For well over a century, archaeology has been animated by the construction—and, increasingly, the critique—of grand narratives surveying the evolution of politics, economics, technologies, religion and so on. Deep histories of ‘art’ have not been pursued with comparable energy. This essay explores why this is so, and it considers what might be gained from extending the distinctively archaeological approach to human history to include analyses of long-term shifts in the organization and functions of images. In doing so, it proposes that notions of ‘absorption’ and ‘theatricality’ drawn from art-historical conversations might profitably be redeployed to examine deeper cross-cultural patterns.
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