Mesopotamia
Digital Venues

Archaeology

Giorgio Buccellati – August 2020
UNDER CONSTRUCTION

The corpora
The epistemic dimension of archaeology (1)
The primacy of emplacement
Archaeology and digitality
Theory and practice
Archaeological publishing
The epistemic dimension of archaeology (2)

Back to top: Archaeology

The corpora

     We propose a single site as a case study for the digital

Back to top: Archaeology

The epistemic dimension of archaeology (1)

     Archaeology is generally viewed as the study of an ancient past, or, more specifically, as the study of ancient societies based on their material remains. In most cases, these material remains are brought to light by the process of excavation.
     There are profound theoretical implications in this process, and they bear directly on our ability to "know." It is thus that we must recognize a special epistemic status to archaeology.
     We deal with broken traditions in the sense that there are no living carriers of those traditions. But this brokenness becomes even more evident, and very concretely so, in the excavation process. It is obviously a process very much embedded in the material dimension, in the "dirt." But it is also, in unsuspected and unexplored ways, a process that reflects deeply on our ability to know.

Back to top: Archaeology

The primacy of emplacement

     A study of the material remains found in the ground, and of their implications for the societies from which they originated, is certainly valid, but the methods of such a study are shared with a variety of other disciplines, both in the humanities and the social sciences. It is not specifically "archaeological."
     The one thing archaeology does that no other discipline does is to observe and document how any given element is found in the ground, and specifically (1) its location and topical arrangement in the matrix of the soil, and (2) the type of contact association it has with any other element or elements found in the same context. This is called emplacement.
     What makes the initial observation and its subsequent documentation difficult and important is the fact that, once an element is removed from its matrix, its emplacement is lost: we can never "repeat the experiment."
     A narrow understanding of "archaeology" as restricted to emplacement may seem too limiting and ultimately void of interest. And it would indeed be so if it were an end in itself.
     It must therefore be understood as the foundational moment of a larger enterprise. It is foundational, in the specific sense that, without it, any superstructure that is being built would be fragile. With it, on the other hand, we have the only secure entry way to a deeper susbstantive understanding of the culture of which we retrieve the fragments in the ground. Of – Mesopotamia, in our case.

Back to top: Archaeology

Archaeology and digitality

     The digital approach is what makes the difference between a "private" notebook and a "public," hence "published," record.
atomism, argument
intrinsic digitality

Back to top: Archaeology

Theory and practice

     The Mesopotamia: Digital Venues project develops these themes in two directions.
     (1) The theoretical model is developed in the website devoted to a Critique of Archaeological Reason. Starting from the basic principle that emplacement is the epistemological foundation of teh archaeological enterprise on the one hand, and from the other principle of merging data and argument into a seamless whole, the underlying theory is fully developed to show how this approach does justice not only to a given site and its emplacement record, but t the larger issue of the cultural significance of that same site.
     (2) The practical implementation of the theory will be found in the website devoted to the excavations of ancient Urkesh. The system applied aims to provide the positive model of how the goals can be realized in the cocnrete case of a given excavation.

Back to top: Archaeology

Epistemology and publishing

     It follows from the considerations above that there is a special epistemological dimension to archaelogical publishing. The primary commitment must be to publish the emplacement observations in their totality, since these are the only objective evidence we have for what has been excavated. The primary goal is thus not to publish the object in the museum or the wall left standing at the site; it is rather to publish the otherwise lost forever evidence of the pieces of the object or of the wall as originally found in the ground. I have described this in the Critique, 8.1, with a paradox: qua archaeologists, we wouild not be interested in the David of Michelangelo, but in the debitage left behind when sculpting it.
     Archaeological publishing has thus a very unique epistemological status: it is the evidence tout court, and not just publication of an evidence that can be verified apart from the publication.
     If there ever can be a truly "final" publication, it is with archaeological publishing as it relates to emplacement. Nothing can ever be added to it, or in fact changed. What is more, such final publication comes into being at the very moment that it is produced: in the field, the observations consigned to the record become enshrined in their defintive form.

Back to top: Archaeology

The epistemic dimension of archaeology (2)

     "Archaeological reason" as applying in a special way to grammar and hermeneutics