Monday, December 04, 2006

Lewes Beach dune object
It’s certainly not the oldest object archaeologist Dan Griffith has examined during his career, but, nonetheless, he thinks a wooden gear found partially exposed beneath a Lewes Beach dune is interesting.

. . .

The gear is made of multiple wooden pieces put together with round-headed nails. Each wooden cog is held in place with two nails.

The gear’s bushings are made of wood and the assembly is attached to wood Griffith said appears to be pine. A piece of galvanized pipe with threads cut on the end serves as an axel.

This is almost not-archaeology since it's a recent find (though many would argue that point). It's interesting to see how the object is interpreted though and brings to mind many of the theoretical arguments regarding form, function, and artifact typologies that have gone around over the years. Often, we're faced with objects that have no clearly defined -- to our 20-21st century way of thinking -- "use" or function. RC Dunnell (among others) has made a big deal of this, arguing that many traditional typologies mask functional attributes of objects by assigning them to a generalized category of objects that is based more on what we think it looks like than anything else. "This looks like an axe; thus, all things that look kind of like this in the future I will call 'axes'." These may have some utility, of course; 'arrowheads' probably did, in fact, function as the business ends of arrows. There are a lot of problems with it, of course, not the least of which is multiple functions (either simultaneously or through re-use -- like using a broken arrowhead to scrape a hide). There are other much more involved problems that have been highlighted, but which would require an ungodly long post to explain.

And now a whole subdiscipline of archaeology is tickling my brain right now that's related to this but I can't come up with the name of it or some of its practitioners. . . .ethnoarchaeology? Binford, I think, did some of it, looking at modern/recent hunter-gatherer sites to see if he could reconstruct the activities that had occurred. There are others as well, which a quick search of the web would no doubt turn up.