Deetz, James. Invitation to Archaeology.

Garden City, NY: Natural History Press (for American Museum of Natural History), 1967.

Deetz was one of the leading professionals of the past couple of generations in the field of material history and historical archaeology (as opposed to prehistoric anthropology), and also the author of In Small Things Forgotten, which I re-read recently and which led me back to this small classic.

It’s a not-long introduction to the fundamental concepts and methods of archaeological research, focusing on North America of the past few centuries but applying to any excavation site, really. Deetz leads the beginning student through the basics of how one approaches a piece of ground of historical interest, whether there’s anything to see on the surface or not. He explains the principles of stratigraphy and seriation, surveys the basic methods of relative and absolute dating, and introduces the concepts of templates and typology, horizon and tradition, and the “space-time cone.” Then he leads you into a consideration of context, function, and structure, and the various levels of behavior and how they explain the artifacts one finds. (And explains the actual, proper meaning of “artifact,” for that matter.) And all this in less than 150 not very technical pages. While there have been enormous technological advances in archaeology in the half-century since this book appeared, the principles really haven’t changed at all. This is still a very, very good “first book” for anyone with an interest in archaeology. It will get your mind pointed in the right direction.

Published in: on 7 July 2012 at 5:33 am  Leave a Comment  

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