Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Post-processualism and Biblical Archaeology

In the last 20 years or so, there has been increasing awareness within the archaeological community that our cultural lens has a considerable affect on how we ask archaeological questions. Archaeological remains are now conceptualized by many workers in the fields as vehicles for how we construct our modern identities; for example, French national pride played a large role in the way that monuments to the ancient Gauls were constructed at sites like Alesia, where Vercingetorix made his last stand against Julius Caesar in the 1st century BCE. This ancient Gallic general is really much more than just a figure from history, now - he symbolizes French resistance to a foreign invader.

In this respect, the past becomes part of our modern cultural capital, and so has value not merely in the abstract, as part of some ostensibly objective history lesson, but instead as part of our subjective, constant creation of identity. This is no small thing in an increasingly globalized world where preservation versus progress creates a near-constant tension. In archaeology, this reflexive awareness that we create our past by how we frame our historical and archaeological questions has a name: Post-Processualism. Not only do Post-Processualists see the past as a cultural resource of the present, they also insist that due to our own inherent cultural lenses that we can never be fully certain that we have accurately re-constructed the past through archaeological remains. Their logic is as follows: if a researcher's cultural lens causes her to make certain choices about what questions to research, then other questions will remain unanswered, that might have provided a different picture. Further, the interpretation of a site is going to filtered through her cultural lens.

Another example of how these issues play out in archaeology can be found in the Middle East today. There is perhaps no topic that inspires more impassioned debate in the West than Biblical Archaeology. We appear to be (pardon the pun) hell-bent on tying concrete archaeological remains to the histories recounted in the Bible. Furthermore, the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis adds another, often acid-coated - layer to this debate. For a good look at how the fur can fly, follow the jump to an very interesting look at the New Biblical Archaeology of today, framed by the conflict in the Middle East.

No comments:

Post a Comment