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  'Archaeological science as anthropology': time, space and materiality in rural India and the ancient past

Boivin, N. L. (submitted). 'Archaeological science as anthropology': time, space and materiality in rural India and the ancient past.

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Boivin, Nicole L.1, Author              
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 Abstract: Science and theory have long had an uneasy relationship within archaeology, and this trend is particularly apparent where more recent ‚interpretive‘ or post-processual paradigms are concerned. In this thesis anthropological and archaeological science approches to material culture have been combined in order to address this disciplinary divide, and to explore the possibility of a more integrated approach to the study of the past. The thesis concerns the findings of an ethnoarchaeological study of domestic space carried out by the author in a rural Rajasthani village in northwestern India. The study employed a unique combination of ethnographic and social aspects of space structures and is structured ny people’s everyday lives, while soil micromorphology and other geoarchaeological techniques were applied to examine the material dimensions of space, and in particular house floors and building materials. The integrated approach taken in the study led to a number of important insights that are examined over the course of the thesis. Firstly, it offered a critique of traditional intepretive framework within geoarchaeology. While such perpectives normally provide narrowly functional and rational interpretations of findings relating to building materials and occupation sequences, it was found that cognitiv and social processes are just as likely to play a role in the creation of both. The idea of micromorphological ‘signatures’ is therefore rejected. Rather than searching for universal activity signatures, the findings suggest that, as with other artefactual remains (Hodder 1986). Micromorphological features must be analysis contextually. Floor sequences cannot be ‘read off’, but must be interpreted as aspects of socialised space. In particular, it is shown that materials in the apparently ‘natural’ world like soil and dung that soil micromorphologists routinly encounter in the analysis of occupation sequences and building materials can become fully cultural products, and must therefore be analysed as material culture. The ethnoarchaeological study also offers some key insights into the relationship between space and time. The use of soil micromorphology as an analytical tool encouraged investigation of a temporal aspects of the creation and habitation of domestic space. In this thesis, building technologies are therefore analysed as processes rather than final products, and spaces themselves are treated not as static manifestations of structure, but as dynamic entities whose social and symbolic power derives in part from their capacity to evolve and be transformed. It is demonstrated that in rural Rajasthan, houses help to create time and transform people. They also act as an medium through which the domestic group can realise and express its internal struggles, fissions and transformations. These capabilities derive in part from the very materials from which houses are made (i.e., their ‘materiality’). In order to explore some of the implications of the ethnoarchaeological findings, the thesis also examines a particular body of archaeological data. Turning to the Neolithic of the eastern Mediterranean region, it ivestigates firstly the issue of soil itself, arguing that this material has been significantly undervalued in studies of the Neolithic period. It is demonstrated that soil prpbably played an important role in Neolithic processes of domestication, transformation, communication and sedentarisation. Soil micromorphological and other data on floors and plastering from varous Eastern Mediterranean sites are then examined in order to provide insights into how the house may have become such a powerful social and symbolic metaphor during the Neolithic period. This leads to an examination of time, and of the changing relationship between space, time and materiality during the Neolithic period. The study constitutes an important contribution to varous fields of study. Within South Asian studies, it represents an important shift away from the traditional focus on textual evidence, spirituality, caste and elite architecture, towards a more balanced approach that recognises the importance of practice, agency, material culture and everyday spaces. It also adresses the need for ethnoarchaeological studies that link concepts and symbols to physical remains. Furthermore, it constitutes the beginnings of a response to the call for geoarchaeologically-inclined ethnoarchaeological studies. In addition, the thesis also explores alternative ways of writing archaeology, in particular ny incorporating varous forms of narrative over the course of its discussions. Most importantly through, the study offers an important sritique of archaeological science as it is currently practised. It argues that archaeological science is an essentially interpretive activity, and thus requires a more theoretically informed approach than is normally undertaken. It also suggests that it is time for archaeologists, whether archaeological scientists or not, to make a grater effort to combat the scientism still pervades the discipline, and to begin re-evaluate, at varous scales, the received categories of analysis that are perpetuated by the archaeological science – theory divide. The thesis also demonstrates the benefits of a more integrated approach to science andtheory in archeology. It argues that an interpretive archaeological scienceor an interpretive archaeology (or ethnoarchaeology) informed by archaeological science is capable of offerung a unique perspective and original insights into the past. In particular, archaeological science encourages greater consideration of materiality of the material world, thus providing some balance to the overly abstract and conceptual approaches to materialculture that are still commonwithin interpretive archaeology. Archaeological science will likely constitute an essential component of attempts to explore the embodied or phenomenological experience of material culture in the past, and will thus play an important role in the development ofperspectives that view the material world as a crucial component rather than an epiphenomenon of human history.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2001-05
 Publication Status: Submitted
 Pages: 424
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: -
 Identifiers: Other: shh2377
Other: 688 (Boivin library)
 Degree: PhD



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