GreatArchaeology» Ethnoarchaeology

Ethnoarchaeology is the ethnographic learning of people for archaeological reasons, generally focusing on the fabric remains rather than its ethnicity. It is the use of ethologic information from active cluster as an analogy for understanding people of the past. Ethnoarchaeology was entirely developed only over the past 20-25 years.

Offering insights of assessment to archaeologists as of how people in the past may have lived, with their social structures, it also concentrates on religious outlook plus other aspects of their culture. Nevertheless, it is still unclear on how to relate most of the insights generated by this anthropological investigate to archaeological investigations. This is due to the lack of consequence by anthropologists on the material remains created and discarded by society plus how these material remains fluctuate with differences in how a society is organized.

This common problem has led archaeologists (for example, London [2000]) to argue that anthropological effort is not sufficient for answering archaeological problems, and that archaeologists should consequently carry out ethno archaeological work to answer these problems. These studies have paying concentration far more on the manufacture, use and discard of tools and other artifacts and have sought to respond such questions as what kind of objects used in a living wage settlement are deposited in mittens or else other places where they may be preserved, and how possible an object is to be discarded near to the place where it was used.

An excellent instance of Ethnoarchaeology is that of Brian Hayden (1987), whose team examined the manufacture of Mesoamerican quern-stones, as long as worthless insights into the manufacture of prehistoric quern-stones.


Gordion Ethnoarchaeology Project as a component of the Gordion Excavations

Gordion Ethnoarchaeology Project as a component of the Gordion Excavations, with the aim of explaining/interpreting the distant past by drawing analogies/comparisons with living communities. She selected as her primary focus the contemporary village of Yassihyk, which sits on the ancient settlement of Gordion.

Between 1998 and 2005, she expanded the field study to include the larger region in the Sakarya-Porsuk river valleys, encompassing 14 villages within a distance of 1840 km from Yassihyk. Surveys in this region have documented settlements of Bronze Age and pre-Bronze Age date, while Gordion features a continuous sequence of settlements spanning nearly three millennia.

At the core of Ethnoarchaeology is ethnographic observation of contemporary cultures, which can provide rich information regarding material culture (attributes and use of artifacts) as well as their socio cultural context. This is crucial for understanding past human behavior, which is largely missing from the archaeological record. While it would be wrong to assume one-to-one comparisons between the distant past and the present, ethnographic analogies can nevertheless provide suggestive examples to explain the past for further testing against the archaeological data.


Using traditional ethnographic methods of participant observation and interviewing, Dr. Grsan-Salzmann collected four types of ethnographic data related to changing strategies of traditional lifestyles practiced from the pre-1950s to the present. Specifically, she concentrated on the transition from a strong pastoral economy and non-mechanized agriculture, with oxen and plough, to intensive irrigation agriculture; traditional household tools and their past and present uses; food preparation and discard patterns; and vernacular versus modern architectural styles as they reflect changing household organization.

One example of analogical reasoning from Dr. Grsan-Salzmann's work deals with the Phrygian pastoral economy of Gordion. Large numbers of archaeological artifacts related to pastoral economy have been retrieved in Phrygian workshops. To what extent and under what conditions could a pastoral economy exist, flourish, and finally decline? She investigated ethnographic conditions relevant to these questions on a regional level.


Until the 1950s, pastoralism was the main component of the mixed economy in the region; it subsequently declined by 50%, yielding to intensive wheat agriculture. Two approaches were used to understand the change:

  • 1) land-use survey to document old pastoral sites, focusing on their size and location in both upland areas and plains
  • 2) interviewing old shepherds to understand their pastoral strategies in the past.

Study of the changing pastoral economy during the recent past revealed a complex set of interconnected factors, environmentally determined and culturally selected by the community of modern pastoralists. While it is not feasible to make direct analogies between the pastoral economy of the recent past and that of 3,000 years earlier, in this case study she has used a set of interrelated economic principles as analogy between modern and ancient Gordion.

The method of ethnoarchaeological interpretation

The method of ethnoarchaeological interpretation was developed by archaeologists to counteract the growing abuses found in the ethnographic analogy method.

To help understand the genesis of ethnoarchaeology it requires a little understanding about ethnographic analogy. What is meant by ethnographic analogy? Firstly it is an explanation methodology concerning the archaeological evidence, based on fieldwork at an excavation location, in terms of qualitative and quantitative perceptions of human behaviour and social phenomena as recorded in the historical record.

Archaeology Pushed Aside

Ethnography was somewhat hi-jacked by anthropological researchers who approached their investigations into social structures, religious and political beliefs, and other general aspects of ancient cultural life without due emphasis on the material remains created or discarded by societies. These material remains are the foundation stone of archaeological excavation and research.

Going it Alone

This omission led archaeologists to assume the work themselves and in doing so seek to understand and answer the archaeological questions raised when interpreting the data ethnographically. Ethnoarchaeologists study and focus their attentions more on the manufacture, utilisation, and disposal of tools and other material artefacts in search of understanding the living settlements of antiquity.

Specialist archaeologists developed ethnoarchaeology to create a parallel divergence that would address pure archaeological issues. In ethnoarchaeology it is the archaeologist and not the anthropologist who is making the interpretations. Although very closely related as a science field, the archaeologist is ever mindful of the primary reason for partitioning the two disciplines.

When the Evidence is Slim

The strongest explanation for past events and practices is without question to have solid evidence in the form of artefacts recovered from excavation sites, photographs, comparison charts and every other research fact or aid available. However, when interpretive questions such as what an artefact was used for, or why is a particular building constructed with a known orientation, then the ethnoarchaeologist can possibly assist.

Supported by the Archaeological Record

Great care must be taken when using this approach as, although some cultures may have endured through many centuries, their traditions or more importantly the use of tools during those traditions may have dramatically changed. All said, it is rather unimportant where the germ of the idea is from, as long as the archaeological record supports it.

A Legitimate Aid in Archaeological Science

As archaeologists seek to improve their interpretive skills and deliver more accurate reports they will overcome the limitations of traditional analysis interpretation by methods such as ethnography in archaeology. In doing so archaeologists show that ethnoarchaeology is a legitimate resource that equips the challenge of archaeological science.

Rich Resources over the web on Taphonomy
  • Ethnoarchaeology: Ethnoarchaeology is the ethnographic study of peoples for archaeological reasons, usually focusing on the material remains of a society, rather than its culture.

  • Ethnoarchaeology :Archaeology is sometimes referred to as "fossilized human behavior" that is a living record of past life preserved through time through artifacts-or the lack of knowledge of these artifacts.

  • About Ethnoarchaeology : The method of ethnoarchaeological interpretation was developed by archaeologists to counteract the growing abuses found in the ethnographic analogy method.

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