A review of Bjørnar Olsen: In Defense of things. Archaeology and the ontology of objects. Lanham: Altamira Press, 2010.

During the last decade, three books have appeared that mark a turning point in the way archaeology is both thought and practiced. These three books are Theatre/Archaeology (Pearson and Shanks 2001), The Dark Abyss of Time (Olivier 2008) and the one reviewed here. I think that we can talk now of a real loss of innocence in the discipline, because what these authors do is ask social theory not what it can do for archaeology, but ask archaeology what it can do for social theory (to start with, changing the very concept of what “society” is). This is an important breakthrough: so far, archaeologists generally sought to turn their discipline into something else (archaeology as anthropology, archaeology as cultural history) or overcome the limitations of their profession through the theoretical approaches of other social sciences. This desire has proved crucial in providing the thrust necessary for moving away from the sterile territories of purely descriptive culture-historical archaeology and entering the terrains of theory. However, the time is ripe now to go a step further. The three works mentioned coincide in looking for the strengths of archaeology vis-à-vis other disciplines, not its limitations. Their common project is not about borrowing, but about sharing, and maybe even lending.

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The Complexity of Making within Disciplinary Traditions: Some Considerations of Ingold’s “The Textility of Making” in Archaeological Production Contexts

Elizabeth Murphy, Brown University


In a recent article entitled “The Textility of Making,” Tim Ingold deconstructs what he describes as the hylomorphic model of creation (2010). This model views the material world according to conceptions of matter and form and tends to perceive material as static, finished products of preconceived human thought. In response to this ontological view of the material world, he proposes an alternative perspective, which he calls the “textility of making.” Textility, by emphasizing materials and forces, centers on the movement and processes of negotiation between material and human action. Elegantly integrating aspects of embodiment, material properties, knowledge vs. know-how, and agency, Ingold’s contribution offers an exciting perspective to archaeological and anthropological material studies.
In reaction to the work of Ingold, this essay explores the concept of textility in relation to archaeological studies of material culture by considering the dominance of the hylomorphic model of creation within disciplinary methodologies. It goes on to advocate for the study of locations of production in order to better understand complex processes of making. These issues are examined in reference to the archaeological case study of Sagalassos (SW Turkey). In the Eastern Suburbium of the Roman city of Sagalassos are the remains of a once vibrant, ceramic table ware industry, currently under investigation by an international archaeological project based at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). Excavations and material analyses offer useful grounds for a discussion concerning textility.

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Narrowed Ego, Widened Identification: Un-fixing disciplinary relations. A review of “Archaeology and Anthropology: Understanding similarity, exploring difference”

edited by Duncan Garrow and Thomas Yarrow, 2010, Oxford: Oxbow Books (184 pp + index).

For a while now archaeology has felt that ‘its time has come’. Growing with thoughtful practice, merging established methodologies with sophisticated and cosmopolitan theorizing, a disciplinary maturity urges making a mark in the academy. No need to repeat the by now familiar calls for archaeology to stop borrowing, balance the intellectual budget, assert its unique insights and value its contributions to the wider world. It all sounds a bit like the confidence boosting of proud (most likely of the ‘sensitive’ variety) parents to a diffident teenager leaving home for the first time. Sticking with the maturation metaphors that Tim Ingold so deftly deploys (his contribution to this volume being no exception), this tale of adolescence (and anxiety) is a fair description of archaeology’s relationship with anthropology (understood as social and cultural anthropology). We seem caught up in a co-dependent relationship. Each discipline fixed to the other as points of a compass, now engaged and collaborative, now indifferent and dismissive – or downright demeaning.

There seems to be need of intervention, of careful analysis and re-evaluation of the relationship binding the disciplines. We need to change the relationship. In short, we need ‘relationship therapy’. This is precisely what the recent volume Archaeology and Anthropology: Understanding similarity, exploring difference, edited by Duncan Garrow and Thomas Yarrow, undertakes. Indeed, whether it is Julian Thomas’ mystical sounding call to embrace “presence” or Ingold’s guru-like utterance that ”to be is to know, and that to know is to be”, there is a poignancy on the part of many of the contributions that sets this collection apart, offering introspective analysis and cognitive tools for just such therapeutic possibility.

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A Review of: Archaeologies of Placemaking: Monuments, memories and engagement in Native North America. Edited by Patricia Rubertone, One World Archaeology Series 59. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2009.

Archaeologies of Placemaking is the outcome of a WAC-5 session at Washington, D.C. in 2003. The following review of this volume is divided into two parts. The first part provides a summary of the nine chapters, and the second offers critical commentary on its content.
Archaeologies of Placemaking contains an introduction and eight case studies written by different contributors. Overall, these nine chapters share a concern with the authenticity of place histories, with a deeper focus on memory-work, and its material manifestation in monuments. The concept of place that the authors present is one of diverse meanings, which are ascribed by different communities, and manifested in practices of remembrance and materialisation. The European-American voice, which tends to envelop place, has emerged out of a broader discussion that is colonial in character. While in some cases these narratives have negatively portrayed Native American places, others have identified the significance of place in terms of the symbolic and ritual associated with Native American culture and history. This volume largely takes issue with the dominant European-American voice in site-specific cases that detail the ways that these places have been created, reified and communicated the Native American voices. As the contributors illustrate, the meaning of place has several interpretations; these multiple, and often conflicting interpretations create tensions between those communities with a vested interest in a place. One of the volume’s intentions is to resolve these tensions. Rather than hold them as a productive force, the discussions aim to create a balance or harmony between the different associations that Native Americans and European-Americans have with the same places.

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Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory Conference 2009

John M. Chenoweth (UC Berkeley)
From October 16 to 18, participants met at Keble College, Oxford, for the 2009 CHAT conference. Over 30 papers engaged with the theme “Modern Materials: the archaeology of things from the early modern, modern, and contemporary world.” Both participants and subjects of discussion were wide ranging. While many came from all over the UK and Ireland, others contributed points of view from the US, Continental Europe, Africa, and even Taiwan. These papers engaged with “modern materials” from treadmills and theatres to workshops and the bricks they may have been built from, and even extended analysis to the “modern materials” produced in archaeological recording, such as photographs.
Of particular interest were several papers which came from outside the disciple of archaeology or anthropology altogether, such as Pearson’s consideration of the role of the theatre building itself in a performance event, and Fisher’s of the “flow” of modern packaging through homes from a design standpoint. Coupled with Harrison’s inside-the-discipline discussion of amusement parks and the social shifts towards an “experience economy” these papers suggest how direct consideration of material culture produces insights even into the contemporary. This point is reinforced by Ouzman’s consideration of graffiti through an archaeological lens, considering its role in “politically-engaged place-ma(r)king.”

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Gardner, A. 2007. An Archaeology of Identity: Soldiers & Society in Late Roman Britain, Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Robert Collins, University of Newcastle
An Archaeology of Identity: Soldiers & Society in Late Roman Britain by Andrew Gardner (2007) is a work that strives to push forward the current understanding of the Roman Empire, accepting the challenge of incorporating social theory into Roman army studies (James 2002) and contextualizing the milites (soldiers) as social agents, continuing the trend over the past decade of perceiving the Roman army as a social group and not faceless cogs of an imperial military machine (eg Goldsworthy and Haynes 1998; James 2001).
The origins of the book are in AG’s (2001) PhD thesis in Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College of London, but incorporates further developments post-dating the submission of the PhD. The book is separated into six chapters. Chapter 1 (Introduction: the Roman Empire in the 21st century) sets the agenda for the volume, indicating that the soldiers of late Roman Britain serve as a case study for an exploration of much broader issues in archaeology, namely the exploration of the concept of identity and advancing its study in a more theoretically informed fashion. Chapter 2 (The practice of identity) explores the theory behind identity and argues that Gidden’s (1979; 1984; 1993) theory of structuration transcends the duality of (individual) agency and the larger structure(s of society). From this theory, AG distills three themes by which to assess changing identity in late Roman Britain: materiality, temporality, and sociality. The following three chapters explore each of these themes in turn (Chapter 3: The material dimensions of 4th century life: objects and spaces; Chapter 4: The temporal dimensions of 4th century life: traditions and change; and Chapter 5: The social dimensions of 4th century life: interactions and identities). The final chapter, Chapter 6 (Conclusion: Roman Britain in the 4th century) brings the thematic case studies of the previous chapters together to provide an interpretive overview of change through 4th century Britain, drawing on the detailed assessments of military sites and assemblages discussed throughout the work.

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Hicks, D., McAtackney, L. and Fairclough, G. 2007. Envisioning Landscape: Situations and Standpoints in Archaeology and Heritage. Walnut Creek: Left Coast

By Bradley M. Sekedat, Brown University
This edited volume is about a lot of things; so many things, in fact, that creating a summary of its component parts proves somewhat difficult for a brief review. Based on the introductory chapter, however, this difficulty seems intentional or, at the very least, acknowledged by the editors, who develop the structure of the book around the recognition that the methodologies employed in ‘landscape archaeology’ are both diverse and situated. The result is a book with case studies from all over the world: Northern Ireland, the East African coast, Manhattan, Botswana, Central Europe, Atlantic Africa, Greece, Annapolis and the Caribbean. These case studies emphasize culturally specific perspectives and cover a range of important issues from power, perspective, imagined landscapes and time to political economy, vision, creation, interpretation, heritage, utility and more. This book succeeds in pulling together a diverse array of archaeological work pertaining to landscape in a single, manageable volume. The global scope of the book sets it apart from the majority of studies in landscape archaeology, which tend to be region specific. While notable exceptions include Bender (1993) and Ashmore and Knapp (1999), more typical of recent scholarship is a region-specific emphasis, such as the five POPULUS volumes on landscape archaeology in the Mediterranean, the publication of the Side-By-Side conference on the comparability of Mediterranean survey projects (Alcock and Cherry 2004), the Broadening Horizons (Ooghe and Verhoeven 2007) volume on multidisciplinary landscape practices in the Mediterranean and the Near East, or the Damaged Landscapes symposium at the 2008 meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. Hicks et al., then, usefully force the reader to engage with the comparability of landscape studies on a global scale appropriate for a World Archaeology Congress (WAC) volume. On the other hand, the book suffers from a lack of specificity, struggling at times to justify its breadth. It almost completely misses an opportunity to push the discussion of ‘landscape’ and ‘landscape archaeology’ into new territory.

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A Response to The Nation and its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece (2007) by Yannis Hamilakis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

by Elissa Z. Faro (Dartmouth College)
January 20, 2009. On this historic day, when Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America, the issues that Hamilakis considers in this book – the relationship between the modern nation-state and its historical and material past – resonate anew.
Hamilakis’ book aims to address a number of themes that, although discussed in terms of Greece and Greek antiquities, are current issues that concern the larger archaeological and anthropological world. He aims to explore, problematize, and re-examine the concept of archaeology as the practice of producing meanings out of material traces of the past; the concept of national imagination and its relationship with the concept of modernity. For me, as an archaeologist who primarily works in Greece, this book struck a special chord for my own research and fieldwork. At the same time, it triggered many thoughts, responses, and reflections about my own and other’s work in different periods, different regions, and in different developing nations of the world. Below, I will discuss how Hamilakis approaches the complex network of relationships between archaeologists, citizens, politicians, and the larger global world.
Hamilakis’ over-arching framework is based on his view of nationalism, which he sees as a cultural system, an ideology, an ontology, and even the social dreams of a people. In the introductory chapter, he states explicitly that “the book explores the key position of the ancient Greek (mostly Classical) heritage and its material manifestations in the lives, imagination, experiences, anxieties, and hopes of people in Greece” (7). Employing a primarily anthropological methodology – a “multi-sited historical and archaeological ethnography” (cf. Marcus 1995, 1998) – this book tackles issues such as stakeholdership in the past, colonialism, consumerism, and national identity.

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The Earth After Us

A review of ‘The Earth after us: what legacy will humans leave in the rocks?’ by Jan Zalasiewicz. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 2008.
The view of the Earth from the Moon on the front of the book seems both familiar and strange at the same time. The blue jewel of a planet is recognisably ‘home’, only a few decades since space travel first made such a perspective possible. But look again and an important difference is noticed. The continents are the wrong shape, and in the wrong configuration. Is this a view of our planet in the distant past? No, this is the Earth as it is imagined to be 100 million years into the future.
Geologist Jan Zalasiewicz invites the reader to take a step in the scientific imagination far greater than that involved in looking at the Earth from the Moon. For the challenge taken up by the book is to look back at human civilization from a vantage point in time long after the human species itself has disappeared, through observations made by alien beings visiting the planet for the first time. Seeking to understand the geological strata encountered, the alien scientists soon realise that something significant happened 100 million years ago, comparable to the meteorite strike that wiped out the dinosaurs even further back in the Earth’s past. Even before they discover it, they deduce the existence of an event horizon, separating two major geological epochs – an event that triggered massive climate change and extinctions of species evident in strata from later periods. Following a trail of clues, they discover the Human Event Stratum.
The Human Event Stratum may vary from a thin sliver to several metres in thickness, sandwiched between layers of sandstone and shale. Parts of it will have been destroyed by erosion or other geological processes. It is mostly buried, hundreds of metres under the ground, but in places it has been pushed up or exposed by geological forces to outbreak on the surface. Ever wondered what will survive, millions of years hence, of our railway networks, skyscrapers, motorways and rubbish dumps? What about trains and cars, or smaller artefacts like mobile phones and ballpoint pens? Such are the questions which the book poses. In this review I consider briefly some of the implications this book has for contemporary archaeology.

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The Dark Abyss of Time.

A review of Laurent Olivier: Le sombre abîme du temps. Mémoire et archéologie.
Seuil, Paris, 2008.
French theory has had an enormous impact across the social and human sciences during the last forty years. We may hardly understand global trends in archaeology, history or anthropology without structuralism, post-structuralism or the Annales school. One may, thus, wonder why French archaeology has remained mainly untouched by the theoretical paradigms developed in the same country. The truth is that although archaeology in France has not been characterized in general for its theoretical contributions, there is a small but important group of archaeologists whose commitment to theory is out of the question. This group includes, among others, André Leroi-Gourhan, Alain Schnapp, Anick Coudart and Jean-Pierre Demoule. Although not an archaeologist, we should include here Pierre Lemonnier, whose work on the anthropology of technology has been highly influential in archaeology. Laurent Olivier is a member of this select community and the book that is reviewed here will grant him a privileged position not only within the national community of archaeological theorists, but certainly within the world of archaeological thinkers in general.
Olivier’s book is ambitious: he basically proposes to no less than rethink archaeology – a task, until now, mostly reserved to Anglo-Saxon scholars – through a reflection on time. His critical analysis, however, goes well beyond the discipline and cuts to the heart of history. Actually, the main enemy of Olivier is historicism. With its sequential, homogeneous and unilinear rendering of time, historicism has prevailed in the historical sciences. Historicism is what truly kills archaeology and makes it “despairingly superficial” (p. 53): if archaeology wants to be a relevant science, it has to stop resorting to the flawed temporalities of traditional historiography. His critical undertaking leads him to revisit inherited concepts of archaeological practice (including typology and excavation), heritage, and the history of archaeology. In his journey, he finds unexpected allies in people as desperate as Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Aby Warburg and Georges Perec.

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