Friday, 8 April 2016

A prolegomenon to Jungian archaeology: part two

Adapted from a Sidney Paget illustration for the
Sherlock Holmes story: The Adventure of the
Dancing Men, Strand Magazine, 1903

"The contemporary social basis of our reconstructions of the past does not necessitate a lack of validity for those reconstructions. Our interpretations may be biased, but hey may still be 'right'. Clearly, however, it is important to understand where our ideas come from, and why we want to reconstruct the past in a particular way."

Ian Hodder, Reading the Past: Current approaches to interpretation in archaeology, Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 169.

It might be considered that an archaeological site should be mapped and its contents described, but no attempt to interpret it should be made by the archaeologist.In this way interpretation becomes the function of the reader of the archaeological report and such interpretations will then reflect the reader's beliefs which are based in part on that person's contemporary social viewpoints. Such a report would then not only become timeless, but could adapt to any cultural expression. essentially, it would be "raw data" to be utilized however anyone saw fit.

The main problem with this viewpoint is that specific perspectives are embedded in any description. Even the words "Iron Age" confines something to a modernly invented period defined by the material of tools. If we also use the phrase "high status metalwork" we are defining status solely by the possession of such objects. What if the Celtic Druid was something of an ascetic? We know from historical accounts that the Druid had the power even to stop a battle on command. We also know that high status decorated metalwork was often used for arms and armour and what was not is assumed to have been used by the warrior in daily life, or by their family and associates. Without the historical accounts about Druids we not only would know nothing of their status, we would not even know that they had existed. Even the choice between the words "weapon" or "tool" can transmit a belief. When I worked as a cataloguer at Glenbow Museum, (and the recataloguing of the collections that we did gained a very good international reputation), I described a military badge as being "bronze". My boss, Lew Burke, read my worksheet and said "So, you have had it analysed then?. "What appears to be" became a very common phrase in my writing after that.

While I was designing the intellectual structure, and my wife was designing the functional structure for the first Celtic Coin Index Online, Harry Bass Jr. asked me to check out his structure of the database for the American Numismatic Society, which was almost completed. He was not terribly happy with my report as as I had decided that the best way to do this was to look at their records for Coriosolite coins as I had studied these for more than ten years. I found that while the database structure was basically sound, it had neglected to unify the terms used in their catalogue, So a search for "Coriosolite" would not find the Latinized "Coriosolitae" nor the alternative "Curiosolite". Not only that, but the alloy "billon" was variously described as things like "billon"; "base silver"; "silver alloy"; "silver" and even "bronze". I forget the exact wording but there were many different terms used for the same metal alloy, and these could only be searched specifically. At that time the Dublin Core was working very hard on these sorts of metadata problems. It still is. We had avoided these problems with Carrie's Arethusa database (which I had named after the ancient fountain of Arethusa in Syracuse, Sicily).

What is meant by "contemporary social basis"? It mostly refers to the contemporary society of academic scholars of the subject. While not restricting new approaches, such approaches are almost always away from, and referent to what has come before. You might say that they are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but even revolutionary must also be referent to a certain degree. Thus a certain amount of subjectivity is inherent and cannot be avoided.

But it goes far beyond that. A contemporary social basis refers to a collective consciousness, but interpretation is also influenced, in Jungian terms, by the personal consciousness; the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. What is even more important is that what becomes repressed by the personal consciousness can be projected by the personal unconscious, and what is naturally occluded from consciousness by being inherited (the collective unconscious) can also then be projected in interpretation. If we imagine a situation where, in a previous time, something was made that referred to many things in the collective consciousness of the people of that society, and that consciousness was both strong and widespread, but now, all of those ideas are lost, then the sight of such an object can now act as a stimulation of part of our collective unconscious where, even if that same archetype existed in the earlier time, the strengths of the now lost connected symbols would have overridden it. What then would result in the now, would not be an interpretation of what had existed, but a projection of the collective unconscious. We would be seeing horses in the clouds. How can we try to avoid this? I will tackle that on Monday. Have a personally conscious weekend.

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