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Ethnoarchaeology: the search for a self-corrective approach to the study of past human behaviour

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This paper examines current trends in ethnoarchaeological studies and their implications for the interpretation of evidence from Africa and ‘Third World’ areas generally. Significant emerging issues related to data collection, analysis, use of analogy, the concept of ethnicity or group identification, settlement pattern analysis, cultural adaptation and continuity are addressed. Using examples from research in Africa the paper calls for a redefinition of ethnoarchaeology in a fashion that identifies its two-face nature as well as the theoretical and methodological orientations that provide results which go beyond mere collections and description of data. Crucial issues related to various stages and aspects of ethnoarchaeological research procedure are discussed in order to demonstrate the importance of a systematic use of ethnoarchaeological data that provides checks and balances leading to a more objective interpretation of archaeological data. Ethnoarchaeology should not be considered as an end in itself but as one of the many tools which can be used to refine our explanation for understanding of past human behaviour.


Cet article examine les tendances actuelles de l'ethnoarchéologie ainsi que leur portée pour l'interprétation des données en provenance d'Afrique et plus généralement d'autres pays du Tiers Monde. Les problèmes liés à la manière dont les données ont été rassemblées, analysées, l'utilisation d'analogies, le concept d'ethnicité ou d'identification d'un groupe, l'analyse des modes d'occupation de l'espace, l'adaptation culturelle et la continuité sont discutés.

Utilisant des exemples tirés de recherches faites en Afrique, l'article plaide pour une redéfinition de l'ethnoarchéologie de façon à ce que soit mise en évidence sa double nature ainsi que les orientations théoriques et méthodologiques qui en découlent et qui produisent des résultats dépassant la simple récolte et description des données. Les problèmes cruciaux relatifs aux différents étapes et aspects de la recherche ethnoarchéologique sont discutés de façon à montrer l'importance d'une utilisation systématique des données ethnoarchéologiques qui permettent des vérifications et des réajustements menant à une interprétation plus objective des données archéologiques.

L'ethnoarchéologie ne doit pas être considérée comme une fin en elle-même, mais comme un outil, parmi bien d'autres, qui peut être utilisé pour affiner notre compréhension des comportements humains du passé.

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Agorsah, E.K. Ethnoarchaeology: the search for a self-corrective approach to the study of past human behaviour. Afr Archaeol Rev 8, 189–208 (1990).

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  • Pattern Analysis
  • Group Identification
  • Crucial Issue
  • Settlement Pattern
  • Cultural Adaptation