My view on The Grand Challenges for Archaeology #blogarch

This year’s first entry in Doug’s Blogging Archaeology Blog Carnival is the question: What are the grand challenges facing YOUR archaeology? I’ve decided that I’ll focus my answer on 2 of the things that have been preoccupying me for a while:

  1. How does ‘interdisciplinary’ research change archaeology? This is a word which seems to appear a lot, but I am afraid I am still puzzled by what archaeologists really understand by interdisciplinarity. Why do we think it matters?  I am not implying that it doesn’t matter (after all, I am a funerary archaeologist, turned osteologist and then a little bit of historian of science), but what I take as a challenge is to define its meaning for our discipline. And this becames quite important when asked to draw up an interdisiciplinary proposal in an application for example- then the questions ‘what’ and ‘why’ become quite relevant.

Beyond the enthusiasm for so many available tools and methods, what is the fundamental question each of us is trying to answer through our research, and does interdisciplinarity really help us to get there? Of course I am not interested in a clarification which goes down the path of: are we doing inter/trans or multi disciplinary studies etc – a linguistic debate (though not just). But where I see the ‘issue’ is in the fact that in certain instances we borrow methodological tools which have been designed to answer specific questions, non-archaeological in nature, but can we really integrate them in a coherent manner in our agendas? Therefore, the challenge I see is for archaeology to reflect a little on how/if the incorporation of new disciplines and techniques (from DNA and biomolecular studies, to 3D replicas, and complex statistical models) changes the nature of the very questions we ask- maybe without even realising it.

2. ‘Cut the theory jargon. Write in plain English‘. This was a well-meant advice I’ve received, but it makes one question if there isn’t an insurmontable barrier between the technical aspect of our domain (like fieldwork/laboratory research) and more theoretical approaches. Therefore, the challenge that I see is how can we establish a dialogue between what appears as objective ‘data analysis’ and theoretical endeavours, and move beyond the illusion that they deal with different ‘material realities’ or that they situate themselves on opposite ends of the objectivity scale. After all, where to draw boundaries around your data, how to link data points and how to interpret them are shared concerns.

I am not sure if this answers Doug’s question, but these are definitely the 2 things which sprang to my mind when I saw it. Of course my thoughts on these topics are still very much under construction, and looking forward to any thoughts/opinions.

(Featured image source: Doug’s original post.)

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