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After ModernityArchaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past$
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Rodney Harrison and John Schofield

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199548071

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199548071.001.0001

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Field Methods

Field Methods

Chapter:
3 Field Methods
Source:
After Modernity
Author(s):

Rodney Harrison

John Schofield

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780199548071.003.0008

In Chapter 1 we suggested that the archaeology of the contemporary past is a critical inquiry into the present using archaeological approaches originally developed to look at the past. But how, precisely, does one undertake an archaeological study of the contemporary past, and what do practitioners more familiar with earlier periods bring with them to this particular type of archaeological enquiry? Is this archaeology of the very recent past so different to that of earlier periods? Is it simply a matter of transferring skills from more familiar grounds of the deeper past? We suggest that to large extent it is, though recognizing at least one key difference: the degree to which our diverse cultural backgrounds and life experiences will influence the way we think about and interpret material remains that often seem closely familiar. In this chapter we look particularly at the ways in which an archaeology of the contemporary past is informed by oral accounts and living memories, and at approaches to recording and analysing complex and multi-layered contemporary landscapes in which the past is manifest as an integral part of the present. Following the work of Michael Schiffer (1987), most archaeologists are used to thinking about the archaeological record as the cumulative product of both cultural and natural forces over the full course of human existence, from the Lower Palaeolithic until the moment just passed. But there are obvious differences with the way human behaviour is constructed and transformed into an archaeological record. When considering the archaeology of the contemporary past, for example, many of the natural processes that lead to the decay and deterioration of traditional archaeological sites are not present. And in many ways, the cultural site formation processes are more varied, resulting in archaeological sites of the recent past being either extremely well or very poorly preserved. Comparatively few modern buildings simply deteriorate for example, the more likely outcome being a decision to renovate, modernize, upgrade, or demolish and replace. Those buildings and places that are just abandoned to their fate are interesting because they are often adopted for truly alternative uses, sometimes becoming the characteristic places of those at the margins of contemporary society, as squats for example, or places for play, or where drugs are taken and alcohol consumed.

Keywords:   Aerial photographs, Bletchley Park, Chernobyl, Discard, Earthwork survey, Field methods, Genocide, Heritage, Khmer Rouge, Landscape

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