Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Working together benefits archaeological, Indian worlds
If you were to judge on the basis of newspaper headlines, you would think the relationship between American Indians and archaeologists was dominated by controversy and conflict.

In marked contrast, in a paper published in a new book, Cross-Cultural Collaboration: Native Peoples and Archaeology in the Northeastern United States, archaeologists Michael Petraglia and Kevin Cunningham show how science and traditional knowledge can produce a richer understanding of the archaeological record.

As part of this process, they were invited to participate in a traditional sweat-lodge ceremony. Afterward, the archaeologists realized they had the opportunity to study the physical remains of the ceremony to get a sense of what such an activity might look like to archaeologists at similar ancient sites.

With the permission and cooperation of their Nanticoke hosts, team members carefully mapped the ceremonial fire pit, the rocks that had been heated, other rocks that had been gathered but not used, and the floor plan of the lodge itself.

I've always been on the skeptical side with regards to analogy because it's so dashedly difficult to control for equifinality. In fact, while doing a bit of trolling around the Web for this post I found three different interpretations (all ethnographically observable) for Binford's famous smudge pits: hide smoking, ceramic smoking, and bug control. The whole concept of ethnographic analogy got a workthrough in archaeology in the late '60s through early '80s, with most archaeologists I daresay coming down on the side of using analogy very carefully and largely for hypothesis generation rather than as an interpretive tool.

See this page (interesting web site on the whole, too) and this page for some background.

Also found this paper on analogy and Biblical archaeology.

And, appropos of nothing really to do with analogy, see this article which I on feminist archaeology from another site I'd never heard of.