- Hardcover: 253 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (October 31, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765801655
- ISBN-13: 978-0765801654
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,889,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Artifacts and Ideas: Essays in Archaeology 1st Edition
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“This collection is a fine narrative of the development of Trigger’s metaphysics in his archaeological and historical research. It is accessible, clearly written, and worth close reading.”
—Christopher S. Peebles, Journal of Field Archaeology
"Trigger is a brilliant essayist, and Artifacts and Ideas brings together a number of the most incisive and keenly observed essays he has written in the course of a long and productive career."
—Alison Wylie, Washington University
"Eloquent, subtly nuanced, and thoroughly grounded in the contemporary world, Trigger's essays are an essential guide to the multifaceted archeology of today."
—Brian Fagan, University of California, Santa Barbara
"... a fine narrative of the development of Trigger's metaphysics in his archaeological and historical research. It is accessible, clearly written, and worth close reading."
—Journal of Field Archaeology
About the Author
Bruce G. Trigger is professor emeritus of anthropology at McGill University. His current interests embrace the comparative study of early civilizations and the history of archaeology. His numerous books include The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660, A History of Archaeological Thought, and Sociocultural Evolution.
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This book contains nine previously published essays, and one introductory essay, that span Bruce Trigger's career from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. If the book is united by a central theme then it is the tension between the influence of socio-political interests, contexts, and relativism on archaeological interpretation on the one hand; counter balanced by the empirical constraints of the archaeological record on its interpretation.
The introductory essay is a discussion of the contexts in which he wrote each piece. This and other essays discuss the history of archaeological thought through the Aglo-American tradition of cultural-historical, processual, and postprocessual schools; and Trigger's intellectual relationships and dissatisfaction with the polarizing extremes of these debates. Both sides of the processual-postprocessual divide are given the criticism they are due.
For example, the "New Archaeology" (i.e. processualism) of the 1960 and 70s is critiqued for its environmental determinism, the dismissal of ideology as epiphenomena to cultural change, the over emphasis on generalization and neoevolutionary stages, and its naive positivism. Leaders of the "New Archaeology" movement such as Binford unfairly caricatured all archaeology prior to the 1960s as belonging to the theoretically sterile cultural historical school. They thus ignored other theoretical trends and developments both in North America and the world.
For those interested in Marxist contributions to anthropological archaeology the 1967 essay on Engel's theoretical anticipation for the primacy of labor and tool making, as opposed to large cranial capacity in early human evolution is of particular interest. This article was rejected by a major American anthropology journal because of the fear that it would politically harm modern researchers. This is a good example of how McCarthyist political correctness suppressed considerations of Marxist theory in U.S. anthropology even as late as the 1960s.
Trigger makes his argument for how the dominant political ideas and social relations of the time distort archaeological interpretation in two of his often cited articles, Archaeology and the Image of the American Indian , and Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist and Imperialist.
The first essay traces the history of North American archaeology through successive periods to show how archaeological interpretation is influenced by the dominant political ideas, interests, and concerns of Euro-American culture. For example, prior to 1914 Euro-American stereotypes of native Americans wrote a prehistory of the Americas that saw native Americans as having inherently static and primitive cultures which had not undergone any significant developmental changes. Of course, archaeologists were often confronted with obvious evidence to the contrary, such as the great mound works that dotted the landscape of the eastern North America. This evidence was explained away by claims that contemporary Native Americans were savage recent arrivals who drove away the more advanced cultures thought to either be Aztec-Toltec like peoples of Mexico, or even the more far out "Lost Tribes of Isreal". These erroneous interpretations were not simply that, but were also political rationalizations for the Euro-American displacement of Indian peoples. John Wesley Powell, who also led the debunking of the mound builder myths, also recognized great injustices had been perpetuated against Native Americans. Key to Trigger's argument is that the accumulation of evidence, and improved analysis of the material record eventually leads to the correction of grossly innaccurate and politically biased views of prehistory. Although later perspectives on Native American prehistory may still be in error, the possibility exists for advancements in our knowledge that are at least closer to "objective knowledge".
Trigger's Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist and Imperialist is another excellent examination of how the writing of prehistory of a particular world region and nation state is influenced by the political context of knowledge production and of a nation-state's place within the modern world-system.
Colonialist archaeology is exemplified by the early archaeology of Euro-Americans in North America and the creation of the mound builder myth discussed above. Trigger demonstrates a very similar pattern of socially constructed thought in the archaeology of Australia, New Zealand and colonialist Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). In all cases, colonialist archaeology seeks to deny the cultural achievments of colonized peoples as a rationalization for colonialism.
Nationalist archaeology is defined as a tool of nationalist conciousness raising. The countries of Denmark, Isreal, Mexico, China, and Germany serve as brief case studies. In countries such as Isreal for example, nationalist archaeology leads to a greater emphasis on sites such as Masada where Zealot resistance to the Roman empire occured, and in turn results in the relative neglect of neo-lithic and paleo-lithic archaeology within the borders of Isreal. Trigger also recognizes that his classification is not a clear cut one, in that Isreal's archaeology is also a colonialist one, furthering the motivation to ignore the archaeology of periods prior to ancient Isreal. Changes in political regimes in countries like Egypt and Iran result in shifting emphasis between Islamic and pre-Islamic archaeology. He sees nationalist archaeology as primarily created in weaker peripheral and semi-peripheral nation-states that are threatened by larger more powerful nation-states.
Imperialist archaeology is one that is described as "world oriented" and with a "world mission". It has a base in only a few nation-states that have exerted disproportionate political domininace over weaker nation states. The United Kingodom, the Soviet Union, and the "New Archaeology" of the United States in the post WW II era are the main examples. Imperialist archaeology seems to be a less unified phenomena. Despite differing contexts and explicit theoretical orientations between rival imperial nation-states (i.e. Soviet Marxism vs. U.S. cultural ecology), several themes do emerge. A tendency to emphasize more generalizing unilineal evolutionary schemes of development, technological progress, and varieties of environmental and technological determinism. Particularist cultural traditions on the other hand are de-emphasized.
Trigger tells how various un-named postprocessualist informed him that the essays Alternative Archaeologies and Images of the American Indian had influenced them to become epistemological-relativists. Trigger makes it clear that these archaeologists, have misunderstood his position on these debates. He dedicates one essay, Hyperrelatvism, Responsibility, and the Social Sciences, specifically to this problem. He sharply critiques the views of Hodder, Shanks, Tilley, and others for their views that because the socio-political milieu of the researcher influences archaeological interpretation; that that implies genuine knowledge of the past is impossible. Instead he argues that we should embrace a critical realist position that acknowledges both objective and subjective influences on knowledge production. That would mean critical self-reflection on our own assumptions to mitigate our interpretations of objective archaeological data. He further critiques the view that the epistemological difficulties of archaeology is a license for the archaeologist to write prehistories to advance their own political agendas by relativists means. Alternatively, Trigger argues that if archaeology is to contribute anything to a progressive perspective on the human condition, then the archaeologists should be committed to doing the best they can to approximate objective accounts of the past and human social behaviour.
Although my review here examines the central underlying themes of Artifacts and Ideas, there is much more grist for the mill of archaeologists interested in the history of theoretical debates and the philosophy of science as it relates to archaeology. As an anthology of an archaeological theoretician I greatly respect, this is a great book. However, one criticism I might put forth is that the book could have included several other articles that would have fit well with the central themes. These would be Trigger's Marxism in Contemporary Western Archaeology and History and Contemporary Archaeology, and I am sure there are others that could have been included. Perhaps even an updated discussion of what is useful in Marxist theory for archaeology, and what is dead-wood would have been a welcome addition to the collection. Regardless, still a nice collection of Trigger's work.