How can we compare the results of regional archaeological projects? What is to gain from comparisons over large geographical distances or across periods?
John Bintliff, Honorary Professor of Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology at Leiden University and Honorary Professor in the Archaeology Department at Edinburgh University
Friday September 1st, 14.00-15.15, room 2.1
For good logistical reasons Archaeology is primarily practised at the regional level. Less logically, regional archaeology is usually compartmentalised by period, reflecting the educational specialisation of its practitioners. Gaining an overview of a region’s development meets with problems of comparability of data collection and recording. Even greater difficulties occur with our growing desire to undertake inter-regional comparisons. Yet successful examples can be highlighted where these hindrances have been overcome. Regional syntheses, synchronous and diachronous are achievable, and rarer but promising examples exist of comparative developmental studies between regions, even continents apart.
If comparing societies between regions is already a proven practice for archaeologists, more neglected is synthesis in the long-term - Braudel’s ‘longue dureé’. Yet case-studies reveal that cross-period analysis – the juxtaposition of archaeological data from different periods of the same region – can be a chastening experience to question our assumptions and received knowledge.
Regional synthesis and inter-regional comparisons, and even more so, long term sequence analysis, rapidly involve us in a confrontation with historical narratives. Archaeologists are mostly bounded within nations and national heritage objectives, so that all acts of synthesis challenge notions of national origins, national character and common concepts of traditional life and ethnicity. Long-term sequences within a region or wider can easily find themselves intricated in debates over superiority, ‘civilisation’, and innovativeness. Maintaining objectivity and independence from external narratives is both difficult and may easily conflict with mission statements of public and commercial archaeological organisations.
Finally the concept of the ‘region’, in itself, possesses a thought-provoking historiography. Historical Geography, the prime expert exponent in this field, teaches us to look for alternations of introversion and extraversion of the region, with regular and informative extremes of impermeability and permeability of regional borders to social and economic forces, scenarios for which we now possess archaeological and biological indicators.
John Bintliff is Honorary Professor of Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology at Leiden University and Honorary Professor in the Archaeology Department at Edinburgh University. He studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University, where he also completed his PhD in 1977 on the (pre)history of human settlement in Greece. He was Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Bradford University and Durham University. In 1999 he moved to Leiden to become Professor in Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology. Since 1978 he has been co-directing (with Cambridge University) the Boeotia Project, an interdisciplinary programme investigating the evolution of settlement in Central Greece. He is currently co-director of the ERC Project ‘Empire of 2000 Cities’. Key recent publications include The Complete Archaeology of Greece. From Hunter-Gatherers to the Twentieth Century AD (2012) and Recent Developments in the Archaeology of Greece (editor, 2015). John is also General Editor of the Journal of Greek Archaeology.