But all the story of the night told over, And all their minds transfigur'd so together, More witnesseth than fancy's images, And grows to something of great constancy; But, howsoever, strange and admirable.
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. V, i, pp. 23–27.
PEOPLE AT THE CENTER OF A DECENTERED NARRATIVE
Bottom the weaver and his rude mechanicals have struggled back from a night of confusion and chase in the fairy-haunted wood and are trying, incoherently and inarticulately, to report what has happened to the ducal court. The duke dismisses their tales as the rambling of idiots. His duchess points out that, however tangential and fragmentary their accounts, they add up to something consistent and substantial – and strange and admirable.
The archaeologist cannot help but sympathise with Bottom. We began with the deceptively simple goal of understanding the Italian Neolithic in terms of people rather than artefacts. This stated, we plunged almost immediately into serial discussions of topics as disparate as how to eat a cow, how to decorate a pot, and how to dispose of an axe. Even worse, each section demonstrated that each activity had to be taken on its own terms, without reducing it to a totalizing schema of social life. Social life, thus far, is fragmented, and leaving a vacancy at the heart of our story: we have seen people only in passing, sighted in fleeting glimpses.