Ethnoarchaeology – An ethnographic study for archaeological reasons
The material remains of past civilizations have loads of stories to tell. These stories are unearthed through Ethnoarchaeology which is essentially an ethnographic study of people with an archaeological objective. After a study of material and non-material culture and customs of modern societies, ethnoarchaeology is utilized by the archaeology professionals in reconstructing the lifeways of the ancient times. It is through ethnoarchaeology that we stand to gain a better understanding of the manner in which an article was made and then the way it was used. It has then come as an inference by the archaeologists that the same techniques were applied by the ancient societies and the modern ones in similar environmental settings.
Archaeologists have been using ethnography for a long time to draw parallels to the past. Ethnographic data however is not gathered with specific focus on archaeological aspect of it. As the archaeologists felt that ethnography failed to answer the questions pertaining to their field and this led to the emergence of ethnoarchaeology as a field of study.
It was in 1900 that Jesse Walter Fewkes, an American archaeologist mentioned the term ethno-archaeology for the first time as he encouraged the archaeologists to set out on their own ethnographic field work and gather such information first hand. It was only in the late 1950s and 1960s that the archaeologists started exploring the various scientific applications that ethnoarchaeology might have and it was at this time that ethnoarchaeology gained a genuine widespread acceptance as a sub-discipline of archaeology. Today the field of ethnoarchaeology is a respected and strong research practice and many archaeologists have actually come to identify themselves as ethnoarchaeologists.
Anthropology has the potential to provide deep insights into the lives and lifestyle of people in the ancient past, particularly in context of their social structure, religious practices and other characteristics of their culture. It is however yet to be clarified as to how to relate these insights that are created by anthropological research to archaeological surveys. This issue might have arisen because of the anthropologists paying little attention to the material remains that these ancient societies produced & then castoff and to the variations in these materials with the changes in the organizational structures of the societies.
It was this wide spread dissatisfaction among the archaeologists regarding the inadequacies of anthropological studies in the context of archaeology that led the archaeologists to conduct their independent ethnoarchaeological studies and fill up the gaps. These studies were shaped up to the needs of archaeological fields and focused on the creation and usage & abandonment of objects or articles. There also has been a fruitful attempt in figuring out the kind of articles of common use in a society that were deposited to be preserved and how common was it to abandon an article in proximity to the place where it had been in use.
An issue that still is quite commonly faced in the field of ethnoarchaeology is the possibility of drawing out a number of analogies from a particular archaeological circumstance. To figure out the best possible or most well suited solution, generally a process of elimination is employed.