fieldnotes (long)

Josiah McC. Heyman (jmheyman@MTU.EDU)
Tue, 22 Nov 1994 10:05:27 -0500

On behalf of Jeff and myself, I am posting a longish side-thread we developed
on the topic of cultural anthropologists' and archaeologists' fieldnotes.
The first segment here was already on anthro-l but the rest was our side
conversation. I think it will prove interesting to a number of people. Joe
Heyman <jmheyman>

Date: Fri, 11 Nov 1994 14:26:44 -0700
From: Paul J Brantingham <branting@GAS.UUG.ARIZONA.EDU>
Subject: Re: Cross-cultural anthropology: An archaeological
To: Multiple recipients of list ANTHRO-L

As an archaeologist I have a slightly different perspective on the
cross-cultural question. This baisically derives from the fact that
archaeologists working in prehistoric periods must rely on ethnographic
analogy (or experimental work such as computer modeling or replication
studies) to make their data intelligible. There is a long history to the
use of ethnographic analogy in archaeology that is directly relevant to
the whole-culture/culture-trait problem of cross cultural comparison.

Much of the 19th century evolutionary anthropology and archaeology was
concerned with the use of entire cultures as examples of prehistoric
cultures. I use the word "example" because these evolutionary
anthropologists were not using principles of analogy to mitigate their
interpretation of arcaheolgical materials. Thus the Australian aboriginal
people or the !Kung *were* savages identical to Paleolitic peoples in
their entirety. From the Victorian perspective, the simple technology,
language, dark skin and immorality of mobile hunter-gatherers went together
as a unit, as did the industrial technology, refined language, light
skin and puritan morality of Western European Civilization. I
like to draw an example from modern evolutionary biology to illustrate
the fallacy of this type of wholesale ethnographic mapping: People
often think of life in terms of a "great chain of being", with
unicellular organisms at the bottom and humans at the top. Yet this
"chain" or branching model fails to recognize that modern unicellular
organisms and humans are equally evolved (any contemporaneous organisms
are equally evolved), albeit in radically different ways and to radically
different environmental conditions. The mistake is to assume
differneces in organizational complexity provide a means of ranking those
orgnisms on an evolutionary scale.

Another example that illustrates some of the problems with emphasizing
"organizational complexity" as a means of evolutionary ranking, draws on
the common assumption that some languages are inherently more complex than
others. On a point to point basis we could say that Chinese characters
are more complex than the roman alphabetic system. But such differences
in the complexity of orthographic systems are perhaps ballanced by
differences in grammatical systems (Chines does not have verb conjugations,
whereas English has many complex tenses and
an unbelievable number of irregular verbs). This is to say that when we
look at modern languages in their entirety (phonetics, word morphology,
syntax, semantics) they all appear to be equally complex (this goes back
to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). Consequently, it is very difficult to
rank modern languages in terms of their overall complexity. On a point to
point basis it may be possible, but not as an entire system.

The point I am trying to make is that the use of entire cultures as
ethnographic analogies in archaeology, or for cross cultural comparison,
confuses the scale at which analogies are useful. Archaeologists
and anthropologists have recognized this for many years and have
accordingly moved away from the use of entire cultures as the basis of
of cross cultural comparison or archaeological analogy into looking at
more particulate relationships. Bruce Trigger's _A History of
Archaeological Thought_ (1989, Cambridge U. Press) gives a fantastic
discussion of the development of the use of ethnographic analogy by
early Scandanavian archaeologists to explain the function of particular
forms of technology, as independent from other aspects of culture. The
current state of etnographic analogy in archaeology is methodologically more
sophisticated. But the principle of using analogies of limited scale
remains the same (e.g. how does tool form relate to tool function; how do
the energetic requirements of mobility among modern hunter-gatherers
effect what kinds of technology they can carry around with them?). The
construction of these analogies should ideally apply to any
archaeological situation regardless of time or space. That is,
ethnographic analogies may be useful for generating "empirical laws" of
limited scale. Behavioral Archaeology (Schiffer 1976, Academic Press)
has produced one of the most useful approaches to the use of
ethnographic analogy and experimental studies in archaelogy. As the
title of this research program indicates, the apropriate scale of
theory building in archaeology and, therefore, the appropriate scale of
cross cultural (analagous) comparison is that of behavior--how
artifacts and people are brought together to perform certain
activities. Because archaeology is tied to material remains of behavior
the emphasis on artifact-people interactions is understandable. My
suggestion is that cross-cultural comparison in modern ethnography
should also involve limited scale behaviors, functions, symbols,
representations... The important thing is to figure out how limited
scale phenomena are related to their context and whehter it is
appropriate to generate "priciples" of behavior, function,
symboling, and representation outside of those contexts.

I have a question about anthropologists, their field notes and what
eventually gets published from their resarch. Since archaeology often
looks to ethnographies (or ethnohistoric documents) for limited scale
analogies archaeologists have a considerable interest in the way that
ethnography is done. As publications have moved more and more into
issues of representation and power the useful connetions with
archaeology have grown slim. This is not to say that the issues of
representation and power are not important to archaeologists, they most
certainly are. Rather, these issues have tended to produce
ethnographies where data on material culture, demography, or subsistence
(archaeologically tractable forms of evidence), for example, are not
published because the connections with representation and power are
seen as peripheral or unrealted. This makes it incredibly difficult for
archaeologists to consult those ethnographies and develop correlates
for addressing issues of power and representation in prehistoric
times. Archaeologists have gone on to develop "ethnoarchaeology" to
as a means of providing more operational forms of data. This tends to
alienate arhcaeologists from their cultural colleagues, each doing
their own ethnography. My question is, do field anthropologists still
collect information that might be more directly useful to
arcaheologists. Are your ethnographic field notes filled with data that
might be useful for addressing issues of power in prehistoric times? If
so, why not publish that data?

I appologize for the length of these ponderings,

Jeff Brantingham

Date: Wed, 16 Nov 1994 09:07:32
From: jmheyman (Josiah McC. Heyman)
Subject: Re: Cross-cultural anthropology: An archaeological perspective.


As a cultural anthropologist sympathetic to the macroanthropology
tradition that includes human paleo, archaeology, and ethnology in one time
stream, I thought I'd respond to you. My experience--personal and by
observing others--is that most cultural anthropologists now collect mostly
information on fairly specific research-proposal topics, rather than the
very, very holistic information gathering of the "Notes and Queries" type.
I think this is unfortunate. That means that even in unpublished
fieldnotes, one might not find information on population, settlement size
and form, material culture, etc. that are topics usefully compared to what
archaeologists often have to work with. Chances are, one will find such
information only in the work of cultural anthropologists who deliberately
chose to tackle such subjects. For instance, for any archaeologist
interested in the recent historical transition from fairly localized, self-
or artisan-made material culture to global, manufactured material culture, I
have published a long and detailed (perhaps boringly so) article on highland
Sonora, Mexico, "The Organizational Logic of Capitalist Consumption on the
Mexico-United States Border," _Research in Economic Anthropology_, V. 15
(1994): 175-238. I also comment that not *all* of us cultural types (I
prefer socio-cultural) approach power only at the level of meaning. I am
very much concerned with force and control over vital resources. All in
all, however, I am concerned that ethnography is indeed too topic-centered
to continue to support strong exchanges across the subdisciplinary
boundaries. Paul Friedrich, who is a linguist and cultural anthropologist
at the University of Chicago (and thus very much interested in meaning,
literature, etc.) has a very nice argument in favor of wide-ranging,
boringly detailed data gathering in _The Princes of Naranja_ and in an
article in _Cultural Anthropology_ 7(2) 1992.

Best, Joe


***** JMHEYMAN@MTU.EDU *****

Josiah McC. Heyman Phone: (906)487-2116
Dept. of Social Sciences Fax: (906)487-2468
Michigan Technological Univ.
Houghton, MI 49931 U.S.A.

Date: Thu, 17 Nov 1994 20:59:27 -0700 (MST)
From: Paul J Brantingham <branting@GAS.UUG.Arizona.EDU>
To: "Josiah McC. Heyman" <>
Subject: Re: Cross-cultural anthropology: An archaeological perspective.

Thanks for the reply to my posting. I realize that field notes are often
specifically oriented towards particular field questions, not to mention
the very personal nature of being in the field. Somehow there may be a
difference between the field notes that anthropologists and archaeologists
write, though. It may be as simple as the fact that excavation is a
"destructive" process and the archaeologist attempts to compile as
complete a record as is possible of the stuff that is coming out of the
ground. This involves collecting and recording information that may
currently seem irrelevant or
meaningless. Who knows when new theoretical and methodological
innovations may make such data extremely useful. Ethnography because of
its more dynamic or animated nature is seen as a process of
"construction" and as a result does not have the same goals in data
collection. (Archaeologists do have there own
textualism--reconstruction). Do I have a misguided impression of the way
that ethnographic field work is conducted?

Thanks again,

Jeff Brantingham

Date: Fri, 18 Nov 1994 10:27:09
From: jmheyman (Josiah McC. Heyman)
To: branting@GAS.UUG.Arizona.EDU
Subject: Re: Cross-cultural anthropology: An archaeological perspective.


Well, I do think that archaeologists are better prepared to record
everything whatever they think the current project is about. They are
better prepared because of subdisciplinary traditions, and because there is
a clearly bounded domain of data (this *is* what comes out of the ground),
though I suppose that the idea of what is data does evolve (e.g., dirt used
to be dirt, and now it may have pollen in it). Cultural anthropology
fieldnotes, you will find, are more erratic in this regard, and I am indeed
critical of my subdiscipline. However, I should say that I recorded events
of many characters that happened around me, on exactly the principle that
you articulated--for my own (and other's) posterity. For example: I needed
to sell a stove at departure. I thus recorded many prices of used goods in
second-hand stores (not just stoves); lo and behold, I can use these
observations in my continuing work on consumption, imports, and material
culture. And I encourage my students to be comprehensive recorders. One
problem in ethnography, however, is that you may not seek domains of
evidence if this is not what your research project is about. For example, I
have a variety of religious events recorded in my notes but I did not
systematically go to as many religious events as possible, as this was not
how I thought of my project way back when. There must be archaeological
parallels: your project is to surface collect, and you do not seek to
excavate. Given this, the problem becomes that many cultural
anthropologists do not seek (today, especially) the types of information
that would make the strongest connections to the types of information
archaeologists are likely to encounter. I see two solutions: (1)
ethnoarchaeology, which is fine by me--lots of what ethnoarchaeologists do
impresses me, and I enjoy the imaginativeness of the connections; (2)
encourage cultural anthropologists to do at least some of the old-fashioned,
Notes and Queries type of culture data collecting. I also think that part
of the resolution for you, personally, may well be seeking out and
identifying those number of cultural anthropologists who *do* collect the
data you are interested in.

I enjoy corresponding on this. Do you think it would be a good idea to
forward all the back and forth messages since your original post to


Date: Fri, 18 Nov 1994 11:07:34 -0700 (MST)
From: Paul J Brantingham <branting@GAS.UUG.Arizona.EDU>
To: "Josiah McC. Heyman" <>
Subject: Re: Field notes in anthropology and archaeology

Yes, I think it would be interesting to forward these messages to the
list (do you know how to gather them into one file?).

I agree that archaeologists are constrained by the questions that they
ask. Archaeologists do not collect "everything." The constraints of time,
money and interest are real. The difference between the field notes of
contract archaeologists and those working at academic institutions may be
revealing of these three issues. (Their publications certainly are).

As regards contemporary archaeology in North
America, I thought of another dimension of archaeological field notes
that may connect with the goals of socio-cultural anthropologists.
Since archaeologists are working ever closer with North American Native
groups in the
excavation, analysis, preservation and repatriation of archaeological
remains, archaeological field notes may be increasingly ethnographic in
their content. This I think is different from explicit "ethnoarchaeology"
because it revolves around the social context of the practice of
archaeology and is not necessarily concerned with providing the material
correlates of behavior. Such information may involve the politics of
interaction between the native community and the archaeologists, the
development of relations between arhaeologists and members of the Native
community and participation in special aspects of Native American culture.
Yet I don't know if much of this "ethnographic" information is being
published by archaeologists. What does get published
from these "ethnographic" experiences are critiques of archaeology as a
discipline. These critiques may be useful only up to a point.

To turn the question of my initial posting on its head,
I wonder what "ethnographic information" may be contained in archaeologists'

field notes that goes unpublished, but may be of value to socio-cultural
anthropologists? What types of information might socio-cultural
anthropologists want archaeologists to provide them with?

If it sounds like I am a proponent of the "four fields" approach it is
because I am. We have a lot that we can learn from each other.

Optimistically Yours,

Jeff Brantingham.