History free essay: Role of Ethnographic Analogy in Understanding the Past
Role of Ethnographic Analogy in Understanding the Past
Ethnography analogy is an important tool that assists archeologists to create links between the contemporary culture and major historical facts (Johnson, 2010, p66). Such studies can not be conducted without a clear understanding of two history domains namely; archeology and anthropology. There is some level of reluctance for the two fields of history to demonstrate the desired cooperation which is projected to hold the key to unraveling man’s past life. According to Binford (2008, p217), there exists some inadequacy in the manner in which archeology contributes to anthropology with respect to cultural comparison. The author attributes this inadequacy to an apparent notion among many archeology students that treats artifacts directly similar to one design explaining cultural modification or change. Such notions are founded on the popular premise that “material culture” is representative of the entire people’s cultural system.
In this study, man’s past is visited from a perspective that appreciates the role of contemporary cultural practices whose meaning can be drawn from an archeological concept. According to Johnson (2010, p20), archeological work can be used alongside cultural observations to explain certain prehistoric mysteries of man’s past. The author states; “…the archeological entities… can then be gathered together and synthesized with evidence from historical linguistics and historical ethnography to from an overarching discipline of prehistory…,” (Johnson, 2010, p20). The author recommends the use of basic cultural heritage in a society to draw a bigger picture extending ages back to such a time whose no recorded account can be traced. Johnson further illustrates one of the most successful applications of such technique where direct historical method was used to find a backdating cue from a known generation of North Americans using ethnography alongside history to arrive at a reliable mapping onto a prehistoric culture.
In view of this premise, it is meaningless to draw conclusions from analyses and explanations of similarities as well as differences typical of material culture. It is also observed that under the premise, changes within the cultural system are treated in a manner that emphasizes an adaptive perspective but rejects the possibility of influences from other factors. It can therefore be said that such conservative approaches deny history of an important approach that incorporates such cooperation offered by ethnographic analysis to explain certain archeological phenomena.
Creating the Link and the Roles
In order for ethnography analogy to make contributions that can assist in interpreting the past, it has been explained above that there must be some form of a connection between the two main fields of history. Ethnographic analogy basically touches on such studies that relate archeological information with contemporary forms of cultural practices (Wise, 2010, p1). Cultural studies must be done in detail to create the relevant interpretation which would enable creation of proper inferences dating far back into history. Artifacts and archaeological links held by a certain culture including linguistic analysis.
Ethnographic analogy that relies on the use of first hand, personal experience is a key process that will allow for researchers to draw valid conclusions on the various use and possession of the artifact (Turner & Risjord, 2007, p23). It is only through these methods that items can be conclusively placed in their correct areas of origin with great support from first hand information provided by the community on their culture; their way of life.
According to Johnson (2010, p66), ethnoarchaeological studies relies on material cultural heritage of a society that have archaeological bearing for studying the past events in the history of the society. The author prescribes the use of various archaeological information types to reveal the ultimate missing link including behavioral archaeology and material archaeology. Related information outside these fields must be treated in such a manner that adds value to the accurate subjectivity objective of the study in revealing the missing link.
Ethnography and anthropology are synonymous with each other sinc only a very thin distinction separates the two. According to Gosden (1999, p3), the applicability of each of the two fields in explaining historical phenomena is invaluable to the archaeologist. The author indicates the apparent similarity that relates cultural anthropology with the field of ethnography due to the involvement of the resource people in navigating towards historic explanations. There is a lot of congruence between these two almost similar fields, as supported by the fact that archaeology is also closely related in historical direction.
Anthropological archaeology acts as a reference point from which further deductions on ethnographic analogy and ethnographic archaeology can be hinged on to make appropriate prehistoric inferences. Interaction of existing culture with scientific research on man’s past events is therefore better positioned with ethnographic analogy than anthropology did alone.
In this form of study, the researcher often has to spend a lot of time with the study population and may at times even be forced to live with them so that he can make himself familiar with their way of life (Orser, 2002, p57). It is the involvement in such studies that allows these researchers to make conclusions about the past; a concept which is a source of major controversy in certain areas of science. But the main question would be how these research teams are able to interpret these artifacts and generate history through the use of ethnography. When an artifact is found in the ground, there are several stages that are conducted in order to ensure a clear understanding of its use among these people is even considered. It has to be ascertained that the artifact belongs to the people within the community to begin with because of certain misplacements of artifacts that has been experienced in the recent past (Gamble, 2007, p63). After establishing its source, a clear understanding of how this artifact was used by the people in this time has to be established. The time period within which the item was used has also got to be established as a means of ensuring that the time when the item was used is correctly placed. The process of determining the past use of the item that has been recovered is often an interpretive process that is subject to a lot of bias.
Through a careful analysis of the present situation, the researcher can have an idea about the previous way of life of people within these areas and thus appropriately classify an item that has been excavated. People in the present day may offer information based on their memory or through the use of other forms of existing examples to offer insight on what sort of artifacts may be found in a certain area of among a certain community (Meskell & Preucel, 2006, p109).
Some of the common pieces of information that may be required for use in identification of the artifact include the geographical locations in which the artifact is found. This allows for the researcher to have a clue about the various items that they are likely to find in an area and some of the key areas to look out for when trying to locate certain items (Spores & Andrews, 1986). The various items that may be found above and below it are also crucial and fundamental pieces of information that are also used to position the artifact in the area. This positioning system also allows one to identify the item that has been discovered to strengthen any doubt that other people may have. Data is collected from this community through the use if a series of methods that involve the capture of first hand information from the community members (Gamble, 2007, p94).
This item must also reflect a significant level realism; an actual and realistic account of the various methods with which that item is used. There are various functions, roles and processes that were common and considered routine in some of the cultures. As a result, the roles that have been depicted for that particular item must be realistic and aligned to some of the common roles that have been defined by the community. The researcher must also adopt a third party approach to the collection of this information from the community. This is done to ensure that much as the information is being gathered from the community, there is also a sense of level headedness that is being employed by the researcher. This attribute enables him discern what can be considered as relevant relationships and valid accreditations by the community on the various items that they have had before (Fagan, 1970, p132).
Through the use of taxonomic analysis, parallels can be drawn between the past and present behaviors within societies. This form of analysis allows for conclusions in the form of “X is a form of Y” hence allowing for the clear understanding of the item “X”. There are variable genetic differences that define different items within a culture and hence it is the use of these variable characteristics that conclusions can be drawn about the origin of that item. Hence a graphical interpretation of the ways in which the individual participants move, form groups and pattern their way of life (Binford & Binford, 2008, p66).
It is important to note that without the use of ethnographic analogies, certain aspects of a people’s culture would not be clearly understood by people now (Renfrew, Cherry, Scarre &Shennan, 2004, p115). A common aspect when investigating the nature of thee culture of certain people is to carry out research on them. This kind of research may be carried out through the use of interviews, first hand experiences and even through research from other published works in the same field. Through the use of interviews, several accounts of the same occurrence may be explained by different people within the same community. This is often a source of bias when the various ideas presented in the interviews are those of a biased people.
Through the use of information gathered from other research media that have been published in the same field, it is possible to learn more about the people but is often not a very conclusive method of gathering information. Through the use of first hand experience, one can often learn about the people’s current way of life by observing them and draw conclusions on some the previous practices that they may have had in the past (Carneiro, 2003, p54).
In conclusion, ethnographic analogies present a rare opportunity for any form of research on archaeological connection to the past using present cultural studies to explain prehistory in a clearer manner. It makes a better view of historical issues than some other studies do, due to its direct relationship with culture and artifacts. It may act as an important bridge to link other studies with both culture and archaeology, hence closer home to prehistory.
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Spores, R. and Andrews, P. (1986). Ethnohistory. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Turner, S. and Risjord, M. (2007). Philosophy of anthropology and sociology. Oxford, UK: Elsevier.
Wise, A. (2010) What is Ethnographic Analogy? [online] Available from: <http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/2199629> [accessed 17 March 2011]
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