image/svg+xml209 VII/2/2016 InterdIscIplInarIa archaeologIca natural scIences In archaeology homepage: Thematic review Space Matters: A Refection on Archaeological Theory and Method for Interpreting the Materiality of Space Monika Baumanová a,b* a Centre for African Studies, University of Basel, Rheinsprung 21, 4051 Basel, Switzerland b Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Uppsala, Engelska Parken, Thunbergsvägen 3H, 751 26 Uppsala, Sweden 1. Introduction Spatial analyses in archaeology have so far been more widely applied and developed than discussed as theory-laden. This may be stated with reference to the long tradition of quantifying spatial properties of archaeological data, which extends back into the culture history period (if not earlier), that started to dominate archaeological research on a global scale nearly a century ago. On the other hand, space as a social agent in its own right, invoked and referred to in social relationships, has only properly been discussed in archaeology for the last three decades. It is not easy to disentangle the history of space as an object of theoretical considerations in archaeology, a component of methodological approaches and a context for a range of artefacts and features. The reason behind this complexity is that space has been referred to and incorporated in archaeological research with little sustained efort – all the more diversifed when we speak of regional schools of archaeological thought as well as periods and locales under study.One type of archaeological context where spatial considerations come into play is the study of the built environment. This has been most professed in research arenas such as household archaeology in the United States dealing both with prehistory and historical periods ( e.g. Wilk, Rathje 1982; Santley, Hirth 1993; Parker, Foster 2012), archaeology of standing historic buildings in the United Kingdom ( e.g. Fairclough 1992; Morriss 2000), or architectural history of medieval and historical buildings in Central and Eastern Europe ( e.g. Macek 1997). More broadly across the globe, researchers have employed a number of theories and methods to explore and explain the form and organisation of past built environments. The popularity of the built environment in archaeological research has changed through the history of the discipline, which may have more to do with its perceived suitability for the specifc nature of some archaeological enquiry, rather than the (un)availability of data. Volume VII ● Issue 2/2016 ● Pages 209–216 *Corresponding author. E-mail: ARTiClE info Article history: Received: 22 nd November 2016Accepted: 28 th December 2016 Keywords: space material culturestructurespatial analysestheory, methodSwahili archaeologybuilt environment ABSTRACT Every paradigm in the history of archaeological theory has in some way dealt with space in interpreting the archaeological record; either bringing it into the spotlight or using it to assist description of other observed phenomena. This has resulted in a varied range of approaches to space, but also brought with it inherent problems. Paradigms once regarded as incompatible are now reconciled in mutual coexistence, but maintain little dialogue. Certain methods of spatial analyses have begun to be used as theory-neutral, and space often remains implicitly studied using methods as a set of tools, without exploration of adequate theory.The goal of this paper is to present a perspective on how archaeologists may proceed in order to apply both analytical methods to seek patterns in the past and interpret past constructed space. Although space is an intangible entity, it is argued it may be seen as a human-made material culture that plays an active role in social processes. As a case study, I contrast the advantages and shortcomings of several archaeological studies concerned with the spatial structure of the Swahili house. It is argued that we need to actively engage approaches that reveal quantifable patterns in the built environment, as well as consult more relativistic issues of perception, sensory experience, and social production and consumption of space.
image/svg+xmlIANSA 2016 ● VII/2 ● 209–216Monika Baumanová: Space Matters: A Refection on Archaeological Theory and Method for Interpreting the Materiality of Space 210 In this paper I present a short and inevitably selective review to demonstrate how archaeological paradigms of the last hundred years have dealt with the notion of space and highlight the consequences of this disciplinary history. These insights are shown to sometimes still hinder the progress of new research or prevent archaeologists flling in gaps in our understanding of the past. Using the example of structuralism and a case study dealing with household space in precolonial East Africa, I then demonstrate how insufcient communication between diferent schools of thought has led to the selective use or rejection of some methods, without full justifcation or criticism of their underlying theoretical reasoning. In conclusion, I argue that perhaps a new archaeological approach to space is in order, one that would allow archaeologists to explore its properties and roles in societies as a type of material culture, and so interpret space with more consistent explicitness. 1.1 Approaches to space in the history of archaeology Every paradigm in the history of archaeological thought has in some way dealt with space. In the period of culture history that dominated archaeological research well into the 1960s in North America and Europe, the human past beyond the reach of the written record was very much understood through the concept of archaeological cultures. These cultures were characterized by their distribution in space represented as a certain sphere of infuence on a map (Childe 1929, 5–6). Simultaneously, the existence or change in these archaeological cultures was explained by the migration of people across space, who carried their material culture with them ( e.g. Kossinna 1911). The built environment was understood as a component in these material culture groups and characteristic of the associated people as well as an ultimate expression of their way of life (Childe 1929, 1950).The analytical shift brought about with the New Archaeology of the 1960s, and elaborated for several decades onwards as it developed into the processual paradigm in archaeology, made use of spatial references to a much greater depth. It promoted, for example, spatially characterized sampling to study cultures and human activities. Human behaviour became increasingly understood and portrayed as “spatial” (Schifer 1976, Clarke 1977). Archaeology owes to this period its signifcant advances in the feld of scientifcally-sophisticated spatial analyses that through mathematical and statistical description aimed to exhaustively describe the regularities in human use of space (Binford 1965; Hodder, Orton 1976). Although providing a range of tools for archaeologists, this paradigm did not move much beyond seeing space as a setting, a distribution of resources to be utilized, as exemplifed in the seminal book by Kent Flannery, The early Mesoamerican village (Flannery 1976). As an extension to theoretical thinking popular in other social sciences (Simon 1959), landscapes and the built environment provided a reference point for studying patterns in the distribution of portable material culture – and, apart from that, they were mostly studied as an example of utilization of resources, a statement of people’s optimal behaviour in a given setting (for a summary, see e.g. Rossignol 1992). However, especially among archaeologists interested in more recent periods of the human past and themes such as urbanism and complexity, the processual stream of thought prompted inquiry into potential patterns behind the distribution of central places, specifc building traditions, monumentality and the complexity of the tangible components of the built environment (Smith 1976).The post-processual school of thought was successful in highlighting how problematic this approach might be. Although primarily not focused on developing new analytical tools for spatial analyses, the post-processual paradigm brought us countless case studies demonstrating that space is not just a setting, but also a reference to social phenomena, a tool of social change and contextual interpretation ( e.g. Hodder 1982b; 2001; Shanks, Tilley 1988). Constructed space also needs to be contextualized in terms of temporality and the way people understand their production of built space in relation to the passage of time (Simonetti 2013; Zubrow 2013). This stream of thought has been elaborated upon in archaeological studies of architecture ( e.g. Johnson 1993; Parker Pearson, Richards 1994; Steadman 2015) that in turn greatly infuenced the way archaeologists conceptualize space, having moved from seeing it as a refection of culture towards a “habit of mind” (Gurevich, Howlett 1992, 4) and an active agent in social negotiations (Laurence 1996).While processual and post-processual lines of reasoning may seem incompatible given their ferce criticism of each other, they are now reconciled in mutual coexistence, but unfortunately maintain little dialogue (but note Cochrane, Gardner 2011). For archaeologies of space in particular this poses a problem. If we look at it as a mosaic, the natural-sciences-derived, method-driven approaches generally aim to quantify the patterns of the preserved parts in the mosaic and fnd regularities in their distribution, while the post-processual viewpoint is more concerned with deriving what pieces and colours might be missing. Neither approach makes exhaustive use of the data that are accessible to an archaeological enquiry on space, nor are they without inherent shortcomings. Processual archaeology never really seriously considered space for the properties it shares with tangible material culture, as both can be produced, altered, contextually interpreted or consumed. Post-processual archaeologies maintained the relationship of theory and method less rigorously, which has also allowed for relative openness to plurality and decreased argumentative strength of interpretations.If we consider the origin and nature of these shortcomings in more detail, we may begin to disentangle how the two main perspectives on space may be used to complement each other and begin to remedy some of their respective disadvantages. 2. Analyses of constructed spatial features In archaeological spatial analyses, space is rarely the ultimate object of interpretation. In fact, the goal is rather to
image/svg+xmlIANSA 2016 ● VII/2 ● 209–216Monika Baumanová: Space Matters: A Refection on Archaeological Theory and Method for Interpreting the Materiality of Space 211 understand how space is incorporated into human use of the tangible world where the use of intangible space is implicit.More than sixty years ago, Hawkes proposed his “ladder of inference”, which described what aspects of the past may be accessible to archaeology (Hawkes 1954). Hawkes argued that archaeology is suited to obtain reliable data about the lowest tier of the “ladder”, represented by past technology and transformation processes that afect archaeological sites, and as we move up the “ladder” we may recover less and less knowledge on subsistence economics and political dynamics, with the spiritual belief and thinking of the past people virtually beyond the reach of archaeological enquiry.Although archaeology has matured and advanced much further than where it was in the 1950s, I still argue that the underlying awareness, if not fear, of the ladder of inference remains inherent to the discipline, and to how it is willing to understand space. Whenever space had to do something with technology, subsistence or environment, it was much more studied by research. Making intangible space an explicit object of study associates it with the category of thought life and ideology, and also makes it potentially less verifable and defensible on the grounds of “hard” scientifc method. The suitability of a range of natural science and mathematical methods, as well as computer software and technologies for archaeological enquiry, has in many instances led to the situation that their availability, rather than advances in theory, has guided the research, in the sense that research questions were driven by what was possible with the new technologies rather than by theoretically-derived conceptual questions. The theoretical content then referred to a middle-range theory of methodological application rather than the social theory of past human practices ( e.g. Kuna 2004). The criticism of more recent decades has pointed out that spatial analyses should stop being presented as a statistical exercise, a stage to go through in archaeological work – primarily because such an approach has far reaching connotations if it becomes an implicit “paradigm” of its own.In so doing, certain aspects of space may repeatedly become subject to analysis while others are avoided. Let us consider the medieval walls from Great Zimbabwe, as an example of a spatial feature and a site distant enough in date and context from the European mindset, to demonstrate that this is an issue of global archaeology. The processes that went into the building of the highly sophisticated stone walls of this UNESCO World Heritage Site were for a long time assessed as a testament to technology, which was frst denied African origin, and subsequently its sophistication, following the argument that the absence of corners built into the monumental structure signifes a lack of technological knowledge (for the history of this research, see Hall 1990). Later, the walls began to be understood as part of the local cattle-keeping economy and power politics, but it was only a recognition of their potential role in the local cosmologies, social phenomena and their development through time (Ranger 1999) that allowed archaeologists to explain the size, form and logic of placement of the walls (Hufman 2001; Pikirayi 2001). This became possible not only with more data being recovered from the site, but primarily with advances in theory (for an overview, see e.g. Ucko 1995; Garlake 2002, 141–162), that allowed researchers to argue conclusions aspiring to shed light on the higher tiers of the “ladder of inference”.This example goes to show that the technology with which walls are built can be of importance only in the context of some questions, while their relative height, confguration with other features on site, and how they structured space may be at other times much more signifcant. It derives that if we choose to more frequently consider certain objectives of wall-building because we assume that the data available can more reliably be analysed in reference to those objectives, we are by extension suggesting that our present-day concerns were also the major concerns of past people. Archaeological research which is led by the availability and potential of methods – and solely by the natural science hypothesis-testing approach to theory (Neustupný 2007) – is hence in danger of incorporating implicit assumptions that bias our understanding of the past.In the case of Great Zimbabwe, only 50 years of further research allowed a change in the politically-, and also theoretically-, skewed interpretation and thus contextually explain the walls. If we shy away from analysing the space itself, how it is organised, we have already made an interpretation and chosen to ascribe the walls that structure it with a specifc meaning. The so-called “optimal choices” behind wall-building in every culture we study are going to be the same. This problem has also been highlighted in criticism of the optimal foraging theory, the major faw of which was portraying adaptation as an evolutionary process where culture inhibits optimality, so that behavioural models emerge both as a consequence of and explanation for observed patterns (Ingold 2000, 38). A similar problem appears if we compare ethnographically- and archaeologically- recorded communities for which a similar basis of economy is assumed ( e.g. Lane 2015).In many ways, the post-processualist approaches of the last thirty years tried to get around this problem: one of its main achievements being the demonstration that space may also be produced and consumed, similarly to pottery or metal artefacts ( e.g. Tilley 1994). However, one of the shortcomings of post-processual research on space is a more relaxed maintenance of the mutual interdependence between theory and method, an imbalanced weight of reasoning towards, for example, ethnographic parallels, or treatment of methods as theory-neutral. A good example is the feld of structural theory and structural analyses, which in essence stands somewhat on the borderline between analytical and interpretive archaeologies. 3. Structuralism and structural analyses of space Structural approaches as a school of thought in archaeology have been developed as a theory as well as a set of analytical tools for studying space, yet often they have been subject to
image/svg+xmlIANSA 2016 ● VII/2 ● 209–216Monika Baumanová: Space Matters: A Refection on Archaeological Theory and Method for Interpreting the Materiality of Space 212 misconceptions about their applicability. Structural analyses in archaeology evolved in an extension to a wider research direction in social sciences. In archaeology specifcally, structural approaches characterised a substantial part of post-processualist research as represented by the now classic volume Symbolic and Structural Archaeology edited by Ian Hodder (Hodder 1982a). They are based on the idea that people think in a language and when they act on their thinking this quality is transferred onwards, including their material culture. Structuralist approaches were aimed at disentangling this meaning from material culture, which was argued to preserve some of its linguistic qualities, e.g. binary oppositions such as light and dark, strong and weak (Levi-Strauss 1969). Many disciplines were making use of these principles, including: anthropology, social geography, architecture, sociology and psychology (Bourdieu 1990). This also spurred the adaptation of a range of analytical methods for social sciences such as graph theory (Hage, Harary 1983), GIS ( e.g . Llobera 1996), and most recently network analysis (Scott 2000). Perhaps the most infuential volume among archaeologists was based on research from UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture (Hillier, Hanson 1984; Hillier 1996) and the Institute of Archaeology (Bevan, Lake 2013), which also prompted more research on the materiality of networks (Knappett 2013).