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Eventful Archaeologies

New Approaches to Social Transformation in the Archaeological Record

Douglas J. Bolender

Publication Year: 2010

The potential of events for interpreting changes in the archaeological record. What is the role of events when evaluating the long-term significance of the archaeological record? Given that the event is a key mechanism for structural change, are historical transformations always eventful? And what is the relationship between specific events and other temporalities of change? In this notable volume, researchers from Germany to Iceland to New York, from across the sweep of European and North American prehistory and history, explore the promise and challenges of events, the potent intersections of history and archaeology. Of special interest are the potential of events for better understanding volcanic disasters, the “Neolithic argonauts” of the western Mediterranean, Roman provincial archaeology, early Neolithic southern Britain, change during the Paleolithic era, the Iron Age Heuneburg Mud-brick Wall, colonial New York, and households. Indispensable for historians, archaeologists, and those ethnohistorians and anthropologists working within a long-term historical framework, Eventful Archaeologies offers a more holistic and richly textured approach for comprehending cultural change.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: The Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology Distinguished Monograph Series

Eventful Archaeologies

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pp. iii


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

At first glance Pompeii and Iceland would seem to be worlds apart. On the one side are the sunny shores of the Bay of Naples. On the other, one encounters settlements in the cold, rainy north. One lies at the center of what is regarded as ‘Western Civilization’, the other at its outer margins. However, the archaeological worlds of the two widely separated cultures have important points in common. They represent two of the epochal peoples in the Western narrative, the Vikings and the Romans. Both are places, where volcanoes have ...


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pp. 1

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Toward an Eventful Archaeology

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pp. 3-14

Throughout the twentieth century, archaeology has had an uneasy relationship with history. These divisions have been particularly salient in the United States where history has been allied with the humanities, archaeology with the social sciences. At times, archaeologists have explicitly rejected a role for history within the social sciences (e.g., Binford 1962 ). The result has been a methodological and theoretical divide between historical and prehistoric archaeologies and the restriction of historical archaeology as a temporally and regionally...

Part 1. Eventful Prehistories

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pp. 15

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1. Cascading Prehistoric Events: Fractalizing Prehistoric Research

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pp. 17-28

Archaeology has always been concerned with time and space. We situate prehistoric events in particular times and at particular places. We do so using a recipe of archaeological adventure saut

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2. A Paleohistorical Approach to Upper Paleolithic Structural Changes

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pp. 29-47

Sewell’s formulation of historical events brings provocative questions into play when applied to Paleolithic and its bands of hunter-gatherers (Beck et al. 2007 ). A first one is: Can we identify historical events during Paleolithic times? A second one is: Are there other events than environmental events for groups of predators such as the hunter-gatherers? Like all historians, French historians have theorized about historical events...

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3. Becoming, Phenomenal Change, Event: Past and Archaeological Representations

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pp. 48-67

It has recently been suggested that William Sewell’s work (e.g., 2005) and his concept of the event in historical narratives can be a useful way also for archaeologists to think through their case studies and to come up with a novel perspective on the question of “structural change” in history (Beck et al. 2007). Yet, I feel that the Sewell’s defi nition of event is very particular...

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4. Event and Short-Term Process: Times for the Early Neolithic of Southern Britain

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pp. 68-87

What is an event? Human life is played out at many differing scales and tempos. We have little difficulty in our own lives in talking about events. We refer to great events and small events, generally reserving the term for things that we regard as both significant and concentrated in time. Neither aspect of the concept of the event is normally closely defined....

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5. The Neolithic Argonauts of the Western Mediterranean and Other Underdetermined Hypotheses of Colonial Encounters

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pp. 88-99

An event is a significant occurrence, its significance depending on the structure within which it occurs for its existence and effect (Sahlins 1988:142). The elaboration of Sahlins’s approach by Sewell (2005) suggests that historians should fi rst defi ne the structural transformation to be explained, followed by the observation of the contingent sequence of occurrences that may have had an effect on the structure in which it had taken place...

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6. Eventful Archaeology, the Heuneburg Mudbrick Wall,and the Early Iron Age of Southwest Germany

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pp. 100-114

In a pioneering article on the individual in prehistory, Karl Narr had the following to say about the “mad builder” of the Heuneburg and his mudbrick wall masterpiece:...

Part II.Eventful Histories and Beyond

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pp. 115

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7. The Annales, Events, and the Fate of Cities

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pp. 117-131

Conveying the concept of “eventful” history across disciplines, to create an “eventful” archaeology, enhances our interpretation of the Past by focusing attention on critical moments of change in the archaeological record. It resonates well with Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of Punctuated Equilibrium in Evolutionary Biology ( 1989 ), which several scholars have argued to be applicable to Archaeology and Anthropology ( Bintliff 1999 ). Here long periods of relative stability in a cultural...

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8. Modeling the “Amazon” Phenomenon Colonization Events and Gender Performances

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pp. 132-150

This chapter examines ancient, ethnographic, and modern contexts where changes in the expression of gender may be understood to have coincided with changes in the socioeconomic circumstances of, and thus opportunities presented to, the biological sexes in societies undergoing externally driven change....

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9. The Allure of the Event in Roman Provincial Archaeology

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pp. 151-165

When Sewell (2005) posited the idea of an eventful sociology, the challenge for archaeologists was whether we could use this theory as a way to interpret the past, and if so, what the problems might be (Beck et al. 2007). Sewell constructed this theory within the sphere of early modern history, for which there is a sequence of documented events....

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10. The ad 79 Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius: A Significant or Insignificant Event?

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pp. 166-178

Pliny the Younger was 17 years old and staying with his uncle, the elder Pliny, at his navalbase in Misenum ( Figure 1 ), when, on August 24, or conceivably on November 23 (see Pappalardo 1990:209–210), AD 79, that notorious relative and natural scientist set off to investigate the unusual cloud forming over Mt. Vesuvius—an investigation that led to his death some 20 km from the erupting mountain....

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11.Testing Eventful Archaeologies: Eventful Archaeology and Volcanic “Disasters”

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pp. 179-188

The proposal by Beck et al. (2007) that Sewell’s concept of an event offers a theoretical vocabulary by which change in the archaeological record may be explained creates a useful opportunity to discuss the processes by which structural transformations may come about and be recognized in the archaeological record....

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12. Events, Temporalities, and Landscapes in Iceland

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pp. 189-198

In what sense do archaeologists deal with events? And what do we mean by an event anyway? The concept of event is by no means straightforward and there are a plethora of philosophical issues and positions that we cannot address here. Archaeologically, the concept of event has received little attention and tends to be considered...

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13. Freedom as a Negotiated History, or an Alternative Sort of Event: The Transformation of Home, Work, and Self in Early New York

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pp. 199-215

Embodied in William Sewell’s (2005) theoretical proposal for an “eventful sociology” is the relatively simple idea that history matters in part because history has matter, or consequences that contribute to the qualities, meanings, and textures of material life. As Beck et al. (2007:834) suggest, archaeologists should be attracted to this idea because of its applications to the study of material culture,...


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pp. 217

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14. Archaeology and the Human Career: Revolutions, Transformations, Events

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pp. 233-236

It is an enormous privilege, and a daunting challenge, to give the opening address marking the launch of the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology. Archaeology is traditionally defined as the study of the past through its material culture, to distinguish it from history, defi ned as the study of the past through written records. The bad old view of the relationship between archaeology and history was that archaeology was an expensive ...


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pp. 237-243

E-ISBN-13: 9781438434247
E-ISBN-10: 1438434243
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438434230
Print-ISBN-10: 1438434235

Page Count: 255
Illustrations: 2 tables, 46 figures
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: The Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology Distinguished Monograph Series