Wisdom over Knowledge

Yesterday,  May 20, 2012, something happened. I guess I was on the verge of breaking down but in order for me to avoid it, I began to pour out what I felt and what I am going through to my parents. My parents, of course, are just lovely people. I am so happy and blessed that I have such parents who read the Bible everyday, meditate on God’s word, and experience and teach His Word. My dad holds one of the top managing positions in Ericsson, Hong Kong but throughout the years, I always see him put God first in everything. He would never leave the house in the morning if he has not read His word, even if it takes him to wake up very early in the morning to read and mediate on God’s word, around 4am sometimes, about the time I wake up to do my high school work (but now I am in university, far away from them, I know he’s still doing it because (1) the advices he gives me is just immensely words of wisdom that comes only from God and (2) when I go home for the holidays, I observe him that he still does it). My dad and my mom; when they give me advices and when they always hear me cry and brag about my lonely and other uncomfortable experiences here in Scotland mostly in terms of university course work and in my first year, about adjusting into a whole new different environment, and other things; they, as parents who loves me, will not say lovie dovie words and say things will be fine compared to my friends who just wants to comfort me that way. Their way of comfort is to get angry at me and ask me alot of questions why I feel the way I feel and other things. Their tone of voice is so different. They sound like as if they do not care about me and not want to hug me when I am in a bad situation. I always resent them because of that, I always thought they really do not care about what I am going through. But now I realise, they do love and care about me, so much that they rather make me realise my faults or the reality than being of comfort like what most people do. When I got together with my lovely boyfriend (I feel weird saying that he is my boyfriend because to me, he is more than that), when there were times that i get pissed off of him telling me things that bothers him, I realise that out of love, instead of giving him hugs and telling him “its alright, its gonna be okay”, I tend to ask questions and make him realise the reality he is in and help him in a way that will sustainably give him strength and courage to face his situation rather than leaving him with comfortable words that will not help him in a way. I am not saying comfortable words do not do their job but what I am saying that sometimes, comfortable words are uttered because one’s true feelings cannot be released due to fear of hurting a friend or something. There maybe other reasons but that is not what this blog entry is about.

This blog is about choosing wisdom over knowledge. I struggle with my relationship and faith with God. To be honest, I read the Bible probably 3 times a month, only when I feel the burden to do so or when I am free and have absolutely nothing to do. If you are not a Christian, its okay, you can still read this blog, its about what my parents have told me yesterday and my helpless situation that I feel the urge to share to people. Writing is a way for me to relieve my stress and come to terms and organise my thoughts and mind. Just writing this blog makes me an already sensible person compared for the past 3 weeks that I have been lost. If you do not believe what I wrote, its okay, no one is forcing you so. All I can say is that for one person to believe and have faith in God is to experience Him. This is one of the key points we have learned in our Anthropology of Religion course last semester and I shall post a blog about this soon as I finish my exams and organise my stuffs.

Anyhow, I’m going to begin to talk about what this blog is about….

Yesterday, I called my parents through skype and was was crying so hard while telling them what I am going through. This period is exam period. I have a week to study for 4 of my anthropology and archaeology courses. As I have stated before in my previous blog ‘exam preparation’, I am actually calm and can sleep and eat alot. But if I am calm and can sleep and eat alot why am I now talking about the hardship of exam? All I can say is that it is not the 4 exams I am 100% so depressed about. It is the build up of events that made me so sad, depressed, and lost. I recently got my archaeology of social life poster back, and I got a really bad grade, in my opinion. 13/20 is bad for me because I have already attained grades 20/20, over 15 is acceptable but lower than 15 is an issue. I have become really depressed, I understand why I got that grade and to be honest, they should have asked for an essay rather than a poster. How can an art degree student make a fantastic and presentable poster? That requires graphic stills and requires a person to learn about what makes a poster good, presentable, and marketable. For me in general, presentation of a poster is not what matters (but apparently, more than half of the criterial is about whether or not the person is presentable and marketable such as “use of supporting materials, images, maps, and quotes etc.; application of design principles and museum standards for fonts and lastly, use of exhibit text guidelines), what matters for me is the content of the poster, the argument and the interpretation of the question. I know this is my flaw but I really disagreed to the assessment. It should have been an essay format rather than poster format. I really cannot write 500 words, how can I summarise all the key points in 500 words? In short, I could not cut down the words and later discovered that I have 1500 words in the poster. Well, it was an improvement though, I incorporated more graphics and pictures than last semester’s poster. In essence, I was really disappointed because I put so much effort into research so that I have basis to back up my argument. This is one of the main reasons why my other archaeology course assessment – a 3,000 word research paper – got degraded. I instead handed 1,500 words. I e-mailed the professor and he said it is indeed not a good essay and quite short, he told me if I want, I can still continue writing it but when I am sad and just finished my last assessment, I cannot concentrate properly so I e-mailed him back if the essay earned 10 and below, then I will continue but if it earn 11 and above then it is fine, I will just emphasise more work on my revision for the exam and then I have not heard from him since then (2 weeks now). I am quite depressed and sad because I humiliated myself in front of those professors who, apparently, I have to be under subject to for the next year for my honours year. Moreover, the course to which I could not submit 3,000 words paper, the professor is the co-ordinator for the Alaska excavation I am dying for to be in this summer. I got accepted but he said I just need to wait until last week Tuesday for him to decide whether or not it would go on as there were not many students who applied. Also, I still need to hear something from my other anthropology essay… but I am doubting a good result as I devoted most of my time and energy to my archaeology poster and the anthropology essay which I posted weeks ago ‘benefits of both anthropological and historical methods’. So basically, it is all because of these that I do not have confident in working hard for my exam revision. Since I have been making summaries and reading the lecture readings of all my 4 courses, I am quite calm. I just really need to remember the key points, some dates, and some case studies to do well but I felt so bad yesterday as I let last week pass without any thorough revision though I organised both anthropology course (anthropology & imperialism and colonialism re-imagined) study groups. Anyways, I was telling my parents what I have said just now while crying so hard. I told them. I could not get any motivation to sit down and revise properly and thoroughly because I did not get good results for my assessments. I felt like working hard to revise is just a waste of time because I might not get the grades I want anyways as no matter how much I study for exams, exam results are still lower than my assessment results (so this is why I put so much thought and work on essays and other assessments). But I can change this, there’s still a week, all I need is to set aside more than 8 hours of sleep, Doctor Who, Merlin, BBC, and other interesting things and just start revising. Now I am in my fighting spirit but yesterday I was totally dishearten and demotivated. I felt like my strength left my body.

So my dad analysed the words I have told him. I told him I read almost all the lecture readings and my knowledge really did expanded. I am one of the few people to read lecture readings while others just either skim it or blab it. My dad told me, you did all you can. You are a very outstanding student but I told you to work smart. So we had almost an hour of debate on how to work smart and what are the ways to work smart to top up with working/studying hard. For almost 3 hours of talking, debating, getting irritated and wat not, he told me “you have all the knowledge of this world but you lack wisdom”. He did not tell me I am stupid but he told me I lack wisdom. What is ‘WISDOM’? The oxford dictionary offers an alternative definition to the Christian definition. Oxford dictionary online says “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement” (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/wisdom?q=wisdom). However, the Christian definition of wisdom will state that it comes from God. There’s alot of verses in the Bible that explains wisdom I will state a few.

This is what my New Living Translation Bible provides in the concordance section (I have chosen only a few out of many for illustration):

1 Kings 4:29 “God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. :30 In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the Eat and the wise men of Egypt”

Basically, when Solomon ascended the throne from his father, David, God asked him What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you (1 Kings 3: 5). Solomon answered,  here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong (1 Kings 8-9). Then God replied, because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies… I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for – riches and fame! (1 Kings 11 – 13) So out of all the things he could have asked from God, he chose wisdom instead of richness, glory, and death of his enemies. Because of his selfless choice, God rewards him with other aspects together with wisdom. This is what my father always desire of. Not of richness and glory of this world but wisdom so that he may manage Ericsson’s appointed work for him. It is because of this very fact that my father got elevated throughout the years from a very low paid position to one of the top and well respected positions in the company. All this because God gives him wisdom that is not of this world. Wisdom that surpasses the knowledge of this world. I really like this. I want this kind of wisdom. A selfless choice indeed but what do I in this world? I can have all what I want (luxuries, travel to different places, clothes, books, expensive camera, skate shoes etc.) but I am not satisfied. We can never be satisfied but after my conversation with my father yesterday, I decided, okay, I’m going to put an end to all these suffering because again and again I end up in a similar situation. I want to set my eyes on God. This world is so temporary that really, our purpose here is to give glory and honour to our God. All these months, I have been swayed away from this sole purpose. The reason why I am here. I do not want to live a life that is all for myself. To be honest, I want to graduate with a first class degree at the same time I want to win medals from swimming and figure skating, I want my photographs to receive  excellent comments, I want to finish grade 8 in violin so I can play in orchestras, I want to travel the world and see places…. there’s alot of things I want to do which really stresses me out because now I have set such a high determination which degrades me physically and mentally in a way that if I do not meet the requirements i have set in a day in order to get into my goals i.e. do uni work, practice swimming/skating, practice violin, practice photography… I tend to become sad and depressed and feel like my strength have just left my body. I do want to do all these things and be such a great person that my parents and my relatives would be proud of. But I feel like, rather them becoming such a great motivation, they become distractions from my sole purpose, that is to give glory to God. To spend time with him and to finish my university. All the other co-curricular activities should be there for fun and not for competitive reasons to which I constantly push my qualities to the highest. I know and I believe that all these things will come if I spend time with God and acquire wisdom to live my life differently. I have never done this ever in my life but yesterday I have told myself to finally accept God, accept his wisdom and live a different and selfless life and all these other things I want to achieve will come with being submissive to God because I know God will also give our hearts desires (Psalm 37:4).

Okay so here’s the other verses from the concordance of my NLT Bible:

1 Kings 10: 24 “People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him”. So this is the fruit of Solomon’s selfless decision to acquire wisdom. All these material and worldly things came together with something that is from God.

2 Chronicles 1:10 “Give me the wisdom and knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?”. This is one of the reasons Solomon put forward to God when he asked for wisdom.

Proverbs 3:13-15; 8:11 “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding, for wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more previous than rubies, nothing you desire can compare with her.” So basically, wisdom cannot compare with anything. What comes with wisdom is better than any reward. Wisdom = understanding. This is not saying that knowledge is bad and really inferior but wisdom together with knowledge = immense understanding and better choices.

Proverbs 11: 2 “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom”

Proverbs 16:16 “How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgement than silver!”. This shows that it is better to choose getting wisdom than first prioritising richness.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 “Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.” Hence, if one chooses wisdom, success will follow afterwards.

Ephesians 1: 17 “Asking God, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God”. Therefore, not only we will gain understanding in how to live our lives in this world and choose the right paths but also we will comprehend the complexities of God, his ways, and purposes. (I said complexities because I find God really complex to understand….)

Colossians 2:3 “In Him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Wow, this means that there’s more to wisdom than what we might think it brings.

Titus 2:12 “And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God.” There’s alot to be said about this, (1) we live in world that is dominated by the devil and evilness hence, the more we should focus on God and put him first in our lives to live a righteous life. (2) why is this world evil? Because the devil come here to kill, steal and destroy God’s creation and especially us believers that’s why we swerve in our faith and relationship with God. That is why we get so distracted. This is why we allow those distractions to destroy us physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. This is true in my case. How about yours?.  (3) Why would God even allow evil to dominate His creation? Well, this is a very interesting philosophical question which I will address in my future blog entires. So keep in posted.

James 1: 5 “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. he will not rebuke you for asking”. This is telling us that we can just come and ask God that we need wisdom. He will not get angry nor disapprove and reprimand our selfless decision. God encourages us to come to him and such this Godly wisdom because in this we can gain understanding and successfully live our lives and be faithful to Him.

This is what my mom gave me just now while writing this blog:

Proverbs 1:7a “The fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” ‘Fear’ does not mean what we have in our minds. I shall write a separate blog entry for this later on. This verse is saying that if we love God and have faith in Him then we will begin to understand him and his ways which is even better than attaining worldly knowledge.

Proverbs 10: 23 “Doing wrong is fun for a fool, but living wisely bring pleasure to the sensible”. This shows the difference between worldly knowledge. This does not mean that knowledge of this world is foolish but there are others who do have knowledge yet use it foolishly that is why Godly wisdom is to be taken into consideration in order to live and sensible and better life.

Proverbs 28:26 “Those who trust in their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.” There maybe other interpretations on this but I interpret it as those people who have knowledge and proudly thinks that they should live their lives in their own ways they then are fools because wisdom would give one a better life to which better choices are made that follows success.

These are are one of the few verses I have chosen but there are others in the Bible which you can gain wisdom and knowledge from. I suggest that you read the Bible first before suggesting that religion is bad, it creates war, it does this and that etc. I shall address this soon in my future blogs with anthropological, archaeological and interdisciplinary incorporations to help us understand this so called ‘complication’ of the Bible, Christianity, and religion.

🙂 I have been writing this blog for almost 3 hours now. I need to eat my branch and start revising for my anthro-archaeology exams. Do not hesitate to comment and let me know what you think. As for me, I made a decision that from tomorrow, I will seek for wisdom (that means reading the Bible, spending time with God and meditating on His word everyday rather than when I wake up in the morning I read bbc news, watch Merlin, Doctor Who, Japanese/ Korean dramas and other things) more than relying on my own knowledge to live my life i.e. decisions on how to study for my exams, what to do with my passionate hobbies (playing the violin, figure skating, swimming, travel, and photography).

Exam Preparation

Whenever exams are near, my body and my mind physically shifts. Because I use my brain so much, I need more rest than usual, but the minimum is 8 hours. I also tend to eat more (both healthy and non healthy foods), my reason is to fuel up my brain.

How about you? Do you tend to need more rest and food in preparation for exams? When I mean preparation, I mean, when you are studying, revising, and getting ready for the exam.

I remember, when I did my International Baccalaureate exams in May of 2009, I was super stressed that I look like Johnny Depp in his recent film the Dark Shadows. But it should not be that way, there were personal reasons why I was like that but now, since I am far away from family (I am across the other side of the continent), I have to take care of my physical self, and mentally prepare in advance to prevent any suicidal feeling when it’s exam time.

I know there are people who stay up the whole night studying and cramming things in their minds. I do not know how they can do that. University teachers normally give advices in their last lectures concerning how to do well in exams and two of these is to sleep at least 8 hours a day and eat well (i’m assuming they are also saying, healthy foods… not processed and ready meals which may not be good for the body in the long term).

Are you the kind of person who studies the night before exams or do you plan ahead in time and study bit by bit for the long term memory? If you are the kind of person who is up all night revising just before your exam, why and what are your reasons for doing so? I know there are millions of reasons on this because each of us individuals are unique and have our own experiences and go through different hardships.

Before, when I was in high school, exams were my biggest and worst enemy. Now, it has shifted. I am more calm and normal. I do not look like a deceased person and pale as before. I can smile before exams while previously all I can give to people was sad face and depression.

I would like to know your experiences with exam. Let me know what you think and do give any advice you perceive is best for others who are stressing out. Good luck for everyone who is currently going through exams at the moment!

Theory and interpretation in Archaeology

Theory in archaeology is very important. It helps us interpret the archaeological remains and materials we have to analyse. However, it is important to note that what has been suggested as an interpretation for a specific topic (for example, interpretations of grave remains to the identity or status of the deceased, ancient egyptian relics etc.) is merely just ‘an interpretation’. This is because we can never separate our analyses from ourselves, though we try to be as objective and more scientific in our methodologies and processes as we can, because we are socio-culturally determined. One can never, a hundred percent, state a definite interpretation of the past.

Theory is changing every time and through time. There will always be criticisms and development of new methods to the old ways of interpretation. Below is my archaeology research paper which highlights this change of theories through time and their school of thought.It earned CAS mark of 17/20. It is of course not a perfect essay but I will post the original writing with minor changes in terms of grammar and structure. The italics indicate the edited words from the submitted paper.

One thing I noticed and realise in getting essay feedbacks is that there can never be a ‘perfect essay’. People, which consists of different personalities, individualities; coming from different cultures, backgrounds, tradition, nationality;  having diverse ways of life, upbringing, worldview, beliefs and many more, will tend to interpret and judge papers, books, thoughts, quotes, videos, arguments etc. in a way that fits an individual’s perception even though university papers (and other assessments, not just for university) are supposed to be graded according to an established criteria. I shall write a separate post concerning this interesting topic later on so keep in posted.


“We will never ‘know’ what the past was ‘really like’ but we can try to write the best account we can that is informed by the evidence that we have and take the archaeological materials and through our questioning get them to give us information about the past” (Johnson 2010: 13)

“The old order, then, is changing, and the task of the New Archaeology today is to construct a more effective way of speaking about the past, a new language implying the fresh models of the past – a new paradigm” (Colin Renfrew 1973:19).

To what extent do you think the New Archaeology was successful in creating a new paradigm of archaeological thought?

Archaeology is the study of the human past “from material remains” and also from non material aspects such as “beliefs, myths, rituals” and much more (Scarre 2009:25-26). It is a broad discipline, which draws and incorporate methodologies and aspects from other academic disciplines. In order to understand the past, archaeologists must devise ‘ways’, or methods, which helps them with their interpretation. According to Johnson (2010:3-6), theories are very important in archaeology in that it helps us justify what we do and compare other interpretations in order to validate and evaluate a conclusion. This essay will evaluate the two distinct approaches to the understanding and interpretingof the past: Culture-History and New Archaeology, in order to conclude the extent to which New Archaeology provide a new paradigm in archaeological thinking.

Culture history, “was a response in growing awareness of geographical variability in archaeological record at a time when cultural evolutionism was being challenged” (Trigger 2006:211). The main figures who contributed in the formulation and development of culture-history were Oscar Montelius, Gustaf Kossina, and Gordon Childe (Trigger 2006:223, 235, 241). It is regarded as ‘oldarchaeology’ by many contemporary archaeologists (Watson 2008:30). It is the ‘long sleep’ of archaeological interpretation (Johnson 2010:15; Shanks and Tilley 1987:30). There are many reasons for this, firstly, culture-history tends to focus more on reconstructing chronologies of past societies rather than evaluating and explaining them, in which New Archaeology is superior (Watson 2008:30; Binford 1983:95; Bahn and Renfew 2008:41). Second, it tends to argue that ethnicity and race is an important aspect in shaping human behavior and thus human history. This itself is a limitation of culture-history because ethnicity is not the ‘only’ contributing factor to the archaeological material. Furthermore, its connection in defining a ‘culture’ is biased, racist and ethnocentric (Trigger 2006:312, 243). Lasly, having a normative view of how human societies work tends to assume that culture “is the way it is primarily by reference to what people are thinking – a mentalist thinking of culture in which it is defined as a set of shared ideas…which is expressed in material culture; [moreover] the varied forms of artefacts [tends to] reflect different [cultural] norms” (Johnson 2010:70-72). Consequently, artefacts are viewed as having to reflect different cultures which is another limitation of culture-history.

An example of interpretation of the past using culture-history is Gustaf Kossina (1851-1931). He argued that  culture and ethnicity are related to each other to which artefacts were characteristics of a particular people whose culture can be distinguished from others (Trigger 2006:237). Supplementarily, “he believed that racial characteristics were fundamental determinants of human behavior“ (Trigger 2006:237). He “identified cultural and ethnic variations with racial differences…that the original Indo-European speaking peoples, the direct ancestors of the Germans were members of the blond, longheaded Nordic/Aryan racial group” (Trigger 2006:237). Here, he argued using mostly the evidences he examined in museums and his theory of culture is based on “one or few items of material culture that he assumed were correlated with ethnic identity” (Trigger 2006:239-240). Lastly, he argued that the superior and advance cultures may have migrated in other areas resulting to hybridity that is evident in the material culture (Trigger 2006:238). It can be seen that the concept of ‘culture’ and the explanation of the material evidences did not incorporate scientific or other means of inferences (Trigger 2006:239). Moreover, “The idea that the Indo-Europeans had originated in northern Europe had been supported for some time by various linguists and physical anthropologists on the basis of evidence that is no longer persuasive.” (Trigger 2006:239).  There are other limiting factors of Culture-History. For instance, Montelius’ concept of diffusion in that civilization all started from the east and then gradually through time, spread to the west (Trigger 2006:222-230). This would be further tackled in the discussion of New Archaeology in the next paragraph.

Like culture-history being a movement from cultural evolutionism, New Archaeology is a shift of thought, a revolution in archaeological thinking, which began in the 1960s (Johnson 2010:17, 21; Shanks and Tilley 1987:29; Banh and Renfew 2008:40). “Dissatisfaction with traditional archaeology was based on the phrase: we must be more scientific and more anthropological (Johnson 2010:21). Moreover “dissatisfactions were being expressed with the way research…was being conducted. These dissatisfactions were so much…with the way conclusions were drawn from evidences” as seen with Kossina’s example (Bahn and Renfew 2008:40; Trigger 2006:235-240). New Archaeology is “not a single set of beliefs or theories but a very diverse set of archaeologists with different approaches and beliefs…but what united them all is the dissatisfaction with the way the discipline was going” (Johnson 2010:21). Thus, it revolutionized archaeological interpretation. Aspects of New Archaeology include the concept of culture as a system and process making it more complex to understand the dynamics of a culture rather than simply stating that ethnicity has got to do with the formulation of cultures (Johnson 2010: 25, 72, 74-79; Clark 1978:495). It also used other means of explanation such as Lewis Binford’s Middle Range Theory to which actualistic studies were derived from. See below for the examples.

New Archaeologists tend to argue that culture is more complex than what traditional archaeologists thought. It is a system of “intercommunicating network of attributes or entities forming a complex whole” (Clarke 1978:495). See Diagram 1. Johnson (2010: 72) clearly states this new approach, “Instead of looking for shared norms, system thinkers looked for different elements or subsystems and studied the relations between them. Instead of looking ‘inside’ at what people thought, what was going on inside their heads, they prefer to look ‘outside’, at how their cultural system was adapted, to an outside environment.”

Diagram 1: Clark’s (1978) systematic view of culture 

Furthermore, culture is seen as a ‘process’ with which New Archaeology shares the label – Processual Archaeology. It argues that it is always changing because of many factors as seen in Diagram 1 and also with migration, diffusion, and colonization and lots more. There are both pros and cons for these explanation of culture. As an advantage, it avoids ‘mentalism’ which explains artifact assemblages in terms of what people are thinking. It also avoids a monocausal explanation by looking at other factors of how a culture maybe formulated and changed (Johnson 2010:77). The negative side is that it tends to explain culture in an etic perspective rather than emic because “if we want to understand why cultures change in the past it is necessary to understand something [of inside]” but we can never do that because the past and people (depending on how far back in time a person would want to look at) are dead and gone (Johnson 2010:12, 83; Binford 1983:19). See Table 1 to get an overview of the different approaches to culture and explaining the past.

Other aspects of New Archaeology are the use of Middle-Range Theory, Behavioral Archaeology, Material Culture studies and much more, however this essay will only discuss Middle-Range Theory as an example. As stated before New Archaeology is “not a single set of beliefs or theories but a very diverse set of archaeologists with different approaches and beliefs” (Johnson 2010:21). Lewis Binford was one of the key figures who commenced this new movement. He argued that facts are silent and it is up to us, and our contemporary ways to interpret the past. He argued that we need to use analogies to interpret the past. Analogy is the “use of information derived from one context to explain data found in another context” (Johnson 2010:50). The use of analogies to interpret the past include two main aspects: ethnoarchaeology and experimental archaeology. These are a form of Middle Range Theory which uses present dynamics to come out with the past statistics (Watson 2008:31). Probably one of the advantage of using analogies is that an archaeologist will gain first hand experience to explain how things are in the past. For example, how modern hunter-gatherers generate tools. The limitation of this is that “archaeologists have to assume that conditions in the past were like those in the present” (Johnson 2010:75). Furthermore, Binford “thought that modern primitive societies closely resemble that of the prehistoric past … but since we cannot really know what the past is like… how can we make such an assertion?” (Johnson 2010:54).

Table 1 Summary of the key differences of culture-history to New Archaeology (Banh and Renfew 2008:41)

Old/traditional archaeology (Culture history approach) New Archaeology
 The nature of archaeology Descriptive Explanatory: Archaeology’s role was not to explain past change, not simply to reconstruct the past & how people had lived
 Explanation Culture History Culture Process: Traditional archaeology was seen to rely on historical explanation. The New Archaeology, drawing on the philosophy of science, would think in terms of culture process, of how changes in economic & social systems take place
 Validation Authority Testing: Hypotheses were to be tested, & conclusions should not be accepted on the basis of the authority or standing of the research worker
 Research focus (general) Data accumulation Project design: research should be designed to answer specific questions…not simply to generate more information which might not be relevant
Choice of approach (general) Simply qualitative Quantitative: Allows computerized statistical treatment w/ the possibility of sampling & testing
Scope (general) Pessimism Optimism: Traditional archaeologists often stressed that archaeological data were not well suited to the reconstruction of social organization or cognitive systems. N.A. were more positive & argued that one would never know how hard these problems were until 1 had to solve them

It can be seen from above that, in one way or another, New Archaeologists themselves tend to generalize the work of traditional archaeologists, which is biased in a way because there are some traditional archaeologists who contribute into the development of archaeology as a discipline and without their work, their research, archaeology wouldn’t have been developed into a better discipline.

Nevertheless, New Archaeology breaks off from traditional ‘culture-history’ uniting a wide range of archaeologists with differing views on how to interpret the past in a better way. It includes the idea of culture being a system and process, arguing that culture is complex than initially thought. The main figures of New Archaeology were Lewis Binford, David Clark, and Colin Renfew however this essay elaborated on Lewis Binford’s main concepts as an example. From Table 1, it can be derived that “In order to do good archaeology it is necessary to make explicit, to examine our underlying assumptions” (Bahn and Renfrew 2008:41). New Archaeology tends to explain rather than describe, “asks ‘why’ rather than only ‘when’, and to look at underlying processes rather than on surface level’” (Johnson 2010:26).

Lewis Binford argued that New Archaeology tends to be more scientific but that is not the case when post-processualists critiqued some of the main concepts behind New Archaeology. Yes, New Archaeology did provide change from culture-history but science occurred more in the post-processual thought (Trigger 2006:418-477). Post-processualism is a solution “for what they proclaimed were processual archaeology’s shortcomings” (Trigger 2006: 386). Not only was the discipline of archaeology more scientific in post-processualism but also it critiqued processualism as an explanation for culture. In other words, it can be said that theories and approaches are always being critiqued and accepted by other scholars because there are many ways in approaching a topic, for instance, Bourdieu’s economic theory of how religion works being pin pointed by Urban (2003:355-356).

In essence, Culture-History and New Archaeology are both differing set of theories to understanding of the past. They both have advantages and disadvantages however, once examining the critiques of the New Archaeologists it can be said that the cultural-historical approach is rather negative than being positive (Bently, Maschner, and Chippindale 2008:11). New Archaeology was successful in providing a ‘new paradigm’ in archaeological thinking. By incorporating other means of interpretation such as Middle Range Theory and the concept of culture as systems and processes, New Archaeology made “an entire new framework of thought” (Renfrew 1973:15). However, because our world is always changing through time and because of the rise of globalization in which different cultures are mixing in rapid state, new theories and concepts of understanding and interpreting the past also keeps rising up as can be seen with post-processualism. It is always important to note that the past is always being contested because people have different perspectives on something using different methods, theories, and concepts (Shanks and Tilley 1987:9-18). Nevertheless, interpretations are always being criticized by later archaeologists.


Bahn, Paul and Renfrew, Colin. 2008. Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice (Fifth Edition) London: Thames and Hudson

Bently, R. Alexander, Maschner, Herbert D.G., and Chippindale, Christopher. 2008. Handbook of Archaeological Theories. Plymouth: AltaMira Press

Binford, Lewis. 1983. In Pursuit of the Past: Decoding the Archaeological Record. London: Thames and Hudson

Clark, David. 1978. Analytical Archaeology. London: Methuen

Johnson, Matthew. 2010. Archaeological Theory: An introduction. West Sussex: Wiley- Blackwells

Renfew, Colin. 1973. Before Civilization. London: The Trinity Press

Shanks, Michael and Tilley, Christopher. 1987. Re-constructing Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Scarre, Chris. 2009. The Human Past: World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies (Second Edition). London: Thames & Hudson

Trigger, Bruce G. 2006. A History of Archaeological Thought (Second Edition) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Urban, Hugh B. 2003. ‘Sacred Capital: Pierre Bourdieu and the Study of Religion’ in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 15(4):354-398

Watson, Patty Jo. 2008. ‘Processualism and After’, in R.A. Bentley, H.D.G. Maschner, and C. Chippindale (eds.) Handbook of Archaeological Theories. Plymouth: Altamire Press

What are your thoughts on theory, not just in archaeology but also in other areas and disciplines?

Do you recognize the fact that interpretations and methods are always changing through time?

Benefits of both anthropological and historical methods

What are the benefits of using both anthropological and historical methods when trying to understand the lives of people in the past? 

In order to answer this, one must first understand the aims of anthropological and historical disciplines and then go on to identifying their research methods. Once research methods are identified, the concept of ethnohistory, as a field of inquiry, would be addressed and will help understand what really had happened in the past and how it might have effects to the present dynamics.

Anthropology, in simple terms, is the comparative study of humans (Kottak 2002: 4, 11; Keesing and Strathern 1998: 2; Strang 2009: 1-2; Oxford Dictionaries Online 2012). They investigate every aspect of human life and what makes a particular ‘human being’. Hence, they are concerned with people’s behaviors, worldviews, and lifeways, more specifically, they are amused to learn about other cultures, languages, apprehension of kinship, the notion of personhood, gender, groups’ “interaction with each other and the material environment” (Strang 2009: 2) and much more.  Fundamentally, anthropology, with its aim to study human societies and cultures, “describes, analyzes, interprets, and explains” the complexities of human life. With this being said, ethnography, being the key research tool, was developed (Kottak 2002: 11; Strang 2009: 2).

There are many different ethnographic field techniques however, participant-observation is one method that sets anthropology apart from other disciplines (Kottak 2002: 35). Anthropologists are expected to live with the informants, participate in their daily lives and activities, observe their “behavior, beliefs, customs, social life, economic activities, and politics” (Kottak 2002: 11), and finally, learn the language (Bernard 2006: 344-345; Ellen 1984: 49; Kottak 2002: 33, 50; Johnson 1978: 9; Strang 2002: 5;). The advantages of ethnography is (1) to enable the collection of meticulous detail of the informant’s aspect of culture and of the research focus,  (2) to immerse themselves with the people in order to be able to study every detail of their lives, culture and customs in concrete detail (Ellen 1984: 21) though one cannot really write objectively, a hundred percent (Johnson 1978: 22).  Most importantly, ethnography, “is the main anthropological means to counter ethnocentricism” (Johnson 1978: 9) and eurocentricism (Ellen 1984: 36).

History, on the other hand, is the study of the human past (Jordanova  2002: 1; Oxford Dictionaries Online 2012). The development of both anthropology and history, as disciplines, comprises of shifts of thought, theories and beliefs of key contributors to the disciplines (Ellen 1984; Foster, Scudder, Colson, and Kemper 1979; Johnson 1978; Urry 1993). With this being said, history’s research method, initially, relied heavily on documents, which, were in other words, pretty Eurocentric and ethnocentric that tends to eliminate insignificant people, such as indigenous people and peasants (Thomson 1969: 18), into the story. “No documents, no history’, was the doctrine” (Thomson 1969: 17-18). Today, however, history incorporates wide range of methodological means to interpret the past. Such examples are incorporating oral history and archaeology (Jordanova 2002: 30; 49). Similarly, until the advent of ethnohistory, anthropology did not incorporate the study of their informant’s histories because of this very fact that documents were regarded as written mostly by eurocentric and ethnocentric colonialists. Evans-Pritchard was one of the main anthropologists who tackled the disciplinary divide between history and anthropology. He argued that “there is an overlap of relevance between them and each can learn much from the other” (Evans-Pritchard 1962: 62) and that “history and anthropology are indissociables” (Evans-Pritchard 1962: 65).

Today, both disciplines incorporate, in one way or the other, the methodologies of the other to understand the lives of the people. Imagine the immense analysis and information we can attain when we combine both anthropological and historical methods. We will have a better understanding of present dynamics since the present is just merely the continuation of the past. This leads to the development of ethnohistory.

Ethnohistory, is a field of enquiry that is a combination of both ethnographic and historical methods, however, as any other disciplines/field of enquiry, it is quite “distinct from the… interests of both history and anthropology” (Morantz 1998: 72; Johnson 1978: 22). It was developed after World War II, particularly in the 1950s and initially “an attempt to write the history of Native Peoples in North America” however, as stated earlier with the development of anthropology and history as disciplines, ethnohistory now includes the study of other people outside North America (Morantz 1998: 59, 72). Ethnohistory was established to make sense the history of the First Nations people in North America in attempt to improve relations between the ‘white’ settlers and the natives in post WWII era. No other case study can better illustrate this than Asch’s ethnohistoric monograph about Slavey Indians and pipe development outlined in the next paragraph.

In the 1970s, Canadian Arctic Gas Pipeline Ltd (CAGPL) proposed to construct a pipeline that will pass through the North West Coast of North America, which are the homes of the Dene and Inuvialuit Indians (Asch 2004: 178). Asch used the methods of ethnohistory to provide an insight different from the inquiries the Canadian government issued through the pipeline company. His main aim was to partly analyze why the Indians want “a regime protective of their traditional way of life and controlled by them should be in place” (Asch 2004: 180) and to analyze the socio-economic impact of the proposed pipeline. With this in mind, he divided his analysis in three sections: (1) description of the native economic history, which is further divided into three components: native economy prior to European trade, native economy with interaction with European fur trade, and post interaction; (2) description of the current situation and lastly (3) the evaluation of so called ‘solutions’ to the socio-economic impact proposed by the CAGPL studies (Asch 2004: 180). The first and second points are detailed description of the evolvement of the native economy and lifeways with the advent of further Western influence in the region while the last point assesses the extent of so called ‘solutions’ will be of a resolution. Indian natives prior to further Western influence in the turn of the twentieth century, distribute resources amongst others through reciprocity and mutual sharing (Asch 2004: 182), which operated through the concept of kinship and marriage that linked all people in a single social unit, into individualization of resources when the government implemented wage labour (Asch 2004: 186 -187). This is one aspect of their culture that has changed.

Another example, would be that native children were forced from the bush into schools the whole year round, in order to supplement development in the region by recruiting graduate natives (Asch 2004: 186). Native people really did not have any choice but to send their children to the outposts where they will get education. This is because of the economic downturn in the early and middle twentieth century, for example, the shadows of both world wars and the Great Depression. The government of Canada initiated ‘support’ by implementing financial initiative provided the fact that they comply with their conditions. Consequently, there was little wealth differentiation before Western agency in the region; however, the introduction of welfare widened the gap between the  rich and poor. This “undermined the values of the collective responsibility that is part of the reciprocal economy… welfare represents a social intrusion… like education, it creates a perfidious influence on the native people to change their values” (Asch 2004: 190).

Finally, there was an immense shift from relying on local resources and the environment to relying on the wider Western economy (Asch 2004: 186). Such examples exemplify the following concluding points. “Government policies introduced during the past forty years have… created fundamental change in aspects of economic organization pertaining to the size and composition of the self-sufficient economic units, mobility, and travel… and contact with the bush on the part of the younger generation”. With relation to the pipeline proposal, according to Asch (2004:191), (note: the following quotes below are self explanatory into understanding the situation)

(1)   “The proposals regarding the pipeline were strikingly similar to the bargain proposed by the fur traders: immediate material well-being in return for long-term dependency”  

(2)   “Just as the fur trade’s viability depended on the availability of furs and a high world market price… so the viability of the petroleum development will depend on the availability of oil and a high world market price… the petroleum corporations, just like the fur traders before them, will pull out [if worse comes to worse]. They must leave if [the area] becomes uneconomic and of course, that day will inevitably come”

Therefore, Asch concluded that, “it is necessary that native people have effective control over northern development, for only then can they decide which developments are in their own interests and provide safeguards to ensure that those aspects of their traditional economy they wish to maintain remain viable” Asch (2004:192).

In essence, anthropology without history is merely freezing people in the present, disregarding the initiatives that would have caused the present dynamics to be. History without participating in the lives of the people for a long period of time will not gain an emic perspective and will retain ethnocentric biased views. When both research methods amalgamate, then one would produce a research result that would be revered. From the case study above, it can be seen that the perspective of native Indians concerning the development of the pipeline would not have been achieved if not the ethnographer had lived and stayed with the people in a long term, combining document histories and oral histories to present a facet different from governmental survey. Had not Asch did his ethnohistoric research, one would not know the other side of the story and merely imposing ‘white’ man’s values into the natives. Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that the present is wholly an extension of the past and by understanding the past through historic and ethnographic means, one would better comprehend present informants.


Asch, Mischael with Robert Wishart. 2004. ‘The Slavey Indians: The relevance of ethnohistory to development’. In R. Bruce Morrison and C. Roderick Wilson (eds.) Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Bernard, H. R. 2006. Research Methods in Anthropology. Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Lanham: ALTAMIRA Press

Ellen, R. F. 1984. Ethnographic Research: A guide to general conduct. London: ACADEMIC PRESS INC

Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1962. ‘Anthropology and history’. In Social Anthropology & Other Essays. London: Faber & Faber

Foster, G. M, Scudder. T, Colson, E. and Kemper, R. 1979. Long-Term Field Research in Social Anthropology. New York: ACADEMIC PRESS, INC

Johnson, A. 1978. Research Methods in Social Anthropology. London: Edward Arnold Limited

Jordanova, L. 2000. History in Practice. London: Arnold

Keesing, R. M. and Strathern, A. J. 1998. Cultural Anthropology. A Contemporary Perspective. Third Edition. Florida: Harcourt Brace & Company

Kottak, C. P. 2002. Cultural Anthropology. Ninth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill

Morantz, Toby. 1998. ‘The past and the future of ethnology’, Acta Borealia 15(1): 59-77

Strang, Veronica. 2009. What anthropologists do? New York: BERG

Thomson, D. 1969. The Aims of History. Values of historical attitude. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Urry, J. 1993. Before Social Anthropology: Essays on the History of British Anthropology. Harwood.

Oxford Dictionaries Online. 2012. Anthropology. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/anthropology?q=anthropology+> [Accessed 21 March 2012]

Oxford Dictionaries Online. 2012. History. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/history?q=History+> [Accessed 21 March 2012]

This essay earn CAS 18/20. If you think that there are points to be improved or something just comment bellow. Thank you much for reading.

What are your thoughts on ethnohistory?