It is a bit difficult to summarize a work with such a broad scope; however,
for my purposes I am dividing the book into four
kinds of learning: 1) facts; 2) how to think about archaeological puzzles and what questions might be asked to address those
puzzles; 3) the technology that has changed the practice of archaeology; and 4) creating a coherent "world story."
For the purposes of accurate representation I should note that the book
is presented through four somewhat different
categories: first, "the nature and aims of archaeology," an introduction; second, "the framework of archaeology," which covers
a history of archaeology and a brief set of vocabulary for thinking about artifacts, sites, and chronology; third, "discovering the
variety of human experience," which presents societies, environments, diet, tools, trade, human cognition and human pathology;
and fourth, "the world of archaeology," with various coherent explanations of change, and case studies of sites and their
presentation to the public.
However, I intend to stick to my own, less logical arrangement. By "facts"
I mean things that I did not know. The first thing
that I take away from Archaeology are simple facts, like the possible sources of lapis lazuli, what varves are and how to read
them; the relative difference between human, dog, and cow foot bones; and that thermoluminescence can be used to date
pottery. As a substantive category, this one is a failure: it is highly idiosyncratic, and worse yet, completely ephemeral --
impossible to know what I might remember in a few days or few months. Nevertheless, the book is a compendium of things
that I did not know and so I will doubtless return to it to track down things that might be useful: for instance, the meaning of the acronym PIXE.
The second thing that Archaeology offers is a running example
of how to approach puzzles and problems. What questions can
be usefully asked of an archaeological project? Simple questions, such as "who made this artifact?" "What was it used for?"
"When was it made?" can be layered into ever more complex questions and searches. Is a dig, or an aerial map, or a
statistical survey, likely to help answer the question? For instance, what are the edges of the site? Does geography in fact,
bound the problem in view? To what uses was a particular site put? What kinds of activities can be confidently determined and tracked across time? Should a regional comparison be made? Finally, there are the overarching problems of project
management: how to answer the questions in view with the time, funds, and other resources available?
Third, Archaeology offers impressive coverage of support tools
and tests. It was eye-opening to read about the microscopic
traces and tests that can be derived from pollen, various chemicals, proteins, electrons, and one-celled organisms. Maybe
more impressive are the mathematical and statistical tools that start from an incontrovertible "if" (e.g. if we assume that people
will only walk 2 hours away to do basic tasks, then what does a careful recreation of the site scatter tell us? Or if we assume
that structures requiring fewer man-hours indicate a more egalitarian society, can we map successive waves of hierarchy?)
Both halves of the problem are interesting: what is the proper "if" to illuminate the problem in question, and then, what kinds of
mathematical modeling will most economically picture an answer? Renfrew and Bahn's review suggests to me that significant
changes in archaeology came through three or four major advances, including aerial mapping; radiocarbon dating; the varied
uses of the electron microscope and other "tagging" tools; and the processing of 2-D data into 3-D maps through computer
Finally, Archaeology asks the reader to decide upon what basis
a world story can be told. Finding the absolute age of an item
through dendrochronology or ice cores is quite a different effort than accounting for social change. Does one stake out a
philosophical position (cf. Marvin Harris's Cultural Materialism)? Perhaps more important, is it to be the story of a single
mind creating a piece of pottery? Or the collapse of a kingdom? Is there an inevitable end to the story (as in Marxism)? Or
an endless procession of processes?