How do archaeologists make effective use of physical traces and material culture as repositories of evidence?
Material Evidence takes a resolutely case-based approach to this question, exploring instances of exemplary practice, key challenges, instructive failures, and innovative developments in the use of archaeological data as evidence. The goal is to bring to the surface the wisdom of practice, teasing out norms of archaeological reasoning from evidence.
Archaeologists make compelling use of an enormously diverse range of material evidence, from garbage dumps to monuments, from finely crafted artifacts rich with cultural significance to the detritus of everyday life and the inadvertent transformation of landscapes over the long term. Each contributor to Material Evidence identifies a particular type of evidence with which they grapple and considers, with reference to concrete examples, how archaeologists construct evidential claims, critically assess them, and bring them to bear on pivotal questions about the cultural past.
Historians, cultural anthropologists, philosophers, and science studies scholars are increasingly interested in working with material things as objects of inquiry and as evidence – and they acknowledge on all sides just how challenging this is. One of the central messages of the book is that close analysis of archaeological best practice can yield constructive guidelines for practice that have much to offer archaeologists and those in related fields.
Section 1. Conventions of field practice 1. Repeating the unrepeatable experiment 2. Experimental Archaeology at the crossroads: A contribution to interpretation or evidence of ‘xeroxing’? 3. Working Archives: Mucking, Great Wilbraham and the chimera of ‘Total Archaeology’ 4. Excavation as debate Section 2. Recording conventions: Typological and stratigraphic units 5. ‘Proportional representation’: Multiple voices in archaeological interpretation at Çatalhöyük 6. The tyranny of typologies: Nationality and evidential reasoning in Romano-Egyptian archaeology7. High-resolution ecological and social histories at Çatalhöyük: Eliciting evidence from microstratigraphy 8. Integrating database design and use into recording methodologies Section 3. Cross-field trade: Archaeological applications of external expertise and technologies 9. The Archaeological Bazaar: Anybody want to buy some science? 10. ‘The economics of archaeological science: Innovation, ring fences, calibration’ 11. The world around: Studying the emergence of structure in past landscapes 12. Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology Section 4. Multiple working hypotheses, strategies of elimination, and triangulation 13. Lessons from modeling Neolithic farming practice: methods of elimination 14. Uncertain on principle: Combining lines of archaeological evidence to create chronologies 15. A ‘mixed mass of facts’ 16. Archaeology and law: An initial exploration Section 5. Broader perspectives: Material culture as object and evidence 17. Meeting pasts halfway: A consideration of the ontology of archaeological material evidence 18. Matter and facts: Material culture in the history of science