Prosthetic Angels: Empirical Anxiety and Rationalizing Vision in Archaeology

Author(s): Kathryn Franklin

Year: 2015


Working from tensions within historical and landscape archaeology, this paper examines the stress expressed by the question: "how can we know what happened in the past if we weren’t there?" This query shapes much of the analytical framework within archaeology and underlies anxious discussions of archaeology’s status as a ‘real’ science. At the heart of both this anxiety of "how do we know" and the ways in which we cope with it methodologically are assumptions about what facts are and how (or whether) they can be made. Among these assumptions is that of a close (if not identical) relation between observation and knowledge, and a privileging of empirical facts over other forms of truth. These assumptions spring from an entrenched western conviction that vision is the prime route to understanding, which persists despite progressive reflexivity among archaeologists. This conviction drives ongoing ambivalence towards history as data, and motivates fetishization of the visual in practices such as landscape archaeology, a prime example of making-visible so as to make-knowable. This paper argues that, rather than maintaining narrative in opposition to observation, the benefit of an expanding barrage of empirical tools is in enriching the stories we construct about the past.

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Cite this Record

Prosthetic Angels: Empirical Anxiety and Rationalizing Vision in Archaeology. Kathryn Franklin. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395534)