Discussion and Debate: In Defense of a Contextual Classical Archaeology
Keywords:archaeological context, archaeological interpretation, Greek sanctuaries, Greek sculpture, museums, symposia
AbstractIn two recent articles in JMA, Robin Osborne (2015) and, in a response, James Whitley (2016) present compelling, if provocative, thoughts on the methodological and intellectual divergence between the study of artifacts derived from contexts produced by archaeological excavation, and those from museum collections often lacking well-documented provenience. While both authors acknowledge the importance of excavation and museum collections, the polarization of perspectives is a thought-provoking reflection on research process and practice in classical archaeology. The thread of discussion, however, focuses on objects as sources, leaving the actual archaeological context in the background, effectively limiting its function to the definition of a spatiotemporal framework or provenience of source material for answering historical questions. Drawing on examples from excavations at classical Vergina and Athens, and recent discussion of archaeological practice and the meaning of archaeological context, this contribution re-explores the intellectual divisions that constitute the field of classical archaeology. It does not take issue with Osborne's or Whitley's case studies in particular-indeed both are interesting and valuable-but seeks rather to recenter the discussion on the implications of archaeological context itself for developing new questions in classical archaeology.
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