Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission

  • Benjamin W. Roberts
  • Marc Vander Linden


The concept of an archaeological culture rarely features in any surveys of the literature of modern archaeology, especially in the Anglo-American world. When it does appear, “cultures” are treated as an anachronism – a remnant of an archaic and long-dismissed stage of the discipline. Kent Flannery’s Parable of the Golden Marshalltown provides an exemplary formulation of the unfashionable status of the archaeological culture, when the Old Timer archaeologist was sacked by his own department for his continued but apparently outdated belief in this concept (Flannery 1982). Both introductory textbooks (e.g. Johnson 1999; Hodder and Hutson 2003; Renfrew and Bahn 2008) and theoretical compilations (e.g. Preucel and Hodder 1996; Hodder 2001; Van Pool and Van Pool 2003; Funari et al. 2005; Meskell and Preucel 2006) communicate the same message: the concept of archaeological cultures is deeply flawed and, as a consequence, should no longer be applied or even discussed.


Material Culture Archaeological Record Culture History Cultural Transmission Archaeological Data 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This volume derives originally from a conference session What is an Archaeological Culture? Approaching cultural transmission and variation held at the 13th European Association of Archaeologist meeting in Zadar, Croatia on 18–23 September 2007. We are very grateful to the speakers and those who attended the session. We are also very grateful to Cate Frieman and Chris Thornton for reading and commenting on this chapter. Any errors remain entirely our own.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Prehistory and EuropeThe British MuseumLondonUK

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