Archaeology has always been marked by its particular care, obligation, and loyalty to things. While archaeologists may not share similar perspectives or practices, they find common ground in their concern for objects monumental and mundane. This book considers the myriad ways that archaeologists engage with things in order to craft stories, both big and small, concerning our relations with materials and the nature of the past.
Literally the “science of old things,” archaeology does not discover the past as it was but must work with what remains. Such work involves the tangible mediation of past and present, of people and their cultural fabric, for things cannot be separated from society. Things are us. This book does not set forth a sweeping new theory. It does not seek to transform the discipline of archaeology. Rather, it aims to understand precisely what archaeologists do and to urge practitioners toward a renewed focus on and care for things.
1. Introduction: Caring about Things
2. The Ambiguity of Things: Contempt and Desire
3. Engagements with Things: The Making of Archaeology
4. Digging Deep: Archaeology and Excavation
5. Things in Translation: Documents and Imagery
6. Futures for Things: Memory Practices and Digital Translation
7. Timely Things: From Argos to Mycenae and Beyond
8. Making and the Design of Things: Human Being and the Shape of History
9. Getting on with Things: A Material Metaphysics of Care
Bjørnar Olsen, Professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Tromso.
Michael Shanks is Omar and Althea Hoskins Professor of Classics at Stanford.
Timothy Webmoor is Research Fellow in Science and Technology Studies at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at the University of Oxford.
Christopher Witmore is Associate Professor with the Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures at Texas Tech University.
“This book exhorts the reader to embrace the materiality of archaeology by recognizing how every step in the discipline’s scientific processes involves interaction with myriad physical artifacts, ranging from the camel-hair brush to profile drawings to virtual reality imaging. At the same time, the reader is taken on a phenomenological journey into various pasts, immersed in the lives of peoples from other times, compelled to engage their senses with the sights, smells, and noises of the publics and places whose remains they study. This is a refreshingly original and provocative look at the meaning of the material culture that lies at the foundation of the archaeological discipline.”—Michael Brian Schiffer, author of The Material Life of Human Beings
“This volume is a radical call to fundamentally rethink the ontology, profession, and practice of archaeology. The authors present a closely reasoned, epistemologically sound argument for why archaeology should be considered the discipline of things, rather than its more commonplace definition as the study of the human past through material traces. All scholars and students of archaeology will need to read and contemplate this thought-provoking book.”—Wendy Ashmore, Professor of Anthropology, UC Riverside
"A broad, illuminating, and well-researched overview of theoretical problems pertaining to archaeology. The authors make a calm defense of the role of objects against tedious claims of 'fetishism.'"—Graham Harman, author of The Quadruple Object
Caring about things
This book is about archaeology and things. It considers the ways in which archaeologists deal with things, how they articulate and engage with them. The book offers a series of snapshots of archaeology as design and craft; archaeology is proposed as an ecology of practices, tacit and mundane, rich and nuanced, that work on material pasts in the present. We argue that a mark of archaeology is its particular kind of care, obligation, and loyalty to things.
Our purpose in this introduction is to specify why archaeology should carry the moniker of the "discipline of things." There is a growing litany of academic fields that now place emphasis on object-oriented approaches, taking things, their objecthood and materiality, seriously (Bennett 2010; Brown 2003; Bryant, Srnicek, and Harman 2010; DeLanda 2006; Domanska 2006a and b; Harman 2002, 2009a and 2011; Henare, Holbraad and Wastell 2007; Latour 2005; Latour and Weibal 2005; Preda 1999). It would certainly be disingenuous fully to disassociate ourselves from such academic kinetics, yet our novelty of purpose lies in revisiting, articulating, and developing what archaeologists have always done since the days of antiquarian science, and to emphasize how much archaeology brings to this new focus on things. Indeed, we even argue that archaeology offers an essential grounding to this ontological turn. This point is strangely absent from what is an increasingly pressing transdisciplinary discussion (cf. Latour and Weibel 2005; Preda 1999; Trentmann 2009; however, see Domanska 2006a). This is not to say that archaeologists are not undertaking work that engages with the discussion (see, e.g., Alberti and Bray 2009; Alberti et al. 2011; Brown and Walker 2008; DeMarrais, Gosden, and Renfrew 2004; Harrison and Schofield 2010; González-Ruibal 2008; González-Ruibal, Hernando, and Politis 2011; Hodder 2011; Jones 2007; Knappett 2005; Knappett and Malafouris 2009; Lucas 2012; Meskell 2005; Olivier 2008; Olsen 2003 and 2010; Schiffer with Miller 1999; Walker 2008; Webmoor and Witmore 2008; Witmore 2004b; see also contributions to Hicks and Beaudry 2010). However, it is quite appropriate to suggest that archaeology is most often caricatured by other fields of endeavor as a circumscribed set of technical practices and interests that bear only indirectly upon the key terms of debate taken up in the ontological turn to things. On the other hand, archaeologists have not been as vocal as they could be in correcting such a view. There is an old and deeply rooted inferiority complex among some archaeologists, encapsulated in a self-image of archaeology as a second-rate, social science. This is often accompanied by an embarrassment that archaeology studies "just things," in contrast to the supposed cultural richness and subjective presence of text and voice. There is also even outright ambivalence and obscurity concerning the character and scope of archaeological practices.
We are far more optimistic. Indeed, we would go so far as to suggest that archaeology has developed an extended historiographical scope over the past few decades, offering a much broader scope than history itself (consider Foucault's use of the terms archaeology (1972, 1973) and genealogy (1977, 1984)). Archaeology encompasses the mundane and the material; its work is the tangible mediation of past and present, of people and their cultural fabric, of the tacit, indeed, the ineffable. It is this broad ecology of practices that we seek to understand better.
The Discipline of Things
One can read the notion that archaeology is the discipline of things in many ways. Our own reading is deeply practical; that is, centered upon what it is that archaeologists do. When one contemplates the hundreds of labor hours spent measuring, plotting, and drawing scenes on Corinthian perfume jars (aryballoi) by a practitioner interested in the development of ceramic design; when one considers the thousands of photographs deployed in documenting the excavations at Hissarlik in the waning decades of the nineteenth century, it seems trivial for an archaeologist to underline the point that words cannot provide an adequate expression for the ways the world actually exists. Words alone fail us with respect to matters of ontology. Therefore, we maintain also an elliptical drive to the expression "archaeology is the discipline of things," because we are not seeking to hammer out a fixed meaning.
The proposition that archaeology is the "discipline of things" does carry both rhetorical and etymological weight. Rhetorical, because in looking for the "Indian behind the artifact," many archaeologists (but by no means all), whether through embarrassment or an urge to engage with vanguard intellectual debates, have disregarded and ultimately forgotten the very thing they know best-things (Olsen 2003; 2010). Etymological, because one may translate ta archaia, one of the two components of the word archaeology, literally as "old things." Put this together with the second component of the word, logos, and one might speak of the "science of old things." Of course, the question of what both these components are is by no means straightforward (consider Shanks and Tilley 1992).
Practically speaking, the empirical fidelity of archaeology has always been to (old) things: Corinthian aryballoi, former Roman fortifications, avenues at Teotihuacan, abandoned Soviet mining towns, Sámi hearths, and mud bricks. As an empirical science, archaeology is concerned with the elucidation and analytic observation of immediate experience within which things play myriad roles, as do practitioners. These concerns play out across an iterative process of engagement and manifestation shaped by commitments to accuracy and adequacy of articulation and expression. Every science, as Alfred North Whitehead phrased it, "must devise its own instruments" (1978 , 11). It has been in this very regard that archaeology has often labeled itself as a secondary science (applied or derivative), one that adds the products of forerunner disciplines and sciences (such as math and physics) to their accounts of the past (see, e.g., Nichols, Joyce, and Gillespie 2003).
However, the adjective "secondary" is not a scarlet letter of shame. Many of the so-called "secondary" sciences (e.g., education or nursing) are, in fact, sciences of care (Mol 2008). And here, we may draw a contrast with the "heroic" and lofty pursuit of the natural sciences (within archaeology, consider Gero and Conkey 1991). While not all archaeologists share similar perspectives, and neither do they necessarily share similar practices, there is nevertheless common ground-things draw the discipline together. Here we come closer to our reading of the discipline of things in the practical sense, that is, in terms of what it is that we do as archaeologists. From this angle, the phrase "discipline of things" underlines what is foremost a feeling of care and concern for legion material entities, from the monumental to the utterly mundane. Equally this moniker refers to how things themselves are "lures for feeling," as Alfred North Whitehead put it (1978 , 87). We aim to put intuition, emotional allure and tacit engagement with things on the same footing as any intellectual rationale for the discipline.
Given the humanistic framing of so many archaeological endeavors, the notion of archaeology as secondary science is inadequate. From the big stories of urban development, the role of humanity in environmental change, or the rise of distinctive forms of complex polity, to the incidental details of animal figures in Scandinavian rock art, stems of clay smoking pipes, or the morphology of a human/bull cooking pot, archaeology has long delivered messages, whether analytical, critical, and/or speculative, that relate to the core of the human condition. It is also these big and small stories that make archaeology one of the most popular of the human and social sciences when it comes to public outreach and appeal.
From our angle, the phrase "the discipline of things" underscores a duty, an obligation, a need on the part of practitioners, to "always and consistently remember things" (Olsen 2003; 2010). Indeed, in their engagements with things, archaeologists are obliged to be bricoleurs. We collect bits and pieces, not because of an erratic whim (though, at times, this certainly is the case), but because of a commitment, a fidelity to the materials we engage. Bricolage is not without inevitable risks that may dull its edge. Theoretical incoherence, superficiality, trivialization, and redundancy can be the fruits of impulsive eclecticism, and their returns are depreciative at best. Weary of false beacons, the feral work of bricolage avoids proceeding haphazardly, by stubbornly going where it is led by its matters of concern.
John Dewey characterized the difference between science and art as one of statement versus expression. Statement, according to Dewey, "sets forth the conditions under which an experience of an object or situation may be had" (1980, 88). Expression, by contrast, does not lead to an experience; it constitutes one. Dewey's distinction is relevant on a number of levels, but here we underline it insofar as things demand numerous, often wild, angles of orientation of the archaeologist and archaeology. This is well evidenced in those crossovers with arts practice and vice versa (consider Dion and Coles 1999; Renfrew 2003; Shanks and Hershman 2009, Andereassen, Bjerck, and Olsen 2010). Playing upon the disjuncture between art and craft, we have suggested that archaeology is profitably seen as the latter (Shanks 1992; Shanks and McGuire 1996; Shanks and Witmore 2010; see also Schnapp and Shanks 2009). Craft suggests modes of activities enacted with an intense awareness, shaped through iterative engagement with materials and making, of the qualities of materials. In this,practice is not a compartmentalized mode of activity sealed off from theory.
Here we may also connect archaeology as craft to the practice of design. Design we define broadly as a field of integration, of pulling together whatever is necessary to attend to a problem needing solution, of application of diverse fields of skill and expertise (typically engineering, psychology, materials science, and anthropology) with the interests, needs, or desires of an individual or group, of management of this process of making. It is a pragmatics of bricolage. It is also a field of rhetoric, where arguments are made for a particular solution, where what is designed is frequently an implicit argument for what is wished for. Both craft and design imply local attention, working in a humble way in a process that will deliver an artifact, an open process of constant and iterative improvement.
Considering its many, seemingly incommensurable islands of exclusivity, formed in the schisms between what was formerly recognized as culture-history, processualism, and postprocessualism, archaeology resembles an archipelago. Its diversity is born out in the lengthy roster of approaches it has generated, which include archaeometry, behavioral archaeology, Darwinian archaeology, historical archaeology, social archaeology, heritage studies, and cultural resource management. Such variety is not without the potential further to indulge our differences along lines of divergence and turn away from a common struggle. We four are not concerned with what separates us, but with what pulls us together, that is, what matters for us. The strategy we follow in this book is not necessarily an attempt at integration (cf. Hodder 2011). We do not seek to smooth out disciplinary differences in engagement; rather, we believe our differences to be a strength so long as we focus on what binds us to a common struggle, shared worries, obligations, and mutual concerns, namely, things.
Things have repeatedly proved to be so bewilderingly variegated, distinct and unruly that no one field of practice can encompass them (Latour 1999, 176). Archaeology's larger loyalty to things necessitates such vast diversity. The ecology of practices that is archaeology is fully encapsulated by neither the arts and humanities nor the sciences. Indeed, in this we are better served by the old Latin meaning of the word disciplina as the instruction of disciples than by Michel Foucault's pervasive rendering of discipline. One could almost say that archaeologists are devout followers of things.
What then do we do with the designation "old things"? Antiquities, remnants, ruins, traces, vestiges; the bracketing of things in terms of an erstwhile existence, as the material past, has tended to fall into a scheme where the past is taken to exist apart from the present. That this separation has largely occurred through significant connecting chains of labor invested in typologies, classification, and standardization; that this has rested upon the management of legions of artifacts with the aid of instruments, cabinets, tables, rooms, and corridors in contract offices, universities, and museums is often overlooked. It is partially in taking archaeology's own achievements for granted that we forget how much work has gone into creating this divide between past and present. To assume that the past is gone accords the position of intermediaries, rather than full-blown mediators, to the things of archaeology. We run afoul of things when we assume a demarcated, disconnected past as the ontological starting point for what we do in the present. Archaeology does not discover the past as it was; archaeologists work with what has become of what was; what was, as it is, always becoming.
The remains of the past are all around us. We recognize the past as spatially coextensive with the very labor that attempts to articulate it. This labor relies on what things are willing to share regarding their prior involvementsin the present. Archaeology is certainly not the only field whose labor consists of myriad, ceaseless interactions with things; consider, for example, anthropology, design studies, engineering, ethnology, or museum studies. Making the claim that archaeology is the discipline of things has nothing to do with claiming privilege or exclusive domain; rather, it is to offer a competence and to seek to have it duly recognized. It goes to the heart of what archaeology is, and has always been, about. In approaching things, we do not seek to set forth a new theory that can be applied across diverse situations. We do not offer a series of boxes in which to place former aqueducts, long barrows, or 2,700-year-old perfume jars. Our charge, our task, is respectfully to return to things.
In his book Archaeology from the Earth, Sir Mortimer Wheeler insisted that which the archaeologist excavates is "not things, but people" (1954, v). Six years after Wheeler penned these words from his office in the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London (in 1952), Robert J. Braidwood observed in his obituary of Vere Gordon Childe, the Institute's former director, that he never forgot the "Indian behind the artifact" (1958, 734). These sentiments may serve to highlight what one of us (Olsen 2010) has described as an increasing embarrassment about studying "just things" among practitioners, for whom an Early Iron Age pit in Yorkshire, successive layers of plaster on a former wall in Iraq, or a rouletted dish from South India, for example, only are important insofar as they provide access to the human beings assumed to lie behind them. This conception of things as just means to reach something else, something more important, what we connect in chapter 8 with the notion of "an expressive fallacy," must be seen against the backdrop of the changes that had taken place in the human and social sciences, and perhaps most notably in anthropology (see chapter 2). In this new disciplinary regime, culture was seen as a separate, nontangible realm. "Culture is unobservable, is non-material," Walter Taylor (1983 , 102) had already observed when Wheeler and Braidwood thus situated people behind things. In dooming the study of things to futility, anthropologists left little room for them, and archaeologists responded by claiming that it was not for the things that we were digging but for the people behind them.
Christopher Hawkes (1954) and Lewis Binford (1962) would push matters further by arguing that archaeology comprised more than the lower rungs of a ladder reaching up from material remains to immaterial cultural values and frames. Binford confidently asserted that while archaeologists could not dig up a "kinship terminology or a philosophy ... we can and do excavate the material items which functioned together with these more behavioral elements within the appropriate cultural sub-systems" (1962, 218-19). Archaeology was argued to be anthropology, and to get there it needed to reach beyond the artifact (Garrow and Yarrow 2010, 2-3; Olsen 2010, 23-26). And despite the self-proclaimed differences among those who came to be labeled postprocessualists, meanings, values, and beliefs remained locked in an exclusive province in which material things did not reside, although they provided access to it. Things "were indicative of and not essential to culture.... The whole productive idea of using artifacts to reconstruct the whole of an extinct society saw artifacts as leftovers, not as essential to the very existence of social life," Mark Leone (2007, 206) has pertinently remarked. For those who worried about the potential slippage of archaeology back into its embarrassing history of describing just things, there was the "corrective" of a social archaeology (Webmoor and Witmore 2008).
Of course, it would be disingenuous to claim archaeologists have not targeted the problematic of dualistic thinking. Archaeology is currently filled with attempts to "move beyond," "overcome," "transcend," and even "resolve" the myriad dichotomies that are basically variants of human and world. Along these lines, it has become somewhat dogmatic in certain areas of archaeology, material culture studies, and beyond to argue that people make things and things make people. The mantra of mutual constitution is at its very best a stopgap to balance the books, at worst a sleight-of-hand concession for those who ultimately maintain "the strong arm of humanism" (Webmoor and Witmore 2008). One of the premises of this book is that things do not reside in some separate realm or another domain of reality removed from the territory of society.
Mutual constitution, moreover, breaks down in several ways. First, it vastly oversimplifies things by ignoring the wider ecology of mixed and heterogeneous entities and relations that they draw together. Second, it forgets or ignores the bewildering variety of roles things play. Third, it disregards the qualities that things offer in a given situation. Fourth, it remains centered on the supposed primal rapport between humans and the world, thus it is "correlationist" (Meillassoux 2008). There are several observations to be made here.
First, interactions between kilns, reducing atmospheres, heat, clay, and slip are far too complex to be pared down to the hegemonic relationship between humans and the rest of the world. Our argument runs against the assumption that, as Gilbert Simondon put it, "technical objects contain no human reality" ( 1958). The makeup of a Leica M3 camera gathers achievements far more diverse in space and time, far more heterogeneous in composition, than a look at its production in Wetzlar would reveal. An immense genealogy of achievement in optics, geometry, high-temperature manufacture, leather working, and so forth, lay behind the making of the Leica. Moreover, the ontogenesis of this camera involves a kind of "internal necessity," as Simondon puts it, where the object self-realizes. That is, the Leica plays a role in its own formation; its design requires the presence and articulation of certain components for it to exist and work.
Second, a long-standing sentiment situates archaeological data as coarse and incidental by comparison to the richness of ethnographic accounts. Comparing archaeology to anthropology, Edmund Leach scolded archaeologists in 1973 for aspiring to address "How" and "Why" questions. He thought they should stick to "What," and even then, "in the last analysis, archaeology must be concerned with people rather than things" (1973, 768; also see discussions in Garrow and Yarrow 2010; Holbraad 2009). This sentiment, however, rests upon an assumption about the nature of the materials archaeologists engage with as of interest only in relation to humans. It also ignores the nature of archaeological practice, which is a process of co-emergence with the material past. The past is always the outcome of our practices, in which things that provide indications as to their nature play a part, and to no small degree. In this, the how is never separate from the what.
Archaeologists have become too timid in the face of anthropology, too eager for anthropological approbation (though see Garrow and Yarrow 2010; also Gosden 1999). There was never a need to await a confidence gained through maturity to defend our practices. Archaeology does not operate under the same refrains as anthropology, because anthropology relies heavily upon the exclusivity of the human-world gap. Archaeologists need not take this as fundamental. Indeed, one of our premises is that, as practitioners, we do not work with a rule book that is separate from the material world; again, we are part of this world that we seek to better understand. "Things are us" (Webmoor and Witmore 2008) and "persons are things too" (Ingold 2010, 6). Our achievement, as Isabelle Stengers puts it, should "not be abstracted from the practice that produced it" (2011, 376).
We treat notions such as past and present, and subject and object, as the purified outcomes of practice rather than the starting points: the past is accessed through archaeological (and other) practices. The real problem with such dualities is not so much one of oversimplification; it is rather "that human and world are taken as the two fundamental ingredients that must be found in any situation," as Graham Harman argues (2010, 146). Gauging the ontological status of a thing in anthropology has tended to rely on that overindulged two-fold of human and world. Though many practitioners, especially in the United States, work in departments of anthropology, archaeology cannot be encapsulated as anthropology (for a contrary view, see Nichols, Joyce, and Gillespie 2003). Archaeology has more freedom of movement in its ability to address object-object relations without falling back into the correlation of humans and the rest.
The rapport between human and wall should be no more or no less privileged than that between rain and exposed mud plaster. Material pasts are largely co-produced, not within an exclusive process of human selection, but through the interactions with anaerobic soils, microorganisms, moisture saturation, arid atmosphere, temperature, or even waves and beach cobbles (fig. 1.1).The differences in the ways an archaeologist and a stream of melt water negotiate an abandoned mining town are of degree, not kind. Rushing water washing against concrete pillars will "interpret" or "feel" the concrete surface as well as any hermeneut or phenomenologist (Harman 2010; Witmore forthcoming).[Figure 1.1]
In revisiting the scope of the discipline of things, we have sought to avoid the modernist amnesia that tends to "overemphasize radicalism" or invest in "academic eliminativism" (Stengers 2010). Archaeology has arguably always been about the aforementioned concerns. Indeed, David Clarke pushed the envelope of empirical metaphysics by challenging practitioners to struggle with what they define as fundamental entities (1968; also see Dunnell 1986; Webmoor 2011; Lucas, forthcoming). Ever since the work of the first Danish "kitchen midden committee" in the mid nineteenth century (Klindt-Jensen 1975), archaeologists have had to take into account those other agencies that are involved in forming the archaeological record. We may look to contextual archaeology (Hodder and Hudson 2003), site formation processes (Schiffer 1976, 1987), or environmental archaeology (Dincauze 2000) for abundant examples where tremendous weight was placed on thing-thing interactions. Certainly, it would be ingenuous of us, to say the least, to claim such self-awareness on the part of archaeology as a whole. Working with things is full of wonder and confusion, creativity, and, yes, boring repetition.
Our task is therefore not so much to transform archaeology as to understand it. And, in seeking to do this, we aim to generate other kinds of narratives, more symmetrical accounts of archaeology and its common concern, things. We have called this project a symmetrical archaeology (Olsen 2003, 2007 and 2012; Shanks 2007; Webmoor 2007 and 2012b; Witmore 2004b and 2007; also see González-Ruibal 2007).
A Symmetrical Archaeology
In returning to things and to questions of ontology, we necessarily revisit the question of how archaeology renders questions of agency, matter, and space and time. To boldly push with Clarke (1972) in contributing what one of us has called "an archaeological metaphysics of care" (Webmoor 2012a); to recognize the pressing need to reconsider our place in this world as human beings, as we have already suggested, we begin the task of imagining an archaeology that does not assume a transcendent, detached outside observer, but an immanent one, operating with/in the world, in medias res. This move from transcendence to immanence, from mastery to humility, does not imply a simple turn away from humanity; neither does it mean that we extend to things qualities that they formerly lacked. What we suggest is rather an act of recognition, to acknowledge the varied qualities always possessed by things, and thus the radical differences they make to the world-both among themselves and to humans. Based on such recognition, our task is one of recomposition; that is, of reformulating the compositional makeup of what it is to be human, where the human being is recognized as partially composed of objective reality.
Along the path of returning to things, we have followed series of guidelines, propositions that have aided our movements. It is worth pausing to set these out. It should be added that we place no empirical weight upon this vocabulary; it is simply meant to help us move with things.
Where does one begin in dealing with things? Not from some "outside" position; it is neither about embodiment nor about domesticating and appropriating an alien or meaningless world. Archaeological engagements start in medias res: by jumping-or rather being thrown-into the thick of things, we seek to avoid predetermined dramas about how the world works in order to follow the connections wherever they may lead. Our dealing with things is grounded in an entangled ready-to-handness, a "thrown" condition that is enmeshed beforehand in a "Being-already-alongside-the-world" (Heidegger 1962, 85). This brings us to the notion of symmetry, which helps to remind us that the observer is in the world in the same way as that which is observed, and we may therefore describe them in equal terms (Webmoor 2007, 569). Ontologically placing priests, farmers, or shepherds on the same footing as walls, boundary markers, or goats is not to claim an undifferentiated world (Witmore 2007, 547). The entities of the world are of course different; in fact, they exhibit-between and among themselves-extremely varied modes of existence. What we claim is that this difference should not be conceptualized in compliance with the ruling ontological regime of dualities and negativities; it is a nonoppositional or relative difference that facilitates collaboration, delegation, and exchange (Olsen 2010, 2012).
Moreover, symmetry also implies that qualities and relations are on the same footing; that we should treat them symmetrically. Things are capable of making an effect, acting on other entities, not only because they are related, but also because of their own inherent properties. In other words, their ability to affect and act on us cannot be reduced to our inescapable enmeshment with them; rather it is grounded in their own specific thingly qualities (Olsen 2010). To avoid the trap of reducing things either to relations or to intrinsic qualities is an important feature of a symmetrical archeology (Webmoor 2012b.
Finally, another important aspect of a symmetrical archaeology is to take leave of the dominant paternalist idea that things depend on people and are of interest to us (and even exist) only insofar they involve humans. Symmetry involves an extended concern that includes how things exist, act, and affect one another apart from any human relations, whether or not this interaction eventually also affects human life. While there is no possibility of thinking humans outside the realms of things and natures, the other option is of course viable. Snow, ice, wind, sea, and penguins existed and interacted in Antarctica prior to being encountered by humans.
Things also exceedany ability to come to terms with them. No entity can ever encapsulate another, and this has implications for the nature of our empirical practice. A fortress, a ruined aqueduct, a hearth, or a perfume jar will always hold something in reserve, something that will not be brought forward in a given set of relations (Harman 2005; Olsen 2010). Things resist our attempts to articulate them. They are thus irreducible to our representations of them. This suggests that things are more than things-for-us; they hold and guard an otherness and integrity that require an attitude that does not subject them to sameness, but respects things for what they are in their own being (Benso 2000; see Olsen 2012, chap. 9). This is not a restriction on interpretation, signification, or meaning; rather, and contrary to dominant isomorphic approaches in which things are reduced to human mouthpieces, to be sensitive to things' otherness and their utterances qua things may yield richer and far more compelling interpretations than those hitherto provided.
This book is the result of a long collaborative effort between four archaeologists with different backgrounds, research experience, and interests. What we share is a sincere concern with things and an understanding of the fate and being of things as briefly outlined above. Thus we four find ourselves drawn together on these common grounds, in terms of what we do. Insofar as it is possible, we have emphasized what draws us together, the commonality found in our practices and modes of engagement. This gives us purchase on a series of important issues and questions to be addressed in this book.
The first question is why were things forgotten? Chapter 2 delves into the background to that amnesia regarding things in twentieth-century research by retracing how the estrangement from things (and various disciplinary practices) came about. As will be explored, the modern attitude toward things was characterized by ambiguity, entailing both contempt and desire. Ambiguity also positions things in the modern ontological landscape, whose topography has proved inhospitable to their needs for far too long.
There is a poetic irony in the fact that a discipline that assumes the importance of things for the study of the past has neglected them to such extent when recollecting its own past. Thus chapter 3 revisits the history of archaeological engagements to tell a difference story concerning the formation of archaeology as a recognizable ecology of practices, by which we are referring to archaeology as a specific community and a distinctive habitat (Stengers 2005, 2010). Here, as part of the diverse makeup of this habitat, the missing masses of showcases and diagrams, museum rooms and corridors, institutes and chairs, periodicals and diaries, theodolites and cameras, conference dinners and hotels bars, is reintroduced to form a thicker account of how archaeology became visible and normalized as a distinct disciplinary practice.
If what archaeologists claimed to do became the exact opposite of what they did, we take the opportunity in chapter 4, to dig deeper into the practices of excavation and fieldwork. Albeit archaeology's most distinctive feature, excavation has remained ambiguous in archaeologists' identity formation. Providing archaeology with its trivialized popular image of exploration and discoveries in remote places, excavation has been seen as a potential threat to "academic respectability." In chapter 4, we outline the distinctiveness of archaeological fieldwork and the role it has played in the formation of archaeology.
Chapter 5 attends to the question of documentation, and specifically the ways that visual media work to manifest things with fidelity. Moving through several case studies, from the chorographic anxieties of Sir Walter Scott to the mapping of the Teotihuacan, Teotihuacan metropolis, it builds an understanding of media, not as mimetic copies, but as active modes of engagement through which archaeologists co-produce the past.
Our media also afford the possibility of future action upon, and engagement with, the past, and this brings us to the question of memory practices. With the recognition that things present themselves in styles other than language or the visual, and are therefore not reducible to spoken or visual forms of translation, comes the responsibility to assess how we carry the material past into the future in terms of archival and digital practices. Chapter 6 sets out proactive, future-oriented practices; practices that underscore a new metrology for engaging archaeological media and highlight the importance of digital translation for manifesting things.
Working through Argos, Greece, and the wider area, chapter 7 shifts from a past held to exist apart from the present to a situation where pasts are understood as spatially coextensive. In putting to one side a modernist historicism where the past is situated as a series of successions and replacements, in favor of pasts as a gathered, multitemporal ensemble, we offer a different image of time as percolation.
Without the dominant character of the freestanding, autonomous human agent to hold the spotlight at the center stage of history, what then becomes its subject? In addressing this question, chapter 8 provides an alternative to both the myth of homo faber (thought proceeds action) and to the hylomorphic model of creation (form imposed upon matter) by taking a close look at the making of Fussell's Lodge, an earthen long barrow, and the design of an ancient Greek perfume jar. Two slogans capture much of our argument: we have always been cyborgs; and, making can belong to the most humble of things. Therefore, no entity has a monopoly on design. Chapter 8 culminates in a presentation of nine archaeological theses on design.
Throughout this book, we are making the case that things are not merely "enslaved in some wider system of differential meaning" (Harman 2002, 280), but possess their own capacities and inhabit their own compartments; in short, they have at least partial autonomy and transient essences. One radical implication of this proposal is to allow for an ethics encompassing things in their own being; that things are valuable in and of themselves. In this book's final chapter, we explore this issue and suggest care as a mode of getting on with things. Being a sensitive, responsive and nondiscriminatory way of attending to things, care involves far-ranging consequences for how we conceive of Stonehenge, an exploded bunker, rusted barbed wire, or a Greek perfume jar in terms of heritage and significance. Moreover, at excavation sites, in museums and laboratories all over the world, this mode has been essential to our disciplinary practices. It is more appropriate than ever to trust in our discipline's ability to confront any situation presented by things in our engagements with the material past. Thus, what is needed today, we conclude, is an archaeology that looks back at its own past with wonderment, approaches it without embarrassment or contempt, seeks to revitalize its important legacy, and folds this into a future vision for the care of things.
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