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03/05/2009
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The future of archaeological thought: A debate between Ian Hodder and Lewis Binford

  1. Introduction.
  2. The book Theoretical archaeology: A reactionary view by Ian Hodder.
  3. Hodder's criticism of the 'New Archaeology'.
  4. Hodder's ongoing critique of archaeological thought.
  5. His article 'Agency and individuals in long term processes'.
  6. Hodder's article entitled 'The 'Social' in Archaeological Theory: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective'.
  7. Binford's remarks on the current states of archaeological thought.
  8. Conclusion.
  9. Works cited.

In their thoughts on the future of archaeological thought, Ian Hodder and Lewis Binford offer drastically conflicting perspectives. Binford argues that social history can be investigated using the processes of archaeology, yet he shows little interest in the meaning associated with an artifact or the corresponding connection between the creator of that artifact and its user. In contrast, Hodder believes that culture itself is mental, and emphasizes the importance of understanding the artifact in order to comprehend the associated cultural realities. Binford resists the notion that artifacts themselves are merely markers of time and space, as he sees these artifacts as being crucial to understanding the dynamic nature of the social group that incorporated that artifact into its culture. Yet unlike Binford, Hodder implies that archaeology is a study unto itself and should not be associated with anthropology.

[...] Binford celebrates a systemic view of culture and sets forth a comprehensive argument in which he emphasizes the importance of thinking about data in terms of total cultural systems, a perspective that Hodder vehemently opposed in his later work. Binford suggests that without this totalitarian approach, many prehistoric mysteries will remain unsolved. Thus it would seem that Binford invokes the value of inter-disciplinarity in solving the world’s cultural enigmas, as he feels that archaeologists have access to a great deal of data that would likely provide a solution to many problems within the general field of anthropology, a notion to which Hodder is extremely resistant. [...]


[...] Binford even goes so far as to infer that some basic assumptions about the nature of archaeological record are not grounded in empirical fact and therefore there are serious reasons to doubt these assumptions in the absence of the appropriate testing: the eyes of the conventionalist one principle only can help us to select a system at the chosen one from among all other possible systems; it is the principle of selecting the simplest system the simplest system of implicit definition; which of course means in practice the ‘classical’ system of the (Binford 292). [...]


[...] Sabloff, pp. 1-14. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. Binford, L.R. (1972c) “Model-Building, Paradigms and the Current State of Paleolithic Research”. In An Archaeological Perspective, edited by L. R. Binford, pp. 244- 294. Seminar Press, New York Binford, L.R. (1992). “Seeing the Present and Interpreting the Past-and Keeping Things Straight”. In Space, Time, and Archaeological Landscapes, edited by Jacqueline Rossignol & LuAnn Wandsnider, pp. 43-59. [...]

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