Monday, February 4, 2013

Reading about monuments

I am reading Early New World Monumentality, a book edited by Richard L. Burger and Robert M. Rosenswig, which has good coverage from around the Americas, although there are perhaps more from South America. I have found each of the chapters I have read to be very useful. The idea I want to examine in my own work is that monumentality is best considered as an independent phenomenon, a point that is brought up explicitly in the editor’s introduction, by at least one of the papers (the chapter by Sassaman and Randall on shell mounds in Central Florida) and implicitly in the range of interpretations that the various authors put forward.
If monumentality can be recognized in the archaeological record as constructions that are “over engineered” or made larger or more elaborate than they need to be, then it would seem that monumentality comes in many different varieties, and in association with many different attributes. That is to say, monumentality varies independently from other kinds of social, political and cultural factors. Reflecting on the pioneering work of Renfrew with monuments in Neolithic England, Rosenswig and Burger show how easily circular reasoning can seep into archaeological interpretation. Sassaman and Randall’s chapter documents their work with very early monumental architecture on the St. John’s in Florida, and advances an interesting interpretation relating these monuments to societies with dual social organization, based on ceramics and spatial analyses.

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