This is a guest posting from Kristin Landau in Copan, who sent me her very interesting remarks on Walter Taylor's discussion of publishing archaeological data. They fit with some of the themes of this blog, and I thought they deserved to be disseminated more widely. So here they are, with Kristin's permission (M.E.S.):
While giving Walter Taylor’s 1948 monograph a close read for the first time (he’s really a brilliant writer), I found that although the New Archaeologists may have have assimilated some of his recommendations (criticisms?) regarding then contemporary archaeological theory and practice, his suggestions on publishing have gone unheeded and still resonate today, 60 years later. What follows is a three-point brief synopsis of his remarks on publishing archaeology (page numbers refer to the 1968 second printing).
1. The nature and ideal content of archaeological publications (empirical data).
Taylor brings to the forum the scarcity of detailed, empirical reports; the lack of percentages, ratios, and relative amounts; and the absence of other basic ‘hard’ data upon which the archaeologist as anthropologist may base his interpretations on and syntheses of “cultural problems” (p. 51). He sees this as “bad practice” (125) for three reasons:
- Without presentation of excavation data “we are left to assume that other aspects of the research program are more important and more rewarding of publication” (51), i.e., extensive but shallow comparisons among sites rather than intensive (thick?) investigation the structure/object at hand and the idea(s) and systematics behind it.
- The lack of empirical information does not allow for proper criticism (see point 2 below) and therefore re-analysis and re-interpretation by other archaeologists. Instead, the archaeologist as archaeologist destroys the observable data along with his excavations and leaves important contextual information irrecoverable for himself, his critics, and future students.
- If the data from which the archaeologist’s very interpretations have been gleaned are denied the reader, this is of “dubious procedure” and hints at hidden agendas or the inaccuracy or inexactness of the original data (154).
I find this to be the case for Maya archaeology, though to perhaps a slighter degree now than in 1948.
2. How may we criticize archaeologically based reports and confront the task of constructing a closer approximation or interpretation of past actuality?
This second point is an integral part of the first. If we as archaeologists are to advance the understanding of a culture by the continual qualification or direct criticism of our colleagues’ work, our arguments must derive from the data (or methodology, methods or techniques as therein stated) and not elsewhere, as has sometimes been the case (p.43, 113).
3. The unfortunate practicalities.
Despite his call for the recording and publishing of all empirical data from an investigation,
Therefore we are left with a number of well-argued, complex reasons for the inclusion of the dull and uninteresting empirical evidence involved in archaeological research, but without recourse on how to fix it. Even sixty years later the best we came up with is storage of this data in hand-written notebooks in bodegas and site libraries around the
1940 The Conceptual Structure in Middle American Studies. In The Maya and Their Neighbors, C. Hay et al., eds.
1948 A Study of Archeology, 2nd printing .
1942 Late Ceramic Horizons at Benque Viejo,
- Kristin Landau