154. Technological complexity and archaeological interpretation in the deep past

Matthias Blessing, University of Connecticut; Manuel Will, University of Tuebingen; Samantha Marie Archer, University of Connecticut;

Complexity has been an integral and heavily debated concept within anthropology and archaeology since the disciplines' professionalization in the 19th century. Scholars within these disciplines have used technological complexity to quantify and explain cultural evolution. Using the framework of classic unilineal evolutionism, scholars asserted that past human societies could be placed into strict hierarchies based on their perceived technological complexity. Their scientific authority fuelled linear and progressivist interpretations of Darwinian evolution. While scholars today have distanced themselves from a social evolutionist framework, ideas of linear evolutionary progress and increasing complexity through time persist implicitly in archaeological practice. The concept is mostly invoked in discussions of cultural differences in the deep past when Homo sapiens coexisted with other hominin species. For archaeologists, a persisting question is why we are the only remaining hominin taxon even though we lived alongside other human species for thousands of years. Investigating this question commonly assumes that technological complexity is a proxy for cognitive ability, putting Homo sapiens at the top of a hierarchy of intellectual capacities. This assumption has been used invariably by European powers to assert cultural dominance and justify colonial expansion and imperial rule. In this session we intend to move beyond false understandings of evolution by natural selection as linear progression. This panel invites scholars working on technology from multiple perspectives to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue. We aim to discuss novel ways of studying and understanding technological complexity in the wider context of postcolonial and anti-imperialist thought within and through evolutionary theory.

Contact: matthias.blessing@uni-tuebingen.de, manuel.will@uni-tuebingen.de, samantha.archer@uconn.edu

Keywords: Method and Practice, Archaeology

Published: 04/07/2023