Skip to main content Accessibility help

On the object of archaeology

  • Assaf Nativ


The paper ponders the object of archaeology, called here ‘the archaeological’. It argues that the existence of such an object is a necessary premise of the field and that ultimately it is on this object that the validity of all claims and arguments must rest. The paper suggests that the archaeological be conceived as a cultural phenomenon that consists in being disengaged from the social, an understanding that positions archaeology as a counterpart to the social sciences and the humanities, rather than a member in the same milieu. The first part of the paper focuses on the position of the archaeological with reference to the concepts of ‘Nature’ and ‘Culture’, which eventually leads us to a confrontation between archaeological statics and the dynamics of the world. Efforts to justify and understand archaeological statics consequently lead to the recognition of a constitutive distinction between buried and non-buried conditions, upon which the differentiation of the archaeological from the social is established.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      On the object of archaeology
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      On the object of archaeology
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      On the object of archaeology
      Available formats


Corresponding author

*Assaf Nativ, The Martin Buber Society of Fellows, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jack, Josef and Morton Mandel School, Jerusalem, Israel. Email:


Hide All
Bailey, G., 2007: Time perspectives, palimpsests and the archaeology of time, Journal of anthropological archaeology 26 (2), 198223.
Binford, L.R., 1975: Sampling, judgement and the archaeological record, in Mueller, J.W. (ed.), Sampling in archaeology, Tucson, 251–57.
Bourdieu, P., 1990: The logic of practice, Stanford, CA.
Bowker, G.C., and Star, S.L., 1999: Sorting things out. Classification and its consequences. Cambridge, MA.
Braun, B., 2004: Nature and culture. On the career of a false problem, in Duncan, J.S., Johnson, N.C. and Schein, R.H. (eds), A companion to cultural geography, Malden, MA, 151–79.
Brown, B., 2001: Thing theory, Critical inquiry 28 (1), 122.
Brück, J., and Nilsson Stutz, L., 2016: Is archaeology still the project of nation states? An editorial comment, Archaeological dialogues 23 (1), 13.
Bryant, L., Srnicek, N. and Harman, G. (eds), 2011: The speculative turn. Continental materialism and realism, Melbourne.
Connolly, W.E., 2013: The ‘new materialism’ and the fragility of things, Millennium. Journal of international studies 41 (3), 399412.
Douglas, M., 1966: Purity and danger. An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo, London.
Edgeworth, M., 2012: Follow the cut, follow the rhythm, follow the material. Norwegian archaeological review 45, 7692.
Edgeworth, M., 2014a: Archaeology of the Anthropocene. Introduction, Journal of contemporary archaeology 1, 7377.
Edgeworth, M., 2016: Grounded objects. Archaeology and speculative realism, Archaeological dialogues 23 (1), 93113.
Evans, G.R., and Packham, D.E., 2003: Ethical issues at the university–industry interface. A way forward?, Science and engineering ethics 9 (1), 316.
Ferraris, M., 2014: Manifesto of new realism, Albany, NY.
Fowler, C., 2013a: Dynamic assemblages, or the past is what endures, in Alberti, B., Jones, A.M. and Pollard, J. (eds), Archaeology after interpretation. Returning materials to archaeological theory, Walnut Creek, 235–56.
Fowler, C., and Harris, O.J., 2015: Enduring relations. Exploring a paradox of new materialism, Journal of material culture 20 (2), 127–48.
Franklin, S., 2003: Re-thinking nature–culture, Anthropological theory 3 (1), 6585.
Gibbons, M., Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P. and Trow, M., 1994: The new production of knowledge. The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies, London.
Giddens, A., 1984: The constitution of society. Outline of the theory of structuration, Berkeley, CA.
Goodman, A.H., Heath, D. and Lindee, M.S. (eds), 2003: Genetic nature/culture. Anthropology and science beyond the two-culture divide, Berkeley, CA.
Gosden, C., 1999: Anthropology and archaeology. A changing relationship, London.
Gould, S.J., 1965: Is uniformitarianism necessary?, American journal of science 263, 223–28.
Haila, Y., 2000: Beyond the nature–culture dualism, Biology and philosophy 15 (2), 155175.
Härke, H., 2014: Archaeology and Nazism. A warning from prehistory, in Mordvintseva, V., Härke, H. and Shevchenko, T. (eds), Archaeological and linguistic research. Materials of the Humboldt-Conference (Simferopol–Yalta, 20–23 September, 2012), Kiev, 3243.
Harman, G., 2011: The quadruple object, Winchester.
Harrison, R., 2011: Surface assemblages. Towards an archaeology in and of the present, Archaeological dialogues 18 (2), 141–61.
Hasselberg, Y., Rider, S. and Waluszewski, A., 2013: Conclusion. On the verge of breakdown, in Rider, S., Hasselberg, Y. and Waluszewski, A. (eds), Transformations in research, higher education and the academic market. The breakdown of scientific thought, London, 201–14.
Henare, A., Holbraad, M. and Wastell, S. (eds), 2007b: Thinking through things. Theorising artefacts ethnographically, London.
Hessels, L.K., and van Lente, H., 2008: Re-thinking new knowledge production. A literature review and a research agenda, Research policy 37 (4), 740–60.
Hodder, I., 1997: ‘Always momentary, fluid and flexible’. Towards a reflexive excavation methodology, Antiquity 71 (10), 691700.
Hodder, I., 2011: Human–thing entanglement. Towards an integrated archaeological perspective, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17 (1), 154–77.
Hodder, I., 2012: Entangled. An archaeology of the relationships between humans and things, Malden, MA.
Hodder, I., 2014: The entanglements of humans and things. A long-term view, New literary history 45 (1), 1936.
Hodder, I., 2016: Studies in human–thing entanglement, at
Jones, A., 2004: Archaeometry and materiality. Materials-based analysis in theory and practice, Archaeometry 3, 327–38.
Kagan, J., 2009: The three cultures. Natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities in the 21st century, Cambridge.
Kellogg, D., 2006: Toward a post-academic science policy. Scientific communication and the collapse of the Mertonian norms, International journal of communications law & policy (Fall), at SSRN:
Kristiansen, K., 2014: Toward a new paradigm? The third scientific revolution and its possible consequences in archaeology, Current Swedish archaeology 22, 1134.
Kuhn, T.S., 1970: The structure of scientific revolutions, Chicago.
Latour, B., 1993: We have never been modern, Cambridge, MA.
Latour, B., 2005: Reassembling the social. An introduction to actor-network theory, Oxford.
Latour, B., 2014: Agency at the time of the Anthropocene, New literary history 45 (1), 118.
Law, J., 2009: Actor-network theory and material semiotics, in Turner, B.S. (ed.), The new Blackwell companion to social theory, Oxford, 141–58.
Leach, E., 1970: Claude Lévi-Strauss, New York.
Lévi-Strauss, C., 1963: Structural anthropology, New York.
Lucas, G., 2005: The archaeology of time, London (Themes in Archaeology).
Lucas, G., 2012: Understanding the archaeological record, Cambridge.
Lucas, G., 2013: Afterword. Archaeology and the science of new objects, in Alberti, B., Jones, A.M. and Pollard, J. (eds), Archaeology after interpretation, London, 369–80.
Lucas, G., 2015a: Archaeology and contemporaneity, Archaeological dialogues 22 (1), 115.
Lyman, R.L., 1994: Vertebrate taphonomy, Cambridge.
Lyotard, J.-F., 1991: Phenomenology, Albany, NY.
Merton, R.K., 1942: A note on science and democracy, Journal of legal and political sociology 1, 115–26.
Monbiot, G., 2003: Guard dogs of perception. The corporate takeover of science, Science and engineering ethics 9 (1), 4957.
Nativ, A., 2017: No compensation needed. On archaeology and the archaeological, Journal of archaeological method and theory 24, 659–75.
Olivier, L., 2011: The dark abyss of time. Archaeology and memory, Lanham, MD.
Olivier, L., 2013: The business of archaeology is the present, in González-Ruibal, A. (ed.), Reclaiming archaeology. Beyond the tropes of modernity, Oxford, 117–29.
Olsen, B., 2010: In defense of things. Archaeology and the ontology of objects, Lanham, MD.
Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T. and Witmore, C.L., 2012: Archaeology. The discipline of things, Berkeley, CA.
O'Sullivan, T., Hartley, J., Saunders, D., Montgomery, M. and Fiske, J., 1994: Key concepts in communication and cultural studies, 2nd edn, London.
Pétursdóttir, Ϸ., 2012: Small things forgotten now included, or what else do things deserve?, International journal of historical archaeology 16 (3), 577603.
Pétursdóttir, Ϸ., 2013: Concrete matters. Towards an archaeology of things, Tromsø (PhD dissertation).
Pickering, A., 1995: The mangle of practice. Time, agency and science, Chicago.
Pickering, A., 2011: Ontological politics. Realism and agency in science, technology and art, Insights 4 (9), 211.
Rathje, W., and Murphy, C., 2001: Rubbish! The archaeology of garbage, Tucson.
Rheinberger, H.-J., 1997: Toward a history of epistemic things. Synthesizing proteins in the test tube, Stanford, CA.
Rider, S., 2009: The future of the European university. Liberal democracy or authoritarian capitalism?, Culture unbound. Journal of current cultural research 1, 83104.
Rider, S., Hasselberg, Y. and Waluszewski, A. (eds), 2013: Transformations in research, higher education and the academic market. The breakdown of scientific thought. London.
Schiffer, M.B., 1972: Archaeological context and systemic context, American antiquity 37 (2), 156–65.
Schiffer, M.B., 1987: Formation processes of the archaeological record, Salt Lake City.
Shanks, M., 2001: Culture/archaeology. The dispersion of a discipline and its objects, in Hodder, I. (ed.), Archaeological theory today, Malden, MA, 284305.
Shanks, M., Platt, D. and Rathje, W.L., 2004: The perfume of garbage. Modernity and the archaeological, Modernism/modernity 11 (1), 6183.
Silberman, N.A., 1995: Promised lands and chosen people. The politics and poetics of archaeological narrative, in Kohl, P.L. and Fawcett, C. (eds), Nationalism, politics, and the practice of archaeology, Cambridge, 249–62.
Solli, B., 2011: Some reflections on heritage and archaeology in the Anthropocene, Norwegian archaeological review 44 (1), 4054.
Staski, E., and Sutro, L.D. (eds), 1991: The ethnoarchaeology of refuse disposal, Tempe.
Sterckx, S., 2011: Patenting and licensing of university research. Promoting innovation or undermining academic values?, Science and engineering ethics 17 (1), 4564.
Thomas, J., 2015: The future of archaeological theory, Antiquity 89 (348), 1287–96.
Thrift, N., 2008: Non-representational theory. Space, politics, affect, London.
Trigger, B.G., 1984: Alternative archaeologies. Nationalist, colonialist, imperialist, Man 19 (3), 355–70.
Trigger, B.G., 1990: A history of archaeological thought, Cambridge.
Turner, V., 1969: The ritual process. Structure and anti-structure, Ithaca, NY.
Van Gennep, A., 1960: The rites of passage, Chicago.
Weber, M., 2004: Science as a vocation, in Owen, D. and Strong, T.B. (eds), The vocation lectures, Indianapolis, 131.
Webmoor, T., 2007: What about ‘one more turn after the social’ in archaeological reasoning? Taking things seriously, World archaeology 39 (4), 563–78.
Webmoor, T., and Witmore, C.L., 2008: Things are us! A commentary on human/things relations under the banner of a ‘social’ archaeology, Norwegian archaeological review 41 (1), 5370.
Witmore, C., 2007: Symmetrical archaeology. Excerpts of a manifesto, World archaeology 39 (4), 546–62.
Witmore, C., 2013: Which archaeology? A question of chronopolitics, in González-Ruibal, A. (ed.), Reclaiming archaeology. Beyond the tropes of modernity, Oxford, 130–44.
Witmore, C., 2014: Archaeology and the new materialisms, Journal of contemporary archaeology 1 (2), 203–46.
Witmore, C., 2015: No past but within things, in Mircan, M. and van Gerven Oei, V.W.J. (eds), Allegory of the cave painting, Antwerp, 375–94.
Wolfe, C., 2010: What is posthumanism?, Minneapolis.
Ziman, J., 2000: Real science. What it is, and what it means. Cambridge.


On the object of archaeology

  • Assaf Nativ


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed