The Words that Archaeologists Choose

A Maltese Case Study in Artifact Terminology, Corpus Linguistics and Discourse Analysis


  • Allison Burkette University of Kentucky
  • Robin Skeates Durham University



archaeology, artifacts, corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, language, prehistoric Malta, text, words


Writing is the means by which archaeological knowledge is produced, shared and negotiated, which is why, as part of a wider reflexive archaeology, writing within the discipline has come under scrutiny. When writing, archaeologists make choices about what words to use to express their ideas about the past (even if these choices are sometimes subconscious). This study examines such choices via the application of methods from two linguistic subdisciplines, corpus linguistics and discourse analysis, to a case study of Maltese archaeological texts and terms for a specific yet problematic type of Maltese artifact (axe-amulets/pendants). Using these methods, we connect political and theoretical shifts to changes in English-language use and terminology across three periods of Maltese archaeological history, demonstrating how authors choose words that reflect the broader assumptions and understandings that inform their work. In sum, this paper contributes to an increasingly critically aware understanding of the history of colonial and postcolonial archaeology in Malta and other Mediterranean islands and encourages writers to have a heightened awareness of the taken-for-granted but fundamental part that language plays in their poetics and politics.

Author Biography

  • Robin Skeates, Durham University

    Robin Skeates is Professor of Archaeology at Durham University. He is a specialist in central Mediterranean prehistory and works across the interrelated fields of material, visual and sensual culture studies, and museum and heritage studies. He is author of An Archaeology of the Senses: Prehistoric Malta (Oxford University Press, 2010), and recently co-edited (with Jo Day) The Routledge Handbook of Sensory Archaeology (Routledge, 2020).


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How to Cite

Burkette, A., & Skeates, R. (2022). The Words that Archaeologists Choose: A Maltese Case Study in Artifact Terminology, Corpus Linguistics and Discourse Analysis. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 35(1), 85-107.