Review by Gwyneth Evans : Archaeological Theory in the New Millennium: Introducing Current Perspectives

Review by Gwyneth Evans (IAFS alumni)

Harris, O. and Cipolla, C. 2017. Archaeological Theory in the New Millennium: Introducing Current Perspectives. London: Routledge.

I was not looking forward to reading this book when assigned it in my capstone class. I expected it to be bone dry and yawn inducing and was pleasantly surprised when it was the exact opposite. Harris and Cipolla bring the topic of archaeological theory to the forefront as an interesting subject that is often not seen as such. When discussing archaeological theory, in my experience, many see it as a chore. As something that is so boring and painful, it’s best avoided and unquestioned so as to keep the pain to a minimum. In this book, no such thing happens. Archaeological theory is shown to be highly complex and shown in a grayscale, rather than black and white.

Harris and Cipolla keep it upbeat and interesting with relatable stories and illustrations. They make further use of the stories and illustrations to explain theoretical approaches and the problems within them. The use of examples and theories outside of archaeology is also incredibly refreshing and useful as it shows how they all connect in the grand scheme of things. Through this book, I have gained a greater understanding of archaeological theory. A topic that once pained me and confused me is now one of my favorite topics, due to this book.

This book confronts the problematic thinking within archaeology with the 3 major theories (culture history, processualism, post-processualism) and suggests ways we can try to avoid bias and dualisms within the field of archaeology. They challenge these ideas with new perspectives that allows for the integration of multiple theories and ideas so that a greater understanding of the past can be achieved. The authors show their frustration of the current theoretical state of things with deep debates on current topics. Harris and Cipolla have opened up a topic that was very formal and uptight and made it more understandable and inclusive to everyone so that the topic can be further explored. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to analyze archaeology in new lenses as well as furthering their knowledge on theory in general.