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Archaeologies of technology


  • Marcia-Anne Dobres


Archaeologists make use of several different ontologies to research and develop theories about ancient technology. After briefly sketching out central features of mainstream (materialist) technovisions, this essay concentrates on recent ontological trends emphasizing the 'mutual becoming' of people and products. Symbolic and structuralist orientations enable archaeologists to 'see' something of the social values and cognitive structures shaping technological traditions in the deep past. As the question of gender has become an explicit topic of interest, archaeologists are able, at long last, to theorise about ancient technicians as thinking and feeling women and men. To appreciate ancient technology 'as if people mattered', I outline my own preferred ontology--grounded in phenomenology and agency theory. It argues that the ancient technician's body was a mindful, sensual, socially constituted and gendered being making sense of the world--and themself--by working through it. Chaîne opératoire data on technical gestures and related strategic choices of artifact manufacture, use, and repair provide the necessary empirical and interpretive link between the making of personhood and the making and use of products within the (ancient) body politic. Copyright The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Cambridge Political Economy Society. All rights reserved., Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Marcia-Anne Dobres, 2010. "Archaeologies of technology," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(1), pages 103-114, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:34:y:2010:i:1:p:103-114

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