By Maksymilian Frąckowiak, Kornelia Kajda, Dawid Kobiałka
Archaeologies of the present
A spectre is haunting contemporary archaeologies – the spectre of the present. That is to say, one has recently been witnessing a shift in archaeological approaches: a new, ‘neo-materialistic paradigm’ (so-called return to things) is slowly emerging on the scene. It indicates weak aspects of post-processual perspective with its emphasis on the social, meaning, sings and analyses of discourse, among others. On the contrary to post-processual approaches, here attention is mostly paid to materiality of things. What has also been clearly pointed out is the fact that, more than ever before, the present slowly becomes more important and interesting for archaeologists than the distant past (e.g. the Neolithic) (fig. 1). It is rather the materiality of things than constitutes archaeology than the focus on the distant past (e.g. Lucas 2004).
Fig. 1. Materiality in and of the present: a ‘ghost town’ Kłomino, Poland (author Dawid Kobiałka).
It is said that previous approaches have overlooked, or even more accurately, blurred what seems to mostly characterize archaeology: things as things. From this point of view, one cannot but agree with Laurent Oliver (2013, 127):
History will always have infinitely more to say about past events, just as anthropology will have more to say about the way in which human communities function. The theoretical strength of archaeology resides in its exclusive relation to material remains, which is what distinguishes it from all other disciplines in the social sciences. It draws its immense theoretical potential from its study of the materiality of the present. As scholars from other disciplines have sensed, there lies therein the source of a radically new approach to the world, for archaeology’s relation to matter leads to a veritable phenomenology of the present.
No wonder then the French archaeologist goes to the end of this reasoning. If archaeology is about things, their materiality, what can be said about the world through material culture, then the conclusion is easy to predict. It is only in the present that archaeology can show its all theoretical and practical strength. In contrast to e.g. the Neolithic from which have survived few pieces of pottery, some flint tools, some pits and so on, the present is full of material culture. And the materiality of the present is the task to be undertaken by contemporary archaeologies. That is why, as the title of Oliver’s paper clearly points out: the business of archaeology is in the present (Oliver 2013).