On Archaeology and the Study of Ritual: Considering Inadequacies in the Culture-History Approach and Quests for Internal “Meaning”


Mason contends that we (Howey and O'Shea 2006) created a "chimera" of the Missaukee Earthworks site as a regional ceremonial center in Late Prehistoric Michigan (A.D. 1200-1600) by misinterpreting archaeological and ethnohistoric data. In considering Mason's critique, we re-emphasize the value, and methods, of studying ritual via material remains and show that Mason’s arguments simply serve to exemplify why the culture-historic approach has failed in its effort to understand the pre-contact Native cultures of the Great Lakes. Whitley contends we are misguided about the aims of archaeological studies of ritual and the place of "meaning" in these studies. In considering the "meaning" archaeologists seek in our studies of past ritual, we emphasize the problems we see in quests for what is ultimately immaterial and unrecoverable, the internal or emotive "meaning" of past ritual.

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Cambridge University Press

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© Society for American Archaeology 2009