The next essay title involves thinking about methodologies for archaeological investigation that don’t involve material remains. Personally, I’m struggling to think of any, as although I know we’re supposed to write about the scientific analytical techniques, that still operates on material remains. So I’ve decided what it means is actually ‘beyond the material culture aspect’.
Which, of course, started me thinking about exactly what I shouldn’t be considering: things and the importance thereof.
I generally pretend to be above the whole treasure-hunting stereotype of archaeology, although if you watch me, I’m generally keeping an eye open for flint. I do love flint. But I have no interest in digging stuff up, and I’m wondering firstly, why I don’t, and secondly, why others do. What is it about holding something old in your hand and knowing that you are the first person to touch said object for 1000 years. What does that mean to a human?
It’s always vaguely puzzled me why people are so awestruck by those Mesolithic footprints that appear on the Severn foreshore. Are we excited because it’s quite amazing that they are still there? Cos I’m quite fine with that. But if we’re excited just because they are evidence that there were humans there and they had feet then too, then I don’t understand. Is there something about seeing these footprints that can somehow tell us more about people in the Mesolithic? I can’t help feeling that what we get out of it is the warm fuzzy ‘connectedness’ feeling.
But I don’t need to see footprints of long-dead people to get that. My genes go right back to the earliest humans alive: I carry with me that connection to every person who has ever lived. I don’t need footprints to make me feel closer to them. So what is it about Things?
Things are ambiguous: you can look at something and take a guess at what it might have been used for, based on the shape, and comparing to modern objects. You can take that one step further, and look at microwear, to see if the use patterns are consistent with what it looks like it is for. What you can’t tell, is what that object meant to someone. I keep the darnedest things; sometimes because they remind me of an event, or a person, or a place. Sometimes because I feel sorry for an object and don’t want to let it go. If you looked at the collection of objects I own, I’m not sure you would work out what it’s like to be me. Probably just as well!