No Compensation Needed: On Archaeology and the Archaeological

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The archaeological is regularly perceived in negative terms as lacking and deficient. It is fragmented, static, and crude, a residue of past living societies. Accordingly, much of archaeologists’ efforts are directed toward the amendment of these flaws. The present paper, however, argues that these so-called deficiencies are in fact constitutive absences. Whatever the archaeological lacks, it lacks by definition. It thus follows that working to render the archaeological “complete” is in fact an effort to undo it, to convert it into something else. For the sake of discovering the past, archaeological practice is a sustained effort to rid itself of the very phenomenon that defines it, consequently setting in motion self-perpetuating circularity predicated on deficiency and compensation. The reason for this, it is suggested, is the otherness of the archaeological, being at one and the same time a cultural phenomenon and a fossil record, a social construct and a geological deposit. This condition is so baffling that it is approached by transforming it into something familiar. The paper argues that understanding the archaeological should be archaeology’s first priority. Insofar as it is also the study of the past, this should be predicated on the understanding of the archaeological present.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-675
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Absence
  • Circularity
  • Description
  • Loss
  • Ontological turn

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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