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Function and Configuration in Archaeology1

  • Julian H. Steward (a1) and Frank M. Setzler (a2)
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Cultural anthropology is generally considered to be a distinctive discipline which seeks an understanding of the fundamental nature of culture and of culture change. The nature of its ultimate objectives, however, is rarely made explicit, and a lack of agreement exists concerning even the more immediate objectives. There is reason to believe that within the last few years archaeology and ethnology are, in many respects, growing rapidly apart instead of contributing to mutual problems. It seems timely, therefore, to inquire whether there really exists a general, basic problem of culture and to what extent archaeological research may be brought to bear upon it.

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1

“Configuration” herein has its common meaning of design or form in which elements of a culture are arranged and interrelated. In ethnology, “pattern” has been used in this sense for many years. It is unfortunate for clear terminology that in the system of archaeological classification adopted for the Mississippi Valley, “pattern” was chosen to designate a complex of elements of a certain magnitude, thus giving it a totally different meaning in archaeology and ethnology.

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4 A tentative effort to use more meaningful categories was made by Barrett, “Aztalan,” 1933; Deuel, “Pictorial Survey” 1935; and by Cole and Deuel in “Rediscovering Illinois,” 1937. Linton, “The Study of Man,” 1936, pp. 394–396, has suggested classifying data under “biological,” “social,” and “psychological needs.”

5 Steward, in Ecological Aspects of Southwestern Society, Anthropos, Vol. 32, pp. 87–104, 1937, endeavored to synthesize archaeological and ethnological data on population and social groups. In spite of the great amount of archaeological work that has been done in the Southwest, it was, except from a few reports, extraordinarily difficult to extract data on the types and distribution of prehistoric villages.

6 “Functionalism,” unfortunately, carries a somewhat formidable connotation to many anthropologists. The word has been publicized in connection with analyses of a very narrow segment of culture, namely, kinship systems. It is nevertheless a very useful concept.

1 “Configuration” herein has its common meaning of design or form in which elements of a culture are arranged and interrelated. In ethnology, “pattern” has been used in this sense for many years. It is unfortunate for clear terminology that in the system of archaeological classification adopted for the Mississippi Valley, “pattern” was chosen to designate a complex of elements of a certain magnitude, thus giving it a totally different meaning in archaeology and ethnology.

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American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
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