Critique of Archaeological Reason
5. Excerpts and summaries

Giorgio Buccellati

Marco De Pietri – February 2014

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Excerpts from Buccellati, G. 2017, A Critique of Archaeological Reason. Structural, Digital and Philosophical Aspects of the Excavated Record, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

integrated whole pp. 37-38 2.8.3 Structural archaeology
     If there is a label that applies to the kind of archaeology characterized by the approach suggested here, it is “structural” – in the sense that it builds on the principle that all data are seen as part of an integrated whole that is more than the sum of its parts (for a fuller development of the concept of structure see below, chapter 14). This integrated whole is the way in which the data are excavated and then are understood and translated into a coherent representation. Of course, any excavation report does this – i. e., it translates the site into an analogical counterpart. But for this analogical counterpart to be structural, the emphasis must be on the internal logical coherence, the “grammaticality,” of the end result.
     One might also argue that any report is structural, in the sense that for it to make sense it must have some degree of internal organization that meets known logical criteria. But such a loose understanding of the concept of structure proves soon to be inadequate. For the resulting whole can easily become a mere congeries of components, defned in an ad hoc sort of fashion and linked by external criteria which do not explain how the individual parts add up to a meaningful whole. There is no doubt that even such a loose arrangement is useful – much as a telephone book is useful. But under these conditions the usefulness is limited to a narrow number of purposes, in fact, the single purpose, in the case of a telephone book, of serving to provide name retrieval in an alphabetical order. In other words, the telephone book is undoubtedly endowed with structure, but one that is so simple as to have hardly any use for any advanced type of analysis.
     Another example would be to say that all the possible sentences of a language do constitute a grammar of that language, since they describe fully the language. Or again we might think of a linguist who, facing informants, simply asks them to speak, without posing leading questions. What kind of linguistic analysis would be possible under such conditions? Clearly, a very limited one. Analogously, the unexcavated site is, one might say, a form of report, since all the data are there – but a hopelessly opaque report, and impervious to analysis. Or similarly, and at the opposite extreme, if we were to have dozens of video cameras recording continuously every moment of the excavation from every conceivable angle, we would indeed have a record. But, again, one that is essentially impervious to analysis, hence one that could hardly be called structural. Structural archaeology, instead, aims to identify the flaments that hold together all the data as an integrated whole, and to address the very question of what this whole is as such.”
emplacement and deposition pp. 57-58 4.4 Emplacement and deposition: a basic antinomy
     Serious refection on the nature of emplacement and deposition, and on the need to consider them as distinct moments of stratigraphic analysis, is a crucial prerequisite in the search for objectivity (see Tani 1995). There is a fundamental antinomy built into the interrelationship of the two. On the one hand, we can only document contacts between elements as they are seen physically in their (static) emplacement. On the other, we cannot physically see these contacts unless we frst remove (dynamically) the elements that are defned by those very contacts. In other words, we must develop depositional inferences in order to lay bare the emplacement.
     The nature of the antinomy emerges even more sharply if we look at another aspect of the same problem. When we seek to identify types of contact between elements in the ground, we are seeking to document purely spatial relationships. But when, in order to see the contact, we must choose which element to remove, we operate on the basis not of spatial, but of temporal considerations: what came later must be removed frst. So – the determination of a temporal sequence is properly depositional in nature, but the primary aim of documentation is spatial contact. In other words, the static aspect of spatial juxtaposition cannot even be seen without a foregoing hypothesis about the dynamic temporal process that resulted in the juxtaposition. The antinomy then is that the identifcation of static juxtaposition (emplacement) depends on our understanding of the dynamic process that caused it (deposition), and yet conversely deposition can only be inferred from an observation of emplacement.
     To state the antinomy in these terms helps us to propose an answer to the basic underlying problem. We must indeed operate in a dual mode, seeking the evidence for emplacement all the while developing a strategy based on deposition. But the levels of analysis must be kept sharply distinct, and the moments through which the inferential argument develops must be clearly identifed. Obviously, the depositional inference is not created in a vacuum: it rests on initial clues, which of their very nature relate to emplacement. On the basis of these clues, one develops an excavation strategy – the frst moment of the stratigraphic argument. The second moment is a careful check as to whether the depositional inference holds up: does the emplacement record as unveiled confrm the initial inference? How should the excavation strategy be modifed, if at all? There develops a constant give and take between the observation of actual (if fragmented) data in the ground on the one hand, and on the other the choice as to which element ought to be removed next. And a close monitoring of this give and take, coupled with a constant alertness for the distinction between static spatial emplacement on the one hand, and dynamic temporal deposition on the other, are the two claims we can make for objectivity.”
pp. 75-77 5.2.5 In search of laws
     A major theoretical concern of archaeology has been the establishment of laws. But the ones proposed pertain typically to the social sciences, which are not specifcally archaeological either in scope (they do not pertain to stratigraphy) nor in their method (which is borrowed from such other felds as philosophy or sociology). What are then properly archaeological laws? In a broad sense, they are the rules that preside over the excavation process, understood as the disentangling of stratigraphy. There will be, accordingly, two major sets of laws, those that pertain to emplacement and that add up to a properly defned theory of excavation; and those that predict deposition from emplacement, i. e., depositional laws that describe time as a function of space. I will deal briefy with each in turn, in this and in the next section.
     I have already addressed the need for developing a proper theory of excavation (5.2.5; 4.4). It is, after all, the main thing for which archaeologists can claim exclusivity, since it is the task that no one but an archaeologist does. The distinction between emplacement and deposition; the defnition of what minimal constituents are; the clarifcation of the range of contacts – these are aspects of what a full-fedged theory of excavation will aim to develop. I will not here develop the topic about laws in and of itself. I am however explicitly presupposing such a theory, and I am articulating some of the principles that underlie the specifc implementation I am proposing. Beyond that, I can only point to the need for developing a greater awareness for it, as well as to the desirability of a more extensive discourse about it within the discipline.
     It should be noted that the concept of law is essentially grammatical in nature, in that it must be not only predictive, but also circumscribed within an all inclusive system. This is an important aspect that is easily underestimated. The larger whole, to be grammatical, has to subsume constituents that are not only clearly defned in themselves; they must also be described as elements of arrays, or paradigms, that are systemically linked. Thus a law will never afect constituents in isolation, but rather it will resonate across the spectrum and potentially touch every other constituent across the linked paradigms. We may refer back to the three-way law pertaining to stoplights as they afect vehicular trafc (3.4.1). If other colors were added, it would afect the meaning of the original three; it would reduce the assurance with which the diference may be perceived; it would afect the speed in the response to the stimulus; and so on. The original contrast is loaded with meaning in ways that are only made explicit as one investigates the impact that each individual element has on the others. Accordingly, defnitions and laws afecting their relationships must be established through a careful process that is deductive, i. e., one that generalizes from universal principles, but is the same time also inductive, i. e., one that draws on actual data as observed. Such a comprehensive theory of excavation is one of the important tasks ahead.

5.3 Deposition: time as function of space
5.3.1 An archaeological inference
     Deposition is a properly archaeological inference, meaning that the argument on which it is based is based exclusively on a consideration of the traces in the material record (2.3.1), i. e., on emplacement. This refers essentially to the ability to construe spatial relationships as defned by contiguity and contact in function of the temporal sequence with which elements have in fact come int contact with each other. The correlation between type of contact and inferred sequence is such that we can properly speak of archaeological or depositional “laws,” i. e., laws that explain the dynamics of how things got, over time, to where they are now, statically, in space (see also below, 15.10.4) (see also the principles in Bahn 2001: “stratigraphy”).

5.3.2 Emplacement as a clue to deposition
     The fundamental presupposition in this respect is that emplacement contains in itself an inherent clue to temporal sequence. In other words, each type of contact as explicitly and precisely defned when observed in the ground is assumed to refect a univocal depositional cause that has efected emplacement as we see it. This is why the paradigm of the types of contact (described in detail in the Grammar) is one of the most important features of an archaeological grammar, both theoretically and practically. Theoretically, it must be truly inclusive and exclusive, i. e., it must include every possible spatial confguration while it must exclude any variable that is purely allomorphic (see 3.6). Only thus can the relationship between emplacement and deposition be truly univocal, i. e., such as to “require” an inevitable consequence (on which is predicated the proper functioning of a law as such). Deposition emerges in this light as the assumed development for the embedding of elements as we discover them in the ground. And this approach gives us the key that makes possible a higher level documentation, namely the key for documenting process.
     Practically, the paradigm of the types of contact is of critical importance because it has a direct impact on strategy. We must remove frst what was last depositionally, and a proper understanding of this sequencing, as well as its documentation, is thus the indispensable presupposition to any decision reached during the course of excavation.”