Archaeological Pragmatics

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Citation: Robert W. Preucel & Alexander A. Bauer Archaeological Pragmatics. Norwegian Archaeological Review, 34:2, 85-96 (RSS)




As a model for understanding material culture, the notion of semiotics was used in archaeology, especially among Postprocessualist. In this article, the authors deal with Saussurean, post-Saussurean, application of both Saussureans in archaeology and Peirce’s semiotics.

The difference (also characteristic) of processualists and Post processualists is that the processualist pay attention to functional, adaptive, or behavioural meanings while Post processualist to symboloic, structural or practice-oriented meanings, this difference considered as incommensurable. Among both processualists, the characteristic of Post processualist shares some part of the content with Saussure who regards linguistics coming from human knowledge as ‘special case’ (as role of symbol) within semiological system.

Saussure’s (Semiology) concept impacted on Strauss who studied the universal working of the human mind (mental structure) and spread out through North America and Britain despite of critiques in 1960s. Since then, Hodder, Post processualist, used it as structuralism for the first time and develop as an archaeological example of contextual approach. There were three problems was found in Hodder’s relating meaning of material culture and three difference was also recognised between written counterparts and material culture. After Hodder, Peirce-based semiotic approach was accepted. Singer (1978) said that both approaches of semiology and semiotic differ in terms of their subject matter, specific concepts, laws, epistemology and ontology although they share same purpose. And Singer chose the Peirce’s approach since it has a theory of the relationship of meaning, objects, and behavior. Peirce’s approach can interpret one signs as three different meanings such as iconic, indexical and symbolic which are useful to apply to archaeology. Peirce classified interpretant in to three categories, emotional, energetic, and logical. The authors points out that these characteristic of Peirce’s approach is well matched with archaeologists.