Facets of archeological knowledge

Through the use of diverse methodological approaches, five major facets of knowledge can be drawn from archeological artifacts. These facets can also be combined to generate pictures of different aspects of prehistoric life like settlement and subsistence behavior, social and religious organization, technical progress, and the spread of innovations.

• Typological facet. Artifacts tell us what forms and styles of objects typify a group. Artifact types are defined by features of form or style as perceived by modern analysts, and changes in types through time, as seen through stratigraphic analysis, seriation, or both, form the basis of relative chronology. The definition of cultural groups and their geographical distribution is founded on the relative spatial separation of artifact types.

• Technological facet Artifacts tell us the materials and operational steps used to make tools. By analyzing the different operational steps in tool production, their order, and the variation in that production sequence, we can gain insight into the basic crafts of past societies. Further, a survey of the implements necessary to make certain artifacts gives evidence on the complexity of human object-behavior. In addition to technological studies, the management of raw material is examined to see, for example, if raw material was taken by chance, if certain raw materials were preferred, or if special raw materials were used for particular artifacts. The effort taken to procure the raw material for artifacts and the degree of extensive or intensive exploitation are further relevant to developing hypotheses on how former people differentiated and evaluated technological qualities. A combination of typological and technological aspects of knowledge may refine an artifact typology and can give information about group- or period-specific employment of crafts.

• Functional facet. Artifacts reveal not only the technological aspects of how they were manufactured and got their form but also how they were used. Through experimentation, use-wear analyses can indicate the activities and ways in which artifacts were employed. Additionally, functional examination can give evidence about behaviors whose resulting artifacts may be only rarely preserved such as the manipulation of organic raw material (Soffer 2004). Further, experiments with reconstructions, as in the case of the wooden spears from Schoningen/Lower Saxony (Rieder 2003), can test hypotheses on qualities of tools. The examination of specific functions related to special artifact types reveals formal categories already set up at the time of the use of the tools. In all, a combination of functional and technological analyses can disclose the life history of artifacts with sequences of repeated modification and use as well as hypothesize which functional necessities of a tool influenced its manufacture.

• Contextual facet. Artifacts tell us, from their location in a site, where they were made and used, and suggest how sites and life within them were organized. Based on detailed three-dimensional documentation of where artifacts, tools, and waste were found, combined with refittings of production sequences, loci of activity can be classified as dump zones, ateliers, food processing areas, etc. The spatial and chronological relations between the identified activity zones and between contemporaneous sites allow conclusions on the organization of prehistoric life. • Cognitive facet Artifacts tell us what kinds of decisions either deliberately or unconsciously underlie their conceptualization, manufacture, and use. Thus comparative analysis of data from the four previous facets can reveal preferences in how tools were designed, produced, and used and where on a site they were made or used, pointing up less favored or rejected alternatives. Information on a population's artifact array, combined with environmental constraints, give hints about the range of behavioral choice and aspects of decision-making in typology, technology, use of artifacts, and site organization. In this way, the spectrum of the decisions taken by a group exposes its knowledge about and comprehension of the world, its cognitive capabilities and the processes of cultural diffusion underlying artifact types, production and use; in rare cases, as at the French Magdalenian sites of Etiolles (Pigeot 1990) and Pincevent (Ploux 1989), even individual behavior and apprenticeship can be perceived.

In these five aspects of archeological knowledge derived from artifacts, it becomes obvious that the archeological discipline is a combination of science and humanities not only in its questions and collected data but also in its approach to knowledge. While the technical, functional, and contextual aspects are scientifically oriented, yield somewhat reproducible facts, and are open to experimental falsification (not in the hard scientific sense but in the sense that, for e.g., wear patterns on a tool can be repeatedly examined, and hypotheses on their origin tested), the typological and, even more so, the cognitive facet adopt a humanities-oriented hermeneutic approach. This attitude of knowledge looks not so much for identification of facts and rules but for understanding of background patterns. Of course, this differentiation between scientific-empirical and humanistic-hermeneutic approaches in archeology can reveal only tendencies: almost all archeological works are a mixture of scientific observations and resulting statements with hermeneutic interpretation. The gradual preference of the one or the other depends very much on theoretical standpoints of the analyst.

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