ElAnt v5n3 - REVIEWS - A Dictionary of Archaeology

Volume 5, Number 3
November 2000

A Dictionary of Archaeology, edited by Ian Shaw and Robert Jameson. Blackwell Publishers, Ltd., 1999. ISBN 0-631-17423-0.

Reviewed by Ann-Marie Knoblauch
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia, USA

A traditionally trained classical archaeologist, upon first encountering Shaw and Jameson's new dictionary of archaeology, might experience a feeling of concern, if not downright bewilderment. A random page (here 338) has the following entries: kiva [a type of Pueblo ceremonial architecture]; Kivik [a second millennium BC tumulus in Sweden]; Klasies River Mouth Caves [a prehistoric site in South Africa] and kleinaspergle [an Iron Age tumulus in Germany]. These unexpected (if not unfamiliar) entries take the place of those the classical archaeologist might expect: Winkelmann, Parthenon, Lefkandi and Polykelitos all of which are absent in the pages of Shaw and Jameson's new dictionary of archaeology.

The classical archaeologist, upon encountering these unexpected choices, readily finds an explanation in the "Preface and Acknowledgements"(pages xii-xiii), in which the editors write: "As far as the historical coverage is concerned, the major omission is of classical Greek and Roman sites, except where these impinge on other areas…. Our… motivation…was to make room for a much more comprehensive coverage of previously neglected areas, such as the archaeology of China, Japan and Oceania, as well as longer articles on theory and methodology."

The editors' choice of the word "impinge" is telling, and the biases against classical archaeology in this text are almost palpable. Thus Geometric and Protogeometric is an acceptable entry as the pottery and cultural sequence following the Mycenaean period, but Black Figure is not found a technique ensconced, as it is, within the folds of the classical world. There is no entry for the Romans, or even Etruscans, but "Villanovan Culture" does indeed receive a paragraph as the "…early Italian Iron Age culture…recognized as the precursor of the Etruscan Civilization." Under "Troy" the reader is directed to "Hisarlik" where a brief passage mentions the excavations of Schliemann, Dörpfeld and Blegen and a reference to the so called Priam's Treasure, but no reference is made to the current excavations (since 1988) by Manfred Korfmann from the University of Tübingen and Brian Rose from the University of Cincinnati.

What the reader does find are entries of length ranging from two sentences to several pages on sites, periods, styles and concepts pertaining to the archaeology of regions around the world, with the exclusions noted above. The longer entries tend to be those on theoretical issues and approaches (e.g., gender archaeology, 251-254; theory and theory building, 571-575) and major geographical regions (e.g., China, 152-159; Asia, 76-88; America, 40-56; Africa, 10-32; the entry for Europe is three pages long [226-229] and deals only with the medieval and post-medieval periods). These regional entries are subdivided into smaller chronological periods. The longer entries and most of the shorter entries are followed by a brief bibliography. Furthermore, there are a relatively high number of cross-references, even when the entry is only briefly mentioned in the entry to which the reader is referred.

These longer articles are perhaps the most useful. To take the entry on gender archaeology as an example, the author (Roberta Gilchrist) presents an extremely readable introduction to the use of gender (defined as the societal, as opposed to biological, distinctions between male and female) as the basis for an approach to archaeology. At one time the societal distinctions between male and female were thought to be difficult if not impossible to trace in the archaeological record, but since the 1980's gender archaeology has been used with success. The author goes on to situate the origins of gender archaeology in the 1980's within the larger framework of processual archaeology and the ways that gender archaeology has influenced and been influenced by other theoretical approaches. Finally, the author provides a case study, in which it has been determined that women played a larger role in the domestication of plants than has previously been thought in the Eastern Woodlands of North America. Entries such as these are helpful to the non-specialist or student hoping to enrich his or her understanding of archaeological approaches and case studies.

The neglect of non-western cultures in the history of world archaeology continues to be a challenge faced by students and scholars alike interested in leveling the playing field. The focus on the classical world is steeped in the history of Western Europe from the Renaissance onwards, and this tradition feeds into everything from educational cruise itineraries, coffee table books and undergraduate curricula. In spite of recent attempts to acknowledge (and, at times, rectify) these biases (as an example, Peter Gathercole and David Lowenthal, eds., The Politics of the Past particularly a section entitled, "The Heritage of Eurocentricity" [London Unwin Hyman Ltd. 1990]) the archaeology of the classical Mediterranean world remains the favorite child. Shaw and Jameson's contribution presents a strong reminder of the diversity and value of non-classical archaeological traditions.

This dictionary is an extremely useful addition to the reference library of anyone with a wide-ranging background and interest in world archaeologies, although many of the entries, particularly those of a scientific or technological slant, may be slightly inaccessible to the non-specialist. (Example: principal component analysis (PCA): A branch of multivariate statistics which represents multivariate archaeological datasets…by a scattergram in two dimensions, accompanied by related, useful statistics….) Archaeologists, historians or philologists of the classical world who are interested in expanding into areas beyond the Mediterranean may well fall among that group. The editors' policies are understandable and fair, but at times may alienate the very audience who has the most to gain from their coverage: the classical archaeologists.

by Kaavya Giridhar