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Ethnoarchaeology is the study of people from an anthropological viewpoint for archaeological reasons, frequently via investigating the physical vestiges of a civilization[1]. In order to appreciate how real people construct archaeological sites, the area of archaeology known as ethnoarchaeology combines sociocultural and archaeological research approaches. Ethnoarchaeology is the study of the material and non-material traditions of modern cultures with the purpose of aiding archaeologists in reconstructing past lifeways. Understanding an object’s production process and intended use is substantially simpler with the aid of ethnoarchaeology. Given a similar set of environmental conditions, archaeologists may infer that ancient societies applied the same tactics as their current counterparts.

Ethnoarchaeology - Anthropology

As a discrete discipline of anthropology, ethnoarchaeology is a relatively young phenomenon. The topic is still evolving, so there isn’t yet a commonly known definition or a totally developed body of theory and practices. The term’s major emphasis is the application of ethnographic techniques and information to help interpret and explain archaeological evidence. An etymologist might argue that the term’s etymological roots indicated that the field data was related to the use of archaeology in the study of living peoples.

The trajectory of the term Ethnoarchaeology

The bulk of current definitions of the term “ethnoarchaeology” confine it to the conditions surrounding the actual field inquiry. For example, Oswalt defines it as “the archaeological study of material culture based on verbal information about artefacts obtained from individuals, or their direct ancestors, who were active in the manufacturing process.”[2]

An even more thorough definition of ethnoarchaeology is provided by Stanislawski, who defines it as “the direct observation field study of the form, manufacture, distribution, meaning, and use of artefacts and their institutional setting and social unit correlates among the living, non-industrial peoples for the purpose of developing better explanatory models to aid archaeological analogy and inference.”[3]

The term “ethno-archaeologist” was first used in 1900 by American archaeologist Jesse Walter Fewkes, who also pushed archaeologists to carry out their own ethnographic research[4]. It wasn’t until the late 1950s and 1960s when archaeologists began delving into the many scientific purposes it may have, that ethnoarchaeology started to earn broad acceptance as a valid subdiscipline of archaeology. Today, ethnoarchaeology is a well-established style of inquiry, and some archaeologists even identify themselves as such rather than simply “archaeologists.”

The Past and Present of Ethnoarchaeology

The idea of incorporating ethnographic data into archaeological research is not new. In actuality, anthropological evidence was employed to establish that ceraunia were, in fact, human creations as early as the seventeenth century established one of the earliest explicit uses of the ethnographic parallel in comprehending what would one day be dubbed archaeological material by comparing ancient stone tools uncovered in France with analogous forms still in use at that time in the New World.

Steward’s “direct-historical technique,” which in reality just baptised the sort of study that had been going on in America and Australia for decades, stimulated archaeologists’ interest in ethnography in the 1940s[5]. Prominent European prehistorians such as Grahame Clark and V. Gordon Childe were seriously debating the use of ethnographic comparison in archaeology.

Careful use of ethnographic parallels was maintained, which attracted criticism from Hawkes, Smith, Leroi-Gourhan, and Laming. They held the belief that there could be no logical relationship between the conduct of modern peoples and that of ancient peoples, and that the use of ethnographic parallels in archaeology was consequently erroneous.

Select diamond styles When it initially started to be developed in North America in the 1990s, intelligence was viewed as an essential component of archaeology[6]. To monitor living civilizations and develop inventories of things of interest to archaeologists, Kleindienst and Watson advised that “active archaeology” be done[7].

 Early in the 1960s, Ascher published a key study that functioned as an implicit forerunner to the creation of the new subdiscipline “Ethnoarchaeology.”[8] He briefly explored some theoretical and methodological difficulties with its application, as well as the origins and history of the ethnographic comparison. He came to the conclusion that “the most fruitful potential for comparison in archaeological interpretation rests in the study of this extraordinarily particular corpus of data [the post-depositional transformation of discarded and abandoned material inside the existing culture.”

Objectives and prerequisites

The overarching purpose of the discipline is to examine and explain the archaeologically exposed relics of past human conduct by employing information gathered in the historical present. One of the most stated aims is to enhance the information’s quality so that archaeologists may use it to construct models and apply analogies.

Certain needs are formed by the purpose of employing the present to assist in comprehending the past. All elements of organised human activity that will leave traces that can be preserved in the archaeological record demand detailed understanding. Understanding the relationship between the patterns of these traces and the patterns of the behaviour that caused them is crucial. This indicates that examinations of living civilizations of a sort that are generally off-limits to traditional ethnographers are necessary.

How to gather the information you need?

There are simply a few locations to look for information that is important to archaeology:

  1. The literature of typical ethnographic research
  2. Early tourist accounts that have been published
  3. Material culture collections held in museums
  4. Research studies
  5. Direct archaeological and ethnographic research

3 Primary Uses of Ethnographic data:

  1. The analogy from ethnography
  2. The construction of models or hypotheses
  3. The examination of hypotheses

Limitations in ethnographic research

Variations in artefact shape and details of spatial interactions between socioeconomic activity traces and disposal processes are typical ethnographic components.- the interaction of subsistence and craft activities with settlement organisation.


This brings us to the conclusion that ethnoarchaeology has been characterised here as a loosely linked but logically related corpus of archaeological and ethnographic study. When something is dubbed “ethnoarchaeology,” it refers to specialised archaeological, ethnographic research where information is obtained for analogy purposes. When anthropological data from written sources, museums, or AE studies is used to construct hypotheses or models, or when it is compared with archaeological evidence to serve as an analogue, the word “using” is applied. Each has a matching theoretical and methodological framework, but when combined, they represent the field of study known as ethnoarchaeology.

Frequently Asked Questions

See Also

Archaeological EthicsEnvironmental ArchaeologyComputational Archaeology
TaphonomyUrban ArchaeologyPrehistoric Archaeology
Cultural Resource ManagementBioarchaeologyZooarchaeology
Archaeological ScienceArchaeometryGeoarchaeology
Computational ArchaeologyArchaeogeneticsMaritime Archaeology
Battlefied ArchaeologyGrave RobberyArchaeobotany
History of ArchaeologyArchaeological ExcavationUnderwater Archaeology
Gender ArchaeologyArchaeological Field SurveyCognitive Archaeology
Feminist ArchaeologyMuseum StudiesLandscape Archaeology
Industrial ArchaeologyExperimental ArchaeologyForensic Archaeology
Archaeological PracticeEcofactsPaleoarchaeology
Historical ArchaeologyPaleopathologyAfrican Archaeology
European ArchaeologyAustralian ArchaeologyRussain Archaeology
Archaeology in IsraelAmerican ArchaeologyArchaeology in China
Medieval ArchaeologyBiblical ArchaeologyNear Eastern Archaeology
Archaeological Dating MethodsPrinciples of Prehistoric ArchaeologyArchaeological Geophysics


[1] David, Nicholas, and Carol Kramer. Ethnoarchaeology in Action. 2001. Bowker, https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Ethnoarchaeology_in_Action.html?id=r__vIw_XUFEC&redir_esc=y

[2] Oswalt, W. H. 1974. Ethnoarchaeology. In Ethnoarchaeology (eds) C. B. Donnan & C. W. Clewlow. Monograph IV, Inst. of Archaeol., UCLA

[3] Stanislawski, M. B. I969a. What good is a broken pot? An experiment in Hopi-Tewa ethno- archaeology. S West. Lore 35, ii-I8

[4] Fewkes, J. W. I893. A-wa-to-bi: an archaeological verification of a Tuseyan legend. Am. Anthrop, 6, 363-75

[5] Steward, J. I942. The direct-historical approach to archaeology. Am. Antiq. 7

[6] Willy, G. I953. Archaeological theories and interpretation: New World. In Anthropology tioday (ed.) A. L. Kroeber. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press.

[7] Watson, P. J., S. LeBlanc & C. L. Redman I97I. Explanation in archaeology. New York: Columbia Univ. Press

[8] Ascher, R. I96Ia. Analogy in archaeological interpretation 317-25

Drishti Kalra - Author at Anthroholic
Drishti Kalra

Drishti Kalra is an Assistant professor at DCAC College in the Department of History, at Delhi University. She is also a PhD Research scholar at the Department of History at Delhi University. She has also been employed as a Research Assistant on two projects at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and JNU. Currently, she is also working as a Research Associate at the DU Centenary Project on the "History of Delhi University". She has lately held positions with institutions such as The Telegraph, Médecins Sans Frontières, Intern, and Hindu Business Line.

Articles: 58

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