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Archaeological Semiotics / Edition 1

Archaeological Semiotics / Edition 1

by Robert W. Preucel
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This important book examines archaeology’s engagement with semiotics, from its early structuralist beginnings to its more recent Peircian encounters. Its central thesis is that archaeology is a distinctive kind of semiotic enterprise; one devoted to giving meaning to the past in the present through the study of materiality. It compliments standard studies of linguistics and reformulates contemporary theories of material culture.

The author develops his thesis by first introducing Saussure and reviewing his legacy across structural, symbolic, and cognitive anthropology. He then introduces the Peircian alternative and highlights its influence on pragmatic anthropology. Of special interest are the discussions of the interrelations of structuralism and processual archaeology, poststructuralism and postprocessual archaeologies, and cognitive science and cognitive archaeology. He then provides two innovative case studies, Brook Farm and the Pueblo Revolt, to demonstrate how a semiotic approach can contribute novel insights regarding the material mediation of social orders.

Throughout his analysis, the author emphasizes the close links between archaeology and other social sciences, but also contends that archaeology, by virtue of the powerful ideological character of the past, opens up new spaces for discourse and dialogue. He proposes that, in this way, archaeology can make an original contribution to contemporary semiotics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781405199131
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 05/10/2010
Series: Social Archaeology Series , #5
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Robert W. Preucel is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Associate Curator of North American Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught previously at Southern Illinois University and Harvard University and has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge. He is co-editor of Contemporary Archaeology in Theory (with Ian Hodder, Blackwell 1996).

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Table of Contents

List of Figures.

List of Tables.



1. Introduction.

What is Semiotics?.

Archaeology and Semiotics.

Theorizing Material Culture.

Organization of Book.

Part I. Signs of Meaning.

2. Saussure and his Legacy.

Ferdinand de Saussure.

Semiology and Structural Lingustics.

Saussure and Modern Linguistics.

Structural Anthropology.

Symbolic and Cognitive Anthropology.


3. The Peircian Alternative.

Charles Sanders Peirce.


Peirce and Modern Philosophy.

Peirce and Modern Linguistics.

The Life of the Sign.


4. Pragmatic Anthropology.

Peircian Encounters.


Self and Social Identity.

Material Culture Meanings.


Part II: Aspects of a Semiotic Archaeology.

5. Structuralism and Processal Archaeology.

A Brief History of Processual Archaeology.

Rules and Representations.

Information Exchange.

Ideology and Structural Marxism.


6. Poststructuralism and Postprocessual Archaeologies.

A Brief History of Postprocessual Archaeologies.

From Structure to Practice.

Reading Material Culture.

Material Culture as Text.

Material Metaphors.


7. Cognitive Science and Cognitive Archaeology.

A Brief History of Cognitive Archaeology.

The Evolution of Mind.

Cognitive Processes.


Part III: Archaeological Case Studies.

8. Brook Farm and Architecture of Utopia.

Utopian Architecture.

The Brook Farm Historical Site.

Semiotic Ideologies of Social Reform.

Finding Utopia.

Houses as Social Actors.

Representing Brook Farm.


9. In the Aftermath of the Pueblo Revolt.

The New Mexico Colony.

The Pueblo Revitalization Movement.

“Living in Accord with the Laws of the Ancestors”.

Kotyiti Archaeology.

Social Dynamics at Kotyiti Pueblo.

Regional Settlement Pattern.

Signs of the Times.


10. Material Meanings in Practice.

On Cables and Chains.

Integrating Words and Things.

Semiotic Ideologies.

Towards a Pragmatic Archaeology.




What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"As a reference text for the vast literature on semiotics across a multi-disciplinary field, this book is certainly a most useful aide."
Archaeological Review from Cambridge

"Preucel's book reviews the work of Peirce in the context of contemporary archaeology. Its importance lies in the fact that it will introduce that work to a wider audience."
Cambridge Archaeological Journal

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