Virtual Bricolage

If any statement about the past is unavoidably made in the present, it is also unavoidably an analogy. An analogy is the use of information derived from one context, in this case usually the present, to explain data found in another context, in this case the past. … We always make an assumption that things in the past were like - analogous to - the present. Analogy underpins even the most mundane interpretation. Consider, for example, the way we assign function to objects: 'this was a storage vessel'. We argue that it was a storage vesselin the past because its form (large, sturdy, undecorated) would make it seem natural to us to use it in this way in the present. Further, we strengthen our argument through the other analogies. The object was found with others of the same type in a room of an ancient palace adjacent to a food preparation area, which we label a 'kitchen' … - another analogy with the present. Chemical analysis reveals the object contained food remains - again by analogy with the present, we infer that the vessel was used to store food.
(Johnson 1999: 48)

Dr Liliana Janik | Oct 2003
Further reading:
  • Binford, L., 1968, 'Methodological considerations of the archaeological use of ethnographic data', in Lee, R.B. and Devore, I. (eds.), Man the Hunter, Pp. 268-73, Chicago University Press, Chicago
  • Johnson, M., 1999, Archaeological Theory: an introduction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford
  • Orme, B., 1974, 'Twentieth century historians and the idea of ethnographic parallels', Man 9: 199-212