What´s Processual Archaeology?

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Processual Archaeology, was a movement in the archaeological field that began in the 1960‘s and changed the course of archaeology forever. Anthropologists such as Julian Steward were absolutely influential on many archaeologists and anthropologists during the early 1960s with his theories of cultural ecology which established a scientific way of understanding cultures as human adaption to the surrounding environment (Steward, 1955: 36-38). It was approaches such as Stewards that led eventually led to a rejection of culture-historical approaches to the archaeological record and propelled the ideas of cultural evolution and its reaction with the environment. This approach to cultural systems was essentially a rejection of the culture-historical approach of determinism by suggesting that the environment influences culture but is not a deterministic feature and that both culture and the environment were two separate systems that are dependent on each other for change (Steward, 1955: 36).

Following Steward, existing explanations of migration and cultural diffusion as explanations for the formation of cultural systems became inadequate. Thompson, argued that simply acknowledging that migration had happened was not enough to explain culture-systems but that the processes that propelled migration were important (Thompson 1958: 1). Leslie White, went on to propose that cultural systems functioned as a reaction of humans and their environment and as a result, the materials created, relate to the relationship to their environment via means of tools, techniques and symbolism (White, 1959:8).

These leading anthropologists paved the way for Lewis Binford and his absolutely influential paper titled Archaeology as Anthropology in which Binfo...

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...adequate use when trying to explain complex ones (Salmon 1978: 179-180). Trigger notes that the fundamental flaw of the Systems theory was that it ‘was less useful in explaining change as it was in describing it (1989: 308).

Whilst there have been major criticisms of the Systems Theory, it is still occasionally applied to modern day archaeology to describe the components of culture-systems.

As an instance, in the field of paleolinguistics, Colin Renfrew, in re-examining Proto-Indo-European language and making a case for the spread of Indo-European languages through neolithic Europe in connection with the spread of farming,[11] outlined three basic, primary processes through which a language comes to be spoken in a specific area: initial colonization, replacement and continuous development. From some obvious reasoning he proceeded to some radically new conclusions.

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