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The face of pre-history - Routin Lin, Northumberland UK
To imagine the world behind the ruin in the land,
behind the sherd of antique pottery.
This is the work of the archaeological imagination.
Since before my book Experiencing the past (1992) I have been concerned with what makes archaeology so fascinating to so many.
What is archaeology?
Archaeology is what archaeologists do. This answer is not a tautology. It refers us to the practices of archaeology. And to the conditions under which archaeologists work - the institutions and infrastructures, the politics and pragmatics of getting archaeological work done.
Archaeologists work on what is left of the past. Archaeology is about relationships - between past and present, between archaeologist and traces and remains. Archaeology is a set of mediating practices - working on remains to translate, to turn them into something sensible - inventory, account, narrative, explanation, whatever.
Archaeology is a way of acting and thinking - about what is left of the past, about the temporality of remainder, about material and temporal processes to which people and their goods are subject, about the processes of order and entropy, of making, consuming and discarding at the heart of human experience.
"Archaeological Sensibility" and "Archaeological Imagination" are terms to summarize components of these mediating and transformative practices. Sensibility refers us to the perceptual components of how we engage with the remains of the past. Imagination refers us to the creative component - to the transforming work that is done on what is left over.
Forthcoming: Archaeopaedia - a glossary of the archaeological imagination - http://archaeopaedia.com