Monday, March 2, 2015

The first Americans and Who They Were – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding the change in understanding of archaeology and anthropology as to the earliest cultures of the Americas and pre-determining their location in the area of Andean Peru in South America. 
Archaeology, after all, is based on certain tenets, officially referred to as Processual archaeology, which officially came into being in the 1960s, though many argue that it had a much earlier start date and always had a continual dominance in the field. So that we have a better appreciation of how archaeology sees their professions, the following canons apply:
1) Traditionally seen as a branch of history focusing on explication of the past and defined by dynamic explanation called “systems theory,” which is based on the goal of understanding the complex factors driving cultural change, and explaining how people adapted to the environmental factors that drove cultural changes;
2) Focus on culture process, arguing that culture-historical archaeology results in static snapshots of phases of occupation (an artifact of archaeological collection and not a representation of reality), for the processualists purposing of focusing on generating a more lifelike, fluid understanding of the past, one based on understanding the complex interrelated cultural and environmental factors that contribute to cultural (and archaeological) change over time
This, in effect, applied an expressly theoretical approach, in which the theoretical goals of processual archaeology resulted in a number of methodological changes in the ways in which archaeology was (and is) practiced, resulting in a strong focus on survey, the integration of a wide range of new types of data, and on the replacement of the solo archaeologist with an archaeological team of experts, representing a number of fields that contribute to the explanation of the past.
    Perhaps stated differently, but accurately, is that archaeologists no longer see themselves as just collecting artifacts and data and publishing or presenting the results, but of interpreting those artifacts and data within a context that they, themselves, already believe and is a definitive standard of archaeology overall such as, by example, the concept of diffusion, where the burden of proof is on the diffusionist (archaeologist or anthropologist) to show that the trait is the same in the two areas, that communication between the two was possible, and that there are no difficulties in the relative dates.
While diffusion in a great number of cases can be met, and is an important explanatory concept in culture history, the belief, as set down and popularized by Vere Gordon Childe (left), an Australian-born, British historian, that all the attributes of civilization from architecture to metalworking had diffused from the Near East to Europe, which many have extended from there to the Americas tends to limit our understanding of separate development of ideas and technologies by cultures who never had contact with each other, sometimes referred to as “modified diffusionism,” that allows for some local cultural evolution, or “independent invention.”
    As a professor of prehistoric archaeology at the University of Edinburg, and then director of the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, Childe’s canon, or diffusionism, spread the idea that all major developments in prehistoric Europe in terms of the spread of either people or ideas from the Near East. On the other hand, the concept of “heliocentrism” suggests that all culture developed in Egypt and then spread out through space and time across the world.
Then, too, the work of Gustav Oscar Montelius (left), the Swedish archaeologist who constructed a chronology for prehistoric Europe and who developed typological schemes for the European Neolithic and Bronze Age, giving absolute dates by extending cross-dating from Egypt across Europe. He claimed that all European culture in later prehistoric times was derived from the ancient civilizations of Egypt and the Near East, and that material culture and biological life developed through essentially the same kind of evolutionary process—obviously eliminating any development from independent sources, such as the Jaredites, Nephites and Mulekites in the Western Hemisphere developing independent of that development in the Eastern Hemisphere (Egypt, Middle East and Europe).
The problem lies in the burden being placed upon the archaeologist or anthropologist to which diffusion is most likely. Based upon a belief that man crossed the Bearing Land Bridge, as an example, all cultural development came from the same source, disallowing any possibility of a secluded ancient branch coming to the Western Hemisphere via ship, such as the Jaredites, Nephites and Mulekites.
    In this sense, archaeologists and anthropologist have become solvers of ancient mysteries, interpreters of ancient, and therefore, unknown actions and philosophies, the final word on who lived when and what they knew, believed, and thought. As an example, they see a slab of rock in the middle of a room and interpret it as a ritual table where human sacrifice was conducted. They see six pyramids in a single settlement and consider them all “temples,” give them names by which we now know them like “Temple of the Sun,” “Temple of the Moon,” “Temple of the Inscriptions,” “Temple of the Feathered Serpent,” “Temple I,” “Temple II,” “Temple III,” etc.
    The point is, that these pre-conceived ideas, beliefs and canons condition the field worker to interpret what he finds in a pre-determined manner. This, then, clouds the understanding, especially in Andean South America research, the connection between so-called “cultures,” or different groups supposedly with no contact among each other. Thus, such areas as “accumulation” (adopting from another culture), or “convergence,” (the separate development of similar traits), “cultural diffusion” (passing on or borrowing from one group by another group in which the groups are not otherwise related), or overall “diffusion” (the spreading of cultural traits, ideas, or objects from one culture to another, where these cultures are otherwise unrelated), all tend to precondition the archaeologist and anthropologist in their thinking, and therefore in their judgment and interpretation of their findings.
Take, as an example, the theory of “cross-dating,” in which the assumption is made that a particular type of artifact, when found in an undated context will bear a similar date to one found in a dated context, thus enabling the whole of the undated context to be given a chronological value. However, there can be no way of knowing if that is true, whether that type of artifact (pottery, basketry, textile, or weapon) had two entirely separate areas of unrelated development by two entirely separate and unrelated cultures.
    The effect this has on the “history” developed from this archaeological and anthropological work, particularly in Andean South America, is to present a progression of different, unrelated, and extremely separate cultures down through the ages that had no or little contact with one another and no natural bond or origination. Yet, time and again in these posts, we have shown cultural, art, pottery, architecture, weapons, etc., that have a striking similarity between cultures and over long periods of time, suggesting that these so-called separate cultures, were indeed one of the same as they progressed down through time.
(See the next post, “The first Americans and Who They Were – Part III,” for more information regarding archaeology’s tendencies and canons that have pre-determined attitudes toward ancient cultures, especially in Andean South America)

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