Archaeology and its Discontents
Why Archaeology Matters
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Archaeology and its Discontents critically examines the state of archaeology today and its development throughout the twentieth century. It makes a powerful case that understanding how humans have created themselves should be the main purpose of archaeology, and that archaeology matters precisely because of the insights it can offer in this area.
Surveying the main themes employed in the practice of archaeology from the early twentieth century to today, Barrett argues that archaeology has limited itself by its desire to explain the construction of material variability rather than attempting to understand the biological and cultural construction of various forms of ‘humanness’. He argues that this traditional focus has too often assumed that human behaviour can be explained by reference to various forms of environmental and social adaptation, or systems of human belief. Consequently, not enough attention has been paid to uncovering the constant interaction between material conditions and the different ways in which forms of life have grown and developed, enabling human diversity to be constructed. Insights in this area, he points out, are directly relevant to diverse societies today. The argument is illustrated throughout by reference to the development of the European Neolithic.
Arguing both for a new purpose for archaeology and for its overall importance to modern society, Archaeology and its Discontents provides a rallying call for archaeologists at all levels, from student to professor and trainee to experienced practitioner.
Table of Contents
1. Explanation and Understanding
2. The Archaeological Record
3. Systems and the Dynamics of Historical Change: The New Archaeology
4. A Social Archaeology
5. From Functionalism to a Symbolic and Structural Archaeology
6. The Evolution of Ecosystems
7. The Making of Populations
8. The cultures of life
John C. Barrett is Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, having previously taught at the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow. He is the author of Fragments from Antiquity (2006) and co-author, with Michael Boyd, of From Stonehenge to Mycenae (2019). His research has focussed upon British and European prehistory and archaeological theory.