Review of ‘The New Archaeology and Aftermath: A View from Outside the Anglo-American World’ by K. Paddayya

26th May 2014

‘The New Archaeology and Aftermath: A View from Outside the Anglo-American World’ by K. Paddayya, 1990, Pune: Ravish Publishers, 71 pp.

Review by Tessa Corkhill

I should have been warned! When 10 pages of a 71 page book (and that includes the Index) are devoted to references which range from ancient Indian proverbs to the 18th century Scottish philosopher, Hume, and on through Heisenberg, Russell, Einstein and the ubiquitous Collingwood and Hempel, not to mention the entire flock of 20th century theoretical high-fliers (archaeologically speaking), the reader is in for a fast and furious ride.

To mangle a few more metaphors, or perhaps analogies, seeing this is archaeology, in some ways this book reminded me of a precious stone: small, multi-facetted, full of value and colour. In other ways of a typical archaeological site: a thousand tantalizing clues to a rich and vibrant history, no longer visible, but there for the finding, if only one had the Rosetta Stone and the time. Or as Paddayya calls it (p.54) – the ‘Roxana’ premise: The archaeological record that is available to us is the entropied version of the material fallout of past cultural systems…. [To recreate the systems] is a job that requires the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes, the analytical abilities of Darwin and Einstein, and of course the wisdom of the Buddha.’

The aim of Paddayya’s book is to evaluate recent trends in processual and post-processual archaeology and relate these trends to research in his own region – the Indian sub-continent. He feels this to be necessary as: ‘almost all existing reviews … emanate from the Anglo-American world and are, therefore, rarely free from regional and personal biases.’ (p.ix)

He concedes that debates along these lines have already been set in motion in some areas, such as West Germany and in his own country, but seeks to carry the examination ‘one step forward’ (p.ix). His specific aim is to offer: ‘clarifications at the conceptual level rather than … from empirical research.’ (p.ix).

Now, as a consultant archaeologist, constantly up to my neck in empiricaJ research and with very little time to keep up with the constantly changing ‘conceptual level’, a short book that aimed to clarify things, even if from outside the Anglo-American world, seemed just the thing. And so, to an extent, it was, although it left me with the wish that I knew more of the background (i.e. the works of Aydelotte, Berelson and Steiner, Copi, Entrikin, the elusive Ryle, the oft-quoted Wilhelm Dilthey, etc, etc) and a craving to come to terms with Hodder (of whom more later).

The book is divided into three chapters:

  1. Misconceptions about the New Archaeology
  2. The New Archaeology and Ideational Trends
  3. Contemporary Trends in Theory vis-à-vis Indian Archaeology

Chapter 1 starts by listing the numerous archaeological trends of the past two decades, all of which Paddayya sees as being extensions to, amplifications or critiques of New Archaeology – He divides the trends into three main groups:

  1. Specialisations such as settlement, ecological and geoarchaeology, which have roots ante-dating New Archaeology
  2. Applied studies like CRM, garbage studies, gender and psychological (not to be confused with psychic)
  3. Materialistic and mentalistic elaborations and critiques, which include Hodder’s contextual and Schiffer’s behavioural archaeology, plus Marxist and neo-Marxist trends.

I’m sure many would quibble with these divisions, for example, why is gender archaeology seen as applied rather than specialized? However, any book of this kind is bound to provoke endless debate among archaeologists, so we’ll press on.

Paddayya then goes on to discuss some of the misconceptions that have arisen concerning New Archaeology, starting at the top with the name, which, as he rightly points out, was not coined by Binford, but was invented by critics ‘as a brand name for lumping together Binford and his ”mafia'” (p.3). It is impossible here to discuss the manifold misconceptions, their origins and evolution, however the headings of each section:

  • Why the label ‘New Archaeology’ at all?
  • Which fundamental changes?
  • Why the hypothetico-deductive strategy?
  • The ‘why’ and ‘what’ of laws,

will give some idea of the territory covered. When I add that the discussion ranges through numerous related disciplines, like a thread through tapestry, and arrives at the end of the chapter with the statement (from Scriven, 1969,208-9): ‘We must pay tribute to the revolutionary while avoiding the mistake of deifying his doctrine’  you may be up in arms but you should have an inkling of what is going on.

In Chapter 2, in a cast of thousands, Binford and Hodder loom large. Both are minutely dissected, examined, compared and even fitted into the inevitable kinship structure, Hodder as the reluctant child of Collingwood (and for this, see also Spriggs’ review of Hodder’s recent collections: Spriggs 1990:99-104) and Binford as the new-found descendant of Aristotle (p.27).

Like an uncle with a wayward but lovable nephew, Paddayya is deeply disturbed by Hodder’s approach to archaeology but obviously yearns to find value in it. In the end, the most he can do is adapt one of Hodder’s own phrases: ‘the symbolic and interpretive left leg’ (Hodder 1988:3) in his concluding remarks for the chapter: the discipline, while continuing to rely for the most part on its robust, materialist right leg, as typified by the New Archaeology, will have to be content with a hopping, symbolic left leg. (p.42)

Chapter 3 seeks to pull it all together and relate theory and practice to present day Indian archaeology, culture and politics. The Hodder approach is reincarnated; the political use of symbols of the past, such as the Puranic God, Vishnu, is seen as a menacing trend; even the late Pandit Nehru gets a look-in, with his definition of ‘scientific temper’ (Singh 1986:38). In the end Paddayya asks ‘what kind of knowledge do we want to have of the past?’ and suggests ‘it is time to initiate a full-fledged debate'(p.58). I would suggest you read the book first, It is a clear and concise exposition of complex ideas, beautifully written, a bright gem among many of our dull unpolished stones.

References

Hodder, I. 1988 Archaeology in the post-modern era. Paper submitted for the conference on ‘New Archaeology and India’, organised by the Indian Council of Historical Research: New Delhi.

Scriven, M. 1969 Logical positivism and the behavioural sciences. In P. Achinstein and S.F. Barker (eds), The Legacy of Logical Positivism: Studies In the Philosophy of Science, pp.196-209. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Sing, B. 1986 Jawahartal Nehru on Science. New Delhi: Nehru Memorial Museum and Ubrary.

Spriggs, M. 1990 Twenty-two authors in search of a paradigm in contextual archaeology: What’s in it for me? Australian Archaeology 30:99-104.

Corkhill, T.
Review of ‘The New Archaeology and Aftermath: A View from Outside the Anglo-American World’ by K. Paddayya
December 1991
33
71–72
Book Reviews
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