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Who's afraid of Martin Heidegger? Some friendly comments on the paper by Professor Matthew Johnson

  • Christopher S. Peebles


I am in general agreement with Professor Johnson's main points. To his and the editor's question, ‘is there archaeological theory?’, His answer is ‘yes and no’. This ambiguous but accurate answer can be divided variously. The first category would be archaeological theory per se, which would encompass the work and thought from that of Nicholas Steno in the 17th century to that of Michael Schiffer (2002) today. It would be about the natural transformations of ‘deposits’. Next there would be theories about the transformation of natural materials into the more or less durable remains that comprise archaeological ‘data’ – the stuff of everyday lives. Again, work of Michael Schiffer (2001) and Daniel Miller (1998) comes to mind. They and a long list of contemporary archaeologists deploy theory on behalf of the understanding of the creation of things that build the human habitat. Broader use of theory comes with the deployment of frameworks from demography to demonology and ecology to ethics that are used to structure historical and anthropological questions that might be answered with archaeological remains. Each selection of a theoretical position entails one or another metaphysical commitment about what comprises ‘data’ and ‘evidence’ and what constitutes a proper explanation. In this regard Professor Johnson asks, does archaeology indiscriminately adopt and apply various philosophical positions without proper regard for their extent, implications and conditions for application? His answer is yes, certainly, and to our disadvantage. As Christopher Chippindale and I have noted on several occasions, archaeology treats philosophical traditions a bit like a Chinese menu or perhaps the contents of a supermarket: the archaeologist takes one from column A and another from column B, and a whole bunch of stuff from the dairy aisle and more from the fruits and vegetables section. Not only is this not kosher – one does not mix dairy and Derrida – but the selections are radically contradictory and sometimes even incoherent.


Who's afraid of Martin Heidegger? Some friendly comments on the paper by Professor Matthew Johnson

  • Christopher S. Peebles


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