Message #182 From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG To: "'Matthias Giessler'" Date: Tue, 2 June, 1998 Subject: Interpretive Value Of Narrow Particularism [ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] : From: [clipped] >A picture is worth a thousand words and reveals more than a thousand arrowheads what life was in 76 A.D. >>Archeologists find twin treasures of ancient Rome 02:03 PM ET 06/01/98 ROME (Reuters) - Italian archeologists drilling near a recently-unearthed ancient Roman fresco have stumbled on a twin set of fresh treasures -- a striking mosaic and another detailed fresco thought to be 2,000 years old. The discoveries, revealed to reporters Monday, mean the site at the Trajan Baths in Rome's historic center is shaping up into an important trove of imperial riches, experts said. ``Initially this was going to be a routine excavation, but instead it's turning out to be something quite special,'' Rome-based restorer Mark Gittins told Reuters Television. ``This could turn out to be a fairly major site.''... SWA RESPONSE: From: Brian Kenny To: [clipped] Subject: RE: Full Story Interesting qualification, this phrase .... "reveals more than".... What is this misconception with arrowheads? A mural is a piece of material culture, an arrowhead is a piece of material culture, a monumental building is...., a mud hut is....., a computer is ... etc. Archaeologists could pretty much give a damn regarding the nature of the specific piece of material culture. This must be so because archaeologists really are interested in understanding and interpreting the human behavior behind the material culture. Those professionals or avocationals who give exclusive interpretive weight to one class of object over another fail to see the ultimate point of archaeology. Particularist studies are important, but they are by design limited. To be more broadly appropriate, archaeological interpretation must be multidisciplinary and it must rely upon multiple lines of evidence. A single picture and a single arrowhead, even a thousand pictures and a thousand arrowheads, just don't cut it. One needs a mutiplication of spatial data, depositional data, relational data, ecofactual data, chronometric data, historical data, art historical data, etc. to deal with all the pretty little murals or the pretty little arrowheads. One must appropriate multiple techniques -- for use within a region or site -- to properly study the suite of tools, sites, ecofacts and spatial characteristics. Your relational phrase.... "reveals more than".... Does! Your usage suggests that you have limited yourself to know only little about the real purposes, techniques, and successes of archaeological efforts conducted anywhere in the world. It is the multidisciplinary work that is important, not the heirloom artifact, nor one artifact versus another artifact. 'A picture is worth a thousand words' may be true, but it still is simply one lousy picture or one pretty picture. On the other hand, a mutidisciplinary approach is worth 10 million words (to the power of 10) where it comes to archaeological interpretation. I say to each his own interests and tastes, even with the enjoyment and satisfaction of completing a particularist research bent with a single artifact type! But to imply as you have done, that you've given up entirely on sw archaeology because "it will never produce like Culture X or Culture Y" (always located in some other part of the world), you fail the test. Archaeology IS anthropology and it is about decoding, understanding and interpreting human behavior, not about artifacts per se. Human behaviors are more interesting within multidisciplinary contexts regardless of location or specific tool types. Think of archaeology this way -- A person performs manual labor and this raw brawn has a value (X). But, a fellow engaged to think ddeply (move around electrons in his brain)...well..., the value of this work is always greater than the value of the manual labor. In research, the archaeologist whom typologizes artifacts and analyzes attributes provides a valuable brawny service which must be performed. But, the anthropologist whom deciphers behaviors by using a variety of materials and techniques at hand -- the person whom skillfully and parsimoniously interprets human thought and behavior derived from an entire suite of cultural and material relationships encoded within a spatial context -- well, that person, by promotion of electrons and context over brawn and things, has created a work of far greater anthropological value. George Gilder said that it is matter which must be overthrown. [ And therein, I might add, is the best rationale for abandoning worries regarding repatriation and NAGPRA, and, for the promotion of in-situ cultural context preservation ]. Brian Kenny From: Mike Berry Re: Interpretive Value Of Narrow Particularism Wow Brian, great emotion here. I am reminded of N.R. Hansen's notion that "observation is a theory laden process." Hence, even the notion that particularist typologists can create meaningful classifications in a theoretical vacuum is suspect. Good work! By the way, I believe that Confucius asserted that a picture is worth 10,000 words. Poor Confucius is always misquoted by particularists. Mike B.