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Rm Seifried
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Exploring the Relationship Between Archaeology and Anthropology

The Archaeology and Anthropology Difference

The papers gathered in this volume confront a number of fundamental issues that are of contemporary relevance to both disciplines. They do this by interrogating the existence and consequences of perceived disciplinary asymmetries, but they do so in ways that are neither reductive nor utopian.

Many of the contributors rethink the idea that archaeology is exempt from a vivid image of the past. Rather, they argue that the discipline has something to offer in this respect.

Methods

Despite their distinct subject matters, archaeology and anthropology share a number of methods. This includes surveying, excavation and analysis of physical artifacts. This allows for a cross-discipline exchange of ideas and perspectives.

Several papers in this volume explore this idea of a productive flow between the disciplines. Lucas, McFadyen, Strathern and Thomas all discuss the concept of absence as a key theme in this relationship. They highlight how archaeology’s perceived lack of evidence compared to anthropology has led to a different approach that can offer new insights.

This idea of flow also includes the way in which different conceptualisations of time are used. For example, McFadyen discusses how archaeology’s long-term perspective enables it to understand processes of change more effectively. Meanwhile, Feuchtwang and Rowlands explore how archaeological data can be incorporated into historical accounts without reducing the discipline’s objectivity. This could help to develop a deeper understanding of the past by allowing archaeology and history to inform one another.

Theories

Since the beginning of anthropology as an academic discipline, its practitioners have recognized that humanity is incredibly diverse. Anthropologists work in fields such as technology innovation, urban planning, historic preservation, communications strategy and forensic investigation to demonstrate that the discipline can be applied to anything that humans do.

Despite these differences, some common theoretical concerns can be identified in the papers included in this volume. Several authors argue that the substantive asymmetry often imagined between archaeology’s lack of discourse and anthropology’s over-abundance of it is not as severe as sometimes assumed (Lucas, McFadyen and Yarrow).

For decades, anthropological archaeological research cohered around an approach known as environmental determinism, which held that ancient human societies developed as responses to specific environmental imperatives. This approach has since been superseded by an acknowledgement of human agency and choice, allowing for the exploration of how people have transformed their environments to meet their own social needs. This perspective has facilitated new approaches to the study of early human-environment interactions, which are being applied by both archaeologists and anthropologists.

Evidence

Archaeologists study human pasts using artifacts (such as pottery, stone tools, bones, and remnants of buildings) to reconstruct the social systems that existed at various times in the distant past. They rely on a variety of methods to analyze these artifacts, such as lithic reduction analysis, ceramic analysis, and geographic information systems.

Anthropologists often conduct ethnographic fieldwork with contemporary populations to learn about how their ancestors lived. Then they use this knowledge to make more accurate inferences about the prehistoric record. This approach is called comparative archaeology.

While the contributions to this volume explore a range of theoretical perspectives and empirical case-studies, they are unified in their concern to interrogate the existence of perceived disciplinary asymmetries. Rather than seeing these differences as barriers to collaboration, however, authors attempt to understand the activities and interests that form such asymmetries in the first place. This, in turn, opens up further possibilities for what archaeology might contribute to anthropology in response.

Conclusions

Archaeologists are concerned with the reconstruction of past human life. In order to do this, they need to understand how human beings lived in the past through the study of physical artifacts such as bones and tools.

They must also take into account how those people may have interacted with their environment (e.g., what types of foods were eaten and how) in order to understand the cultural significance of a site.

While both archaeologists and anthropologists can study similar aspects of humanity, they also have many differences. For example, archaeologists study civilizations in the past, while anthropologists focus on current cultures.

Another difference between the two disciplines is that anthropology is more interdisciplinary. This means that anthropology students typically complete more coursework in different areas of the discipline. Archaeology, on the other hand, is a subfield of anthropology. Therefore, it has a more limited scope. This can lead to a lack of knowledge about the broader context of a culture.

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Rm Seifried
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Archaeological Fieldwork and Historical Discoveries in Yorkshire

Yorkshire Archaeology

Archaeological fieldwork is undertaken by individuals and organisations for a variety of reasons. In some cases it is commissioned in response to planning applications and professional archaeological contractors or consultants are employed.

The Council for British Archaeology hosts an online forum for those involved in community archaeology. Their website also provides advice on how to set up a community project and where to archive your finds.

Neolithic

In the Neolithic Period, people began to farm and domesticate animals. The evidence for this has been recovered from pits, artefact spreads and monumental structures.

The Neolithic is also characterised by a renewed phase of ceremonial monuments, known as henges. South Yorkshire has never been particularly noted for its henge monuments, but recent investigations at Hallam Moors suggest that this is changing.

The Neolithic finds include antler frontlets, which were probably used in ritual practice, along with a number of inhumation and cremation burials. There were also crouched burials and a hearth. These finds indicate that the site was of significant importance to its inhabitants.

Bronze Age

The Late Neolithic / Early Bronze Age in South Yorkshire is a notoriously difficult period to study. Pottery is absent, and chipped stone largely unreliable as a proxy for building material culture. The only class of artefact that can be attributed to this phase is copper alloy, typically in the form of a spearhead or a looped or socketed axe head.

Developer funded archaeology, however, has added new information to the picture through investigations of cropmark features at Wombwell and Goldthorpe in recent years. These have included the potential ring ditches of round barrows at both, and pits in which Middle Bronze Age pottery and Grooved Ware has been recovered.

Iron Age

The Yorkshire Archaeological Society began in 1863 with the aim “the examination, preservation and illustration of the History, Architecture, Antiquities, Customs, Manners and Arts of the County of York”. The Society has an active programme of lectures and visits and publishes a journal called the Bulletin for section members.

At Roos Carr in East Yorkshire, carved wooden figures were discovered with detachable accessories like paddles and shields. Radio carbon dating shows these curious creations date from the late Bronze Age, or Early Iron Age. They may have been votive offerings or even depictions of important community members. At Pocklington excavations have revealed an amazing Iron Age chariot burial.

Roman

The Roman period is one of the great strengths of South Yorkshire archaeology. Artefacts are found in a wide range of contexts, from formal excavations to finds from metal-detecting. Many questions remain unaddressed, such as the relationship between rural settlement and forts or vici.

A good example is the series of six contiguous sites at Balby Carr excavated by three different organisations. Each employed its own reporting methods but observed overall South Yorkshire Archaeology protocols. One could not have made much progress without the co-operation of the different groups.

Medieval

Archaeology of the medieval period covers a broad spectrum of study from the end of the Roman period to the Reformation, covering settlements and landscapes as well as buildings, artefacts, religion, social structure, trade, economy and culture.

Pottery assemblages can provide chronologies for rural and urban sites, although care is required to avoid constructing simple narratives of change without the endorsement of more formal dating techniques. Bulk assemblages, such as those of animal bones, can also be used to examine changes in livestock rearing and culling regimes and diet. Evidence of the exploitation of marine species can also be interpreted. Such changes in cultivation and husbandry practices reflect wider environmental trends.

Modern

Archaeological evidence for the late Roman period and the early medieval period remains sparse in Yorkshire. There are a number of cemeteries dating to the Saxon and Viking periods but settlement hierarchies remain unclear.

The society publishes the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal which can be accessed in Leeds libraries. It also has seven special interest groups which can be joined without membership of the main YAHS.

Anyone undertaking archaeological work within the council area is encouraged to contact the heritage services team and record their discoveries. This will help to build up our knowledge of the region’s archaeology. The University of York is also running an online course about the mesolithic site at Star Carr.

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