follow bits of better than others, so some relevant reading may not be quite what your after.
Anyway, I don't think people just do anything, I think that they always think about it even if a lot of that thought is subconscious. For example, digging a hole. People don't generally do work for no reason, so the hole would have been dug for a reason - was it a storage pit, a well, a burial etc etc? if you can work that out then you can start getting into the thinking behind that. Eg it's a burial its East/west Orientated - were they Christian? Why bury rather than cremate/excarnate? It's a storage pit, what did they want to store and why?
As to where archaeologists should dig holes - theres a book which comes at this from a different angle which may be of interest available free here http://thehumanjourney.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=280&Itemid=193 This is reasonably high level and abstract (from memory), but I think will be of interest as it articulates a lot of the unconscious thought processes which could appear to the observer to be based solely on experience
Most archaeological theory is (in my view) very much trying to argue that actually deciding what something is, or where to dig, or why something happened isn't just obvious/common sense (a phrase I detest with a passion) /pragmatic, but is as a result of a thought process that can be explicated, even if you have to reverse engineer them because you didn't do it consiously, but just knew.
My favourite example of this is a linear earthwork - bank and ditch - which sides the inside and why? I have thought about this a bit (to much possibly) and I am sure you will all have an answer. But think about this - why have you chosen one side as the inside and the other as the outside? And how can you be sure that someone in the past thought the same way?
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From: British archaeology discussion list [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael Haseler
Sent: 26 October 2012 09:23
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [BRITARCH] The theory of the Archaeological Practitioner
When people dig a hole, they don't tend to spend a lot of time thinking
why they dug the hole ... except archaeologists.
But normal people just "do it". Now, that is in itself a theory ... that
allowing oneself just to "get on with the job" ... will get the "job"
done. A lot of theoretical constructs come into play ... about the
mind-body dynamic, about have materials behave and the way "things
work". These are usually so intuitive to us, that we don't even think
about the theoretical constructs we use to create this dynamic with the
Now, in archaeology, this is important. Because the whole of archaeology
could be described as people "just doing things".
Or "we did holes" ... in order to find when,why,how ... "people dug holes".
But archaeology has this concept (theory) of the "ritualistic" ... which
I couldn't understand until someone whispered to me "that really means
we don't know". But, ritualistic implies a lot more, it implies a
purpose and meaning ... whereas "just digging a hole" ... implies
functionality. One could liken the "ritualistic" versus "practitioner"
to the debate "creationism" versus "evolution". One a theory implying
meaning and purpose, the other a theory that there is no meaning or
purpose. It is just "what happens".
So, just as we can have a "theory of evolution", it should also be
possible in archaeology to have a "theory of just doing things". I
suppose, the equivalent of "just doing things" in the present would be
considered economics. Animals clearly don't have money, but other
resources like energy could be a proxy for money creating what I term
"enerconics", or I suppose land, or other resources could be other
proxies so we get "any-conics". But leaving aside the unnecessary pun,
we could apply the theory of economics to pre-history and create a
theory of archaeology with NO MEANING. You could say that this is a
deterministic theory ... that we are all pre-ordained by economic
necessity to do what we do and like the peacocks feathers are just a
obscure artefact of evolution, so all this symbolism we see, all the
apparent beauty and symbolism in archaeology, is merely an artefact of
But this approach that we are "pre-ordained" and really have no choice,
ignores the fact that people spend an awful lot of time thinking, and we
even think a lot even when we are t "just doing things". Time-team "just
dug holes", but they spent a lot of time thinking about where to put
those holes and responding to what they found in the holes. There was
the economic resource constraint (3 days, x-workers and Tony), but the
resource constraint didn't dictate WHERE the holes where dug, only how
So, what was the theoretical model used? Apparently it was "there's
something interesting here - let's dig". Or perhaps more accurately "the
most interesting place looks to be ...". Usually done to combine a
number of features or where experience suggests that most information
will be found in terms of datable artefacts. This is a theory ... but
it's not a theory I find in the archaeology book of theory.
Also, there is a clear ethos (theory) in archaeology that "experience
counts". ... age and experience seemed to be quite critical when
deciding where to dig next. This could just be that those with grey
hairs spend least time in holes on their knees, and so have more time to
look at the big picture, but I suspect, there is a fundamental theory in
archaeology that experience IN ITSELF is a basis for better
understanding of how to research sites. Maybe it doesn't need stating,
but in the "theory of the practitioner", the theory of "just doing
things" which is what archaeology tries to understand ... i.e. the
ordinary pattern of the past ... if experience is important in the here
and now, it is important in the past.
Which brings me to the question ... if anyone understands what I'm
talking about and could tell me where to find/thinking work along
similar lines, I would be very very pleased to receive any references or
suggestions for reading.
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