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Domestic Ceramic Production and Spatial Organization: A Mexican Case Study in Ethnoarchaeology.

Ethnoarchaeology appears to be an ever-expanding sub-discipline within archaeology, and pottery undoubtedly gets more than its fair share of attention. Ethnoarchaeology had its major thrust from the middle-range theory of the 1960s and '70s, and gained direction from the search for universals within behavioural archaeology, since when it has had to contend with the radical critique of the '80s. Where does ethnoarchaeology sit in the dazed aftermath of the nebulous nineties?

Philip Arnold's book is explicitly within the traditional framework of middle-range theory. It attempts to facilitate the identification of pottery production loci and to construct a model of the changing use of space with production intensification. He offers a strong critique of the archaeological use of models that incorporate concepts like 'part-time' or 'full-time' employment in the identification of craft specialization, when these are impossible to evaluate with archaeological data. Instead Arnold puts emphasis on the organization of pottery-related activities in space and time, and evaluates the use of kilns versus open firings from this viewpoint, arguing that kilns are used in locations where the producer has only limited space available. He suggests that incipient ceramic production occurs intermittently on a seasonal basis, and is frequently in the hands of women who work alone and do not invest heavily in specialized tools for pottery production. But as production become more frequent it puts pressure on the space available for other tasks, and a portion of the available area is allocated exclusively to pottery production. Activities become entrenched within specific areas of the houselot, and permanent facilities such as kilns are developed.

Arnold has created an intriguing model of ceramic production intensification as related to the use of space. However, I find the central place he gives to the use of the kiln problematic. 'The decision to use kilns as opposed to open firings, therefore, is not necessarily a function of some desire to intensify production output. Rather, the reliance on a kiln may actually be imposed upon the potter because of a number of considerations including spatial pressure within the houselot' (p. 109) Like too many ethnoarchaeological studies, Arnold's is ahistoric, and so ignores the cultural reasons for use of space or technological choice. The effect is to turn a brief look at one moment in time into an evolutionary model that makes no attempt to evaluate the actual historic evidence for the area under study. The archaeological case study, of ceramic production in Matacapan, discusses test pits with waster dumps and kilns but there is no open-area excavation. Having based all his discussion up to this point on the houselots, why did he not try to excavate one? It is too easy to criticize archaeological decisions from the comfort of the office, and I am sure there were practical and financial limitations on the project, but the excavation policy appears to have achieved the same separation of pottery production from it social setting that is evident in the ethnoarchaeological work.

Arnold's study is important. He draws attention to changes in the organization of space as a major factor in the development of craft specialization, and one that is recognizable in the archaeological record. But his limitations are in his understanding of what ethnoarchaeology is. He states 'studies dealing with contemporary production systems must be undertaken. Only in this way can both the behaviour generating the pattern and the material consequences be controlled' (p. 152). Ethnoarchaeologists do not 'control' behaviour or materials, however; they merely see and talk to people in their cultural setting. The present is historically constituted, and if archaeologists do not consider the importance of history and culture in evaluating material action, what are they doing?

The volume edited by William Longacre originates from a seminar in 1985 that focused on identifying social and behavioural sources of ceramic variation. It is a fascinating collection of papers that reveals the diversity of concerns being addressed through ethnoarchaeology.

Within the volume there is evidently some disagreement over what constitutes 'ethnoarchaeology'. For Longacre it is 'the study by archaeologists of variability in material culture and its relation to human behaviour and organization among extant societies, for use in archaeological interpretation' (p. 1), and for Raymond Thompson it is ethnography done for an explicitly archaeological purpose; whereas for Ian Hodder it is the search for the contextual meaning of artefact use within its cultural setting, and for Sander van der Leeuw the purpose is to isolate any variables relevant to the interpretation of archaeological phenomena. Perhaps the differences are not very deep: no more than a reflection of the particular direction being explored by the different authors, and it may be that within the seminar the authors found themselves in agreement. But these differences in perspective result in the writing of substantially different ethnoarchaeologies.

Van der Leeuw questions the basis of an 'analytical perspective' that does not recognize the constant interplay between the potter and the materials. He proposes a '(re-)creative perspective' in which the ceramicist who wishes to understand the potters' decision making 'will have to travel back in time and look forward with those whom they study' (p. 13). He argues that to understand the particular trajectory of a technological tradition it is necessary to explore all the choices open to the potter in order to understand the particular choice made (a strategy that appears to be somewhat similar to trying to envisage everything that Elizabethan playwrights could have written in order to explain why Shakespeare wrote As you like it!). Van der Leeuw continually underscores the same point, that if we don't get into the potter's own understanding of the craft in its cultural setting then we will never be able to explain how a pot gets made, never mind how, and why, the pottery (and cultural) tradition changed in the way it did.

Margaret Hardin's stimulating paper demonstrates the Zuni potters' shared knowledge of an indigenous theory of ceramic variability, due to a common notion of 'ideal types'. Hardin makes clear that the Zuni conception of how to form and particularly how to decorate a vessel is situated within the context of a deliberate revival of the tradition.

Warren DeBoer's and Ian Hodder's papers are critical of archaeologists who arbitrarily separate pottery from other material categories and then study it in isolation from its wider cultural context. Both authors emphasize the need to situate the investigation of changes in various decorative media within a society's historical process in order to get a broader, more contextual, view of material change.

Other papers include Carol Kramer's examination of pottery distribution in two Indian cities. Ben Nelson looks at pottery frequency and use-life for the highland Maya. Gloria London offers a study of standardization and craft specialization in the Philippines. Michael Graves deals with the interaction between pottery production and exchange in relation to social differentiation. There is also an excellent wide-ranging bibliography.

In Raymond Thompson's paper, where he tries to define the boundaries of what is, or should be ethnoarchaeology, he comments that 'Unfortunately, some archaeologists who begin to do ethnography without an archaeological purpose find it difficult to abandon archaeology completely and, as some of the post-processualists have ably demonstrated, start writing fictional accounts of ancient cultures that are little more than archaeological fairy tales' (p. 234). Equally, ethnoarchaeologists must not ignore the cultural history of the people they are working with, or they will construct models of human behaviour that strip human action of its social purpose and merely detail behaviourist needs.

BILL SILLAR Department of Archaeology, Cambridge University
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Author:Sillar, Bill
Publication:Antiquity
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:1254
Previous Article:New Developments in Archaeological Science: A Joint Symposium of the Royal Society and the British Academy, February 1991.
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