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Commentary One: Archaeology And Its Discontents

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Chapter Summary

David Austin's argument is that medieval archaeology had allowed itself to be trapped in the documentary historians' agenda. Medieval archaeologists had certainly all too often interpreted their data in ways ultimately driven by particular readings of the written sources. Austin's overall argument-that archaeologists should have more confidence in the explanatory power of their data-is surely correct but its details betray misunderstandings at several levels. Instead of documentary history, Austin thinks that medieval archaeologists might instead turn to 'social theory and anthropology, the main disciplines to which prehistorian colleagues have turned. Matthew Johnson believes in the study of documents and archaeology together, to increase the contextual information available. He is also realistic about the potentials of material cultural data to yield more than suggestions about ideas and attitudes.

Keywords: David Austin; documentary history; medieval archaeology



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