The Future of Archaeology in the Age of Presentism

  • Laurent Olivier Musée d’Archéologie
Keywords: Anthropocene, archaeology of the present, presentism

Abstract

The Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce proposed that “every true history is a contemporary history”, meaning that any historical enquiry is basically a dialogue between present society and the past(s). Quite similarly, we may claim that “all true archaeology is an archaeology of the present”: this is not only because any archaeological approach to the past is undertaken from the present; more fundamentally, it is because, as an assemblage of material things, the present is made of all the remains of the past which are still surviving within the materiality of our present time. But what could this mean, an “archaeology of the present”? And how does it challenge the conventional archaeology that we have been taught to practice? Foremost, an archaeology of the present looks at things, observing how human activity has transformed – or is transforming – the materiality of the world around people. In doing so, such an approach is no longer directed towards the past in itself (seen as the temporality where the origins of everything take place); rather, it points towards the future, stressing all kinds of processes of emergence. Time, thus, is no longer uni-linear and sequential: developing in the long run, it becomes instead multi-linear and periodical – that is to say, filled with returns, survivals and disappearances. And contexts, also, are transformed, since, at every moment in time they may connect many different environments.

Author Biography

Laurent Olivier, Musée d’Archéologie

Prof. Laurent Olivier is Curator in chief at the Musée d’Archéologie nationale at Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France) and a lecturer at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE, Paris). His research interests include history and theory of the archaeological discipline, as well as the archaeology of the present. His most recent book is devoted to the “germanisation” of European archaeology during the Nazi period (Nos ancêtres les Germains. Les archéologues français et allemands au service du nazisme. Paris, Tallandier, 2012).

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Published
2019-06-26
How to Cite
Olivier, L. (2019). The Future of Archaeology in the Age of Presentism. Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, 6(1), 16-31. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.33674