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  Ethnoarchaeology (Greek, ‘the study of ancient communities’) involves the combination of anthropological field work in a particular community and archaeological research and findings. Methods and choice of community vary according to the particular research problem investigated, but are generally chosen so that a similarity in environments and technologies may be established. For instance, from the study of hunting and gathering communities of North America, South Africa and Australia, observations of tool manufacture, butchering techniques, settlement patterns, etc. may provide working models by which to interpret material remains from the hunter-gatherers of the past. In this way, archaeology does not limit itself solely to the description and classification of finds, but widens the possibilities of constructing a reasonable set of models and insights into how people treated these artefacts in the past.

In the 19th century such approaches were used to construct an evolutionary framework in which it was argued that contemporary ‘primitive’ communities were ‘fossils’ from the past. In modern times, it has been acknowledged that this is not the case. Such communities have not lived in isolation from agricultural peoples, but have been considerably influenced by the surrounding societies and state policies, and are affected by the increasingly restricted amounts of land to habitate. In some cases, for example, the Muria Gonds of India, hunting and gathering may prove to be an economically beneficial means of livelihood in their provision of honey and leather to settled communities. In cases such as the Venda people of Sri Lanka, a hunting and gathering lifestyle may be assumed by the members as a means to attract tourists.

Another problem with ethnoarchaeology is that not all past behaviours have parallels today. Additionally, the symbolic and institutional complexes of any society are not easily clarified from investigating the material remains alone. A common presumption to avoid is that uncomplicated material artefacts are evidence for a ‘simple’ society.

However, the premise that underlies ethnoarchaeology is that some of our behavioural relationships revolve around material artefacts, and that this behaviour is an important part of all human relationships in space and time. Therefore, despite the problems of substantiating propositions, ethnoarchaeology suggests richer models that may encourage and refine insights into past behaviours and technologies. RK

See also culture; diffusionism; ethnohistory; evolutionism; scarcity; symbolism.Further reading Ian Hodder, Symbols in Action: Ethnoarchaeological Studies of Material Culture; , Carol Krame (ed.), Ethnoarchaeology.



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