Authority and the production of knowledge in archaeology
A PhD Thesis by Tera Pruitt, University of Cambridge
Article mis en ligne le 18 octobre 2012

par Irna

This thesis examines the role of authority in the production of archaeological knowledge. It examines how fluid ideas and observations formed in the field become authoritative, factual, solid archaeological products, like scientific texts, reconstructions or museum displays. It asks, what makes a person, a thing or an account of history something that is authoritative ? What makes someone an authority on the past ? What is archaeological authority ? This thesis deconstructs and exposes authority in archaeological practice. It targets how practitioners of archaeology actively enact, construct and implement authority in the process of producing knowledge. Formal representations of the past rely heavily on an underlying notion of the ‘authoritative account’. The entire process of reconstructing the past in archaeology is dependent on individuals and institutions existing as authorities, who actively or passively imply that artefacts, sites and final interpretations are ‘authentic’ or have ‘fidelity’ to the past. This study examines how authority and acts of legitimation are employed and distributed through the medium of science, and how they need to be actively performed in order to acquire and maintain status. This thesis not only argues that authority is embedded in every stage of the archaeological process, but importantly, it identifies how this authority manifests through the medium of scientific acts.

This thesis is structured around two comparative case studies : one case of professional archaeology and one case of alternative archaeology. Both are archaeological sites that produce their own ‘authoritative’ accounts of the past through practices, publications and presentations. The first case is the professional archaeological project of Çatalhöyük in the Republic of Turkey, under the direction of Ian Hodder at Stanford University. This case offers insights about how the processes of inscription, translation and blackboxing establish and maintain authority in archaeological practice. It also addresses how physical and intellectual space, as well as issues of access in localised knowledge-producing social arenas, affect archaeological authority. The second case is the controversial pseudoarchaeological project in Visoko, Bosnia, commonly referred to as the Bosnian Pyramids. This project, under the direction of amateur archaeologist Semir Osmanagić, has successfully created an account of prehistory that has been received by the general Bosnian public as authoritative, despite objections by the professional archaeological community. This case demonstrates how authority can be constructed, mimicked and performed by drawing on academic arenas of scientific practice and by eager public participation. Specifically, this case study highlights the importance of socio-politics, authoritative institutions and performative behaviour in the construction of archaeological authority.

Link to the pdf text of the Thesis

See particularly
Chapter Five : Authority in Politics and Performance : The Bosnian Pyramids as a Case Study
Appendix E Email Interview with Semir Osmanagić
Appendix F Email Interview 1 with Andrew Lawler
Appendix G Email Interview 2 with Andrew Lawler