Household archaeology - can it, should it stand on its own feet?
This was one of the preliminary submitted problems for the Round table that
failed from the beginning and was not discussed in details. First the
anthropomorphic metaphor does not fit the household archaeology since it has
extremely strong base in the records, potentials for excellent theory and
methodology, and social practice. Second, the center of Salt Lake compared with
the ancient center was not introduced as a process and dynamic model but as
an original idea reproduced through the generations in one and the same way.
In fact the comparison is based on the common general idea of the sacred
center and periphery which most probably comes from Prehistory. But along with
the Mormon temple, in Salt Lake Downtown there are several other churches
including Catholic, English, Russian and Greek. In other words, Salt Lake is a
multicultural city with multicomponent religious structure. However, the general
example of the church in the center of the city is an excellent example of how we,
the modern people, have been developing the very old idea about the sacred
center, as well as of the nature of the household archaeology, which is not about
houses but about the households and their interrelation in the enculturation
|St Mark's Episcopal Cathedral is one of the several churches located in Salt
Dr Roger Matthews introduced the problems for discussion at the Round Table.
Although it looks there was no preliminary agreement, all problems related to
theory - whether we need consensus regarding the terminology and general
concepts, the interrelation between theory and data, the role of imaginary in the
household archaeological research, etc.
Some of the problems were updated, especially about the impact of the
processual and post-processual and post-post processual archaeology. My
comment was that in fact we need to talk about the impact of the global
archaeology that made possible to know more about the archaeology of
households all over the world. More comparative data and different
methodologies are a precondition for better insights and more successful
research in depth. My hope is soon we will forget about processual etc, and will
talk about given archaeologists since archaeology has been made by people
and not by schools. And there are many contributions of individual
archaeologists that just cannot be revealed because of the dark hats of
theoretizations without very deep meaning.
When one leaves the Round table of a Conference on household with a question like “What is
Household archaeology?”, there is no way not to conclude – it was a success. The congrats in this
case go directly to Professor Bradley James Parker as the main organizer of the International
Symposium “Household Archaeology in Middle East and Beyond: Theory, Method and Practice”.
Renowned and young scholars did not leave the Campus of the University of Utah three days
dedicating all their time to discuss problems of household – a garden of mostly young female flowers
mixed with older but still with strong fragrance anthropological thinkers on the past of human society.
There was also one tree although shown on one of the slides that became the most discussed topic
testing imaginary, knowledge, method and style of thinking of archaeologists, anthropologists, and
I attended the meeting on Saturday, so did not miss one of the most important events - the Round table.
Interesting titles from the first two days will make me wait with interest the publication which is planned
to come out in 2010.
Following the suggestion of Professor Ruth Tringham to introduce our personal sensitivity on what
we have been writing about, I probably need to start with the fact, that on Friday night my focus was on
vampires. Utah education station called me at home searching for an anthropologist to make comment
of a horror movie about a vampire. But this movie even for a moment did not come in my mind during
the whole scholarly event on Saturday. Obviously, the last was the most interesting and impressive and
the movie's memory could not bit any of the live Saturday’s traces on my cognitive map. In fact I still do
not know exactly how to explain scholarly which remembrance comes unconsciously in our mind and
when. The good news is that in Stanford on May 1-3 I will celebrate not only my 50th Birthday
Anniversary, but also going back to school. This year I was accepted for a student in the Westminster
College but I decided first to earn a degree in Social psychology from the University of Utah [Have a
minute to learn more about yourself? - take a self-handicapping test from the website of Professor
Frederick Rhodewald from the University of Utah]
So, probably in about a year I will be able to know why the Friday’s horror movie did not leave any
traces in my brain next day – because I was impressed from the scholarly meeting or it was not enough
horror and remembering for me. Since I rarely watch movies, logically one would expect that the movie
would come in my memory, at least for a moment. It looks the event was just the one that kept all my
attention from the first to the last moment. Again congrats to Bradley James Parker, who we also know
as a co-organizer of the lecture of Professor Jak Yakar at the Middle East Center two years ago.
I had only missed the appearance of Professor Douglass Bailey, who usually attends many
scholarly events, but did not sign for this one although it was in Salt Lake. I tried to keep myself quite
thinking that probably he was late to apply for the Meeting or did not receive a personal invitation (he
usually goes when is invited). We could learn much more about the Balkans filling more sense in this
“beyond” part of the title because he had fresh own excavations.
To expand the theoretical suggestion of Ruth how to write about household, I will add some points
on the atmosphere. It was extremely friendly and intellectual. The Round Table also showed how more
and more the scholars depend exclusively on their correct knowledge and not on positions, and how
mobile the authority is. The critical thinking and broad views especially of the young participants were
remarkable and promising for bright future of the theoretical archaeology, in particular of household
archaeology as theory, method and practice.
The truth is I can write this essay probably one week - and even not being paid a penny. It is one of
those writings for which we, the anthropologists, are not paid but just thinking about writing them
makes us feel happy and blessed that we are archaeologists and anthropologists. I am mentioning
this fact since at the Round table it was expressed a point that writings on household are limited from
the funding – the end of the funding means the end of the article/research. I don’t have such problem,
since as I noted at the Officer’s Club on the University of Utah Campus, many and probably some of the
best articles on household archaeology (and not only on it) are written without any funding. And this is
the strongest fragrance of the anthropologists.
Now we can try to undress the household archaeology as a reflection from the Parker’s Meeting at
the University of Utah.
1. Household archaeology is ……
We still do not know exactly what household archaeology is [see also a lecture sample that also poses
more questions than gives answer what the household archaeology is, as well as a course summary].
And probably this is the best part of the meeting. The presentations were serious and the authors were
responsible and committed to the event, but most did not want to give any synthetic definition on
household archaeology. My point at the Round table was that we have been changing our view on the
household. If in the 20th century we looked at the household as an elementary social unit in the context
of the social evolutionary models, at the beginning of the 21st century I would define the household as
the elementary enculturation constructor since enculturation has become a fundamental concept to
understand the evolution and structure of the human society ). But we still need a special symposium
on “Definition of household archaeology of the 21st century”.
I am not planning to reproduce other opinions of participants, since they will probably give their
definitions in their publications. However, what can we reveal for now?
a. Aiming household archaeology, the archaeologists think mostly about houses. The biggest
success of the household archaeology is stimulating the micro-scale excavations and especially the
micro-archaeology. Bradley J. Parker represented wonderful first results from his new Lab of Micro-
archaeology where he analyzed the data from his Upper Tigris Archaeological research Project
(UTARP). At the Round table, I pointed to the fact that the household archaeology influenced the Balkan
archaeology revolutionary. In this region were fashionable the excavations over big areas with
publication of the finds by horizons. No anymore. So, first of all the household archaeology is a
revolutionary archaeology breaking down the settlement archaeology and making every archaeologist to
recognize that the micro-stratigraphy and micro-documentation matter. The young archaeologists may
try to trace by years and regions the influences and the distribution of the innovation of the household
archaeology in later 20th century.
b. Although believing that household archaeology is about social relationships (Stella Souvatzi, Open
University, Cyprus), the archaeologists mostly research in the field household as agents of economic
activity. Close to Souvatzi was Foster including in the component of the household socialization. Today
the archaeologists are not limited to houses, but at the same time do not use in all cases indirect and
invisible data. On Saturday in none of the presentations were mentioned burial data. So, for the time
being, the household archaeology is about mainly social activity named household activity since the
individual acts in archaic societies (prehistoric and early state) mostly as members of households.
c. Household archaeology may recognize diachronic changes in the lives of the people. This is very
dangerous point when it has been followed based on small excavated areas and when the subject is
small changes. The reason is that our knowledge based on archaeology is fragmented. The slight
difference in the structure of House A from time A and the following House B from time B does not
mean we document change. It is only one model. Here Ruth was very strong saying that she would
want to see in one and the same paper alternative interpretations. I name such interpretations
modeling. Studying the cultural relationships between Southeast Europe and Central Europe in Early
Bronze Age for my PhD, I did not want to limit to one interpretation. So, all possible my interpretations
were systematized in theoretical models, and then applied to the different case studies are explanation
variants. This is in fact the role of the models. For me it was absolute pleasure to hear that this was the
right way of developing interpretation archaeology since there are still archaeologists that even have
been fabricating data to try to make a homogeneous theory and apply them for whole regions.
Trying to be more politically correct, the household archaeology has been searching for changes at
multi-scaled cultural process, but usually is limited and depends on the quantity and quality of the
archaeological data. As I pointed at the Round table, we always need to keep in mind the archaeology
provides fragmented data and reflect diverse social practices. In a house fire, for instance, different
households would leave different things in (or maybe nothing). Some households would prefer to eat at
home, other – outside. In other words, different households had different styles of living. We cannot treat
all past households as one model and to try to trace how this model changes within time. The fact that
Household A has style A in time A and Household B style B in time B does not mean that the difference
between A and B are differences within time. They can be just style differences, so style B could
characterize time A as well.
4. Household archaeology can be a synonym of archaeology. It was pointed during the Round table
that the household archaeology is a scaler and methodology. Although some archaeologists may do
not acknowledge the influence of the household archeology on their excavation techniques, in fact many
money holder archaeologists with abilities for big excavation had to change the macro-excavations by
attempting to dig more precisely and to have more detailed documentation. Excavating over big areas
without rescue character today is not tolerated both for settlements and cemeteries. It is not even
scientific anymore because by nature excavations mean destruction of past and usually such
archaeologists use most of the funds for labor without employing modern technology. Big excavation
was the goal of many archaeologists coming in our field to become famous following just the basic rule
of stratigraphy in the archaeological excavations. In the 21st century to be recognized, you need to make
scientific excavations. As the meeting at the University of Utah showed, the household archaeology is a
call for highly scientific excavations.
Micro-archaeology is the offprint and the crown of household archaeology and the new Lab of Bradley
Parker at the Middle East Center of the University of Utah had demonstrated that even the biggest multi-
scale research needs cells and blood and the household archaeology is both the cells and the blood of
the general archaeology.
5. Today we can look at the household archaeology as a fundamental issue. It is not a tendency,
fashion, extravagant action of extreme-minded archaeologists. It is the archaeology, because in the
history of the human society the household emerged as the most stable and globally reproduced
elementary social unit and at the households as the cells of the society.
However it remains unclear whether we should use household archaeology as a synonym of
archaeology or just about micro-scale archaeology. Should we use it only for the house-societies with
archaeologically documented houses (after Claude Lévi-Strauss, mentioned at the Round table) or for
If we excavate one or two houses, we intuitively today think about household archaeology. But if we
excavate a whole village or a city – what would be: household archaeology or village archaeology? Will
somebody tomorrow waste a tone of paper to prove that the named today household archaeology was
in fact the traditional settlement archaeology or may name it village archaeology? And do we need really
to have archaeologically documented houses to think about household archaeology?
The household archaeology made unpopular the term settlement archaeology mostly because of
the benefit of more detailed documentation and paying attention on the everydayness of the people –
not only what they use but how they live and how they interact and change the life. From this perspective
household archaeology is the archaeology of the 21st century because the very term has been
reproducing the idea of the everydayness and the importance of every moment of the lives of people.
Today and in future it will be difficult to think about archaeology as a non-household archaeology, since:
a. Household archaeology is not archaeology of houses. It is archaeology of household as
elementary enculturation constructors with multi-scale structure and relationships. Households can be
studied archaeologically without having archaeologically documented houses.
b. Household archaeology makes us study archaeological houses in details, but also makes
us not forget about burials, landscape, the economic resources, political structures, kinship, genealogy
and symbolic systems of communication, because all these components are the households and
components of the household archaeology.
c. Household archaeology should not make us forget about ethnography and cultural
anthropology, physical anthropology, genealogy, psychology, etc., and about our own everydayness but
in fact makes the integration of archaeology with the other disciplines stronger and organic since if we
want to know more about our close or distant past, we need to destructure the households in their
6. Today we have household archaeology are a synonym of archaeology and an ancestor of many
future directions – field household archaeology, economic household archaeology, political household
archaeology, enculturation household archaeology. One asked on the Round table – Do we really need
the term household archaeology? We may not if for everybody archaeology means household
archaeology. But since even today some achaeologists turn to landscape, resources and politics as
macro-issues because of missing cognitive “household cells’ constructors”, obviously it is correct
theoretically and methodologically to propose multi-dimension household archaeology than
archaeology that by definition includes household archaeology. It is a question of terminology whether
household archaeology will be divided into field and empirical household archaeology and
interpretation household archaeology/anthropology, or we will think about one discipline in which the
skeleton is the excavations but the agenda is the constructions of theoretical models on past based on
The symposium organized at the Middle East Center of the University of Utah was a success and
invitation to the household archaeology, multi-scale archaeology and cross-disciplinary research.
Gathering researchers – mostly archaeologists, but also anthropologists and psychologists, from the
USA and all the world (from United Kingdom and Greece to Australia), hosted by Professor Bradley
Parker and assisted by Roger Matthews (College of London) and Catherine Foster (University of
California, Berkeley), this scholarly meeting made us believe that the present and the future of
archaeology is in very strong hands since it in the hands of the household archaeologists.
The meeting was nominated for the cultural event of 2009 in Salt Lake at the International Institute of
Anthropology because of problematizing the household archaeology toward future more successful
archaeology as social practices and theory.
Professor Jeffrey Chadwick (Brigham Young University) talked remarkably
about Philipp C. Hammond, Professor at the University of Utah (1969-1994)
who died last year. We learned about the excavations of Professor Hammond
at Petra and Hebron and about his exciting personality. It was the best lecture
about an archaeologist that I have ever listened to. It made me feel like in my
students years - with whole my heart and mind in archaeology and had
energized my scholarly everydayness probably for a long period. Yes! We do
need good speakers in archaeology. Compliments for Professor Chadwick!
The participants in the Conference.
Stella Souvatzi (Open University, Cyprus), came to the Conference from
Greece. This was her first visit of the USA. Her research on household and
her book have been especially represented in the new issues of the
Reports of Prehistoric Research Project
|Professor Bradley James Parker