Processual archaeology

  • processual archaeology originated in american archaeology, where analysing historical change over time had proved difficult with existing technology

    processual archaeology (formerly the new archaeology) is a form of archaeological theory that had its genesis in 1958 with the work of gordon willey and philip phillips, method and theory in american archaeology, in which the pair stated that "american archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing" (willey and phillips, 1958:2), a rephrasing of frederic william maitland's comment: "my own belief is that by and by anthropology will have the choice between being history and being nothing."[1] this idea implied that the goals of archaeology were, in fact, the goals of anthropology, which were to answer questions about humans and human society. that was a critique of the former period in archaeology, the culture-historical phase in which archaeologists thought that any information that artifacts contained about past people and past ways of life was lost once the items became included in the archaeological record. all they felt could be done was to catalogue, describe, and create timelines based on the artifacts.[2]

    proponents of this new phase in archaeology claimed that with the rigorous use of the scientific method it was possible to get past the limits of the archaeological record and learn something about how the people who used the artifacts lived. colin renfrew, a proponent of the new processual archaeology, observed in 1987 that it focuses attention on "the underlying historical processes which are at the root of change". archaeology, he noted "has learnt to speak with greater authority and accuracy about the ecology of past societies, their technology, their economic basis and their social organization. now it is beginning to interest itself in the ideology of early communities: their religions, the way they expressed rank, status and group identity."[3]

  • theory
  • further theoretical development
  • legacy
  • criticism
  • notes
  • references
  • further reading

Processual archaeology originated in American Archaeology, where analysing historical change over time had proved difficult with existing technology

Processual archaeology (formerly the New Archaeology) is a form of archaeological theory that had its genesis in 1958 with the work of Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips, Method and Theory in American Archaeology, in which the pair stated that "American archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing" (Willey and Phillips, 1958:2), a rephrasing of Frederic William Maitland's comment: "My own belief is that by and by anthropology will have the choice between being history and being nothing."[1] This idea implied that the goals of archaeology were, in fact, the goals of anthropology, which were to answer questions about humans and human society. That was a critique of the former period in archaeology, the Culture-Historical phase in which archaeologists thought that any information that artifacts contained about past people and past ways of life was lost once the items became included in the archaeological record. All they felt could be done was to catalogue, describe, and create timelines based on the artifacts.[2]

Proponents of this new phase in archaeology claimed that with the rigorous use of the scientific method it was possible to get past the limits of the archaeological record and learn something about how the people who used the artifacts lived. Colin Renfrew, a proponent of the new processual archaeology, observed in 1987 that it focuses attention on "the underlying historical processes which are at the root of change". Archaeology, he noted "has learnt to speak with greater authority and accuracy about the ecology of past societies, their technology, their economic basis and their social organization. Now it is beginning to interest itself in the ideology of early communities: their religions, the way they expressed rank, status and group identity."[3]