This critical analysis essay centers on heritage, discussing what it demonstrates about the production of archaeological data through case studies. It covers a discussion of whether the production of archaeological data is always objective. There is an assumed synergy between heritage and archaeological data, as demonstrated by the concept “Archaeological Heritage Management” (Waterton and Smith, 2009: 41). Taking the archaeological point of view, heritage is often referred to as the material culture of the past, or those manmade structures and artefacts that comprise the archaeological record and are intended to explain the past (Waterton and Smith, 2009). The production of archeological data is a result of a study and observation of archeological record, which helps establish the domain of heritage (Binfold, 2009).
Is the production of archaeological data always objective?
The production of archaeological data is always objective, and this is recognised explicitly by the literature (e.g. Waterton and Smith, 2009). The ways in which heritage demonstrates this objectivity is seen in the tacit assumption embodied in the knowledge being produced from interpreting the past, which informs identity and is thus called ‘heritage’ (Waterton and Smith, 2009: 42), as well as the needed consistency of the data (both in terms of individual inventory and organisational inventory) so that they may be capable of use in the future (Barrett, et al., 2007). Since data must be consistent to this level, subjectivity has therefore no room in their production.
Worthy of note is the fact that there are various contexts from which the production of heritage can take place, ranging from historical documents, archaeological excavations, values and meanings placed on heritage such as buildings and natural environment. Similarly, archeological heritage is commonly produced through research as well as academic discourses, which in fact help promote what is considered ‘heritage’ (Hicks, McAtackney, and Fairclough, 2007: 102). In managing the artistic heritage, the acquisition of data is an important aspect (Ferrari, 2010). Since archaeological heritage is produced through research and is formed by inferences through discourses, it is but proper to say that such process of production is objectively carried out since research itself is a field of objective characterisation.
The notion that heritage is characterised by ‘multi-vocality’ (Habu, Fawcett, and Matsunaga, 2008: 38; Waterton and Smith, 2009: 42) does not automatically suggest that it is non-definitive and subjective in its production of archeological data. Archaeological data are material, and this materiality enables the concept of heritage to become intrinsically knowable and controllable. These knowable and controllable characteristics is seen in the extent through which archaeological heritage can be defined, discovered, recorded, managed, and conserved. The naturalisation of archaeological assumptions also supports this knowable nature of heritage in legal and policy documents (Waterton and Smith, 2009). Such process cannot therefore be merely placed in some subjective assumptions of data production. This is further supported by an assertion (e.g. Hodder, 2004) that archaeology can take an interpretive form, and its role is to facilitate the involvement of the past in the present period through objective archaeological data. Smith (2004) also calls objects from the past as part of an objective archaeological record, reinforcing the general claim of the literature on the subject. Additionally, much can be learned about past history by using more theorised approaches to understand the relationship between history and archaeology (Robertson, Seibert, Fernandez, 2006). Such theory application is an objective stance of the archeological field (e.g. Cobb, Harris, Jones et al., 2012; Gibbon, 2014; Jones, 2002).
Case studies on heritage and production of archaeological data
A case study that may be cited in this paper is the Lodenice project in central Bohemia in the early 1990s, which is also known for a Viereckschanze (rectangular enclosure) excavation. This project identified an Iron Age settlement and remnants of decorative arm rings dating from 2nd to first centuries BC. This project, which produced a Celtic carved rag stone head, used an analytical fieldwork survey and multivariate mathematical analysis, combined with geographical information system (GIS) (Hicks et al., 2007). This example demonstrates the extent to which the production of archaeological data aims to be as objective as possible, for the archaeologies may simply assume the nature of data collected, but lack of definite measurements and other objective applications would place the whole investigation into mere assumptions.
Another case that may be cited is the Bylany Project in Norway (1990s). Grants were used to finance archaeological research, enabling the excavation of Neolithic circular enclosures of Bylany’s complex. The integration of National Heritage Institute with rescue excavation administration has been a pending situation, which can negatively impact long-term archeological research in the Kutna Hora region. This archeological research is currently on systematic monitoring (Biehl and Prescott, 2013). The production of archaeological data informs of their use for future research and knowledge production as well as their objective and systematic production, reinforcing the idea that these data are always objective.
Moreover in England, a data standard for the Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs) was established in the 1990s, facilitated by what is now known as the English Heritage’s National Monument Record. This data standard acknowledged the importance of records, including the activities of people involved in studying the resource, the sources of such information, and information on the process of managing the resource. This is to enable the successful management of the archaeological and historic environment within which archaeological data are derived (Barrett, Dingwall, Gaffney, et al., 2007). This manner of record-keeping for the production of archaeological data reveals the importance of objectivity.
Worthy of discussion is the Tsodillo rock art in Botswana, which was the focus of intensive survey programme and recording by the Botswana National Museum during the late 20th century. The rock art holds the archaeological evidence that human settlement once existed in the landscape (Hicks et al., 2007). The recording and survey carried out by the Museum indicate the pursuit for objectivity in the investigation of the Tsodillo landscape.
These case studies discuss what heritage demonstrates about the production of archaeological data being systematically acquired and processed, and thus entail the collaboration of specific government organisations in charge of heritage and archaeological data management. Thus, despite the perceived artistry of heritage, it is largely governed by some objectivity and system-specific characteristics in the production of archaeological data.
This critical analysis essay has discussed what heritage demonstrates about the production of archaeological data. It has focused on whether the production of archaeological data is always objective, illustrating the answer through cases studies. This brief claims that such production is indeed always objective, as reinforced by the extant literature denoting such objectivity and systematic stances. These data must necessarily be consistent in order for them to be of viable use in the future; hence, subjectivity has no room in their production. Moreover, archaeological data are material, enabling them to become inherently knowable and controllable and are thus definable, discoverable, recordable, manageable, and conservable.
Case studies are provided, aiming to serve as evidence for the objectivity of the production of archaeological data.
Barrett, G., Dingwall, L., Gaffney, V., Fitch, S., Huckerby, C., and Maguire, T. (2007) Heritage Management at Ford Hood, Texas: Experiments in Historic Landscape Characterisation. England: Archaeopress.
Biehl, P. F. and Prescott, C. (2013) Heritage in the Context of Globalization: Europe and the Americas. NY: Springer.
Binfold, L. R. (2009) Debating Archaeology: Updated Edition. CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.
Cobb, H., Harris, O. J. T., Jones, C., and Richardson, P. (2012) Reconsidering Archaeological Fieldwork: Exploring On-Site Relationships Between Theory and Practice. NY: Springer.
Ferrari, A. (2010) The 8th Framework Programme of the European Commission and the Safeguard of Cultural Heritage: The EACH Project. Italy: CNR, Institute of Chemical Methodologies.
Gibbon, G. (2014) Critically Reading the Theory and Methods of Archaeology: An Introductory Guide. Maryland: AltaMira Press.
Habu, J., Fawcett, C., and Matsunaga, J. M. (2008) Evaluating Multiple Narratives: Beyond Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist Archaeologies. NY: Springer.
Hicks, D., McAtackney, L., and Fairclough, J. (2007) Envisioning Landscape: Situations and Standpoints in Archaeology and Heritage. CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.
Hodder, I. (2004) Theory and Practice in Archaeology. NY: Routledge.
Jones, A. (2002) Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice. UK: Cambridge University Press.
Robertson, E. C., Seibert, J. D., Fernandez, D. C., and Zender, M. U. (2006) Space and Spatial Analysis in Archaeology. Alberta: University of Calgary Press.
Smith, L. (2004) Archaeological Theory and the Politics of Cultural Heritage. London: Routledge.
Waterton, E. and Smith, L. (2009) Heritage, Communities and Archaeology. London: Bloomsbury Academic.