Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Online paper alert Prehistory vs. Archaeology: Terms of Engagement
David Clarke wrote that ‘A modern empirical discipline ought to be able to aim at more rewarding results than the maintenance of … a steady flow of counterfeit history books’ (Clarke 1978, p. 1), and it seemed very clear to him that ‘archaeology is archaeology is archaeology’. When done analytically, it could contribute to an interpretive picture that might be a source for writing prehistory, or even history, but it was—or should be—disciplinarily distinct. More recently, Richard Bradley, decrying a ‘loss of nerve’ among archaeologists, has insisted that we must ‘aspire to write human history’ (1993, p. 131). And, outlining the emerging theory of ‘materiality’, I have described artefacts as ‘social things that yet survive’, and therefore entities with a potential for ‘eroding Clarke’s politely drawn but never wholly convincing distinction between archaeology as a study of artifacts and prehistory as a form of history made possible by it’ (Taylor 2008, p. 315). I will return to this later, but note that, at least from outside our discipline(s), descriptions of what we do, and its preferred terminologies, may be confusing. Are they actually confused?

Haven't read it yet but it's an academic thing, so perhaps too dry for the average reader (or even a lot of professional readers). Reminds me of some of the issues Dunnell tackled in Systematics in Prehistory. Matter of act, he has this to say:
Prehistory has been defined many times and in various ways, this fact itself contributing in no small measure to the vagueness surrounding the meaning. Universal acceptance has not been accorded any definition, at least in part because all the definitions are more or less substantive, tied to a given area or problem. (p.114)

He notes that Spaulding defined 'prehistory' in 1953 as what prehistorians do and nothing more. I guess we're bound to have this discussion every 30 years or so. "What is it we're doing again?"