Christopher Witmore (2014: 215) recently observed that “things go on perturbing one another when humans cease to be part of the picture. A former house may be transformed through relations with bacteria, hedgehogs, water, compaction”; and if the materials that archaeologists confront are material memories (cf. Olivier 2011) from which a past is to be recalled in the future, then
The kind of memory that things hold often tells us little of whether materials strewn across an abandonment level resulted from the reuse of a structure as a sheepfold, a series of exceptional snow storms, the collapse of a roof made of olive wood after many years of exposure to the weather (rapports between microbes, fungi, water and wood), the cumulative labors of generations of badgers, children playing a game in a ruin, or the probing roots of oak trees (Witmore 2014: 215).
In other words, the things that archaeologists confront bear the memories of their own formation without the necessity of a human presence, and the traditional and often exclusive priority given to a human agency in the making of those things and in giving them meaning is simply misplaced. Things get on “just fine” without the benefit of human intervention and interpretation (Witmore 2014: 217). Should archaeology therefore allow that it is not a discipline concerned with excavating the indications of the various past human labours that once acted upon things, and should it eschew the demand to “look beyond the pot, the awl or a stone enclosure for explanations concerning the reasons for their existence” (Witmore 2014: 204)? Consequently, is archaeology now a matter of following the things themselves to wherever they might lead—what Witmore characterises as the New Materialisms—and if so, are we now to practise archaeology “not as the study of the human past through its material remains, but as the discipline of things” (Witmore 2014: 203)?