2013 | 61 | 15-31
Article title

Upływający czas archeologii

Title variants
Archaeology: Out of time
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Time in archaeology, likewise in the other sciences interested in the study of the past, is most often identified with linear and consecutive occurrence of physical phenomena. In this context the present becomes the last actual link of the chain of events that originates from the past. From that perspective cause always chronologically precedes result, creating a relationship that is considered to be empirical and observable. This assumption is crucial for making the past rational, logical and possible to understand for modern man. It is hard to imagine different conceptualisations of time than the one described above. Yet we are aware that some traditional societies use other concepts of time than our own. Time seldom is a subject for meta-archaeological considerations. It is probably because most archaeologists do not see a need to debate something that seems to be obvious, omnipresent and overriding in human culture. In my opinion such circumstances became the foundation of many scientific myths, and are the main reason for incoherence of archaeological time reconstructions. To better understand the way time is constructed by archaeologists we need to first ask what the understanding of time in modern culture is, and try to find its origins. The most common idea of time is the one that teaches us about its triple form. So we speak about past, present and future. Past is everything that already happened. It is behind us and is impossible to be altered. Present changes dynamically until it freezes in stagnation to become part of the past. Future is all the possibilities that are ahead of us. The problem arises when we attempt to draw a clear line between those three concepts. Their limits seem to be faint and impossible to define. That makes us aware that we are dealing with an idea that is far more complex than we tend to imagine. The modern concept of time was created just a few centuries ago. Before that, European society did not realize the depth of time. The past was perceived as “many presents that already happened”. People did not imagine it as consecutive stages different from the reality they existed in. Therefore they understood it through the prism of their own cultural context. There were no different realities in the past that did not occur in their present. That idea has gradually changed since Descartes. Time regarded as a universal and physical factor derives from the interpretation of Newtonian physics. Reality gained its cause and effect relationships, which since then structures the way we think about the world. It became the only concept of time used by the sciences. It is also frequently exploited by archaeologists for the chronological ordering of artefacts. However we are aware that archaeologists do not have an access to past events. They cannot perceive the flow of time in past societies. The only thing they have contact with is materialized and often transformed material results of human acts. Therefore important questions arise: How is archaeological time created? Where do cause and effect relationships in archaeological narratives come from? I will try to use the idea of historical awareness defined by Paul Ricoeur to answer these questions. In his opinion the idea of the past is not only concerned with past events. Its picture is created by present perceptions and future expectations. These play a key role in the way in which we create cause and effect relationships which become the foundation of the structure of past narratives. The result, our idea of the past and its meaning shifts dynamically according to our expectations and social context. It is also essential for the creation of cultural identity. This problem implicates in archaeology the question about the relationship between archaeological sources (artefacts) and the past. They have lost their connection with the past and have become an element of the present context. Therefore we always use modern constructs to interpret them. Archaeologists “observe” time flow because the physical forms of artefacts change. If artefacts do not alter, time stops. If they alter frequently, time starts to move quickly. Chronological ordering requires us to state which stage is older and which one is younger. In archaeology that interpretation is frequently based on the analysis of the technological level of development of certain artefacts. Therefore more sophisticated objects will usually be seen as younger than primitive ones. In that manner of thinking there is no space for cultural regress. Typologies of artefacts created by archaeologists show only progress. Culture can only develop through complications of inner relations. That idea derives from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is also the reason why development of all archaeological cultures is described exactly in the same pattern as life of living organisms. So they all have to go through the stages of birth, growth, maturity, senility and death. That leads us to the conclusion that the picture of the past created by archaeologists is schematic. It says more about theoretical beliefs of certain scientists than about the past itself. Furthermore it restrains the interest of archaeologists to evolutional variations of the physical forms of artefacts, directing their interest towards long-term phenomena from which the perspective of everyday life is impossible to reach. Archaeological narratives are structured by cause and effect relationships, which are used to build the main plot (intrigue) of the text. To explain past phenomena requires us to show its cause, to make it logical. However according to David Hume causation is not empirical but an abstract idea. Therefore we never perceive causation or necessity of occurrence of certain events. We can only see their succession. We tend to erroneously mix these two different things. The causation term appears from our understanding of the world. In fact we define it using available cultural knowledge. Immanuel Kant claimed that chronological succession of observed phenomena is less important than the understanding of the whole mechanism of the process. Archaeologists frequently make the same erroneous assumption. If they deal with consecutive phenomena, quite often they tend to define them as cause and effect without considering that those relics are transformed and incomplete. Cause and effect relationships are the main means used to manipulate the pictures of the past created by archaeologists. I believe that the only chance for archaeology to move away from patterns deriving from positivism is to develop an interest in short-term duration phenomena and shift towards the anthropological approach. Interest in the practice of everyday life of past societies opens new possibilities of interpretation. From that perspective time can be studied as one of the cultural dimensions of the world instead of being a physical phenomenon. In that way cultural time becomes meaning subjected to cultural rules instead of an objective measure.
Physical description
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