Symmetrical Archaeology

  • Christopher WitmoreEmail author
Living reference work entry


If archaeology is the study of things with an aim to understand pasts and their relevance for life, then the addition of the adjectival qualifier “symmetrical” constituted a provisional step to help render it so. With its popular definition as “the study of the human past through its material remains,” archaeology relegates its objects to the subordinate position of means and bestows upon its ends a spurious precedence, ultimately denying those throngs of ceramic fragments, hand axes, wall foundations, buried road surfaces, or rusty sardine cans their role as protagonists. Without things, any understanding of past worlds would be impossible (Olsen et al. 2012). And yet, the common definition of archaeology limits its objects to the status of mere vehicles. Symptomatic of this overly reductive, end-oriented (telocentric) definition are a series of compulsory disclaimers, sounded throughout the field’s history, to remind practitioners of the need to reach beyond the thing...

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Classical & Modern Languages & LiteraturesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jordan Ralph
    • 1
  • Troy Lovata
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Honors CollegeThe University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA