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.