Archaeology Goals and Scope 2

Goals of Archaeology

 Traditionally, archaeology has been equated with the discovery, recovery, inquiry, scrutiny, analysis and interpretation of the material remains of the human past. Now, goals of archaeology have been modified in an effort to learn more about relations between material culture and human behaviour. These goals stress the need to establish temporal and spatial controls on the materials under study. To achieve this, archaeologists have three principal goals. 

These goals are:  

  • To consider the form of archaeological evidence and its distribution in time and space.  
  • To determine the function of archaeological evidence and thereby construct models of ancient behaviour. 
  •  To delimit the process of culture and determine how and why cultures change. The first goal (form) is the description and classification of the material evidence to develop models of artefact assemblage distribution through time and space. 

The study of artefact assemblages helps to reconstruct the historical development of cultural changes by building local and regional sequences. For instance, Heinrich Dressel’s classification of Roman amphorae could be cited as finest example. In India, the approximate date and cultural association of the sites are being recognized generally based on the ceramic sequences. Such artefact assemblages such as ceramics (like pre-Harappan, Harappan, Northern-Black-Polished ware (NBP), Painted Grey ware (PGW), rouletted ware and blackand-red ware (BRW)), stone tools (like core tools of Madras hand axes, pebble tools of Soan valley, flake tools and celts) and metal objects (copper hoards and Iron Age tools) were created in Indian context. The second goal (function) focuses on the usage of various artefacts. This is done based on the study of forms. It assists to understand the ancient human behaviour in a given environment. 

The combined study of forms and functions helps us to reconstruct the past 5 environment through the study of ethnoarchaeological, palaeobotonical, archaeozoological, paleontological samples and many other subsistence patterns. For instance, the hand axes and cleavers encountered in Lower Palaeolithic culture and axes and adzes encountered in Neolithic culture reflect their function, subsistence pattern and also the past environment. The Lower Palaeolithic tools reflect the mode of subsistence pattern of the hunter-gatherer community that lived during Pleistocene period and the Neolithic tools echo the food producing society lived during Holocene period. 

The size and shape (i.e., form) of the tools determine their function which eventually determines the nature of subsistence patterns. The third goal (process-the cultural process) is an attempt to understand the cultural change or process of change in a sequential or chronological order based on the study of tangible and intangible evidences. The study of cultural process is one of the major goals of new archaeology. Cultural changes occur due to variety of reasons. The development of science and technology, spirituality, under exploitation or over exploitation of natural resources, change in environment, changes in social, political and economic structures, internal and external influences and many other such forces or pointers individually or collectively influence the cultural process. For instance, the introduction of metal technology like copper and iron, sea level fluctuations, river migrations, state formation or collapse, maritime contacts and identification of monsoon winds could be cited as some of the factors for the change in culture. The various dynamics of cultural process cannot be understood without the involvement of various disciplines like history, anthropology, geology, biology, zoology, physics, chemistry, botany and many other interrelated sister disciplines. Thus, the inter-disciplinary studies play a vital role in archaeological interpretations. Understanding the crucial relationship that exists between archaeology and other disciplines is important to strengthen the study of human past and also to overcome certain deficiencies or discrepancies that erupt in the course of our interpretation. 

Archaeology as Science 

There is a continuous, vibrant academic debate whether to consider archaeology as a science or humanistic discipline or stands for both. Scholars argue that application of science and scientific methods in a particular discipline would not make that subject a science. They argue that the science is extensively used in archaeology, but it deals on human past, therefore it is a humanistic discipline and also part of history. One may see the archaeology and science going together, but it is very difficult to accept archaeology as a science. The scholars who counter this argument emphasize that, unlike in history, the evidences do not speak themselves, rather archaeologist make sense out of it. In this respect, the job of the archaeologist is rather like that of the scientist. Like scientists, archaeologists also collect data, conducts experiment, formulates a hypothesis, tests the hypothesis and summarize the results. Therefore, the scholars argue that archaeology is a science. 

Archaeology and Science 

There are two perceptions on archaeology and science. One is the contribution of science to archaeology and another is the contribution of archaeology to science. Some of the archaeologists generally hold the former view and fail to look into the mutual dependence. The contribution of archaeology to science is being increasingly felt in recent years. The independently dated early Palaeolithic tools collected in specific cultural and environmental deposits at Tikoda in Madhya Pradesh (Ota and Deo 2014:57-66), Attirampakkam in 6 Kortalaiyar valley near Chennai(Pappu 2011:1596-1599) and Isampur in Karnataka, respectively dated to 1.7, 1.5 and 1.2 million years provided much needed information to geoscientists. Likewise, it is once assumed that the atmospheric ratio of C14 to C12 remains constant over-time (Libby 1955:8). In contrast to this assumption, the C 14 dating of the known-age archaeological specimens led to the development of tree-ring based calibration curves (MASCA correction) (Taylor 1987:19-21). The animal bones, pollen, phytoliths and archaeo-botanical remains recovered from archaeological records help to the environmentalists and ecologists to reconstruct the bio-diversity. The sequence of genomes of ancient pathogens (such as the bacteria that causes leprosy and tuberculosis) recovered from ancient human skeletal remains paving the way to improved therapies. The analysis of wootz steel of south India and Delhi iron pillar may provide to good scope for future iron and steel technology. The hydraulic device (called kumuli (in Tamil) –sluice) used in tank irrigation reflects the water management system. Several such physical traces may help to understand various intricacies of science. Thus, archaeology contributes much for the development of science and science helps immensely for the advancement of archaeology. In the following chapter, the fruitful relationship that exists between archaeology and other social, physical, chemical, biological and geological sciences is highlighted. 

Relevance of Archaeology 

The duty of the archaeologists is to discover, document, decode, describe, discuss, determine, disseminate and declare the result of the findings of the facts to the society without any prejudice and personal benefit. Their findings must unite the humanity, remove the disparity, implant the scientific temper and advance the society in all spheres of human life. Many of the collectors and treasure hunters regard themselves as legitimate archaeologists and it is the curse of the archaeology today. Our ancestors with spiritual belief buried their riches to accompany them in the after-life. We, their descendants, exploit those riches to enrich ourselves. For instance, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York purchased one painted Greek vase looted from an Italian tomb by paying million dollars (Papa-Sokal 2011:2-8), though now it returned the vase to Italy. Several south Indian bronzes and sculptures were looted to meet the greed of the Museums of the developed countries without understanding that they were collecting a part of an endangered, rapidly vanishing and never be replaced cultural heritage of a particular community or nation. The archaeological excavation conducted by professional archaeologists also considered as scientific destruction, but they record with context and publish them for the advancement of humanity and open them to the scholarly world and to the general public without any personal benefit, a critical ingredient in scientific archaeology. 

Past, Present and Future

 All the societies have interest in the past to understand the present and to move forward in the future. All the members of the society are the stake-holders of the past and it is not the unique privilege of the archaeologists. Archaeologists must have the moral responsibility of presenting the past cultural values that embedded in the present cultural system and also to take forward of the future for better co-existence of multiple complex societies. How the past societies viewed their past is more important in archaeology. Majority of the written documents such as literature, inscriptions, copper plates, monuments and oral traditions were created, composed and engraved with an intension to record their past, to meet the aspiration of the present and to guide the future. The whole archaeological materials are the documents of the past, and they were the products of the ancient society, created intentionally or unintentionally in the past. The great spectacular discoveries like Tikoda, Bhimbetka, Harappa, Mohenjadaro, Dholavira, Pataliputra and many other such discoveries created sensation in the minds of the people. Some are chance discoveries like Bhimbetka and some are after well-planned  research like the identification of Sanchi, Saranath, Kaveripattinam and Dwarka. Some are turned out to be a speculative. Several speculative statements need scientific validity and search for such validity is still-on in several nations. The course of Saraswathi river, the human-made bridge of Ramar Sethu, submerged cities of Dwarka and Kaveripattinam and the lost continent of Kumarikandam are some of the written or oral traditions that require material evidences validated by science. Our science took us to moon and sends spacecraft to probe Mars, but our collective understanding of human diversity and our ability to collaborate with others from different cultural backgrounds remains at an elementary level. We are in “identity crisis”. We identify the people based on religion, caste, nation, language, geography, physical features and so on so forth. We tend to fear diversity, due to ignorance. Therefore, we must use archaeology as one of the educational weapons in the fight against such ignorance. The biological and cultural diversities are part of human history. These diversities should not be used as a political or social tool to attain short gains. We should reconstruct the history to unite the people and should not manufacture a history to divide the people. The past also has two types of history, namely created history and manufactured history but the present society must expose the true history for the benefit of all. We have to look at the past objectively, and we should not view the past through the spectrum of our present value system. In contrast, archaeological interpretations are increasingly taking a shape of both scientific and political. A “real” or “imagined past” is being constructed to get or change the public opinion. For instance, Africa is the abode of first human who appeared 2.5 million years ago, but her written history begins with the colonial rule. Which part of history is important, the long unwritten human history of 2.5 million years? or short written history of few centuries? Our goal is to reveal both. 

In the recent years, archaeology has begun to receive the attention of rulers, political leaders and administrators, as the archaeological investigations begin to support the much needed economic development. The traditional medicine, science and technology help in several ways to mitigate the misery of the contemporary society. For instance, the sluice technology can be cited as an example. The sluice is a simple hydraulic device used in tank irrigation in dry zones of south India. There are several sluices dating back to 7th -8 th centuries CE. Some of the sluices are still in use and have survived for more than a millennium. Its long survival itself stands as a proof of its worthiness. The rain harvesting system adopted at Dholavira in semi-arid zone of Rann of Kutch region of Gujarat could be cited as another example (Bisht 2000:11-23). One may cite several such examples. The increased food production through raised-field potato cultivation in Bolivia is the result of archaeological findings. Understanding the innovation of wootz steel, iron pillar, construction of dams, diversion of river waters, breathtaking monuments like Brihadiswara temple, Taj Mahal, the whispering gallery of Gol Gumbaz at Golkonda and other such technology involved architectural uniqueness can be used for national economic development. The Harappan cities followed underground drainage system but our contemporary, so called advanced cities, lack such sanitary awareness. The mud bricks used in order to overcome the extreme cold and hot climates in Indus civilization can be replicated today. Thus, the benefit of the archaeology or the nuisance of the archaeology depends upon our world view and our love towards humanity. Let us understand the past for prosperous future.