08. Juni 2017

Ulrich Veit (Universität Leipzig)

Archaeology and cleaning: some reflections on the archaeological process

IG-Farben-Haus, EG 411, 18:15 Uhr

Keynote zum Workshop Cleaning & Value

Within Prehistoric Archaeology the term/concept ‘cleaning’ is present in at least two different contexts. Its first and more important use lies within the realm of field archaeology. ‘Cleaning’ here represents an activity that forms an integral part of the long excavation process (starting with prospecting and ending with writing an excavation report), even if the rank of cleaning within a hierarchy of archaeological practices is relatively low. This becomes especially obvious from the simple fact that cleaning is something that normally is not done by the director of an excavation him-/herself but by workers or excavation assistants. Even so, cleaning has proved vital for archaeological pattern recognition and it needs some experience to produce good results in the cleaning of plana and profiles. In this sense it deserves closer attention from a history-of-science or laboratory-studies-perspective.

Apart from this context ‘cleaning’ has no good reputation within archaeology. In contrary, cleaning processes in past societies are an obstacle to each archaeologist, since they destroy traces that potentially would have allowed conclusions about certain aspects of past behavior which otherwise are lost forever. On the other hand, repeated cleaning procedures in clearly defined archaeological contexts (like houses, settlements etc.) produce a certain deposition pattern in the archaeological records and therefore may bear themselves important knowledge about past cultures.

In this respect one might expect, that modern archaeology has much to contribute to a “(pre-)history of cleaning practices”. Surprisingly this actually is not the case. I suspect that this results from the fact that archaeologists still today act more in the mode of treasure hunters than as trace hunters. My presentation will discuss selected aspects of the overall topic of the workshop and present some examples.