Lecture Notes Week One: Anthropology 3291

Theory and Method in Maritimes Archaeology © Michael Deal 2005



According to a recent textbook theory covers the why questions in archaeology, while methodology covers the how questions (Johnson 1999:2). Theory determines why we excavate a certain site, or why we save the animal bones and pieces of charcoal. Methodology determines how we go about doing these things. Some archaeologists believe that methods (or techniques) are themselves theory-laden. Another popular use of the term theory is as a hypothetical construct, such as Darwin's theory of evolution. In either sense, theory deals with ideas, concepts, and thought. Method suggests action, and is usually the result of theoretical reflection. Problems can be solved by the development of new methodology. In archaeology, these problems generally relate to the recovery of material remains and the dating of deposits. The following discussion concerns the development of theoretical thought on archaeology in the Maritimes and the methods developed to address archaeological problems. Such a discussion makes it clear how our understanding of regional prehistory has changed over time.

Archaeological theory and methodology in this region have always closely followed research in Great Britain and the United States. Naturalist groups working on shell midden sites in the nineteenth century would have been exposed to contemporary writings on evolutionary archaeology. These archaeologists (a.k.a., unilinear evolutionists) adopted an evolutionary model for culture change over time. Most prominent anthropologists of the day, like Lewis Henry Morgan (1877), believed that human cultures progressed in a single line of development from savagery to civilization. For Morgan, the stimulus for change was environmental stress and change was expressed in terms of technology (e.g., the invention or adoption of new tools).

While the cultural evolution model follows a Darwinian perspective, Trigger (1981:139) traces the intellectual framework for scientific prehistoric archaeology to the Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century and their notions of progress, reason, and conjectural history. These concepts were already influencing Danish researchers early in the nineteenth century as they were laying the foundations of a scientific approach in archaeology. Christian Thomsen revived an evolutionary model of the Roman philosopher Lucretius in his reorganization of the Danish National Museum collections. This model, known today as the Three Age System, uses the historic development of stone, bronze, and iron tools as a device for chronologically ordering archaeological materials. As Trigger notes (1981:140), Thomsen had "...demonstrated for the first time how archaeological data could be ordered chronologically and explained without reference to written records or oral traditions." This scheme was also used successfully by J. J. A. Worsaae (1849) to interpret the stratigraphic levels in his excavations in Danish bogs, and later by Daniel Wilson (1851) in his influential treatise on Scottish archaeology. Wilson's book introduced the Three Age System to the English-speaking world, along with the new term "prehistoric," referring to history before written records (Ash 1985:15). Another Dane, Sven Nilsson showed that ethnographic analogy could be used to determine the function of prehistoric stone and bone tools.

The naturalists of the Maritimes in the mid-nineteenth century were quite aware of current developments in archaeology. Although the Three Age System was not fully applicable to this region, the "Stone Age" designation was adopted by the 1870s (Gilpin 1873) and widely used thereafter (e.g., Bailey 1887; Matthew 1884; Patterson 1890; Piers 1895). Wilson's term "prehistoric" was also in use by the 1870s to refer to pre-Contact native history (Dawson 1878:41; Patterson 1877:24). Even before Morlot's (1861) report on Danish shell midden studies, Daniel Wilson, now immigrated to Canada, had published instructions on the careful excavation, recording, and transport of human remains and associated artifacts in The Canadian Journal (1855:346-347).

The first half of the twentieth century was dominated by culture-historical archaeology. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a general dissatisfaction with the effects of the Industrial Revolution, lead British archaeologists to question the notion of technological progress. Further, as nationalism was growing throughout Europe, people became interested in tracing their ancestry back into prehistoric times. Gradually, historic sequence began to replace technological progress as the most important characteristic of cultural change (Trigger 1981:145). Seriation, based on changing fads in artifact design and decoration, was developed as a technique for identifying cultural change over time (Petrie 1899). Archaeologists like Gordon Childe (1925) began talking about archaeological cultures and their movements over the European landscape. Grahame Clark (1954) developed an ecological approach to study how archaeological cultures adapted to their environments. American archaeologists also began to identify archaeological cultures and culture areas (Holmes 1914). Initially they assumed that there had been little cultural change over time, therefore surviving cultures could be used to interpret prehistoric sites using the direct historic approach. Gradually, culture-historical sequences were developed for the different culture areas based on stratigraphic excavation and seriation, beginning with the American Southwest (Kidder 1924).

In post-World War II America there was a renewed interest in evolutionary theory and an increase in multidisciplinary research. The radiocarbon dating technique, developed by chemist Willard Libby (1952), allowed for the refinement of culture historical sequences to include pre-ceramic cultures. Technological progress was again associated with cultural development over time (e.g., White 1949). Julian Steward (1955) stressed the importance of ecological adaptation to cultural change. Cultural materialists, like Marvin Harris (1968, 1979), claimed that environmental, technological, and economic factors were the major determinants of human behavior. Artifacts were perceived as the material manifestation of human behavior. There was also a heightened interest in archaeological theory and method. Willey and Phillips (1958) outlined a model for explanation in archaeology that progressed from observation (field work) to description (culture historical integration) to explanation (processual integration). They also clarified the inter-relationships of certain significant archaeological concepts; component, phase, horizon, and tradition.

The early professional working in the Maritime Provinces were influenced by the culture historical approach. They were now working in the Northeast culture area. Attempts were made to identify specific prehistoric cultures, such as Moorehead's "Red Paint People" and their geographical distribution within the region (Sanger 1979). Gradually, a general historical framework was established for the Northeast that identified the earliest cultural manifestation as Paleoindian, followed a number of inter-related Archaic cultures and a succession of Woodland cultures (e.g., Byers et al. 1943). The use of radiocarbon dates allowed these archaeological cultures to be placed into distinct temporal periods; the Paleoindian (c. 11,000-9000 B.P.), Archaic (c. 9000-2500 B.P.), and Woodland (c. 2500-1500 B.P.) Periods. Today, we also recognize a Contact, or Protohistoric Period to identify the time between first European contact and first permanent settlement (c. A.D. 1500-1600). Researchers in the Maritime Provinces attempted to integrate the local sequences into the better known sequences of New England and Ontario (e.g., Byers 1959; Wintemberg 1942).

The 1960s saw a greater divergence of archaeological theory and method in Great Britain and the United States. In the U.S., Lewis Binford (1962) spearheaded a movement (the "New Archaeology") to make archaeology more scientific, with greater emphasis on quantification of archaeological data, more general explanations of archaeological phenomena, and more borrowing from other disciplines. Archaeologists became more concerned with how sites were formed and the differential preservation of archaeological materials (Schiffer 1987). This movement developed into the modern processual archaeology. While British archaeologists were not immune to the lure of the New Archaeology (e.g., Clarke 1968), they were influenced more by a revival of structuralism and a need for broader social theory in archaeology. Today, most North American archaeologists can be identified with some form of processuralism, although various alternative (post-processual) approaches are also popular. In particular, critical, or revisionist approaches, such as gender studies and indigenous critiques, have made archaeologists more aware of alternative interpretations of the past.

The professional archaeologists working in the Maritime Provinces after 1960 were still struggling with the development of a regional culture historical sequence. Dating of the initial Paleoindian occupation was established from the excavations at Debert (Stuckenrath 1966). The Late Archaic Period was also coming into focus (Sanger 1973; Tuck 1978, 1991), but the later Paleoindian and earlier Archaic were often referred to as the "Great Hiatus" (Tuck 1984:14-17). These periods are only beginning to be understood (MacCarthy 2003; Murphy 1998). Much more information has been accumulated concerning the Woodland period and a detailed seriation of ceramics has been devised by Petersen and Sanger (1991). Culture change is still discussed largely in terms of independent (in-situ) development, diffusion, population pressures, or migration. Archaeologists have became more concerned with site formation, at both the site and regional levels. Coastal erosion is a particularly pressing issue for this region (Davis 1980, 1983; Simonson 1978), so that there is an emphasis on the testing and excavation of coastal sites in danger of erosion. The collection of plant and animal remains did not become routine practice until the 1980s (with some exceptions; Deal 2005; Murphy and Black 1996).

The basic and integrative archaeological units presented by Willey and Phillips (1958:40-43) have also been added to the regional terminology. A short-lived local or regional manifestation of an archaeological culture is called a phase. Researchers divide their sites into distinct components representing archaeological phases (or culturally homogenous stratigraphic units), so that sites are often referred to as single-component or multi-component. Many sites in the Maritimes have early, middle, and late Woodland components, as well as a protohistoric and/or historic components. Classes of artifacts, or groups of related materials, recovered from a site (or feature) are often referred to as assemblages (e.g., ceramic assemblage, or burial assemblage). The basic units of component and phase are integrated within the regional sequence through the notions of horizon and tradition. An horizon refers to the spatial continuity of an archaeological culture. An early Paleoindian Clovis horizon is believed to stretch across North America, with many local variants. A tradition is a temporal continuity of a technology or social form, such as a specific style of stone tool (e.g., the fluted projectile point) or a distinctive form of burial (e.g., the Moorehead Burial Tradition). Another term that is occasionally used is complex, which Fladmark (1978:150) defines as a "... consistently recurring assemblage of artifacts or traits which may be indicative of a specific set of activities, or a common cultural tradition."

The Archaeological Record

Archaeologists often debate the nature of the archaeological record; whether it is "transformed" material culture or a "text" to be read by archaeologists (Patrick 1985). Most often when archaeologists refer to the archaeological record they mean all of the information amassed from decades of archaeological survey, excavation and laboratory analysis for their specific region. It is the archival record of the archaeologist. There are many holes in this record for the Maritime Provinces, due to varying standards of recovery and record keeping, and the vagaries of site and material culture preservation. However, recovery standards have improved dramatically over the years, as more professional archaeologists have worked in the region.

In terms of interpreting the archaeological record of the Maritimes, archaeologists focus on information relating to past material culture and sites of past human activity. Past material culture exists in the form of man-made objects, or artifacts, plant and animal remains, or ecofacts, and human remains. It also includes non-portable evidence of human activity, or features, such as structural elements, hearths, and pits. Aboriginal activity sites include village sites, campsites, cemeteries, and locations of resource extraction and processing. Prehistoric cultures are identified by a shared technology, settlement and subsistence patterns and social system existing during a specific period of time. Technology refers to tools and shelter and the acquisition of the raw materials used for their manufacture. The archaeological evidence for technology is the tools themselves, archaeological traces of former shelters and the identification and distribution of the utilized raw materials. Subsistence patterns refer to the economic practices related to the acquisition and use of food resources by prehistoric groups. Archaeologists interpret subsistence practices from plant and animal remains and the tool forms used to acquire food (see Vignette 2.1). Resource use in archaeological terms relates to the natural resources that form the basis of prehistoric technologies and subsistence practices. Settlement patterns refer to the distribution of human populations across the landscape. Archaeologists interpret settlement patterns from different types of sites and their distribution, and this can be equated with prehistoric land use practices (see below). Social systems refer to the sociopolitical and religious beliefs and institutions of cultures. Much of the archaeological evidence for social systems is derived from artifact forms and decorations and burial practices that often suggest the social roles and status of individuals.

While individual archaeologists may focus their research activities on specific problems and specific time periods, there are certain general goals that they all share. When archaeologists search out and excavate prehistoric sites they are contributing to our understanding of the local and regional cultural sequences. Therefore, an important goal of archaeological research is the reconstruction of culture history, or the sequence of archaeological cultures within the region (see Vignette 2.2). Individual sites may have been occupied many times by many different groups of people. The artifacts and features, such as traces of dwellings, pits and fireplaces, left at a site help us to understand how a site was used. Therefore, another important goal of archaeological research is the reconstruction of past lifeways, or how people lived on a day-to-day basis. The interpretation of archaeological remains is affected by various local conditions that are referred to as site formation processes. These include cultural and natural factors affecting the preservation of material culture or sites, such as coastal erosion, soil acidity, and farming practices. On a larger scale, archaeologists try to identify processes that account for change in material culture and human behavior over time, such as migration, warfare, diffusion, acculturation, and innovation.

Settlement and Subsistence

The late prehistoric inhabitants of the Maritime Provinces were foraging peoples (or hunter-gatherers). According to Kelley (1992:43-44), forager mobility (i.e., the periodic movements of people across the landscape) is influenced by a number of factors, including subsistence, level of food storage, trade, territoriality, social and gender inequalities, work patterns, demography, and cultural perceptions. Following Binford (1980), we can also make a distinction between residential mobility and logistical mobility. The former relates to the movement of all members of a campsite or village from one location to another, while the latter involves the movement of small groups or individuals to and from residential sites (Kelley 1983:278). In logistical terms, mobility can involve short trips for general foraging, specific tasks, or resource monitoring. For example, Scots Bay is believed to be a marginal area, where small groups visited in the summer and early fall months to quarry stone for local consumption (tool production) and trade. Information on land and resource use forms the basis for our understanding of the ecological context of prehistoric societies and their related mobility strategies. Land use patterns can be equated with archaeological settlement distribution and seasonality, while resource use relates to the natural resources that formed the basis of prehistoric technologies and subsistence practices.

When Ganong (1899) compiled the first comprehensive list of possible prehistoric sites in New Brunswick, he had to rely primarily on the early historic literature, modern native informants and place-name nomenclature. In fact, he was only able to cite four archaeological sources (i.e., Bailey 1887; Baird 1882; Goodwin 1893; Matthew 1884). Since that time hundreds of prehistoric sites have been located around the province and many have been excavated. Ganong's study, which locates sites and resources within seven native districts is basically a model of pre-contact settlement and subsistence. Like other such models of the nineteenth century, it followed a direct historic approach (Davis 1998). Aboriginal settlement and subsistence patterns reported by early explorers and settlers were merely projected back into the precontact period.

Ganong (1904) also recognized that resource availability and diversity were closely integrated with aboriginal settlement location and size. Ganong recognized that sites were located along navigable waterways, such as main branches of large rivers and at the mouth's of these rivers at the coast. Travel was by canoe and the main river and lake systems were connected by short portages (Ganong 1901, 1913a, b, 1914). He suggested that prehistoric peoples established habitation and campsites according to the most important resources along these waterways, then looked for certain requisite conditions for habitation (Ganong 1899, 1904). These criteria included a well drained and dry site location, with an adequate canoe landing area, preferably in an exposed location for viewing approaching parties and to allow a breeze to remove insects (Ganong 1904:24-26). Also important was access to fresh spring water for drinking, firewood, and a grove of white birch for construction purposes. Ganong's (1904:23-24) principle resources were listed as "environmental factors affecting settlement." His general categories are still relevant today, although faunal resources are given priority over floral and natural resources.

The first comprehensive model of the modern era was developed by Bernard Hoffman (1955). Hoffman's model also relied on ethnohistoric sources, yet he was sensitive to the changes to aboriginal culture that resulted from European contact. Hoffman presented a simple cyclical model of the late prehistoric period, which featured summer coastal habitation and a winter inland hunting season. This information was presented on a circular chart, that included seasonally available fauna, the size of social groupings, and area of resource exploitation. It was originally presented as a model for the Mi'kmaq area, but a basic cyclical model was generally accepted for the entire region.

As archaeological data began to accumulate, Hoffman's model was called into question. David Sanger (1971) was the first to point out that the model was inconsistent with archaeological information from northern Maine. Faunal evidence from Maine sites suggested a winter coastal occupation for the late prehistoric period. Subsequent field work in the coastal Quoddy region suggested a similar pattern for southwestern New Brunswick (Sanger 1982, 1987; Stewart 1989). Sanger (1987) suggests that this apparent reversal in settlement use was a result of the intensification of the fur trade during the late 16th century, in which native groups hunted fur-bearers in the winter and moved to the coast in the summer to trade with visiting Europeans. Subsequently, various other models have been developed to account for late prehistoric land and resource use within the region (e.g., Black 1992; Burke 2000; Burley 1983; Davis 1986; Nash and Miller 1987; Nash et al. 1991; Sanger 1987; Snow 1980). For the most part, these models presented were devised to make sense out of settlement and subsistence data for relatively small study areas. Important elements of the models are characteristics of the local landscape, site size and distribution, and the faunal record. Most of the models were developed before there was any substantial archaeobotanical record, and lithics were generally ignored (Deal 2002).

Many typologies have been developed for archaeological sites. A popular example from the recent profession period is one by K. C. Chang (1972:18) that classified sites according to characteristics of site permanency. Chang identified seven basic settlement types based on season of site use (seasonality), and/or length of occupation, and the number of cultural components (or depositional units) represented. The least permanent type is the single event, which he equates with an overnight camp. The people creating this type of site had little time to alter the landscape, develop facilities, and create disposal areas. The next level of permanency is the seasonal site, which represents a single season of occupation. These are often specialized activity camps/structures, such as resource extraction camps (e.g., hunting, fishing, quarrying). These sites may have specialized facilities and cached implements. It is unlikely that such sites would have much material culture of high social or economic value (i.e., all useful materials would be removed upon abandonment).

Chang's third settlement type represents sites like the previous one, but used seasonally for several years. This would allow for more extensive development of buildings and facilities. Because the site would be occupied and abandoned each year, it would have many similarities to a permanent occupation, except for the seasonal nature of the toolkit and facilities. There might also be some caching of site-specific tools. Settlement type four is the many season site, which is basically a seasonal site that is visited each year for many years (and presumably for at least one generation). Such sites are more likely to have semi-permanent structures devoted to ritual and local cemeteries. At settlements with cemeteries, there is always a steady flow of functional items, hierlooms, and/or religious artifacts from the site to burial assemblages. The last three settlement types are full season occupations. Type five is a one year occupation. A full range of annual activities would be expected, but like the single seasonal site, there would be a low level of development of facilities, and activity and disposal areas. Settlement type six represents the continuous occupation of a site for several years before abandonment. This would be similar to type seven, the permanent settlement, except that the latter would be more deeply stratified.



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