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The material constitution of humanness


This contribution responds to recent calls to establish a ‘symmetrical archaeology’ that will assign agency both to humans and to things. My case is that living and non-living things should be distinguished, and for archaeology to be particularly concerned with the ways different qualities of humanness have been constituted in the symbiotic relationships between Homo sapiens and other living and non-living things.

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*John C. Barrett, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, UK. E-mail:
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M.J. Casper , 1994: Reframing and grounding nonhuman agency. What makes a fetus an agent?, American behavioral scientist 37 (6), 839–56.

J. Dupré , 2002: The lure of the simplistic, Philosophy of science 69, 284–93.

A. Giddens , 1981: A contemporary critique of historical materialism, London.

I. Hodder (ed.), 1982: Symbolic and structural archaeology, Cambridge.

I. Hodder , 2012: Entangled. An archaeology of the relationships between humans and things, Chichester.

L. Malafouris , 2008: At the potter's wheel. An argument for material agency, in C. Knappett and L. Malafouris (eds), Material agency. Towards a non-anthropocentric approach, New York, 1936.

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B. Olsen , M. Shanks , T. Webmoor and C. Witmore , 2012: Archaeology. The discipline of things. London.

S. Oyama , 2000: The ontogeny of information. Developmental systems and evolution (2nd edn, revised), Durham, NC.

C.L. Witmore , 2007: Symmetrical archaeology. Excerpts of a manifesto, World archaeology 39 (4), 546–62.

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Archaeological Dialogues
  • ISSN: 1380-2038
  • EISSN: 1478-2294
  • URL: /core/journals/archaeological-dialogues
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