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Ethnoarchaeology in Action
By Nicholas David and Carol Kramer
Reviewed by David A. Barrowclough
Department of Archaeology and Wolfson College,
University of Cambridge, UK.
Ethnoarchaeology in Action is something of a welcome departure from the usual format of the Cambridge World Archaeology series. Under the general editorship of Michigan's Norman Yoffee the series has hitherto directed itself to the production of a series of volumes, each of which presents a survey of the archaeology of a region of the world. Volumes such as Phillipson's African Archaeology (1993) and Harding's European Societies in the Bronze Age (2000) serve to provide an up to date account of research integrating recent findings with current interpretation.
Departing from the regional survey, Ethnoarchaeology in Action takes a thematic approach to archaeology. Drawing on numerous case studies from regions as diverse and widespread as Michael Parker Pearson's (1982) study of changing mortuary practices in Cambridge, to Michael Graves' (1994) analysis of material culture boundaries among the Kalinga; from Yvonne Marshall's ethnoarchaeological study of New Zealand eel fisheries, which she used to inform her reading of Maori ethnography and ethnohistory, to Glenn Davis Stone's (1991, 1992) research into the dynamics of settlement among the Kofyar of Nigeria, which demonstrates the relevance of studies in human geography to archaeology.
Few authors could range over such a diverse range of case studies as Nicholas David and Carol Kramer do, with such aplomb and good grace toward their subject. Nicholas David's passion and enthusiasm for his work is what is most striking about the man. He has worked in both Europe and Africa, and since 1984 has directed the Mandara Archaeological Project (1992), upon which he leans for many an example. Despite its name, it is primarily ethnoarchaeological in nature, focusing on the material signatures of practice and agency, to study the world view of the chiefly residences located in the Mandara Mountains of Cameroon.
Carol Kramer was a pioneer in the development of ethnoarchaeology, having excavated Iron Age levels at Dinkha Tepe in Iran, as well as at other sites in Iran, Guatemala and Turkey. Sadly she died in December 2002, aged only 59. Her research on household patterns in an Iranian village (1982), and on the production and distribution of pottery in Rajasthan, India (1997), of which examples are offered in this volume, will surely be a lasting testament to her considerable methodological and theoretical contributions to ethnoarchaeology.
The avowed aim of the book is to avoid producing an encyclopaedia which simply catalogues 'all we know' about ethnoarchaeology. Instead, the authors aim to act as guides through what remains, for many students and practitioners, a poorly understood, if not misunderstood, sub-discipline. On route they challenge the reader to a critical analysis of case studies through which to lead the non-specialist towards an informed understanding of theoretical, methodological and substantive issues in ethnoarchaeology.
The underlying thesis of their book is that 'archaeological interpretation is founded and ultimately depends upon analogy' (2001: 1). The origin and raison d'etre of ethnoarchaeology is the recognition of the need for ethnographic material on which to base analogies. Ethnoarchaeology is defined by the authors as the study of living culture from archaeological perspectives. Conceived of in this way it is neither a theory, nor a method, but a research strategy. It embodies a range of approaches to understanding the relationships of material culture, to culture as a whole. It acknowledges both contexts of material culture, among the living, and as it enters the archaeological record. This understanding is exploited in order to inform archaeological concepts, and to improve interpretation. David and Kramer argue that ethnoarchaeology is therefore of equal interest to both processualist and post-, or anti-, processualist archaeologists.
The authors present an excellent review of the scope and relevance of the discipline, of what has been achieved, most notably in the theoretical approaches of the 1980s and 1990s, and what is left to be done. The range and approaches to problems that can be accommodated under the banner of ethnoarchaeology is very large, as it draws upon science, social science and the humanities. There is room for processualist and post/anti- processualists. What is important is that different styles of ethnoarchaeology are appropriately geared to different sorts of research question.
Adopting a topical approach to the material by subject area, case-studies are offered, which provide ample coverage of the various subjects: fauna and subsistence, artefacts and style, architecture and settlement structure, craft production, trade and exchange, mortuary practices and beliefs. Whilst adopting a topical approach they also manage to maintain an emphasis on the interrelationships between, and the embeddedness of, material culture in peoples' economies, social lives and systems of thought. Where ever possible critical analysis takes the form of contrasting processual and post processual studies, in terms of their approaches, and their ability to 'see' certain dimensions of the behaviour ethnoarchaeologists study.
Ethnoarchaeology in Action by Nicholas David and Carol Kramer represents an optimistic, if not upbeat, take on ethnoarchaeology and its contribution to how archaeologists research and interpret the past. Furnished with examples from around the world, this is a useful reference book for both student and non-specialist practitioner wishing to develop an interest in the subject.