Complexity and Purpose – A Pragmatic Approach to the Diversity of Archaeological Classificatory Practice and Typology
Research perspectives and their influence for typologies
Recommendation: posted 26 November 2023, validated 02 December 2023
Hussain, S., Riede, F. and Plutniak, S. (2023) Complexity and Purpose – A Pragmatic Approach to the Diversity of Archaeological Classificatory Practice and Typology. Peer Community in Archaeology, 100310. 10.24072/pci.archaeo.100310
“Research perspectives and their influence for typologies” by E. Giannichedda (1) is a contribution to the upcoming volume on the role of typology and type-thinking in current archaeological theory and praxis edited by the recommenders. Taking a decidedly Italian perspective on classificatory practice grounded in what the author dubs the “history of material culture”, Giannichedda offers an inventory of six divergent but overall complementary modes of ordering archaeological material: i) chrono-typological and culture-historical, ii) techno-anthropological, iii) social, iv) socio-economic and v) cognitive. These various lenses broadly align with similarly labeled perspectives on the archaeological record more generally. According to the author, they lend themselves to different ways of identifying and using types in archaeological work. Importantly, Giannichedda reminds us that no ordering practice is a neutral act and typologies should not be devised for their own sake but because we have specific epistemic interests. Even though this view is certainly not shared by everyone involved in the broader debate on the purpose and goal of systematics, classification, typology or archaeological taxonomy (2–4), the paper emphatically defends the long-standing idea that ordering practices are not suitable to elucidate the structure and composition of reality but instead devise tools to answer certain questions or help investigate certain dimensions of complex past realities. This position considers typologies as conceptual prosthetics of knowing, a view that broadly resonates with what is referred to as epistemic instrumentalism in the philosophy of science (5, 6). Types and type-work should accordingly reflect well-defined means-end relationships.
Based on the recognition of archaeology as part of an integrated “history of material culture” rooted in a blend of continental and Anglophone theories, Giannichedda argues that type-work should pay attention to relevant relations between various artefacts in a given historical context that help further historical understanding. Classificatory practice in archaeology – the ordering of artefactual materials according to properties – must thus proceed with the goal of multifaceted “historical reconstruction in mind”. It should serve this reconstruction, and not the other way around. By drawing on the example of a Medieval nunnery in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, Giannichedda explores how different goals of classification and typo-praxis (linked to i-v; see above) foreground different aspects, features, and relations of archaeological materials and as such allow to pinpoint and examine different constellations of archaeological objects. He argues that archaeological typo-praxis, for this reason, should almost never concern itself with isolated artefacts but should take into account broader historical assemblages of artefacts. This does not necessarily mean to pay equal attention to all available artefacts and materials, however. To the contrary, in many cases, it is necessary to recognize that some artefacts and some features are more important than others as anchors grouping materials and establishing relations with other objects. An example are so-called ‘barometer objects’ (7) or unique pieces which often have exceptional informational value but can easily be overlooked when only shared features are taken into consideration. As Giannichedda reminds us, considering all objects and properties equally is also a normative decision and does not render ordering less subjective. The archaeological analysis of types should therefore always be complemented by an examination of variants, even if some of these variants are idiosyncratic or even unique. A type, then, may be difficult to define universally.
In total, “Research perspectives and their influence for typologies” emphasizes the need for “elastic” and “flexible” approaches to archaeological types and typologies in order to effectively respond to the manifold research interests cultivated by archaeologists as well as the many and complex past realities they face. Complexity is taken here to indicate that no single research perspective and associated mode of ordering can adequately capture the dimensionality and richness of these past realities and we can therefore only benefit from multiple co-existing ways of grouping and relating archaeological artefacts. Different logics of grouping may simply reveal different aspects of these realities. As such, Giannichedda’s proposal can be read as a formulation of the now classic pluralism thesis (8–11) – that only a plurality of ways of ordering and interrelating artefacts can unlock the full suite of relationships within historical assemblages archaeologists are interested in.
1. Giannichedda, E. (2023). Research perspectives and their influence for typologies, Zenodo, 7322855, ver. 9 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Archaeology. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7322855
2. Dunnell, R. C. (2002). Systematics in Prehistory, Illustrated Edition (The Blackburn Press, 2002).
3. Reynolds, N. and Riede, F. (2019). House of cards: cultural taxonomy and the study of the European Upper Palaeolithic. Antiquity 93, 1350–1358. https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2019.49
4. Lyman, R. L. (2021). On the Importance of Systematics to Archaeological Research: the Covariation of Typological Diversity and Morphological Disparity. J Paleo Arch 4, 3. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-021-00077-6
5. Van Fraassen, B. C. (2002). The empirical stance (Yale University Press).
6. Stanford, P. K. (2006). Exceeding Our Grasp: Science, History, and the Problem of Unconceived Alternatives (Oxford University Press). https://doi.org/10.1093/0195174089.001.0001
7. Radohs, L. (2023). Urban elite culture: a methodological study of aristocracy and civic elites in sea-trading towns of the southwestern Baltic (12th-14th c.) (Böhlau).
8. Kellert, S. H., Longino, H. E. and Waters, C. K. (2006). Scientific pluralism (University of Minnesota Press).
9. Cat, J. (2012). Essay Review: Scientific Pluralism. Philosophy of Science 79, 317–325. https://doi.org/10.1086/664747
10. Chang, H. (2012). Is Water H2O?: Evidence, Realism and Pluralism (Springer Netherlands). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-3932-1
11. Wylie, A. (2015). “A plurality of pluralisms: Collaborative practice in archaeology” in Objectivity in Science, (Springer), pp. 189–210. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-14349-1_10
The recommender in charge of the evaluation of the article and the reviewers declared that they have no conflict of interest (as defined in the code of conduct of PCI) with the authors or with the content of the article. The authors declared that they comply with the PCI rule of having no financial conflicts of interest in relation to the content of the article.
The authors declare that they have received no specific funding for this study
Evaluation round #2
DOI or URL of the preprint: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7322855
Version of the preprint: 7
Author's Reply, 22 Nov 2023
Decision by Shumon Tobias Hussain, Felix Riede and Sébastien Plutniak, posted 23 Aug 2023, validated 25 Aug 2023
thank you for submitting your revisions.
The revised chapter has now been seen by two reviewers whose comments are listed below. I agree with the reviewers that the text is almost ready for acceptance but merits a few final adjustments.
Please carefully consider all of the comments made, especially the detailed in-text annotations made by the first reviewer (you have to manually download the document yourself following "download the review").
Please also check whether you have used the Harvard reference system throughout (bibliography and in-text references: see document attached).
As mentioned by the reviewers, your paper would especially benefit from a final formal language check, ideally by a native speaker.
We are happy to accept your chapter for inclusion into the edited volume after attending to these final issues.
As always, let us know if you have any questions.
Shumon T. HussainDownload recommender's annotations
Reviewed by Artur Ribeiro, 06 Jun 2023
Reviewed by Martin Hinz, 23 Aug 2023
Evaluation round #1
DOI or URL of the preprint: https://zenodo.org/record/7322856
Version of the preprint: 1
Author's Reply, 17 May 2023
Decision by Shumon Tobias Hussain, Felix Riede and Sébastien Plutniak, posted 02 Jan 2023, validated 02 Jan 2023
many thanks for going along with our PCI-based review and revision process and for submitting your contribution in a timely fashion.
We have now received the reviewer’s comments. Please don’t be intimidated by the number of reviews, which is mainly reflective of my initial difficulties to find suitable experts for your chapter, so I had to broaden the scope and ended up with four reviews.
As you will see from the reviewers’ comments, your chapter is considered an interesting and potentially valuable addition to the volume, providing a useful birds-eye-view of alternative, competing and/or complementary approaches to thinking through archaeological data in general.
All reviewers also agree, however, that there are several issues with the chapter that need to be carefully addressed before publication, and I agree with this assessment.
Here are some of the main points that I wish to draw your attention to:
1) The link between the different outlined approaches and their consequences for conceptualizing ‘types’ and constructing ‘typologies’ should be explored and highlighted more explicitly and clearly. What kind of typologies are promoted by the different approaches and what are prominent examples of such typologies found in the archaeological literature? And what are the concrete/observable artefact attributes and characteristics respectively foregrounded by each approach?
This generally bespeaks of a more general problem also outlined by the reviewers: The presently weak link between what the introduction promises and what the main text provides – and this mismatch should be carefully addressed in the revisions.
In this context, it may be useful to spend some more time on the interrelationship between the different approaches identified and contrasted, as this is already hinted at in the subtext: Are they strictly antithetical, are they alternative to each other, or are the simply complementary? This discussion is linked to the question of their tangible typological consequences, of course.
2) The chapter is currently under-referenced and in some cases implicitly refers to particular concepts and thinkers without stating it (e.g. ‘hot’ vs. ‘cold’ societies, and see specific reviewer comments below). The problem here is not only the missing bibliographic context but also that the reader is often uncertain what the intellectual/epistemological and research-historical background of a specific approach is. For example, the ‘techno-anthropological’ approach as it is currently presented in the text seems mainly to refer to the French project of comparative sociology and Technologie, which some readers, especially with an English-speaking background, might not be familiar with at all. Some more context and research-historical context-specification would thus be useful. An important question here may also be what the scope and importance of the different approaches are (and whether or not this list of approaches may be biased towards Southwestern European traditions of archaeological thinking; cf. reviewer comments on the Central European perspective inspired by Montelius and others).
3) The role of the Monastery example is ambivalent and it is not perfectly clear what this case adds to the discussion. I would strongly suggest introducing this case study in more detail in a separate section and then more explicitly discuss the implications and problems of the outlined approaches in relation to this chosen archaeological example. This would require slight restructuring of the chapter.
4) Some discussion of the internal epistemological diversity of the different approaches would be useful. Taking a ‘cognitive approach’ to artefacts and other archaeological materials can mean many very different things (cf. Abramiuk’s "The Foundations of Cognitive Archaeology") and the consequences for type-thinking and the construction of typologies can thus be vastly different.
5) As outlined by one reviewer, and this may in part be an issue of translation, the phrasing ‘men’/'man' should be removed throughout the text and the respective renderings presented in a gender-neutral fashion. Language greatly matters here.
The original detailed reviewer comments are provided below for your orientation, and they should help in revising and thereby strengthen the chapter. Note that Reviewer 4 has included some possibly valubel in-text comments/suggestions that can be downloaded below.
Overall, this is a really interesting and potentially significant contribution to our edited volume, so thank you again for your submission.
I look forward to seeing your revised version in due time.