Critique of Archaeological Reason
5. Excerpts and summaries

Gavin Lucas

Laerke Recht – September 2014

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Excerpts from Lucas 2001 Destruction

excavation as destructive p. 35       Excavation therefore comes to possess a double meaning, as the recovery and understanding of archaeological remains and, at the same time, the destruction of the context and integrity of those remains.
p. 37       This is, of course, an overstatement and no one seriously argues that everything should be preserved, but by having preservation as the first option, it promotes a philosophy where the sheer existence of archaeological remains is more important than their significance or importance.
      if preservation is taken to its logical extreme, then there will be no more excavation and ultimately no more knowledge
excavation as displacement p. 40       In excavating a site or a feature, we do not annihilate matter, it does not vaporize or disappear - it is merely displaced. This displacement of course alters its configuration and it is this that we are chiefly concerned with - what we generally call 'context'.
      In other words, it is more fruitful to see the paradox of fieldwork as a hermeneutic - rather than destroying that which we wish to understand, we alter it.
excavation as creation p. 42       archaeology is perhaps unique among the social sciences in that it produces its own subject matter through a performance of presencing, of materializing its 'data' through excavation.
excavation vs recording p. 39       This critique highlights a second problem I want to raise; that the received view valorizes the act of fieldwork in such a way that the record is more important than the act of excavation, which is marginalized. As Tilley has expressed it, the final product is more important than the process (Tilley 1989). At the coarsest level, excavation in itself is devalued as a negative, destructive act in contrast to recording, which is positive.
p. 43       The archive as representation carries with it a platonic metaphysics of the original and the copy, the original being the site, the archive the copy.
      Instead of focusing on a 'dependent' or derivative view of the archive as copy, I want to consider its independence, the fact that an archive, instead of representing the site, displaces it. The archive comes to stand in for the site, not as a copy to an original, but simply as a substitute - it is a metaphorical rather than representational relation.
p. 44       Of course there are differences but the desire for a totalizing archive (cf. Carver 1989: 670), that is, an archive which strives too much to be compatible with others, will lose its uniqueness and foster a homogeneous past.

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Excerpts from Lucas 2001 Fieldwork

Archaeology and fieldwork; the beginning of archaeology p. 3       What is the status of the 'field' in archaeology? We might say that without fieldwork, there would be no material to work on, and therefore no archaeology - it is the bread and butter of all archaeologists, even those who do not go into the field themselves. Whether studying transistor radios or palaeolithic hand axes, archaeologists need fieldwork to sustain what they do, to produce the very material or 'data' on which to work. And yet this is perhaps rather too simple. Fieldwork does not just mean the recovery of objects; fieldwork is, as Tilley is at pains to point out, an interpretive excercise, an experience. There is a whole unwritten mythology about the nature of fieldwork.

      Fieldwork, as a professional practice perfomed by the scientists themselves, emerged in the later nineteenth century primarily among naturalists and geologists but also among archaeologists and, slightly later, anthropologists (Kuklick 1997: 48). Earlier, most researchers had relied heavily on material brought back by travellers or specially commissioned collectors; going into the field was not regarded as the proper activity of a gentleman, aspects of both class and commodification being implicated in this.
p. 4       The real advances were made, not by those who did go into the field, but those who largely stayed at home and examined material collected by others, whether this came from abroad or closer to home.
      Typology more than fieldwork characterises the emergence of archeaology as an academic discipline.
From typology/ collection to context/culture pp. 5-6       The defining feature of archaeological work before the 1870s was this focus on collections rather than the observation of material in situ (Kehoe 1998: 34), and, even when this did occur, it was, as with geology, from a desire to answer questions posed by these collections. Most archaeologists, as well as naturalists, stayed at home or at the academy waiting for the material to come to them.
      One could argue that the dominant concern with universalising classification and evolution meant that fieldwork was still viewed primarily as a means of enhancing the collection rather than an interest in the site itself, and only when the idea of culture as a particularistic emerged - that is, culture history or culture groups/areas - did fieldwork become more relevant.
      It ultimately led to the development of a new kind of fieldwork, one based not on simply enhancing collections but on a concern with a more contextual understanding of lifeways. One can easily see how this translated into fieldwork, with a greater concern for the specific spatial and temporal contexts of objects. The primary locus of research necessarily shifts from museums and studies to the field (Boone 1993: 330).
Beginning of stratigraphy p. 30       From this, it is fairly clear what Petrie's priorities are; but more than that, they reveal that while stratigraphy may be relevant in understanding the constructional sequence of a site, neither it nor the sequence itself was the aim of field archaeology; rather these were simply means to an end, the end being understanding the evolution of material culture.
p. 32       What brings most of these archaeologists together is a similar conception of archaeological fieldwork as primarily one concerning the retrieval of artefacts. The actual precision used in such retrieval is in many ways irrelevant since the significance lies not in any stratigraphic context but in a find's relationship to other finds.
The site report/presentation p. 64       The site report as it usually appears today presents a whole classification of archaeological knowledge, one which is not necessarily 'natural', 'scientific' or the best, but one which has developed out of specific historical and theoretical circumstances. The very partitioning and order of information presented in a site report is as implicated in the history and conceptualistion of the discipline as the fieldwork which precedes it.
      Why the split between features and finds, between pots and flint, or artefacts and ecofacts? Why do these particular axes of partition operate as opposed to any other? Why and how did they develop and, perhaps most importantly of all, what effect do they have on our interpretations of the past?
From ideas to behaviour p. 172       Under this functional interpretation of material culture, interpretation of the archaeological record in terms of behaviour rather than normative ideas changed the whole perception of that record. By taking the 'mental' out of the equation, behaviour was no longer an expression of something else (i.e. beliefs) but a primary element in society, functioning to maintain the viability of that society. Beliefs were now in fact just one sub-system (ideological) amontg others (the social and the technological), each having quite different frames of reference but subordinate to the more basic concepts of behaviour and material culture.
Archaeological encounters pp. 16-17       It also highlights an important point about the nature of much archaeology - that it is an encounter, not just observation, albeit active or interpretive observation. We are not simply observers of the traces left behind by people. These traces are not merely impassive objects separated from us as subjects which we must interpret to get to the other subject behind, invisible, absent, gone. We encounter these traces materially and physically, they are alive, they are real. A group of people excavating a site are immersed in this material culture as well as bringing things with them of their own time (trowels, pens, texts, cameras); these intermesh with things of the past (ditches, dirt, pot sherds, bones) and an encounter is created which is unique. But it is an encounter and one which is always lost in the aftermath of excavation in the name of representation.
Defining archaeology pp. 198-199       From a bold perspective, theory/critique is part of the same process of progression in history; without it, there would be no advances, no developments - no history in effect. In this view, history and theory are interlinked in the grand narrative of scientific progress. An alternative view might simply highlight the importance of change, with the critical term not being theory or history but practice; practice lies between them, supported by history, undermined by theory; but in keeping them apart, it also enables them to complement each other through an ongoing hermeneutic. Histories of archaeology do not have to affirm any progress, or even any disciplinary identity - especially as history and theory are integrated through practice. I hope that this book has demonstrated this. But whatever archaeology is, it is not static. The very processes of archaeological interpretation which seem to represent a 'new consensus' (e.g. Preucel 1991; Wylie 1992), namely the interdependency of interpretation and data, must also affect the shape of the discipline as well as the shape of our representations of the past. The power of this dialectic is reflexive as well as dynamic - its effects rebound back on the discipline, how it is constituted, as well as articulating its focus, its subject matter.
      But I think there is still something missing from this equation - something which archaeology itself is all about: marerial culture. ... If material culture is so important and active, equally constituting as constituted by beliefs/theory and behaviour/practice, then we need to include this in our conception of archaeology. Archaeology is not just contemplative, nor is it just a social practice, it is also a material praxis.

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Excerpts from Lucas 2005 Time

time in archaeology p. 1       For it is precisely because time lies at the heart of archaeology that we may take it too much for granted, and fail to see the ways in which time, in particular the way we understand time, affects the way we do archaeology.
pp. 9-10       Archaeologists today take for granted the role of chronologies in the discipline and there is no doubt they form an essential part of archaeological reasoning. But in this section I want to raise some question marks over it, in particular, how chronology affects the nature of archaeological interpretation of the past. I will suggest that chronology - whether relative or absolute - is theoretically problematic and for one chief reason: it presents time as a uniform, linear phenomenon which has tended to define the model for historical explanation in a similar uniform, linear way.
p. 115       Because chronology represents time as a container for events, as something that can transcend or stand outside the specific context of events or objects, a model of history that is equally transcendent has dominated much of archaeological thought - nowhere better expressed that in evolutionism.
grand narratives p. 14       Many archaeologists may find a totalizing narrative reassuring, or have no problem with it. However, there is a very important issue here about constructing stories of the past; for much of archaeology's history, there have been grand narratives that attempt to survey the development of human culture in totality during prehistory - these need not always take the systematic form of social evolution or urban revolutions (e.g. see Sherratt 1995). Many contemporary archaeological studies avoid these grand narratives, yet, at the same time, they give a coherence to archaeology as a discipline. Ultimately, what is at stake here is the Enlightenment vision of a total history, archaeology as a science of humanity where the whole of human history can be embraced within a single chronology.
multi-dimensional time p. 25       By using different scales in archaeological analysis, just as Husserl used two dimensions of succession and retention to represent the multi-dimensionality of temporal experience through the oblique line, a much richer representation of time is created.
otherness of the past and reconstitution pp. 127-128       Archaeology creates this process of alienation by removing an object or site from the present; it removes it from the contemporary world into another time, prehistory or 'the past', an ossified realm that is separate from the present or historical time. This can be done conceptually, but is often given material form through boundaries - fences around sites or glass cases around artefacts - to underline this separation. But there is more to this separation than simple borders. Consider the nature of archaeological exhibits in museums or heritage sites - what characterizes their presentation above all else is their completeness, their pristine appearance, as if unmarked by the passage of time.
      Almost shamefully, archaeologists hide away the thousands and millions of broken pottery sherds, rusting ironwork, decaying bone in boxes in storerooms and in warehouses - yet it is these remains that make up almost all of the archaeological record. It is from these objects we construct narratives of the past. Why such denial? To some extent, this is not quite true: the scrappy nature of much archaeological evidence is deployed to show how clever archaeologists are; like detectives or forensic scientists, we reconstruct past worlds from such insignificant scraps. Yet, herein lies precisely the issue: reconstitution. Their 'scrappiness' ultimately needs to be transformed, fragments made whole again - either physically or metaphorically.
temporal dilemma and conservation pp. 130-131       Conservation and preservation as strategies of cultural resource management, ironically, want to stop the clock for the archaeological remains; they want to take them out of time, out of the flow of time but, in doing so, they help to create the very distance and disconnection to the present that archaeological narratives try so hard to close. We adopt such strategies because we fear their loss, the same fear that actually drives us to excavate and understand such remains in the first place. Archaeological remains incorporate a temporal dilemma: on the one hand they act as material linkages to the past, as traces of the past in the present, embodying the flow of time; but on the other hand, their very fragility forces us to try to take them out of this flow, and keep them separate from the temporality that suffuses our present existence, which includes decay and destruction.