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Klejn L.S. The principles of archaeology

Publ. in Russian (2001) by Belveder, St. Petersburg


This small book was originally published in 2001 by the Petersburg Belveder Publishers (belonging to the Smolny Institute of Free Arts and Sciences under the aegis of St. Petersburg University). The book is devoted to the fundamental principles upon which the entire discipline of archaeology is built. In the entirety of archaeological literature this is the only book on this theme. One and a half century ago Principles of geology were written by Charles Lyell, a century ago The Principles of sociology by Herbert Spencer. To elaborate the principles of archaeology has only now become possible, after the advent of theoretical archaeology as created by, among others, the author of this book.


The Principles of archaeology is an attempt to axiomatize the discipline of archaeology, i. e. to reduce it to a small number of principles upon which it is logically possible to base all of archaeology’s variety of laws, methods and concepts. The realization of such a project was initially thought doubtful, for archaeology was numbered among humanistic disciplines. The author sees the cause of doubts and difficulties in that the principles are arranged in two systems and these systems contradict each other: every principle of one system finds an opposite in the other, but both systems remain reliable. It is the author's opinion that this does not permit systems of artificial intelligence in archaeology – such as the diagnostic systems found in medicine. However as it seems that human intelligence works by being split into two different hemispheres that react differently to the same stimuli., it is no surprise that At present computers specialists have theoretical elaborations of computer systems based on contradictive axioms.


The way to the realization of these opportunities must lie in dialectic archaeology. But in order to understand the difficulties of interpretation and the machine processing of information, one should not rely only upon computers. One has to prepare archaeology to this dialogue with the machine and in particular to recognize its principles and to comprehend their dialectics – how one could draw unified solutions from opposed principles.


There are two parts to the book. The first exposes the principles of interpretation that exist at the outlet of archaeology, between it and history. This part was prepared for the first David Clarke memorial lecture delivered by the author in the lecture theatre at Peterhouse in Cambridge in 1993 (such lectures being arranged biannually). The lecture was warmly received by the archaeological community of Great Britain (archaeologists from across the country had gathered to pay homage to Clarke).


The second part exposes the underlying principles of archaeological excavation. In archaeology it is the opposite end of the research procedure, its beginning. The understanding of these principles must allow archaeologists to do more than follow the recommendations of the manuals of methods blindly, like recipes, but to work out methods appropriate to the subject under study. No previous attempt has been made to connect the methodology of excavation with the theory of archaeology. In the usual manuals for practical methods only instructions and recommendations are given, but not the principles upon which they are built. An exposition of this part of the book was given in the author's seminar at the European University at St. Petersburg in the initial year of that University.


The book will probably give rise to debates, for its content is absolutely new and for many unexpected. A small discussion of some St. Petersburg archaeologists (disciples of prof. Klejn) is supplemented to the book.


With all supplements (indices, bibliography etc.) the book does not exceed 150 printing pages in small print plus some figures. It will be of interest to archaeologists, historians, philosophers; it is written with a minimum of professional terms and by its language is fully accessible to students.

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From the author

Part one. Principles of archaeological interpretation

I.    Archaeology and principles. Archaeology as a science? For the sake of clarity – to the dark beginning

II.   The search for principles. The field of operations. Hawkes’ principles. Axioms and theorems of Dunnell

III.  The set of principles. Determinism. Universalism. Uniformitarianism and actualism. The systemic nature of culture. Correlation of material side with non-material. The principal adequacy of data

IV.  Principles in critical consideration. Determinism? Universalism? Uniformitarianism and actualism? The systemic nature of culture? Objectification? Principal adequacy of data? Justification of principles

V.   Opposite principles. Indeterminism. Individualization. Historicism. Disarray. Polysemy. The fundamental incompleteness of archaeological data. The second system

VI.  Dialectic of principles. Antinomy in the basement. Analytical machine

Part two. Principles of excavation: Theoretical foundations of excavating methods

I.    Theory as a guide to excavation. Rules and practice. Principles of excavation. The age of treasure hunters

II.   Traditional principles of modern methods. Artifactological principle. The Principle of sensation. The Authenticity of finds. An Individual approach. The principle of restoration.

III.   Principles aimed at the cognition of society and culture. Animation. Principle of complex consideration. The study of all sides. Principle of universal preparation. Revealing finds’ connections. Structural principle. Stratigraphic principle. The principle of care.

IV.   Common scientific principles and the specificity of archaeology. The principle of generalization. The principle of information keeping, or salvage copying. The principle of record keeping. The principle of verifiability. The principle of purposefulness. Professionalism and specialization. The principle of purification. The principle of perspective.

V.     A System of principles. The search for structure. Contradictions in realization. From interpretation to excavation. Party spirit, compromise and an analysis of the situation.




Item index

Name index

Appendix (discussion):

Anikovich M.V. Historical cognition and principles of archaeology.

Vishnnyatsky L.B. In defense of the freedom from principles

Trifonov V.A. Field archaeology: Principles and priorities (a propos of L. S. Klejn’s ‘Principles of Field Archaeology’)

Anon. [Comment]

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