Archaeology of Complex Societies
There might be 101 challenges facing archaeologists when studying complex societies and I've only just begun in one of my classes focusing on the archaeology of complex societies. While reading through the material, I found several aspects, including the texts which were so diverse and extensive, and the assortment of dating techniques, which in one case, I had never heard of.
Like many of you it's a new experience for me, but I'm glad I get to share my path with all of you. If you have anything to add to the discussion, please free to leave a comment below.
Deciphering ancient texts
Ancient texts are quite challenging to decipher considering they may not use the alphabetic system such as our own. If the system is alphabetical, how do you know what sounds the symbols are meant to represent?
Furthermore, the language may be dead and no scholar has the necessary tools to decipher it. Depending on the symbols or logos, an epigrapher may be required to decipher what it is an archaeologist has found. Tracking down the epigrapher to take on task can be a daunting experience considering there are so few experts versed in the discipline.
We must remember, however, texts and scripts found in certain sites are not infallible. Why? Most of them were written by elites. Some with political propaganda. Even events such as war were misrepresented. Those having access to persons with the abilities to document these events were usually the victors, and often times, the events were embellished.
Maya Hieroglyphs are more than extensive when a novice, such as myself, starts to break them down. Deciphering the hieroglyphs takes a scholar versed in mathematics, language, and archaeology, and even if the inscription reflects an event accurately portrayed the same way at another site, doesn’t make the historical accuracy or the artifact irrefutable.
Accurately portraying an age of a complex society, based on information found, that is uniformly immense
Archaeologists using the Law of Superposition may be able to use the strata data to derive relative dates of artifacts found in certain layers, however imagine doing this for the entire site that may have included tens of thousands of people. Layers of strata can shift because of floods or be absent all together, but it’s the archaeologist’s job to find out why.
Why? Social organization is largely determined by the age of the society, therefore dating something so complex over such a large span of land can take years.
Example: Just because a level of strata was dated to a certain time, doesn’t mean the same level at a different site will yield the same results. As the module mentions, “relative age of artifacts, ecofactos, and features” can’t be determined without more information.
Furthermore, relative and indirect dates are least reliable, therefore archaeologists have to rely on direct dating from the objects or features found.
Cross Dating and Seriation provides another set of clues to determine dates of complex societies. However, when archaeologists are looking at such a vast social complex and one artifact is missing that turned up in another feature a few miles away, does it mean the sites are not connected? This is a challenge that must be met by using different processes and analysis. Cross dating may yield a comparison of like with like artifacts from different sites, however the frequency (Seriation) of the artifacts found brings about more clues as to the age of the site.
According to the AARCH, archaeomagnetic dating determines age of sites by testing iron deposits. It’s possible to determine the age of a site, albeit the site may be quite extensive, by melting iron to 400 degrees Celsius or higher, thus the iron will orient to magnetic north. There are some challenges as mentioned by the AARCH that state “Such materials retain a record of the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field from the time that the magnetisation was originally acquired. Direct observations of the present Earth’s magnetic field only go back for some 400 years (<200 years for its intensity)”. What happens when the site is relatively older than 400 years? Can archaeomagnetic dating still be a sufficient way to test age of sites? What do you think?