Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Cultural change or cultural evolution does not operate on isolated societies but always on interconnected systems in which societies are variously linked within wider ‘social fields.’E. R. Wolf (1982: 76)
Archaeologists gather data about the past and interpret it within distinct research traditions that structure the data they select to find and analyze, and that provide them with the necessary support to carry on their work. The activity of reconstructing the past through the analysis of material cultural remains is necessarily constrained by the social context in which the archaeologist must function. This observation is self-evident, but, during the past twenty years or so, there has been an increasing recognition that these separate traditions of research divide themselves along cultural, linguistic, and, most interestingly, national lines. This too is not surprising, particularly when one considers the very practical nature of conducting archaeological research, that is, obtaining financial support, typically or at least in part, from the state to excavate sites that are now nearly universally considered to form part of some state's – usually the archaeologist's own – national heritage or patrimony. That there exist national traditions of archaeological research also is not surprising when one examines the historical development of the discipline: rooting a people or a nation in the distant past was one of the main stimuli for the development of archaeology, particularly prehistoric archaeology, during the past two hundred years or, not coincidentally, during the period that witnessed the rise of modern nation-states as the world's fundamental unit of political organization.