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Assemblages and Scale in Archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2017

Oliver J.T. Harris*
Affiliation:
School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK Email: ojth1@le.ac.uk

Abstract

The growing interest in assemblages has already opened up a number of important lines of enquiry in archaeology, from the morphogenetic capacities of matter through to a rethinking of the concept of community. In this paper I want to explore how assemblages allow us to reconceptualize the critical issue of scale. Archaeologists have vacillated between expending energy on the ‘great processes’ of change like the evolution of humanity, the colonization of the globe or the origins of agriculture, and focusing on the momentary, fleeting nature of a small-scale ethnographic present. Where archaeologists have attempted to integrate different scales the result has usually been to turn to Annales-influenced or time perspectivism-driven approaches and their fixed, linear and ontologically incompatible layers of history. In contrast, I will use assemblages to examine how we can rethink both the emergence of multiple scales and their role in history, without reducing the differences of the small-scale to an epiphenomenal outcome of larger events, or treating large-scale historical processes as mere reifications of the ‘real’ on-the-ground stuff of daily life. As we will see, this approach also has consequences for the particular kind of reality we accord to large-scale archaeological categories.

Type
Special Section: Archaeology and Assemblage
Copyright
Copyright © McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2017 

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