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ANTH 312: Midterm - ANTH 312 Understanding Identity...

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October 18, 2007 ANTH 312 Understanding Identity Construction and Material Culture in the Chesapeake To be a proficient archaeologist, one must be well-versed, of course, in history . However, when considering the logic of this reality, it seems somewhat distorted . Those who are attempting to decipher history, from the ground up, already know the outcome . Beyond the simple, inescapable truth that they are living the future of those they are studying, archaeologists have the benefit of seeing the puzzle box as they piece together the jigsaw . This is not to suggest that budding archaeologists should be isolated from all historical study during their education . Understanding the context out of which the material culture they study is born is fundamental to interpreting anything about the past . However, an archaeologist must be constantly aware of the effect of teleology in his study and always be willing to accept that his theories may be arising from preexisting, general notions about a culture or time period . The particularities of the idea of identity construction, mainly the fact that it is a continual, shifting process, lend it extraordinarily well to manipulative proof of theory . Certainly most archaeologists accept that identity, by nature is changing and explorative; it is unique in that part of its definition is its pursuit . Yet somehow they try to maintain that material culture is “hard fact,” “pure science . They can theorize anything about identity—but backing it up with a series of ceramics or pipe bores makes it true . What these archaeologists fail to recognize is that material culture and identity construction engage in a symbiotic relationship, where one feeds the other . The attempt to define oneself and one’s group leads to the production of distinctive artifacts in the same way that trends and invention fuel a society’s self-definition . Because this relationship is not one- way, the lines that segregate theory from proof blur . One begins to attempt to illustrate points about material culture with “facts” of identity, while at the same time proving ideas about identity with elements of material culture . More than contradictory outcomes, it results in a near- scholarly acceptance of circular reasoning .
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Lynn Meskel touches on this point in her essay Intersections of Identity and Politics in Archaeology when she discusses studying ethnicity . She calls it “potentially teleological,” and explains how in studying diasporic identities, one searches for signs of oppression and resistance, and that expectations create a filter through which all materials are seen (Meskel 286) . Christopher Matthews, in his article The Political Economy of Archaeological Cultures , is evidently guilty of letting his expectations cloud his examination .
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