Archaeology: The Basics Paperback – 23 Jul 2007
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About the Author
Clive Gamble is Professor of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and Co-Director of the British Academy Centenary Project: From Lucy to language: the archaeology of the social brain.
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I really wanted something a little bit more advanced having taken a 101 course in college - but it was just enough information to be able to get your hands dirty.
There are two major problems with this work that warrants a downgrade to 3 stars. The first problem is this philosophy is often too abstract. At times, I felt myself completely taken out of archaeology and into the realm of philosophy. While this itself is not a bad thing, this is a book on the basics of archaeology. When the author combines this philosophy with archaeological examples, I.E in Chapter 5 on the biography of objects, the author gives us a clear insight into how this philosophy actually effects archaeology and the way archaeologists view said objects. In short, the author should have used more archaeological examples to tie archaeology into the philosophy that he is discussing. In the introduction, he stated he would be using his own experience as a researcher at Sutton Hoo often throughout the book. Unfortunately, he does not use the example of Sutton Hoo - or other examples - nearly enough to bring the reader out of the abstract of philosophical ideas and arguments and into contemporary archaeology.
The other prevalent problem with this book is the author's bias. With archaeological approaches and views such as cultural, Marxist, strictly scientific, etc, he is quick to show both the pros and cons in a neutral standard. He however, offers no criticism of feminist archaeology. When discussing identity from a feminist approach, for example, he brings up that no one questions that if a body is buried in an obviously male-faced helmet (such as the Sam Browne helmet) we assume that the body is male. My answer to this is we also do not assume that the body buried was an arthropod. Why wouldn't we assume it is male? Where is the evidence that the body at Sutton Hoo could have been female? And what's bad about assuming it is male if no evidence contradicts it? Isn't this where feminist archaeology fails - its inability to see beyond its own bias and finding problems where there are none? Moreover, the author, though a bit critical of Marxism, fails to mention the prevalent post-modern criticism of Marxism as a grand narrative.
There are also potshots at Margaret Thatcher in here. While this is amusing to an American born in the late 1980s from a cultural standpoint, in retrospect, it is unprofessional. The author wrote something along the lines of "If Margaret Thatcher had read Marx's theory on x, maybe she would have been re-elected". This is utterly unnecessary in a book about the philosophy of archaeology.
Another example of the author's bias is when discussing which ways certain people view archaeology. This is crucial to the modern study of archaeology because it is easy to see archaeology as something that is the past and thus not a big deal - when in reality, archaeology was and is nationally symbolic. The author's premise and execution are mired by his own bias in this matter, however. He ensures the reader knows that when German and Italian nationalists falsely used prehistory to justify the unification of the German and Italian states respectively. But when he quotes Nelson Mandela who was justifying an Afrocentric view of history by stating that the blacks were building pyramids while whites were living in caves, he does not mention the reality that Mandela's notion of history is entirely inaccurate, and even contradicted by Clive Gamble himself when he's discussing prehistoric Europe in prior chapters. In other words, "Nelson Mandela's historical inaccuracy is good, German and Italian nationalists historical inaccuracy is bad".
A final example of the author's bias is his defaming of renowned German archaeologist Gustaf Kossina. Kossina was a renowned German archaeologist that was also a Nazi party member, and whose theories were used by the Third Reich. He however, died in 1931 and thus is not responsible for the death or oppression of anyone - yet the author uses him as an example about how archaeology can be dangerous. This contradicts earlier sentiments about Kossina brought forth by Clive Gamble, about how Kossina, despite his political affiliation, was indeed a pioneer of modern archaeology. Moreover, does it matter if he was a Nazi? So was Heidegger. Does it matter if the Nazis liked his theories? They also liked Nietzsche's theories. Should we also disregard the jet engine along with Kossina?
I also found the conclusion too short and not nearly as thorough as the introduction.
Overall, this is indeed a good work of the philosophy of archaeology despite its flaws. It is definitely worth the read if you are an archaeology student that is serious about his field. Being familiar with the major contemporary philosophies and theories in your field is imperative. The major issue here is the abstractness found in most of the chapters. A reader who is not familiar with general philosophy may find himself lost, and the reader not interested too much in archaeology, or is looking for a book about what an archaeologist actually does in the field, is recommended to look elsewhere.
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