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World prehistories and the development of a global archaeological narrative

Author(s): Chris Scarre

Year: 2017

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The origins of prehistoric archaeology as a discipline lie in the New Learning of the 16th and 17th centuries and derive from a number of sources: antiquarian researches in northwest Europe; European exploration and the encounter with non-European peoples; and speculative accounts of human origins and development. It was only in the 19th century that these strands first began to be woven together to create a global narrative of human prehistory. Such a narrative raises a number of problematic issues: regional balance, thematic emphasis, and cross-cultural perspectives. As early as 1896 Franz Boas criticised the ‘comparative method of anthropology’, and some post-processualists of the 1980s and 1990s entirely rejected the validity and utility of cross-cultural analysis. Prehistoric archaeology, however, offers the unique advantage of viewing the development of human societies over the long-term and in global perspective. In the current age of globalisation such a perspective should be more relevant than ever before. This paper reviewed the development of global narratives of human prehistory over the past 150 years and explore the theoretical and practical challenges that they present.

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World prehistories and the development of a global archaeological narrative. Chris Scarre. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430781)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 13261

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America