Women in Archaeology Podcast: Re-Release of ‘Badass Women in Archaeology’

Listen to the podcast on the Women in Archaeology Blog [Click Here] or listen to the podcast on iTunes!

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Join us in celebrating some amazing women in the history of the field!

Show Notes:

*50 Most Important Women in Science

Dig Ventures: Pioneering Women in Archaeology

Rejected Princesses: Zelia Nuttall

Trowel Blazers: see what they are doing in 2019 at the bottom of the page!

Archaeological Fantasies: Gertrude Bell

Book: Ladies of the Field by Amanda Adams

**featured image copied from the Gertrude Bell Archive [1] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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What’s the Point of Archaeological Theory? No Longer Just a Torture Device!

View the rest of the post at the new ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?’ blog!  Check out all of the great contributors to the blog!

Here is the full text:

What’s the Point of Archaeological Theory? No Longer Just a Torture Device!

On a good day, I would say roughly 80 percent of my students hate archaeological theory, if not more.  I’ve had numerous chats with friends and colleagues about their collective hatred of theory.  It’s incredibly confusing stuff.  There was even a time I thought theory was invented to torture students, and in part, that is still true.  Over time—long after graduate school—theory grew on me.  I wouldn’t necessarily want sit down and read a theoretical extravaganza for kicks, but I see it’s usefulness and the need for it to be taught (sorry, students, you’re learning all about it this week).  So, what is ‘archaeological theory’?  Like many of the methods in archaeology, theory is just another tool to help us understand and explain the past.

Let’s get some jargon out of the way.  A ‘theory’ is a policy or procedure that is proposed and/or followed as the foundation of some action.  An ‘archaeological theory’ is then the set of procedures/methods used to conduct research, do an excavation, and interpret the past.  I like to think of theory as a set of lenses you can use to view archaeological data—a variety of extremely serious to super wacky glasses you can put on.  If I had a bunch of artifacts and data from a dig in Mesopotamia, I could use theory as a foundation/starting point to help explain why the site was abandoned, how the layers of dirt on top of the site formed over time, why people wanted to live in that specific area, and so on.

Theory can be taken too seriously.  Consider the following parable of the blind men and the elephant, a story I first heard in graduate school: there was a group of blind men who heard that an elephant had been in town, but none of the men knew the actual shape of an elephant.  When they felt the creature, one thought it was a snake (i.e. the trunk), one thought it was a fan (i.e. the ear), one thought it was a tree-trunk (i.e. the leg), and one thought it was a wall (i.e. the body)—they could only understand parts of the whole and insisted it was that one thing.  So, what on earth does this have to do with archaeology?

Think of the elephant as the material record/all we have left of the past and archaeologists are the blind men trying to interpret this confusing creature.  Each archaeologist is using different means (i.e. theory) to interpret and reconstruct the past.  But, they can be wrong about the interpretation.  Just as the blind men insist that the elephant was a snake or a wall, an archaeologist may misinterpret the past by insisting that that interpretation is the one single way of looking at the past.  We have to look at the whole picture to understand how a group of people lived.

Theory

Archaeologists trying to interpret the past (i.e. elephant) using extreme versions of post-processualism (left, anything goes) and processualism (right, super rigid and doesn’t consider people’s role in making culture).

There are so many archaeological theories to choose from and no single theory is perfect.  There’s processualism, post-processualism, cognitive processualism, processual-plus, neo-Marxism, neoevolutionary theory, feminist and gender theory, phenomenological theory, and so on.  These theories force us to use scientific methods, as well as confront our own biases about the past, and to consider multiple perspectives, human agency (i.e. people make culture), and otherwise neglected voices (i.e. women, elderly, minorities).  I prescribe to processual-plus, since it is a happy medium between competing theories, but it’s important to remember that theory shouldn’t be thought of a rigid framework.  Theory can be seen as a set of guiding principles to help us understand the past.  Choose what works best for you and the type of work you’re doing.  Does that make sense?  Good.  There’s going to be a quiz.

References

For the parable of the ‘Blind Men and the Elephant’: https://www.peacecorps.gov/educators/resources/story-blind-men-and-elephant/

Want to know more about specific theories? Read:

Trigger, Bruce G.

2006 A History of Archaeological Thought. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

What's up, Archaeology?

On a good day, I would say roughly 80 percent of my students hate archaeological theory, if not more.  I’ve had numerous chats with friends and colleagues about their collective hatred of theory.  It’s incredibly confusing stuff.  There was even a time I thought theory was invented to torture students, and in part, that is still true.  Over time—long after graduate school—theory grew on me.  I wouldn’t necessarily want sit down and read a theoretical extravaganza for kicks, but I see it’s usefulness and the need for it to be taught (sorry, students, you’re learning all about it this week).  So, what is ‘archaeological theory’?  Like many of the methods in archaeology, theory is just another tool to help us understand and explain the past.

Let’s get some jargon out of the way.  A ‘theory’ is a policy or procedure that is proposed and/or followed as the foundation of some…

View original post 529 more words

That Old Indiana Jones Cliché

Check out the rest of the blog post at the ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?’ Blog!

Here’s the full text:

Indiana Jones is a terrible example of an archaeologist.  There, I said it.  Not only does he promote the notion that his shenanigans are perfectly normal activities for an archaeologist, Indiana Jones is pretty much a glorified looter.  Yes, I realize I’m lambasting a fictional character, but this character has generated interest in archaeology while also being destructive to the field.  Last week was the start of a new semester and I had my students go around the room and relate why they wanted to take the course and what they hoped to learn.  Roughly 80 to 90 percent of my students cited Indiana Jones as the reason for taking Introduction to Archaeology.  A part of me is grateful that so many young people are interested in learning about archaeology, but I fear disappointing them when they discover it’s not quite as swashbuckling and Nazi-punching a field as depicted in the movies.  And trust me, I wouldn’t mind punching a Nazi.

George Lucas had a specific vision for Indiana Jones, stating that “He really started being a grave robber, for hire, is what it really came down to. And the museums would hire him to steal things out of tombs and stuff” (Metz 2014).  And we see that vision throughout the movies as he takes artifacts from temples, crying out “this belongs in a museum!”  But does it?  At what cost to the indigenous communities that held that artifact as sacred?  According to Jacobs (2017), the “Jones franchise conceals a far more contentious — and often racist — past than is alluded to in the films. In other words, when Harrison Ford delivers the phrase, “That belongs in a museum!” what Dr. Jones really means is: “That belongs in my museum!””

And at what cost the archaeological record? Taking one artifact from an archaeological site can change the story of what happened in the past—every article of the past matters, as does everything within it’s own context (i.e. everything left in place where it was discarded).  Furthermore, Jones makes archaeology about treasure hunting, instead of the process and everything involved in building the material record.

After one student sheepishly admitted his admiration of Indiana Jones, I launched into my often repeated lecture on Indiana Jones: he can be a great starting point to get people interested in archaeology, but there are so many better examples out there of amazing archaeologists doing fascinating work!  Just look at Gertrude Bell, an early 20th century adventurer and pioneer of Middle Eastern archaeology (Troweltales.com).  Not only was she the first Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she fought hard for artifacts to remain in the country where they were found instead of treasure hunting.

So, at the end of the day, what can be said for this Nazi-punching, artifact taking adventurer?  At least the lure of Indiana Jones get students into archaeology courses. Then it’s up to all of us archaeologists to teach them about the scientific side of the field, as well as it’s long history as a practice (i.e. the good, the bad, and the ugly).  The field is not some kind of crazy free-for-all and there are real consequences for destroying archaeological sites, stealing artifacts, and not including the communities that have a connection to the past.  Describing archaeological theory, survey and excavation methods, and the intense amount of paperwork involved in the practice may not seem as exciting, but it’s where Indiana Jones ends and real science begins.

References

Jacobs, Justin M.

2017 “Indiana Jones and the big lie: here’s what the franchise gets wrong about the hunt for lost treasures.” The Washington Post. Electronic resource, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/12/11/indiana-jones-and-the-big-lie/?utm_term=.241cb7f34f04

Metz, Nina

2014 “What Indiana Jones gets wrong (and right) about archaeology.” Chicago Tribute. Electronic resource, https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/movies/ct-chicago-closeup-indiana-jones-20141106-column.html

Trowelblazers.com

What's up, Archaeology?

Indiana Jones is a terrible example of an archaeologist.  There, I said it.  Not only does he promote the notion that his shenanigans are perfectly normal activities for an archaeologist, Indiana Jones is pretty much a glorified looter.  Yes, I realize I’m lambasting a fictional character, but this character has generated interest in archaeology while also being destructive to the field.  Last week was the start of a new semester and I had my students go around the room and relate why they wanted to take the course and what they hoped to learn.  Roughly 80 to 90 percent of my students cited Indiana Jones as the reason for taking Introduction to Archaeology.  A part of me is grateful that so many young people are interested in learning about archaeology, but I fear disappointing them when they discover it’s not quite as swashbuckling and Nazi-punching a field as depicted in…

View original post 475 more words