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Stratum Plus. 2000. № 1

L. S. Klejn (St.-Petersburg, Russia)

Archaeological Periodisation: Approaches and Criteria

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Pages: 485-515

Thomsen’s Three Ages scheme (Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages) was a classification based on artefacts association in assemblages and on the idea of technological progress. In the modern archaeological periodisation this threepartite scheme practically is absent. It is replaced by a much more developed scheme of minimally six ages (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Aeneolithic, Bronze and Iron Age). Thomsen did not consider his scheme as a periodisation. Montelius did nor distinguish periodisation from relative chronology. Yet periodisation is foremost a kind of classification, while in chronology the main thing is dating. Periodisation divides material issuing from cultural similarity, while cronology from relations in time. In this work difficulties of periodisation are considered. This is the problem of self-dependency of archaeology as a basis of periodisation (impact of palaeontological and other naturalist criteria). This are also problems with technological criterion (how many subdivisions, which objects used as the basis etc.): standard pattern, exactness and absolutness of this criterion are questioned. Further it is disputable if the scheme represents a global periodisation or it would be better to work out local schemes. It is disputable too, to qualify this scheme as total cultural periodisation or narrowly technological. The crisis of the system was produced by the fact the phenomena belonging to the development of tool techology are connected with certain phenomena from other spheres of culture not so rigidly as they seemed to. This was shown by the discoveries of the ceramicless Neolithic or of Neolithic without productive economy etc. The Americans in general have elaborated the scheme of archaeological periodisation based on the development of other spheres of culture, without basing on tools. Some scholars consider archaeological periodisation in general as a conventional scheme not reflecting the reality. The seat of the trouble is probably in that many archaologists unconsciously believe that only one periodisation is possible in archaeology. However archaeological material is polisemic and has many aspects. In culture there are various spheres governed by their autonomous laws, each sphere being able to have its own periodisation. Among them the technological one retains an important significance + according to the role of technology in culture and in connection with the specificity of archaeology.

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