Which archaeologist invented hermeneutics? or an appraisal of the things that look unimportant

It’s been long since I posted something, but that is because I’ve been “busy” collecting ideas for such posts.

So, I’ve been to TAG 2012 – the Theoretical Archaeology Conference. I have to admit I had no special expectations, but was curious to see how is the field of theory understood in the contemporary research of my peers (or of those with vaster experience). Well, after I’ve been there I am as puzzled as before.

On the funny side, in the archaeology themed pub quiz we had, a team came up  with the statement that an archaeologist (I forgot his name) came up with Hermeneutics. Of course, one can not dismiss an entire conference based on that, and this would not only be unfair, but also incorrect. There were some very bright researchers and some interesting projects presented. But, what I think this little situation is representative of is the relationship between philosophy and the current archaeological projects, or better said its status in my discipline  (as it came through at the conference).

To start with, there were a couple hundred of participants, 3 days, 6 lecture rooms and sessions all day round. From all these, only 1 or 2 were explicitly discussing/debating philosophically related issues. Ok, this might be of no relevance for anybody but me, and I see no point in further rambling on about some of my dissatisfaction with TAG.

However, I think it is of importance how we choose to think (or not) about what we are doing and what we have to offer to the others, the public in general, and to the future of our profession in particular. And this is a philosophical question in its nature, which involves philosophic categories and concepts (such as knowledge, truth, meaning). Even if we choose to dismiss their importance, the outside events tend not to let us: the cuts in archaeological departments and projects, the shaky status of the humanities in the contemporary world, the “fate” of our societies.

While in TAG someone told me the following anecdote:

a famous archaeologist was in dialogue with a philosopher, in the USA. And the philosopher asked him why is it important what he is doing, cause nothing can be more important than ideas. And the archaeologist answered this: “You go to university and teach for an hour or 2 a day. With the money you earned, you go the shop, buy stuff and take it to your home. This stuff surrounds you and occupies most of your life. It is this neglected stuff that we, archaeologist care about” 

I wouldn’t go so far in accepting wholeheartedly the point in favour of archaeology, but I certainly like it for one good reason: that it is the point of an archaeologist who looks at the world around as “an explorer” , one who thinks that “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity” (to quote Wittgenstein). So, regardless of ones inclination towards philosophy, thinking, reflecting and imagining are indispensable ways of being for a scientist. And the importance of them I felt is starting to disappear  from our contemporary practice.

Photo source: http://patternity.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/PATTERNITY_TRIANGULARTIERS_PIAHOWELL.jpeg

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One thought on “Which archaeologist invented hermeneutics? or an appraisal of the things that look unimportant

  1. I always thought I’d love a career in archaeology. But it was the Roman/Greek world I was interested in, and they didn’t leave too many artifacts in the western hemisphere, so . . .

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