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What Role for Language Prehistory in Redefining Archaeological “Culture”? A Case Study on New Horizons in the Andes

  • David Beresford-Jones
  • Paul Heggarty
Chapter

Abstract

Just as “cultures” and “peoples” have fallen from grace in archaeological theory, so too have simplistic attempts to associate them uniquely with any particular language – witness the furore surrounding “The Celts”. Rightly so; but equally, we should beware of throwing out with this bathwater the great potential of language prehistory to inform other disciplines of the human past, not least our own. Archaeology can only be the poorer for passing over the impressive degree of certainty that linguistic data and methodology can so often provide on one core component of human “cultural” makeup across time and space. Properly understood, language relationships can make for incontrovertibly clear evidence of provenience, continuity, and complex social interactions. Above all, languages do not diverge into great families at whim. On the contrary, they do so only for very good reasons in the real-world context in which their speakers lived. The very existence of language families with vast geographical distributions is no historical accident. Indeed, they demand to be accounted for, and can be only in terms of whatever powerful, expansive forces lie behind them. These, of course, are the same driving forces that archaeology seeks to uncover and explain through its own, independent material culture record. So it is not a question of whether any particular expansive forces in the archaeological record might have driven language expansions, provided we can find a perfect match – and if we cannot, then safely pretend that they never happened. Linguistics establishes without question that they did. For us to shy away from this linguistic reality is nothing less than an abnegation of our duty as prehistorians. The task, rather, is to identify which of the forces that archaeologists can detect provide that explanation most plausibly – and indeed to work out a methodology for how to judge that plausibility. In this chapter, then, we propose a new, principled methodology by which to converge archaeologists’ and linguists’ independent scenarios into a coherent cross-disciplinary tale of the human past. We discard facile associations between “culture” and “language”, but instead seek to link archaeological and linguistic data through commensurate driving forces. We illustrate this new methodology by a case study in one of humanity’s rare hearths of pristine civilization development, but where precious little interdisciplinary progress has been made hitherto: the Central Andes. The scenario that emerges turns on its head the traditional thinking on associations between the archaeology and languages of the region. And it duly offers archaeologists a new strand of independent data to contribute to their interpretation of precisely what the “cultural” Horizons they identify in the region really were.

Keywords

Material Culture Archaeological Record Language Family Central Highland Major Language 
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.

Notes

Acknowledgements

This chapter was made possible thanks to research funding from the Leverhulme Trust for the multidisciplinary Languages and Origins project (Heggarty), and a postdoctoral fellowship from the British Academy (Beresford-Jones), both hosted at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge. For detailed and constructive comments on this manuscript we extend particularly thanks and acknowledgement to Gordon McEwan.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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