultivation).
In Gcr~lla~lp
the word came to dcsignatc the customs of individual
socictics, especially thc cohcsivc, slowly changing ways of lifc
ascribed to peasant and tribal groups as opposed to the cosmopolitan, rapidly changing 'civilizatiotl' of modern urban centres. After
1780works on ICulturgeschichte (culturc history) began to proliferate
and, beginning in 1843, the Gcrman ethnologist Gustav IClcmm
(1802-67) pi~blishedethnographic data in books titled Allgemeine
Cultur-Geschichte der Menschheit (Gcncral Culturc History of
Humanity) (1843-52). Thc English ethnologist E. B. Tylor was
aware of IClcmm's usage as early as 1865 but it was only in Primitive
Culture (1871)that he adopted the word culture and providcd it with
its classic definition as 'that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and other capabilities and
habits acquired by man as a rncmbcr of society' (p. I). From this
holistic or proccssual vicw of culturc it WAS an easy step to a partitive
one of individual cultures as ways of life trans~llittcdby spccific
pcoplcs from gcncration to gcncration, a concept popularized by
Ratzcl along wit11 diffusionism. In his G~schichtedes AlteYthunzs
(History of Ancient Tin~es),which began to appear in 1884, the
historian Eduard Mcyer (1855-1930) wrotc of Egyptian, Greek,
Trojan, and Mycenaean cultures (Mcinander 1981: 101). In the works
of Hcinrich Schlicmann and others the terms Aegean, Mycenacan,
Minoan, Hclladic, and Cyciadic distinguished spccific Bronze Age
civilizations of the eastern Mcditerranca~l(Daniel 1950: 243).
'Thc labelling of geographically and temporally restricted asscmblagcs of prehistoric archaeological material as cultures or civilizations and their identification as thc remains of ethnic groups sccms
to have occurred independently to a number of archaeologists. In
Childc's (193sb: 3) vicw, the concept of the arcl~aeologicalculture
was 'forced' upon Scandinavian, Central European, and Italian
archacologists by the wealth of material that their excavations wcrc
rcvcaling for Neolithic and latcr periods. Yet it is also clear that this
generally occurrcd first in Central Europe and adjacent regions
where thcrc had bccn a longstanding interest in tracing ethnic

Culture-historical archaeology
aidentities in the archaeological record. As early as 1866 the Norwegian archaeologist Olof Rygh interpreted distinctive spear points
and arrowheads found in his country as thc products of a particular
Stone Age 'culture and people' and by 1871 he had noted the
existence of 'two Stonc Age cultures and two Stone Age peoples' in
Norway (Mcinandcr 1981: 106). A. Gotzc was referring to thc
Bandkcramik and othcr Neolithic cultures in 1891; V. V. Hvojko to
the Tripolye culture in 1901; and A. A. Spitsyn to thc Fatyanovo
culturc in 1905 (ibid. 103, 107). In 1908 Raphacl Pumpclly, an
American geologist turncd archaeologist, who was excavating at the
stratificd sitc of Anau in Ccntral Asia, used the term culturc to
distinguish successive level; of occupation at that sitc, explaining
that 'culturc' was employed as a synonym for civilization (p. xxxv).
In some cases it is possible to trace the process by which specific
cultures were recognized. Following the cxcavations at a Bronze
Agc cemetery at ~ n f t i c in
e Czechoslovakia, archaeologists began to
identify ~nineticc-likefinds in nearby regions and finally organized
culture. In a similar manner thc protothese to establish a ~116tice
Slavic Burgwall-type pottcry that thc German prehistorian Rudolf
Virchow (1821-1902) had dcfincd in Ccntral Europe in 1870 was
broadened into the conccpt'of a Burgwall culture (Sklenil1983: 110).

Kossinna and the ,culture-historicalapproach

Despite these diverse beginnings, the concept of the archaeological
culture was not defined and systematically applied to the interprctation of archaeological data until Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931)
published Die Herkunft der ~ e m k n e n(The Origin of the Germans)
in 1911.Inspired by a fanatical patriotism, Kossinna dcclared arcllacology to bc the most national ofiscicnccs and the ancicnt Germans to
be the most noble subject for archaeological research. Although he
had bccn trained in philosophy, hc turncd to archaeology in an
effort to ascertain the original, homcland of the Indo-Europeanspeaking pcoplcs and hencc of the Germans. H e was appointed
Professor of Archacology at the University of Berlin and in 1909
founded the German Socicty for Prehistory, which was soon
rcnamed the Socicty for German Prehistory to emphasize its nationalistic goals. H e attacked fellow-German archaeologists for their
interests in classical archaeology and Egyptology, which he implied

A history of archaeological thought

of a lack of patriotism, if not a betrayal of the German
nation (Sklcnai 1983: 148-9). Die Herkunft der Germanen was the
first systematic cxpositio~lof his approach to archaeology, which
was a mixturc of importallt thcorctical innovatior~sand a fanciful
glorification of G c r l a n prehistory as that of a biologically pure
rnastcr race. His \vork hclpccl to reinforce Gcrman nationalism and
\\Ion the favour of conscr\~ntivcs,such ;IS Field Marshal l'aul von
Hindcnburg, and latcr of the National Socialist mo\lcmcnt.
Although Kossinna died in 1931,his interpretation of G c r m ~ nprchistol-y bccamc the main component in the c~~rriculum
that the N z i
govcrnmcnt adopted for teaching prehistory in Gcrma11 schools
(Frick 1934). Under the Nazi regime his Society for Germall l'rchistory was rcnamcd the Imperial Union fbr German Prehistory and
a large number of new teaching positioils was cstablisl~cdfor his
followers in Gcrman universities; whilc many archaeologists who
wcrc politically or racially anathema to the govcrllmcnt or who
opposed Kossinna's views \vcrc dismissed from their positions and
had to lcavc Gcrmnny (Sklc~~rii
1983: 159; Fowler 1987).
1)cspitc Germany's impcriulistic nmbitions d;lting from before
World War I and thc Nazis' desire to establish a new world order,
German arcl~acoiogistsproduced ollly an extrcmcly strident version
of the nationalist archacology that more often sought to defend the
interests ot'smallcr or weaker ctlinic groups. They did not succeed,
as Lubbock had done, in crc;lting a truly impcri~listicarch;~cology,
based on a vision of what had happened in thc past that would serve
rhc interests of their country by winning widcsprcad support
abroad. Because of ICossinna's political orientation, it is necessary to
mai~ltaillan unusual lcvcl of objectivity if his positive contributiolls
arc to bc separated from thc pcrllicious aspects of his work. It should
also bc rcmcmbcrcd that in illtctprcting atcl~acologicalcvidc~lcein I
way that encouraged Gcr~nansto regard Slavs and all othcr pcoplcs
as infcrior to thcrnselvcs and cxcuscd aggrcssioll against thcsc
pcoplcs, Kossinna was 1101 acting differently from thc anlatcur and
scmi-profcssional archaeologists \v11o in North America, Africa, and
Australia wcrc portraying native pcoplcs as inferior to Europeans. 111
different ways arcl~acologyin each region rcflcctcd racist attitudes
that had become widcsprcad in Wcstcril civilizatio~lin thc coursc of
the twcnticth ccnt~~r!~.
Kossinna proposed that from Uppcr Palacolitl~ictimes onward

Culture-historical archaeology
the archacological record of Central Europe could be organized as a
mosaic of cultures (IGltttren o r Kultur-Gwppe), the location and
contents of which altcrcd ovcr timc. O n thc basis of his belief that
cultures arc incv~tablya reflection of ethnicity, he argued that
similarities and diffcrcllccs in material culturc corrclatc with similar~tics. ~ n ddiffcrcticcs in ethnicity. Hcncc clearly defined cultural
provinces always con-clatc w ~ t hmajor ethnic groups o r pcoplcs,
such as the Germans, Celts, and Slavs, while individual cultures
correspond with tribes, such as thc Germanic-speaking Saxons,
Vandals, Lombarcls, and Burgund~ans. Like many othcr archacologists, including Montclius, Kossinna bclicvcd that culturr~lcontinuity indicated cthnic continuity. HCIICChc argued that, by inapping the distributions of types of artifacts that wcrc characteristic of
specific trlbal groups, it would bc possible to dctcrminc whcrc thcsc
groups had livcd at diffcrcnt pcriods in prchistory, a procedure that
hc called scttlcmcnt archacology (Szedlungsarchiiolugie).By this he
did not mean the study of habitation sites but rather the dclincatioll
of whcrc particular cthnic groups had livccl. H c bclicvcd that by
known t r i b ~groups
with particular archacoidentifying h~~torically
logical culturcs for thc early historical period, it would become
possible to trace them backwards in timc archacologically. At some
point it would no longer bc possible to dist~nguishindividual
Gcrm.ln tribe.\, alncc they would not yet have diffcre~tiatcdfrom
c ~ c hother, but arch.lcologists could still distinguish bctwccn
Gcrmans, Slavs, Celts, and other major groups of Indo-Europeans.
For still inorc rcnlotc pcriods it might only be possible to diffcrcntiate Indo-Europeans fro111 11011-Indo-Europeans. Kossinna was not
only the first arcl~acologistto usc the concept of thc archacological
culture systematically but also the first t o apply thc direct historical
approach to thc study of a large region.
In a11 of his latcr writings Kossinna specifically idcntificd cult~iral
and ethnic variations wit11 racial diffcrc~~ccs.
In particular hc
acccptcd the com~nonlyheld bclicf that thc original Indo-Europeanspcalcing pcoplcs and hence the direct ancestors of thc Germans werc
nlcmbcrs of the blond, longhcadcd Nordic (or Aryan) racial group
and that racial characteristics wcrc the fundamc!ltal dcterrninants of
11uma11 bcl~aviour.1.ossinna- also acccptcd Klcmm's distinction
between I<ulturvulker, or culturally creative peoples, and Naturvuler, or c u l t ~ ~ r ~passive
pcoplcs. For him this was a distinction

A history of archacological thought

Culture-historical archaeology

bctwccl~Indo-Europeans, and above all Gcrmans, and all othcr

peoplcs. H c bclicved that thc Indo-Europeans could bc traccd back
to the carly Mcsolitllic Maglcmosian culture found in northern
Gcr~nany.In particular he traccd thcir origins to the vicinity of
Schlcswig and Holstein, which Germany Ilnd recently annexed from
l>cnmnrk. 13y claiming ~ n a s i n ~ uanticl~lity
fol- the c~~lt~lr;ll
chronology of Germany, he sougllt to demonstrate that this region had
been the centre of cultural dcvclopmcnt for Europe and thc Near
East. Late Neolithic flint daggers were interpreted as cvidcl~ceof a
noble Gemman pride in weapons and as prototypes for later bronze
oncs, while Bronze Age trumpets wcrc construed as cvidcncc of the
superior musical ability of the Gcrnlans in prchistoric timcs. In a
flight of fantasy hc proposed that cvcn the alphabet had a Stone Agc
European origin rather than a Phoenician one.
Bccausc morc advanccd cultures were an cxprcssion of biological
superiority, thcy could be spread from one region to anothcr only by
migrations of pcople, not by diffusion. Waves of Indo-Europeans
were imagined to have migrated south and east, conquering native
populations and using them to build civilizations in the Ncar East,
Grcccc, and Italy. Each of these waves in turn, however, had
interbred with local populations and as a result had impaired their
crcativc abilities. Hcncc cvcn the Indo-European-spcal<i~~g
of ancient Grcccc and Italy cvcntually bccamc incapable of sustained
cultural crcativity. ICossinna argucd that because the Germans had
stayed in thcir original hon1cland thcy rcmaincd the racially purest
and thcrcforc the most talented and crcativc of all thc IndoEuropean pcoplcs. Thcy alone remained capable of carrying out the
historical rcsponsibi1it)l of crcating civilizatio11 and imposing it
upon inferior pcoplcs. Hence the Gcrn~a~ls
bccamc the first-born
of the Indo-Europcans. Kossinna also vicwcd
archacology as establishing a historical right to tcrritory. Whcrcvcr
allcgcdly German artifacts wcrc found was dcclarcd ancicnt Gcrman
tcrritory, which modern Gcrmanjr either held by right or was
cntitlcd to win back. The same argument did not, of coursc, apply to
non-Gcrman groups, such as the Slavs, who in mcdieval timcs had
scttlcd as far wcst as thc modcrn bordcr bctwccn East and West
Germany (Klcjn 1974).
Finally and more positively Kossinna stressed the nccd to Icarn as
or at least Gcrmans, had
much as possible n b o ~ ~ t I I ~ I ~ I I groups,

lived in prchistoric timcs. Culturcs were not to be dcfined simply as

artifact asscmblagcs but archacologists wcrc urged t o try to dctcrminc thc naturc of prchistoric lifc-styles. In his own work, Kossinna
paid little attention to archacological cvidcncc o f housc typcs, burial
customs, and rituals but bascd his intcrprctations on artifacts in
museum collections. His spcculations about prchistoric Gcrman lif'c
oftcn were fanciful in thc tradition of Stukclcy and his latter-day
tbllowcrs. Yct, in its intcntion, his holistic view o f individual
archacological culturcs had morc in common with thc Scandinavian
approach to archacology than i t had with "scicntific' archacology
modclled on Frcnch and English Palaeolithic studics.
Kossinna's work, for all of its chauvinistic nonscnsc and its oftcn
amateurish quality, markcd thc final rcplaccnlcnt of an evolutionary
approach to prchistory by a historical onc. By organizing archacological data for cach pcriod of prehistory into a mosaic of archaeological cultures, he sought not simply to document how Europcans
had lived at differmt stages of prchistoric development but also to
learn how particular peoples, many of whom could be identified as
thc ancestors of modcrn groups, had lived in thc past and what had
happened to them over time. His approach offered a means to
account for the growing cvidcncc of geographical as wcll as chronological variations in thc archacological rccord. H c must thcrcforc bc
recognized as an innovator whose work was of major importance for
thc development of archacology.


Childe and The Dawn of European Civilization

Yct Kossinna had little direct influence outside the Gcrmanspeaking countries, no doubt because his chauvinistic intcrprctatiolls of prehistory wcrc so repellent to othcr nationalities. The
British of thc Edwardian pcriod wcrc as proud of thcir suyposcd
Nordic or Aryan racial affinities as wcrc the Germans. Yet, unlike the
Germans, who could trace their cthnic group back into prehistoric
timcs as the sole occupants of most of thcir modern homeland, the
British wcrc kecnly aware that England had bcen conquered and
scttlcd in turn by Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans. British
archacologists postulated that similar invasions had occurred in
prehistoric timcs. While some English claimed that the prchistoric
Celtic pcoplcs wcrc only thcir prcdcccssors and not thcir ancestors,

A history of archaeological thought

most historians argucd that what was biologically and culturally
most desirable in successive i~ldigc~lous
populations had combined
with what was most advanced in invading groups t o produce a
pcoplc w1i.osc hybrid vigour, coniposcd of various European stocks,
made thcm the best in tlic world ( l i o ~ ~1972:
s c 71-2). This historical
chain of increasing superiority corresponded with a nlodern
regio~ialand ethnic hierarchy within Britain. The dominant uppcr
and upper-middle classcs viewed thcmsclvcs as the spiritual if not
the biological heirs of the Normans, while the English as a wl~olc
wcrc identified with the carlicr Saxons, and the lilore rcnlotc Celtic
fringe with the still carlicr and morc primitive British.
Because of their positive attitude towards foreign influence,
British archaeologists were rcccptivc to Montclius' arguments that
prehistoric Europc owed much of its cultural dcvclopmcnt t o the
Near East. Yet thcy did not hold his vicws and thosc of niorc
Eurocentric archaeologists to be mutually exclusive. One of the two
1ilai11themes of John Mprcs' The DUU~YL
of History (1911) was the
spread of technology from Egypt and Mesopotami~to Europe. The
second was his belief that all hicrarcliical societies developed w l ~ c n
politically dynamic, pastoral pcoples, such as the Se~ilitcsand thc
Indo-Europeans, wcrc forced by drought to Ica\~ctheir homelands
and to conquer and rule politically less innovativc peasant socictics.
According to Myrcs thc Indo-Europeans, who111 he believed to be
non~adsfrom the steppes of Central Asia, were particularly adept at
imposing their language, bclicfs, and social customs on conquered
peoples, whilc adopting the latter's material culture. O u t of the
encounter between cultural influe~lccsthat had been transmitted to
political sltills a vital
Europc from the Ncar East and I~ido-Europea11
and distinctive Europcan way of life was created. Sinlilar vicws were
held by Arthur Evans (1896)) who was Myres' colleague at Oxford
University. Yet, whilc Myrcs wrote of pcoplcs in The Dawn of
Histoy, lic did not yet rcfcr to archacological cultures. Later individual cultures were mcationcd by archacologists such as Myres
(1923a, b), Harold Pealte (1922), and Cyril Fox (1923) and i n M a n and
his Past 0 . G. S. Crawford (1921: 78-9) discussed geographical
methods for delineating their origins, extent, and frontiers. Yet no
cffort was made to apply the concept of the archaeological culture in
a systeniatic fashion prior to tlie publication of V. Gordon Childc's
(1893-1957) The Dawn of European Civilization (1925a). Through this

Culture-historical archaeology


Childc with a party of workmen at Skara Brae, Orkney, 1928-30

book, w h ~ c hGlyn Daniel (1950: 247) has called 'a new starting-point
for prehistoric arcl~acology',the archacological culturc bccamc the
worliing tool of all Europcan archaeologists.
Childc was born in Sydncy, Australia in 1893, the sot1 of a conscrv:~tivc Ch~irchof England minister. H c studied Classics at tllc
University of Sydney, whcrc hc bccamc comrnittcd to socialist
politics. At ah early stage he also grcw intcrestcd, likc Icossinna, in
locating the homcland of the Indo-European-spc~ki~lg pcoplcs. H c
wcnt 011 t o Oxford Univcrsity where hc studicd with Myrcs and
Evans. In 1916 he returned to Australia. There he engaged in various
left-wing political activitics until 1921. Then, disillusioned with
politics, hc returned to the study o f archaeology. His already extensive command of European languages and an acute visual memory
enablcd him t o visit and asscmblc data from muscums and cxcavations across thc wholc of Europc. H c presc~ltedthe results of this
research in two boolis: The Dawn ofEuvopean Civilization, which was

A history of archaeological thought

a synthcsis of European prehistory to the cnd of the ~ r o n z ~e ~ande

The Danube in Prehistoly (1929), a more detailcd study of a hithcrto
little-known rcgion. Thc thcorctical basis of his approach was outlined at thc beginning of thc latter book.
In The Dawn of European Civilization Childc adopted Kossinna's
basic concept of thc archaeological culture and his identification of
such culturcs as thc rcmains of prchistoric pcoplcs, whilc rcjccting
all of the racist connotations that Kossinna had attributcd to thcm.
He combined this concept with Montclius' chronology and the
bclicf that in prchistoric times tcchnological skills had diffuscd to
Europe from their placc of origin in thc Near East. His interprctations of European prchistory were also influcnccd by thosc of Myrcs
and Evans, inasmuch as he stressed the creativity of prehistoric
Europeans to a much greater extent than Montelius had done. H e
defined an archaeological culture, unfortunately with misleading
brcvity, as 'ccrtain typcs of rcmains - pots, implcmcnts, ornamcnts,
burial rites, house forms - constantly recurring together' (1929:
v-vi). He stressed that each culture had to be delineated individually
in terms of constituent artifacts and that cultures could not be
dcfined simply by subdividing the ages or epochs of the evolutionary
archaeologists cithcr spatially or temporally. Instcad the duration
and geographical limits of cach culturc had to bc cstablishcd
and individual culturcs aligncd chronologicaily by
means of stratigraphy, scriations, and synchronisms. In this way he
intcrprctcd thc prchistory of the wholc of Europc in tcrlns of a
complex mosaic of cultures. While this mosaic was approximated
using maps and tables in The Dawn of European Civilization, a
detailed chart showing the chronological and geographical distributions of all the archaeological cultures known in the Danube
Valley was published in The Danube in Prehistory and a chart by
Childe and M. C. Burkitt covering all of Europe appeared in Antiquity in 1932. Thcsc charts wcrc prototypcs for ones that othcr
archaeologists would use40 rcpresent regional cultural chronologies
around the world.
Most of Childe's cultures were defined on the basis of a small
number of diagnostic artifacts. Yet his selection of these artifacts
involved a functionalist view of material culture. H e argued
that the
historical significance of different types of artifacts could only be
ascertained by considering what role they had played in prehistoric


Childe's first chart correlating the archaeological cultures o f Central

Europe, from The Danube in Prehistovy, 1929

cultures. H e dccidcd that home-madc pottery, ornamcnts, and

burial rites tended to rcflect local tastcs and were relatively rcsistant
to change; hence they were useful for identifying spccific cthnic
groups. On the other hand the markcd utilitarian valuc of tools,
wcapons, and many othcr items of technology causcd thcm to
diffuse rapidly from one group to anothcr, cithcr as a rcsult of tradc
or copying. Hence these tjrpes of artifacts were especially valuable
for assigning neighbouring cultures to the same period and cstablishing cultural chrollologies prior to the invention of radiocarbon
dating (Childe 1929: viii, 248; cf. Binford 1983a: 399-400). Childc
concluded that this operation supported the same picturc of thc
diffusion of material culture westward across Europc as had
emerged from Montclius' work. '

A history of archaeological tlio~~glit

While diagnostic artifacts might scrvc to define an archacological

culturc, they did not suffice to clcscl-ihc it. Fol- that purpose cvcry
artif~ctW;IS rclc\rant. (:hilcic \\:as i~itcrcstcd in vic\ving archncological cultures not sinlyly as collections of traits but also as tile
mcans of providing an cthnographic interpretation of how specific
groups hiid livcd in prchistoric ti~ncs.111 the first edition of T/JC
l l n ~ v ncf Ezrwpcnu~Ci~~ilizntioui
lic attempted to s ~ ~ ~ - u ~ n awhat
could be inferred about thc way of life associated with cach major
each culture morc systematicculture. In later editions, he s~~rvcycd
ally, covering - i n s o f ~ ras this was possible - economy, social and
political organization, and religious beliefs (Childc 1939; 19~6a:
129-31). How people had livcd in the past was a concern that both he
and Kossinna shared. Whcn it came to interpreting cultural change
Childc had rccoursc, as Montclius had done, to diffusio~iand
migration, which were both cxter~lalfactors. Cultural continuity
was ascribed to the abscncc of thcse factors. His approach thus bore
a close rcscinblancc to the diffusionist ethnology found in Europc
and North Anlcrica in the 1920s.
The Daam of'Europenn Civilization provided a nlodel that was to be
applicd to the study of archaeology throughout Europc into the
1950s. It was an approach that Childe, despite his own changing
interests, followcd closclp in his latcr regional syntheses, such as T ~ E
Prehistory ofScotlaad (1935a) and P~ehistoricCummuubities of the British
Isles (194oa). The primary aim of archaeologists who adoptcd this
approach was no longcr to interpret the archaeological record as
c\ridcncc of stages of cultural dcvclopmcnt. Instead thcy sought to
idcntifjr often nameless prchistoric pcoplcs by mcans of archacological cultures and to trace thcir origin, movcmcilts, and intcraction. Thc Neolithic period was no longcr sccn primarily as a stage
of cultural dcvclopmcnt but rathcr as a mosaic of sharply dclillcatcd
cultural groups. The questions being addressed wcre of a particularist, historical variety. Thcrc was also a general intcrcst in lcarning
how spccific pcoplcs had livcd in prchistoric times.
Childc was fully awarc of thc revolution that he had brought
about in archacolog)~.111 1925 hc noted with satisfaction that the
clarity with which the migrations of ~lamclcssprchistoric pcoplcs
stood out in the arcl~acologicalrccord when i t was studied as a
to fellow ; ~ ~ - c I ~ ; i e o l ~(Childc
mosaic of culturcs 143s a rc\~cI:lti~n
1925b). He thus distinguished bctwccn an olclcr cvolutio~laryarchac-

Culture-historical archaeology
ology and a new culture-historical approach. H c also observed, with
rcfcrcncc to the British and French rathcr than the Scalidinavian
school, that in the ninctcc~itlicentury cvol~~ti~~iar~\~arcl~acolo~ists
had bccomc more interested in artifacts than in thcir makcrs. H c
claimed that in constructing evolutio~laryscquc~~ccs
they had
trcatcd artifacts as dcad fossils rathcr than as cxprcssions of living
socictics (194oa: 3). I11 his opinion scientific progrcss had lcft archacologists with no altcrnativc but t o adopt thc concrctc mcthods of
history. H c was correct in portraying thc development of a historical
approdch to archaeology as a natural and logical progrcssion, to the
extent that culturc-historical archaeology was cquippcd, as cvolutionary archaeology had not becn, to study and try to cxplain
geographical as well as tcmporal variation in thc archacological
rccord. H e was wrong, howcvcr, in implying that his mcthod for
interpreti~lgthe archacological record was necessarily morc objective than evolutionary archaeology. The conccpt of the archacological culturc, which he had borrowcd from Kossinna, and thc
diffusionist vicws of Montclius wcrc both closcly rclatcd to thc
tvidcly hcld intcrprctations of human bchaviour that had dcvcloped
as a rcaction against cultural evolutionism in Wcstcrn Europe bcginning in thc latc ninctccnth century. Thc new culture-historical view
of prehistory was as dccply rootcd in a pcssiliiistic asscssmcnt of
cultural change and human creativity as thc prcvious evolutionary
vicw had bccn rooted in an optimistic onc.
Childc, dcspite his left-wing political radicalism, did not wholly
escape thc racism that was part of this ncw outlook. In The Aryans
(1926) hc argucd that thc Indo-Europeans did not succeed bccausc
thcy posscsscd a matcrial culture or natural intclligcllce that was
supcrior to those of othcr people. Instead thcy wcre successful
bccausc they spoke a superior languagc and bcncfitted from the
more competent mentality it made possible. H e pointed out that thc
Greeks and Romans had only a dilutcd Nordic physical type but that
cach had realized the high cultural potential that was inhcrcnt in
thcir language. This intcrprctation contrasted with Kossinna's belief
that ethnic and racial mixture in thcse countries had resultcd in
cultural decline. Yct at the cnd of The Aryans Childc bowcd to
prcvailing racist scntimcnts by suggesting that thc 'superiority in
physique' of the Nordic pcoplcs niadc thcm thc appropriate initial
bearers of a superior language (Childc 1926: 211). In latcr ycars, as hc

A 11istor.y of archaeological thought


adopted other explanations for cultural variation, he repudiated

these early speculations.

National a~chaeology
The culture-historical approach, with its emphasis on the prehistory
of specific peoples, provided a model for national archaeologies not
only in Europe but around the world. It remains the dominant
approach to archaeology in many countrlcs. Like nationalist history,
to which it is usually closely linkcd, thc culture-historical approach
can bc used to bolster thc pride and moralc of nations or ethnic
groups. It is most often used for this purpose among peoples who
fccl thwarted, thrcatcncd, or dcprivcd of thcir collcctivc rights by
more powerful nations or in countries where appeals for national
unity are being made to counteract serious internal divisions.
Nationalist archaeology tends to emphasize the more recent past
rather than the Palaeolithic period and draws attention to the
political and cultural acliievcmcnts of indigenous ancient civilizations. There is also, as Danicl Wilson (1876,I : 247) noted long ago,
a tendency to glorify the 'primitive vigour' and creativity of people
assumed to be national ancestors rather than to draw attention to
thcir low cultural status.
Thc political problcnls and revolutionary cl~angesthat overtook
China beginning in the ninctccntli century produced a rcncwed
i~itcrcstin historiography. In particular it Icd to thc dcvelopn~c~lt
a more critical attitude towards ancicnt tcxts (Wang 1985: 184-8).
The study of art objects and calligraphy was a long-established part
of the Chinese tradition of historiography. Field archaeology developed, however, within the context of the reformist May 4th Movement, which, beginning in 1919, sought to replace traditional literaiy
scl~olarshipwith scientific knowledge from the West. There was a
receptive audience for geology, palaeontology, and other sciences
capable of collecting empirical data from the earth.
Thc first major archaeological fieldwork was carried out by
Western scientists attached to the Geological Survey of China,
which had been established in Peking in 1916.The Swedish geologist
J. G. Andersson (1934: 163-87) identified the Neolithic Yangshao
culture in 1921,whilc major work at the Palaeolithic site of Zhoukoudian began under thc direction of the Canadian anatomist Davidson


Black in 1926 (Hood 1964). The first native Chinese scholar to direct
the excavation of an archaeological site was Li Ji (Li Chi) (18961979), who had earned a doctorate at Harvard University in 1923.
From 1928 to 1937, as first head of the Department ofArchaeology in
the National Research Institute of History and Philology of
Academia Sinica, he dug at the important late Shang site of Yinxu,
near Anyang. These excavations, carried out at an early historical site
that yielded many inscriptions and works of art, played a major role
in training a gcncration of Chincsc archaeologists and also in
turning the new sciencc of,archaeology into an instrument for
studying Chinese history. They also fuclled a resurgence of pride in
China's ancicnt past. This turning towards history is all thc morc
significant in view of Li's training as an anthropologist.
Foreign scholars, such as Andersson, sought to trace the origins of
Chinese culture, or at leaqt of major aspects of it, such as the
Neolithic painted pottery, back to the Near East, thereby implying
that Chinese civilization was derivative from the West. Chinese
archaeologists sought the origin of Chinesc civilization in the Neolithic Longshan culture, where Wcstern influence seemed lcss
evident. Later they argued that Yangshao and Longshan represented
a continuum of development that culminated in Shang civilization
(W. Watson 1981: 65-6). Archaeological research was curtailed by
thc Japancsc invasion in 1937and, following thc Communist victory
in 1949, many archaeologists, including Li, rctrcated to Taiwan
taking valuable collections with; them.
Marxism had begun to influence the study of ancient China as
early as 1930 in the writings of Guo Moruo (1892-1978). A writer and
revolutionary, Guo was forced to flee to a still relatively liberal Japan
in 1927 to escape Chiang Kai-Shek's death squads. During the ten
years he lived there he produced a series of studies on ancient
inscriptions and the stylistic evolution of bronze artifacts. Unlike Li
and his associates, who were primarily interested in art, religion, and
ideology, Guo stressed production as the basis of society and interpreted the Shang and Zhou Dynasties as examples of a slave society.
More than any other Chinese'scholar, Guo sought to place his
country in a comparative framework of world history (Wang 1985:
188). After the Communist revd~utionhe became a major figure in
Chinese intellectual life. From 1950 until his dcath in 1978 he was
President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A history of arcl~aeologicalthougl~t
After 1949 archaeology became a statc-dircctcd activity. Except
whcn thc valuc of any study of the past was challcngcd by cxtrcmists
during the Cultural Revolution, archaeology has been supported, 11s
it always has been in the Soviet Union, as an important instrumc~lt
of political education. This is done in accordance with Mao
Zedong's dictunl that 'the past should scrve the present'. A National
B ~ ~ r e aofu Cultural Relics ad~llinistcrsthousands of provincial and
local muscu~nseither directly or through provincial and district
Bureaus of Culture. Vast amounts of archaeological data havc been
unearthed througl~outChina in the course of unpreccdc~ltcdindustrial and agricultural dcvclopmcnt and, because accidental finds now
quickly come to the attention of professional archacologists, information about the past has incrcascd vcry rapidly (Chang 1981:168).
Within the research divisions of Academia Sinica, Palaeolithic
archaeology is separated from thc study of the Ncolithic and historical periods and attached to the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropolog~~.
This arrallgcnlcllt may reflect a lack
of close ide~ltificatio~l
of the earliest periods of hutnan dcvelopnlcnt
with a specifically national history, although there is much pride in
thc antiquity of China's Palacolithic record. 0 1 1 a practical lcvcl this
division reflects the close working relationship among Palacolithic
archacologists, geologists, and palacontologists.
In kcepi~lgwith nationally accepted Marxist tenets, thc Chincsc
past is conccptualizcd in terms of a unilincar sequence of stages:
primitive society, slavc socicty, and feudal socicty. There is no
qucstio~lingof this model. So far vcry little arcl~aeologicalrcscarch
has been directed towards examining Marxist thcorics of social
evolution, which would involve thc investigation of subsistence
systcms, scttlcmcnt patterns, trade, and social and political organization. This may partly reflect the scarcity of wcll-trained personnel,
but it has also been attributcd to unpredictable shifts in Chinese
govcrnmcnt policy, which have discouragcd thc cxprcssion of opinions on topics that arc ~potcntially politically scnsitivc. Instead,
archaeological finds arc interpreted pragmatically to promote a
variety of political goals. Thcy dramatize the cruelty and oppressio~l
that characterized life for the Chinese masscs under successive royal
dynasties, and which contrast with the beneficial social and
cconomic changes that havc been the goal of go\~crnmcntpolicy in
China since 1949.The great tombs, temples, and other nlonulllcnts

of the past arc also interpreted as testimonials t o the skill and energy
of the worlccrs and artisans who crcatcd thcm. Last, but not Icast,
finds arc used to cultivate national dignity and pridc
by documenting China's accomplish~nentsover the ages.
Dcspitc a Marxist vcnccr, Chincsc archacology has conti~lucdto
displ.1~strongly traditional features. It plays a significant rolc in
promoting national unity, as historiography in gcncral did prior t o
1949.Until recently the intcrprctation of thc archaeological rccord
'~ccordedwith longst~ndingnortl~crn-centredChincsc traditions.
Chinese matcrial culture and i~lstitutionshave bccn interprctcd as
first evolving in the Huang-he Valley and gradually spreading from
there southward to producc the yan-Chincsc culturc of thc Iron
Agc. Thc cultural creativity of othcr parts of China was thcrcby
minimized. In the past at lcast onc Westcrn archacologist has been
attackcd for drawing attention to the sophisticatio~land independent character of the 'provincial' Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures
of southcrn China (W. Watson 1981:68-9). This Chinese view has
been vigorously rejected by Vietnamese archacologists who see in
the Bronze Agc Dong-s'on culture of Southeast Asia evidence of a
'decp 2nd solid basis' for a distinctivc cultural tradition, which in
their own country 'absolutcly rcfuscd to bc submcrgcd by Chincsc
culture while many othcr culturcs at that timc wcrc subjugatcd and
(Van Trong 1979: 6). It has rcmaincd for scholars
working outside China t o identify the distinctivc cultural characteristics and early dcvclopment of central and southcrn China
(Meacham 1977).
Western-stylc field archaeology was introduced into Japan cven
earlier than into China by American and European natural scientists
and physicians who were hired to tcach there, especially after the
Mc~jirevolution of 1868,whcn the ncw government dctcrmincd to
catch up with advances in Wcstcrn scicncc, technology, and mcdicinc. Thc most important of thcse visitors was thc American zoolowho had participated in shcllgist Edward Morsc (1838-I~ZS),
mound research in the eastern United States. H c identified and
excavated the shcll mound at Omori in 1877.Whilc none of his
students bccanle profcssional archaeologists, he interested some of
thcm in doing archaeological rescarch. Ikawa-Smith (1982:299)
points out that the leading Japanese archaeologists of thc late
ninetccntl~and early twcnticth ccnturics wcrc traincd in geology,

A history of archacological thought

zoology, or medicine and that many of them had studied in Europe

o r America. IHcncc their bnckgrouncis wcrc similar t o tliosc of the
self-traincci or i~iformallytrained professional arcl~acologistsin the
West during tlic ninetecnth century.
Altllo~lghMorse was an evolutionist, the Japancsc archaeologists
who followcd him had more in common \ x r i t l i the Europca11culturchistorical archacologists of the latc ninctcctlth century. The first
generation of Japancsc profcssio~lal arcl~acologists was Icd by
T s ~ ~ b oS i~ O ~ O (1863-1913).
In 1884 he c ~ n dseveral other scicncc
students cstablishcd the Anthropological Socicty of Tokyo and nine
years later he was appointed Professor of A~lthropology at the
University of Tokyo. H e conccivcd of anthropology, in the continental European fashion, as a branch of zoology interested in
11uma11 physical rcmai~lsand regarded archacological evidence as
clues for identifying racial groups. H e spccializcd in the study of the
Mesolithic Jonion period and by the 1930s had cstablishcd a gc~icral
chronology for it.
In 1895 historians worki~igat the I~llpcrialMuscum (rodap the
Tokyo National Museum) fou~idcclthe Arcliacological Society. It
had closer links with prc-Mciji antiquarian scl~olarshipthan did the
Anthropological Socictp of Tokyo. Its aims werc to study the
'archacologp of our country, with the view to throwing light 011
customs, institutions, culture and technologies in the successive
periods of our national history' (Ilcawa-Smith 1982: 301). Tlicsc
scholars concentrated 011 the latc prehistoric Yayoi and the protohistoric I<ofun pcriods 2nd had n special interest in fine art, as
cxcmplificd by bronzc rnirrors and weapons.
Japanesc archaeologists of all schools conti~lucdto pursue a
culture-liistorically oriented archaeology, which did not preclude all
interest in understanding 'the outline of human dcvelopn~e~lt
regularities of social transformations' (Ikawa-Smith 1982: 302). Political pressures, particularly tliosc associated with efforts to promote
national unity by strcssAig the vcncration of the cmpcror as the
descendant of the gods and thc divi~lclyappointed head of the
Japvlcsc national f.~mily, impeded archacological dcvclopnicnt at
certain pcriods. Government rcgulatio~~s
issued ill 1874 and 1880
made it difficult to excavate large b ~ ~ r i mounds,
espccially ones
identified as possible tombs of the royal family. Such excavations
were carried out in the politic all!^ relaxed atmosphere of tlic 1920s.

Culture-historical archaeology
At t h ~ tlmc
some historians also publisl~cdMarxist intcrprctations
of' J,11.>.11icscli~stoi-yin wli~charchacological data wcrc used. Fro111
tlic ninctccntl~century onwards, howcvcr, most archacologists were
careful not t o contradict officially sponsored accounts of ancicnt
Japanese history based o n the Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, and other chronlclcs recorded in the eighth century A . D . The prinl~tivcJ o l ~ ~ o ~ i
culturc, w h ~ c hwas dated prior to 1500 B . C . and thercforc antedated
thc events dcscribccl in thcsc accounts, was ascr~bcdto the Ainu by
thc ~ n ~ i t o m i sIcogcnei
Yoshik~yoand to a pre-Ainu pcoplc by
Morsc and Tsuboi, but was not considcrcd to be ancestral t o the
modcnl Japancsc. Either i~ltcrprctationjustificd the latc-ninctccnthcentury colon~zatio~l
of the island of Holikaido, wherc thc Ainu
I~vcd,by reprcsc~iti~lg
~tas the conti~luationof a historical c x p a n s i o ~ ~
of the Japanese people northward through the Japancsc archipclago
(Fawcett 1986). In the ultra-nationalist atmosphcrc of the 1930s it
bccanlc extrc~l~clp
dangerous t o engage in any rcsearch that even
inadvertently might cast doubt on Shinto myths concerning the
d ~ v i n corigin of the royal family. Thosc i~lvolvcdin such act~vitics
risked renloval from then posts and cvc~limprisonment. As a result
and linguists avoided
of thcsc pressures phys~calantl~ropolog~sts
discussions of etl~nicity,while arcl~acologistsco~lcentratcdon elabor a t ~ n gartifact typologics and did not cngagc in discussio~lso f
cultural change that could havc any bearing on the official version of
Since World War I1 archaeological activities havc increased enormously III Japan. Japanese archacologists arc proud of the technical
excellence of t h c ~ work
and strlvc to advance their undcrstandi~lgof
culture-historj~and chronology. The vast majority of them arc
i~ltcrestcdin studying material rcmains within Japan from the perspect~vcof ilatio~lalhistory. Public interest in archaeology is high,
survcys and rcscue work mandatory, and archacological finds are
widely exhibited to the public (Tanaka 1984). Archaeology has
prov~dcda view of the dcvclopmellt of the Japanese nation, people,
and culturc that has helped to fill the ideological vacuum left after
the m ~ l ~ t a r idefeat
in World War 11. For many Japancsc, archacol o g ~ c ~finds
~ l provide tang~blccontact with thc past and hclp t o
reinforce a sense of stability in a period of great social and cultural
changc and unccrta~nty.111particular, arcl~acologicalresearch and
popular accounts of archaeology arc cliclractcrizcd by a fascination

Culture-historical archaeology

A history of archaeological thought

with the origin of thc Japanese pcoplc and culture. There is a

growing tendency to tracc the Japanesc as an ethnic group as far
back as the Jomon or cven the Palaeolithic periods (Fawcett 1986).
The theory that t11c~Japaneseruling class came as conquerors from
the Asian mainland during the Yayoi pcriod, which was advanced in
the wake of Japanese ~nilitarisrnin the 194os, has also been abandoned. Nevcrtl~clcssa traditional pattcrn continues of portraying
the Japancsc ruling elite as the patrons of ncw influences, such as
writing, bureaucracy, and Buddhism, which c~ltcrcdthe country
from Korca and China. This view relates class to history in a way that
resembles interpretations offered by nationalistic historians and
prehistorians in England in thc late ninctecllth and carly twcnticth
In Mcxico the past was an object of political manipulation cven
before the Spanish conquest in 1519 (Carrasco 1982). Followit~gthe
conquest the Spanish attempted as far as possible to eliminate
non-Christian religious beliefs and traditional political loyalties by
discouraging an interest in Mcsoamcricall history and culture (Dichl
1983: 169). During thc struggles prcccdillg Mexican indcpcndc~lcein
1821, Spanish officials conti~lucdto discourage thc study of thc
pre-hispanic period, but crcoles turned to it as a source of inspiration and national identity. In thc ninctccilth cclltury thc conscrvativcs among the ruling elite regarded thc study of this period as a
worthless preoccupation with barbarism, while liberals supported it
as the investigation of a significant pcriod of Mexico's llational
history (Lorcnzo 1981).The national revolution of 1910 was successful largely as a result of armed support by peasants, who were mainly
Indians and who constituted a majority of the population. The
revolution resulted in major changcs in government policy towards
these people. The injustices of the colonial period were acknowledged and far-reaching cconomic and social rcforms werc promised.
The government also ~~ndcrtoolc
to integrate Indians into national
life and to heighten tgeir sense of self-respect by encouraging the
study of Mexico's rich pre-hispanic heritage and malting its findings
an integral part of Mexican history. In this way the government also
sought to assert Mexico's cultural distinctiveness to the rest of the
world (Gamio 1916). Large sums of money were allocated for
archaeological instruction and rescarch. A Department of Anthropology was established in 1937at thc National Polytechnical School,

which had as one of its duties to train archacologists. I t later bccamc

part of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, which
was granted an absolute monopoly to license archacological excavations throughout Mexico.
While this Institutc and ~ e i i c a narchacology as a wholc have
bccn influcnccd by trends in United Statcs archaeology, they Iiavc
maintained a strongly historicist orientation. Archaeologists scc it as
their duty to provide Mcxicans with a past of thcir own, whicli
promotcs ~lationalil~tcgrationthrough thc formation of a Iiistorical
perspective that can be shared by all elements in thc population. This
requires the humanization and popularization of prehistory. An
important aspect of this policy has bccn thc crcation of largc public
museums and the dcvclopmcnt of major archacological sitcs as
open-air muscums for thc enrcrtai,imcnt and instruction of Mexicans and foreign visitors alike (Lorcnzo 1981, 1984). Within this
common framcwork thcrc arc striking divcrgcnccs in the intcrprctation of archacological data, sbmc of which have clcarly political
connotations. These run the gamut from variaus types of Marxism
on the one hand to varying degrees of comniitmcnt
to North
Amcrican positivism on thc othcr. Tlic political uscs of archacology
havc bccn accompanied by an undcrfunding of scientifically oricntcd
rescarch. As a rcsult many of the most important long-term rescarch
projects havc bccn carried dut by forcign archacologists.
Archaeological research in India began in n colonial setting arid
for a long timc reinaincd reniotc from traditional Indian scholarship. European travellers bcgan to notc a~lcicntmonuments as early
as the sixteenth century and systcmatic scholarly intcrcst in thcsc
monuments dates from about 1750. This intcrcst was stimulated by
the realization that Sanskrit and thc modern languages of northcrn
India that are descended from it wcrc rclatcd to the major languages
of Europe; licncc studying India might bc rclcvant for understanding ancient Indo-European culture. Anlatcur British archacologists
began to examine megaliths, Buddhist stupas, and othcr archaeological sitcs with some regularity, whilc thc Archaeological Survcy
of India, first cstablishcd in 1861, published an immcnsc amount of
research under dircctors such as Alexander Cunningham (1861-s),
John Marshall (1902-31), who discovercd thc Indus Valley civilization, and Mortimcr Wheelcr ( 1 9 ~ - 8 ) . Whcclcr traincd many
Indian students in modern ficld mcthods and cllcouragcd several

A history of archaeological thought

Indian universities to begin offering instruction in archacology. Yet,

while India owes the introductio~iof archaeology to British rule,
Lallanji Gopal (1985: i) has observed that the 'glorious cultural
licritage, which was uncartlicd by archaeologists . . . aroused the
self-confidence of tlic Indian people [and] was one of the major
factors contributing to the 1ndi;un renaissance, \vhich ultimately
ushered in independence'. Chalirabarti (1982: 335) notes that, by the
time John Marshall began to cscn\?atc,tlic outlines of ancient Indian
history nnci culture Ilad bccn cstablislicd from textual and nrthistorical sources. Yet the historical image of ancient India rcnlaincd
shadowy. His excavations of sites of the Buddhist period in the
Ganges Valley and the northwest enlivened this crucial phase in the
develop~ncntof India in tlic Indian cultural co~isciousnessand hence
contributed to the growth of nationalism.
The ties between archaeology and history were made easier by
close similarities betwccn the culture-historical approach in archaeology and tlic newly emerging Indian historiography. Historians
tended to think in terms of different racial groups and vicwcd the
past as a series of niigratiolis of peoples wlio brought innovations
into India Lx~teventually were absorbed into the Indian way of life.
By labelling the Indus ci\~ilizationas prc-Vedic and attributing its
destruction to Aryan invaders, archaeologists made prehistory
co~ifornito the established pattern of Indian historical intcrpretarion (Chakrabarti 1982: 339).
Arcl~aeologphas made significant progress in India since Independence in 1947. It is well-cstablishcd in utiivcrsitics and much research
is carried out each year (Thapar 1984). Yet, while Indian archaeologists lcccp abreast of world-wide trends in thcir discipline and are
morc attracted by American anthropological archaeology than are
Japanesc or Chinese researchers (Jacobson 1979; Paddajya 1983; La1
1984), archacology remains closely linltcd to the study of ancient
history. Many Indian archaeologists arc content to attach ethnic and
linguistic labels to nPwlp discovered cultures and to interpret them
in a general, descriptive fashion. It remains to be seen how, as
research of a processual nature becomes morc familiar to Indian
archaeologists, they will relate it to this orthodox historical
Archaeology was also introduced to the Near East by Europeans,
wlio dcvelopcd local institutions for research and teaching under

Culture-historical archaeology
dc facto, if not official, colonial regimes. In particular, Western
scholars werc attracted to Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine by thc remains
of ancient civilizations that were of special intcrest to Europeans
because they were mentioned in the Bible. O n the other hand, local
attitudes toward archaeology have been colourcd by a traditionally
negative view of prc-Islamic tinlcs as an agc of religious ignorance.
In Egypt the indigenous middle class displayed considerable interest
in Pharaonic civilization within thc context of scc~llarnationalism
t l ~prevailed
in the c.lrlp p u t of the twentieth century. This intcrcst
expressed itself in strenuous efforts to ensure that Egyptians controlled the archaeological work being done in their country and that
Egyptian scholars were involved in it (J. Wilson 1964: 159-77). Thc
late Shah of Iran sought to emphasize the pre-Islamic glorics of his
country and in particular to identify his regime with thc ancient
Persian monarchy. This included a magnificent celebration of the
supposed z,sooth anniversary of thc ancient Persian kings at the
ruins of their palace in Persepolis in 1971. In the face of growing
difficulties with neighbouring Islamic, and in some cases also Arab,
states the Iraqi government has likewise paid increasing attention to
thcir country's distinctive Babylonian hcritage. O n thc other hand,
interest in prc-Islamic times dcclincd rapidly in Egypt following thc
overthrow of the monarchy and the coming t o power of the Gamal
Abdul Nasscr regime, which promoted a pan-Arab rather than a
specifically Egyptian scnsc of identity. Likewise in Iran the overthrow of the Shah brought to power a strongly Islamic government
that discouraged identification with pre-Islamic times both on rcligious grounds and because of the symbolic associations between
ancient Persia and the recent monarchy. Throughout the Near East
there is increasing emphasis on Islamic arcliacology as research
comes to be controlled by and carried out by local scholars (Masry
I11 modern Israel archaeology plays the very different role of
affirming the links between a recently arrived population and its own
ancient past. By providing a sense of concrete reality to biblical
traditions, it heightens national consciousncss and strengthens the
claims of Israeli settlers to thc land they are occupying. I n particular,
Masada, the site of the last Zealot resistance to the Romans in
A.D. 73, has become a monument possessing great emotional and
ceremonial value as a symbol of the will to survivc of thc new Isracli

A his tor)^ of arcli,1culogrs~1thought

state. Its cxcavatio~lwas one of the most massive archaeological

projects undertaken by Israeli archacologists and rcccivcd a vast
amount of publicity.
A strong biblical cmphusis in Isracli and still earlier Palestinin11
arcliacology has 'helped to create an individual discipli~lcmeasurably ~inaffcctcdby methodological and intcllcctual devclop~ncnts
clscwhcrc' ( Wanburp-Tc~iison1986: 108). Most Isracli archacologists
'11-ctrained in historical and biblical rcscarch and dcvote nlucl~time
to studying history, philology, c ~ ~ ;u-t
n d history. 1'al.xcolithic ;I~CII;ICology is r n ~ ~ cless
h impol-t.111t2nd the influence o f unthropologicalstyle archacolog)~has gcncrally been limited to cncouragi~lgthc use
of technical aids in the analysis of data. Iiclativcly little attention is
paiid to the 31-cll,tcologyo f thc C ~ I - i s t i , and
~ n Islamic pel-iods (13a1-Yoscf and Mazar 1982). Whilc most Israelis view archaeological
rcscarch as playing a positive rolc in their society, some ultraconscr\utivc religious groups opposc it 011 thc grounds that it
disturbs ancient Hebrew burials (Painc 1983).
The dccolonizatio~iof sub-Saharan Africa has accclcratcd the
changes in the archaeology of that region that had bcgu~iin the late
colonial pcriod. Posnansky (1982: 355) has pointed out that African
archacologists and historians arc not ncccssarily intcrcstcci in the
same problc~nsas foreign scholars. They arc morc concerned with
rcccnt prcliistor~land with problems of national history than with
P ~ l ~ c o l i t h arcli;leolog)~.
Topics of interest i11cI~icIcthc origin of
specific states, the dcvclop~ncntof tradc, the cvolutio~iof historically
attested social and cco~iomicinst-itutions, and relations among
ethnic groups that live within the boundaries of modern African
states (Tardits 1981; Andah 1985). Thcrc is also an interest in the
study and prcscrvatio~lof major sites that relate to prc-colonial
African history. While arcllaeology is seen as a means of increasing
awareness of, and pride in, Africa's past, thcrc is political concern
about how the prcscntation of archacological findings may c~ilzancc
~lational unity o r *,promote rcgio~lal and local self-awareness
(Nzcwunwa 1984). Whilc African archaeologists, who arc oftcn tied
to administrative positions, generally wclconic research by anthropologically trained collcagucs from abroad, a~lthropoiogyas a discipline is not well rcgardcd. Across Africa archaeology is becoming
increasingly alignccl with history, just 1' s ethnological studies arc
being rcdcfi~~cci
as sociology (Ki-Zcrbo 1981). As a result of this

Culture-historical archaeology
rcalignmcnt, as wcll as a growing involvemcnt with the study of oral
traditions and historical li'nguistics, history is now cquippcd to
investigate periods for which few o r n o written records are available.
I t t h ~ i s~CCOIIICS African rather than colonial in its orientation (D.
McCall1964; Ehrct and Posnallsky 1982). By actively participating in
this process, African arc11acolog)l is transformed fro111being colo~lial
to national in character.
In Europc the crudcl- and morc obvious I-clationships bctwccn
archacological intcrprctntio~land nationalism tcndcd t o disappear
aftcr World War 11, us growing political and cconomic coopcratioll
and a gcncrallp in~provi~lg
standard of living Icd to n dcclinc in
nationalism. In rcccnt pears this has promoted a growing nwarcncss
of how f~~ndamcntally
diffcrcnt prchistoric E u r o p c a ~culturcs
from modern ones and has encouraged archacologists o11cc again to
rely 01-1 cthnograpliic studies of non-Europcan culturcs to interpret
thcir data. The rcsult has been a growing ~approchementbctwccn
Wcstcrn Europcan (cspccially British) and A~ncrica~l
Yct archacological interpretation co~lti~lucs
to be influcnccd in
various ways by political issucs (Gjcssing 1968). In cou~itricssuch as
Greece, Poland, and to a lesser degrec Italy, whcrc various gricvances still nurture nationalism, archaeology continues t o be valued
as a chronicIc of past glories and a sourcc of hope for the futurc. I n
Scandinavia 11dcdicntion to pcacc and soci;ll wc1E11.cis accompnrlicd
by a whimsical fascination with thc Viking period, which is conccptualizcd as violent, wanton, and romantic in contrast to thc present.
In thc 1970s, 20 to 25 per cent of all archaeological publicatio~lswcrc
devoted t o thcsc 300 years (Moberg 1981: 215). 111Englalld, howcvcr,
the discovcry that during thc Darlc Agcs the Viking scttlcn~cntat
York was a centre of manufacturing and tradc has confirmcd to
~lorthcrncrsthat thcir region was culturally as advanccd as southcr~l
England, contrary to cstablishnlc~ithistory which portrays Saxon
Wcsscx as an outpost of civilizatio~lvaliantly resisting the incursio~ls
of barbarous Scandinavians who eventually settled i11 the north
(Graharn-Campbcll and ICidd 1980). Thc rcvclation, as a result of thc
excavations at Wood Quay, that in thc Dark Agcs Dublin was a
nlajor Viking centre, while exciting great public interest, accords
less well with a Ccltoccntric nationalist vicw of Irish history (Shcchy
As the rolc of Europc, and in particular that of Britain, as a ccntre

A history of archaeological thought

of world power has declined, new views of Europcan prehistory

have replaced those formulated by Childe in the 1920s. Colin
Rcnfrew (1973a), in particular, has played a major rolc in discrediting thc Montclius-Childc diffusionary modcl of Europcan prchistory, once again emphasizing thc technological superiority of
Europe in prehistoric timcs. He has uscd calibrated radiocarbon
dates to argue that metallurgy dcvclopcd in Europc indcpendcntly
and as carlp as it did in the Ncar East and that megalithic structures
were being crcctcd in Mdta dnd Wcstcrn Europc prior to ,1ny
monumental constructior~sin the Ncar East. Rcnfrcw views European prehistory in much the same way that Montelius' Euroccntric
opponc~itsdid in the late ninctccntli century. Although his intcrprctations arc conccivcd in tcrlns of a neo-evolutionary perspective that
affirms the creativity of all human groups, no specific explanation is
offercd for thc precociousness of European culture, w h i h thus
appears to bc takcn for granted.
There has also been a rcsurgcncc of popular interest in Britain's
rich asscmblagc ofmcgalithic circlcs and alignments as evidcncc that
highly sltillcd cnginccrs and 'astrononicr priests' livcd thcrc in prchistoric times. As a result of Rcnfrcw's new 'long chronology', the
scientific lcnowlcdge cncodcd in thcsc monumcnts is interpreted as
being of indigc~iousr.lthcr th.111 esotic origin. On thcsc grounds
some scho1,lrs ,lsscrt t h ~ tB~-~t,iin
11.1s bccn ,I centre of' scicntifc
achicvcmcnt since thc Neolithic period (Ellcgird 1981; Fowler 1987).
It thus appears that the dcclinc of Britain as a world power has
produced at least a minor nationalist rcaction. This has been accompanied by a more widespread resurgent emphasis on ecollomic
dynamism, cquality before thc law, and the sharing of political
power as cxclusivc featurcs of Western civilization (Wells 1984;
Gosdcn 1985; Lambcrg-Karlovsky r98sb; Willey 1985).

In thc United States a culture-historical approach was adopted soon

after 1910 as a rcsponse to growing familiarity with thc archaeological record. Continuing research revealed tcmporal changes that
could not be explained by the simplc replacement of one group of
people by anothcr. As a result of the first confirmed Palaeo-Indian
finds, which date from the 192os, it also became evident that native

Culture-historical archaeology
people had lived in North America far longer than most archaeologists had hitherto believed (Willey and Sabloff 1980: 121-3).
These observations were interpreted in the context of general developments in American anthropology. Boasian anthropology had
popularized the concept of the, ethnographic culture as a basic unit
of study and of diffusion as a major cause of cultural change. In
addition Boas' persuasive advoc~cyof cultural relativism and his
strong opposition to racism encouraged the view that Indians were
c,lpablc of change. Yct, while hc had some interest in archaeology,
which he actively promoted in Mexico (ibid. 84-j), thcrc is no
evidcncc that he introduced the ~ u r o ~ e concept
of the archaeological culture to the United Statcs. On thc contrary, thc way in
which this concept developed in North America and the fact that it
was used prior to any formal, definition in Europc suggest an
indcycndent origin. Both the ~ u i o ~ e and
a n the American version
had their roots in the ethnology of Friedrich Ratzel.
We have already noted that during the nineteenth century
American archaeologists became , increasingly aware of geographically circumscribed cultural manifestations in the archaeological record, especially in the central United States, where a
concern with the Moundbpilders (had led to much archaeological
activity. In 1890 G . P. Thruston dkfined a prehistoric Stone Gravc
'r.~cc' in Tcnncsscc, which he bclicvcd was the r c n ~ ~ ~of
i nas singlc
tribe or a group of rclatcd tribes (pp. s, is). The tcrm culture was
first applied to groups of sitcs containing distinctive artifact asscmblagcs in the Ohio Valley. By '1902 William C. Mills had distinguished the Fort Ancient and Hopewell cultures. In 1909 W. K.
Moorehead identified the Glacial Kame culture and soon after H. C.
Shetrone (1920) was noting more such units in that area. These
archaeological culturcs diffcrcd from Europcan or later Amcrican
oncs inasmuch as they remained primarily geographical entities. It
was, for cxamplc, not until 1936 that the Hopewell culture was
securely dated earlier than the ~ o r tAncient
In 1913 the American ethnologist Berthold Laufer (1913: 577)
correctly diagnosed the most serious shortcoming of American
archaeology as being its lack of chronological control. This was a
problem that American archaeologists had already recognized and
begun to remedy. Stratigraphic excavations had been undertaken
with increasing frequency since the 1860s but for a long time this

Cuiture;historical archaeology

A history of archaeological thought

tcc1111iquc was not uscd regularly cvcn though it was recognized that
important conclusions flowed from it, such as Richard Wethcrill's
dcmonstration that thc Baskctnlalccr culturc had prcccdcd thc morc
scdcntary Pucblo onc in thc Amcrican Southwcst (Kiddcr 1924: 161).
On somewhat spcculativc typological grounds Adolf Bandelier in
thc 1880s and Edgar Lcc Hcwett in 1904 attemptcd to work out a
rough chronology of prchistoric Pucblo sitcs (Schwartz 1981).Work
of this sort was, howcvcr, only a bcginning. Willcy and Sabloff
c Amcrica~l.~rchacologistswere mainly conccrncd
(1980: 83) s t ~ t
wit11 chronology only bctwccn 1914.uid 1940.
In 1913archacologists began to study the cultural chronology of
thc Southwcst in a systematic fashion. Ncls C. Nclson (1875-1964)
(1916) and Alfrcd V. Kiddcr (1885-1963) carricd out cxtcnsivc stratigraphic cxcavations. Nelson had obscrvcd and participated in cxcavations at Palaeolithic sitcs in France andSpain, and still earlicr, as a
studcnt in California, he had dug stratified shell mounds under the
direction of Max Uhlc. Kidder had taken a course in field methods at
Harvard University with the Egyptologist George Rcisner (18671942), who was onc of thc bcst cxcavators of thc early twcnticth
ccntury. In 1916 and 1917 A. L. Krocbcr and Lcslic Spier uscd
striation tcchniqucs to dctcrminc the cl~ro~~ological
ordcring of sitcs
in thc ZuAi rcgion from which thcy had surface-collcctcd potsherds.
Syicr wcnt on to cxcavatc Zulii sitcs stratigraphically and to
comparc the results of both tcchniqucs.
In his A n Introduction to the Stgdy of Southwestern Archaeology
Kidder (1924) attemptcd thc first culture-historical synthcsis of the
archacology of any part of the United States. This study was
published one year before Childe's The Dawn of European Civilization. In it Iciddcr discussed the archaeological material from nine
river drainages in terms of four successive periods, or stages, of
cultural dcvclopmcnt: Basket Maker, Post-Basket Maker, PrcPucblo, and Pucblo. Each pcriod was somctimcs called a culturc,
whilc the regional variants associated with individual river drainages
wcrc also designated as Chihuahua Basin culture, Mimbres culture,
and Lowcr Gila culture. Although the term culture had not yet
acquircd a standard mcaning in thc Southwest, as a result of chronological studics supplcmcnting a knowlcdgc of geographical variation, something approaching the co~lccptof an arcl~acological
culturc was now evolving.

Modern F l o o r


Kidder's profile of refuse stratigraphy and construction levels at Pccos

Rum, New Mexico, from A n Introduction to the Study of Southwestern
Archaeology, 1924

Yet what interested other archaeologists most about Kidder's

work was his chronology. At thc first Pccos Confcrcnce, hcld in 1927,
thc archacologists who were working in the area adopted a general
classificatory schcme made up of three Baskctmakcr periods followed by fivc Pucblo oncs. H. S. Gladwin complained, howcvcr,
that among its othcr shortcomings thc Pccos classification was
better suited to the northern Pueblo area of the Southwcst than to
more southerly regions, where quite different cultures were found.
In a paper entitled 'A method for designation of cultures and their
variations' (1934), he and his wife Winifred proposed a hierarchical
classification of cultural units for the region, the most gcneral of
which were three roots called Basketmaker (later Anasazi),
Hohokam, and Caddoan (later Mogollon). Each of these roots,
which werc found in the northern, southern, and intcrvening mountainous arcas of thc Southwcst, was subdivided inro stcms, that wcrc
named after regions, and these in turn into branches and phases that
were given more specific geographical names. Some phases couId
follow one another in the same locality and each one was defined as a
set of sites with a high degrec of similarity in artifact types. Whilc the
Gladwin classificatory hicrarchy was bascd on relative degrees of
trait similarities, its dendritic pattern involved geographical considcrations and it was implicitly chronological; roots formed before


A history of archaeological thought

Culture-historical archaeology

stems and stems beforc branchcs. Willey and Sabloff (1980: 10s)
observc that the system implies that the prehistoric cultures of the
southwestern Unitcd Statcs had become increasingly diffcrentiated
through tinic, which 'yhilc a possibility, was by no means dcmonstratcd'.
A similar but even liiorc influential schcn~cwas proposcd in 1932,
under the leadership of W. C. McI<ern (1939), by a group of archaeologists working in the midwcster~lUnited States. Thc Midwcstcr~i
I ,ixonomlc Mcthoci w.15 s o o n clpplicd t h r o ~ i g l l o ~tlic
~ t ccntr.~ld n ~ i
c.istct-n Unitcd St.itcs. It ~ ~ s ctod cl,issify largc clmoLlnts o f
matcrial that had bccn collcctcd by amatcur archacologists in a
region whcrc fcw stratified sitcs reprcscnting occupations over long
periods of time were known. The Midwcstcrli Taxonomic Mcthod
proposcd to classify these finds or1 the basis of formal critcria alonc.
Yet, whilc its authors denied that the system had historical implictions (Rouse 1953: 64), they generally acted on the assumption that
cultural diffcrcnccs in a singlc locality indicated tcmporal diffcrences, while similar culturcs distributed over largc areas dated from
thc same period (Snow 1980: 11). Artifact asscmblagcs represelltilig
a single period of occupatioll at a site wcrc called a component;
components sharing an almost identical set of artifact typcs were
assig~lcdto the samc focus; foci with 'a prcpo~lderati~ig
traits' to the samc aspect; aspects shar~ngonly more general charactcristics t o the samc phnsc; and phascs sharing a fcw broad traits to
the samc pattern. The traits uscd to define a pattern wcrc said to bc 'a
cultural reflection of thc primary adjustmc~ltsof peoples to environment, as defined by tradition'. The patterns that wcre identified were
Woodland, characterized by semi-scdcntary sitcs, cordmarkcd pottery, and stemmed or side~lotchedprojectile points; Mississippian,
with sedentary sites, incised pottery, and small triangular points; and
Archaic, which lacked pottery but contained ground slate artifacts.
Foci and aspects wcre defined by drawing up lists of artifact types
for each component and seeing how many types different componcnts had in common. This approach corresponded with the
historical particularist conception, champiol~edby Boas, which
vicwcd culturcs not as integrated systems but as collections of
individual traits that had comc together as the result of historical
accidents. No inferences about human bchaviour were included in
tlicse dcfinitiolis nor was any attention paid, as Childc had done, to

the functional significance of different classes of artifacts or to the

ecological significance of what was being found. Quantitative comparison o f diffcrcnt classcs o f artifacts was ncglcctcd in favour of
simply noting thc prcscncc'or abscncc of artifact typcs. Changing
frequencies of types 'wcrc not seen as having chronological or
functioilal significance. Neither was attention paid to thc fact that
artifacts that wcrc stylistically highly variable, such as pottery, often
wcrc divided into nlorc types than wcrc stone o r bone ones. It was
rccog~lizcd,however. that c~mctericsand l~ahitationsites belonging
to the samc culturc might'contain a diffcrcnt sclcctioi~of artifact
types. Rccnusc of this, somc arch.~cologistsproposcd to hasc foci on
.I r.lnZc of'sitcs rcprcscnting thc complctc cultural ~~~anifcstations
a people, rathcr than on co~nporlcnts(McI<crn 1939: 310-11). It was
argued that these considerations, as wcll as thc i~lcomplctc~~css
archacological data, precluded specific pcrcentagcs from bcing uscd
t o establish degrees of relationship among componcnts. Yct it was
rnaintaincd that 'quantitativc similarity', as mcasurcd by the pcrccntage of sharcd artifact types, was important for dctcrmining thc
classificatory status of archacological ~~lanifcstations.
Both the Gladwin systcm and the Midwcstcrn Taxonomic
Method cschcwed thc term 'culturc, which McKcrn (1939: 303)
bclicvcd was uscd by archacologists to dcsignatc too broad a range
of phenomena. Ncvertl~elcssthcsc two systems initiated systcmatic
usc of cultural units for classifying archacological data in thc Unitcd
Statcs, in thc guisc of the Gladwins' phascs and McKcrnYsfoci and
aspects. These units were scetl as the archacological equivalent of a
tribe o r group of closely related tribcs. Thcir dcndritic schcmcs
implied that culturcs, like biological spccics, differentiated along
irreversible paths, thercby ignoring thc convcrgcncc brought about
by diffusion. In both cases shared traits wcrc assumed to signify
common origins, history, and ethnicity. It was also bclicvcd that
more generally sharcd traits were oldcr than rnorc culturally spccific
ones, a fallacy that cvcn in the 1930s would havc made the Coca-Cola
bottle older than thc Acheulean handaxe. This vicwpoint had somc
bad effects o n the inccrprctation o f archacological data. For
example, i n New York State ~ c ~ c hWoodland
' s
pattcrn cmbraccd
prehistoric cultures that archacologists traditionally had associated
with Algonlcian-spealiers, whilc hlisMississippian pattcril cmbraccd
the historical culturcs of the linguistically utlrclat~dIroquoians. Thc

A history of archaeological thought

assumption that culturcs could not cvolvc fro111 one pattern to
another, any more than an Algonkian language could change into an
Iroquoian one, sevcrclp hindcred the realization that the historical
Iroquoian cultures had developed from local Middle Woodland
a~itccedents(MacNeish 1952).I11 this respect, the Midwcstcrn Taxonomic Method, while struggling for classificatory objectivity and
quantitative prcclslon, perpetuated the pessililistlc views about the
Indians' capacity to change that had characterized American archacology during the n~nctccntlicentury.
Yet in practice this wealu~csswas of short duration. Phases and
foci were soon being arranged to form local chronologies by means
of stratigraphy and seriation, as was being done with cultures in
Europe. As this happened, the higher levcls of the American classificatory schemes were abandoned and archaeological cultures were
viewcd as forming mosaics, in which each unit had its own empirically defined spatial and temporal limits. Cultures, as well as artifact
types, were viewed as persisting, possibly with slow modificat~ons,
to for111 traditions, or spreading geographically to crcatc cultural
horizons, wh~chwcre one of the devices uscd to align traditions
chronologically. Thcse concepts wcre systematized by G. R. Willey
and Philip Phillips in Method and Theoy in American Archaeology
(1958). As rcg~onalcultural cl~ronologieswere constructed, the den,~l
bccanic untenable mcl a r c h ~ c dritic view of c u l t ~ ~ rdcvclopmcnt
ologists began to credit diffusion with playing a signific,lnt role in
bringing about cultural change. Yet diffusion was employed
mecl~anically.Most archaeologists paid little attctltion to understanding the internal dynamics of change or trying to determine why
a particular i~lnovationdid or did not diffuse from one group to
another. By 1941enough data had been collected for James A. Ford
and G. R. Willey to present a synthesis of the culture history of
eastern North America in which the known cultures were grouped
to form five stages of devclopmcnt: Archaic, Burial Mound I (Early
Woodland), Burial Mound I1 (Middle Woodland), Temple Mound
I (Early Mississippian), and Temple Mound I1 (Late Mississippian).
Each stage was viewed as coming from the south, and ultimately in
some general form from Mesoamerica, and then spreading north
through thc Mississippi Valley. Thus an interpretation of eastern
North American prehistory was created that resembled that presented for prehistoric Europe in The Dawn. ofEuropean Civilization.

A history of archaeological thought

Culture-historical archaeology

While diffusion implied a greater capacity for native cultures to

change than had hitherto been recognized, diffusionist explanations
wcrc e~l~ploycd
in a vcry conscrvativc fashion. Ncw idcas, such as
pottcry, burial mounds, m,ctal working, and agriculture wcrc almost
always assigned an East Asian or Mesoamerican origin (Spinden
1928; McICern 1937; Spaulding 1946), thus implying that n,ltive
North Americans wcrc imitative r-lthcr than creative. Morcovcr,
arch.~cologistsstill tended t o attribute major cliangcs in the .~rchacologic.ll rccol-~ito mlgr,ltlons. 1;ot- c\,umplc, i n t o thc ~ c ) ~the
o s tr.lnsitions from thc Archaic to the Woodland pattern and from
Woodland to Mississippian in the nortlicastcr~~
United States were
interpreted as rcsulting from the cntry of ncw populations into that
region. As had happcncd in Europe, theorics of cultural changc and
chronologies became linlted to form a closed system of interpretation. A very short chronology was adopted in which late Archaic
cultures, that arc now radiocarbon dated around 2500 B.c., were
placed no earlier than A . D . 300 (Ritchic 1944). This short chronology reflected tlie belief that major changcs had occurred as a result
of migrations. Yet, so long as it was accepted, it discouraged
archaeologists from considering intcrnal dcvelop~ncntsas an alternative.explanation of cultural change in this area.
W i ~the
i notable exception of Ford and Willey (1941), interprctations of arcliaeological data wcrc characterizcd by a lack of will to
discover, or even to search for, any overall pattern or meaning to
North American prehistory. Only a tiny portion of the most ambitious synthesis produced during the culture-historical period, P. S.
Martin, G. I. Quimby, and Donald Collier's Indians Befare Colunzbus
(1947), was devoted to interpreting rather than describing the
archaeological record. The autliors concluded that from the arrival
of the first Asian immigrants 'there existed a continuous process of
adaptation to local environmcnts, of specialization, and of independent invention' that 'led to tlie developme~ltof a series of regional
Indian cultures' (p. 520). .Yet they believed that the two innovations
they selected as representing basic trends of cultural development,
pottcry making and agriculture, were of cxternal origin. While the
book documented change as a basic feature of North American prehistory, it made littlc effort to explain that change. Kidder was a rare
exception to a diffusionist pcrspectivc when hc maintailled in 1924
that the prehistoric southwestern Unitcd States owed littlc morc
than the 'germ' of its culturc to the outside and that its dcvclop-

ment had been a local and almost wholly independent one that was
cut short by the 'devastating blight of the white man's arrival' (1962:
344). I n this, as in much clsc, Kiddcr was an innovator.
American archaeology did not rcmain a passivc victim of the
stcrcotypcs of Indians as bcing incapable of changc that had dominated it throughout thc ninctccnth ccntury. Yct, while eultural
change and devclopmcnt wcrc pcrccivcd for thc first time as bcing a
conspicuous fc.lture of thc aschaeological record for North Amcrica
in the dec'ldcs after 1914,thc main,product ofthis period was a scrics
of regional clironologics. While overtly racist vicws about nativc
people werc abandoncd, the stereotypes of the Amcrican Indiail th;
had becn formulatcd bcforc 1914 rcmaincd largcly uncl~allci~gct
Major changes documented in the archaeological record continuc
to be attributed to migration and diffusion was only grudgingly
admitted to indicate creativity on the part of North American
Indians. Because there was less concern than previously with rcconstrutting prehistoric patterns of life, the links between archaeology
and ethnology, as well as betwcen arcl~aeologistsand native people,
were weakened. No alternative links were formed and to a large
dcgrce American archaeology came to be preoccupied with typologies of artifacts and cultures andtworkingout cultural chronologies.
American archacologisrs did not simply adopt a culture-hiskorical
approach from European ones but rcinvcnted much of it, as incrcasing knowledge of chranological variations in the archaeological
record supplemented an older awareness of geographical variations.
The culture-chronological approach developed differently i~
Europe, where a growing sense of geographical variation in th
archaeological record complemented a longstanding evolutionar
preoccupation with chronological variation (Trigger 1978a: 75-95).
Yet Amcrican archaeology did not, as a result of this cnhanced
perception of change in prehistory, overcome the views about native
people that had characterized the 'colo~lial'phase of its development. The minimal acceptance of change in prehistoric times was
primarily an adjustment of cherished beliefs to fit new archaeological
facts. American archaeology rcmaincd colonial in spirit at the same
time that it adopted a culture-historical methodology. The price that
American arcl~aeologistspaid for their conservatism was a growing
disillusionment with thcir discipline, which was perceived to be
without theorctical or historical intcrcst.

A history of archacological thought

Technical developments
The dcvelopmcnt of the culture-historical approach resulted in a
significant claboratio~iof archaeological mcthods. This is especially
cvidcnt in tcrlns of stratigraphy, scriatio~l,classification, and Icarning niorc about liow pcoplc had lived in the past. As arcliacologists
bccanic incrcasi~iglyi~ltcrcstcdin historical rarhcr than evolutionary
problems, they perceived tlic need for increasingly tight controls
over chrono1ogic;ll .~swell .IS ci11ti1r;llv:tri,ttio~i. TCIIIPOI-JI
within sitcs over relatively short pcriods of time became crucial for
answering questions of a historical rather than an cvolutionary
nature. This nccd was first pcrccivcd in cl,~ssicalnrchucology, which
always had a historical orientation. In the latc ninctccnth century
classical archacologists bcgan to search for ways to rccovcr information from historical sitcs that would corroborate and expand
what was known about tlicir history from written records. O ~ i cof
tlic pionccrs of this sort of stratigraphic analysis was Giuscppc
Fiorclli (1823-96), who took charge ofthc excavations at Pompcii in
1860. H c proclainicd the recovery of worlcs of art, whicll liithcrto
had doniinatcd work at thc sitc, to be scco~idaryto the detailed
excavation of all kinds of buildi~lgsand learning liow they had been
constructccl and for what F)III-poses
c,1c11 pal-t o f them hsd been used.
This involvcd careti11 stratigraphic cscavntions so t h ~ the
t ruined
upper storeys of houses could bc reconstructed. H c also recovered
the outlines of dccapcd organic rcmains, includi~lgliuman bodies,
by filling thc holes tlicy left in the ,is11 with liquid plaster of Paris.
Fiorclli cstablislicd an archacological school at Pompeii whcrc
students could learn his tcchniqucs (Daniel 1950: 165).
His work was carried forward by the Austrian archacologist
Alexander Conze (1831-1914),who bcgan to excavate on the isla~ldof
Samotliracc in 1873, and the German archaeologist Ernst Curtius
(1814-96), who started to dig at Olympia two ycars later. These
excavatio~isinitiated 3 0 years of major cxcavations at classical sitcs in
the eastern Mcditcrrancan. Both archacoiogists aimed t o record the
plans and stratigraphy of thcir cxcavatio~lsof major a~icientbuildings in sufficient dctail that thcir reports would be a substitutc for
what thcir digging liad dcstroycd. The report on Samotlirace was
the first to contain plans rccordcd by professional architects, as wcll
as photographic docurncntatio~lof the work. Williclm Dorpfcld

Culture-historical archacology
(18j3-1940), who had cxcavatcd at Olympia, workcd for Hcinrich
Schliemann (1822-90) at Hisarlik, in Turkcy, from 1882 t o 1890.
Sclilicmann, who liad begun there in 1871, had pionecrcd the stratigraphic cxcavation of multi-layered 'tell' sites in an cffort to discover
tlic rcmains of Homcr's Troy. H c liad idcntificd scvcn supcrimposcd
scttlcmcnts at the sitc. Using morc rcfincd cxcavation mcthods,
Dorpfcld idcntlficd ninc lcvcls and rcviscd Schlicmann's chronology
(Daniel 1950: 166-9).
Thcsc new tcchn~clucsof cxcavating and recording data gradu,llly
sprcad tlirougliout thc Ncar East. W. M. F. Pctric (1853-1942), who
bcgan to work in Egypt in 1880, rccordcd the plans of his cxcavations
.~ndnoted cv11c1-cm,~jorf nds wcrc m,dc but gcncr,\ily did not rccorct
stratigraphic sections. EIc rcgardcd thc lattcr as bcing of rclativcly
minor importance, since most of thc sitcs hc dug had been occupicd
for rclativciy short pcriods. H c did rccord stratigraphic profiles at
Tell cl-Hesy, a stratified site in southern Palcstilic where he bcgan
cxcavating in 1890 (Drower 1985). George Rcisncr, who cxcavatcd in
Egypt and tlic S u d m beginning in 1899, introduced the rccordi~lgof
scctlons as wcll CIS plans and brought Egyptian archacology t o its
modern standard (J. Wilson 1964: 145-9).
Altlio~igliprehistoric monuments occasionally were cxcavatcd
w ~ t hcon\~dc~-.lblc
.Ittcntlon to dct.111 bcginn~ngIn the scvcntccnth
century (I<l~~idt-Jcnxn
1975: 3 0 ) , cictailcd rccord~ngtcchniqucs
dcvclopcd morc slowly 111 this field than in classical archacology.
Until the I ~ ~ OasSa, result of evolutionary preoccupations, i~ltcrest
was focused on the rccording, frcqucntly in an idcalizcd fashion, of
cross-sections of cxcavations, the main exception bcing richly furnished graves, such as those found in the early Iron Age ccmctery at
Hallstatt in Austria in the 18jos (Sklcnii- 1983: 71-2, 77). General
Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) altcrcd this situation
with liis slow and detailed excavations of sitcs on liis cxtcnsivc estate
in soutl~ernEngland beginning in thc 1870s. In the 1850s he had
become intcrcstcd in cintliropology as thc rcsult of a detailed study
lie made of the history of firearms in order t o improve thc riflcs uscd
by the British Arniy. Throughout the 1860s hc built up a large
ethnographic collection and wrote o n primitivc warfare, navigation,
and the pr~nclplesof classification (Pitt-Rivers 1906). His daughter
was nl'~rricd to John Lubbock. Although an cvolutionist (PittRivers 1906), Pitt-Rivers' principal aim as an arcl~acologistwas t o


Grme fro111Hallstatt cemcter),,Austria, recorded by the painter

Isidor Engcl in thc mid-ninctccnth century

the history of particular sitcs. H e did this by trenching
ditches at right angles, leaving baulks to rccord stratigraphy, and
carefully rclating finds to their stratigraphic contexts. In his lavish
excavation rcports hc strcsscd the need for arcl~acologiststo publish
a complctc rccord of their works, rathcr than only what was of
interest to thcm (M. Thonlpson 1977). While Pitt-Rivcrs is oftcn
treated as an isolatcd figurc, his work signalled a gcneral improvement in thc standard of recording prehistoric sitcs. A. H. Bullcid
and H. S. Gray (1911, 1917) rccordcd their work at thc late Iron Age
scttlemcnt at Glastonbury bctwccn 1892 and 1911in sufficient detail
that thcir data concerning houscs and building lcvcls could bc
re-analyscd in thc 1970s (Clarkc 1972b). Through the advocacy of
Mortimer Wheclcr (1890-1976), onc of thc few young archacologists
to survivc World War I, modern forms of three-dimensional cxcavation and recording became standard throughout Europc and
much of the Old World beginning in the 1930s (1954). Whceler
cstablishcd the primacy of archaeological evidcnce and its reliability
and availability forcmost in thc minds of British and Indian archac-

A history of archaeological thought

ologists and made it clear that bad data could vitiate a good thcory.
By the 1930s similar techniques were being followed routinely in
North Anlerica (Willcy and Sabloff 1980: 123-6).
Techniques of scriation wcrc also rcfincd in rcsponsc to growing
historical intcrcsts. In thc 1880s Pctric, who normally datcd Egyptian sitcs by rnc'lns of inscriptions, cscn\i,ltcd .I number of large
cc11lctcrics in southern Egypt that contained nlatcrial that was
unfamil~arto hi111and 110 inscripti~ns.Eventually it was rcalizcd that
thcsc ccmetcrlcs datcd from the I,ltc prehistoric pcriod. Thcrc w ~ s
considerable stylistic var~ationIn the artifacts found in diffcrcnt
gravcs, suggesting that thc ccmctcrics had bcen uscd for a long timc,
but no stratigraphy or obvious gcncral pattcrns of cxpansio~lthat
could bc uscd to arrange the gravcs even roughly in a chronological
l'ctric (1901) divided the
scqucncc. I11 order to devise a chro~~ology,
pottcry from the ccmctcrics at Diospolis Parva into nine major
groups or classcs and ovcr 700 typcs. Hc thcn rccordcd what typcs
occurred in each of 500 gravcs and t r ~ c dto scriatc the graves to
produce a maximum concentration of cach typc (Hcizcr 1959:
376-83). This formidablc task, cvcn using modern computers
(I<endall 1969, 1971), was facilitatcd by Pctric's having infcrrcd
certain trends in major warcs, in particular the tendency of Wavphandled vcsscls to bccome smallcr, cylindrical rathcr than globular,
and their handlcs more vestigial as the historical pcriod was
approached. H e was finally able to d~vidchis 500 gravcs into so
divisions of tcn gravcs
cach, which wcrc arranged to form a serics of
'sequcncc dates'. The rcsulting chronological scqucncc was then
tested against trends in non-ceramic artifacts from the gravcs and
overlaps rcsulting from later gravcs being cut into carlicr ones.
Petrie's chronology for Predynastic Egypt, which in gencral terms
has stood the test of time (ICaiscr 1957), diffcrcd from Montclius'
seriation by defining intervals that in some cases may havc bcen less
than a decade rathcr than pcriods lasting scvcral hundrcd years.
In 1916 A. L. Krocbcr, who was doing ethnographic fieldwork
among the Zufii, noted a numbcr of archaeological sitcs nearby and
that the pottcry differed from onc site to anothcr. H c collcctcd
potsherds from cightccn of thcse sitcs, divided thcm into thrcc
ge~leraltypcs, and by comparing changcs in thc frcqucncics of cach
typc worltcd out a historical scq~~cncc
of thcsc sites (Hcizcr 1959:
383-93). This approach to scriation was adoptcd by Lcslic Spicr




31 Pottery of successive periods in ~etri'e'spredynastic sequence, from Diospolis Puma, 1901


A history of archacolog~calthought

Culture-historical archacology

(1917),who applied it to a larger nunlbcr of Zulii sitcs, whilc Jarncs

Ford (1936) made it the basis for worki~igout much of the cultureclironology of the Mississippi Valley beginning in the 1930s.
Although I<rocbcr may have learned the basic principles of typology
;111dscriation from Boas and k~lo\\?nof Pctric's work (Willcy and
Sabloff 1980: 94-s), his technique of seriation was not based on the
same principles as Pctric's. Pctric's 'occurrcnce seriation' depended
011 the individual occurrence or nou-occurrence in specific closed
finds of a large number of diffcrcnt typcs, whilc Krocbcr's 'frequency
scriation' dcpcndcd on the changing frcqucncics of a much srnallcr
of types (DLIIIIICII
1970).This suggests the separate development of tlic two ; ~ t ) p ~ - o ~ c h111
c sboth
cnscs scri;ltio~lW;IS bcing used
to establish a cictailcd historical scclucncc ol'villugcs o r graves rather
than a succession of periods, as evolutionary archaeologists from
Thornsci~to Montclius had done. Pctrie and Kroeber both chose t o
work with pottcry because its stylistic attributes providcd morc
scnsitive indices of changc than did the stone and metal tools that
had bccn studied by the Scandi~lavia~l
This growing intcrcst ill defining cultures and working out morc
detailed scriatioiis rcsultcd in more elaborate classifications of artifi~ctsin both Europe and North A~ilcrica.In Europc thcsc classificntioi~stcndcd t o build on ones cstablishccl by evolutionary archacologists, usually by splitting or othcrwisc refining cxisting types.
Types tcndcd to be viewed prag~llaticallpas a means for achieving
chronological objectives or for understanding prehistoric life.
Pcrlinps for thcsc reasons, the discussiol~of the nature 2nd significancc of typcs has gcncrally remained low-keyed in Europc,
although complcs typologies have been dcviscd there (Bordcs 1953;
Childc 1956a). The major exception to this is the work of David
Clarke, who has providcd a systematic treatment of archaeological
typology at all lcvcls (1968). 111 the United States thc theoretical
significance of artifact classification has bee11discussed in great detail
over the years. While ~Wi~lifrcd
and Harry Gladwin (1930) saw
pottcry stylcs as sensitive indicators of spatial and temporal variations in culture, they bclicvcd that it was necessary to define pottery
types in terms that wcrc free from temporal implicatio~lsif subjectivity was to be avoided. They therefore proposed a binomial dcsignation, in which thc first term indicated a gcogr~phicallocatio~l
where the typc was found .und the sccond its colour or surf,lcc

treatment, such as Tularosa black-on-whitc. Type dcscriptions were

published in a set format involving name, vessel shape, design, typc
sltc, geographical distribution, cultural affiliations, and inferred
chronological range (Colton and Hargrave 1937).James Ford (1938),
o n the other hand, strcsscd that typcs should be recognized only ~f
they could be demonstrated to bc uscful tools for interpreting
culture-history and that there should bc n o formal splitting of them
unless the results clearly corrclatcd with spatial o r temporal differences. H c regarded typcs ~ncrclyas tools for h~storicalanalysis. Later
centred on the reality of types to those who had madc
and ~ ~ s art~facts,
on the relationship between types and thc attrihi1tc5or mode\ th.~t.~rcused to dclinc thc~li,.111ci oil the 11,1turcof
attr~butcsand thcir uscf~~lncss
for artifact seriation (liousc 1939). In
the 1950s it was nlaintained that types could bc discovcrcd as regular
clusterings of attributes and that these 'natural' typcs would rcvcal
much more about human behaviour and cultural changc than would
Ford's arbitrary creations (Spaulding 1953).This prolonged discussion of artifact classification was the first substantial manifestation o f
the concern of Amcncan archaeologists t o articulate and make
expl~cltthe a~lalyticalbas~sof their discipline.
A growing intcrcst in how particular groups of Europeans had
11vcd In 1.>rch1stt"r1c
t ~ ~ n cwhich
was cncour.lgcc1 by natio~i~ilism
had ~ t roots
In the Scand~ndvi~un
archacology of the carly ninctccnth
century, Icd archaeologists t o pay attention to classes of archaeological datd that previously had been ignored. A long-standing
lntcrest in cemctcries was supplemcntcd by the increasing study of
the remains of settlements. This required large-scale horizontal
cxcavatlons rather than vertical stratigraphic ones, as well as the
rccord111gof ~ n a n ynew types of observations. The first post moulds
are believed to have been noted by Pitt-Rivers in 1878, after which
thcir value for reconstructing the plans of decayed wooden structures was quickly recognized. In the 1890s the Roman-German
Boundary Con~mission,which was studying sitcs along the norther~l
frontier of the Roman empire in Ccntral Europc, developed techniques for recognizing post moulds in all kinds of soils (Childe 1953:
1 3 ) . Archaeologists also began t o rccord morc systematically the
locat~onswhere artifacts were found, so that thcsc could be plotted
in rclat~onto features such as hcarths and house walls. Gradually
11th1cdcb~tageand minor floral and faunal remains that hithcrto had

A history of archacological thought

gcncrally been dismissed as unimportant were saved and studied.

All of tliis clicouragcd a ncw conccrli for prccisio~iin archacological mcthods. The principal aim of such rcscarch was t o reconstruct a visual impression of life in the past. That involved determining what houses looked like, what kind of clothing people wore,
what utcl~silsthey used, and in what activities thcy cngaged. Tlicsc
impressions could be rcconstructcd in drawings or threedimensionally in the form of open-air museums. Onc site that did
not rcc1ui1-cmuch reconstruction was Sknrn Brae, a Ncolitliic scttlcmcnt in the Orlincys that was cxca\~atedby Gordon Cliildc (1931).111
this sitc not only houses but also furniture, such as beds and
cupboards, wcrc prcscrvcd as ;I result of being constructed from
stolic slabs. Tlic most impressive dcvclopmcnts in tliis sort of field
arcliacology occurred in Europe between 1920 and 1940. Houses and
were complctely excavated and post moulds,
hearths, pits, and artifact distributions i~itcrprctcdas evidence of
p a t t c r ~ ~ofs daily life (Dc Laet 1957: 101-3; Sicvcki~ig1976: xvi). In
Pola~ida unique timbcr-built fortress of the Ur~ificldculture was
cscavatcd at Biskupin beginning in 1934 and soon became thc
best-known archaeological sitc in the country (Bibby 1956: 384-94).
I n the Unitcd Statcs the dcvclopmcnt of a culture-historical
approach initially encouraged archacologists to excavate sitcs mainly
to rccovcr artifact sanlplcs that could be used to elaborate trait lists
and dcfinc cultures. It was assumed that any part of a site was typical
of thc wholc and tlicrcforc excavations were frcquc~ltlydirected
towards middens, where artifacts were most abundant and could be
rccovcrcd most cheaply. In addition to artifacts, archaeologists
sought to recover floral and faunal data as evidcticc of subsiste~~ce
pnttcrns and skeletal remains tliat could identify the physical types of
t l ~ cpeoplc that had occupied sitcs. During thc economic depression
of t l ~ c193os, Uiiitcd Statcs federal government relief agencies,
working through park scrviccs, museums, and universities, made
largc sums of money avaifable for archacological rcscarch. As a result
entire sitcs wcrc cxcavatcd, especially in areas tliat were to be flooded
by the construction of hydro-electric dams (Willcy and Sabloff 1980:
115, 127). Tlicsc massive horizontal cxcavatio~lsresulted in more
attention being paid t o scttlcnicnt pattcrns.
This convergence in research programmes does not indicate a
growing similrlrity in attitudes towards the past. While Europeans

were enlotionally involved in what they regardcd as the study of

thcir ow11 prchistory, Euroamcricalls continued t o vicw thc archacolog~calrecord as thc product of an alien pcoplc. Yct, on both sides
of the Atlantlc O c c ~ n ,thc dcvclopmcllt of a culturc-historical
approdch t o archacology led to an elaboration, which in tcrms of
classificat~on, chronology, and cultural rcconstr~~ction,carried
~netliodologyfar bcyond the point it had reached in the colltext of
evolutionary archacology. Tlic switch from 'scientific' to 'historic-"
object~vcs st~rnul.ltcd r,~tl~cithan inhibited thc dcvclopmcnt
archacological methodology.

An approach cclitred upon defining archacological culturcs a
trying to account for their origins in tcrms of diffusion and m
ration developed as Western Europeans ceased t o vicw cultu
evolution as a natural o r necessarily desirable process. Europd
archaeology bccan~ecloscly aligned with history and was seen
offcrilig ~nsiglitsinto thc dcvclopmcnt of particular pcoplcs --_
prcli~storictimes. Its findi~igsthus bccamc a part of struggles for
national sclf-dctcrmination, thc assertion and dcfcllcc of national
identity, and promoting national unity in oppositioli t o class conflict. Archaeology of this sort obviously had a widcsprcad appeal in
other parts of tlic world. Ethnic and llatio~lalgroups co~ltinucto
dcs~ret o learn more about their prehistory and such knowledge can
play a significant role ill the devclopmcnt of group pride and
solidarity and hclp to promote economic and social development.
This is particularly important for peoples whosc past has been
neglected or denigrated by a colol~ialapproach t o archaeology and
history. While the findings of culture-historical archacology can be
cnriclicd by tcchniqucs for recollstructing prchistoric cultures and
cxplain~ngcultural changc that havc bccn dcvclopcd outsidc the
fi-amcwork of this kind of archacology, only an approach that is
focused on understanding thc prchistory of specific peoples can fulfil
the ~iccdsof natio~isin a post-colonial phase. For this reason
culture-historical archaeology rcmains socially attractive in many
parts of the world.
I11 the Unitcd States a culturc-historical approach cvolvcd as a
rcsponsc to a growing awarcncss of complcxity in the archacological

A history of archacologicnl thought

rccord. In this case, howcvcr, archacologists did not feel any
hcightcncci sense o f identity with the pcoplc they studied. I n Europe
archacologists continued to take pricic in tlic accomplishincnts of
thcir forcf~tlicrs.Yet after 1880 thcrc was declining faith in human
creativity and diffusion and migration were relied on to a much
grcscr dcgi-cc than they had been prc\*io~isly
to explain ch.lngcs in
the a~-cI~aeoI~gicnl
rec~rci.13y contrast, i n tllc Uilitc~iStates growing
;IW;I~CIICSS of p ~ - c l ~ i s t ~change
~ - i c that co~~lci
not be cspl,~incd by
migration led to an increasing reliance o n diffi~sion.In this cnsc
diffusionism represented not growing pcssiniism a b o ~ ~h~lman
creativity but a grudging and linlitcd acccptancc of tlic capacity of
nativc Americans t o change.
Tlic culture-historical paradigm was focused o n the archacological culture rather than on general stages of dcvclopmcnt. It thus
tricd t o explain the arcl~acologicalrccord in more specific detail than
had bccn done in the past. In the natio~lalisticcontexts wllerc it first
dcvclopcd, thcrc was a strong desire to learn as ~ n ~ as
~ cpossible
about how specific groups had lived at various times in the past,
which meant that archacologists tricd to reconstruct synchronic
descriptions of thcsc cultures. In America this tcndcncy dcvclopcd
more slowly because of a commitment to 'scientifically objective'
trait lists which reflected the continuing alic~iationbctwcen archaeologists and the peoples whosc historjr they studied. Yet in both
cascs change in arcliacological cultures WAS ro~iti~icly
attributed to
cxtcrnal factors, that \vcrc S L I ~ S L I I I I C~111der
the general headings of
migration and diffusion. In cascs \vhcrc the internal origin of
innov;ltions appcarcd c\ridc~it,the process either was not ex1.71aincd
or was attributed to special racial c11ar;lctcristics. The ~iloststril<ing
failure of culture-historical archacologists was thcir rcf~lsal,following their 1-cpudiation of cultural evolutionism, to cxtc~ldt!~eir
concern with changc to properties of cultural systems that either
make innovation possible or lead to the acceptance of innovations
corni~igfrom the outside. Without such understanding, diffusion
was doomed to remain a non-explanation.

Sovict archacology
It t.c not only a nett, econonzic system ~vhtchhas been Lorn. A new
culture . . . a netv science . . . a new style oflife bas been born.

I . 1)

u K I I A I<I N, 'I'Iicor)~and pr.icticc lion1 tlic s t ~ ~ i d p o i tof

di.ilcctical m.~tcri.ilism'(1931). p. 3 3

Since the Communist Party came t o power in 1917,archaeology has

bccn generously funded in thc Soviet Union, which now posscsscs
the world's largcst cc~ltralizednetwork for archaeological research.
Every year morc than 500 expeditions carry out archaeological reconnaissancc and cxcavatio~ls,and morc than 5,000 scl~olarlyreports arc
published. Arcliacology 1s sponsored as an instrumc~ltfor cultural
cnhanccmcnt and public education. Its findings arc actively disseminated through popular writings and muscum displays. Part of
archaeology's task is to enrich an understanding o f the origins and
histoi-y of thc many cthnic groups that makc up thc Sovict Union. A
st111 morc fundamental mission is to promotc a nlatcrialist understanding of human history that accords with the guiding philosophy
of tlic Communist Party. Sovict archacology also adds timc dcpth
and vcrisimilitudc t o a cultural-cvolutionary schcmc which, whilc
careful not to deny the crcativc p o t c ~ ~ t i aofl ally human group,
emphasizes the world-widc historical sigilificancc of the Sovict
Union as thc first association of states t o cvolve socialist societics,
thus to achicvc I' goal that othcr nations havc yet to attain.
The Sovict Union was thc first country whcrc archaeological data
wcrc 111tcrprctcd within thc framework of Marxist historical materialism. SIIICCthe 1atc 1920s this paradigm has guided all archacological research done there. Thc resulting unity of theorctical
outlook, which is shared by all of the humanistic scicnces in the
Sovict Union, has given Sovict archaeology a distillctivc charactcr
which has been cn11,lnccd by a major linguistic barricr and by long
periods of political and ideological cstrangcnicnt from Wcstcrn

A I-listol-y of


archaeology has 1112t

uropc an1d the Uni tcd State
static a~ndc~liiiircdin '~li~letccnth
cclltury dog~~ias',
nor has it s111iply
changed coursc as rccluircd to scr\,c the shifting csigcncics of
govcrnment policies, as some of its Western critics have mai~ltai~lcd
(M. Millcr 1956; M. Thompson 1965).I~lstcadit has developed it1 the
past, a ~ i dco~ltinucsto de\rclop, within the frame\\rork of Marxist
pliilosopl~y.111 the less rcgi~nc~ltcd
atmosphcrc of the
post-Stalin era, Soviet archacology has also bcco~ncless monolitl~ic
ancl been c11,lractcrizccl by ;I groiving clivcl-sit!! of npproa chcs \\ritl-iin
a Marxist framework. Moreover, although Soviet arc1hacology is
largely unlino\v~~
to ~llostWcstcrn archacologists, it has ~nnucnccd,
both directly and indil-cctly, 21-cliacologic,~l
rcscal-ch far bcyo!~dthe
sphcrc of Sovict political control. For all these reasons Sovict
archaeology is of world-wide significluncc. It also scclns possible, by
c o ~ ~ i p a r ithe
~ i gsi~inilariticsand diffcrcnccs bctw ccn archa cology as it
113s clcvclopcd u~ldcrvery diffcrcnt co~lccptualschcmcs and political
orientations in the Sovict Union and the West, to u~laerstandbetter
the gc~icralfactors t hat influ(:rice archacologica

lrcacly a
~blishcddisciplint: in tsar 1st
I<LISS~:I.T l l ~l i ~ b ib~ibst;~ntial
I L I L L I C I ) ~i l l the rc~inaillsof ~ I C I L I I ) L U ~ ~ C
times \vas ciircctcd t o the Icurguns, o r t ~ ~ m u lmany
t h o ~ ~ s n ~oi df s
\vI~iclnhad been constructed over 3 period of 5,000 ycars in the
steppe lands that stretch from the Ukraine eastward into Sibcria. For
centuries, if not millennia, these tombs had been p l u ~ ~ d c r cfor
treasure. As Russian colonization spread eastward into Siberia in the
sc\~cnteenthcentury, the plundering of Iiurgans in 'that region was
carried out 011a massive scale, somcti~ilcsunder go\~cr~lmcnt
By the 1760s not cnough Siberian tu~nuliremained u~lplu~ldcrcd
*l-csc large-scale opcratioils to rcmain profitable (Millcr 1956: 15).
As early as the 1680s Tsar Fyodor Alcksc~~cvitch
ordered that the
~ilcsof a 'giant' (probably a mammoth) fou~ldin the I<hatkov
gion should be excavated, measured, and dcscribcd (Miller 1956:
). In 1718 Peter the Great issued a more gcncral order that district
wcrnors and com~nandcrsof cities should collect and forward to
Petcrsburg (now Leningrad) old and rare objects as these were
scovcrcd. His intc rests cmk)raced geological a

,ell as archacolog~calspecimens and his scien.tific intercsts were

evident in his rcqucst that slictcl~csshould bc made of the circumstances in \\liiicli interesting objects were found. 1111721 a Dr Mcsscrschmidt was scnt to Sibcria to malic collections of various kinds,
including arcl~acologicalones, aiid five ycars later a govcrnmcnt
office t ~ ~ r n cover
d more than 250 objects of gold and silver \vcighing
~ ~ l o rthan
c 33 liilograms to thc 1111pcrial Art Collection. I11 1739
Gcrhard Miillcr (Gerard F. Millcr, 1705-83), a professor of German
att;~chcdto the Russian Acadcniy ofScicnccs, who had bccn scnt to
study the peoples and rcsourccs of Siberia, supcr\liscd the csca.
. vations of kurgans in the vicinity of I<r
:. H c rcc
I;II-gcI I L I I I ~of
~ Cbroiizi
at lie prc]
publication (131;icli 198(
After the Russians annexed and began t o settle the steppes alorig
the I;
it of the Black Sc:l in the second h;ilf of the ciglitccntli
archacalogical interests of thc govcrnmcnt and thc
gcncral publ~cshifted to that rcgion. La~ndown
lcrs and peasants
began to dig into 1t~lrga11s
in hopes of rccoveri1.1gprrcious n~ctals and
anticluitics. As early as 1763 the governor of thc: region, Gcncral
Alckscy Mcl'guno\l, excavated the Scytliian royal lturgan ot'Mcl'gunovsliy, rcco\,cring valuable finds that arc now in the Hermitage
M ~ ~ s c u rClassical
Greek scttlcmcnts along tllc north shore of thc
ISluck Sc3 also attr.ictcd :~ttcntion.Some of the best archaeological
rcscarch in Russia i n the early nineteenti1 CCLI~LII-y
was C~OIIC by
French C W L ~ J Y ~archacologists
working in the Crimca (Millcr 1956: 22;
Sklcndi- 1983: 94). The study of classical antiquities was vigorously
pursued by the Imperial Odessa Socicty of History and Antiquity,
foundcd in 1839 (Miller 1956: 27). By 1826 so many finds had bee11
asscmblcd in the Crimcan city of ICcrch that an arcl~acological
lnuscurn was opc~lcdthcrc.
ho patrol
Prior to 1850 the Russian arist
research wcrc far IIIOSC i~itcrcstcdill the \raluablc an^^ L A U L ~ Lworks of
art recovered from kurgans and Grcclc cities than in humbler finds
relating to Slavic prehistory. I11 Russia, unliltc Central Europe, class
i~ltcrcstso\rcrtly co~lti~lucd
to outweigh a sc~iscof ethnic identity.
Among tl~cmsclvcs, the upper classcs often spoke French and
German rather than Russian. Moreover, although thc Russians, like
r h ~4n1cricans,
wcrc expanding illto regions occupied bv tribal
did not

A history of archaeological thought

racial justifications for their actions. Having been conquered and

ruled for centuries by thc Mongols, thc Russians wcrc lcss incli~led
to dcspisc their technologically lcss dcvclopcd ncighbours than wcrc
the Americans.
I11 thc second half of thc ninctccntl~century, Russia cxpcricnced
rapid dcvelop~llcntin industry, trmsport, tr.zdc, and cducnt~onal
opportunities. The middle classes cxpandcd rapidly and among the
cducated scgmcnt of thc populat~onthere was a growing interest in
natur.ll sclcncc, philosophy, h~story,and p o l i t ~ c ~
was a rapid proliferation of archaeological rcscarch, publications,
muscums, associat~ons,and congresses. All of the archacologists at
this pcriod wcrc tcachcrs, landoivncrs, civil scrvants, and military
officers who were self-insttuctcd in thc discipline. Yet they carried
out rcscarch comparable to that bcing donc elsewhere in Europc
(Miller 1956: 28). The rapid development of archaeology in Russia,
and a growing number of remarkable finds, led the government to
in St Petcrsburg.
establish the Impcrial ~ r c h a c o l o g i ~Commission
In 1859 this con~~llissio~l
was enlpowcrcd to grant Iiccnccs for cxcavations on govcrnlllcllt and public lands and ass~gncdgeneral
rcsponsibility for safeguarding all archacological remains in Russia.
In 1851 an Imperial Archacology Soc~ctywas founded in St Petersburg and in 1864 Count Alcltscy Uvnrov organ~zcdthe Impcr~al
Russian Archaeological Socicty in Moscow, which he, and later his
widow, dircctcd until 1917. Each of these bodies cstablishcd major
publication series which continued until the rcvolution. In the 1870s
and 1880s regional archacological societies werc established in
Tiblisi, ICazan, Pskov, and othcr provincial citics.
Beginning in the 1870s and continuing into the early twcntieth
century, archacological interests diversified. Kurgans and classical
sitcs continued to be cxcavatcd, but there was a growing emphasis
on scttlcmcnts and ccmcterics from a11 periods of Russian history.
Thc Palacolithic sites at Kostcnki, in thc Ultrainc, bcgan to bc
studied, whilc Ncoli'thlc sitcs, incl~~ding
those of the Tripolyc
culture, as well as Bronzc and Iron Age ones werc excavated in
western Russia. Thcrc was also cons~dcrablclntcrcst in Slavic and
medieval Russian archaeology, especially among the mcmbers of the
Impcr~alArchacology Socicty, where a special section was cstablished for such rcscarch. This particular interest reflected ths,12au;
Slavism that played a significant role in Russian foreign policy in

Soviet archaeology
the late nineteenth ccntul-y 'and wllich supported the government's
. n
cfforts to cxtcnd Russian lnnucncc
throughout Eastern Europc. By
this time archaeology was being taught at thc universities in St
Pctcrsburg and Moscow.
This samc period witnessed a considcrablc, if uneven, improveillent in ~rchacological~ ~ ~ c t l ~ o d o and
l o g yintcrprctation. Treasure
hunting continued and was popular among landowners, who legally
owncd all the wcaltll on thcir estates, including archacological finds.
This ,~pproachwas provided with somc dcgrcc of scientific rcsycctability by old-fashioned archacologists and art historians who
believed that kurgans and classical sitcs were the only archaeological
rcillains worth studying and by an aesthcticizing trend that viewed
only works of art as deserving of attention. The latter approach was
cultivated particularly at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg
where a remarltable collection of prehistoric and medieval art had
been assernbled (Miller 1956: 53).
Other archacologists working in Moscow and St Pctcrsburg wcrc
influcnccd by rcccnt dcvclopn~cntsin prehistoric archaeology in thc
rcst of Europc. Thc most prominent of these wasVasily Gorodtsov
(1860-rgqs), a rctircd infantry officcr who bcgan to cxcavatc in the
1890s with financial support from the Countess Uvarova. In the early
1900s he became d~rcctorof the MOSCOW Historical Muscum and
one of the founders of thc Moscow Archaeological Institute. H e also
trained a largc number of professional archaeologists. Gorodtsov
was the outstanding exponent of what later was called the formalist
school of Russian archaeology, which was inspired by the work of
Oscar Montelius, Joseph Dtchelettc, and other typologists. Formalists studied the morphology of artifacts and sought to arrange them
in chronological sequenced. As a result of his excavations along the
Don River, Gorodtsov was ablc to demonstratc thc existence of a
Bronzc Age in Russia and to dividc it into succcssivc pcriods. H c
systcmatically pcriodizcd Russian antiquities and proposcd his own
terminology, although it was not widely accepted. H e also stressed
the importance of studying scttlcments and ordinary cemeteies as
well as kurgans (Millcr 1956: 37).
Alcksandr Spitsyn (1858-1931), who was a member ofthe Imperial
Archaeological Commission, was a founder of the empirical school.
The school maintained that the basic task of archaeologists was to
provide the most detailcd and' accurate descriptions of artifacts,

A history of arcIiaeologic,~lthought

while cschcwing prclliaturc conclusions of a historical o r sociological nature (Millcr 1956: 32-3). Such a n npproach had much in
comlnon with that of Joscph Henry in the United States. The
eventual leader of the c~lipiricalschool was hleksandr Millcr (187519;5), a student of Mortillct ~vliobegan to excavate in Russia in 1902.
H e greatly improved the st,indards oi'cxc,~\~ation
tccliniclucs, as well
as of the study and conscr\.ation of al-tifacts. As l'rofcssor of Archacology at the Univcl-sity of St P c t c ~ - s h ~ ~hc
r gtl-nincd
man)? Russian
archacologists. Yet, despite the good tvorli that was being done, no
Russia11arch,lcologist establishccl an international reputation ccl~~ivalcnt to that of Lobaclicvsky in mathematics, Mcndclcjrcv in the
physical sciences, 01-l'avlov in biology.

Arpchczeology duri~dthe Neiv Economic Policy

It has been clainicd that 'no previous government in history was so
opcnly and cncrgctically in favor of scicncc' as was the Sovict rcgimc
that came to po~vcrin the autumn of 1917(Graliam 1967: 32-3). Thc
revolutionary Icadcrs of the nctv state looked to scientific lcnowlcdgc
to modcrnizc thc Russian cconomy and to cliniinatc Russia's
age-old mysticism, which was \riewcd as a hindrance to social and
cconomic progl-css. The social sciences, including archacology, had
.I crucial role to play in the cnsui~igideological str~igglc.
In 3 clccrcc
oftlic Council ofl'eoplc's Commiss.ll-s dntcd I S April 1919and signed
b\r V.I. Lenin, tlic Imperial Archaeological Commission in l'ctrograd (fornicrly St Petersburg) ivas rcorga~iizcd as thc Russian
Academy for the Historv of Material Culturc (RAIMIC). Tlic
organization was entrusted to its first director Nikola)) Marr (18651934). Liltc ICossinna, a linguist with archaeological interests, Marr
rcjcctcd the universally held belief that new languagcs evol\le 2s the
result of a gradual process of phonological, lcsical, and gra~ilmatical
diffcrcntiation from ancestral forms. Instcad hc bclicvcd that
linguistic cha~igcsoccur"'as a response to alterations in the socioeconomic organizatioll of the socictics in which their spcaltcrs live;
Iic~iccsilliilarities among languagcs indicate the stage of evolution
that societies have rcachcd rather than liistorical affinities. 0 1 1 the
basis of a supcrfici,ll rcscmbla~iccbctwccn this thcorp and Marxist
explanations of sociocultural change, iMarr's tcachi~igs ciijoycd
official cstccm within tlic Sovict Union until 1950.

Sovict archaeology
Following thc creation of the Sovict Union the RAIMIC became
thc State Acadcmy for the History of Matcrial Culture (GAIMK)
and was give11 ultimate jurisdictioli over archacological activities
and institutions not only in the Russian Republic but throughout
the U n ~ o n(Miller 19S6: 47). From the start this was a larger and
niorc powerful lnstitutc than thc Inlpcrial Archacolog~calCommission had bccn (Bulkin et al. 1982: 274). In 1922 the chairs of archacology . ~ tthe uni\rcrsitles of Lcn~ngradand Moscow were transfomicd into archacology departments. Talcntcd students who
complctcd t h c ~ rundcrgraduatc studies in these and other departmcnts were adm~ttcdto thc Institute of Postgraduate Studies of thc
GAIMIC The best of thcsc studcnts could hope to remain in tlic
GAIMK as junior and then senior research associatcs. Thus a pattern
of largcly scparatlng rcscarcli and undergraduate teaching was estabhshcd that has pcrsistcd to thc present in the Sovict Union (Davis
1983: 409). In additloll to allowing a large number of archaeologists
to cngagc 111 full-timc rcscarcli, the institute structure gave these
archaeologuts access to technical cxpcrts who could scientifically
analysc art~facts,floral and faunal rcmains, and geological and climatolog~caldata relating to archaeological problems.
In Moscow in the mid-1920s a rival arcliacological centre was
cstabl~slicdin tlic form of an Archaeological Section of the Russian
Assoc~ation of Scicnt~fic Institutes of the Social Sc~cnccs
(RANION). The latter ~ 1 . 1~111
~ amnlgamation of 15 scparatc institutes
and Len~ngradthat sought to produce good rescarclicrs
and tcachcrs by employing Colilmunist Party and sclcctcd non-party
pcrsonncl worlcing under close communist supervision (Shapiro
1982: 89). Thc encouragcmc~itby the Communist Party of thc
popularizat~onand dcmocratlzation of scicntific knowledge and
rescarch also Icd to thc formation of many regional studies organizations in thc early 1920s. Arcl~acologywas a popular subject in these
socictics, 111 whicli professional archacologists, studcnts, and intercsted amateurs united to carry out and publish rcsearch (Miller 1956:
Allnost no archacological fieldwork was donc during World War I
or thc civ~lwar that followcd it. In 1921, in an cfibrt to promote
econornlc rccovcry and broaden thc basis of support for thc rcvolution, cspccially among the peasantry, Leni~iinaugurated the New
Economic Pol~cy,which rcstored a limited market economy in tlic

A history of arcl~aeologicalthought

Soviet Union. As part of this move, the Soviet governmeilt adopted

an accommodative policy toward the intelligentsia, although most
of the latter had not supported the Bolshevik revolution. Lenin was
convinced that, because of the lack of education among workingclass people, the party could not manage the economy, conduct
scientific research, or run the government without the services of the
educated classes. H e also rejected the radical proposal that cultural
power could be seizcd by revolutionary action. Instead he believed
that a socialist society had to be built on the foundations of bourt
and industrial workers
geois cultural achicvcrncnts and t h ~peasants
had to learn about that culture gradually from the intelligentsia.
Some othcr Communists, including Anatoly Lunacharsky, the
Commissar of Enlightenment, went further and hoped that, by
being assigncd a positive role in the building of socialism, the
intelligentsia could be brought into the mainstream of Soviet life
and turned into Commullists (O'Connor 1983: 36-7). During the
period of the New Economic Policy (1921-8) established intellectuals, to thc disgust of hardline revolutionaries, were trusted with
positions of influence and powcr, given well-paid jobs, and allowed
a reasonable mcasure of scholarly indepcndcncc, so long as they did
not openly criticize the regime.
As J result of thc revolution, J few wcll-linown Russian archacologists left the Soviet Union, most not,lbly M.I. Rostovtscv (18701952),who was to beconlc one of the world's leading cxpcrts on the
economy and society of ancient Grcccc and Rome. Those who
remained continued to occupy prominent positions. Gorodtsov was
still a leading archaeologist in the Moscow area, where his principal
collaborators were his former students. Spitsyn, Miller, and other
archaeologists wit11 prc-revolutionary views all remained active
members of the GAIMIC. Because of their influence its scientific
character and dircctio~lwcrc little diffcrcnt from those of the formcr
Imperial Archaeological Commission. Although Marr continued to
elaborate his bizarfe linguistic theories, his leadership of the
GAIMK did not result in significant changes in its approach to
archaeology (Miller 1956: 46).
During the period of the New Economic Policy a large amount of
archaeological research was accomplished and many new archaeologists werc traincd. The more spectacular manifestations of amateurish archacology that had flourisld in the ninctccntl~century

disappeared as the confiscation of the wealth of the aristocracy

brought the financing of research under government control. Professional archacologists also wrote the first generalizing works in
Russian dealing with archaeoloh and prehistory. Although these
studies were of varying quality, they set new standards for students
and provincial researchers (Miller 1956: 60). On the other hand, the
main interpretive schools that had been founded before the revolution still dominated archaeology. The formalists continued to
elaborate a typological approach and followed Montclius in viewing
the development of technology ,as the cumulative result of the use of
11uman intellect to gain increasing control over nature. Diffusion
and migration were rclicd on to explain changes in the archaeological record. The empirical school remained contcnt to dcscribc
archaeological finds as precisely a s possible, without making generalizations srtrying to relate these finds to the societies that had
produccd them (Miller 1956: 49-55). Contacts with foreign archaeologists were unimpeded and Soviet archaeologists continued to
publish their works abroad. The journal Eurasia Septentrionalis
Antigua, edited by the Finnish archaeologist A.M. Tallgren (1885r945), was devoted largely to'lussian archaeology and published
papers by Russian archacologists ,in French, English, and German
tr,lnsl.itions. T l l r o ~ ~ gtlicse
c~\itactsE ~ ~ r o p c aarchaeology
contin~icdto cxcrt significant influincc on work clone throughout thc
Soviet Union. Mikhail Miller (1956: 53-5) notcs the impact of contemporary European thought, ,such as the diffusionist Viennese
school of anthropology, Oswald Spengler's cyclical views of history,
and even racist theories, on the interpretation of Soviet archaeological data.
On the other hand, most archaeologists avoided applying the
concepts of historical materialismto archaeology. They appear to
have assumed that, becausc they wcrc studying thc history of material culture, their work accorded suffici&tly with the materialist
perspective of the new social and political order. Yet even formalists,
wlao believed technological inn&ation to be a major cause of social
change, did not interpret their data as if it were a basis for understanding historical and cultural processes. Instead they treated them
as objects unrelated to a social context. The history of the socioccoi~omicrelations that had produccd the archaeological record was
viewed as something to be studi'cd by historians using written

A Ilistory of archaeological thought

Soviet archaeology

rccords (Miller 1956: 55). The New Economic Policy has been
described as a 'golden c ~ of
a Marxist thought 11; the USSR' (S.
Cohcn 1973: 272). Thcrc is no evidence that any archacologists
participated in this ~ntcllcctualferment. Even within the framework
of traditional intcrpretations, Russian archaeologists appear to have
been cautious .ind rc,lctionary rather than innovati\.c.

foreign archaeological publicatio~lscould be found only in the

GAIMIC library (Miller 1956: 73, 93-4).
111 the late 1920s 3 C o i i i r n ~ ~ ~cell
i s t had been cstablishcd in the
GAIMK. It was conlposcd mai~llyof postgraduate students and
research associatcs. At the bcginnillg of the cultural revolutio~lthis
group st.irtcd to criticize arc11,~cologistsof tlic old schools, cli.lllcnging them to reveal their attitude towards Marxism. I11 1929 Professor
Vladislav 1. Kavdonikas (1894-1976)~a middle-aged archaeologist
who had joined rhc Communist Party a number of years before, 011
orders from the GAIMK party organization rcad a rcport it1 thc
academy cntitlcd 'For a Sovict history of material culture'. This
paper was published the following year and widely rcad by archncologists throughout the Sovict Union. I t criticized thc thcorctical
positions of prominent archaeologists and called for a 'Marxist
history of material culture' to replace the old archaeology. Thc vcry
conccpt of archaeology was rcjccted as that of a bourgcois scicnce

Dunng the 1920s rc\~ol~t10i1,11-y

radic~ls,~ n d u s t r ~ a l
workers, members of the Union of Commun~stYouth (I<omsomol),
and Commun~ststudents became ~ncrcas~ngly
c r ~ t ~ c of
a l the New
Econom~cl'ollcy ~s ~t was dppl~cdto c u l t ~ ~ ratfa~rs.
Thcy rcscntcd
the sk~llsof the old cultural and educational el~tesand saw the
entrenched priv~legesand o p p o s ~ t ~ oton educational reforms of this
to t h c ~ row11 advancement. They therefore
group as imped~nle~lts
denounced the acco~nmodat~o~l
with ,the old intelligentsia as a
betrayal of the October rcvolut~onand demanded that the polltical
be extc~ldedinto the cultural rcalm. Political struggles
w~thlnthe Icadcrshlp of the Comnlu~listParty following the death of
Lcn~np1'1ycd a role 111 dec~dlllgcultur~lpolicy at t h ~ sjuncture.
Joseph Stalln's programme of intensive industr~al~zatlon
and the
of agr~culturc,w h ~ c hbegan with the first F~vc-Year
Plan 111 1928-9, reversed the basic cconomlc princ~plcsof the New
Econom~cPol~cy.As part of h ~ campaign
to consolidate power, he
allicd h~mselfw t h the cultural radicals who dcmanded that intellectuals should bc subjected to strlct party discipli~ic(F~tzpatrick
1974; O'Conncr 1983: 54, 89). The cultural revolution, w h ~ c hwas
i n ~ t ~ a t cby
d thc arrest of cllglnecrs and tcchn~c~ans
on charges of
sabotage a ~ tre'lson,
~ d
lasted from 1928 to 1932. It ~nvolvcdn masslvc
campalgn to bnng Sovlct ~ntcllcctuall ~ f cInto 11ncwith the tcilcts of
Marx~stph~losophyas thcy wcrc understood by thc Sovict Com~nunistParty. Man? non-Marxist ~ntcllectualsand lnstltutlons were
purged as the S t a l ~ n ~ bureaucracy
sought to suppress all opposlt~on.Among the early VIC~IIIIS of t h ~ scampaign were the regio~lal
stud~cs soc~ctlcs Thcy wcrc d~sbandcd and later replaced by
go\~ernment-controlled reg~o~lal
studies bureaux, w h ~ c hdid not
command popular support. From 1930 on contacts between Sovlct
and fore~gnscho1'11-s wcrc forb~ddcnand for a t ~ m currcnt

A history of archaeological thought

Soviet archaeology

hostile to Marxism. At the Pan-Russian Conference for Archaeology

and Ethnography hcld at the G A M K the following May, thc party
organization of thc acadcmy mounted an exhibition of Soviet
archaeological literature in which boolcs and papers written since
1917 wcrc denounced for their adherence to formalism, bourgeois
nation~lism,and othcr anti-communist tcndcncies. The Montclian
typological method was criticrzed for its idc,xlism, for nlalcing
fctishcs of artifacts (artifactology), and for ~mproperlyinterpreting
human history in biological tcrnls (Millcr 1956: 71-8). The countcrsuggestion that archaeology might cut its linlcs with history and seclc
within a Marxist framework t o develop its own rncthods to study
past human bchaviour was dlso firmly rejected (Dolitsky 1985: 361).
This criticism was followed by the dismissal, and in somc cases the
arrcst and cxiling, of archacologists who wcrc unablc or unwilling t o
alter their views. At lcast 20 archaeologists in Leningrad, including
Alelcsandr Miller, were exiled. In Moscow Gorodtsov was dismissed
from all his duties, although the Soviet government later awarded
him the Order of the Red Banner for his contributions to Russian
archaeology. This suppression was documented and condemned by
Tallgren (1936) after he visited Leningrad in 193s. I11 retaliation he
was dcprivcd of his honorary mcmbcrship in the GAIMIC and
denied further entry to the Soviet Union. The cvcnts of this period
havc sincc bccn chronicled it1 greater dctail by thc Lmigve' Russian
Mild~ailMillcr (1956: 96-10s). At thc same time that
this was happening, thc power of the GAIMIC and its centralized
control of Soviet archaeology was enhanced when RANION,
together with its Archaeological Section in Moscow, was completely
abolished. In its place a Moscow Branch of the GAIMIC
(MOGAIMK) was organized in 1932 with the historian A. Udal'tsov
as its director.
The youngcr generation of Marxist archaeologists, who under
Ravdonikas' leadership came to occupy leading positions, had to
elaborate a Marxist approach to archaeology. These scl~olars
included Ycvgeni Krichevsky (1910-42), who studicd Neolith~ccultures, A. P. Kruglov (1904-42) and G. P. Podgayetsky (1908-+I),
who studied the Bronze Age in southern Russia, and P. N. Tret'yakov, who studied the Old Russian and Slavic cultures. Most of them
wcrc enthusiastic, but not very cxpcrienccd in Marxism or in archaeology (Bulkin e t al. 1982: 274). The leading thcorctician in thcsc for-

mative years was Ravdonikas, whom even his enemies credited with
cxccptional ability. Thc Communist Party, whilc supporting thc
crcation of a Marxist approach to~archacologyand rcserving the right
to pass judgement on its theory and practice, does not appear to have
provided archaeologists with e'xplicit guidelines. Nor could these
guidclincs be found in the writings of Marx and Engcls. Thc most
relevant statement that Marx had made about archacology was that

Relics of by-gonc i~lstrurne~lts

OF labour posscss thc samc
importance for the investigation of extinct econon~icalforms
of extinct
of society, as do fossil bones for the determi~latio~l
species of animals. It is not the'articles made, but how they are
h~ndc,and by what instruments, that cnablcs 11s to distinguish
different econo~nicalepochs. Instruments of labour not only
supply a standard of the degrce of devclopn~cntto which
human labour has attained, but they are also indicatc)rs of the
social conditions under which labour is carried on.
(Marx 1906: zoo)


Moreovcr, Marx had devoted most of his career to studying capitalist societies and how they had developed from feudal ones. H e had
bcgun to investigate pre-class and early class societies late in life and
had to dcpcnd on thc highly dcfcctivc and polemical anthropologis
in thc late ninctccnth century (Bloch
cal literature that w ~ av,~ilablc
1985: 21-94). Thus hc ,uld Engclslcft nlany qucstiolls about thc sorts
including how
of societies that archacologists study una~~swcrcd,
these societics had cvolved. This meant that archaeologists had to
rely, not on the well-developed concepts that werc available to most
other social scientists, but on the basic principles of Marxism, as
these werc formulated in Marx's and Engels' own writings and in
later exegeses.
Marx summarized the basic principles on which he based his
analyses of socicty in thc preface to his Contribution t o the Critique of
Political Economy (1859):
In thc social production that human beings carry on, they
enter into definite relations that are indispensable and
independent of their will, relations of production which
correspond to a definite stage of development of their material forces of production . . . The mode of production in
material life determines 'the general character of the social,
political, and intellect~ialprocesses of life. It is not the
consciousness of humans that determines their existence; it is

A history of arcl~aeologicalthought

Soviet archaeology

on the contrary their social existence that determi~lestheir

consciousness. (Marx and Engels 1962, r: 362-3)
Traditionally Marxism is characterized by an unswervi~lgdevotiont o a materialist analysis of the hunlan condition. I t is frequently
asserted that at the same time it rejects the positivist doctrine that
science can be b'lsecl only on the direct data of sensory cxpcrie~~ce,
favour of pliilosopl~icalrealism, which cmphasizcs the discovery of
~inobscrvablc underlying structures which gcncratc obscrvablc
phc11o1ncn.1,in this case the Inner csscncc of soc~occonomicfill-mations (I),IVIS198;: 408). Yet t h ~ sdist~nctionmay be cx~ggcratccl.
Lcnin argued that 'Marxism docs not base itsclf on anything othcr
than tlic facts of history and reality' (Pctrova-Avcrkicva 1980: 24).
Marx and Engcls cmphasizcd the s)~stcmicintcrdcpcncicncc of all
aspccts of social lifc and n ~ o r particularly
viewed hunian socictics as
systems that organized production and rcproduction. Thcy also
stressed internal contradictio~isand conflicts as prominc~ltfeatures
of complex (historical) human societies and the most important
source of social changc.
Marx, like lnany other ninctccnth-century social theorists, viewed
Iiuma~ibeings as having cvolvcd the ability to coopcratc as ~ilcnibers
of social groups to the cxtraordin,li-p extent that soc~cticswere ablc
routinely to transform thcir rcl~tioilsto the 1lat~ir;11
world and to
modify human nature. Yet he diffcrcd from most analysts in idcntlfying the organization of labour as tlic ~iiostinlporta~~t
means by
which human be~ngswcrc ablc to confront nature as onc of her own
forccs. Thc crucial factor shaping social systems was the economic
base, w l ~ i cco~isists
of the forccs and relations of production. While
there have been scrious diffcrcnccs of opinion among Marxists
concerning tlic definitions of thcsc terms, the forces of production
are widely i~itcrprctcdas cmbraci~lgnot only all forms of technology
but also all utilized rcsourccs, human and non-human, and alb
scientific knowlcdgc (Graham 1967: 34-5). The relations of production signify the m-ays in which individual human beings rclatc
with one another to utilize the forccs of productio~ito produce and
distribute goods. They therefore cmbracc not only what Wcstcrn
anthropologists would identifj? as ccono~nicbehaviour, but also
various facets of social bchaviour. The economic base is seen as
playing a powcrf~llrole in shaping othcr aspccts of socicty, such as
concepts of property, family lifc, political organization, law, rclig-

ious beliefs, aesthetics, and philosophical and organizational aspects

of scientific activities. All of,tbesc are collectively referred to as
society's superstructure. Marx did not believe that technological
change came about as a result of human beings using their intellect
to develop more cffcctive ways to control thcir cnvironmcnt, as
Victorian cvolutio~iists and Enlightenment philosophers had
assumed. Instead he argued that tecl~nologicalchange itself must be'
understood in a social context. Wliilc ncw tcchnologics bring about
s o c ~ , ~anti
l politic.11 cli,~ngcs,they tlicmsclvcs arc thc products of
specific social contcsts tliat ,infludncc what innovations arc liltcly o r
~inliltelyto occur. This is what Engels meant when he wrote that 'thc
determining c1~111cntin t11c liistorical proccss in the final a~~nlysis
production, and the reproduction of human life . . . If S O I I I C ~ O ~ Y
distorts this principle into the bclicf that the elconomic Iclemcnt is the
only determining clement, then [that person ] has trar;~sformed[the
*h~ ~ j s t rphrase'
materialist understanding of history] into an C L I I ~ L Y , ~
(Marx and Engcls 1962, 2: 488).
Marxis111 analyses every socicty as containing within itsclf tendencies tliat pron~otcand oppose changc. Thus cach socicty contains
tlic seeds of thc destruction of its prcscnt statc and at the samc time
the embryo of a future condition. The antagonisp bctwccn thcsc
two tcndcncics produces the encrgy that brings about changc. Marx
did not deny that supcrstr~icturalfactors, such as cntrcnchcd political hierarchies or powerful religious beliefs, can bc of great historical importance but he maintained that this is so only insofar as
they are capable of preventing change. Wholesome changes can
occur only when economic transformations arc not ovenvhelme,d by
such forces. A progressive society is thcrcfore one that a
large number of possibilities for the unfettcrcd dcvclopmcnt of
2 0 ; Tringham
human productive forces ( ~ c t i o v a - ~ v c r k i e v1980:
1983: 95-6).
In his own research Mars cndcavourcd both to cxplain~concrctc
historical events and to gcncralizc about evolutionary trends in
human history. In TheXVIIIth hi ma ire ofLouis Bonaparte and The
Class S t r u ~ l ein France, 1848-50 lie sought to account for historical
events not as collcctivc rcspo~~ses
to environmental and economic
conditions but in terms of the 'conflicting interests of social and
economic groups that were seeking to preserve or enhance their
power. Thcsc studies stress intcntionality and thc social rcproducsm.>t.,

A hisrory of archaeological thought

tion of reality rather than trcating human behaviour as the passive

consequence ofsocial forces. H e also obscrvcd that every socicty was
thc product of its own separate history and therefore responded fo
cconomic changes
- in a distinctive-fasliio~i.Bccausc of this it was
impossible to for~nulatcgeneral laws that would cxplain all of thc
concrete reality o f cult~~l-;il
ch;~ngcin 3 predictive f:~sliion.I n some of
his writings thcrc is 3 suggestion that lie bclicvcd in m~~ltilincar
evolution, 3t least in the short and miclcllc range (Hobsbawm 1964).
Yet he also bclicvccl in an idcnl ~ O L I I for
- s c 1i~11ii;in
cicvclopmcnt that
\vould run from primitive cga1itari;un societies, through class socictics, to the tcclinologicallp advanced, egalitarian societies of the
future. Over tlic ycars Marxists have varied in the degree to which
thcy have cmphasizcd the historical complexity or evolutionary
rcgularitp of human history. Sovict scholarship, rooted in the
writings of G. V. Plcklianov (1856-1918) and reinforced by Stalin's
own vicws, tended to stress a strongly evolutionar~rand deterministic view of social change (Blocli 1985: 95-123).
Finally Marx dcnicd that human bchaviour is biologically dctcrmined to a significant dcgrcc or that a large number of gencralizations are applicable to all human societics (Childe 1947a). Instead
he believed that ~iiostof the rules governing socicties change as the
modc of production changes. Social evolution thus produces
gcnuinc novcltics in thc rules governing human behaviour rather
than mcrely varied permutations and combinations of a fixed set of
regularities. H e also denied that it was possible to create a socially
and politically neutral social science in a class society, since such
studies inevitably arc influenced by the class prejudices of the scliolars who undertake them. Yet Marx would not have viewed tlie
ancient Sumcrian and modern capitalist world vicws relativistically.
Instead he would have intcrprcted them as positions that are qualitativcly distinct in tcrlns of their potential for human action. H e
would also have claimed for Marxism a privileged position compared to all other philosopliical or scientific approaches to understanding human behaviour.
Kavdonikas and his colleagues attc~ilptedto render archaeological
data of value to society by making them useful for the Marxist study
of history. Archaeologists wcre to use thcir data to illustrate the laws
and regularities of historical processes and by doing so demonstrate
tlic accuracy and utility of Marxist concepts. The specific task thcy

Soviet archaeology
set themselves was to explain in Marxist terms the changes that had
occurred in prehistoric times. The primary context in which such
changes were held to be comprehensible was n o longer technology
but social organization. The concept of succcssive ages of stone,
bronze, and iron was abandoned on the ground that it had its source
in .in undcrst.inding not of society but too narrowly of the raw
matcri,ils prevailing in thc dcvelopmcnt of technology. Archacologists wcrc c~llcdupon not only to dcscribc thcir finds but also to
reconstruct the socictics that had produccd them. This involved
as much as
defining thcir ~liodcsof production and dctcrn~ini~lg
poss~bleabout their technology, social organization, and ideological
concepts (Miller 1956: 79).
This approach had many valuable conscqucnccs. By dirccting the
attention of archaeologists to bow ordinary people had lived, it
encouraged thcm to undertake large-scale horizontal excavations of
settlements, camp sites and workshops (Davis 1983: 410). Greater
attention also was paid to the evidence of dwellings and the relationship of different types of artifacts to thcsc structures. This rcsultcd in
the first identification of Palaeolithic dwellings anywhere in the
world (Childe 1950) and some of the first total excavations of
Neolithic villages. When ccmctcries were cxcavatcd it was mainly to
investigate religious beliefs and to ascertain the social structures of
the socicties that had produccd thcm.
Some of tlie interpretations of this period were unsound, such as
P. I. Boriskovsky's suggcstion that female statuettes were evidence
of matriarchal clan societies in Upper Palaeoiithic times (Davis 1983:
413-4). O n the other hand, in 1934 P. N. Tret'yakov determined
from fingerprints on the interiors of vessels that the pottery associated with prehistoric hunter-fisher cultures of northern and central
Russia was manufactured by women. H e went on to argue that the
unifor~nityof pottery styles within individual sites and the considcrable variation between sites indicated a matrilocal marriage pattern,
which resulted in the potters of each small community handing on
their traditions from onc generation to the next undisturbed by
external influences (Childe 1943: 6). Similar interpretations were not
attempted by American archaeologists prior to the 1960s and these
studies were less archaeological in that the identification of the sex
of the potters depended entirely on the direct historical approach
(Binford 1972: 61).

A history of archaeological thought

33 Plan of Palaeolithic hut found at.Buryet, reproduced in Antiyuity by

Childe, 1950

Arcl~acologistswcrc also cncouraged to explain changes in the

a.rchaeological rccord not in terms of migration and diffusion but as
the result of internal social dcvclopmcllts. For cxamplc, in their Clan
Societies of the Steppes of Eastern Europe I<ruglov and Podgayetsky
(1935) related changes in Coppcr Agc burial customs in s o u t h c r ~ ~
Russia to developing conccpts of propcrtp. They suggested that
collective tombs correlated with the communal ownership of the
means of production and individual barrows with patriarchal pastoral socictics. Thcy also suggcstcd that as propcrty bccarnc morc


Soviet al-chacology
important in evolving societies, the greed of heirs gradually curtailed thc burial of large amounts of valuablc possessions with thc
dead (Childe 1942d: 133).Thc latter argument was to inspire Childc's
(194~a)cross-cultural gcncralizations about thc development of
which aftcr dccadcs of ncglcct have oncc again
bccomc of intcrcst to arcl~acologists(M. Pcarson 1982). 13ccausc of
their concern with social change Sovict archaeologists also rcvivcd
an intcrcst in cultural evolution as wcll as in associated concepts of
dcvclopmcnt and progress, at a tinic whcn diffusionism was still in
the ascendant in North Amcrica altd thc rcst of Europc.
Yct Marxist studies of archacological data laboured under scvcrc
conceptual restrictions at this time. Social cvolution was conccytualizcd in terms of a unilincar schcmc of sociocco~~omic
looscly dcrivcd fro111Engcls' The orbin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, which in turn had bcen bascd largely on Marx's
study of Morgan's Ancient Society. Pre-class socictics wcrc dividcd
into succcssivc prc-clan, matriarchal clan, patriarchal clan, and tcrminal clan stagcs followcd by thrcc forms of class society: slavc,
fcudal, and capitalist; and two ,more forms of classless socicty:
socialist and communist. Thc latter was rcgardcd as thc final stagc of
human dcvclopmcnt and not subjcct to further changc (Millcr 1956:
78-9; Yu. Semcnov 1980). This formulation was accordcd ca~lonical
status dul-ing the Stalin pcriod and scientific criticism of it was 11ot
I I ~ I L to
~ inrcrprct thcir fi ndings in accordance
with this scheme and also in agrccmcnt with thc classics of
Marxism-Leninisn~. The only lccway allowcd rcflcctcd thc recognition that many culturcs wcre in a transitional rathcr than a purc state
with respect to thcir stagc of dcvclopmcnt. Therc was also debatc
concerning tllc archacological critcria that might rcvcal to which
stagc of dcvclopn~entan archacological culturc bclongcd. The dogmatism with which socia!scientists adhered to this scheme contrasts
sllarply with the views cxprcsscd by Marx and Engels, who wcrc
preparcd to consider ~llultilincar modcls of social evolution,
cspccially with regard to earlier and less wcll understood periods of
human development.
Still worse, within the GAIMK, Sovict archacological rescarch
was now subjected to the intcllcctuil influence as wcll as the administrative dircction of Marr. By denying commonly acccptcd evidence
of linguistic continuity, his thcory of linguistic change encouraged

A history of archaeological thought

archaeologists to ignore even the most blatant evidence of ethnic

movements in the archacological record and to interpret the
archaeological sequence for each region from earliest times xo the
present as stages in the history of a single people. Ravdonikas argued
that in the Crimca an autochthonous population had in turn been
Iranian-speaking Scythians, German-speaking Goths (whose Ianguagc was ncvcrthclcss proclaimed to be l~istoricallyunrelated to
German languages farther west), and finally Slavs. Milthail Artamonov maintamed that the ICh,lzLlrshad not C O I ~ Cfroill farther east
to thc Don Vallcy and the northern Caucasus but had cvolvcd locally
and hence wcre not Turlts; while M. I<hudyakov asserted that the
Volga Tatars wcre liltcwisc not Turlts but had dcvclopcd as a result
of thc amalgamation of local tribes (Miller 1956: 81-2). This view also
tended to inhibit an interest in physical anthropology, insofar as the
latter was directed towards distinguishing ethnic groups in the
archacological rccord (letter of V.G. Childe cited in Trigger 198oa:
104). Whilc Soviet archacologists profcsscd to be intercstcd in the
prehistory of varlous ethnic groups, their unilincar evolutionary
discouraged the ~nvcstigation of the sorts of cultural
e cthnic significance. D ~ f f u s ~ owas
n also
variati011that might h ~ v had
rejectc d as a dcnigrat~onof human crehdvity. Marr's conccpt of the
autocl- thon no us devclopmcnt of pcoplcs was seen as a rcjcction of thc
and often r,lclst theories of cultural devclopmcnt
prcvai ling in Wcstcrn Europe. Interprctatio~lsthat i n v o l ~ dprocesses of diffusion and migration were condemned for embodying
)ts of bourgeois nationalism and trying t o provide a spurious
scicntific basis for chauvinist, impcrial~st, and racist doctrines.
Hence to advocatc such views became evidence of counterrcvolu tionary sympathies (Millcr 1956: 80-4). Aftcr Marr died in
I934 1111s doctti~lcscontinued to enjoy official esteem and patronage
until 1950. At that
and dc~minatedarchacological i~lterpretatio~ls
time Stalin, in his cssay 'C~nccrningMarxism in linguistics' denOUllC cd Marr's tcachiags as absurd; pointing out that thc same
Russ ian language continued to be spoken in the Soviet Union as had
been spoken in tsarist Russia.
TkLC heavy emphasis that was placed on the sociological interpretatio n of archacological data and the rejection of the Montelian
approach inhibitcd an interest in the systcmatic classification of
artifacts, which was labcllcdgolo~~e
veshchel7edeniye (naked artifact-

Soviet 'ar~haeology
ology). The attention paid to'classification in the past was condemned as part of a bourgeois tendency to ignorc thc social and
political significance of archaeological data. Hence it, like diffusion
and migration, acquired negative political connotations. The
neglect of classification has had long-term adverse cffects on Soviet
which to the present day has continucd, in tcrlns of
typology, cultural chr01101ogy, *andthc defining of cultural units t o
lag behind research bcing do& in Central and Wcstcrn Europc
(Bulkin e t al. 1982: 288-90).
Although the Sovict cultural revolution is gcncrally dcscribcd as a
period when creativity was swamped by aggressive and intolerant
scctarianis~n(Fitzpatrick 1974: 52), thc approach to archacological
interprctation that was pionccrcd at that tirnc was onc of grcat
origihality and importance.' The conceptualizations of this initial
phase in the development of Soviet archaeology were not without
flaws and excesses. chief,among these was a superficial and politically constrained understanding of Marxism, which was accompanied by an ovcrcnthusiasm for intcrprcting archacological data in
terms of human bchavio~~r,
oftc1.l' without ncccssary formal studics.
Such shortcomings wcrc to bc cxpcctcd in the early stagcs of a ncw
approach to archaeological interpretation. These flaws were identified and havc bcen increasingly ovcrcomc as Sovict archaeology has
Sovict archaeologists shared an intcrcst in cultural evolution and
learning how people had lived in prehistoric times with the Scandinavian archaeologists of the early nineteenth century. What was
co~nplctclyncw was their determination to understand how social
and cultural systems changed in terms of their own internal
dynamics. This niarkcd a sharp brcak with carlicr cfforts by archacologists to explain cultural change in terms of external influences or
human inventiveness considered without rcfercnce to social and
cconomic conditions. Thc new approach was also charactcrizcd by
an explicit rcjcction of the racism and pessimism about human
creativity that characterized archaeology in Central and Western
Europe in the 1920s. Instead it adopted a dynamic view of society
that accorded with the new social outlook within the Soviet Union.
In particular, it reflected the belicks of a new generation of archaeologists, trained since the revolution, that society could be altered
and irnprovcd through collcctivc social efforts.
' 227

A history of archaeological thought

The cultural revolutio~lwas followcd by a period of consolidation.
Beginning in 1934there was a call, i n all branchcs of Sovict historical
scholarship, for grcatcr profcssiol~alization,better techniques, and
work. The polemical and progr,ummatlc litcrat~irc
that had dom~natedthc previous pcr~odwas abandoned in favour of
more conventional empirical st~ldics.The latter became morc
popular as growing Inslstcncc on politic,~l orthodoxy nladc any
innovation wit11111 the Marxist tradition, or cvcn thc serious
academic discussio~lof theoretical problems, increasingly dangerous. Postgraduate degrces and thc dcfcncc of dissertations, which
had been abolished after the revolution (Graham 1967: I ~ I )were
rcintroduccd. As part of this consolidation the term archaeology was
revivcd, early in 1931, as the name of a discipline, although to
distinguish it from 'bourgeois archacology' the form practised in thc
Sovict U11io1lwas henceforth to be called Soviet arcliacology (Miller
1956: 108-9). Archaeology continued to be regarded as a branch of
history, but was sccii as embracing a set of problc~nsthat were
studied by means of material culture. It was also possible once again
to refer to the traditional technological stages of development,
although tecl~~iolog)~
alone was no longer accorded cxplanator)~
Whilc Sovict archaeology was clcccptcd as being adequately dcvcloped in a polit~calsense, grcatcr tcch~~ical
expertise was now said to
be required to improve the general standard of the discipline. Thc
GAIMIC was expanded and given the right to award postgradqtc
degrees. In 1934 it was divided into four branches, one each to study
the history of pre-class, slavc-holding, and feudal societies and a
fourth to deal with technical aspects of research common to archacolog)~.A separate chair (professorship) was established for each
period. In 1937 the GAIMIC was rcnamcd the Institute for the History of Material Culturc and attachcd to the prestigious Soviet Academy of Sciences, which by the 1930s had regained
the role that the Imperial Russian Academy had playcd under the
tsars as the 'dircctoratc of the cultural and scientific life of the nation'
(Graham 1967: 23). The main ccntre of the Institute for the History
of Material Culture was now located in Moscow, although a branch
remained in Lcn~ngrad.In the mid-1950s the Institute was renamed

Soviet archaeology
thc Institute of Archaeology. It has continued to exert a controlling
influence on setting the obj&tives of archacological research for
five-year plans, organizing.major conferences, allocating space for
publications in major journals and monograph series, and regulating
foreign contacts. It also continues t o grant a largc numbcr of the
111ghc1-dcgrccs in archacolo~y((Davis 1983: 408).
During the 1930s chairs and dcpart~ncntsof archacology wcrc
cstablishcd in a largc number of univcrsitics, new monographs and
monograph series were published, and Sovetskaya Arkheolog.iya,
which was to bccorne thc leading Sovict archacological journal, was
begun. Archaeological salvage work expanded rapidly in coiljunction with the massivc industrial projccts that startcd in 1928. Spccial
archacological cxpcditiolls wcrc attached to each nlajor construction
project. These investigated the affected terrain bcfore and during
construction, carried out excavations, and studied thc findings. In
the 1930s nearly 300 expeditions were at work annually (Bulkin et al.
1982: 276). Tours of excavation8; exhibitions, and popular publications scrvcd as Illcans of public instruction. Archacologists also
appl~cdthcmsclves to practical work, such as studying ancient irrigation systems as guides to modesn development and locating ancient
mining sites which might still be of commercial value. This practice
was cspeciallp common bctwccn 1935 and 1941 (Miller 1956: 112).
During the 19los there was n dramatic incrcasc in ki~owledgcof
the prehistoric 'irchacology of the Caucasus, Ccntral Asia, and
Sibcria. These regions wcre studied in order to enhance the cultures
of national groups that had been exploited and kept underdeveloped
in tsarist Russia (Frumkin 1962). Various rich finds werc made in
these areas, such as remains of the ancient states of Urartu and
Parthia and the tumuli at Trialcti and Pazyryk. Thc cultural diversity
of thc archaeological record became increasingly evident and this in
turn raised questions about how such data were t o be analyscd and
rclatcd to the prevailing unilinear evolutionary scheme. These questions acquired greater urgency in the late 1930s a n d during World
War 11, when thc sovereignty and v q y survival of the peoples of the
Sovict Union wcrc threatcncd by Gcrman military cxpansion. Soviet
scholars responded with an asscrtion of patriotism and by fostering
national self-consciousness, which continhed during the period of
the Cold War.
In archaeology this new interest cxprcsscd itself in a growing

A history of archaeological thought

concern with ethnogencsis, which involved searching for ways to

distinguish ethnic differcllccs from other forms of cultural variation
in order to trace the origins of specific nat~onalgroups. Archacologists began to spccializc in thc study of specific periods and
cultures and thus to move in the direction of J culture-historical
approach. Pjcviously Soviet archacolog~stshad r~diculcdthe dcbatcs
carried on bctwccn Polish and Gcrman arcl~acologistsas to wl~ctl~cr
thc late Neolithic and early Bronzc Age Lusatian culturc was Slav~c
or Gcr~nan.Thcy rightly observed t h ~ tl~csc
two linguistic groups
had probably not yet diffcrcntiated at that time (Millcr 1956: 83-4).
They also noted that Marx had rcjcctcd the notion that historical
claims p v c natlon,~lgroups r~ghtsto terrltorlcs they did not currcntly occupy. Ncvcrthclcss, in the late 193os, Russian arch~~cologists
became anxious to dcmonstratc that from ancient timcs their
ancestors, the East Slavs, had occupied the Europcan tcrritory of thc
Soviet Union, as wcll as to rcfute Gcrman cla~msthat throughout
history the Slavs had been culturallp backward peoples. Both before
and after World War I1 research was carried out that sought to trace
the origins of the Russian pcoplc and thc dcvelopn~cntof t h c ~ r
allclent culturc and h ~ n d ~ c r a f(M~llcr
1956: 135-44) The study of
mcdieval Russian towns, especially the cxcavat~onsat Novgorod, set
new standards for urban archacolog!~for that period. The recovery
there of n ~ ~ r n c l -Icttcrs
o ~ ~ s WI-1ttc11
011b1rc11b.11-krc\~c.ilcci,in uncxpcctcd dcgrcc o f 11tcr.1cy o ~ ~ t s ~of
c i thc
c clc~gy.Thc\c s t ~ l d ~ cdcmons
stratcd that the development of towns in nllclcnt R L I S Sst,~rtcd
the samc time as, and wcnt on s i m ~ ~ l t a ~ ~ c owith,
u s l ythe dcvelopmc~~t
of towns in Wcstcrll and Central Europe. Thcy also showed that thc
Russians wcrc abreast of other Europca~lgroups in the devclopme~~t
of crafts, trade, and culturc (M. Thompson 1967). The long-held
view that Russian towns had begun as Scandinavian colonies was
vchemcntly rcjcctcd. Yet, in the course of thcsc studies of cthnogenesis, thc concept of a u t o c l ~ t h o ~ ~dcvclopment
was frcqucntly
ignored and cautious use was madc of diffusio~land migration to
cxpla~nchangcs in the archaeological rccord.
Thcsc tendencies wcrc strengthened when Marr's linguistic theories were repudiated in 1950 and with them the main ideological
underpinning for the concept of autocl~thono~~s
dcvelopmcnt. Faith
diminisl~ed111 formcrly rcspectablc stationary scl~cmcsof cthnogcnesis dnd by the 1960s somc migrations wcrc seen as coming from

Soviet archAeology

34 Plan from excavations at Novgorod, 1977-83

A history of archaeologic~lthought

Sovict arc~laeolbg~


IE chard~stanthomelands. Kcsearchers were now taking :

acteristics of the arcl~aeologicalrecord and of prc
, . ,
behaviour which they had previously ignored. The arcllac~lnulcll
,-aa--record was becomi~lgmore diverse and collourful as it was see11 to be
filled with ethnic groups whose cultural different es were (lf con--.,..
- , -.., .
<idcrahlc intcrc\t (Rulk~nct al. 1982: 276-8). W I I I I tllesc
cw\i(.tnnid their
mcnts were less ~nnovativcthan those of the carly 19;
roots in n~nctecnth-centuryEuropean culture-hi
ology, t h e ~ ri~lcorporatio~l
into Sovict archaeology represcntcn 3
definite cnrichmcut of that approach.
At the same time Sovict archacologp made sign
along its own I~nes.S. A. Senlc~lovhad c o n s i d c r a ~ ~sue--..c
dctermin~ngthe uses t h ~ ht ~ bccn
mdde of prehistoric sto~lcand

bone tc
ltally identifying
esscs tha.t had
W a r r L l l l a "l ~ > ~ - w c
f ao ru ~ on
~ dthelll. r v 11uithis ~ ~ ~h,- I W U L I I ,
which i:s closely a
a Marxis t interest in producxion, hacI been
pioneer ed by Ni
the first 1lalf of th e ninetee nth cent1Iry, it
was i ~ l l ~ l \ , a L<.?L,. \ , l l l t ,lLLcry rg110r~db y, ur,.,.+,..-,
v v c ; r L L t ,l, l .,,-,I.,.,,
~ l oU~,..+:I
~ iI ~
L ~t ,
translat ion of Semenov's Preh
kchnology (1964) was
publish1ed. Thus, without in any wa
ning the Marxist g;oalof
explainill5 LulLural tran~forrnatioi~~ lLLationship Lw cllallf;lly,
modes of production, archaeologists becarrle aware that ther e was
more evidence that required explaination. V dhile stay ing with in the
. . n'-;,-,1
a o opposed Lw all
Marxist tradition,. they, adopted a more hlstb,,,at,
evolutic)nary, view of the past.
~ L L L


0 0

+nn n

A history of archaeological thought


Recent developments

torical poles that have been complementary approaches in Marxism

from the beginning.
All Soviet archaeologi&s 'work within the framework of Marxist
historical or dialectical materialism, which constitutes the idcological basis of Sovict $ocict)l This requires all studies of human
beh.lviour to be c o ~ ~ ~ c p t ~ ~ adcvclot~mcntally,
with special attcntion being p.~id to the causes and conditions that bring about
change. Marxism also encourages thc analysis of bchavioural
phcnomcna in as holistic a context as possible. The marked divisions
bctwccn socicil science discipli~lcsin the Wcst are vicwcd as an
arbitrary impediment to ,a scientific understanding of human
bchaviour. Such divisions arc interpreted 1' s synlptomatic of a
declining society in which an objective understanding of human
bchaviour is no longer dcsircd by the donlinant class. Sovict archacology is also ~ i o separated
'Into self-contained branches, such as
prehistoric, classical, and Near Eastern a'rchaeology. These different
types of arcl~acologyare all studied in history departments and
higher degrees in archacology are always in history. I t is argued that
this unity of history and a k c l ~ a e o l oand
~ ~their shared commitment
to a historical approach helps arcl~aeologiststo understand their
material from a holistic perspective that combines an interest in
specific culturc-historkal processes with a morc general concern
with the evolution of society and culture. Sovict arcl~acologyt h ~ i s
lacks much of the theoretical tension that - rightly o r wrongly - has
pitted culture-l~istoricaland evolutionary approaches against one
another in Wcstcrn ~ u r o i c2nd America sincc the ninctccntl~
century and which also has encouraged much methodological
innovation in the West in recent decades.
Yet there is growing discussion about how archaeological data can
contribute most effectivcly' to a Marxist analysis of human
bchaviour. Many of the mdrc traditional Sovict archaeologists
believe that historical information can be extracted from archacological data using only common sense and the theoretical apparatus
of conventional historical analysis. These data can then be combined
with written historical sokces, ethnography, historical linguistics,
art history, folk lore, and any qther information that is relevant for
the study of the past. While not denying that they employ distinctive
methods to recover and analyse their data, these archaeologists d o
not believe that it is necessary t o elaborate any specifically archaeo-

The post-Stalin era saw significa~ltliber~lizationof So\iiet scholarship and in Soviet Life generally. While this period has been
described as one of problems (Gcning 1982) or even crisis (Soffer.
1985: 8-15) in Sovict nrch,icologp, it 11.1s ,ilso been .i time of growing
complexity and diversity in the intcrprct~t~on
of .irchacological d<ita.
The centralized control of archacology lessened somewhat as new
dcgrcc-granting centres of the Inst~tutcof Archaeology wcrc establishcd in No\~osibirsk, Irk~~tslc,Chita, KCIIICI-OVO,
Dushanbe, and Samarkand and the amount of research originating
in Moscow and Leningrad dropped to 2s percent by 1970 (Davis
*.:U 3 409). Wcstcrn books became morc widely available and morc
COllltacts were established with Wcstcrn archaedlogists. These contact:s have been justified on the basis of Lenin's observation that
.," .y important trend in bourgeois science reflects as well as distorts
real,ity and that by applying a dialectical materialist critique to such
wor k it is possible for Marxists to discover what is of value in these
a n n roaches (Bulkin e t a/. 1982: 278). Soviet archaeologists now
recc,gnize that valuable insights can be derived from Western archae;y, whereas in the past such behaviour would have been den--.xed as a 'manifestation of fawning and subservience to the Wcst
and its capitalist cu.lturc' (Miller 1956: 146). According to Sovict
archaeologists this new collfide~lccdocs not mean 'the end of ideological struggle' but signifies that it has become 'less sharp in form
but more ~ r o f o u n din substance' (Bulkin et al. 1982: 278).
Greater self-consciousness and creativity are also manifested in
tl~eoreticaldiscussio~lsof Marxism, which is no longer obligatorily
identified with the traditional Soviet scheme of unilinear evolution.
In recent years the status of the Asiatic mode of production has been
hotly debated (Dunn 1982), as have the relationship between socioeconomic formations and specific cultures, the impact that interacting societies at* different levels of' development have on one
another, and the nature, of sociocultural change in precapitalist
societies (Danilova 1971). Wcstern observers have noted a rejection
of dogmatism and a trend towards theoretical diversification,
although always within the framework of Marxist philosophy
(Fortes 1980: xix). What is happening is perhaps more accurately
described as a contillui~lgshift from the evolutionary to the his.,L

A history of arcl~aeologicalthought

Sovict archaeology

logical concepts that would distinguisl~arcl~aeologicalintefpretation from the general stream of historical analysis.
This approach characterizes thc work of arcliactllogists who arc
intcrestcci in studying not only $pccific culturcs but also the evolution of society. The cvolutionarp approach, which V. M. Masson
calls 'sociological archacologp', cspcci,llly embraces rescarcli being
dolie in the Caucasus and Central Asia, where the earliest agric~~ltural
economics and the first urban civilizations cvolvcd within
the territory of the Soviet Union. Sociological archaeology seclcs to
reconstruct the economic, social, and ideological structures of
ancient socictics in order to establish the laws as wcll as tlic particular pl~cnoiiicn~l
and processes that bring bout change (Bulkin et
al. 1982: 281). Systcniatic studies bcgun i1-r 1937 by S. P. Tolstoy in
Turklilcnia documented the dcvclop~i~cnt
of ancient irrigation
systcms. Sincc then research in southern Turlunenia has demonstrated the devclopn~eiitof a food-producing cconon~yand later of
Bronze-Age class societies in that region (Kohl 1981a).
Although major cfforts havc bccn made to reconstruct tool use,
tlic operatioii of irrigation spsterns, and the economy and social
composition of urban centres, at lcast one American comllientator
has noted the absence of detailed discussions of the relative import,uncc of population prcssurc, irrigation agriculture, scttlcmcnt patas
terns, warfare, economic cxcIi,ungcs, and religious ~ntcgr~ltion
factors bringing about change (Lambcrg-ICarlovsky 1981: 388). H e
attributes this to the 'historical-descriptlvc' rather than 'analyticalexplanatory' iliodcls that charactcrizc Soviet archaeological research.
On tlie other hand, some Sovict arcliaeologists have suggested that
the chief shortcoming of their evol~~tionary
interpretations is that
evolutionary patterns, often derived in part from the writings of
Wcstern arcliaeologists such as V. G. Childe, R. J. Braidwood, and
R. McC. Adams, are imposed on the data, rather than derived from a
detailed study of the objective characteristics of the archaeological
record (Bulltin et al. 1982:*281).TOat least some degree this approach
reflects a continuing belief that Marxist stadial theory already provides a detailed explanation of cultural change rather than a desire to
use archaeological data to refine and elaborate an understanding that
would take a c c o ~ nof
t the distinctive features of the archaeological
record, such as the wcalc dichotomy bctwccn urban and rural society
found in Ccntral Asia during tlie Bronze Age (IColil 1984: 131-2).

A more critical attitude towards traditional stadial theory has

dcvcloped in Palacolitl~icarchaeology, whcrc archaeologists have
attempted to dctcrnlinc in a rigorous fisl~ionthe archacological
indices by which tlic various stages of social evolution can be
recognized. In 193s Boriskovsky mailltailled that matriarchal clan
society had rcplaccd thc pri~~icval
hordc at the beginning o f the
Uppcr Palaeolithic period. H e 'cited Vcnus figurines and what
appeared to be the rclnains of lar& long1iouscs as evidcncc of this.
Since the latc rg~os,however, the social contrasts bctween thc
Mousterian and Upper Palacolithic periods havc become less apparent. More recently G. P. Grjgor'cv has maintaincd that no major
difkrcnccs can be dctccted in comniunal orga~iiz~~tion
from latc
Acheulcan through Upper l'alacolithic times. H e concludes that the
nuclear fanlily probably existed alrkady in the Lowcr Palaeolithic
and that there is no compelling evidence to demonstrate the existence of clan organization in Upper Palacolithic times. I t is now
widely recognized by Soviet arcl~aeologiststhat existing stadial
theory provides no visible transition markers for the Palaeolithic
sequence and that archacological finds cannot be interpreted in
tcrms (Davis 1983:411-IS). This critique has dcvcloped as part of a general reappraisal of periodization schemes by
Sovict cthnolo~istsand historians (Gellncr 1980).
interested in cthnogcncsis havc
Sincc the 1930s ,~rcl~.~eologists
sought to discover 'ethnic iadicatoks' and to use thcsc to identify
prehistoric ethnic groups. Yct ethnographic r&.earch has weakened
this position by demonstrating the complexity of the relationship
between material culture, language, and group identity as revealed
by a sclf-appointed namc (Dragadze 1980). This has Icd to the
realizatio~lof the polyetlinicity o f certain archacological culturcs,
including ones that have played a decisive role in interpreting the
origins of modcrli ethnic groups (Bulkin e t al. 1982: 280). V. P.
Liubin's contention that systematic variations in Mousterian
assemblages in the Caucasus reflect ethnic divisions has been challenged by I. I. ICorobkov and M. M . Mansurov's arguments that
these differences reflect functional 'variations in site behaviour,
giving rise to a debate that has much in common with that between
Bordcs and Binford concerning the Mousterian of Wcstcril Europe.
G. P. Grigor'cv maintains that, 'becausc thc 'prc-tribes' that existed
prior to the Uppcr Palacolitliic wcrc closed systcms, stonc tools

A h~storyof arch,~cologicalthought

provide adequate indices of tribal o r ethnic affiliations that extend as

far back as late Achculcan times. A nurnbcr of Sovict Palacolitliic
archacologists d o not agrcc wit11 Grigor'cv pr Liubin that formally
defined stone tool assemblages arc adequate indicators of cthnicity
(Davis 1983: 419).
A growing number of Sovict archaeologists appc31-to believe that
the progress of their discipline has bee11hampered by failure to pay
aclcc1~1,ltc'~ttcntionto the pal-tic~~lar
c11,lrnctcristics of ~rchacological
cl.~t;l.N o one p~~blicly
q u c s t i o ~ ~the
s st.ltus o f .~rc'hncolog!: ,IS ,I
historic~ldiscipline or the appl-oprintcncss of interpreting human
behaviour in tcrnis of Marxist theory. The question is how hunlan
bclia\~iouris to be inferred from the material remains of the past,
which by their vcl-)Inaturc d o 'not contain cvidencc fixccl by means
of language' (I<amcnctslty, Marsliak and Sher 1975, cited by Bulliin et
al. 1982: 282). These archaeologists bclicvc that treating archacological findings h~~manistically,
as ~ i ~ c r c anotlicr
form of historical
or sociological ciat;~,f'lils to cic.11 with this p1-0blc111.A v,l~-ictyof
trcncis in current Sovict arch,lcology represent implicit or explicit
attempts t o ovcrcomc this shortcoming.
The niost con\~cntionalof these trends, within the context of
Soviet archacolog~~,
is the increasing attelltion being paid to the
study of prehistoric tcch~~ology.
The finclings of petrography, metallurgy, and other n.ltural science disciplines, as well as the use-wcnr
analysis pio~ieercdby Scmcnov, arc usecl to identify sources of raw
materials and to dctcrnlinc how artifacts were rnadc and ~ v h a they
were used for. Tlic advocates of these approaches, like their c o ~ ~ n t e r parts in the West, arc fond ofcontrasting the scientific rigour ofthcir
work with the guesswork of traditional archacologists (Bulkin et al.
1982: 282-3).
There is also growing interest in the Soviet Union, as in the West,
in ecological analyses of the rclations bctwccn prchistoric societies
and their natural environments. For Sovict arch:~cologists the
guiding principle ofithis approach, which structurcd earlier interests
in prchistoric environments and subsistence patterns, is Marx and
Engcls' observation that 'the history of humanity and the history of
naturc . . . are inseparable . . . While the human race exists, the
history of humans and the history of naturc mutually i~lflue~icc
another' (cited by Doluklianov 1979: zoo). Soviet archacologists
carcfully locate the source of socioc~~ltural
in the forces

and relations of production rnrlicr than in the natural realm o r the

general adjustment of cha~igingsubsystems to one another. The
sphere of 'social production' is viewed as central t o understanding
in the natural
human rcsponscs even t o the most d r a ~ n a t ~changes
cnvlronmcnt. Thus, even in the sphere of ecology, Marxists adopt a
liuman-ccntrcd rathcr than an ccosystcmic approach (Dolukl~anov
1979). It has bccn obscrved, however, that the analysis of empirical
d ' l t ~IS st111 the weakest point in the study of prcliistoric ecology as
well as In ,~rchacologygcncr,~lly.l ' a ~ ~Dolukh~nov
(1979: 200) has
pointed to anibigu~tiesin such clcmciltary concepts as attribute,
type, asscmblagc, and culture.
This concern has given rise t o a growing interest in thc formal
analysis of archacological data. Rather than dismissing such concerns as cv~denceof bourgeois obscurantism, as was done in the
19ios, Inany Sovict archaeologists now regard these studies as essential for acli~evinga dctailed historical and social u~lderstandingof
arch,leolog~caldata. I'roponcnts of the descriptive approach havc
~lrgcdthe necessity for strict operational definitions and stand'lrdizcd proccdurcs for the analysis of archacological data. The
importance of standardized analysis is particularly evident in situatlolls where vast c l n i ~of~data
~ ~havc
~ t t~o be processed. As a result
of years of neglect, much research of t h ~ ssort remains t o be done.
W h ~ l cCentral Europeati archacologists can rcfcr t o specific types of
fibul.~e,such as A l n ~ g r e67
~ ~o r 236, w111ch have carefully defined
formal cliaracter~sticsand temporal associations, Soviet archaeolog~stsuse dcscript~veterms, such as 'fibula with a high catchguard' (Bulltin et al. 1982: 288; Klcjll1982). 111the Soviet U ~ l i o nthere
IS st111 no widely accepted typology for Palaeolithic artifacts,
althougl~attempts arc being nladc t o develop such systems ( D a v ~ s
1983: 419-21). Some work is being done using attribute analyscs and
conlplcx ~ilathcn~at~cal-statistical
procedures (Bulkin et al. 1982:
282). Tllcsc proccd~~rcs
arc making it possible to rccog~lizcartifacts
as ~nultivariatcphenomena rather than s~mplyas products of cultural
norms. Some typolog~calstudies raise issues of technological and
historical importance, such as tlic debate between L ~ u b i nand Grigor'cv about whether the Levallois technique for manufacturing
stone flakes represents a necessary i~ltermediatestep between discoidal and pr~smaticblade cores (Davis 1983: 421). Opponents of this
trend in archaeology accuse it of exaggerating the correlation

A history of archaeological thought


bctwccn formal traits and tlicir historical significance and more

gcncrally of overestimating the potential of a typological approach
to rcvcal liistorical information (Bulkin c t al. 1982: 282).
In the Sovict Union archaeological cultures arc gcncrally largescnlc taxonomic units, \vIicre;~s i n (:cntraI 3ncI Wcstcr~i Europe
smaller divisions, corrcsponcli~igto indi\~idu;ll,soci3lly significunt
site clusters, arc bcing identified. This discrcpancy is partly
accountccl for by the large areas tli:~thave to be stndicd in the Sovict
It is
Union cvcn in I-cl,ltionto tlic cxtcnsivc 31.cl1;1coIogic;III-CSOLII-ccs.
also SCCII,lio\vc\~cr,lil<e tlic r~~di~iicnt;lry
c l e ~ ~ I o p ~of~ typology,
as reflecting a poorly dcvclopcd concern for the formal properties of
the arclincological rccord, that stems fi-om tlic ~ ~ > p ~ - o towards
archaeology that was adopted in the carly 1930s. Today thcrc is a
growing interest in defining arcliaeological c u l t ~ ~ r e(Bullcin
et al.
1982: 289-90). Sovict archacologists follow ethnologists in distinguishing bctwccn 'historical-ctl~nogt-ap11ic communities', which
denote specific social groups, and economic-culture types', which
may cmbracc a number of ethnic groups at a similar level of develop11icntand occupying similar cnvironmcntal zones. Most Palaeolithic
archacologists define thcir archacological cultures as being
economic-culture types, whilc more recent cultures tend to be
rcgnrdcd as historical-cthnog1-apliic entities (Davis 1983: 415-16).
Sincc the early 1970s efforts havc bccii made to for~nulatca uniform
definition of the archaeological culturc for usc tl~roughoutthe
Sovict Union. In 1972V. M. Masson suggested a hierarchy of units local variant, archacological culturc, and culturc group - which was
explicitly ~nodcllcdon the schemc that D. L.-Clarke had prcscntcd in
his Ana(ytica1 Aychaeolog3~(1968). Masson also proposed that the
lcvcls of this hierarchy could be dcfincd in tcrliis of coincidcncc of
artifact types. An even niorc elaborate system has bccn proposed by
Leo I<lcjn (1982). AS yet, l~owever,thcrc is no general agreement
about how archaeological cultures arc to be dcfincd, what is thcir
prccisc sociological nrcaning, and how tlicy fit into a Marxist analysis of social cliangc.
It is also objected that in the past, in order to escape thc sin of
'artifactology', Soviet arcliacologists shunned not only artifact typology and defining arcl~acologicalcultures but also tlic construction
of rclativc chronologies by mcuns of striation. Sincc the 1950s this
tcndcncy 113s bccn rcinforccd by n growing rcIi;~iicc011 r;~cli~carbon

dates. Leo Klcjn and other adhcrents of 'theorctical archaeology'

arguc that, bccausc of thcir failurc to cvolve a morc dctailed chronology, Sovict arcl~acologists are unable to correlate changcs
obscrvcd in material culturc in adjaccnt regions with sufficient
precision and to rclatc tlicsc changcs to know~lhistorical cvcnts.
Tlicy urge tliat, as a first step in their rcscarch, archacologists should
arrange l~istoricallyrclatcd cultures as co-traditions and dctcrmine
thc influcnccs that contemporary culturcs cxcrtcd upon onc another.
This approach w ~ alien
to Sovict arcl~acologyin its carly stagcs as a
rcsult of its prcoccupation with unilincar evolution and autochthonous devclopmcnt. Once these external comparisons have beell
~nndc,it bccomcs possible to asscss the historicnl rolc that migrations and diffusion havc played in shaping thc archacological rccord.
Only then can archaeologists proceed to illterpret the arcl~acological
record in tcrms of the economies, social structures, and belief
systcms of ancicnt socictics and to explain the development of these
socictics in terms of laws, causal mcchanisms, and specific processcs
(Bulkin e t al. 1982).
No Sovict arcl~acologistqucstions the validity of historical materialism as an explanation of human behaviour. His or her aim is to
provide information about human behaviour that will contribute to
tlic dcvclopmcnt of Marxist palacohistory (prchistory, protohistory,
'lnd ancicnt Illstory), l~istoricalsociology, and thc study of cultural
evolution. IClcjn and some other Sovict archacologists emphasize
that matcrial culture constitutes a very different source of information about human behaviour than d o written records. They also
argue tliat Marxism, as a study of human bchaviour, does not
provide a dctailcd guide for tra~lsformingarchacological data into
information about human bchaviour. It is thcrcfore the duty of
archacologists to claborate such methods. They also imply that
many of the basic techniques uscd to a~lalyscarchaeological data are
rclativcly immunc to social and political bias. This explains why
Sovict archacologists, including many who rcject 'thcorctical archaeology', havc been able s~~cccssfully
to borrow numerous tcchniqucs
in rcccnt years. Thoroughly delineating
from Wcstcrn arcl~acolog~~
spatial, temporal, and formal variations in the archaeological record
and documenting the external factors, such as cnvironmcntal
diffusion, and migration, that
changcs, intcrsocictal conipctitio~~,
account for some of thcsc variations, arc ncccssary prcrcquisites for

A history of archaeological thought

Sovict archacology

understanding how the forces and relations of production bring

about changc within the contest of specific socictics.

Soviet archacologists initially rejected a formalist, or Montclian,

methodology bccausc they saw it as standing in thc way of dcveloping a Marxist approach to intcrprcting archaeological data. It continucd to bc rcjcctcd during thc idcologically rcgimcntcd Stalinist
period bccausc of its Wcstcrn and bourgcois connotations. Today
Sovict archacologists arc oncc again employing 'formalist'
approaches to examine the archaeological rccord and discover thc
full range of rcgularitics that rcquirc cxplanation. Thc growing
dcbatcs in Soviet archacology and the widening range of analytical
techniques bcing cmploycd by Soviet arcl~acologistsarc indications,
not of thcir rcjcction of Marxism, but on the contrary of thcir
growing sell-co~llicicncc'1s Marxist histori~ns.l'hcrc is 110 basis for
Wcstcrn archacologists, including sclf-stylcd Marxists, who know
littlc o r nothing about what is going on in Soviet archaeology, to
dismiss it as a fossilized relic of the past from which there is littlc to
be leanled.

Sovict and Wcstcrn archacology havc devclopcd in ways that contrast'with cach othcr. Yet over time both appear to have come to
address the same range of problems. In the 1930s Soviet archaeologists pionecrcd thc dcvclopmcnt of settlement archaeology and
the societal cxplanation of archacological data. Later they spcarheaded thc modern rcvival of usc-wear analysis. A Marxist oricntation led them to bccomc the first archacologists to attcmpt to explain
changes in the archaeological rccord in tcrms of internal social
factors. Only in the 1950s did thcsc start to become frontier areas of
rcscarch in Wcstcrn archacology. Convcrscly, an increasing number
of Sovict archacologists arc currently advocating that more systcmatic attention should be paid to the construction of cultural chronologics and the study of diffusion and migration at a time whcn thcsc
topics have comc to seem routine, and eve11old-fashioned, to many
Western archacologists. At thc samc time both Sovict and Wcstcrn
arcliacologists share a growing interest in studying thcir data from
an ecological viewpoint.
Sovict archacologists began to take account of cxtcrnal factors
bringing about changc in social systems at thc samc time that
Western ones were becoming more interested in internal factors.
TIic political and economic influences that adjaccnt societies exert
up011 onc another can be analyscd easily in terms of a traditional
Marxist framework by enlarging the scale of thc unit bcing studicd
and thereby treating a nunibcr of interacting cult~~scs
as pasts of a
world systcm. Yet ecological analyses and thc study of cultural
diffusion rcquirc the consideration of external factors that Marxist
archacologists havc hitherto avoided. This docs not constitutc,
howcvcr, a break with Marxist theory but rather an attcmpt to
claboratc it to take account of the complexity of the archaeological
rccord. By avoiding cxtcrnal dctcrminism and stressing thc socially
conditioned evolution ofthc relations of production as the principal
factor bringing about cultural evolution, Soviet archaeology
remains unique in tcrms of thc primary role that it assigns to human
action in csplaining history.

in Western archaeology

The development ofsocial anthropo1ooy


Functioilalism in Wester11 archaeology

Forms and types, that zs, products, have been rejarded as more real
and alive than the society which created them and whose needs
determined these manifstations of life.

TA L L G K L N , ' l h c

~iictllod~t p r c h ~ s t ~ .r~~~c c l l ~ c ~ l(o1p~) 3~ 7'p) ~155

Although the culture-historical approach has continued to serve

significant necds until the present, especially in countries where
interc:sts in ethnic origins remain strollg or whcre detailed cultural
chroriologics have not yet been worked out (Schrirc et al. 1986), its
inadcquacics for understanding how prehistoric culturcs functiolled
and how they changed soon became evident to an increasillg number
of Western archaeologists, just as they had become evident to
archacologists in the Soviet Union. While Childe (193ja, 194oa)
conti~lucdto producc dctailcd regional culturc-historical syntheses,
long before these works were published he began to doubt that
much could be learned about ethnicity from archaeological data
alone or that ethnicity was a concept that could be central to the
study of prehistory (Childe 1930: 240-7). H e dismissed the culturehisto;rical approach as an archaeological substitute for old-fashioned
.. .
polit]cal history in which cultures replaced statesmen and migrations replaced battles (Childc 1958b: 70; scc also MacWhite 1956). In
due (:ourse other Western European and American archacologists
L d l l l L to share this view and adopted a new approach to the study of
prehistory which was. based upon a systemic understanding of
human behaviour. This approach was stimulated by the ccological
tradiltion of Scandinavian archaeology, the example of Soviet
archa~eology,and the rejection of diffusioilism by Western European

In the United ICingdom ctllnoldgists reacted against thc stcrilc

diffusionism of Elliot Smith and,his followers by adopting thc
structural-functionalist approach of Bronislaw Malinowski (18841942) and E. R. Radcliffc-Brown (1881-1955). Their first major
works, Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western PaeiJic and RadcliffcBrown's The Andaman Islanders, wcrc both published in 1922,
although Malinowski had done his unprcccdc~ltcdly dctailcd
ficldwork in the Trobriand islands bctwccn 1915and 1918 and Radcliffc-Brown had worked in thc Andaman Islands bctwcc~i1906 and
1908. Both men argued that human Gchaviour can be u~ldcrstood
best in relation to social systems%thatare conccivcd as made up of
functionally interdependent elcmkntb. Malinowski stressed that thc
institutions that composed social systcms wcrc groundcd in biological needs, a view not shared by Radcliffc-Brown, who sought
only to define the social role playcd by institutions. Thcir common
approach camc to bc called social anthropology to distinguish it
from ethnology, which was associatcd with unili~lcarevolutionism
and diffusionism.
British social anthropology was grounded on the carlicr work of
the French sociologist Emilc Durlzhcim (1S58-1917). Like Karl Marx,
Durlzhcin~viewed socictics as systems made up of intcrdcpcndcnt
parts. Coming from a family of mqdcst mcans whose status was
threatened by the rapid social and economic changcs taking place in
late nineteenth-century France, he rcgarded these changcs as
encouraging rapacity and an excess of individualism which thrcatcned the equilibrium of society. As a Jew, and hence a mcmbcr of a
threatened minority group, he did not seek to promote social
cohesion by emphasizing racial or ethnic unity. Instead he assumed
rhat only stable socictics wcrc healthy and vigorous oncs. Like Hcnri
dc Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and Augustc Co~lltc(1798-1857)~ he
advocated sociology as a practical means to countcract what he saw
as social disintegration in a capitalist society. At the same time he
avoided a critique of the economic basis of such societies by viewing
social relations as causal in their own right and therefore capable of
being regulated without significant reference to the economy (Wolf
1982: 9 ) . While Marx had elaborated theories of internal conflict to
explain social change, Durkhcim dirccrcd his attention towards

A history of archaeological thought

Functionalism in Western archaeology

factors that promoted social stability. His interprctations were elaborated in a series of major publications: De la division du travail social
(1893),Les Ri~Lesde la mbthode sokzologague (1895),Le Suicide (1897),
and Les Fovnzes blbmentaires de la vie religieuse (1912).
Durkhcirn argucd that thc~objcctivcof social science studies was
to understand soci'll rcl,ltions and that the origin of all social
prdccsscs should be sought in the internal constitut~onof human
groups. Individual aspects of culture, whcthcr they wcrc invcntcd
intern.lll!~ or catcrnally, \\ crc s.~icito ,~ccluirct h c ~ rsignlfic.lncc 111
terms of their functio~lalrelationship to specific social systems. He
rejected the culture-historical view that social systems and the cultural norms that wcrc associatcd with them could bc understood as a
mechanical collectio~lof traits that diffusion had brought together
largely as a result of the operation of chance. Instead he argucd that
societies constituted integrated systems, whose institutions were
interrelated like the parts of a 1iving.organism.Thc science of society
was thus conceptualized as a comparative study of social morphologics, similar in its objectives to comparative anatomy.
Durkhcim also maintained that 110changc could occur in one part
of a social system without bringing about varying degrees of change
in other parts. Yet he believed that the normal state of society was
one of social solidarity and that rapid changes led to a feeling of
anomic or alienation. Thus he agrccd with the diffusionists that
change was contrary to human nature. This suggcsts that in his
interprctations of change he aligned himself w i ~ h the anticvolutionists of the late nineteenth century. Nevertheless he was
interested to some degree in problems of social evolution, which he
studied using ethnographic data. H e argued that as societies became
more complex they ccased to be held together by mechanical solidarity, or shared beliefs, and were increasingly united by organic
solidarity, resulting from economic interdcpcndcncc. This new form
of cohesioll freed individuals from the tyranny of custom and
tradition. Ma1inowski"and to a still greater cxtcnt Radcliffe-Brown
rejected all evolutionary and historical interpretations of ethnographic data as speculative and argued that the comparative study
of societies currently available
of the structure and functio~li~lg
to produce generalizations
for dctailcd
that would explain the morphological variation among all societies.
For Radcliffe-Brown in particular, thc study of changc had no

significance apart from the in&stigation of this morphological

Whilc this rejettion of an interest in historical processes might
seem to have been an unpromising basis for a relationship between
social anthropology and archaeology, social anthropology and
Durkhcimian sociology cncouragcd an intercst among archacologists in how prehistoric cultures had functioned as systems. This
intercst increascd as archaeologists became disillusioned with thc
limitations of a diffusionist or culture-historical approach. With its
conservative views of human behaviour, social anthropology provided a respectable alternative toiMarxism for archaeologists who
were primarily intcrcsted in how socictics 'worked rathcr
how change came about. Yet it i's clear that a functional
archaeological data had begun in archaeology prior to the development of social anthropology. In its early stages this interest had
taken the form of a concern with relations between pre historic
cultures and their environments.

As early as the 1840s Worsaae had argued that archaeological finds
had to be studied in relationship to their palaeoenvironmental
settings and had cooperated with biologists and geologists to d o
this. Thus began a tradition that has continued to the present in
Scandinavian archaeology. Archaeologists studied the retreat of
glaciers and the combined results,of changing sea levels and isostatic
rebound in altering the distributioils of land surfaces, lakes, and
oceans as a background for determining the impact that these
changes had on the prehistoric,populations of Scandinavia. They
also investigated changes in climate and in the reciprocal relations
between flora, fauna, and human land use. Beginning in 190s the
geologist Gerard de Geer (1858-1943) used successions of overlapping annually deposited varves to date the retreating ice front in
Sweden beginning 12,000 years dgo. This varve sequence was tied in
with 3 0 metres of annual silt deposits on the bed of former Lake
Raganda, which had been drained in 1796. Another Swede, E.J.
Lennart von Post (1884-I~S?),utilized Gustav Lagerheim's observation that pollen grains could be preserved for thousands of years to
elaborate Steenstrup's pioneering studies of post-glacial floral

A history of archacological thought

changes. By 1916he had produced graphs that purported to show the

pcrccntagcs of various trccs at succcssivc pcriods of Scandinavian
prchistory. The old scqucncc of birch, pine, oak, and bcech forcst
was vindicated but, bccausc pollcn floats through the air and is
prcscrvcd clscwhcre than in bogs, it was now possible to examine
plant.communitics ovcr larger areas and to provide evidence of tree
cutting and thc introductio~lof domcstic plants. It also bccamc
possiblc to tracc fluctuations in diffcrcnt plant spccics ovcr much
srnallcr intervals of timc than had bccn done prcviously. Forcst
contour lincs wcrc worked out showing the northern limits of
various trccs at diffcrcnt pcriods and these wcrc correlated with Dc
Gccr's gcochronology of glacial margins to achicvc a high dcgrcc of
calendrical precision (Bibby 1956: 183-94). Pollen analysis was introduced into England and applicd to archaeological problems by the
biologist Harry Godwin (1933).
I11 1898 thc gcologist Robert Gradmann noted a close correlation
bctwccn wind-dcpositcd locss soils and carly Ncolithic scttlemcnt in
Central Europc and concluded that, bccausc carly farmcrs wcrc
incapable of elcaring forcsts, thc first agricultural scttlcmcnts had
bccn in arcas that wcrc ~laturallycithcr devoid of trccs or lightly
forcstcd (Gradmann 1906).Thc rclatio~lshipbctwccn locss soils and
to be examined by Alfred Schliz
Ncolithic s c t t l c ~ ~ ~ continued
(1906),Ernst Wahlc (1915), and Max I-Icllmicli (192.3)and inspired
si~llilarstudics of the correlations betwcen soil typcs and archacological culturcs in England (Daniel 1950: 304-5). It was not until thc
1940s that pollcn analysis made it clear that locss and othcr light soils
had been forcstcd when they wcrc first settled by Neolithic farmers
and that their original attraction had not bccn lack oftrccs but rather
the prcscncc of soil that was easy to till (G. Clark 1974: 4 3 ) .
In the account of his excavations at the stratified site of Anau in
Russian Turkcstan in 1904, the American gcologist and archacologist Raphael Pumpclly (1837-1923) proposed the desiccation or
oasis thcory of the origins of food-production (1908, 1:65-6). H c
argucd that, as thc Near East became much drier following the last
Icc Agc, hunter-gathcrcrs wcrc compcllcd to gather around surviving sources of water and to 'conquer ncw means of support' by
domcsticati~lgwild animals and grasscs. This theory was to bccome
cxtrcmcly popular among Old-World archaeologists in succeeding

Functiollalislll in Western archaeology

In Origines Celticae the Oxford University historian Edwin Guest
(1800-80) urgcd that thc history of England had to bc understood
against the background of British geography (1883). Shortly aftcr,
the Oxford geographcr H. J. Mackinder (1861-1947) argucd that the
geographical location of nations in relation to each othcr played a
major role in shaping their political and economic history. In 1912
F.J. Havcrficld (1860-1919) demonstrated a correlation bctwccn thc
extcnt of Roman scttlcmcnt in Britain and particular typcs of gcographical terrain, whilc John Myres was inspircd by Gucst and
Mackindcr to cxpound the valuc of a gcographical approach to
archaeology. Beginning in 1912, O.G.S. Crawford (1886-1957), who
had studicd at Oxford and was to work for many ycars for thc
Ordnance Survey, concentrated on studying prehistory in rclatioll
to the geographical environment. Among his many contributions,
he encouraged the use of aerial photography to detect ancient
ditches, banks, and crop marks that were not visible from thc
ground. Thc importance of aerial r c c o n ~ ~ a i s s a for
~ ~ carchacological
rcscarch had first becn rccognized during military operations in thc
course of World War I (Crawford 1923; Crawford and ICcillcr 1928).
The mapping of artifact distributions led to detailed studics of
specific periods, with a spccial emphasis on reconstructing original
pnttcrns of vcgctation. W. G. Clark, J. 1.' Willial~~s-Frccm,~~~,
Herbert FICLI~C,
W. E. W l ~ i t c I ~ o ~ ~and
s c , Cyril Fox undertook
studics of thc relationship bctwccn prehistoric scttlcmcnt and
ecology in various parts of Britain (Daniel 1950: 303-6). This work,
which culminated in Fox's (1882-1967) The Archaeology ofthe Cambridge Region (1923), showed that carly agricultural settlement had
becn on light, pcrmcablc soils, whcrcas in thc Iron Agc and cven
more in Anglo-Saxon times it had shifted to heavier soils, that wcrc
harder to work but morc drought resistant and productive. In The
Personality of Britain Fox (1932) con~bincd thc ccologicaldistributional approach of Gradmann and Crawford with the positional geography of Macltindcr to producc somc major gcncralizations about the relationship bctwecn landscapes and culturchistory. His principal contribution was a distinction bctwccn thc
lowlands of southeastern England, which he saw as cxposcd to
migrations and diffusion of culture from continental Europe, and
the highland arcas of wcstcrn and northern Britain, which were
morc sheltcred from such disruptions and hcncc more sclcctivc in

A history of archaeological thought

in Western archaeology

adopting 11cw items of culturc. This approach has sincc been applied
to othcr arcas (Daniel r963b; Trigger 1969).
As carly as 191s Elliot Smith had championed the idca that the
invention of agriculturc, which he bclicvcd had occurrcd as a rcsult
of' fortt~itouscirct~nistanccsin Egypt, was thc primary criterion of
rlic Ncolithic and marked onc of the crucial turning-points in human
history. 130th this idca and Pumpclly's oasis hypothesis wcrc popularized by Harold Pcakc (1867-19+6) and H. J. Flcurc (1877-1969) in
tlic third volume of thcir T / JCorridors
r#?'imc (r927), a widely rcad
multi-volun-rc series dealing with prehistory. About the same tinlc
W. J. Pcrry (1924: 29-32) popularized the claim of the agronomist
T. Chcrry that agriculture had bccn invcntcd in Egypt whcn pcoplc
bcgan to incrcasc the amount of nlillct and barlcy that grcw spontaneously on thc flood plain by irrigating dry land adjacent to wild
stands and scattering barley secds in the wct mud lcft behind at thc
end of the annual flood. Thcsc contributions raised thc discussion of
the origins of agriculturc to a new lcvcl of thcorctical importancc.
Whilc not constituting analyses of whole cultures, growing intcrcst in the relatioriship bctwccn human societies and thcir cnvironmental settings c~icouragcda fu~lctionalvicw of one major aspect of
human bchaviour. This stimulated thc analysis of palacocnvironnlcnts and of thc ecological adaptation of cultures to thcsc cnvironmcnts. It was generally assumcd that the natural environment set
limits to the sorts of adaptations that wcrc possible ratl~crthan
dctcrmincd thc spccific naturc of the rcsponsc, which was also
i~lfluenccdby historical traditions and u~~prcdictablc
human choiccs.
This vicw accordcd with thc human geography of thc period which
was dominated by thc cnvironmcntal possibilist approach of the
Frcnch gcographcr Paul Vidal dc La Blachc (1845-1918). Possibilism
and diffusionism both stressed indeterminacy as the dominant
fcaturc of cultural changc.

bccn unless archacologists could detcrminc what factors within

prchistoric culturcs favoured thc adoption of new idcas and influcnccd the roles that these idcas would play. Childc sought to
cmulatc the work of cconomic historians by searching for broad
cconomic trends in prchistorp, in tcnns ofwhich specific inst.~nccsof'
diffus~onmight be explained. I-Ic prcscntcd thc r c s ~ ~ l t01.s this
rcscarch in thrcc books: The Most Ancient East (1928), T ~ JHrurrcr
A8e (rgjo), and Neil~Light on theMostAncient East (1934).Economic
intcrprctations of prehistoric data also played .I role i l l
ThcDanubc in Prehistory (1929), which was written prior to 'f'/~cMo.ff
Ancient East.
Whilc Childc's concern with cco~lomicfactors has been interpreted as an carly rcflcction of his commitmcllt to Marxism, Ilc dict
not claim to bc a Marxist at this time and nothing that is spccilically
Marxist is evident in his work of this period. British archaeologists
such as Peakc and Flcurc had alrcady been offcring cconomic intcrprctations of thc archaeological rccord and Childc uscd many of
thcir idcas to construct a morc comprchcnsivc modcl of cconomic
dcvclopmcnt. It is .11so &dent that his thinking evolved only slowly
from a primary intcrcst in subsistcncc pattcrns to a vicw that
cmphasizcd aspccts of thc CCOIIOIII~ that wcrc not primarily rclatcd
to subsistcncc pattcrns. Thc importa~lccthat hc ascribed to vicwing
prchistoric cultures as pattcrns of social relations rcflccts a knowlcdgc of Durltl~cimiansociology that he acquircd primarily as a
rcsult of translating into English From Tribe to Empire by Alcxandre
Morct and Gcorgcs Davy (1926). Davy was a student of Durkheim
who had collaborated with Morct, an Egyptologist, to produce a
Durkhcimian intcrpretation of the dcvclopmc~ltof ancient Egyptian
TheMostAncient East was writren as a textbook and a companion
volumc to The Dawn ofEuropean Civilization. I t sought to tracc thc
orlglns of the technological innovations that h;ld latcr sprc,ld to
Europc. Childe followcd Smith and Flcurc in stressing thc dcvelopmcnt of agriculturc as a crucial turniilg-point in human history. H c
also agrced with Pumpclly that desiccation in the Ncar East at thc
end of thc last Icc Agc had causcd pcoplc to domcsticatc plants and
animals in order to fccd thc highcr dcnsitics of population that
gathcrcd around surviving sourccs of watcr. In kccping with the
cnvironmcntal possibilism that currently was fasl~ionablcin non-

Economic approaches
As Childc turncd away from thc culture-historical approach, which
he came to rcgard as an intellectual dead cnd, hc did not deny the
importance of diffusion as a forcc bringing about cultural change.
H e did, howcvcr, rcalizc that diffusion was of no morc valuc for
explaining such changes thn~iunilinc:~r cvolutionar)~conccpts had

A history of archaeological thought

Marxist geography, he stressed that individual hunter-gatherer

bands could have perished or moved north or south into areas where
big game survived rather than developing agriculture. Only three
regions in the Ncar East had enough fertile soil to support the
dcvclopma~t of a major early civilization: the Nile, TigrisEuphrates, and Indus Valleys. In each of these areas s ~ i r p l wealtll
increased even fistcr than pop~~lation,
resulting in the concentration
of political power, the rise of city life, and the progress of the
industrial arts. Yet, whilc these civilizations cvolvcd from a common
Neolithic base and maintained contact with each other, Mesopotamia developed as a series of city states while Egypt quickly was
united as a divine monarchy. Technological knowledge spread fro111
these early civilizations to outlying regions, such as Europe, as a
result of the trading of surplus food and manufactured goods for raw
materials, especially copper and tin. While Childe based this model
on relations between modern industrial and Third-World countries,
11c argued that it was necessary to give 'trade' a precise definition
whenever the term was used by specifying the particular sociological, economic, and environmental conditions that shaped such
activities in a spccific area and at a given point in time (Childe 1928:
In The Bwnze Aje Childc studied the origins and spread of
metallurgy, as documented in the arcl~aeologicalrecord. H e consldcred the possibility that metallurgy might have been ~nvcnted
independently in Egypt, the Near East, Hungary, and Spain, but,
like most diffusionists, concluded that it was such a complex process
that it likely was invented only once in human history. H e also
interpreted spccific similarities in the processes used to work bronze
and in the shapes of the earliest mctal artifacts in Europe and the
Near East as proofs of a single origin. Childc was convinced, almost
certainly wrongly, on the basis of Homeric texts that metal casting
required full time, although initially itinerant, specialists, who,
along with p r o s p ~ c t ~and
r s miners, became the first human beings
to function independently of tribal affiliations. The adoption of a
metal tool technology thcrcfore was thought to have produced a
double loss of Neolithic self-suffic~ency,since it required communities to bcconle dependent on craftsmen who were often unrelated to
then1 as well as on the development of extensive trade routes that
were not interrupted b y periodic outbreaks of trib.11 warf,lrc in order

Functionalism in Wester11arcl~aeology
to ensure the regular dclivcry of supplies of copper and tin. While he
viewed bronze working as an important prerequisite for the development of civilization in thc Ncar East, 11e argucd that in Europe it
was mainly used to supply wcapons to tribal societies, as an increasing population and spreading forests (rcsulting from climatic
c11,lngcs) led to greater cornpetition for agricultural land.
In New Lhht o n the Most Ancient East, whic11 was written after a
visit to major archacological excavations in Iraq and the Indus
Valley, Childe synthcsizcd and claboratcd the arguments advanced
in his two previous books. Hc,maintained that two revolutions had
occurred in prehistoric times in the Near East that were equivalent
in their inlportancc to the Industrial Kcvolution. These were the
transition from food-collecting to food-producing and from selfsufficient food-producing villages to urban societies. H e believed
that each of these revolutions had resulted in a more productive
technology and a massive increasc in population. The population
increase was, however, assumed rather than demonstrated. H e also
overestimated the extent to which the inhabitants of ancient Near
Eastern cities engaged in industry, trade, and commerce rather than
agricultural activities. Migrations of surplus population, the
exchange of manufactured goods for raw materials, and surplus
craftsmen seeking employment spread the tcchnologics produced by
these rcvolutio~~s
to Europc. The result was the dcvclopmcnt in
Europe of Neolithic and Bronze Age socictics that wcrc structurally
different from those that had evolved in the Ncar East. I11 duc coursc
conspicuous consun~ptionby the upper classes and the military
conflicts of the Near Eastern civilizations began to waste more
goods than they produced, while the growth of secondary civilizations reduced the amount of raw materials that was reaching thcm.
As a result of both processes, economic progress eventually ground
to a halt in the Near East. At the same time European societies
continued to progress until they wcre able to outstrip and dominate
those of the Ncar East. With this economic explanation Childc was
able to cxorcizc the ethnic stereotypes and semi-racist theorics that
he had invoked to explain the ulti~natcdominance of European
cultures in The Arynrzs.
Childe's interest in economic, development in prehistoric times
drew its inspiration from trends that were active in the European,
and more specifically the British, archaeology of that period. Yet he

A history of archaeological thought

advanccd bcyond the interpretations of Elliot Smith, Pcakc, and

Flcurc in the consistcncy with which hc applicd an cconomic
approach to the study of prchistory and in the scope of his formulations. Also, instcad of interpreting cultural change as the result of
tcchnological innovation, hc saw broader cconomic and political
contcxts influencing thc uscs that wcrc made of i ~ ~ n o v a t i oThis
allowcd him to explain how thc samc tcchnological innovations
could producc very diffcrcnt typcs of socictics in Europe and the
Ncar East.
A multilinear evolutionary perspcctivc was inherent in such an
cconomic approach. Yct Childe was not primarily conccr~ledwith
cultural cvolution at this timc. H c stated categorically
that 'archacology's rcvclations . . . disclose not abstract evolution but the interaction of multiplc concrctc groups and the blcnding of contributions from far-sundcrcd rcgions' (Childc 1928: 11). Liltc other
Europcan archacologists hc acccptcd that increasingly complex
tcchnologics had dcvcloped in thc Near East and latcr in Europc.
Yet hc rcgardcd human beings as inherently u~linvcntivcand rclicd
hcavily on diffusion and migration to cxplain cultural change.
Rcadcrs wcrc told at thc cnd of New Light on the Most Ancient Emt
that thc principal aim of the book was to justify 'thc gencral doctrine
of cultural diffusion' (Childc 1934: 301). Nor was his materialist
pcrspcctivc ~oniplctc: at this time. Whilc hc interpreted somc
cconomic ch,l~igc.IS .I response to environmental challcngcs, n i ~ ~ c h
innovatio~iwas attributed in a Montclian fashion to thc spontaneous
cxcrcise of human intclligcncc to achicvc grcatcr control over nature
and ~nakchuman life casicr and morc sccurc. Nevertheless, by
examining thc way in which cconomic activities brought about
changcs within culturcs, he had hclpcd to narrow the gap bctwccn
static rcconstructions of prchistoric culturcs and the appeal to
cxtcriial factors to cxplain changc that had characterized his carlicr
culture-historial studics.

Childe and Soviet archaeoloay

In 1935 Childc visited thc Sovict Union for thc first timc. Whilc he
was tlicrc hc mct Russian archacologists, toured museums, and
gathcrcd information about rcccnt archacological discoveries relating to thc prchistorp of Eastcrn Europc (S. Grccn 1981: 76-7). H e

Functionalisnl iA Wcstern archacology

was imprcsscd by the lavish government support for archacology,
the vast scale on which archaeological rcscarch was being conducted, and the use being made of archacological finds for public
education. Abovc all he was fascinated by the cfforts of Sovict
archacologists to explain prehistory in terms of proccsscs intcrnal to
socictics and on explicitly matcrialist priiiciplcs. Thcir work rcvcalcd
the narrowness of his own cconomic intcrprctations, which hc
henceforth contrasted unfavourably with, the Marxist vicw that thc
forces and relations of production play a major role in dctcrmining
the general character of socictics.
0; the basis of his own experience, Childc did not accept the
entire programme of Sovict archaeology. H c rcfuscd to adopt its
detailed scheme of socioeconomic formations or any othcr unilincar
formulation of social cvolution. Latcr he was to criticize thc Sovict
approach for compelling archaeologists to assumc in advance to bc
true what it was their d u b to prove was so (Childc 1951: 28-9).
Moreover, he did not sec how archacologists might hopc to infer
many of thc spccific dctails of social organization that could rclatc
this formulation to their work.
H e also rchscd to stop viewing diffusion as a major factor
promoting cultural dcvclopment. For Childc diffusion was a
conccpt that had moral rclcvancc. Hitlcr's scizurc of powcr in
Gcrniany in 1933 had madc him morc kccnly awarc of how disastrously archacology and racist political movcmcnts had bccomc
intcrtwincd in that country. Long bchrc, hc had invokcd diffusion
as an antidote to the nationalist theorics of Kossinna and othcr
Gcrman archaeologists. Now, like Boasian anthropologists in thc
United Statcs, hc argued that increasingly rapid cultural progrcss
had rcsultcd from the brcakdown of isolation among ncighbouring
groups and the pooling on an ever increasing scale of the innovations of all branchcs of the human family (Childe 1933a,b). Bccausc
of this hc was distrcsscd to discovcr that Sovict archacologists,
undcr the influence of Nikolay Marr, had rejected this concept.
Whilc agreeing that as far as possible archacologists should attempt
to explain changcs in terms of devclopmcnts within culturcs and
altcrations in thc natural cnvironmcnt, he asscrtcd that it 'cannot bc
unMarxianYto invoke diffusion to account for thc spread of domestic plants and animals and by extension many othcr classcs of idcas
(Childe 1946a: 24).

A history of archaeological thought

H e also refused to abandon the major emphasis he had placed on
typology, which he saw as essential for constructing regional chronologics and tracing cultural influcnccs between one region and
anothcr. H c had littlc respect for thc sloppy manner in which Sovict
archacologists handled thcsc mattcrs. 111 1957 hc dcscribcd thcir
prchistoric chronologies %ISa series of hopelessly vague guesses that
did h o t cvcn attract, still less convince' him (Danicl 1958: 66). His
cxpericncc as a prchistoric archaeologist led him to incorporate what
hc bciicvcd wcre the i ~ ~ l p o r t ainnovations
of Sovict urchacology
into his own work and t o reject what lie saw as its shortcomings. I11
the post-Stalin era Sovict archaeologists have confirmed the wisdom
of his choices by working to modify precisely those features of early
Sovict archaeology that Childc found objcctionablc.
Following his visit to thc Sovict Union Childc sought to replace
his carlier emphasis on economic factors as the principal cause of
social changc with analyscs that wcrc morc in accord with Marxist
principles. H e also paid attention for the first time to cultural
cvolution, which was a topic of theoretical interest that had
rcmained important in Marxist scholarship but which had not been
significant in his own writings or in crcative Western European
archaeology since thc 1880s. In the course of a decade he published
tl~recbooks dealing with cultural evolution: Man Makes Himself
(1936), What Happened in Histovy (1942a), and Progress inArchaeology
(1944a), as well as a case study Scotland Befive the Scots (1946a).The
first two wcrc written for the general public as well as for profcssional arcl~aeologistsand continue to be read widely.
In Man Makes Himself Childe intcrpretcd the archaeological
record as evidencc of a directional process whereby the scientific
knowledge accumulatcd by human beings gave progrcssive societies
cvcr greater control over nature and led to the formation of new and
morc complex sociopolitical systems. Hc later rcgardcd thcsc views
as not being significantly diffcrcnt from thc idealist Montclian
conception of cultural change (Childc 19~8b:72). In WhatHappened
in History he attempted in a morc explicitly Marxist fashion to
forrnulatc explanations of cultural change that wcre focused not on
techilological knowledge as a prime mover but on social, political,
and economic institutions and the role they played in bringing it
about. In accordance with the principles of dialectical materialism,
hc viewed every society as cont'lining witli~nirsclf both progrcssivc

Functionalism in Western archaeology

and conservative tendencies. The contradictions between these tendencies provided the energy that brought about irrcvcrsiblc social
H c did not cmbracc unilincar evolutionism in thcse studies any
morc than hc had done prcviously or was to d o later. Yct hc was
crroncously accuscd of doing so by Julia11 Stcward (1953; 1955: rz),
who influenced many Amcrican anthropologists to rcgard Childe as
a typical ninctccnth-century evolutionist. In Man Makes Himselfand
What Happened in Histoy, by conccntrating on thc dcvclopmcnt of
culturcs in thc Near East, Childc prcscnts a morc unilincar vicw of
cultural changc than in his works where developme~ltsin Europe
and the Near East are examined alongside onc another. Nevertheless
cvcn in thcsc studies he attributed thc diffcrcnccs bctwccn thc city
statcs that dcvclopcd in Mesopotamia and thc divine monarchy that
united Old Kingdom Egypt to divergent social and political techniques for controlling agricultural surpluses that had been created in
the course of the transformation of tribal societies into class societies. Writing under the shadow of expanding Nazi power and
World War 11, he also rejected the naive faith in the inevitability of
progress that characterized many vulgarized versions of Marxism as
well as thc unilincar cultural evolutionism of the nineteenth century.
Yet his pessimism led him to make a significant contribution to
Marxist studies of change by providing a detailed analysis of the
social conditions that impcdc progress.
Childe argued that at any level of social de\iclopment, but
especially in the early civilizations, entrenched political hierarchies
and inflexible systems of religious beliefs can slow or even halt social
and economic change. H e distinguished between progressive societies, where relations of production favour an expansion of productive forces and there is a harmonious relationship among the
mcans of producrion, social institutions, and the dominant systcm
of bclicfs, and conscrvativc oncs, in which social and political factors
block changc. The ruling classcs, according to Childe, sought to
prevcnt technological changes that might threaten their control of
society. They did this by monopolizing surplus wealth, exercising
bureaucratic control over craftsmen, inhibiting the pursuit of technical lu~owledgc,and patronizilig magic and superstition on a lavish
scale, as well as by the exercise of force. They only succeeded,
howcvcr, at thc cost of making it morc difficuilt for thcir, own

Functionalism in Western archaeology

A history of archaeological thought


societies to compete-with more progressive neighbouring ones. This

explanation of thc evcntual backwardness of Ncar Eastern civilizations by comparison with those of Europc rcplaccd his own morc
narrowly cconomic explanation in New L&ht on the Most Ancient
East. Cllilde now ascribcd important roles in shaping history to both
the economic base and the supcrstructurc of socictics. Yet he was
carcful t o specify that where the supcrstructurc is dominant, its
influcncc can only bc ncgativc. Soviet anthropologists have since
maintained that this vicw accords with orthodox Marxism (PetrovaAvcrkicva 1980: 24).
This position provides a definitive answer to those British Marxists, such as Gcorge Thomson (r949), who accuscd him of ignoring
Childc argued that social
class conflict in thc carly civilizatio~~s.
evolution occurrcd slowly, if at ail, in thosc early civilizations
precisely bccause such struggles werc blunted by highly effective
political and religious techniques of social control. H e did not
ignore the concept of class struggle in the early civilizations or reject
it becausc he thought it i~lapplicablcfor studies based on archaeological data. O n the contrary, he did not find it useful for explaining
ancient Near Eastern civilizations, which he believed remained static
for long periods. In his analyses of classical civilizations and in
p a r t i c ~ ~ of
l ~ ~thc
r Rolnan En~pirc,he placed grcatcr C I I I P ~ ~ S on
strugglcs among groups within socictics to control wealth and
power and on the shifting patterns of polltical control. His differing
treatment of ancient Near Eastern and classical civilizations may
have been based on Marx's own distinction between Oriental and
Slave societies. Yct it seems more likely that he was unaware of this
distinction, since orthodox Marxists did not discuss or write about
the concept of Oriental Society during the Stalin period (Bailey and
Llobera 1981; Dunn 1982). In either case, his analysis was filling a
major gap in current Marxist theory.
Despite his growing interest in evolutionary processes he
remained as sceptical as vOere most culture-historical archaeologists
about the value of ethnographic analogies, exccpt where historical
continuities were apparent. He regardcd modern hunter-gatherer
socictics as ones that had failed to develop technologically. H e
suspected that instead they had elaborated complex forms of social
organization and 'painful' and 'incoherent' rituals that had blocked
further tcchnological development. Hence in crucial respects

modern hunter-gatherer socicties were probably unlike the Palaeolithic oncs from which morc complcx societies had cvolvcd. Thc
same dichotomy held at thc lcvcl of tribal cultivators. Childc thus
proposcd two gcneral iineq of cultural evolution: a progrcssivc one,
charactcrizcd by continuous tcchnological dcvelopment combined
with a flexible social organization and ideology, and a conservative
one, characterized by static technology and the elaboration of convoluted social structures and ideologies (1936: 46). While based on
Marxist idcas, this model borc little relationship to gcncrally held
Marxist evolutionary concepts. His interpretation of cultural dcvcloprncnt, like his changing efforts to explain the eventual superiority
of Europcan culture, looks curiously like an attcmpt to reformulate
Lubbock's vicw of human evolution in non-racist terms.
In Scotland Before the ScotslChildcattcmptcd to apply a Sovict-stylc
approach to the interpretatioq of a specific corpus of Western
archaeological data. H e sought to usel information concerning subsistence patterns, houses, handicrafts, trade, and burial customs to
infc? changing modes of production and the accompanying development of larger and more unequal groups and new ideologies.
Inspired by Kruglov and Psdgayetsky's explanation of the evolution
of Bronze Age society in southern Russia, he saw Scotland dcveloping from .I nctwork ofcga1it.u-i.ln tribal socictics bascd o n communal
property into a hierarchical statc socicty. Thc kcy factor bringing
about change was the emergence of private property, which he
believed was mirrored in the replacement of communal tombs by
individual ones expressing status 'differences. Childe concluded that
this approach produced 'a picture of Scotland's dcvclopment which
was far more realistic and far mQre historical' than he had achieved
by means of migrationist hyporheses in his early studies of Scottish
prehistory (1958b: 73). Yet he refused categorically to subscribe to
the dogmatic scheme of social evolution used by Soviet archaeologists or to rule out diffusion and migration as significant factors
bringing about social and cultural change.

Cbilde us a Marxist arcbaeologst

After World War I1 Childe continued to refine and develop a
Marxist understanding of social change. As a result of growing
disillusionment with the quality of archaeological research then

A history of arcl~acologicalthought

Functionalism in Western archaeology

bcing done in the Sovict Union, he turned away from Sovict

arcliacology as a major source of crcativc inspiration and began to
investigate the philosophical basis of Marxism itself. In thc last
dccadc of liis lifc lie worked hard to acquire 3 morc profound and
less dogmatic understanding of Marxism as an atialptical tool and to
apply it to the study of arcl~acologicaldata. As part of this effort he
rc;id widclp i l l the field of philosophy in ordcr to gain a better
understancling of Marxis~u.
1,iliu a11 Mnrsists hc regarded 3 historical approuch as uniting 311 of
the soci;il scicnccs. Hc bclicvcd th;lt n o ~ C I I C I fi)r~ii~ll;~c
call ~1iscIosc
the total ordcr of history - 'that can only be reproduced in thc
concrctc wliolc of history itself, which n o book and no library of
books . . . could contain' (Childc r947a: 69). Laws arc merely
gcricral descriptions of what is observed and, as such, statclllclits of
probabilities with varying dcgrccs of applicabilit)~.H e argucd that
thcrc wcrc a certain ~iurnbcrof gc~icrallaws of history, such as the
primacy of thc social rclatiolis of production with respect to thc
s u p c r s t r ~ i c t tlic
~ ~ ~pcriodic
dcvclopmcnt of conflicts bctwccn the
forces and rcl;ltions of production, and the rc\,olutionary rcsol~ltion
of thcsc contradictions. Yet lie bclicvcd that a far larger number of
cross-cultural gcncralizations wcrc valid only for socictics that
s1i;ircd a p;irtic~~I;ir
modc of production and hcncc \vcrc at the samc
general st;lgc of dc\~clop~iic~it
(Cliilcie 104.73).
H e f~irtlicrargued that thc sigllific;111~u
of ; I I I ~gc~i~ralizatiotl
only be cstablishcd in relation to specific historical contexts bccausc
the rulcs that account for human bchaviour, and hunlan bchaviour
itself, changc as new fortiis of socictics dc\~elop.Bccausc of this,
human cvolution is gcn~iinclycrcativc. It is capable of bringing into
existence novel and often ur~forcscclisocial orders and new forms of
human self-awareness. Yet he continued to be convi~iccdthat such
progress was not inevitable. Some socictics rcniain static, whilc
others rcgrcss or cvcn dcstro)~thcmsclvcs (Childc 1947a).
In Childc's vic\v a Marxist analysis, whilc assigning a privilcgcd
role to the relations of production, ruled out any form of narrow
determinism. Functional constraints account for many similar
features of social organization and ideology possessed by liistoricallp
ul~rclatcdculturcs tliat share a common modc of production. Ncvcrthclcss thc specific content of cultures and of individual sequences of
changc is dctcrmincd to so great ;I dcgrcc by prc-existing cult~iral

patterns, fortuitous contacts with othcr cultures, and interaction

between nciglibouring socictics that it canllot bc predicted in dctail.
Childc alrcady had obscrvcd that thc prccisc form of the British
constitution in the ninctcentli century could ncvcr be dcduccd from
the capitalist mode of production alone (Childc 1936: 9 8 ) . This
a~ialysisimplicd that thcrc was no ,easy way to prcdict thc prccisc
nature of onc aspect of a socictp on the basis o f knowlcdgc of somc
othcr aspcct. Insofar as encli fcaturc o f a prehistoric culture was to bc
rcconstructcd, this would havc to bc d o ~ i cinductivcly, using
.ircliacologic.~ldat.1. Childc's rejection of dctcnninism is now widely
rccogtiizcd as bcing in accord with orthodox Marxism, which dcnics
tli,~tgcncml laws can cxpl~inall of the diverse fc~turcsof concrctc
h~lmandevelopment (l'ctrova-Avcrkicva 1980: 24).
In Social Evolzction (1951)Childc reaffirmed liis bclicf in multilinear
cvolution, but argucd in accordance with Marxist principles that
over time culturcs sharing thc samc modc of productio~itend to
cvol\lc increasingly similar social, political, and cultural institutions,
l d in cvcr greater harrno~~y
with the cconotnic basc.
which w o ~ ~ be
Yet thcsc instit~ltionsdevelop in v.lricd ways and in diffcrcnt
scqucnccs cvcn in adjacent cultures bccausc of cnvironmcntal differences, historical accidents, and the socictics involved bcing initially
dissimilar. TIILISthcrc arc many more ways to move from one lcvcl of
soci;ll organization
to another than thcrc arc forms in which thc
supcrstructurc is in closc accord with the basc. Bccausc of this, social
rcality rarely corresponds with an ideal type. This view of culturcs
as less than perfectly intcgratcd systems was shared by a number
of non-Marxist Anicrican antliropologists, most notably G. P.
Murdock (1949).
Childc gradually cxtctidcd his materialist analysis of socicty to
crnbracc cognitive aspccts of bchaviour. Hc dcfincd knowlcdgc as
sli.~rcd mental approximations o f thc rcal world tliat pernlittcd
human beings to act upon it and insisted that arcl~acologistsmust
trcat artifacts as concrctc cxprcssiolls of human thoughts and idcas.
H c also argucd that human beings adapt not to rcal environments
but to thcir idcas about tlicm, cvcn if an cffcctivc adaptation rcquircs
a reasonably closc corrcspondcncc bctwccn rcality and how it is
perceived. Innovations and tllcir applications to social nccds also
rcqulrc ncw forms of thought that havc ramifications cxtcnding
through entirc socictics. Advances in tcchnology thus rcflcct not

A history of archacological thought

simply an incrcasc in scientific information but also thc cvolution of

the total knowlcdgc at thc disposal of a socicty, including how
human bcings pcrccivc thcmsclvcs and thcir rclations to nature.
H e maintained that notions of causality had rcrnaincd anthropomorphic until thc growing usc of inanimate power to work
machincs had cngcndcrcd the idca of mechanical causality cmbodicd
in the thinking of Isuac Ncwton. Hc had n o clualms about pronouncing modern civilization to be superior to 311 prcccding ones
insoFar ns it was ahlc to provide a reli;~bleguicic to a fit- grcntcr
number of actions (Childc 1949).
In Society a n d Knoudedge (1956b) hc claboratcd his conccpt of
knowlcdgc in tcrms of thc Marxist dichotomy bctwccn truc and
falsc consciousness. Truc consciousness is charactcrizcd by the
operational corrcspondcncc bctwccn views of reality and external
rcalitp itsclf. In the form of tcchnological knowlcdgc, it exists to
varying dcgrccs in all socictics. By contrast, an objective understanding of social rclations and of the social significancc of bclicfs and
values is rarc in any ancient or modern socicty, although Marxists
rlinintain that SLICII ~ ~ n d c s s t a ~ i dwill
i i ~ gclini-actcr-izcthe tccl~nologically advanccd, classless socictics of thc futurc. False co~~scioust~ess
occurs in situations where thcrc is 110 operational corrcspondcncc
bctwccn what is bclicvcd and cxtcrnal reality. It cmbraccs thc myths
that all socictics crcatc to mask and compcnsatc for thcir tcchnological incompctc~~cc
and that class socictics use to disguise exploitation
as altruisnl. Childc obscrvcd that falsc co~lscious~~css,
in the form of
rcligious bclicfs, magic, and superstition, lcavcs its mark on the
archacological rccord no lcss conspicuously than docs technological
knowlcdgc. Yct, bccausc thc possiblc variations in thc details of
magical and rcligious bclicfs are infinite, thc archaeologist has no
hope of bcing ablc to infcr the spccific contcnt of thcsc beliefs in the
abscncc of writtcn records or oral traditions. By contrast, the numbcr of practical solutions to any tcchnological problcm is limitcd by
matcrial constraints that can be infcrrcd with a high degree of
accuracy, using the laws of phpsics arid chcmistry. Childc therefore
concluded that thc archacological study of knowlcdgc must be
rcstrictcd largely to tcclinological niattcrs and franlcd in tcrnls of
practical results rathcr than thc subjcctivc goals of those who possessed it. Becausc of this the investigation of prchistoric technology
bccomcs a cl~roniclcof thc triumph of truc over falsc co~~sciousncss.

Functionalism in Western archaeology

Yet Childc also bclicvcd that the cvolution and functioning of

technology could only bc understood if archaeologists were ablc to

rcconstruct thc social contcxt in which-it had opcratcd. This was thc
problcm that hc turncd to in his last book, The Prehijtory ofEuropean
Society (19~8a).H c identified social rclations, which in a Marxist
fashion hc vicwcd as including thc rclations of production, as thc
principal aspcct of human bchaviour that was capable of ordcrly
cross-cultural cxplanation. H e obscrvcd that variation in thc csscnti.11 ~C;I~LII-CSofcconomic, social, and political organization was far
morc limitcd than variation in most cultural traits and argucd that
thc lattcr acquircd thcir functional significancc in tcrms of thcir
relation to thc social system. Thc main practical problcnl that hc
confronted was how arcl~aeologicalcvidcncc could be uscd morc
cffcctively to infcr prchistoric sociopolitical systems. This problcm
troublcd him more than it did Soviet archaeologists in thc 195os,
since he believed that archacological evidence must be uscd objectivcly to tcst Marxist thcorics (Childc 1951: 29). Hence indcpcndcnt
and vcrifiablc means had to bc found for inferring social organization from archacological data.
H c was not optimistic about how much could be accomplished
along these lines (Childe 19~8a:12-14). At this time he scerned morc
constrait~cdthan cvcr by the typological method that had bccn the
basis of his carly work and lcss ablc to makc cffcctivc usc of
scttlcmcnt-pattern or funcrary data. Whilc hc had donc much
archacological field work in Scotland, his most innovative rcsults
camc from his carly use of ethnographic comparisons with rustic
highland Scottish houscs to interpret the use of house-space in the
Neolithic village of Skara Brac (Childc 1931) and his survey of
megalithic tombs to estimate the size and distribution of the population on the island of Rousay in the Neolithic period (Childe
19420. Although he had evolved some very sophisticated models of
social changc, hc now scemed unable to apply thcsc rcsults to thc
synthesis of archacological data. I t is perhaps indicative of failing
crcativity in thc last years of his life that his earlicr involvcmcnt in
scttlcmcnt-pattern rcscarch did not suggest to him cffcctive techniques for studying prchistoric social and political organization.

A history of archacological thought

Functionalism in Western arcllacology

An altcrriative and in many ways complc111cntary functio~lalist

approach was pioncered by Grahamc (J. G . D.) Clark. Through liis
training of numerous graduate students at Cambridge University
this approach has cxcrtcd a stro~lginflucncc on the dcvclopmcnt of
archacology in many parts of the world (Murray and White 1981;
Clark 1988a). Altl~oughhe was cornniittcd to a materialist pcrspcctivc for niost of his carccr, he consistently criticized Childc's
attempts to apply Marxist concepts to archacology. H e also
attempted to develop new methods of fieldwork to complcmcnt liis
theoretical innovations.
Clark studied at Cambridgc University, whcrc hc became a
lccturcr in 1935. His doctoral thesis was a. co~~vcntional
study of Mcsolithic matcrial from Britain and a comparison of this
n1atcrial with Mesolithic finds from co~ltincntalEurope (Clark 1932).
Yct during liis carly ycars at Cambridge tlircc different influcnccs
oricntcd him towards a functio~ialistvicw of prehistoric cultures.
The first was his growing awareness of the manner in which Scandinavian archacologists studied prcliistoric culturcs in their environby tlic close similurimental setsing. This awascncss \\::IS cnco~~sngcd
tics bctwecn Mcsolithic finds in England and the Maglcmosian
culturc of Denmark and the cvcntual realization that thc luttcr
culturc had cxploitcd marshlands extending across the prcsent bed
of tlic North Sea prior to their flooding by rising sea lcvcls. H e also
worked closcly with Harry Godwin, tlic biologist who liad introduced pollen analysis into Britain. Secondly he was cxposcd to t.he
functionalist views ofsocial anthropologists such as Malinowski and
Radcliffc-Brown. Finally hc 'responded eagerly' to the call by thc
Finnish archaeologist A. M. Tallgrcn (1885-194s) that archacologists
should stop regarding artifacts as more real and alive than the
societies that liad crcatcd thcm and the pcoplc whose nccds had
brought tlicm into being (Tallgrcn 1937; Clark 1974). Ironically
Tallgrc11's vicws had bccn shaped in largc part through his close
contacts with Sovict archaeologists.
In 1939 Clark published the first cditio11ofArcClneoloj~~
a thcorctical study of arcliacology wl~icliremains a milcstonc in thc
history of the discipline. H c maintained that archacology should bc
'the study of how [human beings] livcd in the past' (p. I ) and that to

acliicvc that goal archacological finds had to bc cxamincd from a

functionalist point of vicw. H c furthcr argucd that thc primary
function of a culturc, or way of lifc,_was t o cnsurc the survival of a
socicty; which implied that all aspccts of culturcs wcrc influcnccd at
least to somc dcgrcc by ecological constraints. Thc aim of archacologists should bc to dctcrminc how human beings had livcd in
prchistoric times by reconstructing as far as possiblc thcir cconomics, social and political organizations, and systcms of bclicfs and
values and trying to understand how these diffcrcnt aspccts of
culture rclatcd to each othcr as parts of functioning systcrns. Likc
many social anthropologists, Clark strcsscd thc rolc of culturc as an
,~d.lptivcsystcm ~t the s.1111c time t h ~ hc
t s t ~ t c dt h ~ his
t ~ i m
w ~ to
document social lifc. This formulation rcflcctcd the conviction that,
by influencing individual human bchavi$ur, culturally transmitted
patterns facilitated the social interaction upon which the survival of
~ndividualsand groups dcpcndcd.
Clark systematically asscsscd thc strcngths and limitations of
archacological data for studying prchistoric social life. H e noted that
some aspccts of matcrial culturc arc bcttcr prcscrvcd in thc archacological rccord than arc others: bronzc survivcs bcttcr than iron o r
silvcl- .~ndbone bcttcr thnn soft plant parts. On thc othcr hand,
bccausc of its v ~ l u c ,gold is lcss likcly to makc its way into thc
archacological rccord or to cscapc plundcrilig than is a lcss valuablc
mctal. H c also observed that material culturc gcncrally survives
than in tropical forcsts,
bcttcr in dcscrt or arctic c~ivironn~cnts
Bccausc people living in tropical forests tcnd to use pcrishablc
materials and because of the difficulties of prcscrvation and rccovcry, it is likcly that archacologists will always know ICSS about
prehistoric cultural dcvclopmcnt in thcsc regions than In dcscrts or
thc high arctic. Finally, hc concluded that, whcn working only with
archacological data, archacologists arc likcly to learn morc about the
ccononlics of prehistoric socictics than about thcir social organization and religious bclicfs. This is bccausc thc tcchnologies and
economies of socictics arc largcly shaped by matcrial constraints that
can be understood through thc natural scicnccs. O n the othcr hand,
factors mcrcly constrain rathcr than dctcrminc the nature
of social organization and rcligious bclicfs; hcncc much of the
spccific contcnt of thcsc highcr lcvcls of human bchaviour is not
subjcct to thc samc kind of scientific analysis as arc tcchnology,

A history of archaeological thought


subsistence economies, and trading patterns. Although Clark's

general view of culture was formulated in ecological terms rather
than on thc priority of the mode of production, his conclusions
about the potential of the archaeological record for reconstructing
different aspects of culturcs closely rcscmblcd those reached by
Childe. The notion of a scale of ascending difficulty in rcconstrutting prehistoric technology, economics, sociopolitical organization, and religious beliefs has continucd to play a major rolc in
British discussions of prehistory from the 1930s to the present
(Piggott 1959: 9-12; Fricdn~anand Rowlands 1978b: 203-4). This
conccpt was given its most elaborate treatment by Christopher
Hawkcs (1954), who concluded that archaeology, unaidcd by
written tcxts or oral traditions, is ablc to rcvcal morc about what is
gcncrically animal in human bchaviour than about what is specifically human. This scalc of ascending difficulty is frequently called
'Hawkes' hierarchy' or 'ladder' after his study.
In Archaeology and Society Clark asserted that the ultimate aim of
archacologists should be to intcrprct thcir data in tcrms of social
history. Thcp could d o that, howcvcr, only after they had dcfined a
succession of culturcs in the archacological record and had a clcar
idca of how the prchistoric commu~liticsassociatcd with thesc
culturcs had functioned. H c regarded an archaeologist studying a
prchistoric habitation sitc as the equivalent of an ethnologist study*inga living community. Vcry littlc attention was paid to thc appropriateness of this analogy or to the social anthropologists' assumption that a single community was representative of some larger
cultural unit, a conclusion now gcncrally repudiated. Hc also
acccptcd that cthnographic analogies had to be used to interpret
archacological data. H e repeated the Victorian argument that just as
palacontologists use living animals to reconstruct the anatomy of
fossil finds, so archaeologists must use cthnographic data to interpret thcir discoverics. Yct his belief in the relatively loose articulation bctwccn the diffcrcnt parts of a cultural system led him to
rejcct the unilincar evolutionary vicw that culturcs at the samc stage
would be similar to one another in any detailed
of dcvelopmc~~t
fashion. H e specificd that ethnographic analogies had to be drawn
between individual artifacts, as Nilsson had done, rather than
bctwccn whole culturcs, in the unilinear evolutionary fashion, and
that they had to be treated as suggestive rather than definitive. In

Ful~ctionnlismin Western archaeology

general hc prcferrcd to use analogies derived from folk lore rather
than from comparative ethnology for the interpretation of European prehistory, because he believed that historical continuity guarantecd the greater relcvancc of the former. H e argued that when
archaeologists were seeking to intcrprct data about prehistoric times
'it was helpful to know how pcoplc occupying thc samc territory
nlanagcd to provide for thcmsclves before thc risc of modcrn economics' (Clark 1974: 41).In this respcct as wcll, his positio~iwas similar
to that of Ch~ldcdnci in line with earlier diffusionist doctrines.
During the ncxt decade Clark sought to develop techniques for
using archaeological evidence to documcnt social life and particularly the ways in which natural rcsourccs had bccn utilized. In
Prehistoric England (1940) his chapters were organized not chronologically but functionally to provide a rcview of what was known
about subsistence patterns, dwellings, handicrafts, mining, trade,
communications, defence, burial, and sacred sites from Palaeolithic
times to the end of the Iron Age.
This was followed by a series of
papers on the utilization of various resources in prchistory and on
basic subsistcncc activitics such as scal hunting, whaling, fowling,
fishing, forcst clcarancc, farming, and stock raising. In a paper on
'Bccs in antiquity' he outlincd an ecological pcrspcctivc that linkcd
an increase in the number ofwild bees in Europc to thc introduction
of farming and dcmonstratcd how the resulting incrcasc in the
supply of becswax facilitated bronze casting (Clark 1942). While
these papers all addressed biological problems, Clark sought, by
identifying the functions of artifacts and the seasons when specific
subsistence activities took place, to use the archaeological record to
document economic and social life. The need to d o this was stresscd
by Donald Thomson (1939), who demonstrated ethnographically
that the same group of Australian aborigines used totally different
material culture assemblages at different times of the year, when they
exploited the resources of different areas. These remains could easily
be mistaken for different cultdres within a traditional culturalhistorical framework.
Between 1949 and 1951Clark excavated a waterlogged Mesolithic
site at Star Carr in East Yorkshire. The primary objectives of this
excavation were to recover organic materials as well as stone tools, to
date the site in relation to post-glacial vegctation patterns, to recover
food remains that would reveal the subsistence pattern, and to

A history of archacological thought












Functionalism in Western archaeology







Modern surhcc

~ - 2 B t r c hwood L 7 ' B l r ~ hbark BGlacai pcbble 0 C h r


Plan and scction of C u t t i n g 11, Star C a r r

determine what sort of social group had used the sitc. With the help
of palacobotanists and zoologists hc was able to conclude that a
small group of hunters had visited it ovcr a number of winters in
ordcr to hunt dccr. This study sct a nc\v standard for the archacological invcstigatio~lof huntcr-gatherer sitcs and callcd into qucstion the value of all previously cxcavatcd sites for cconomic studics
of prehistor~i(Clark 1954, 1972; cf. Andrescn et al. 1981).
At the same timc Clark was cxcavating at Star Carr, he was writing
Prebistovic Euvope: The Economic Basis (1952).111 this book hc sought
to 'mine and quarry' existing archacological literature and muscum
collections to see what could be learned from thcm about the
econonlic dc\lclopmcnt of Europe from late glacial times to the
historical period. Thc maill topics that hc addressed wcrc subsistencc pattcrns, shcltcr, technology, trade, travel, and transportation.
H c did not examine data m relation to specific societies or archacological culturcs but sought to trace economic changes as they related
to thrcc major climatic and vcgctation zones: Circumpolar, Tcmpcrate, and Mediterranean. The relationship bctwccn culturc and
environment was vicwcd as reciprocal and thc ccononly defined as
'an adjustment to specific physical and biological conditions of
certain needs, capacities, aspirations and valucs' (p. 7). Pvehzstovic


Euvope was the first appl~cationto archaeology of the botanist A. G.

Tansley's (1871-1955) concept of thc ccosystcm, with its notion of a
self-corrccting mechanism, or homeostat, which kccps thc whole
system in balancc (Tanslcy 1935; Odum 1953). Similar ecological
co~lceptshad becn applied by the social a~ithropologistE. E. Evansd ythe ecology of the Nucr people of the
1'1-itchard (1940)in his s t ~ ~ of
sotitlicin Sud.1n and they n~ci-cin .~ccoi-ciwith .I I)~~rltIic~rni.un
c m p h , ~ \ ~ons \oc~alIntcgr'itlon and cqu~libnum.Clark v~cwcdcul~ L I I . Ich.ungc
1' s a rcsponsc to 'tcmpor~ryd~scquilibrlum' brought
about by e~lvironmentalchanges, fluctuations in population, laboursaving ~nnovations,and cultural contact. H e thus ascribcd change to
all thc major factors that c\lolutlon~ry and diffusionist archacolog~stshad invoked o\ler the previous century, without rcvicwing
the status of thcsc concepts. Nor did hc attempt to intcrrclatc thcm,
apart from the commonplace observation that thc natural cnvironmcnt i~uposcdcertaln rcstr~ctionson cconomic cxploitatio~~
at particular stagcs of technology.
I11 Pvehistovic Euvope Clark was concerned primarily with
economic processes. In later studics he paid increasing attention to
how the integrity and cohcsion of social groups arc reinforced by
d~stinctivcpattcrns of behaviour in the same way that individuals
s~gnaltheir identity by confor~llingto or ignoring social norms. His
intcrcsts turned to the social and symbolic significance of artifacts.
More recently hc has argucd that so long as form and style arc
stud~cdin order to definc the territories of social groups rather than
as ends in thcmselvcs, they have a significant role to play in scientific
archacology (Clark 1974: 53-4; 1975).
At the same t i ~ n chis idcas about thc forces that bring about social
change appear to havc movcd away from a materialist pcrspcctivc.
H e maintains that human beings are free to the extent that they can
reason but cmphasizcs cultural traditions as a nlajor constraint on
change. In~lovationoccurs only when the cost of maintaining the
status quo cxcceds that of change. The Industrial Revolution is
attributed to major alterations in patterns of thinking rather than to
economic developments, while the preindustrial civilizations are
seen as contributing to cultural elaboration and divcrsification
becausc resources, power, and patronage wcrc concentrated in the
hands of a wealthy and sophisticated ruling class (Clark 1983, 1986).
Clark played a major role in moving British archaeology away from a

A history of archaeological thought

Functionalism in Western archaeology

preoccupation with typology and encouraging efforts to undcrstand

prchistoric ccollomics and related forms of social organization. Yet,
if he cxcclled Childc in thc detailcd rcconstruction of prehistoric
subsistcllcc activitics from archacological data, his work falls short
of Childc's as an attempt to explain cultural changc. This in turn
reflects his failure to develop an explicit model of cultural ch,~ngcto
complc~ncnthis bchavioural interpretations of archacological data.
Clark spurred major dcvclopmcllts in British archacology. The
laboratory study of biological remains, such as animal bones and
plant seeds, rccovcrcd from archacological sites, and their intcrprctation in ecological and economic tcrms, has bccomc a major
interdisciplinary specialization, partly covered by tcrlns such as
zooarchacology, palacocthnobotany, and bioarchacology. Under
thc lcadcrship of his student Eric Higgs (1908-1976) and the British
Academy Major Rcscarch Project in the Early History of Agriculture, a school of palacoeconomy has dcvelopcd that attcmpts to
intcrprct thcsc findings in rclation to the total resources available in
the vicinity of thc scttlcmcllt where thcy wcrc discarded and a
prcsumcd seasonal pJttcr1.1 of exploitation (Sicvcking 1976: xxii).
This ii~volvcssitc catchment analysis, which strives to dctcrmit~cthc
resources that would havc bccn available prehistorically within an
cxploitablc radius around an archacological sitc (Vit~-E'inziand
Higgs 1970; Higgs 1972, 1975; Jarman ct nl. 1982). Both Higgs atid
Jarnlan claimed that artifactual analysis has not been very informative about the nature of prchistoric subsistcl~ccadaptations and
denied it a 'prior place' in archacological investigations, although
thcy did not rule out thc importance of technological devclopmcnt.
Thcy also vicwcd ccollomic factors as being thc only oncs that arc of
long-tcrm explanatory importance or significantly dctcctablc in the
archacological rccord. Much of thc work of David Clarkc (1968) was
a reaction against the narrowness and dctcrminism of thc Higgsian
approach (Sherratt 1979: 199-200).

Harlan Smith's (1872-1940) The Prehistoric Ethnology of a Kentucky

was bascd on the analysis of artifacts that hc had
Site ( I ~ I Owhich
rccovercd from the Fox Farm site in 1895. H e sought to reconstruct
the lifcways of thc inhabitants of that sitc, which was later assigned
to thc latc prehistoric Fort Ancient aspect. Artifacts were described
and analyscd in tcrms of a scrics of functional catcgorics: Rcsourccs
in Animal and Plant Materials; Sccuring Food; Prcparation of
Food; Habitations; Tools uscd by Mcn; Tools uscd by Women;
Proccsscs of Manufacture; History of Manufacturcd Objccts (stages
in the manufacture of tools as illustrated by unfinished artifacts);
Gamcs; Religious Objccts; Pipes and Amusements; Warfare; Dress
and Ornament; Art; Injurics and Discascs; and Mcthods of Burial.
Individual artifacts wcrc discussed from diffcrcnt points of vicw
under multiple hcadings. Although ethnographic analogies were
cmployed to dctcrminc thc functions of specific artifacts, guesswork
played a major role in assigning artifacts to specific classes.
There was widespread interest in this sort of functional interpretation in the early twentieth century. William Wintemberg (1876-194r), whosc profcssiollal carccr dcvclopcd under thc supervision of
Smith, followcd this approach in his analysis of material from the
Iroquoian sites that he excavated in southern Ontario (Trigger
197%). A former craftsman, hc conducted many cxpcrimcnts to
dctcrminc how artifacts wcrc madc and uscd. Hc also acquircd an
cxtcnsivc lulowlcdgc of traditional Indian matcrial culture and ways
of life (Swayzc 1960: 178). A. C. Parker's (1881-1955) report on the
Iroquoian Ripley sitc, in northwcstcrn New York State (1907), has
been described as 'an early attempt to dclincate the entire culturc of a
group from archacological rcmains intcrprctcd in thc light of cthnography' (Brosc 1973: 92). M. R. Harrington, who workcd for thc
American Museum of Natural History when Smith was employed
thcrc, consulted local Indians in order to extend his knowledge of
the material hc cxcavatcd at thc Shiilnccock sitc on Long Island in
1902 (Harrington 1924). Beginning with Ancient Lqe in Kentzlcky
(Webb and Funkhouscr 1928), William S. Webb (1882-1964) studied
how prchistoric Indians had madc and uscd artifacts and how these
artifacts rcflccted less tangible ancient customs. H e was trained as a
physicist and is said to havc approached archaeology with an
amateur's 'interest in local antiquities and the ancient life of the local
Indians' (Taylor 1948: 75). Working in Kentucky hc had special

Early functionalism in the United States

In thc United States a functionalist approach to archacological
analysis began in thc ninctccilth century. It took the form of an
interest in how artifacts were manufacturcd and what use had beell
madc of them. This approach was dcvclopcd and systcmatizcd in

A history of archacological thought

reason to be influcnccd by Smith's rcport on thc Fox Farm sitc.

Similarly William Ritcllic's carly publications on thc 'prc-Iroquoian'
sites of Ncw York State had been manifesting a widely ranging, if
unspstcmatic, intcrcst in using artifacts to reconstruct prchistoric
human bchavio~tr.After they were influenced by the Midwestern
Taxonomic Method, both Webb and liitchic conccntratcd o n the
c1.1boration o f trait lists .ind ccascd (in Kitchic's c ~ s only
until tllc
1950s) to study the bcha\riour of prehistoric peoples (Taylor 1948:
Tlic 1.1rgc horizontal csc.i\~ationscarricd out during thc cicprcssion years hclpcd to r e v i ~ ethe intcrcst of American archaeologists in
thc functional analysis of archaeological data. Now, howcvcr,
instead of this concern being mainly with artifacts, it was focused
increasingly on features, housc pattcrns, and village plans, in relation to which the distribution of artifacts took 011additional significancc. Thesc cxcavatiolls expanded knowledge about the construction of houses and sacred structures, while plans of entire
\~illagcsacldcd 3 new dimcnsion to tlic ~~ndcrstancling
of the prchistoric social org.inization of eastern North A~ncrica(Willcy and
Sabloff 1980: 123-7).
Yct this work was initially justified as a means of expanding trait
an interest it? how people had lived
lists and only slo\vly stir~~ulatcd
in prchistoric times. In Rcdiscovcrin~Illinois (1937), a rcport on
arcl~acological excavations carried out in and around Fulton
County, Illinois, Fay-Cooper Cole (1881-1961) and Thorne Deucl
listcd a11 the artifact typcs from a single occupation level within a sitc
under a number of broad funcrional headings, which they labelled
complcxcs. These included Architecture and House Life, Costume
and Dress, Ccrcmonial, Military and Hunting, Economic and
Artistic, Agricultural and Food-Getting, and Pottery. Yet they made
1 7 0 attcmpt to infer specific activities from thcsc artifacts. The sarnc is
ti-uc of Charles Fairbanks' (1942) effort to arrangc a list of artifact
typcs from tlic Stallings Island midden in Georgia in a functional
ordcr according to whether thcy appeared to relate t o subsistence,
cornniunity plan, burial, or technological and artistic activities. In
Martin, Quimby, and Collier's Djdinv~sBefire Colwmbw (1947) all of
the major archacological cultures so far defined for North Arncrica
wcrc summarized by regions and successivc periods under the headings: location, people (physical type), village, livelihood, pottery,

38 Structures o n mound platform, from Hzwassee Island,

by T . L c w ~ sand M. Knebcrg, 1946

tools, U~CIISIIS,
ornan~cnts,and burials. In
each of these cases, despite a growing variety of data, thc cmphasis
was largely 011 listing traits in an ethnographic o r pscudocthnographic format rather than on trying to interpret material
culturc as cvidence of human behaviour. Although interpretations
prior to the 1930s havc been castigated for remaining 'on a rclativcly
supcrficial level' consisting 'mainly of thc obvious inferences t o be
drawn from artifacts . . . by visualizing how thcy might havc been
L I S C ~ ' (Rouse 1972: 147), they constituted a more serious cffort to
infer human behaviour from archacological remains than did thc
ethnographic trait lists of the 1930s and 1940s. This indicates that the
classificatory orientation of thc Midwcstcrn Taxo~lomicMethod,
and of chronological studies gcnerallp, suppressed a professional
intercst in the behavioural interpretation o f archaeological data in
North America for a longer period than Taylor (1948: 91) o r Willey
and Sabloff (1980: 134) havc belicvcd.

A history of ,~rchacologicalthought

Nc\~crtheless a growing minority of Anlcrican archacologists

began to call for the functional interpretation of archacological data
within the framcwork of niorc holistic vicws of culture than had
bccn adoptcd hitherto in American archaeology. They ~iiayhavc
been I-csponding to the more f~lnctionalist vicws of human
behaviour t h ; ~wcrc hcing popul~rizcdin American anthropology
by Radcliffc-Brown, who taught at thc University of Chicago from
1931to 1937, and by Mslinowski, who taught at Yalc University from
1938 until his dcarli in 1942. Arcli~cologistswcrc also increasingly
awarc of the interpretations of archacological data offcrcd by
Childc, Clark, and othcr European archacologists. This provided
thcorctical as wcll as practical cvidcncc that Icading American cthnologists, such as Robcrt Lowic and Frank Speck, crrcd when they
clairrlcd that, bccausc archacologists could study only matcrial
culture, they were unable to sap anything significant about nonmaterial aspects of human bcliaviour. T o d o this, liowcver, archacologists had to intcrprct artifacts as parts of total cultural systcms
and as integrated within social, political, and economic organizations, ratlicr than as niatcrial objects that had only typological
This dcsirc to understand archacological rcmains from a functional point of view Icd archacologists to rcncw thcir tics with
cthnologists, which had bccomc attenuated during thc period whcn
thcir primary interest had been to construct cultural chronologies.
I11 1936 William D. Strong (1899-1962) stressed the i~ltcrdepe~ldence
of archaeology and ethnology and argued that archaeologists should
look t o cthnologists for thcorctical lcads as wcll as factual information. H e applicd this principle in his dircct-historical approach to
Ncbraskan prehistory, as did Paul Martin (1899-1974) whcn hc uscd
Robcrt Rcdficld's coliccpt of 'folk culture' to cxplain variations in
the sizc and contents of Pucblo ruins (,Martin e t nl. 1938; Martin and
Rinaldo 1939). In his study of nativc subsistence economics on thc
Grcat Plains, Waldo R.cWcdcl (1941)stressed the importance of the
relation between culturc and environment and argued that factors
othcr than historical accidents shapcd archaeological cultures. A. J.
Waring, Jr and Preston Holder (1945) interpreted claboratcly dccoratcd coppcr and shell artifacts in widcly dispersed Mississippian sitcs
as cvidcncc of a widespread religious cult.
Similar filnctional cxplunations wcrc used to account for stylistic

Functionalism in Western archaeology

distributions in Mexico and Peru, such as the Chavin and Tiahuanaco horizons, which had hitherto been intcrprctcd purely in diffus ~ o n ~tcrms.
In each of these studics efforts wcrc made t o identify
sociopolit~calor religious characteristics of thc material by considering thcir ~ntrasitcpl-ovcnicncc or other fcat~lrcsthat typological
stud~cshacl ~gnorcd(W. 13c1lnctt1945; Willcy 1948). I11 a st~ldyoftllc
contentious issue of Mesoamerican influcnccs on tlic culturcs of thc
soutlicastcrn U n ~ t c dStates, John W. Bcnnctt (1944) strcsscd thc
nccd to consider the funct~onalimplicat~onsof traits, the social
contcxt from which thcy wcrc dcrivcd, and, abovc all, thc contcxt
into which thcy would have been introduced. H e hypothcsizcd that
somc Mcsoamcrican traits would havc been rc.ldily .~cccptcdby the
less complcx cultures of the U n ~ t c dSt'~tcs,wllilc others W O L I I ~ havc
becu rcjcctcd, howcvcr many tlmcs tlicy were transmittcd. Hcncc he
mainta~ncdthat dlffusionist explanations rcquirc a dcta~lcdfunctional understanding of thc rccipicnt culturcs. Still other archaeologists sought to interpret the interaction between ncighbouring
cultures in tcrnis of thc concept of acculturation, w h ~ c hwas becoming popular at that tinic among ethnologists (I<cur 1941; Lewis and
Kncberg 1941). W h ~ l cthesc and other studics wcrc highly disparatc
and provisional, cnough of thcm had appeared by 1943 t o be rccognizcd as const~tutinga trclid in Anicrican archacology, whlch J. W.
Bcnnctt (1944)labcllcd as a 'funct~onal'o r 'sociolog~cal'approach to
archacological ~ntcrprctation.Thesc studics and Kluckhohn's (1940)
advocacy of a 'scientific' approach preparcd the way for Waltcr
Taylor's A Stgdy ofArcbeology (1948), a polemical work that examincd thc differences between traditional culture-li~storicalarchacologp and the new functionalist intcrcsts.

The conjunctive approach

Taylor observed that thc majority of An1crica1-r archaeologists said
that thcir goal was t o reconstruct prehistory, while some of them,
like Kiddcr, \vent further and expressed the liopc that eventually
arcl~aeologicaldata would provide a basis for gcncralizing about
human beliaviour and cultural changc. Yet few culture-historical
archacologists displaycd any interest in systematically reconstructing prchistoric ways of life o r explaining cvcnts that had taken
place In prchistoric times. Instcad thcy occupicd tlicmsclvcs with

A history of archaeological thought

'mcrc chronicle', working out thc geographical and temporal distributions of archacological matcrial and explaining changes by attributing them to cxtcrnal factors groupcd under the headings of
diffusion and migration.
Taylor proccedcd to dcmonstratc that the limitcd goals of archaeologists encouraged slackness in a~hacologicalfieldwork and analysis. Many classcs of artifacts, cspccially those that wcrc not regarded
as important for defining cultures, wcrc not examined and dcscribcd
in detail. Pottery and iithic rnatcrial wcrc studicd much more carefully than was surviving evidence of baskctry. Floral and faunal
remains often were inadcquatcly rccovcred and identified; hcnce
archaeologists did not know what foods were eaten and why particular sitcs wcrc used or at what season. Archaeologists also failcd
to rccord, and morc often to rcport, the intrasitc provenience of
artifacts in sufficicnt dctail. Bccausc of this it was difficult for them
to dcfinc activity arcas within sitcs and to dctcrminc how artifacts
might vary from one part of a sitc to another. Finally, although
archacologists sought to claborate lists of all the types of artifacts
associatcd with particular sitcs and made statistical comparisons of
thcsc lists in an cfOrt to dctcrrninc thcir dcgrccs of cultural affinity,
they wcrc normally content to compare merely the presence or
absence of types. As a result, quantified data, that might be vcry
important for understanding thc role played by particular hnds of
artifacts, wcrc lacking. Taylor dcvoted much of his study to providing a detailed critique of the shortcomings of the work of leading
American archacologists in order to dcmonstratc how thcir
cultural-chronological objectives had limited thcir investigations of
thc archaeological rccord.
T o remedy thesc defects Taylor offered the conjunctive approach.
T o the traditional investigation of chronological problems and
intcrsite relations hc proposed to add dctailed intrasite studies in
which careful attention would .be paid to all artifacts and features
and how they wcrc interrelated. Special note would be taken of
thc quantitative aspccts and spatial distributions of archacological
finds, as wcll as of their formal properties and evidcnce of how they
wcrc made and used. In this way arcl~acologistsmight hope to learn
as much as possiblc about the nature of life in prehistoric times
and about thc functional relations within a prchistoric culture. A
distinctivc aspcct of the co~~jut~ctivc
approach was thc importance

Functionalism in Western archaeology

that Taylor, like Clark, attachcd to sitcs as primary units of analysis.
H e sought to avoid the problems inherent for archaeologists in
the concept of material culture by following Krocber and other
Boasian anthropologists in defining culture as mcntal constructs and
viewing material remains as products of culturc rather than culture
itself (Osgood 1951).Mental constructs, which are partly a heritage
of the past and either idiosyncratic or shared by varying numbers of
people, constitute beliefs and valucs and provide guides for social
activitics as wcll as thc technical h~owlcdgcrcquircd to produce
nlatcrial culturc. H e concluded that, while culturc was idcational
and hence did not survive in thc archaeological rccord, many aspects
of culturc othcr than the luiowlcdgc that went into manufacturing
artifacts wcrc rcflcctcd archaeologically. H e also distinguished
bcnvcc~lculturc as a holistic concept, or proccss, and culturc as a
partitive one (the individual archaeological culture).
Taylor maintained that archaeologists must strivc to recover as
much information as possible concerning archacological sites,
including seemingly trivial evidence. They must also collect information concerning thc palacocnvironmental contcxt of the sitc and
any rclatcd historical or ethnographic data. This matcrial had to be
studicd and classificd as wcll as rcportcd in sufficicnt dctail that it
could be rcanalyscd by othcr archacologists. The first analytical task
relating to the site as a wl~olcwas to work out its internal chronology
and thus to determine what evidence was synchronous or successivc.
Archaeologists should ncxt turn to the major task of synthesizing
thc matcrial from the site, or from cach pcriod that it was occupied.
Two sorts of synthesis had to be done. The ethnographic synthesis
consisted of determining cvcrything possiblc about how pcoplc
lived at the sitc. The arcl~aeologistilike an ethnographer, should try
to fill out the Outline of Cultural Materials (Murdock et al. 1938), a
checklist documenting all conccivablc patterns of cultural
behaviour. The conjunctive approach also required that archaeologists should try to understand how life was lived at a site as a
functionally integrated pattern. Thc ethnographic synthesis was to
be followed by a historiographic one that traccd how ways oflife at a
sitc changed in the course of its occupation and tried to account for
how these changes came about.
Having synthesized the cultural significance of individual sites,
archaeologists could undertake comparative studies. Taylor believed

A history of archaeological thought

that these should involve the comparison of whole cultural contexts

as manifested at individual sites rather than of individual items of
culture, and that their immediate aim should be to understand how a
site rclated to the broader pattcrn of lifc in a surroundi~lgterritory.
In this way, seasonally occupied hunter-gathcrcr sites could be
linkcd'to for111 year-round pattcrns or peasant hamlcts associated
with clitc ccntrcs to provide information about the hierarchical
structures of ancicnt civilizations. Thus a functional understanding
could be gained that was equivalent to the ethnologists' insight into
the nature of living cultures. Archacologists could thcn procccd to
work alongside ethnologists to achievc the principal goal of anthropology: a gcncral undcrstandillg of the naturc and working of
There has been considerable discussion concerning to what extent
Taylor's approach represented a break with the past and marked the
beginning of the New Archacology of the 1960s (Taylor 1972;
Binford 1972: 8-9; 1983a: 229-33). At the same time lateral connections have received littlc attention. Taylor's emphasis upon the first
task of archaeologists as that of using archaeological evidencc to
reconstruct how people lived at individual prehistoric sites closely
paralleled thc approach Clark had advocated in 1939. So too did his
insistcncc upon palacocthllography as a vital goal of archaeology
and his view of cultures as f~lnctioningentities embracing social,
political, and ideological as wcll as cconolnic componcnts that thc
archaeologist must try to study holistically from the inside. Yet he
did not follow Clark or anticipate the New Archaeology in viewing
cultures as ecologically adaptive systems. Instead hc adopted an
idealist view of culture as a collection of shared concepts, a view
which closely resembles the traditional Boasian position. Like the
Boasians he did not presupposqhat any one part of a culture plays a
morc important rolc than any other in bringing about cultural
change. Instcad he rcgardcd defining thc relations between parts and
explaining change as problems that must be approached inductively.
H c was amenable to the idea that different aspects of culture might
play a leading role in bringing about change in different societies
and continued to believe that much change occurs as a result of
fortuitous contacts between human groups.
Taylor's concept of the integration of individual cultures also
tcndcd to bc wcakcr than that adoptcd by Clark. It rclatcs morc

Functionalism in

stern archaeology

closely to the notion of configuration or psychological consistency

advocated by Boasian anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict (1934)
than to the ideas of structural and functional integration championed by social anthropologists. He contrasted the lack of symmetry in Coahuila Cave basketry designs in the southwestern United
Statcs with t l ~ crcgularizcd pattcrns that dominatc San Juan baskets
several hundred miles to the south. These variations, which cannot
be attributcd to differences in materials or weaving techniques,
constitutcd a discontinuity in cultural pattcrn that Taylor bclicvcd
descrvcd a functional explanation. Finally, becausc of his idcalistic
and inductive approach, he was compelled to remain at the level of
discussing how yrchistoric pattcrns might bc rcconstructcd. Hc
contributed almost nothing towards explaining how or why changes
occurred. Like Clark he failed to'use a functional view of prehistoric
cultures to promote a new understanding of cultural change. His
work was mainly important as. a critique of current standards of
archaeological research and as a'call for arch eologists to recover and
analyse archaeological data in far greater d tail than they had done
hitherto. The result was ta reihforce the trend toward functional interpretation already under way in American archaeology rather than
to challenge the basic tenets of Boasian historical particularism or
introducc any major innovations into archacological interpretation.

Ecolgical and iettlement anhaeolo~y

Julian Steward (1902-72), who was one of the first American ethnologists to adopt an explicitly materialist view of human behaviour,
greatly enhanced an awareness ?f the role played by ecological
factors in shaping prehistoric sociocultural systems. In 1938 he and
F. M. Setzler published a paper in which they argued that archaeologists as well as ethnologists should seek to understand the nature
of cultural change and that both disciplines could contribute to an
ecological analysis of human behaviour. T o play a significant role,
however, archaeologists would have to stop concentrating on the
stylistic analysis of artifacts and begin to use their data to study
changes in subsistence economies, population size, and settlement
patterns. Steward himself had carried out and published archaeological research on the Ancient Caves ofthe Great Salt Lake Region
(r937a) and writtcn a papcr in which hc had drawn together archaco-

Functionalisn~in Wester11archaeology

A history of archaeological thought

logical and ctlinographic scttlcnicnt-pattcrn data in a study of interUnitcd

action bctwccn culturc and c~ivironmcntin the soi~thwcstcr~i
Statcs (1937b). Of all thc American ethnologists of this period, lic
had tlic greatest respect for arcl~acologicaldata and awarcncss of
thcir potential value for studying problems of huinan behaviour
over l o ~ i gperiods.
After World War I1 increasing awarcncss of the importance of an
ccological approach, resulting from the writings of Steward and
Clark, stimulated major Amcrican research programlilcs involving
intcrdiscipli~laryteams. Onc of the niost important of tlicsc was the
Iraq J a r n ~ oProjcct, dircctcd by Robert Braidwood, which bctwccn
1948 and 1955 cxamincd a series of late Palacolithic t o early Neolithic
sites in the Kirkuk region of thc Ncar East (Braidwood 1974).
Another was the Tchuacan Archaeological-Botanical Projcct, led by
Richard S. MacNcish, which between 1960 and 1968 rcvcalcd an
unbrokcn 12,000-ycar cultural scqucncc from PalacoIndian times to
thc Spaiiisl conqucst in highland Mexico (MacNcish 1974, 1978).
Both of thcsc projects, which wcrc fundcd at least in part by tlie
Unitcd Statcs National Scicncc Foundation, brought together
archaeologists, botanists, zoologists, geologists, and other specialists to carry out rcscarch rclating to the origin of food-production in
tlic Ncar East and Mcsoamcrica. They succcedcd in delineating
changes in the subsistencc cconomics of thcir rcspcctivc regions,
wliilc MacNcisli, with a sample of 456 sites, was also ablc to i~ifcr
changcs in group composition and lalid utilization. With tlic help of
radiocarbon dates they dcmo~istratcdthat in both thc Old and the
Ncw Worlds food-production had bcgun earlier and incrcased in
economic importance far more slowly than arc1iaeologists, including
Childc, had previously believed. In tlic Cold War atmosphere prcvaililig in the U~iitedStatcs, thcsc findings wcrc welcomcd as proof
of the nornialcy of gradual evolutionary changes and a major
sct-back for Childc's apparently Marxist-inspired theory of a Ncolithic 'rcvolution'. Biaidwood's worlt also ruled out the likelihood
that desiccation had played a significant role in initiating the dcvclopmctit of food-produci~lgcconomics in thc Ncar East. Both of
thcsc studies wcrc landmarks in tlic use of arcliacological data to
study one of tlie major economic and social transformations of
human history. They also dcnionstr3ted the iriiportancc of a multiciisciplin,lry ;~ppro.~cli
in which archac:>logists ;i~id~ i a t ~ ~scic~ice
specialists worltcd together to analysc archaeological data.


MacNeish's intcrpretat~onof subsistence-settlement pattern of Ajuereado

Phase (11,000-7,000 B.c.) in Tchuacall Valley

I11 T ~ e n dand T~aditionin the Prehistovy of the Eastern United States,

Joseph Caldwcll(1916-73) adopted an ccological approach t o understanding cultural cliangc (1958). H e argucd that ecological adjustnicnts to tlic disappcarancc of big gamc at tlic cnd of the last Ice Agc
had resulted in morc complex and intcnsivc patterns of food collcction that I i ~ d~ I I C K C ; I S C ~the c ~ r r p i n gcapacity of most arcas and

A history of arcl~acologicaltliouglit
promoted s c d c ~ l t a r ~ z a t ~and
o n denser p o p u l a t ~ o ~ throughout
reglon. These developn-ie~ltsc~icouragcdthe acqulsltlon o f h e a v ~ e r
and Inore v a r ~ c dtypes of cqulpnicnt than had bccn useful prcv~ously,~ ~ l c l u soapstone,
d ~ ~ ~ g and later ccramlc, c o o k ~ n gvessels. H c
stressed not only the capaclty for lnter~lallyi ~ l ~ t i a t cchange
the natlve culturcs o f the Eastern Woodlands but also the need for
archaeolog~stst o u n d c ~ s t a n dart~factssuch JS pottcrv vessels wltll
rcfcrcilcc t o the roles they had playcd w1th111 a d a p t ~ v csystems Such
Interpretations had bccn f-orcshc~do\vcdIn Ralph L~nton's (1944)
study o f dcvclopmcntal trends in the sliapc o f castci-11 North
American ceramic vcsscls.
Steward also inspired the dc\~clopmcntofsettlcmcnt archaeology,
which was initiated by (;ordon Willcy's 1'~ehistovicSettlement l'atterns in the Virzi Valley, Peru (1953), a study that was carried o u t in
connection with a combined archacological and a~lthropological
i~lvestigationo f a small coastal valley in Peru by Amcrica~land
Peruvian a~lthropologistsin 1946. I t was Steward w h o persuaded
Willep t o conduct 3 scttlcmcnt-pattern survey as part o f the project
(Willey 1974b: 153). Yet Willcy's interpretation o f the data collccted
by this survey marked a significa~ltdeparture froin Ste\vard's ccological approach. 111previous studies archacological scttlcmcnt patterns had bccn viewed as cvidcncc o f relations bctwccu human
groups and tllc natural c~i\lironment.Willcy chosc illstcad to vicw
scttlcmcnt patterns as 3 'strategic starting point for the f ~ l ~ i c t i o ~ l a l
interpretation o f arcl-~acologicalculturcs'. H e went o n t o assert that
scttlcmcnt patterns 'reflect the natural cnvironmcnt, the lcvcl o f
technology o n which the builders operated, and various i~lstitutio~ls
of social interaction and control ~ v h i c hthe culture maintained'
(p. I ) . H c did n o t deny that ecological factors playcd a significant
role in shaping settlement patterns but observed that many other
factors of a social o r cultural nature were also rcflcctcd in the
archacological record and was unprepared t o vicw thcsc factors as
mcrcly a rcflectio~lo f the general patterns o f ecological adaptation.
Instead he treated scttlemc~ltpatterns as a source o f illfor~nation
about many aspects o f human bchaviour. T h e great advantage o f
scttlcmcnt patterns over artifacts nras that, while artifacts ficquently
urcre found in co~itcxtswhere they had been disposed, scttlcmcnt
patterns provided direct cvidellce about the settings in which h u ~ n a n
activities wcrc carried out. Willcy recognized the pote~ltial o f

A history of archaeological thought

settlement-pattcrn data for the systematic study of thc economic,

social, and political organization of ancicnt societies.
Although he viewed settlement pattcrns as a stratcgic startingpoint for the fi~nctionalinterpretation of nrchacological cultures, he
mainly used the concept of culture to distinguish successivc phases
in the development of the Viril Valley and hence to group together
sitcs that had bccn in L I S at
~ approximately the same time. Ccmcterics, habitation sitcs, palaces, temples, forts, and irrigation networks
that appeared to be contemporary were used to try to reconstruct the
changing patterns of social a i d political organization of the valley
over several millennia. Instcad of viewing social and political
phenomena as attributes of culture, hc intcrpretcd them as an
cvolving system cjf' social relations that providcd a behavioural
contcxt intcgrating orher aspects of culture. Thus, in addition to
recognizing social orgnniz~tionas 3 legitinlate object of archacological study, as Childc was to do in The Prehistory ofEuropean Society
(1958a),Willep providcd an analytical device for studying prehistoric
social organization, which Childc hiled to do. Recognizing longterm continuities in the population inhabiting thc Virii Valley also
Icd Willcp to emphasize understanding changes in the archaeological record in tcrnls of internal transformations rather than attributing them to diffusion and migration as had comn~onlybeen done
in thc past. His study was thcrefore an important pionccring cffort
in using archacological data to interpret long-term social change.
Within the contcxt of settlement archaeology, individual sitcs
ccascd to be studicd as ends in themselves or to be regarded as
rcprcscntativc of a particular culture or region. Instead they were
sccn as forming nctworlts in which single sites played very different
and complementary roles. Sitc surveys no longer sought to locate
thc largcst or most rcprcscntativc sitcs for excavation but instead
sought to rccover information that was important in its own right
for archacological analysis. While ccological studies of scttlcmc~lt
pattcrns have continued and are recognized as often, if not always,
bcing a ncccssary prcliminary for social and political interpretations,
a growing number of American archacologists came to view settlerncnt pattcrns as an important source of information about demographic trends and the social, political, and religious institutions of
prchistoric societies. They also came to think of settlement patterns
in .terms of a hierarchy of lcvels: activity areas within structurcs,

Functionalis~llin Western archaeology

structures, associatcd activity areas around structurcs, communitics,
and the distribution of communitics across landscapes. Each of thesc
lcvels was rccog~lizcdas having bccn shapcd by factors that differ in
kind o r degree from those (lint influence otlicr Icvels. Iiidividual
structures rcflcct family organization, scttlcments community structure, and spatial distributio~lsthc impact of tradc, administration,
and regional dcfcilcc. Because of this the combincd study of two or
more lcvcls is likely to shed lilorc light on archacological cultures
than is the study of only one lcvcl (Triggcr 1968b; Flanncry 1976;
Clarltc 1977; Kent 1984). O f all thc filnctio~lalistapproaches, scttlcment archaeology, with its focus on inferring pattcrns of social
bchaviour and its rcjcctio~lof ccological dcterininism, is thc onc that
most closely approximatcs social anthropology of thc Durkhcimian
Willcy's research in thc Virii Valley inspircd intcnsivc surveys of
changing scttlcnlc~ltpatterns in various parts of thc world. As thc
result of a prolonged study in southern Iraq, Robert McC. Adams
(1965, 1981; Adams and Nissen 1972) was able t o demonstrate that
irrigation systems tended to elaborate and collapse as a consequence
of political changcs rathcr than being a major causc of thcsc changcs.
K. C. Chang (1963) has shown continuity in the development of
social and political systcms in northcrtl China from tlic beginning of
thc Neolithic pcriod through the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynastics,
while Makkhall L d (1984) has traced the interaction bctwcc~ltechnology and c~lvironmcntin northern India during the pcriod that
saw the devclopmcnt of Gangctic civilization. Karl Butzcr (1976)
dcmonstratcd that ovcrall population prcssurc could not have
played a major role in the risc of a~lcientEgyptian civilization, which
dcveloped most rapidly in the far south, where the exploitation of
the smaller natural basins required less effort than did that of the
larger and morc productivc basins farther north. Triggcr (1965) uscd
nlainly cemetery data to study how changcs in technology, thc
natural environment, tradc, and warfarc altcrcd the sizc and distribution of population in Lower Nubia over 4,000 years. Richard E.
Blanton (1978) has correlated changing scttlemcnt pattcrns in the
Oaxaca arca of Mexico with changing configurations of political
organization. Finally, while William T. Sandcrs' detailed study of
the Valley of Mexico was designed from an ecological perspective, it
has shown that changing forms of political and economic organi-

A history of ilrchilcolopicill thOl1gllt

zntion, ns wcll as idios)rncratic I~istoricalfactors, havc playcd a major
rolc in shaping the size and distribution of thcsc scttlcmcnts
(Siindcrs ct nl. 1979). Tlicsc studies have cliallcngcd sin~plisticviews
that popillation increase or irrigation agriculture alone playcd a
~ ~ r c p o ~ i d c rrolc
a n t in shaping the dcvclopnicnt of complex socictics
;111dt l ~ct~ ~ l t i ~changes
invariably occur in a slow, gradual fashion.
Almost from thc beginning arcl~acologistsrecognized the value of
scttlcmcnt patterns for studying social change at the tribal lcvel as
\\~cII;is thc origin and dcvclopmcnt o f ci\filiz;~tions.This thinliing
rccci\~cdearly cxprcssion in a unilincar schcmc of types of community pattcr~iingdcviscd at a seminar on the functional and cvolutio~iaryimplications of such patterning held undcr the chairmanship
of Richard Bcardslcy in 1955 (Beardslcp e t al. 1956).As a result of this
scl~iillartcrnIs.such as frcc wandering, restricted wandering, ccntral
based wandering, and scn~ipcrma~~cnt
sedentary came to be used to
dcscribc thc scttlcmcnt and subsistcncc systcms of native North
Alncrican pcoplcs. Ovcr the ycars systematic studics of the scttlcnwit pattcrns of particular regions have increased archacologists'
a\varcncss of the regional diversity and complex it)^ of adaptations as
\vcll ns of the rapidity with which thcsc adaptations somctimcs
changcd (Willc)r 1956; Ritchie and Funk 1973; B. Smith 1978).

intcrprctations of archaeological data had long been
inhcrcnt in studics of the relations bctwccn cultures and their
environments and of how artifacts were made and used. Yet thc
proliferatio11 and increasing sophistication of such views that rcprcscntcd a significant trcnd in British and American anthropology,
beginning in the 193os, cncouraged archacologists to view prchistoric cultures as internally differentiated and to some dcgrce
intcgratcd ways of lifc. This in turn promoted a consideration of thc
internal as wcll as the cxtornal causcs of change. At first the examination of intcrnal causcs was mainly directed towards ecological
factors. Yct, whilc Taylor and in an cvcn morc explicit fashion Clark
did much to dcvclop the usc of archaeological data for reconstructing prehistoric patterns of life, they made few contributions
to\v.lrds cxp1,lining changcs in the arcli,icological record. In contrast, Childc, while developing some very interesting models of




41 Sanders e t al. settlement pattern of the Basin of Mexico for the Late Horizon

A history of at~cliacologicnItliought
social changc, failcd to addrcss how tllcsc 111odclscould be applicd in
any dctail to thc study of thc archacological rccord. Scttlcment
archacology, by contrast, e~lcouragedthe relatively holistic study
both of prchistoric culturcs at specific points in time and of how
thcsc cultures changcd. This dcvelopmcnt of a concern with changes
in structural and functional relations over time marlicd the beginning of a proccss~ial, as opposed to a synchronically functional,
study of prehistoric cultures.
Tllc dcvclopmcnt of functional and then proccssual approachcs to
nrcl~acologicaldata rcprcsc~ltcda replaccmcnt of the increasingly
sterile preoccupation of culture-historical archaeology with ethnicity by a vital new interest in how prchistoric culturcs operated
and changed. A functio~lalistoricntation was cncouraged by the
development of social anthropology, which initially was no more
concerned with problems of internal social change than earlier
diffusionist explanations had been. Growing interest in change was
rclated to social developments after World War I1 that will be
cxa~nincdin the ncxt chaptcr.
From an internal point of view culturc-historical archaeology was
a logical preludc to thc systematic study of prchistoric cultures from
functional and proccssual perspcctivcs. The culture-historical
approach had revealed the basic fi-amcworli of cultural distributions
relations that W L ~ complemcnS
in time and space and of intcrcult~~rul
tcd by a functionalist cmphasis on the systcnlatic study of thc
internal configurations of c~~lturcs.
Yet, while initially building on
traditional culture-historical chronologics, functional and processual approachcs soon raised archacological questions that required
refinements in chronology and the understanding of spatial variation (especially intra-site variation) in the archaeological record.
American archaeologists strcngtl~encd and renewcd their longestablished tics with anthropology in a search for ethnographic
parallels and theoretical concepts that would assist them to interpret
thcir data from a functional or proccssual point of view. I11 doing so
they reaffirrncd a relationship first established in the nineteenth
century. European archaeologists tended to remain sceptical of
analogics in the abscncc of somc sort of direct historical connection
between the cultures bcing compared and vicwcd thcir worlc as an
enrichment of thcir continuing analysis of archacological data.


Neo-evolutionism and the New Archaeology

we can predict the transience of the Ncw Archaeolo~j~
itselfbut we should not confuse transience with insigniJicancc.

C L A R K E , Ana[Yt~calArchaeolo~~t
(1979), p. 101

T11c two decades following World War I1 were an era of unrivalled

economic prosperity and unchallenged political hegemony for the
United States. Despitc the threat of nuclear war, this was a time
of grcat optimism and self-confidence for most middle-class
Americans. As had happened in Britain and Wcstern Europc in the
middle of the ninctccnth century, this self-confidence cncouraged a
rclativcly ~natcrialisticoutlook and a readiness to belicve both that
there was a pattcrn to human history and that technological progress
was the key to human betterment. I11 Amcrican anthropology these
trends were m,~nifcstcd in the rcvival of an interest in ci~ltural
cvolut~onlsm.Whilc cvolutionism did not bcconlc the predominant
trcnd in Amcrican anthropology, it grcatly increased in popularity
in thc 1950s and 1960s and cxertcd a significant influence throughout
the discipli~lc.

The neo-evolutionism that developed in the United States in the

1960s was pet another attempt by anthropologists living in a politically dominant country to 'naturalize' their situation by demonstrating it to be the inevitable outcomc of an evolutionary process
that allowed human beings to acquire greater control over their
cnviron~ne~ltand greater freedom from nature. Yet neocvolutionism differed in certain crucial fcatures from the unilinear
cvolutionism of the nineteenth century. Its ecological, demographic, or technological deterininism left n o room for the idea that
cultural change occurred becausz gifted individuals used their

A history of arcliiicololr;iciil thought

illtclligcncc and lcisurc time to dcvisc ways to co~ltrolnature morc
cffcctivcly and thus improve thc quality of human lifc. Instcad
nco-evolutionists argucd, as diffusio~iistsand social anthropologists
had done, that human beings sought to preserve a familiar style of
Iifc i~nlcsschange was forccci o n them by factors that were beyond
thcir control. This position, which was rationalized in terms of
ccosystcmics, cnlbodicd views about human bchaviour being naturally conscrvativc that wcrc far removed from thc individual creativity that hacl been lauded by Spcnccr o r that no st ~ ~ i n c t c c ~ l t h ccntury c\~olutionistshad used to explain cultural change. This
alteration appears to reflect the difference between an early stage in
thc dcvcIop~nentof capitalism, when individual initiative was still
highly valued, and a more dcvclopcd phase dominated by multinational corporations, whcn the individual is 110 longer idealized as a
major factor bringing about economic growth.
The two principal exponents of nco-evolutionism in the 1950s
were the ethnologists Lcslic White (1900-75) and Julia11 Steward
(1902-72) (see White 1949, 1959; Steward 1955). White regarded
himsclf as the intellectual heir of L. H. Morgan and of the indigenous, evolutionary tradition of American anthropology. H e rejected
the historical particularism, psychological reductionism, and belief
in frcc will inherent in Boasian anthropology. In their place he
offcrcd the conccpt of 'General Evolution', which trcatcd progress
as a charactcristic of culture in gcncral, although not ncccssarily of
cvery individual culturc. White dcliberatclp ignored the influcncc of
cnvironmcnts and of one culturc upon another and conccntratcd on
explainilig thc main line of cultural development, which was marked
by the most advanced culturc of each succcssivc period rcgardless of
their historical relationship. H e argued that this approach was
justified because in the long run cultures that failed to keep ahead
were supcrscdcd and absorbed by morc progressive ones. Hcncc
from an evolutionary point of vicw they arc irrclcvant.
Whitc defined culturcs as elaborate thermodynamic systcnls. I11
his early writings he argucd that they functioned to make human life
more secure and enduring, although later he rcjcctcd that vicw as
anthropocentric and claimcd that thcy evolved to serve their own
needs (Whitc 1975: 8-13) His perception of cultural changc was
matcrialistic and narrowly deterministic. H e maintained that cultural systc~nsarc composed of techno-ccono~llic,social, and ideo-

Nco-evolutionism apd the New Archaeology

logical components and that 'social systems are . . . dcterrnined by
tcchnological systcms, and philosophies and the arts express cxperience as it is dcfincd by technology and rcfractcd by social systcms'
(White 1949: 390-1). H e formulated his conccpt of tcchnological
dctcrnlinisrn In terms of a 'basic law of evolution' which statcd that,
all things being equal, culturc cvolvcs as thc amount of cncrgy
harncsscd per capita incrcascs, or as thc efficiency of putting energy
to work is increased. This law is surnmarizcd in the formula

Culture = E11crgy x Technology (C = E x T ) .

Despite the sweeping claims that White sometimes made for his
theories, he strcsscd that, while thcy account for thc general outlincs
of cultural dcvclopmcnt, thcy cannot be uscd t o infer the specific
fcaturcs of individual cultures (Whitc 194s: 346).
Altl~ough White's technological dctcrminism has often been
statcd to be of Marxist origin, conceptuall~it has nothing in
common with Marxism except a general materialist orientation.
Instead, it reflects onc of thc principal thcmes of American socialscicncc scholarship, which has been described as privileging the
relationship bctwecn technology and society at thc expense of other
kinds of relations, such as thosc bctwccn self and society (Krokcr
1984: 12).
Stcw.lrd championed .In altcrnativc multilinear, ecological, and
more empirical approach to thc study of cultural cvolution. H e
assumed that thcrc were significant rcgularitics in cultural development and that ecological adaptatio~lwas crucial for detcrmi~lingthe
limits of variation in cultural systcms. H c sought by means of comparative studies to determine the diffcrcnt ways in which culturcs
had developed in diffcrcnt typcs of natural cnvironments, bclicving
that they would tend to assume the same forms and ollow similar
dcvclopmcntal trajcctorics in similar natural scttings hcsc similaritics constituted the 'cultural corc', which consisted f thosc fcaturcs
of a culture that wcrc most closcly relatcd to subsistence activities.
The corc embraced economic, political, and religious patterns that
could be empirically determined to have major adaptive significance.
Stcward argued that thc aim of cvolutionary anthropology should be
to explain the common fcaturcs bfcu~turesat similar levels of devcloplncnt rather than '~uniquc,exotic, and non-recurrent particulars'
which can be attributed to historical accidents (Stcward 195s: 209).

A history of archacological thought

M. D. Sahlins and E. R. Scrvicc (1960) tried to reconcile thcsc

two approaches by differentiating bctwccn general and syccific
c\rolution. Thcsc wcrc dcfitlcd as being concerned with progrcss and
adaptation rcspcctivcly. Although the concept of evolution was
thereby dissociated fro111 automatically implying progrcss, in latcr
studies Sahlins (1968) and Scrvicc (1962, 1975) used ethnographic
data to collstruct speculative and highly gc~lcralizcdscquenccs of
unilincar dcvclopmcnt, employing conccpts such as band, tribc,
chiefdom, and state. Implicit in thcir npproachcs, and in the schcmc
of political evolution dc~clopcdby Morton Fried (1967), was the
assuinption that the greater sclcctivc fit~lcssof technologically
advanced societies cnsurcd that progrcss characterized c u l t ~ ~ r a l
change as a gcncral feature of human history.
The most tlicorctically sophisticated approach of this sort is
Marvin Harris' (1979) cultural materialism. H e assigns a privilcgcd
role in shaping cultural systems to an array of material conditions,
including technology, dcmography, and cconomic relations, and
seeks to cxplain all sociocult~iralphenomena in tcrms of the relative
costs and bcncfits of altcrnativc strategies, as measured in tcrms of
thcsc critcria. Much of his work has bccn dircctcd towards trying to
csylain the origin of food taboos, religious bclicfs, and othcr cultural csotcrica in tcrms of the relations that. tl~csccustonls have to
basic cconomic considerations (Harris 197+, 1977).While overtly lcss
conccrncd with delineating cvolutionar)! scqucnccs thlui were
Sahlins, Scrvicc, and Fried, Harris' approach is no lcss evolutionary
than theirs.
What distinguished the various materialist approaches that dcvcloped in Amcrican anthropology in the 1960s from the cvolutionar)!
schcmcs of the ninctccnth century was thcir vicw of causality. Whitc
adopted a very narrow form of tech~~ological
determinism that
reflected faith in technology as a sourcc of social progrcss, whilc
Stcward embraced a lcss rcstrictivc ecological and Harris a still
broader cconomic detcr~~~inisnl.
Judged by Marxist standards all of
these approachcs are cxamplcs of vulgar materialism, bccause they
vicw human beha\fiour as shapcd nlorc or lcss cxclusivcly by nonhuman constraints. Marxism, by contrast, includes humanly
arranged relations of productioll in the cco~lomicbase that determines social change.
Already by the micldlc of thc ~ ~ i n c t c c ~ccntury
some archac-

Nco-evolutionism and tlic Ncw Arclincology

ologists wcrc constructing scquenccs to describe thc dcvclopmcnt of
native cultures in the New World (Wilson 1862). These approaches,
which located the main centres of dcvclopmcnt in Mesoamerica and
Peru, did not disappear following the adoption of a culturehistorical approach. In Ancient Civilizations of Mexico and Central
America H . J . Spindcn (1928) distinguished three lcvels of dcvclopmcnt, Nomadic (hunting and gatherii~g),Archaic (agriculture), and
Civilization; whilc in Method and Theoly in American Archaeology,
Willcy and Phillips (1958) assigned all Cultures to five stages of
increasing complexity: Lithic (big-game Jlunting), Archaic (intensive collecting), Formativc (villagc agridlture), Classic (early civilizations), and Post-Classic (latcr prchispanic civilizations). Despite
thcir cvolutiollary appearance thcsc forn~ulationssought to dcscribc, rather than to JCCOLIII~ for, c ~ ~ l t u rclla~lgc
in dcvclopmcntal
tcrms. They also rclied as heavily o n diffusionist explanations as did
othcr culture-historical formulations.
Yet, with their growing interest in functionalist and processual
explanations of the archaeological record, many Anlerican archaeologists werc predisposed to be reccptivc to neo-evolutionary concepts, which empl~asizedregularities in culture. They noted that
many of thc key variables that White and Stcward posited as major
causes of c ~ ~ l t ~change
~ r a l wcrc relatively acccssibic for archaeological
study, unlike tlic idealist cxplu~iationsof the Boasians. Sccausc of
their lack of direct information co~lccrni~lg
human bchaviour and
beliefs, archaeologists werc also less inclined to be critical of the
shortcomings of 1x0-evolutionary thcory than wcrc ethnologists.
Only a few objcctcd that nco-evolutionism cncouragcd simplistic
explanations and did not rule out adequately the possibility of
altcrnativc oncs (Lamberg-Karlovsky 197s: 342-3). Nco-evolutionary anthropology intensified and gave new directions to trends
alrcady at work in prehistoric archaeology.
One of the first applicatiolls of neo-evolutionary theory to archaeology was B. J. Mcggers"T11c law of cultural evolution as a practical
research tool' (1960).She argued that bccause of the absence of nonhuman sources of energy in small-scale societies, Whitc's law, as it
applied to them, could be rcwrittcn in the following fashion:
Culture = Environme~ltx Technology.
This s~lggcstcdthat any archaeologist who was able to reconstruct

A history of archaeological thought

Neo-evolutionism and the New Archaeology

the technology and environme~itof a prehistoric culture should be

able on the basis of that information to determine what the key
features of the rest of the culture were like. Furthermore, any
sl~ortcomingswere not the responsibility of archaeology but
resulted from the failure of ethnologists to elaborate adequate
theories relating technology and environment to the rest of culture.
Mcggers believed it to be an advantage that archaeologists were
'forced to deal with culture artific~allyseparated from human beings'
(Mcggcrs 1955.129) ,~ndth,lt her,~ccclso I I I L I C ~c1iip1i~~
sis on techno-cnvironme~~tal
dctcrrn~nisnithat it saw no need to use
archaeological data to study non-material aspects of cultural
systems. Her attitudc towards tlic use of etlinographic analogy
resembled that of many nineteenth-century evolutionary anthropologists. Her position was, however, too lack~ngin direct applicat~on
to attract significant support among archaeologists. Likewise,
White's treatment of technology as an 111dependentvariable bringing about change too closely resembled Montclius' view of change
occurring as a result of the desire of human beings to control nature
more effectively. To a growing number of archaeologists, who were
beconling aware of cultural ecology and were anxious to provide a
~natcrialistexplanation of what factors promoted or discouraged
tcc11nologic.1l ~nnovations, Whitc's v~cwsS C C I I I C ~ old-fasliioncd,
idealist, and teleological. Ncvcrthclcss, some archaeologists
ndniircd 111s dccluctivc , ~ p p r o ~ to
c l ~understanding cultural change
(Binford 1972: 110-11).

number of general historical processes. Finally he adopted the

neo-evolutionary position that not all cultural facts arc of equal
importance in bringing about change. The primary aim of archaeologists must be to explain changes in archaeological cultures in
terms of cultural processes.
Caldwell's paper reveals that during the decade following the
publication of Taylor's A Study ofArcheology the concept of processual change within cultural systems had achicvcd a new level of
imyort,uicc in Amcric.un ~rchacology.While this was cncour~gcdby
developments within arcl~aeology,in particular the study of ccology
and settle~ncntpatterns, it was also promoted by thc growing
popularity of nco-evolutionary anthropology, with its emphasis on
cultural regularities. The essential and enduring elements of the
New Archacology were thc collcctivc crcation of a considcrablc
number of American archaeologists during the 1950s.
These concepts were popularized among thc younger gcncration
of American archaeologists by Lewis Binford, who added new
elements to create the approach that since the 1960s has been
recognized around the world as the Amcrican New Archaeology.
Binford engaged in a series of vigorous polemics in which he sought
the advantages of the New Archaeology over tradito de~l~onstrate
tional approaches, which hc idcntificd primarily with the modified
form of the Midwestern Taxonomic Method practiscd at the University of Michigan while lie had been a graduate student there in the
1950s.The resulting polarization madc the New Archaeology appear
to be a dramatic break with the past rather than a continuation and
intensification of the functionalist and processual trends that had
been developing in Amcrican and Western European archaeology
since the 1930s. Although there was considerable passive support for
old-fashioned culture-historical archaeology, many so-callcd 'traditional' archaeologists were adherents of thcsc recent trends who
merely objected to particular facets of Binford's programme. The
rapid adoption of the New Archaeology thus reflected the predisposing tendencies at work in the IWOS, while Binford's polemics
disguised a considerable degree of consensus about the general
direction in which American archaeology should evolve.
Binford outlined the programme of the New Archaeology in two
papers: 'Archaeology as anthropology' (1962) and 'Archaeological
systematics and the study of culture process' (1965). H c idcntificd rhe

TheNew AYzhaeology
In 1959 Joseph Caldwell published an articlc in Science titled 'The
ncw American archeology'. 111 it he surveyed major trends that he
saw transforming archaeology. H e cited growing interest in ecology
and settlement patterns as cvidence of a new concern with cultural
process. Archaeological cultures were no longer regarded merely as
thc sum total of their preserved artifact types, each of which can be
treated in a stylistic fashion as indcpe~idcntand equally significant.
Instcad they have to be analyscd, as Taylor had proposed, as configurations or even as functionally integrated systems. H e also
supported the neo-evolutionary belief that behind the infinite
variety of cultural facts and specific historical situations is a finite

A history of arcl~acologicalthought

Neo-cvolutionisn~and the New Archaeology

goal of archacology as being the same as that traditionally assigned

to anthropology: to explain the full rangc of similarities and diffcrcnccs in cultural bchaviour. H e also maintained that arcl~acological
data were particularly uscfi~lfor studying charigcs that occurred over
long periods of tili~c.These explanations were seen as taking the
for111of generalizations about systemic change and cultural evolution. As a student of Lcslic White, Binford was prcdisposcd to
belicvc that thcrc were strong regularities in human bchaviour and
that thcrc ur3s little ~fiffCrcnccbctn~ccnexplaining a single instance
of social change and 3 wl~olcclass of similar changes. Hcncc his main
concern was to account for cultural similarities rather than diffcrcnccs. Tl~roughouthis career he has dcvotcd l~imsclfto explaining
problcms such as increasing complcxity in hunter-gathcrcr socictics, the dcvclopnicnt of agriculture, and to a much lesser degree 1
thc evolution of civilization (Binford 1983b).
Like Grahamc Clark, Binford viewed cultures as humanity's extrasomatic means of adaptation. Changes in all aspects of cultural
systcn~swcre therefore intcrprctcd as adaptivc responses to alterations in the natural cnvironmcnt or in adjacent and competing
cultural systems. Binford described cvolutio~las 'a process operative
nt tllc interface of a living systc~nand its field' (1972: 106). This
ccosystcmic view csscntiallp ruled out human inventiveness and
innovation within cultural traditions as indcpcndcnt forces capable
of bringing about major changes. It also treated culturcs as normally 1
tcnding towards equilibrium or homeostasis, with change being1
induced by cxtcrnal factors.
Although Binford viewed cultural change as being initiated by
non-cultural or external factors causing perturbations in what would
otherwise tcnd to be homeostatic systems, he insisted, as Clark and
Taylor alrcady had done, that it had to be undcrstood in terms of the
that occurred within cultural systems. H e thus shared thc
tcndcncy, already cvidcnt in scttlcment archacology, to concentrate
an understanding cultural change from an internal point of view.
This approach emphasized systcmic relations and thcreforc contiliuities in changc as opposed to the discontinuities brought about by
migration and diffusion. Within the general context of neoevolutionism there was a growing tendency to believe in the capacity
of l i u r n a ~bcings
to invent and reinvent new forms of technology,
nocinl bchaviour, and beliefs and valucs as these wcre rcquircd by

evolving social systems. Steward (1955: 182) had argued that every
cultural borrowing might be construed as an 'independent recurrence of cause and cffcct' and Harris (1968: 377-8) had dismisscd
diffusion as a 'nonprinciplc'. Chang (1962: 190-1) maintaincd that, if
in the coursc of its developmellt Chinese civilization had been
unable to borrow new tcchnologiral proccsscs from thc outside, the
Chincsc would have invented thc same processes o r oncs of similar
econornic and social significance. Thus Binford differed from tradi~l
by emphasizing humanity's capacity
tional A m c r ~ c , ~archaeologists
for innovation at the sanlc tinlc that he agrccd with them in vicwing
undisturbed cultures as normally static.
Like Caldwell, Binford stressed the internal differentiation and
systcmic integration of culturcs. H e objcctcd to the cstablishcd
normative view, which regarded cultures as collections of ideas held
in common and transmitted over generations by members of particular social groups. In somc of his writings his objections to views
of culture as a mental phenomenon appear to rule out White's
concept of culture as being symbolic in nature, although hc otherwise praises White's views (Binford 1972: 105-13). Like Caldwell, he
also objected to each item of culture being regarded as equal in
significance to all others and thc pcrccntagc of similarities and
diffcrcnccs In artifact types being trcatcd as a mcasurcmcnt of the
ainount of cffcctivc conlrnunication bctwccn groups. H e maintained that traditional arcl~aeologyattributed diffcrcnces between
cultures t o geographical barriers or resistant value systems, while it
viewed ideas as being spread from one culture to another by diffusion and migration. Although this description may have represented
accurately the views about cultures held by traditional culturehistorical archaeologists working in the midwestern United States
or even those of Walter Taylor, it did not take account of the views
of a growing nurnbcr of functionalist archacologists in thc Unitcd
States or of Clark and Childe in Britain. As early as 1925 Childe had
cmployed a functio~lalistview of culture to facilitate his culturehistorical analyses when he distinguished between ethnic traits,
which did not diffuse readily, and tecllnological ones, which did.
Binford argued that cultures were not interllally homogeneous.
All of them wcre differentiated at least according t o age and sex roles
and the degree to which they were internally shared by individuals
varied inversely with their complcxity. Individuals always partici-

Neo-evolutionism and the New Archaeology

A history of archacological thought

pated in cultures differentially, malung a total cultural system a set of

hnctionally interrelated roles. Because of this, it was wrong for
archaeologists to treat artifacts as equal and comparable traits.
Instead thcy must try to determine the roles they had played within
living cultural systems. This necessitated an effort to achieve a
relatively holistic view of these systems.
At this point Binford could have attempted, as Willey (19yj),
Childe (1958a), and various scttlcmcnt archaeologists had done, to
reconstruct sosi.11 systcnls. This .~pproachconccntratcd o n del~neating patterns of human interaction .~nddetermining tlie f ~ n c t i o ~ l a l
relationship of cultural traits to social systems. Instead he followed
White in viewing culturcs as adaptive systems composed of three
interrelated subsystems: technology, social organization, and ideology. Thus he supported the view that human behaviour was determined by forces of which human beings are largely unaware and
which frequently are located in the natural realm.
Binford argued that material items do not interact within a single
subsystem of culture but reflect all three subsystems. Technomic
aspects of artifacts reflect how thcy were used to cope with the
environment; sociotechnic ones have their primary context in the
social system; and ideotechnic ones relate to the ideological realm.
that each type of artifact might be interpreted as
In 1962he s~~ggestcd
rclating primarily to one of these classes, but by 1965 he noted that
inlvidual artifacts frequently encoded information about all three.
A knife might be used for cutting, but its gold handle could denote
the upper-class social status of its owner and a symbol engraved on
the blade might invoke divine protection for him.
Binford went further than either Clark or Taylor had done in
arguing that, because artifacts have primary contexts in all subsystems of culture, formal artifact assemblages and their contexts can
yield a systematic and understandable picture of total extinct cultures. H e maintained that the archaeologist's primary duty is to
explain the relations that are extant in the archaeological record. In
particular he repudiated the idea that it was inherently more difficult
to reconstruct social organization or religious beliefs than it was to
infer economic behaviour. The idea that archaeologists could study
any problem that ethnologists could, and over much longer periods
of time, won support among many young archaeologists who were
frustrated by the artifact-centred, culture-historical approach that

Binford's plan o f a modern Nunamiut butchery area at Anavik Springs,

Alaska, showing whcrc caribou wcrc dismcmbercd and wastc products
were disposed


still continued to pervade much American archaeology in the early

1960s. They were anxious to, demonstrate that ethnologists were
wrong when they smugly proclaimcd that archaeology was 'doomed
always to be thc lesser part of anthropology' (Hocbel1949: 436).
Binford observed that archaeologists had already made significant
progress in using lu~owledgedcrivcd from thc physical and biological sciences to interpret those aspects of the archaeological
record relating to technomic behaviour, especially subsistence patterns and technological practices. O n the other hand, anthropologists did not know enough about correlations between social
behaviour or beliefs and material culture to infer much sociotechnic
or ideotechnic information from the archaeological record. Only
after such correlations had been established and archaeologists had

A history of archaeological thought

Nco-evolutionism and the New Archaeology

acquired a holistic knowledge of the structural and functional cliaractcristics of cultural systems could they begin to investigate problems of evolutionary changes in social systems and ideology. Binford
argued tliat in order to cstablish sucli corrclatio~isarchacologists
~ . by studying living sitnations
must bc trained as e t l i n o l o g i ~ tOnly
in which bcll.i\~io~~r
2nd iclcas ca11 bc obscl-vcd in conjunction \vitIi
material culture W ~ itS possible to cst:lblis11 co~-~-eIatio~is
tllat co~tld
be uscd to infcr social bcliaviour and idcology reliably from the
i-c.corci. l{i~~li)~-ci
s.liv tIii> AS .I p r o ~ n i s i111
3 >~-o.lch
~ ~ to
understancling the past bccausc, as 3 nco-evolutionist, hc bclicvcd
that there was a high dcgrcc of regularity in human bchaviour which
comparative cthnograpliic studies could rcvcal. These rcgularitics
could then be used to infcr many aspects of prehistoric culturcs that
were not directly obscrvablc in the archacological rccord. If 11~1n1an
bcha\~iourwere lcss regular than lie assumed, sucli corrclatiorls
\vould bc fewer in number and lcss ~ ~ s c f for
u l reconstructing prehistoric culturcs and understanding changc.
Some of tlic principal carly applicatio~isof tlic New Archaeology
were attempts to use ceramics to infcr the residence patterns of
prchistoric communities. It 1vas 3ss~11iied
tliat, if \voniell ~iiadcthe
pottcry uscd by their families, design clcnlcnts would tend to cluster
wlicrc knowlcdgc of pottcry maliing was transmitted from motlicrs
to clauglitcrs in nic~trilocalsocieties but would bccomc randomized
in patrilocal oncs wlicrc fc~iialcpottcrs from diffcrc~ltlincagcs Ii\icd
adjacent to one anothcr (Dcctz 1965; Whallon 1968; Hill 1970;
Longacrc 1970). The sex of pottcrs was detcrmincd by applying thc
direct historical mctliod rathcr than by nicans of forensic cvidcncc as
Trct'yakov had done in the 1930s. In thcsc carly studics the altcrnative possibility that some pottcry was professionally made and
cxcliangcd ovcr long distances was not cxamincd, nor wcrc tlic
conditions under which brokcn pottcry was discarded (S. Plog
1980). Thcsc pioneering efforts by American archacologists to infcr
social organization from archacological cvidcncc tlicrcforc did not
reach the high standards Binford had set for sucli worli. They also
map have provided a misleading impression of the Itind of
opcrations that were required bp tlic dcductivc approach.
Among Binford's principal original contributions at tliis time was
his insistc~iccthat the correlations used to infer human beha\~1our
from archacological data had to be based on the dcmonstration of

a constant articulation of spccific variables in a system. Only if a

particular bchavioural trait could bc shown always to correlate with
a spccific item of niatcrial culturc, whcrcvcr both could be obscrved,
could such bchaviour be infcrrcd from the occurrence of that item in
tlic arcliacological rccord. This in turn ncccssitatcd a dcductivc
approach in which relations between variables tliat arc arcliacologically obscrvablc and oncs that arc not arc forniulatcd and tcstcd
in a statistically significant number of cth~iographicsituations in
m~liich both variables can be obscrvcci. Only by mcans of such
mcasurcmcnt of concomitint variation can regularities be cstablishcd that are useful for u~idersta~lding
prchistoric cultural systems.
Analogies arc mcrcly a source of liypothcscs to be testcd in this
manner (13inford 1972: 33-51). Binford cliampioncd the positivist
view that cxpla~iationand prediction are equivalent and that both
rcst upon the dcmonstration of a constant articulation of variablcs.
Tlic rigorous application of a positivist approach was seen as eliminating subjcctivc clemcnts and establisliing a basis for the objective,
scientific intcrprctatioll of arcl~acologicaldata. T o achicvc tliis level
of rigour, howcvcr, arcliacologists had t o adhcrc t o dcductivc
canons which utilized wcll-cstablislicd corrclations, as outlined by
Carl Hcmpcl (1962, 1965) in his covering-law model of explanation.
From tliis pcrspcctivc the most useful corrclations arc those that
hold true wlicncvcr spccific conditions arc present. Since then
archacologists have rcalizcd that, because of the complexity o f
human bcliaviour, most corrclations arc statistical rather than absolute in naturc and that most statistical corrclations arc of a lower
ratlicr than a higher dcgrcc of magnitude, a problcm that ctlinologists engaged in cross-cultural studics have lolig had to colitcnd with
(Textor 1967). Under these circumstances the problem of equifinality, or different causes producing the same cffcct, becomes increasingly troublcsonic, as archacologists engaged in simulation studics
have rcalizcd (Hoddcr 1978; Sabloff1981).Yet Billford has co~itiliued
to pay much lcss attention to dcductivc-statistical than t o
(M. Salmon 1982: 120-2).
Tlic cxtcnsion of the covering-law method to the explanation of
cultural changc tended to cxcludc consideration of all but situatio~is
of notable regularity. This correlated with Binford and his followers
repudiating historical studics, which they equated with chronology,
description, and a preoccupation with accidental occurrences


A history of archacological thought

Neo-evolutionism and the New Archaeology

(Binford 1967b: 235; 1968b). This line of reasoning had been introduced to American archaeologists by the ethnologist Clyde ICluckhohn (1940) when 11e wrote that Mesoamerican archaeologists had
to cl~oosebetween historical studies that sought to recrcatc unique
cvcnts in all of their idiosyncratic detail and scicntific research that
addrcsscd significant trends and uniforniitics in cultural changc.
This invidious dichotomy bctwccn history and scicncc, which paralleled the distinction that American anthropologists drew bctwcen
his tor)^ and evolution, was rcinforcccl by Taylor (1948: 156-7) and
Willep and Phillips (1958: 5-6), who regarded culture-historical
integration as an objcctivc that was inferior to formulating general
rulcs of cultural bchaviour. Binford vicwcd archaeologists' cfforts to
explain particular historical cvcnts as inductive bchaviour that
would doom archaeology to remain a particularistic, nongeneralizing ficld. H e argued that archaeologists instead must seek
to for~nulatelaws of cultural dynamics. While in historical retrospect
this position can bc sccn as rcflccting the belief that human history is
govcrncd by strong regularities, it deflected archacological interest
from significant aspects of cultural changc that d o not display such
Binford also denied the relevance of psychological factors for
undcrstanding prehistory. Hc identified the use of such concepts
wit11 Boasian idealism and the culture-historical approach and
argucd that thcp had no cxplanatory value for an ecological interpretation of culturc and cultural changc. O n thc contrary, within an
ecological framework spccific psychological factors could be vicwcd
as an epiphenomena1 aspect of human behaviour that arose as a
consequence of ecological adaptation. H e also argucd that archaeologists arc poorly trained to function as palaeopsychologists
(Binford 1972: 198).
New Archacologists have continucd to condemn explanations of
change that invokc cithcr conscious or unconscious psychological
factors. Instcad they have identified relations bctwcen technology
and the environment as the key factors determining cultural systems
and, through them, human bchaviour. In this respect they clearly
differ from Marxists who see individual and collective perceptions of
self-interest as a major cause of changc. On. the other hand this
rejection of perceptions is shared by many other Western social
scientists. It seems to rcflcct a tendency that has its roots in Christian

theology to equate rcason and volition with free will. If human

behaviour is to be explained it must therefore be shown to be
determined by something other than reason. This factor has been
variously identified as culture (Tylor, Kroeber), society (Durkheim), subconscious drives (Freud), or ecosystems (Stcward).

Systems theov
Binford's ideas quickly attractcd a large following among American
arcl~acologists,cspccially younger oncs. At lcast one scnior scholar,
Paul Martin (IWI), rallied publicly to his support. Binford's work
also influenced Colin Renfrcw (1979,1984), an English archacologist
who taught for a time in thc United Statcs, and had much in
common with thc formulations of David Clarke (1968)~another
Englishman who was, however, independently influenced by the
locational analysis and general systems approaches of the New
Geography that had developed at Cambridge University (Chorley
and Haggett 1967). In America also attempts wcrc soon made to
account for cultural changc in terms of General Systems Theory.
This was a body of concepts that the biologist Ludwig von Bkrtalanffy began to develop in thc 194os, which sought to dclineatc thc
underlying rules that govern thc behaviour of cntitics as divcrsc as
tl~ermostats, digital computers, glaciers, living organisms, and
sociocultural systems. It was assumed that all of thcsc could be
conceptualized as systems madc ub of interacting parts and that rules
could be formulated that described how significant aspects of any
system functioned, regardless of its specific nature (~ertalanfG1969;
Laszlo 1972a, b, c). Systems theory allowcd archaeologists to transcend the limitations of traditional social anthropological analyses of
static structures by studying not only structure-maintaining but also
structure-elaborating (or morphogenctic) processes. Many of the
most important of thcsc studies wcrc bascd on cybernetics, which
sought to account for how systems functioned by mapping feedback
between their various parts. Negative feedback maintains a system in
an essentially steady state in the face of fluctuating external inputs,
while positive feedback brings about irreversible changes in the
structure of thc system. The concept of feedback offered archaeologists a more precise, and potentially quantifiable, mechanism for
interrelating thc various components of a changing cultural system

A history of archaeological thought

Neo-evolutionism =nd the New Archaeology

than did the essentially static social anthropological concept of

functional integration (Watson et al. 1971: 61-87).
There was, however, no agreement about how feedback was to be
measured. It has been identified with goods, energy, or information,
and with all three combined. The concept of energy was especially
congenial to ecological approachcs. In an influential pioneering
study Kent Flannery (1968) argucd that favourablc genetic changcs
in maize and beans encouraged Mesoamcrican hunter-gatherers to
rcschcdulc their food procurcmcnt pattcrns in order to increase their
dependence on these two plants, thus setting in motion systemic
changes that did not stop until maize and beans had become the
principal foci of intcnsivc agriculture. Soon after, the conccpt of
processing bccame central to a discussion of the dcvclopmcnt of social hierarchies and complex societies. This theorizing
drew upon and helped to elaboratc a body of propositions derived
from Gcncral Systems Thcory concerning disproportional growth.
These propositions attempted to explain the effects of increasing
scale on the evolution of new institutions for collecting- information
and making dccisions (Flanncry 1972; Rathjc 197s; Johnson 1978,
1981). While archacologists wcrc rarcly able to apply General
Systems Theory in a rigorous mathematical fashion, it has provided
a model for studying cultural change that gave new meaning to
Binford's call to d o this in terms of systcmic analyses.
The development of an intcrnal view of cultural change was
grcatly assisted by radiocarbon dating, which was invented by
Willard Libby in the late 1940s and immediately applied to dating
archaeological material (Libby 1955). This new technique reduced
the need for archaeologists to rely on seriation and cross-cultural
trait distributions to construct cultural chronologies.
It also became
possible for the first time to datc sites around the world in relationship to one another and to assign calendrical dates rather than only
relativc ones to prehistoric sites. Archaeologists
were thus able to
study rates as well assequcnces of change. Renfrew's (1973a, 1979)
reinterpretation of European prehistory was based almost cntircly
on calibratcd radiocarbon dates, which hc uscd to dcmonstrate that
Neolithic and Bronze Agc sites north and wcst of thc Acgcan wcrc
considerably older than Montclius and Childe had determined on
the basis of cross-dating.
Radiocarbon dating had a similar effect on the study of North

American prehistory. There, gvkrywhere except in the Southwest,

where calendrical dates for'sitcs back' to t h c beginning of the
Christian era had bccn derived dendrochronologically since thc
1920s, radiocarbon chronologies revealed that cultural sequences
had developed over longer periods and far more slowly than had
previously bccn believed (cf. Ritchic 1944, 1965). By grcatly slowing
the rate of cultural changc in the 'eastern Unitcd Statcs and Wcstcrn
Europe, radiocarbon dating madc it easier f o r archaeologists to
crcdit thc possibility that major changcs had come about as a rcsult
of internal changes
rather than a'ttributing- thcm to diffusion and
migration as they had previously done.
Although thc Ncw Arcliacologists agrccd that thc main causcs of
cultural cliangc wcrc not to be found within sociocultural systcms o r
about cither thc
identified with human volition, they did not agrce
specific causes of change o r tlie degree to which social behaviour was
shaped by these factors. Ecological explanations of change continued to be very important, although unicausal theories, such as
those that attributed the origins o f civilization t o the development
of complcx irrigation systems', wcrc gradually abando~icd(Hunt
1972). Ecological factors bncc a'gain camc to bc vicwcd more as a
constraint upon human behayiour than as an explanation of the
spccific forks that human behaviour has taken. At the same timc
other causal factors were considcrcd. Estcr Boserup's The Conditions
ofA~riculturidGrowth (1965) tevivcd an interest in speculations
dating back to the cightcenth century that gradual population
increase could be a major independent variable bringing about
-,cultural change. Although her theory had been devised to explain
the development of more intcnsi"e forms of agriculture, archacologists applicd it to explain the origins o f agriculturc (P. Smith
1976) and civilization (Young i972), ,and finally the totality of cultural change (M. Cohen 1977).'While it provided a major stimulus
for palaeodemographic studies', the results werc rarely sufficiently
dctailcd or co~nprchcnsivcto pcrmit a substantial test of the theory.
I11 due coursc archaeologists began to stress the cultural and biological factors that influence thc ratc o f population growth and
demographic factors have ceascd to b e widely regarded as indepcndent causes of change (Cowgill 1975; Binford and Chasko 1976).
Robert Dunnell and some of his students opted for a different sort
of systemic approach, that uses biological ('scientific') evolutionary

A h~storyof arcli,~cologicalthought

theory t o cxplain cultural as well as biological variability (Dunncll

198oa; Wcnkc 1981; Rindos 1984). They argue that traditiortal cultural evolutionism has failed to intcrnalizc such lccy tenets of scientific evolutionism as random variation and ~iaturalsclcction. While
admitting that mechanisms of trait transmission arc more varied and
the stability of the units 011 which selection operates is lcss so with
respect t o cultural than t o biological phcnonicna (both issucs that
Krocbcr [19(2]and other anthropologists d i s c ~ ~ s s clong
d ago), thcy
m.~int.tin tl1.11 . ~ I I.lpproacI~l~.tscciO I I ge11e1-;11
c\~olutionismcan offcr explanations of human bcha\liour that arc
superior t o those offcrcd by cultural cvolutionar~:approaches. This
often involves the radical reformulation of traditional questions. For
exaniplc, David Kindos (1984: 1 4 3 ) has defined domestication as a
mutualistic relation ofvarying degrees between different species. H c
docs not view the adaptation o f plants and animals t o human needs
as differcnt in llaturc from the adaptation o f human bcings t o the
needs of plants and animals. This approach carries t o an cxtrernc the
denial that consciousness and intentionality play a significant rolc in
shaping human b c h a v i o ~ ~ r .
Although spstems thcory inspired some highly specific cxplanations of cultural cl~ange,such as Flanncrj:'~ hypothesis concerning
the dcvclopme~ltof plant domestication in Mesoamerica, in the long
run it cncouragcd arch.lcologists to note thc complex r.lmificntions
This s t i m ~ ~ l a t cidcntific,ltion
o f the numcrous
interlinking factors that brought about cultural change and led some
archaeologists to recognize that even key variables might have
played a lcss important rolc in shaping cultural systems than thcy
had hitherto bclicvcd. This in turn has led Inany archacologists to
adopt a morc inductive approach to explaining causality. I t was also
recognized that because of the complexity of cultural systems the
same factors might have different effects o r different ones thc sainc
effect depending o n indi\~idualcircumstances. Flannery (1972) s ~ g gestcd that cxplanatio~is~of
cultural dc\~clopmcntshould concentrate
less o n the conditions bringing about cultural change than o n thc
types of systemic changes that could be obscr\~cdin the archaeological record. H c offered, as cxa~uplcsof c\~oIutionarymechanisms,
'promotion' and 'linearization'. Promoti011 in\lolvcd established
institutions rising in a developing hierarchy of co~ltrolt o assume
transfor~ncdand morc far-reaching roles. Lillcarization o c c ~ ~ r r c d



Systelll flow chart for Shoshonean Indian subsistence cycle, by

D. H. Thomas, 1972

A history of arcl~aeologicalthought

when higher-order controls cut past and eliminated traditional

lower-order ones after the latter had failed to function in a more
complex setting.
Flanncry's approach was extremely valuable for gaining an understanding of change from a social-structural point of view. It also
ILdrew attention to a source of constr~int011 hu~nan~ C ~ . Z V ~ O L that
was different from, and scenlingly independent of, the ecological
constraints that American archaeologists previously hacl been cons~dcring.If social and political systenls could only ass~lmea Iinlitcd
number of general forms (a point Childe had already made in Social
Evolution),these forms restricted the variation that was possible in
human behaviour and the routes that cultural change can follow. Yet
such limitations d o not explain why changes occurred in the first
place. In terms of causal factors, a systems approach serves t o
describe rather than to explain change;
Many archaeologists havc concluded that, because a systems
approach makes fewer assumptions about causality and is more
inductive, it is conceptually superior to theories that assume in
advance why change takes place. These archaeologists have been
accused of using systems theory in a Boasian fashion to beg the
question of causality (Leone 1975). Yet Sanders, Parsons, and
Santley (1979: 360) have failed in their efforts to demonstrate that
ultimately four or five ecological variables can account for as much as
SO per cent of the variation in the archaeological record.
Archaeologists soon began to move further away from rather than
nearer to a consensus about factors governing sociocultural change.
Working within a neo-evolutionary tradition, processual archaeologists tried hard to demonstrate that a limited number of ecological and demographic variables played a predominant role in
shaping sociocultural systems. Yet the regularity in these systems
consistently turned out to be less than neo-evolutionary theory
predicted. It was also more difficult than neo-evolutionary theory
suggested for archaeologists to infer one aspect of sociocultural
systems from known characteristics of another part, especially
features of social organization and ideology from lu~owledgeof the
economy. Stuart Struever (1968) argued, for example, that the means
by which a population derives its subsistence from the environment
plays such an important role in shaping the entire cultural system
that the nature of settlement patterns can be predicted and hence













A history of arcliacological thought

cxplaincd in terms of tcchnology and thc natural cnvironment. H e
viewed scttlcmcnt patterns as 'an csscntial corollary of subsistcncc'
and intcrprctcd 'variations bctwccn culturcs [as] responses to diffcring adaptive rcquircments of specific cnvironmcnts' (p. 133-5). H c
tlicrcforc bclic\rcd that archacological scttlcmcnt patterns only
scrvcd to confirm that rcl;ltionslii~.Yct ;I growing ~~ndcrstanciing
scttlcmcnt patterns has indicated that prediction is not so simple and
that significant factors other than technology and c m' '~ r o n n ~ c n t
shape thcir dc\lclopmcnt (Triggcr 196th; Clarkc 1977). Under thcsc
circu~nstancesan inductivc systcms approach offcrcd a growing
number of archaeologists a methodology that sccmcd morc productive of insights into the C;ILISCS of \l;lri;~tiontli;ln did thc narrowly
dctcrniinistic explanations suggested by nco-evolutionists. Tl~csc
archaeologists either implicitly o r explicitly rejected tlic rigidly
deductive approach originally advocated by thc New Archacology.
The New Archacology promoted a morc sophisticated and productivc view of sampling by revealing the often unconscious biascs
that had governed traditional archacological rcscarch and the inadequacies of thcsc approaches for understanding prehistoric culturcs
as systcms. Prior to the dcvcloplncnt of scttlcmcnt arcl~acology,thk
cxcavations of urban centres had couccntratcd on ccrcmonial prccincts and palaccs, whilc gcncrally ignoring how ordinary people
had lived. Rcgional in\lcstigations often paid little attention t o thc
seasonality of huntcr-gathcrcr sitcs and ignored low-lcvcl sites, such
as pcasant hamlets, in hierarchical socictics. Scttlcmcnt studies, such
as Gordon Willey's systematic investigation of pcasant hamlcts in
thc Bclizc Valley (Willcy e t al. 1965) had already begun to correct
thcsc biascs. New Arcliaeo1ogists ~ldvocatcdthe use of sampling
stratcgics t o guidc both survcys and cxcavations and cco:~omizco n
thc timc and labour nccdcd t o carry out research. Underlying this
advocacy was thcir bclicf that, bccausc strong rcgularitics wcrc
inherent in cult~iralsjrstcnls, a s11ia11 part of a s)lstcm could be
rcprcscntati\~cof thcbholc. Now, howcvcr, it was no longer a singlc :
sitc, but somc portion of a sitc nctwork that was thought t o bc
typical of thc wholc.
Various fornis of sampling helped archacologists t o rccovcr a
morc rcprcscntativc selection of the ~natcrialto bc foulid in large
hctcrogcl~coussitcs. Yet random sampling has comc to be sccn as an
initial cscavation strategy that must be supplcmcntcd in thc latcr

A history of archaeological thought

stagcs of rcsearcl~by an increasing number of judgemental decisions
about what areas should be excavated (Redman 1986). Studies of
early civilizations based upon total regional survcys have provided
the data to allow simulated examinatio~lsof the rcpresentativcness of
various sampling strategies. Sandcrs, Parsons, and Santley's (1979:
491-53a) survey of the Vdllcy of Mexico rcvcalcd marked divcrsity in
local patterns ofdcvelopment and ~ l s othe need to srudy the entire
region in order to understand what was happening in its various
parts. For example, the massive incrcasc in populatio~land growth
of urbanis~liin the Tcotihuacan Valley early in the Chr~stianera can
only be understood when it is realized that similar population
growth was not occurring elsewhere in the Valley of Mexico, but on
the contrary the population of those areas was declining at that time.
Robert Adams (1981) has shown similar local diversity in his studies
of Mesopotamian settlement patterns. These findings have severely
challenged the belief that patterns from one area are necessarily
representative of a whole region. As a result it is now agreed that
much larger san~plesthan had hitherto bccn thought ncccskary arc
rccluired before they arc rcprcscntativc of a whole and that the study
of changes ovcr long periods requires something approaching total
samples. These changes in views of sampling correlated with the
rcalizatio~lthat regularities in cultural systcms had been ovcrestimated during the initial stagcs of thc New Archaeology.

Critics have argued that the New Archaeology represented a revolution in the technical and methodological spheres rather than in
archaeological theory (Meltzer 1979). Yet the stand that Binford
took against the still influential culture-historical approach in the
United States was no less a break with that past in terms of high-level
theory than it was mctl~odologically.The questions that must bc
answered are why did his approach appeal so powerfully to a rising
generation of American archaeologists and why, apart from Binford's undeniable charismatic qualities, was he able so quickly to
popularize views that until then had only slowly been spreading
through American archaeology?
Thomas Patterson (1986a) has argued that the majority of New
Archaeologists were recruited from the increasingly powerful and


Neo-evolutionisn~and the New Archaeology

nationalistically oriented middle"c1ass that has its base in the central
and western parts of the United States rather than from the more
internationally inclined east-cpast ' elite that had dominated
American ccono~nicand intellectual life during the carly years following World War 11. At the'most basic level the nomothetic
to the tcndencics of
orientation of the Ncw ~ r c h a c d l o ~appcalcd
these Amcric.z~isto vnluc what was tcahnologically useful at thc sanlc
time that they remained suspicious of pure science because of what
they saw as its elitist tclldcncics, as'wcll as its suspected disrcgard for
conventional religious bcliefs. ~lz'c'contempt for what was not
practical also manifested itself in the low respect accorded to historical studies in America (Bronowski 197,1:195), an opinion epitomized in the industrialist Henry 'Ford's rcmark that 'Histor- ' bunk' (Lowenthal 1985: 244). The low value accorded to
further reflected the 'present-mindcdness' of American 5
which roma~lticallyviewed itself as having prospered by throwing
off the shacklcs of the past, as reprcscntcd by traditional claims of
descent, class, and tradition, and creating a ncw society rationally
designed to serve the intcrcsts of the enterprising individual (ICrokcr
1984: 8). Even though prehistorir archaeology was a branch of
anthropology, its culture-historical approach rcduced its prestige
and led it to be regarded as a dilettantish pursuit by the Amcrican
public and by other anthropologists.
The New Arcl~aeologyfollowe'd the lead of the generalizing social
scicnccs, such as cconon~ics,political scicncc, sociology, and ethno
logy by claiming to be ably to produce objective, ethically neutral
generalizations that were useful for thc management of modern
societics. This desire to conform to a more prestigious model of
scholarly bchaviour was reinforced as thc National Science Foundation emerged as a major source of funding for archaeological
research. It was argued that arch&ology could provide information
about the nature of long-term idtcractions bstwccn l~umangroups
and thc environment that tvould be of va1ue;for modern economic
planning (Fritz 1973), a view shared even b&some archaeologists
who rejected the general philosophy and methodology of the New
Archaeology (Dymond 1974). The study of prehistoric irrigation
systcms in Arizona might revcal'~unsuspectedproblems associated
with modern ones in the samk area, while stratified archaeological
sites in California were looked to for information about the fre-

A history of archaeological thought

Neo-evolutionism Bnd the New Archaeology

quency of major earthquakes that could help t o decide whether or

not atomic-energy generators should be installed nearby (F. Plog
1982).These suggestion~arc rcminisccnt ofthc practical applications
that were used to justify Soviet archacology in the 1930s and later by
Childc (1944b) as a practical reason for public support of archaeological rcscarch. In TheArchaeolo~yo f A ~ i z o n aPaul Martin and Fred
Plog (1973: 364-8) argued that generalizations about human rcactions to stress derived from ecological studies of prchistoric Arizona
might help to explain the bc1iaviou1-of underprivileged b l ~ c kand
hispanic groups living in the ghettos of modern American cities.
This emphasis on the possible practical applications of their
research encouraged social scientists to abandon holistic attcmpts to
undcrstand human behaviour, and instead led them to seek solutions
to problems coi~ceivedin limited technical terms (Wolf 1982: ix).
Such research was endowed with further scientific credentials by
positivist claims of ethical neutrality. T o produce 'relevant' findings
that would justify an honoured place for archacology in a society in
which 'technocratic efficiency is considcrcd as the supreme value'
(Kohkowslti 1976: 229), many American archaeologists saw themselves having to turn away from a historical understanding of the
past to create the generalizations about human behaviour that were
the hallmark of successful social scientists. It is within this context
that we must understand Binford's (1967b: 235) claim that historical
interpretation is unsuitcd to play morc than a 'role in the general
education of the public'. H e was not the first archaeologist to
promote the idea that such generalizations were to be regarded as
archaeology's supreme achievement. Kidder (1935: 14) had argued
that the ultimate goal of archaeological research should be to establish generalizations about human bel~aviour,while Taylor (1948: 151)
and Willey and Phillips (1958: 5-6) saw them as constituting a
common anthropological focus for archacological and ethnological
The anti-historical bias of the New Archaeology can also be
viewed as an ideological reflection of the increasing economic and
political interventionism of thc United States on a global scale aftcr
World War 11. Its cmphasis on nomothetic generalizations was
accompanied by the obvious implication that the study of any
national tradition as an end in itself was of trivial importance.,
Richard Ford (1973)calleci into question the legitimacy of 'politiwl

archaeology' and of any co&elation between archaeology and

nationalism, asking archaeologists instead to embrace a 'universal
11u111anism'. By dcnying thc worth of such studies thc New Archaeology suggested thc unimportancc of national traditions themselves
and of anything that stood in tlie way of Amcrican economic activity
and political influence. The corrosivc ct'fccts of similar arguments in
other fields upon the national traditions of ncighbouring Western
countries have been well describcd for this period (G. Grant 1965).
In p.~rtic~Iar,
it has been docutncnted how thc Anlcrica~lpromotion
aftcr World War I1 of &~bstract
cxprcssionist art as thc dominant
international style resulted in the'disintegration or trivialization of
many national and regiorial traditiions of painting. There is also
strong evidence that the prom?tion o f this art style was carricd out
deliberately and with financial support from the United States
government as well as from private foundations (Lord 1974: 198-21s;
Fuller 1980: 114-1s). While New Ar'chaeologists may not have been
coilscious agents in the promotion of United States political and
ecoilornic hcgcmony, their progyammc appears to have accordcd
with that policy.
The most striking impact df this anti-historical viewpoint was
exhibited in relation to native North American 'prehistory. By
central to its intcrprctamaking the explanation of i ~ l t c h achangcs
tioil of archaeological data, thc New Archacology stresscd thc
creativity of native North Americans t o a much greater extent than
diffusionist explanations had done and for the first time placed
native people on an equal'footi'ng in this respect with Europeans and
other ethnic groups. Only amateur archaeologists, such as Barry Fell
(1976, 1982) R. A. Jairazbhoy (1974, 1976) and Irvan van Scrtima
(1977), have continued to belittle native people by attributing major
elemeilts of their cultural heritage to prchistoric visitors from the
Old World. The Ncw Archacolog~rthus in~plicitlyended ovcr a
century of c o i ~ d c s c e ~ ~ dand
i i ~ often
overtly racist interpretations of
native prehistory by white archaeologists. Yet from the beginning
processual archaeologists ignored the significance of their achievement as a result of theirlinsistence that generalizations were thc
principal goal of their discipline and by studying ecological adaptation at the expense of histo;ically spccific artistic traditions and
religious beliefs.
By doing tliis, New Arcliacologists used data concerning thc

A history of arch~cologicalthought

and tlic New Archaeology

heritage of native North Anlcricans to formulate gcncralizations

that they clainied wcrc rclcva~ltfor understanding Euro-American
society. This tendency t o use data about native North American
prehistory as a basis for gcncralizing about human bchaviour suggcstccl that for the most part the significance of native pcoplc for
arcliacologists h:ld not changed. Despite some in\iolvcmcnt on
behalf of Indians in land-claims cases, most proccssual archacologists remained as spiritually nlic~latcd f r o n ~ native North
Amcric'lns .IS their predecessors had been in the ninctcenth century.
This alienation has pro\~cclincrcnsingly costly to the interests of
nrchacologists at a time when the nativc population of North
Amcricn is rnpidl\[ groiving .ind 11;ltivc~ ) c o l ) 31-c
l ~ I>csorning militant
in their struggle t o control thcit- own socinl, cco~lornic,and political
dcstiny. Efforts by nativc pcoplc to forbid or rcgulatc access to
prehistoric sites have resulted in a growing nunlbcr of legal confrontations bet\vccn archacologists and native pcoplc and only
limited and often ineffectual efforts ~t accomn1od3tion (Mcighun
1984).While some native groups, such as the l'ucblo of Zufii, havc
sponsored thcir own programmes of archncological research in an
effort to achic\~e3 morc dctailcd
sccnratc vicw of thcir history
(E. Adums r9S+; Fcrguson rgS+), most ~iati\rcpcoplc have been
repelled by the negative attitudes toward thcm that traditionally
Iia\~cbccn rcfcctcd i l l interpretations of arch3cologicaI data and in
p past as a
particular by the rcfi~salof archucologists to s t ~ ~ dthe
record of nativc American history and culturc.
British arcl~aeologistswho were infl~~cncccl
by the Nc\v Archacologjr did not aclopt the anti-historical attitudes of their A~ncrican
counterparts. ll:l\lid Clarke, 3 highly original tl~i~ilicr
who w,ls cvcn
morc deeply influe~lcedby the systemic approach of the New Gcograplip than by Binford, was rightly critical of the intuitive manner in
which many British archacologists sought to compose 'historical
narratives' without first analysing archaeological data in a rigorous
manner in order toe,cxtract as much behavioural i~lfor~nation
possible fro111 thcm. Yet he did not condemn the historical a~lalpsis
of archacological data. After the publication of Analytical Archaeoloyy (1968), ~ ~ I i i cbhr o ~ ~ g lal t 110s~of quantitative nicthods pionccrcd by other social and biological sciences to bear on problems of
archacological classification and explaining cultural change, hc
returned to tlic s t ~ ~ dofy European prchistory. His later papers

dealing with this subject arc charactcrizcd by a concern for the

ccological basis of cuItural dcvclopmcnt, attention t o thc social
nlilicu in whic11 ccononlic transactions occurred, and a balanccd
interest in local dcvcloymc~ltand rcgional nctworks of interaction.
111 'Thc cco~lomiccontext of tradc and industry in barbarian Europc
till Roman timcs' (Clarlcc 1979: 263-331), which hc wrote for The
Carnbvidge Ecor~omicHistory, hc attempted to summarize thc rclcvant
archacological data in tlic light of Karl Polanyi's thcorics concerning
the social cmbcddcdncss of pri~nitivceconomics. This papcr has
been described as 'a great adva~icco n prcvious work in its discussion
of: the social fi~nctionsof artefact-types and its inference of thc
ion-systc~nsof \\~hiclithey arc the fossilized rcmnins' (Shcrratt 1979: 197). His morc dctailcd studics addrcsscd s ~ ~ ccentral
issues of European prchistory as a reinterpretation of thc social
organization and cco~lonlyof the late Iron Age settlement at Glastonbury (Clarlcc 1972b) and a survcy, taking account of ecological,
ethnographic, demographic, and economic, as well as archacological
data to counteract the traditional faunaily oricntcd interpretations
of the Mesolithic ccono~nicsof Europc (Clarkc 1979: 206-62). Colin
Kcnti-cw (1979) has also devoted his career to studying Europcan
prehistory. In ;~dditiont o a nlajor revision of the continent's chroncd
introduced by the Ncw Archaeology
ology, hc 11.1s ~ ~ s tcchniqucs
to address problems of tradc, political dcvclopmcnt, and changing
social organization in prchistoric timcs.
While American archacologists, traditional and New, havc tcnded
to cquatc history with the study of chronology and idiosy~lcratic
events, Clarltc and Rcnfrcw, who wcrc traincd in a European tradition that views prchistory as an extension of historical enquiry into
periods that lack written records, wcrc familiar with historiography
and thcrcforc rccognizcd the unrealistic naturc of the dichotomy
that American anthropologists (and for~i~crly
British social anthropologists as well) drew bctwccn history and scicnce. The British
historian E. H. Carr (1967: 117) obscrvcd that 'Every historical
argument revolvcs around the question of thc priority of causes'.
The American arcl~acologistA. C. Spaulding's (1968) claim that the
chief distinction bctwcen scicncc and history is the latter's ovcrwhel~ningdepcndcnce on common-scnsc explanations did a grave,
injustice to the work of many twcnticth-ccntury historians, in whosc
writings interpretations of an impressionistic sort havc been

A 111atorpof archaeolog~calthought

FIG.2 1 . 1 . T h c modular unit - the social and architectural building block of which the
scttlcmcnt is a niultiplc. T h e analyscs of vcrtical and horizontal spatial relationships,
structural attributes and artcfact distributions convergently define a distinct range of
structures (I-VII) repeatedly reproduced on the site. Each replication of the unit
appears to be a particular transformation of an otherwise standardized set cf relationships between each structural category and every other calegory. T h e basic division
bcrween the pair of major houses (Ia) and their satellites, and thc minor house (Ib) and
its ancillaries may be tentatively idcntificd with a division between a major familial,
multi-role and activity area on one hand and a minor, largely female and domestic area
(see Fig. 21.6).
Below: the iconic symbols uscd to identify the structures in the schematic site
models, Figs. 21.2-21.5.



I a Major house

Ib M ~ n o rhouse

I l a Anc~llaryhut

- I I Workshop
- IIc Courtyard

IId Bak~nghut

Iie Guard h u t
. ........


- IIf Annexe hut


111 Workfloor

IV Clay patch


- V1

Granaries or

VII S t ~ e or

Waggon stance

P a l ~ s a d eor fence

46 Modular housing unit at Glastonbury Iron Age site, as identified

D. L. Clarke

replaced by ones based 011 solid bodies of social-science theory.

Whilc thc cxtcnt of the role playcd by chancc factors in shaping
historical cvcnts is a subject for dcbatc, historians agree that individual bchaviour is not random and must be viewed in relation t o a
that can be explained, if not predicted, by
social and C L I I ~ L I I - ~ matrix
general rules (Carr 1967: 113-43). Clarke, in particular, was willing in
trying to explain complcx historical situations to rnovc beyond
Binford's Hcmpclian logico-dcductivc positivism, which hc was
aware was already considered outmoded by nlost philosophers. H c
also maintained the ncccssity to compare alternative explanations
and that 'spcculation is both csscntial and productive if it obeys the
cardinal injunctions that it must prcdict and that some of those
predictions must ultimatcl)! bc tcstablc' (Clarke 1979: 259). The early
work of Clarke and Rcnfrcw has providcd strong cvidcncc, as havc
more rcccnt contributions b y other Wcstcrn Europca~l archacologists (Rcnfrcw and Shcnnan 1982), that historical interpretation
and evolutionary gcncralization arc not antithetical approaches but
instead may proceed concurrently and to their mutual advantage in


B c g ~ n n ~ nin
g the 1970s the cultural-evolutionary paradigm that
guided thc high-level intcrprctations of thc New Archacology
underwent a major changc. Since the late 1950s the optimism and
security of the middle classcs in the United States had bccn scriously
eroded by a succession of chronic and deepening cconomic crises
that were cxaccrbatcd by repeated failures of foreign policy,
especially in Vietnam. Tlicsc cvcnts produced a marltcd decline of
faith in the bcncfits t o bc derived from technological dcvclopment.
This In turn spawned n prolifcration of middle-class protcst mo\rcmcnts. While these movements consistently h ~ v cavoided addrcssing the crucial economic and political proble~nsof American society,
they havc profoundly altered social values and influcnccd the social
The oldest of thcsc is the ecology movcmcnt, which views unrcstraincd technological dcvclop~ncntas poisoning and gradually dcstroying the world ccosystcm. Its beginnings were signalled by the
publication of Rachel Carson's Silent S p ~ i q(1962). I t has sincc

A history of arcl~aeologicalthought

Neo-evolutionism and the New Archaeology


promotcd awareness of an immcdiatc danger to public health from a

bfoad array of technological proccsscs and warncd that in thc 1o11g
term cvcn niore catastrophic consequences may rcsult from thc
continuing poll~~tion
of the cnvironmcnt. Thc second nlovcnlcnt, to
promote a conserver society, stresses that certain natural rcsourccs
csscntial for industrial proccsscs arc available only in finitc quantities
in nature; 11cnce the world is rapidly reaching a point where further
industrial expansion may bccomc impossible. It is predicted that the
exhaustion of kcy rcsourccs will rcsult in d c c l ~ n ~ nliving
or even the col1.1psc of civil~zntion.Hitherto it lnnd generally bccn
assumcd that new raw materials or sourccs of energy would be found
bcforc old oncs bccanlc depleted. Paul Elnrlich's The Population
Bowb (1968) drew attention to yet another causc of anxiety. H c
argued that if unprecedented population growth wcrc not checked,
the results would be disastrous in the near futurc. As a result of these
movcrnents, social scientists and thc gcncral public bccamc increasingly sceptical about the bencfits of tcclinological progress. As their
political and cconomic insecurity increased, thcy, like thc latc ninetccnth-ccntury European middle classes, came to vicw cultural
evolution as a_sourcc of danger and pcrhaps ultimately of disaster.
Evcn rapid cultural changc was condcn~ncdfor producing dysfunctional 'futurc sl~ock'(Toffler 1970).
These shifting attitudes laid the groundwork for a conceptual
reorientation of archaeology that was as dramatic as the latc ninetcenth-ccntury shift from unilincar evolutionism to the culturehistorical paradigm liad been. The new paradigm marked yct
anothcr rctrcat from thc optimistic vicw of changc formulated
rcjccduring the Enlightcnmcnt and intensified nco-evolutio~iisn~'~
tion of the bclicf that technological innovation was the rcsult of a
process of rational self-improvement and the driving forcc promoting cultural changc. Two specific dcvcloprncnts in economics
and social anthropology scrvcd as a catalyst for this shift.
Boscrup (196s) liad argued that while increasingly labourintensive modes of agriculture yicldcd more food per unit of land,
thcp required niore labour for each unit of food produced. Thcrcfore
only the necessity to support slowly but inevitably increasing population dcnsitics would liavc Icd groups to adopt such systems. Her
tlicsis was construed as cvidcncc that dcvcloprncnts which prcvious
gcncmtions of ~~rchacologists
Inad intcrpretcd as dcsirablc rcsults of

humanity's ability to solve prbblems and make life easier and more
fulfilling wcre in fact responses t o forccs bcyond human control.
pcoplc to work
Throughout history thcsc forccs had co~l~pcllcd
hardcr, suffcr increasi~lgexploitation, and dcgradc thcir environ,
The dcrnonstration by Richard L ~ Cand Irvcn DcVorc (1968) that
hunter-gatherer economics cduld support a low populatio~ldcnsity
with less effort than was rcquirkd by cven the least dcmanding forms
of food production not o111y was intcrprctcd as support for Boscrup's position but also 1cd arclfa~oldgiststo adopt ncw intcrprctations of prchistoric hunter-gatherers. Instead of being viewed as
living 011 the brink of starvation, thcy wcrc portraycd as lcisurcd
groups with plcnty of spare timc to dcvotc to religious o r ii~tellcctual
pursuits. Even relatively conservative arcl~aeologistsbegan to idealize the more egalitarian prehistoric cultures as examples of 'conserving societies' that provided models of how we ourselvcs should
behave in relation to the envkonment (Cunliffc 1974: 27). Some
archaeologists questioned the evidence o n which these formulations
were based and their gcncral ,applicability (Bronson 1972; Cowgill
1975; Harris 1979: 87-8). Yet the'rapid and relatively unchallenged
way in which these studies came t o influence the interpretation of
archaeological data, oftcn in 'thc abscncc of adequatc mcasurcs of
prehistoric populatio~lsize or even of relative population change,
suggests the degree to which they accorded with the spirit of the
Archaeologists also began 't? 'express reservations about conventional neo-evolutionary theories that analysed change as if it occurred in slow, gradual trajcctories of the sort that Braidwood and
MacNeish had documented in their studies of the origins of agriculture in the Ncar East and ,Mesoamerica. Robert Adams (1974:
248-9) pointcd out that thcre were abrupt shifts in the development
of early civilizations, sometimcs separa'tcd by long periods when
rclativcly few changes occu~red. Soon after Renfrew (1978)
attemptcd to use catastrophe theory, which had been invented by
the French mathematician ~ k h t ' T h o m to
, cxplain changes in the
arcliaeological record. Catastrophe thcory treats the question of
how, as the rcsult of particular conjunctions of internal states, a set
of fluctuating variables can producc discontinuous cffccts (Saunders
1980). Whilc it rcrnains to bc dcmonstratcd how rigorously Thom's

A history of archacological thought

Neo-cvoluti6nism and thc Ncw Archaeology

mathematics, which can treat only four variables at once, can be used
to explain social bchaviour, the col~ccptattracted considerable attention among archaeologists in Britain and America (Rcnfrcw and
Cookc 1979). Although Thom and Renfrcw were both interested in
'catastrophes' that produced more complex as well as simpler states,
the ready acceptance of catastrophe theory as an analogue of social
process reflected widespread fears that Western societies might be
sliding towards a catastrophc in the conventional as well as the
mathematical sense. Finally archacologists havc sought to imbue the
concept of disconti~luouscultural change with additional sciclltific
prestige by drawing parallels between it and that of punctuated
equilibrium being promoted by some evolutionary biologists (S.
Gould 1980; Eldrcdgc 1982). Thcsc vicws of cultural change havc
made arcl~aeologistsmorc aware of the need to distinguish varying
rates of change in the archaeological record, sometimes over relatively short periods of time. Gaps arc also being recognized in the
archacological record that in the past would havc been filled by
unwarrantcdly projecting k~lowncultures backwards and forwards
in time or hypothesizing undiscovered intermediary forms. This has
challenged archaeologists to acquire ever greater control over culIt has also rei~iforcedthe belief that cultures are
tural chro~~ologies.
more fragile and cultural changc morc fraught with dangers than
arcl~acologistshad bclicved Ilithcrto.
These ncw idcas about thc nature of cult~iralchangc havc promoted a pessimistic and cvcll tragic vcrsion of cultural evolution that
interprets demographic, ecological, and cconomic factors as constraining change to occur along lines that most human beings d o
not regard as dcs~rablebut which thcy are unable to control. This
eschatological materialism implies that the future is always likely to
be worse than the present and that humanity is journeying from a
primitive Eden, filled with happy hunter-gatherers, to a hell of
thermonuclear annihilation. We have already noted that neoevolutionism differed from nineteenth-century evolutionism in its
rejection of the belief that cultural change occurred as the result of
rational and willing action by human beings who sought to acquire
greater control over their environment. This new cataclysmic evolutionism also differed from previous disillusionment about progress,
which had resulted in diffusionists denying that there was any
natural order to human history. Instead of denying that thcrc was

such an order, cataclysmic evolutionists strcsscd a fixed process of

change that at best human bcings might hopc to slow or halt, but
w l ~ i c othcnvise
would rcsult,in tllcir ruin (Triggcr 1981a). Only a
few archaeologists who sec ,trouble ahead for their own society
continue to arguc that it is possible to learn from the past how to
'adjust and cope' (J. Bradlcy 1987: 7).
Cataclysmic evolutionism, with its curious resemblances to the
medieval vicw of history, but with God replaced by an evolutionary
process that renders human beings the victims of forccs beyond their
control, seems to be thc product of an advanced capitalist society
that is not performing to the satisfaction of largc numbers of the
middle classes. Signifi~~untly,
neither evolutionary archaeologists
nor most of the opponents of cnvironn~cntalpollution, unchecked
population growth, and rhe wastage of natural resources treat these
problems as ones that can bc resolved by means of concerted
economic and political reforms carried out on the national and
international levels. Instead they mystify these problems by locating
their causes in a general evolutionary framework and scck when
possible to ameliorate them in discrctc, picccmcal ways. By exculpating leading industrial societies of explicit political responsibility for
what is happening, cataclysmic archaeology helps to reaffirm the
expansionist goals of American socicty in the midst of a growing
intcrnation,~l economic and ecological crisis. It also seeks to
promote social solidarity by denying the political origins of social
conflict. O n the downswing of a long cycle, cataclysmic evolution
attributes the shortcomings of a world economy t o largely immutable evolutionary forces rather than to spccific and altcrablc political and economic conditions that have evolved undcr American
hegemony. This explanation has attracted a willing audicncc
amongst the insecure middle classes of othcr Western nations, who
are as anxious as are their American counterparts to believe that they
are not responsible for the fate that they fear is overtaking them.
While the origin of ideas has no necessary bearing on whether or
not they are correct, it is fairly obvious that the high-level evolutionary theories that guided the interpretation of archacological
evidence in the 1970s reflected a serious and prolonged cconomic,
political, and social crisis in which the interests of the dominant
middle classes were perceived as deeply threatened. It is also evident
that these high-level vicws influenced the expectations of archac-

A history of archaeological thought

Neo-evolutionisn~and thc Ncw Archacology

ologists concerning how the archaeological rccord might bcst bc

intcrprctcd. All of this seriously calls into qucstion thc objcctivity
that thc New Archaeology claimed on the basis of its positivist
mcthodology .
A number of archacologists, cspccially among those doing
research or employed in the soutl~wcstcrn Unitcd States, have
proposcd interpretations of the arcliacological rccord that closclp
approximate thc central values of conscrvativc American political
ideology. In Tile Archaeulug?, @Arizona Martin and Plog (1973)
viewed culturcs 3s adaptive systems and argued that those posscssing
the grcatcst amount of random variation were bcst fittcd to survivc
when confrontcd by cnvironmcntal or demographic challcngcs or
compctition from neighbouring groups. Dunncll (198oa) and
Cordcll and Plog (1979) also assume that there is prcscnt in cvcry
socicty a broad spcctrum of alternative bchavioural patterns on
which thc cultural cquivalcnt of natural selection can opcratc. This
vicwpoint cmphasizcs thc adaptivc valuc of individual choice in a
manncr analogous to cconomic frcc-market thcorics. William
Rathjc (197s) utilizcd certain principles concerning disproportional
growth to construct a schcmc that sccks to account for how
expanding carly civilizations coped with the problem of processing
incrcasing amounts of information. H e proposcd that in the carly
stages increasing complexity was managed by employing grcatcr
numbers of officials to process information and makc decisions.
Later an attempt was made to forestall the growth of burcaucracy
bcyond cconomically acccptablc limits by resorting to grcatcr standardization. Thc dcvclopmcnt of uniform system-wide codes (such
as fixcd weights and mcasurcs) dccrcascd the amount of accounting
that was ncccssary. Still latcr, cfficicncics wcrc attempted by cncouraging grcater autonomy at lowcr Icvcls, while thc whole socicty was
integrated as a series of cconomically intcrdcpendcnt regional componcnts. Blanton et al. (1981) havc applied the basic idcas of this
scheme to the cvolution oEcomplcx socictics in highland Mesoamcrica. They. arguc
that, while the cconomics of the earlier Classic
civilizations were dceply embedded in thc political organizations of
the region, latcr cconomics wcrc more cntrcprcncurial and functioncd more indcpcndently of statc control than cvcr before. The
archacologically attcstcd results of such laissezyaire arrangcmcnts
arc said to have bccn a vast incrcasc in thc quality of goods available

to most people. Other archacologists havc argued that, on the

contrary, in late prchispanic timcs thc cconomy of the Vallcy of
Mexico was strongly controlled by t l ~ cAztccs, who uscd thcir
military powcr to cc~~tralizc
lucrative craft production in thcir
capital Tcnochtitlan (Parsons et al. 1982;Hassig 198s). Petcr Wells
(1984) has assigncd a major role to' cntrcprcncurs coming from
outside the cstablisl~cdlocal clitcs in tiringing about social changc in
Iron Age Europc, thus making this period an cxcmplar of 'Thatcheritc enterprise culturc' (Champion 1986).
While these intcrprctations look likc rationalizations of Arncrican
and British laissez;-faireidealism, many of them havc sought thcoretical justification at thc highest possible levcls. Martin and Plog
grounded thcir discussion in ecological theory and Rathje rclatcd his
to General Systems Theory. Yet no ipecific attempts wcre made to
adapt thcsc theories to the archaeological study of human
behaviour. The advantagc of random variation was presented as a
universally valid principle without any attempt to inventory the
cxtcnt of such divcrsity cmpirically or to identify thc factors that
detcrminc its rangc. This is a wcakncss parallcling thc lack of
concern for factors causing variability in ratcs of population growth
in thcorics that invoked this factor as an indcpendcnt cause of
cultural changc. Nor did thc cxponcnts of intracultural divcrsity take
account of the requirements that the ~lcccssityfor thc safe and
cffcctivc dcployn~cntof increasingly powerful technologics might
generate for planning and consensus. Likewise Rathje did not
consider thc possibility that, unlike modern states, the rulcrs of carly
civilizations might have limited the intervcntions of thcir cumbersome data-processing systems into the affairs of ordinary people to
those matters that related directly to securing the goods and services
rcquircd to achicvc their own specific goals. The dcvclopment of
Near Eastcrn civilization suggcsts a gradual but continuing incrcasc
in burcaucracy and thc usc of military force rather than thc rcvcrsc.
What is most interesting about their thcorics is that, despite their
potential ovcrt attraction to American archaeologists, who generally
tcnd to bc conscrvative, they havc aroused lcss interest than has
cataclysmic cvolution. The appeal of explanations that disguise or
naturalize stressful economic and political relations seems to be
greater than that of ones that exprcss a conscrvativc ideology more

A history of archaeological thought

Neo-cvolutionisrn and thc Ncw Archacoiogy

A conscrvativc ideology may, however, be exerting a more powerful influcncc 011 interpretations of prehistory with respect to the
study of fossil hominids. Under the direct or indirect influence of
sociobiology, there is a growing tendency to stress evidence of
biological and behavioural differcnccs and to treat these differences
as correlated. This in turn leads to growing suspicion of intcrprctations of the bchaviour of Lower l'alacolith~c hon~inidsthat arc based
on analogies with modern hunter-gatherer societies. We are
informed that the Australopitl~ccincswere more like spccializcd apes
and that the tcchnological and bch~viouralcapacities of carly Homo
increasingly appear to have been unlike our own (Cartmill et al.
1986: 419). While former tendencies to emphasize the human-like
qualities of carly hominids are interpreted as an ideological ovcrreaction to Nazism, no attention is paid to the possible ideological
basis of currently popular alternative explanations.

bringing about change outside the cultural system and treated

human beings as thc passivc victims of forccs that n~ostlylic beyond
their understanding and control. On thc othcr hand, dialectical
materialism, while not denying the importance of ecological factors
as constraints on human bchaviour or minimizing the role they
played, especially in the carly stages of cultural dcvclopmcnt, locates
the major cause of cultural transformations squarely within the
social realm, where it takes thc form of competition to control
wealth and power between different groups within the same society.
Even in its most mechanistic and evolutionary formulations, such as
prevailed in the Soviet Union in the 193os,Marxism accords a central
role to human beings pursuing their self-interest as members of
social groups. What was most striking about the New Archacology
or volition any
was its unwillingness to accord human co~~sciousness
role in bringing about cultural change. Marxists could argue that
1x0-evolutionism's denial of a creative role for human beings reflects
the dehumanizing effects of the growth of corporate capitalism,
which effectively has destroyed the concept of an economic system
built upon individual initiative that was the ideal of the middle
classes in the nineteenth century.
Although the New Archaeology advocated studying all aspects of
cultural systems, archaeological publications indicate that most New
Archaeologists conccntratcd on subsistence patterns, trade, and to a
lesser degree social organization. Binford's own research largely has
been concerned with technology and subsistence patterns as they
relate to ecological adaptations. Major aspects of human bchaviour,
such as religious beliefs, aesthetics, and scientific knowlcdgc,
received little attention. The scope of the New Archaeology does not
appear to have expanded beyond that already embraced by the
ecological and settlement-pattern approaches that developed in the
1950s. The fields investigated by the New Archaeology also fall
within the lower echelons of Hawkcs' hierarchy, although Binford
rejected the claim that this hierarchy established inevitable restrictions on the archaeological study of any aspect of human behaviour.
The explanation for this failure to study all aspects of human
bchaviour lies with the ecological approach. The New Archaeology
shared the neo-evolutionary belief that cultural systems were characterized by a high degree of uniformity and that it was possible to
account for this uniformity by identifying the ccological constraints

Both Soviet (Klejn 1977) and American (Davis 1983: 407) archaeologists have drawn attcntio~lto some striking similarities between
the New Archaeology and the archaeology created in the Soviet
Union in the carly 1930s. These parallels arc the more interesting
becausc all but a handful of American archaeologists re~nained
almost completely unaware of the strengths and weaknesses of
Soviet archaeology until rhc late 1970s. Both approaches were based
on an evol~itionarpview of cultural change and sought to understand the regularities exhibited by that process. They agreed that
these regularitics were strong and could be studied by using a
materialist framework. Migration and diffusion were played down
in favour of tryi:lg to explain the changes that occurred within
cultural systems ovcr long periods of time. Traditional typological
studies that sought to elucidate chronologies and spatial variations ii
in material culture were regarded as old-fashioned and there was a 1
corresponding increase in functional interprctations of archaeological data.
Yct, despite thcsc sin~ilarities,there was a marked difference in the
high-level theories that guided the interpretation of archaeological
data. The New Archaeology c~llbracedvarious forms of ecological
and demographic determinism, which located the major factors

A history of archaeological thought

that shapcd human behaviour. Yct it now appears that, while whole
cultural systcms can be vicwed as constraincd to somc degree by the
nature of thcir adaptation to thc ccosystem, the constraints exercised
on the technology and cconomy are far stronger and morc immediatcly recognizable than are thc ones on social organization, and
thcsc in turn arc grcatcr thail arc thc constraints on specific beliefs
and values. Hence the techniques adopted by the New Archaeology
work bcst whcn dcaling with those aspccts of culture that are subject
to thc grcatcst restraint. The Ncw Archaeologists appear to havc
crrcd in assuming that ecological constraints would cxcrt the samc
degree of influence on all aspccts of culture and hencc in feeling
justified whcn they ignored alternativc factors that shapcd the
archaeological rccord. Paul Tolstoy (1969: 558) was correct when he
statcd that dcterminists consider worthy of attc~ltiononly those
traits with which thcir theories appear equipped to dcal.
Yet, almost from the beginning, doubts were cxprcsscd about the
adcquacy of this forn~ulation,cspccially by thosc who attcmptcd a
systemic approach. In the 1970s and 1980s growing awarencss of
thcsc weakncsscs challcl~gcdsomc Western archaeologists, including ones who had playcd a key rolc in establishing the New Arcliacology, to rethink thcir basic .~ssumptionsabout h11111anbehavio~r
and how the archaeological rccord shoulci be intcrprctcd. This .dso
led .I growing number of arcl~acologiststo recognize for the first
time t h ~ the
t ideological underpinnings of archaeological intcrprctations were something other than thc niistakc~lnotions of thc past
and to challcngc the positivist prctencc of ethical neutrality.


The explanation of diversity

. . . theoretically informed histoy and hktoricalb in.rmed theoy
must be joined together t o account for populations specifiable in
time and space, both as outcomes of significant processes and as
their carriers.

Europe and the People ttjithout Histaw ( 1 9 8 ~ )p.

. ZI

During the 1970s a growing number of Amcrican archaeologists

becamc convinced that thcrc was morc divcrsity in prchistoric
culturcs than could be accounted for by gencral cvolutionary
schemes, such as those of Sahlins and Scrvicc, or cvcn by Steward's
multilinear evolutionism. Thcrc was also a slowly but continuously
growing rccognition that nco-evolutionism had unduly rcstrictcd
thc questions about the past that archaeologists wcrc prcparcd to
consider i~ilportallt(Leach 1973). In her conclusiol~to a comparison
of the cultural dcvclopmcnt of the adjaccnt Mixtcc and Zapotcc
peoples, Joyce Marcus (1983a: 360) obscrvcd that 'If we arc
gcnuincly intcrcstcd in understanding individual Mcsoamcrican cultures, we cannot ignorc drift, adaptive divcrgcncc, convergcncc, and
parallcl evolution whilc concentrating singlc-mindcdly 011 advance
through stagcs of sociopolitical organization'. Shc also statcd that
'the familiar variables of agricultural intensification, population
growth, warfarc, and intcrrcgional tradc arc by thcmsclvcs insufftcicnt to cxplain thc divcrsity of Mesoamerican cultures'. Kcnt Flanncry (1983) addcd that unilincar cvolution is inadcquatc to rcalizc
the general anthropological goal of explaining sociocultural differences as well as similarities.
Ethnological critiques, cspccially thosc made by anthropologists
who are not basically hostile to evolutionary studics, havc also
undermined the credibility of gcneral cvolution. It has bcen pointed
tribal groups mainly on
out that nco-cvolutionists have dcli~~eated
the basis of New Guinea big-men societies, which have vcry differ-

A history of archacological thought

The explanation of diversity

ent social and political structures from native societics in eastern

North America (such as those of thc Iroquois) that sharcd thc samc
modc of production and arc gcncrally asscrtcd to bc at thc samc
stagc of dcvclopmcnt (Whallon 1982: 156). Morton Fricd's (1975)
claim that many of the more complex features associated with tribal
societics are products of acculturation resulting from contacts with
Wcstcrn peoples, rathcr than spontaneous intcrnal dcvclopmcnts,
has Icd somc archacologists to view this stagc with great suspicion
(Rcnfrcw 1982~).It has similarly been dcrnonstratcd that many
fcaturcs of chicfdoms arosc JS a result of their political and cconomic
articulation with more advanced societics (Wolf 1982: 96-100). AS a
rcsult of such observations archacologists havc bccomc increasingly
intcrcstcd in trying to explain thc cultural diversity that uscd to
intriguc the historical particularists (Renfrew 1982b). There is
growing willingness to admit that human behaviour is shaped by
divcrsc factors and that at least somc forms of behaviour may not be
recorded in an unambiguous fashion in the archacological rccord.
While most archacologists continuc to interpret thcir data from a
materialistic, and often more specifically an ecological, perspective
(P. Watson 1986: ++I), thcrc is also increasing questioning of thc
extent to which ccological and cconomic factors play a dctcrlnining
rolc with respect to human bchaviour. Thcsc dcvclopmcnts havc
brought about many changcs in archacological analysis and how
archacologists vicw human nature. Alison Wylie (198~a:90) has gone
so far as to observe that 'there is a strong case to be made that [idiosyncratic variability at a societal or individual level] is the distinctivcly human and cultural feature ofthe archacological subjcct; hence,
it should bc the special interest of an anthropological archaeology'.
At least somc of these trends have involved a revival of interest in
topics associatcd with culture-historical archaeology that were
ignored as a rcsult of the dcvcloprncnt of thc New Archacology.

(1982: ix) has argued that anthropologists, especially under the

influcncc of nco-cvol~~tionisn~,'sccm
to havc forgottcn that human
populations construct their cultures in intcraction with onc another
and not in isolation'. H e goes on t o state that the cultural connections that an older generation of anthropologists studied as diffusion can only bc rcndcred intelligible in systcmic tcrms when thcy
arc set into a broader political and economic contcxt.
Thc study of intcraction bctwecn socictics was ncvcr ruled out by
the New Archacology. Binford (1972: 204) strongly npprovcd of
Caldwcll's (1964) conccpt of an 'intcraction sphere', which he had
developed to explain how a Hopewellian burial cult, which involved
the interment of goods manufactured from exotic materials with
individuals of high status, came to be sharcd by many prehistoric
societies in the American Midwest. Yet growing interest in the
development of specific sociocultural systems and the neoevolutionary emphasis on independent invention led many followers of scttlcment archaeology and the New Archacology to minimize
the importancc of intcrsocictal contact and competition.
In rcccnt years a numbcr of archaeologists working in the Ncar
East havc advocatcd thc need to view Mesopotamian civilization as
part of a much largcr zonc in which from carly times many cultures
influcnccd onc another's dcvcloprncnt through various forms of
political and economic intcraction (Lamberg-Karlovsky 197s; Kohl
1978; Alden 1982). There has also been discussion of 'peer polity'
interaction in prehistoric Europe (Renfrew and Shennan 1982) and
elsewhere (Renfrew and Cherry 1986) and of 'cluster interaction' in
Mesoamerica (B. Price 1977). Blanton and his co-authors (1981) have
argued that because of the intensity of economic, political, and ritual
interaction among the ruling classes throughout Mesoamerica in
prchispanic times, the devclopment of any one region, such as the
Valley of Mexico, cannot be understood indcpcndcntly of that of
neighbouring regions. Thcy therefore propose to treat the whole of
Mesoamerica as a single 'macroregional unit' bound together by the
interaction of local elites; an approach that places prodigious
dcmands upon the information-gathering capacity of archacologists. This approach also raises major qucstions about how thc
boundaries of macroregions arc to be defined. Blanton and his
co-authors argue that what is recognized as Mesoamerica was a
nctwork of states and chicfdoms unitcd by intcnsivc rcciprocal

Infersocietal contact
One of thc dcvclopments that has charactcrizcd this changing pcrspcctivc has bccn a tcndcncy to abandon the vicw that socictics or
cultures arc closed, or tightly bounded, units that can be studied
indcpcndcntly of onc another and to pay morc attcntion to thc rolc
played by cxtcrnal stin~uliin bringing about cultural changc. Wolf

A history of archaeological thought

Thc cxpla~r~tion
of diversity

interaction of a political and ritual nature, which can be recognized

in thc arcl~acologicalrccord. It has long becn surmised that
economic and ritual influences of Mcsoamerica~lorigin also influcnced the cultural dcvelopme~ltof the southwestern United States
and castcrn North America, although it is not oftcn possible to
dcfirrc thc social contexts in which these presumed contacts occurred
(Griffin 1980).
It is also rccognizcd that not only goods, persons, and idcas but
also wholc institutions call spread from onc society to another. The
introduction of the Cl~ristianchurch as a l~icrarchicalorganizatio~l
with its own trained pcrsonncl into Anglo-Saxon England and of
Buddhism into Japan, both in the sixth century A. D ., left a marked
and lasting impact 011 the cconomic, social, and political organizatio~lof those countries and one that was clcarly different from
what could be cxpcctcd if an indigenous statc cult had developed. In
both cases the imported clcrical burcaucracy played a crucial role in
strengthening the administration of nascent states (Sansom 1958:
60-81; Trigger 1978a: 216-28). That societies can be influenced by
thcir neighbours in these ways makes their trajectorics of devclopment harder to predict than neo-evolutionary archaeologists had
assumcd (Green and Perlman 1985).
Some archaeologists havc attcmptcd to introduce more theoretical rigour into the 'study of interaction bctwec~lsocictics. Carl
Lamberg-ICarlovsky (198sa) has used the historian Fcrnand Braudel's conccpt of thc longue duric (Stoianovich 1976) to distinguish
between gradually cumulative processes and periods dominated by
alternating ccntripctal and centrifugal forces that transformed the
social and cultural ordcr and altered relations between the societies
of Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau bctween 3400 and
1600 B.C. More archaeologists have been attracted by Immanuel
Wallerstein's (1974) world-system theory (Kohl 1978, 1979, 1987;
Ekholm and Friedman 1979; Blanton e t al. 1981; Renfrew and
Shennan 1982: 58). This approach involves the study of large-scale
spatial systems, assuming an intcrrcgional division of labour in
which peripheral arcas supply corc ones with raw materials, the core
areas are politically and economically dominant, and the cconomic
and social devclopmcnt of all regions is constrained by their changing roles in the systcm. ICohl has suggested that the world systcms of
antiquity probably only suycrficially rcscmblcd thosc of modern

times. In particular, hc argucs that thc rankings of cores and peripheries may have becn less stable than they arc 1 . 1 0 ~ and that political
force may havc playcd a morc overt rolc in rcgulating them. What is
of general importance is thc growing realization that societies are
not closed systems with respect to neighbouring ones any more than
in rclatio~lto thcir natural cnvironlncnt and that thc dcvclopmcnt of
a society or culture may be constrained or influenced by the broader
social network of which it is a part. Thcrc is also increasing recognition that thc rules governing these proccsscs arc thcmsclvcs worthy
of scientific investigation. Tllc cl~allcngcis to broaden not merely a
functional but also a systemic analysis to cover processes that used to
bc explained in tcrms of diff~~sion.
The studies of economic intcraction bctween a Ncar E'lstcrn corc and Europcan periphery that
were begun by Cl~ildcin The Most Ancient East (1928) anticipated
world-system theory in many important aspects and havc no doubt
predisposed European archaeologists to accept Wallerstein's
approach. Childe's ideas in turn were based on patterns of interaction established by Montclius in his diffusionist studies.
Thesc observations have raised additional questions about the
concept of sociocultural systems. N o one will deny that various
social boundaries arc defined by reduced levels of interaction. Yet
can a hierarchy of levels be distinguished in which individuals are
grouped as members of families; families as parts of communities,
as components of socictics, and socictics to form largcr
interaction sphcres? Or do individuals participate differentially in
patterned interactions at many levels and as members of many
different kinds of social groups (R. McGuire 1983)? One must not
minimize the importance of brokers and decision-makers, such as
chiefs, government officials, and kings, who mediate bctween different levels of society and thereby effect varying degrees o f closure.
Yet a detailed analysis of networks of social, political, and economic
intcraction calls into questio~lthc idea that socictics or culturcs are
morc significant units of analysis than are numerous larger and
smaller catcgories (cf. Clarkc 1968). The social entity to be studied is
determined by the problem that is bcing investigated.
There is also growing interest in the degree to which cultures or
societies constitutc systcms in any rigorous sense. Are they in fact
strongly integrated and hence highly selective with respect to
innovation or, providing that thcy fulfil a minimal numbcr of

The explanation of diversity

A history of archacological thought


prcrcquisitcs to supply enough food, clothing, shcltcr, rcproduction, and child carc to cnsurc tltcir continuity (Abcrlc et al. 195o), is
the rcst of thcir contcnt frccly variable and l~cnccliltcly to bc
influcnccd by a random selection of idcas pickcd up from ncighbouring culturcs? Wolf (1982: 390-1) argues that we cannot 'imaginc
cultures as intcgratcd totalities . . . [thcy] arc only cultural scts of!
practices and idcas, put into play by dctcrminatc human actors
under dctcrn~inatccircumstances'. Thc lattcr view of culturc as a
collection 'of multifarious and often ~ I I C O I I ~ ~ U O L I~SI C I I I C I ~ ~ S
work(ing] togcthcr in tolerable harmony' (Hunburp-Tc11iso111986:
108) is closc to that of historical particularism, cspccially when we
rcmcmbcr that Boas and his s t ~ ~ c l csaw
~ ~ tthe
s nccd for some degree
of pspchological consistency in cach culturc (Bcncdict 1934).While
fcw archacologists have cxplicitly abandoned thc terminology associated with a systcmic vicw of culturc, many would no longcr agrcc
with Stcward that diffusion can d o no morc than duplicatc intcr~tal
processes of causc and cffcct. A largc number of archacologists now
acknowledge that socictics can bc altcrcd not only by political and
cconomic prcssurcs from ncighbouring groups but also by idcas that
arc borrowcd from adjacent socictics, to the cxtcnt that the rccipicnt
culturc may dcvclop in ways that it would not havc donc in the
absence of these external stimuli (Lanlbcrg-I<arlovsky 19853:58-60).
Accon1panying this is a growing intcrcst in thc roles piaycd by noneconomic factors, such as religious bclicfs, in bringing about social
changc. While nlost arcl~acologistsprofcss a lnatcrialistic oricntation, thc dcgrcc to which ecological adaptation dctcrrnincs cultural
systems is increasingly scen not as givcn in thc study of society but as
an issuc that in due course must be answered empirically.
Changing vicws of interaction among culturcs havc rcopcncd the
oftcn-dcbatcd question of the significance of ethnographic analogies
for archacological intcrprctation. Evolutionary anthropologists
assumed that thc carlicst rccordcd dcscriptions of native culturcs
revcalcd what thcsc had bccn likc prior to Europcan contact and that
such information could bc uscd without scrious question for crosscultural studies of bchavioural variation. For example, thc San, or
Bushmen, of southcrn Africa wcrc trcatcd as a paradigmatic huntergatherer society. Archaeology is now rcvcaling that many native
culturcs wcrc vastly altcred as a rcsult of Europcan contact before
thc carlicst dcscriptions of thcm wcrc rccordcd by Europcans

(Ramsdcn 1977; Cordcll and Plog 1979; Wilcox and Massc 1981). It is
possiblc that every huntcr-gatherer and tribal society in the world
was influenced to some degree by contact with tcchnologicaIIy more
advanced societies prior to ethnographic study (Brasser 1971; Fried
1975;Wobst 1978; Monks 1981: 288; Triggcr 1981b).There is growing
arcltacological and historical cvidencc that thc Bushman way of life
has bccn modified significantly in reccnt ccnturics by contacts with
Europcan scttlcrs and ovcr a longer period by interaction with their
pastoral Bantu and Hottentot ncighbours (Schrirc 1980,1984). Thc
impact that thcsc otllcr groups havc had on thc southcrn African
environment also may have altcred Bushman life in many ways.
Undcr such circumstnnccs, it is dangerous for anthropologists to
assumc that Bushmen, or any othcr modern huntcr-gathcrcr socictics, arc ncccssarily equivalent to Palaeolithic ones. These studics,
although revolutionary after a long pcriod dominated by neocvolutionism, rcsumc a pattern cstablished by Strong (193s) and
Wedel (1938)~with their archaeological demonstration that thc
highly mobile equestrian hunting populations found on the Great
Plains of North Amcrica in thc historical pcriod wcrc a rclativcly
rcccnt phcnon~cnonand that in sornc arcas scdcntary agriculturalists
had prcccdcd thcm.
Thc various cconomic tics that link modcrn hunter-gathcrcrs to
thcir nan-h~~ntcr-gathcrcrncigltbours also call into qucstion
whcthcr modcrn and ancient 'hunter-gathcrcrs (or tribal socictics)
sharc the same mode of production and can thcrcforc bc trcatcd as
societies at the same stage of development. Binford (1983a: 337-56)
used northern native groups that havc been engaged for generations
in trapping and exchanging furs with Europcans as a basis for
suggesting certain generalizations about thc nature of huntcrgatherer adaptations to high-latitude environrncnts. Some anthropologists bclicve that because of the inherent flexibility of their
adaptation to thc boreal forest, the cconomies of at least some of
thcsc groups havc not bccn radically altered by the fur trade (Francis
and Morantz 1983: 14-15); othcrs disagree. Only detailed archaeological studies can determine objectively to what extent ethnographic descriptions of hunter-gatherer or tribal agricultural
socictics provide a rcpresentativc picture of what these socicties
wcrc likc in prchistoric times (D. Thomas 1974). Until more such
investigations havc been made, the significance of major cross-

A history of archaeological thought

The explanation of diversity

cultural studies based on ethnographic data must remain doubtful.

It has already bcen demonstrated that the comparison of socicties
that havc been influcnced by Europcan colonization can givc a falsc
impression of thc dcgrcc of variation in cultural phenomena such as
kinship tcrminologics (Eggan 1966: 15-44).
Archacologp thus has JII important role to play not o111y in
unravelling thc coinplcx history of thc past but also in providing a
historical pcrspcctivc for undcrstanding thc significance of cthnogr,lphic d,lt,~.A growing n ~ ~ m bof.~nthropologists
.~rccoming to
bclicvc that ethnologists .lnd soci.11 .~nthropologists,whcthcr studying social structure or change, are investigating the results of acculturation bccausc thcir data arc dcrivcd from small-scale socictics that
arc being cithcr dcstroycd or intcgratcd cvcr morc complctcly into
the modern world systcm. History and archaeology alone can study
the cvolution of cultures in the past. It is also becoming clear that no
socicty can bc properly understood or even classified from a structural point of view without taking account of its rclationship with
othcr socictics (Wolf 1982; Flanncry 1983).
Relations among coexisting socictics, espccially ones at different
lcvcls of dcvclopmcnt, are oncc again bcing vicwcd as constituting as
important a sourcc of cl~angc,and thcrcforc ,IS strong an cvolutionary forcc and as lcgitimatc an object of anthropological understanding, as arc thc ecologically gcncrated changes that havc been
studied by nco-evolutionary anthropologists. Evolutionary theory
should not be concerncd only with ecologically stimulated change.
It should scck to understand how ncighbouring societies have
influenced each other's dcvclopmcnt throughout history (Wolf 1982;
McNeill 1986). In particular, anthropologists should try to develop
gcncralizations about how societies, especially those with different
types of economies, influence each othcr. Social anthropologists are
alrcady doing this for prcscnt-day, small-scale societies that arc
bcing drawn into the capitalist world systcm. Archacologists arc
challcngcd by the formidable task of dcvcloping similar gcneralizations for a vast array of pre-capitalist societies. Alexander and
Moharnmcd (1982) have pioneered this sort of approach by elaborating a frontier model to explain thc interaction of hunter-gatherer
and carly agricultural socictics in the Sudan. Golson (1977) has
strcssed the need to considcr competition among diffcrcnt typcs of
hunter-gathcrcr societics as a major sourcc of change.

A body of evolutionary theory that seeks to explain not only

ecologically gcncrated change but also transformations resulting
from interactions bctwccn diffcrent socictics ncccssarily must bc
exceedingly complex. It is probably unrealistic to think of such a
thcorctical structure cver being complctcly elaborated (Trigger
On the contrary, it will continuc to bc rcfincd as long as the
social scicnccs makc progrcss in undcrstanding human behaviour.
Such a body of theory will also tcnd to bc morc eclectic and
inductive it1 its origins than the tcncts of thc Ncw Archaeology
would approve. It will, howcvcr, provide a illorc substantial and
realistic basis for understanding cultural change than has neoevolutionary anthropology with its almost cxclusivc preoccupation
with ccological explanations. It will also move archaeology closer to
the general practices of the social sciences, both methodologically
and theoretically.

At thc samc timc that archaeologists are pcrcciving the need to

broadcn thc range of thcir thcorctical gcncralizations, thcy arc
considering thc possibility that individual socictics arc so complex,
thcir structures so loose, and thc external forces influencing them so
eclectic that the precise cause of their development can at best be
predicted only partially and for the short term. For many archaeologists the complexity of any human society renders the concept of
causality of little value for understanding its origin (Flannery 1972;
Rowlands 1982). It is realized that if historians, after generations of
intensive research, continuc to debate the reasons for the rise and fall
of thc Roman Empire, it is unrealistic for archaeologists to conclude
either too optimistically that the processes thcy study can be definitively explained by simplistic formulations or too pessimistically that
complexity prccludcs undcrstanding (D. Fischcr 1970). This has led
to a growing rejection of thc positivist view that all cxplanation must
be equivalent to prediction. M. Salmon (1982: 109; see also W.
Salmon 1984 and W. Salmon et al. 1971) has argued that much of it
takes thc form of a statistical-relevance model, whereby an cvent is
explained when all factors statistically relevant to its occurrencc and
non-occurrcncc arc asscmblcd and thc appropriatc probability
valucs for its occurrence arc detcrmined in thc light ~ f t h e s factors.

A history of archaeological thought

Thc cxpla~iationof diversity

What she docs not point out is that this approach is almost identical
to thc traditional method of historical cxplanation. Yct historians
tend to be morc sceptical about thc possibility of identifying all
rclc~antfactors and rccognizc that, in thc short tcrm, probability
valucs can be assigncd to many of thcm only provisionally and on the
basis of con~monscnsc (Dray 1957).This docs not diminish thc valuc
of archacology for producing gcncralizatio~ls about human
bchaviour or long-tcrm trends in cultural dcvclopmcnt. It docs
suggest, however, that cxplanations of changc in spccific socictics
must bc based on dctailcd knowlcdgc of what happcncd as well as
sound thcorics, and cvcn thcn allowanccs must bc madc for the
intcrvcntion of uncxpcctcd factors.
Thc prolonged, and by archacological standards, sophisticated,
debatc conccrning thc collapsc of thc Classic Maya civilization
demonstrates that more data are necdcd to narrow the range of
possible cxplanations and permit thc formulation of more refined
rcscarch problcms (Culbcrt 1973; Hammond 1977).While increasing
thcorctical sophistication rcduccs the range of the unpredictablc, it
is no morc possiblc for social sciclltists to rctrodict the past in detail
than it is for thcm to prcdict the future. The cxplanation ofthe past is
thus sccn as bcing of ncccssity idiographic, cven though general
principles must bc invoked to support arguments in every possiblc
Historical knowlcdgc, in the scnx of ~lndcrstandinghow and why
spccific socictics dcvcloped as thcy did in thc past, is csscntial for
explaining thc currcnt statc of socictics around thc world. Because
only archaeology and documentary history provide the evidence
required to delineate cultural development in the past, they arc
essential for understanding thc historical background of the data
which all of thc othcr social scicnccs analysc. The growing realization that this is so is slowly providing thc basis for a ncw and
bctwccn archacology and ethnology. In
complementary rclatio~lsh~p
this relationship archacology docs not try to emulate ethnology but,
by studying the dcvclopment of co~lcrctcsocial systems, provides an
indispensable basis for producing rcliablc gcncralizatiolls about
structure and changc. Far from being pcriphcral to thc othcr social
sciences, archacology and history arc crucial for understanding
Dcspitc thcsc dcvclopn~cnts,mainstream American proccssual

archacology has not bcgun to see society itsclf or individual human

bcings as thc sourcc of any significant amoulit of sociocultural
changc (for cxccptions, see R. Adams 1965; Willcy 1986). The lattcr
vicw, together with a growing cmphasis on 'mind' and 'valucs', is
currently reprcscntcd by a minority but rapidly growing movement
in British and A~llcricanarchacology that variously labcls itsclf
symbolic, structural, or critical archacology (Kcnfrcw 1982~).This
movcmcnt has largely bccn inspircd by Marxist approachcs that datc
from thc latc 1960s in Frcnch and British anthropology. Thcsc havc
thcir roots not in orthodox Marxism but in thc efforts to combine
Marxism and thc structuralism of thc anthropologists Mauricc Godclicr, E. Tcrray, and 1'. P.Rcy and thc philosopher L. Althusscr; the
antipositivism of the Frankfurt School, J'para-Marxist movcmcnt
dating from thc I ~ ~ Ocspccially
as rcprcscntcd in thc writings of
Jiirgcn Habcrmas (1975) and Hcrbcrt Marcusc (1964) and thc anarchistic thcory of knowledge of Paul Fcycrabcnd (1975); and finally
thc cconomic analyscs of Claudc Mcillassoux (1981). Dcspitc thcir
diffcrcnccs in dctail, such archacological works strcss thc complcxity
of modcs of production, thc importaiit role played by human
consciousness in brillging about changc, the major significance of
clashcs of intcrcst bctwccn mcn and womcn or pcoplc of diffcrcnt
agcs in promoting conflict in classlc'ss socictics, and the incscapablc
,impregnation of all h ~ ~ n i aactivities,
incli~diiigscientific research,
by ideology. Thcy also sliarc tllc convictio~lthat Marx and Engcls
failcd to produce a dctailcd analysis of prc-class socictics and that it
is the duty of Marxist anthropologists to rcmcdy this dcfcct not by
returning to the works of thc foundcrs of Marxism but by constructing ncw Marxist thcorics of prc-capitalist socictics on thc basis of
currcnt knowlcdgc of thcsc groups (Bloch 1985: 150).
Through thcsc cl~annclsa nunlbcr of important Marxist conccpts
havc bccn introduced into British and Amcrican archacology as
altcr~lativcsto thc tenets of proccssual archacology. Forcmost
among thcse is a concern to cxplain sociocultural change in tcrms of
a gcncral thcorctical framcwork that accords a central rolc to social
rclations. Proccssual archacology, along with nco-cvolutionism,
structuralism, cultural matcrialism, and cultural ccology, arc
rejccted bccausc they unduly rcify stability, trcat thc causcs of
cultural change as bcing cxtcrnal to social rclations, and regard
human bcings as passivc objccts that arc mouldcd by cxtcrnal

A history of archaeological thought

of divcrsity
The cxpla~latio~l

factors. Ecology is vicwcd as constraining rathcr than directing

changc and ncw tcchnologics arc intcrprctcd both as rcsponses to
social and economic changc and as a major forcc bringing it about.
Social conflicts arising from contradictory intcrcsts arc idcntificd as
vital and pcrvasivc features of human socictics and a major source of
change. This vicw is contrasted with thc intcgrativc concerns of
classical structuralism, and phc~~omc~~ologp,
to thc
lattcr's great disadvantage.
The new approachcs also champion a h~~mun-centred
vicw of
history. Marxism rcfuscs to cxplain meaning, symbolism, and social
phcnomcna in terms of non-social dctcrn~inantsin ordcr to provide
archaeology with a vcnccr of convcntional social scicncc (Tillcy
1984: 144). Instcad of trcating human bchaviour as passivcly shaped
by cxtcrnal forccs, Marxist archacologists strcss intentionality and
the social production of reality. They also insist on a holistic
approach. Ideally, parts of socicty arc always studied in rclation to
thc \vholc and individual social systcms in terms of broadcr networks of intcrsocictal relations. Marxist archacologists scck to
cxplain not only cross-culturnl rcgularitics but also thc particularities, individual diffcrcnccs, and spccific contcxts that distinguish onc
concrctc instancc ofsocial changc fro111another. In striving to crcatc
a unified social scicncc, Marxism ignores the distinctions betwccn
history and evolution and bctwcc~lhistory ;11ic1SC~CIICC.The st~1~1y
history is rcgardcd as scientific in nature and as embracing gcncrali-.
zation. Finally thcsc approachcs insist on thc social basis of knowIcdgc. Knowlcdgc and sclf-consciousness arc vicwcd not as absolutes but as thc products of specific socictics. Thc social context of
currcnt archacological rcscarch is sccn as influencing intcrprctations
of thc past. This suggests that certainty of the sort envisioned by
positivistically oricntcd rcscarchcrs cannot be obtaincd.

plays a dominant rolc in shaping the social, political, and religious

superstructure of any socicty, although they d o not rule out a
rcciprocal relationship bctwecn thcsc two levels. Other archaeologists emphasize reciprocity to such an extent that they deny the
primacy of the cconomic base. Susan Kus (1984) and Pete