Monday, February 16, 2015

Childe's First Steps

This week's readings emphasized the role of archaeology in proving theory and how these theories come into play in the course of archaeological research. Childe especially came under the microscope as a particular example of how even the most sophisticated anthropological theories benefit from archaeology. The reading that encapsulates these ideas the most efficiently is undoubtedly "Prehistory and Marxism" by Childe himself. He articulates eloquently the common and not so common theories for the rise of civilization. In class, we talked quite enough about how archaeology played into this story, so I would like to instead focus on one anthropological theory in particular. His theories on how and why cooperation is possible put into words what other anthropologists I have read have circled around in entire books:

"It [cooperation] is always stimulated by symbols and beliefs that reinforce or entirely replace the supposedly innate urges to feed oneself and rear a family...And in general just one kind of ideology--institutions, beliefs, ideals--will keep that organization running most smoothly." 

My understanding of this statement is that in order for civilization (characterized by division of labour, specialization, technology and centralized authority) to occur, humans must have a reason to leave behind their initial instincts to serve only themselves and to reproduce. Childe argues that this reason is a unified ideology and I cannot help but agree with him. I know this to be true not from extensive research, but from current observations (something I think Childe would have smiled upon). My very life depends upon this being true as my father is a minister and makes a living caring for the religious life of our community. Without ideologies and religion, I would not have money for school and my parents would have had to spend their time only putting food on the table. My academic career rests on the idea that ideology allowed for civilization to form just as much as Childe's did.

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