Friday, March 12, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Another indication of the impossibility of disentangling archaeology and politics:
Much of the debate over the politics of the past in Israel and Palestine revolves around the historical and biblical past (e.g. work by Neil Silberman, Rafi Greenberg and our colleague here at Columbia, Nadia Abu el-Haj). Where does prehistoric archaeology lie in all of this?
Sue discussed the role of serendipity in archaeology, pointing out that in its original formulation by Horace Walpole a serendipitous discovery encompassed more than chance or luck alone, but also included 'sagacity' or a degree of knowing what you're looking for. It's relevant that the 18th century antiquarian Walpole coined the term, because as Sue pointed out, serendipity is fundamental to archaeology, though often remains unacknowledged.
Sue outlined a variety of case studies from archaeology's past and demonstrated how archaeologists continue to work around serendipitous discoveries. For me, the lecture raised the important question of how we can claim or own the doubt that lies at the heart of archaeological inquiry, and what an archaeology that does this might look like. It is perhaps only as we've moved away from processualism's figuring of archaeology's inference as primarily inductive and deductive that other possibilities have opened up for conceptualizing the work of archaeological investigation. A serendipitous archaeology seems to entail the proper acknowledgment of the educated guess or abduction (to use C.S. Peirce's terminology) with which archaeological inference begins. Despite Binford's original support of the hypothetico-deductive model, his emphasis and subsequent inquiry was very much on hypothesis testing, rather than on the more perilous question of where those hypotheses come from. The topic was clearly popular with the audience: the questions at the end of the talk ranged widely and continued over a glass of wine at the reception.