- Excavating Asian History: Interdisciplinary Studies in Archaeology and History
In this important volume that aims to break down the disciplinary boundaries between history and archaeology, Yoffee and Crowell bring together eight case studies to explore ways of integrating textual [End Page 442] records and material evidence to “maximize the level of interpretation” of the past (Wendrich and colleagues, p. 59). In the introduction, the two editors issue their first call for “Historical Archaeology” based on a close capture of the “ecology” of the world of archaeology. They note that “in most parts of the world outside of the United States, of course, archaeologists (at least those who study ancient states) do think of themselves as historians, and they are trained in departments of history or in departments of archaeology” (p. 4). Archaeologists differ from each other in their methodological commitments, which are suited to the study of their periods and their parts of the world. Put into a global context, anthropological archaeology—the mainstream archaeology practiced in America—is only a special case that owes as much to the societies archaeologists study in the New World being mostly illiterate as to the realities of American academia in which archaeologists usually find employment in departments of anthropology. This awareness of the nondominant nature (or “disciplinary oddities,” Lape, p. 282) of American anthropological archaeology is keenly echoed in a paragraph written recently by Philip Kohl, who has himself contributed the last chapter of the book under review:
Most observers would consider British and American, or hereafter Anglo-American, archaeology to have features distinctive from those characteristics of separate national traditions of research in continental Europe, Russia, or China. Although generally laudable, efforts to create a “world archaeology” have been only partially realized, and the resistances to such attempts are themselves interesting and deserve further examination. What some like to see as an admirable universalism, others may resent as a new form of academic and linguistic imperialism.(Philip L. Kohl, The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia [Cambridge, 2007], pp. 1–2)
Significantly and unusually, this book was organized and commented by leading American anthropological archaeologists, who, operating with a broad definition of archaeology, looked out of the confines of anthropology and drew methodological inspiration from the discipline of history. In this regard, Robert McC. Adams and K. C. Chang are admired as pioneers who once forged a healthy link between history and anthropology (pp. 4–5). Lape describes this interdisciplinary approach as a new trend that is forming within the domain of anthropological archaeology as “archaeologists have looked to historians who are sympathetic to generalizing approaches for models of incorporating particularistic textual data into variable temporal scales typical of archaeological research” (p. 279). Although Yoffee and Crowell might [End Page 443] have been a little too optimistic (see below) about the degree to which “anthropological archaeologists have become more historical and historical archaeologists have become more anthropological” (pp. 4–5), their goodwill is duly and justifiably rewarded by the fine studies they brought together to make a real point.
The excellent content of Wendrich and colleagues’ chapter certainly merits the “first place” in the book. In order to discover the pattern of trade through Berenike, a harbor city located on the Red Sea shore of Egypt’s Eastern Desert during the first and second centuries, the authors carefully sorted out names of goods mentioned in the transmitted Greek and Latin literature and juxtaposed them against archaeological finds in three categories: stones, botanical commodities, and ceramic vessels for wine transport. Whenever discrepancies appeared—for example, the absence of long pepper mentioned by Pliny the Elder from the archaeological record or the silence of the texts on the Indian coconut and rice found in Berenike (p. 46)—the authors took great care to examine the possible circumstances that might have led to the incompleteness of the records, whether archaeological or textual. The study demonstrates the great potential of cross-examinations of archaeological finds and historical texts to generate meaningful research questions that no...