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Reviewed by:
  • Archaeology of Asia ed. by Miriam T. Stark
  • Joshua Wright
Archaeology of Asia. Miriam T. Stark, ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. 364 pp.

is there an archaeology of asia?

The field of Asian archaeology has been transformed technologically, methodologically, and interpretationally over the past two decades. These developments cry out for a new synthesis in the tradition of Chang (1986) and Barnes (1993)—a single book that will introduce a student already conversant in the basics of archaeology to the archaeology of Asia. The series in which this book, The Archaeology of Asia, is published, Blackwell’s Studies in Global Archaeology, aims to present volumes that are fundamentally books for teaching. The target audience is advanced undergraduate students who are prepared to tackle theoretically sophisticated concepts in archaeology. The Archaeology of Asia is not a new synthesis of Asian archaeology, but it is nevertheless a good complement to any already developed course on the archaeology of Asia.

The volume contains strong chapters on the emergence of the state in East and Inner Asia and on the position of archaeology in modern society. However, as a teaching tool it lacks unifying themes. Any teacher who wishes to use the book as the basis for a class will have to construct a thematic synthesis to tie the volume’s articles together. On the one hand, this is a great drawback for the busy lecturer who must build a course on the archaeology of Asia and is looking for an “out of the box” course textbook. On the other hand, the lack of thematic structure offers many options for building one’s own course using chronology, topical issues, regional studies, or research methods as a basis.

This book is most interesting for the snapshot it offers of the state of archaeology in Asia in 2006. Stark’s editorial introduction highlights the main theme of the volume, which is diversity in every possible aspect of archaeological data and approaches. As a whole, the chapters collected in The Archaeology of Asia exemplify the tension between any local archaeology (i.e., one that is Asia-oriented or has an even more specific regional focus) and the use of global models, methods, and theories. A synthesis emerges in the chapters by Underhill and Habu and Shelach and Pines, for example, but the most successful chapters are those taking a mainly global view, such as those by Bellwood and Liu and Chen. This raises the question, can there be an archaeology of Asia at all?

The volume itself is divided into four sections: the modern context of archaeology in Asia; the formative periods of Asian societies; the emergence of complex political systems; and a section entitled “Crossing Boundaries” that addresses the archaeology of regions beyond East and Southeast Asia.

In the lead chapter, Glover discusses the history of archaeology in Asia through the lens of political context. Though he touches upon the possible dangers of the political uses of archaeology, the main thrust of his chapter is on the value of a national archaeology. Archaeology, Glover argues, acts as a unifying force in modernizing nations through the roots that can be found in rediscovered [End Page 157] ancient greatness. The following chapter by Nelson illustrates Glover’s thesis. This detailed study of Korean archaeology in its political context focuses on the elaborately shifting positions of Korea and Koreans as the nations of the Korean Peninsula emerged into the modern world.

Japan is perhaps the only nation on earth where a self-critical analysis of the intertwined relationship between archaeology, ethnicity, and national identity is possible. Such self-reflexivity has been possible because of the extensive and sophisticated archaeological fieldwork that has taken place there along with a public awareness of the archaeological past and perceived strong cultural connections between the modern population and the past. Though other nations covered in this volume may have one or two of these factors, Japan is the only country with all three. Mizoguchi’s sophisticated and concise chapter discusses the centrality of modern Japanese archaeology to Japan’s national identity. He covers two fascinating topics: the appeal of “Jomon-ness” in modern Japan and the foundations of Japanese society in...


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