Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 1–18 | Cite as

Prehistory vs. Archaeology: Terms of Engagement

  • Timothy TaylorEmail author

…we will gain by being forced to realize and understand the coeval nature of prehistory with the present

Christopher Matthews 2007, ‘History to Prehistory: an archaeology of being Indian’

Editing the Journal of World Prehistory entails a vision of a field of study, to be shared or challenged, and certainly developed, by contributors and readers, supported by institutions. Yet prehistory is a complex, loaded term, understood variously; and aspiring to a global mission raises questions of the form, and even desirability, of contributions to ‘grand narrative.’ Is archaeology something distinctly other than prehistory? And is world prehistory a single subject—essentially the biggest area-period available to archaeologists and fellow travellers—or a practice, ideally characterized by some totalizing theory?

David Clarke wrote that ‘A modern empirical discipline ought to be able to aim at more rewarding results than the maintenance of … a steady flow of counterfeit history books’ (Clarke 1978...



I am indebted in particular to Angela Close for creating the framework for this discussion in the form of the Journal of World Prehistory itself, and to Teresa Krauss and the team at Springer during an exciting (albeit exacting) period of transition. I should especially thank Christopher Chippindale for stimulating a discussion on ideas of prehistory versus archaeology, though my conclusions are different from his. Sarah Wright, as always, provided overall critical scrutiny, help with translation of Foucault and Vašíček, and discussion of Russian terms; I am also very grateful to Peter Biehl, Christopher Matthews, Dan Hicks, Peter Hiscock, Herb Maschner, Alex Bentley, and Matthew Betts for comments and suggestions; and, for useful discussions, Alistair Whittle, Françoise Audouze, Dušan Borić, Mike Shanks, Jason Ur, Rowan Flad and Cameron Munroe; thanks also to Zdeněk Vašíček; and to John Welch for sight of his 2000 ms (a longer version of Welch 2001, and from which I have borrowed the Ambrose Bierce quotation); lastly to my old (perhaps future?) digging partner, Keith Moe, for an introduction to the poetry of Richard Hugo (2007 edition: the line comes from ‘Dog Lake with Paula’, originally in the 1973 collection, The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of BradfordBradfordUK

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