Category Archives: Things to Ponder

Contemporary Archaeology

As I find myself looking at the end of my journey through what can only be termed as taking the definition of what is archaeology and stretching it to the extreme and reflect on what it means to me…

The definition of what Contemporary Archaeology is: a field of archaeological research that focuses on the most recent (20th and 21st century) past, and also increasingly explores the application of archaeological thinking to the contemporary world. It has also been referred to as the archaeology of the ‘contemporary past’

However when compared to  Social Anthropology and Ethnography it becomes clear where it developed from…

  • Ethnography is a scientific research strategy often used in the field of social sciences, particularly in anthropologyand in some branches of sociology, also known as part of historical science that studies people, ethnic groups and other ethnic formations, their ethnogenesis, composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics, as well as their material and spiritual culture. It is often employed for gathering empirical data on human societies and cultures. Data collection is often done through participant observation, interviews, questionnaires, etc. Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied (i.e. to describe a people, an ethnos) through writing. In the biological sciences, this type of study might be called a “field study” or a “case report,” both of which are used as common synonyms for “ethnography”)

So what then separates Contemporary Archaeology from these areas of study?  Is it simply the methodology, or is it the fact that it takes the long held notion of archaeology being a multidisciplinary profession to a new level?  So far, my limited exposure would suggest it is somewhere in between, and varies largely by the approach the individual contemporary archaeologist takes in their research.  Ironically, those that do not get too caught up on the post-processual side of things bring a balance back into archaeology that is sorely lacking at this time.

But the question remains; is it archaeology?  I’m still very much on the fence where this is concerned.  So much of it screams social anthropology, but occasionally you see a study, like the project on the Mexican border carried out by Dr. Jason De Leon that looks at the hidden history of illegal migration into the United States, and the material culture that is left behind.  He has married all of the aforementioned professional branches into one and has created an ongoing piece of cutting-edge archaeology that many modern archaeologists would do well to read up on.  It is not so much the content or subject matter he is dealing with, but his methodologies.  He has successfully brought archaeology back into a unified form that looks at the project wholistically, rather than weighting it too heavily to the scientistic or humanistic elements that rule to two primary camps in which archaeologists often reside.

What I hope is that due to work such as that done by De Leon, will drag archaeology kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  Whether or not I like or even agree with Contemporary Archaeology is not really an issue, it is more a question of does it have value.  On that point alone, I would agree that it does and am curious to see what further developments come from this evolving and controversial field.


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