Archaeological research and the approches to Technological Studies


What does the archaeological study of technology have to contribute to the broader study of technology and material culture? The most obvious contribution of archaeology is that of a broad perspective, which can either follow a particular society through time or range across many societies. It provides information about the development and acceptance of new objects and new
production techniques, and about changes in past economies, social structures, and political organizations in relation to the invention or adoption of 8 Heather M.-L. Miller: Archaeological Approaches to Technology technologies. While my examples in this book refer to time periods from the Paleolithic to the present, I have not implied any sort of evolutionary development.
A discussion of the evidence for and against a general increase in technological complexity around the world through time would be a book in itself. Rather, my aim is to show specialists in other fields, such as the history of technology, communication, women’s studies, studio art, and sociocultural anthropology, that archaeologists have created a variety of examples well worth their time to investigate. Archaeologists also have a great deal to offer other disciplines in their
development of methodologies and theoretical approaches, both for teasing information out of objects and for looking at societies in their entirety. Archaeologists are obliged by one of their primary techniques, excavation, to deal with societies for the most part as a complex whole, rather than in separate packages of ritual beliefs, economic units, or centers of political power.
Whether participating in rescue operations or conducting normal excavations, archaeologists constantly face the loss of the past through destruction, including the oft-cited ethical dilemma of necessarily destroying a site in the process of excavating it. Therefore, the practical field reality requires archaeological projects to recover as broad a range of data as possible, no matter the particular goals of the project, in order to maintain an ethical standard of work. Whether
such recovery methods are practicable in most cases, the methodological ideal is still one of complete holism. In addition, archaeologists have reconstructed many of the ancient processes
of production, from manufacturing techniques to labor organization. These reconstructions are of use for modern artists, craftspeople, labor specialists, and managers, as they portray the strengths and weaknesses—both technical and social—of different pathways to the production of objects. Economic historians might benefit from archaeological reconstructions of economic
competition and its effects on past societies, and the pivotal roles that ancient technologies sometimes played in the distribution of power within and between social groups, affecting social status and political structure. Finally, most people in today’s world can use a reminder that new technological inventions themselves have seldom altered society. Rather, it is the ways in which
the society or individuals within it use and adopt new technologies that result in social change. I have indicated what archaeological approaches have to offer students of technology in other fields. But what does the study of technology have to offer archaeology as a discipline? In the best cases, technology studies build bridges between scholars in different locations, between different disciplines, and between different traditions or approaches. The study of technology in
archaeology has been outstandingly international, with the intersection of researchers from different countries working in different world areas and time periods. The use of archaeometric analysis has fostered collaboration with scholars in the sciences, the focus on objects has encouraged interaction with colleagues in the arts, and the importance of technology in both the prehistoric and the historic periods has provided links with researchers in the historical disciplines. Technology studies increasingly cross the divisions between the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. 

This integrative role of technology studies in archaeology makes it difficult to disentangle and label separate traditions or schools of research. (See the introductions to Hamilton (1996) and McCray (1998) for two different examples of such summaries.) Many of the studies discussed in this book draw on multiple traditions of thought and method, even for the basic reconstruction
of production sequences. These include such apparently disparate traditions as the chaîne opératoire approach (Inizan, et al. 1992), the history of technology and engineering design (Kingery 1993, 2001), operations process management (Bleed 1991), and the use of practice theory (Dobres and Hoffman 1995). Individual researchers use different combinations of approaches, depending on what is useful for the question involved. Recent approaches employ aspects of materialism, where economics and environment are seen as the most important factors in the nature of social groups, and idealism, where idea-based sectors like religion, ideology, and kinship are favored as the major factors in social behavior and change. Of course, some or even most researchers may defend one approach as far superior to others. In my opinion, the best research privileges no single approach, but considers the applicability of several. In the following chapters, my discussion will illustrate different theoretical and methodological approaches. Although I do occasionally discuss problems and shortcomings of particular techniques and studies, it is easy to find critiques in the literature. I have chosen instead to focus on the creative ways archaeologists have negotiated around these shortcomings.  
 
Notes And References: 
1. Bleed, Peter
2001 Artifice Constrained: What Determines Technological Choice? In: Anthropological
Perspectives on Technology. Schiffer, Michael B., ed. Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press. pp. 151–162. 
2. Dobres, Marcia-Anne, and Christopher R. Hoffman
1995 Social Agency and the Dynamics of Prehistoric Technology. Journal of Archaeological
Method and Theory 1(3):211–258.
2.Hillman, Gordon C.
1984 Interpretation of Archaeological Plant Remains: The Application of Ethnographic
Models from Turkey. In: Plants and Ancient Man—Studies in Paleoethnobotany.
Van Zeist, W. and W. A. Casparie, eds. Rotterdam: A. A. Balkema.
pp. 1–41.
3.Kingery, W. David, ed.
1985 Technology and Style. Ceramics and Civilization, Volume II. Columbus, OH:
The American Ceramic Society.
4.Kingery, W. David
1986 The Development of European Porcelain. In: High-Technology Ceramics: Past,
Present, and Future. The Nature of Innovation and Change in Ceramic Technology.
5. Kingery, W. David, ed. Ceramics and Civilization, Volume III. Columbus, OH:
The American Ceramic Society. pp. 153–180.
6. Kingery, W. David
1993 Technological Systems and some Implications with Regard to Continuity and
Change. In: History from Things: Essays on Material Culture. Lubar, Steven
and W. David Kingery, eds. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
pp. 215–230.
7. Kingery, W. David, ed.
1996 Learning from Things: Method and Theory of Material Culture Studies. Washington
D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
8. Kingery, W. David
2001 The Design Process as a Critical Component of the Anthropology of Technology.
In: Anthropological Perspectives on Technology. Schiffer, Michael B., ed.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 123–138.
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