Introduction - Warren DeBoer and Linea Sundstrom
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Introduction Warren DeBoer and Linea Sundstrom This volume was born in puzzlement.The concept of tradition,a term we use in the sense of long-­ term cultural continuity, plays a fundamental role in archaeology . This use of tradition does not imply stasis, nor does it hinge on whether the tempo of change is gradual or rapid, but it does require a mode of transmission that results in detectable continuity. In its instructional capacity at the in­ di­ vidual level, tradition can be seen as an efficient mechanism for reducing the inconvenience of having to think too much in order to act and the palpable risks of thinking on one’s own. Such an inertial role, of course, works best in a relatively unchanging or otherwise predictable environment of the kind that beaver dams (Morgan 1868) and human material culture are designed to secure (Odling-­Smee et al.2003).In the ar­ chaeo­ logi­ cal idiom of artifacts, tradition acts as a time-­ binding glue that holds together culture history, arguably archaeology’s major contribution to world knowledge. Without tradition, prehistory crumbles into a jumble of curios (Willey and Phillips 1958). The puzzle stems from the euphoria with which the collapse of culture history is seemingly welcomed in some academic quarters.The past, like all other cultural phenomena, of course, is a social product and thus embedded in “the social construction of reality,” as a founding work would have it (Berger and Luckman 1966). Such construction, however, need not suggest that the past is mere fabrication, a retrodiction solely based upon present concerns, a resource to be plundered for contemporary purposes, or, to paraphrase that quintessential Ameri­ can, Henry Ford,“total bunk.”Yet so much of today’s anthropology, while paying homage to neglected histories, is flush with iconoclastic fervor and its supporting rheto­ ric that seem intent on his­ tori­cal erasure.The past and its cultural legacy thus assume interest to the ex- 2 Warren DeBoer and Linea Sundstrom tent that they are hotly contested,strategically contrived,selectively remembered or forgotten, creatively improvised, collectively hallucinated, totally reinvented by each child or each generation of children, dynamic and mercurial , or otherwise concocted in order to slight or problematize any symptom of inertia.FollowingTrouillot’s (1995:xix) aphorism that “we are never as steeped in history as when we pretend not to be,”this postmodern glorification of the unanchored can be seen as the flip side of the romantic quest for authenticity.The wished-­ for recurring motifs of tradition are replaced by the motives of tirelessly busy agents. All those folks who answered the ethnographer with “because that’s the way we do it” were just being lazy, unreflective , or otherwise uncooperative. The following chapters address this state of affairs, as it is somewhat unfairly sketched above, by examining ar­ chaeo­ logi­ cal traditions at work in the Americas. The contributors are archaeologists whose views are diverse and sometimes conflicting.As editors,we have not meddled to forge a consensus that does not exist.All the essays,however,implicate tradition and the modes and mechanisms by which it is transmitted. Emergent themes include the mnemonic roles and functions played by artifacts and the motor habits embodied in their production; the songs and chants that accompany and guide ritual performance; oral traditions, the variable fidelity with which they are passed on, and their use as his­ tori­ cal documents; the clockwork stability of skyscapes that encode the stories of myth; toponym-­ dotted landscapes recalling events real and imagined; long-­ lived monuments that evoke memory, direct attention,and channel movement centuries after their construction; the caves, mountains, trees, and other “power places” where nature and super­ nature fleetingly touch; and the rock art and other fixtures that outlast in­ di­ vidual lives. As this list suggests and as the subtitle of this volume indicates, religious belief and ritual comprise the chosen arena for these investigations. Upon first consideration, this choice might appear to be apposite. There is a common supposition that religion is pervasively connected to other cultural domains and thereby is a locus for tenacious cultural persistence—that is, a good site for studying tradition. As an upper rung on Hawkes’s inferential ladder, religion also presents an inviting challenge to ar­ chaeo­ logi­ cal inference , a challenge that is being taken up on numerous fronts (e.g., Fogelin 2008; Steadman 2009; VanPool et al.2006; Whitley and Hays-­Gilpin 2008). It is testimony to the overrated claims of human creativity that...


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