In this blog post I wanted to talk about the idea of context within archaeology. Context in Archaeology is not only the place where an object is found, the soil type, the culture that may have used it and the sort of archaeological site it may have been found at. Context is also the idea of what the object can be used as. The best example that I can come up with if from the beloved Disney Film, The Little Mermaid. I do not want this to seem unscholarly because I am referencing a Disney Princess Movie that is made as pure entertainment but this example has merit. Ariel (The Little Mermaid) is given a shiny pronged object that has teeth and handle. The only thing she knows about it is that it is made by humans. She asks her friend Scuttle who happens to be a talking seagull (yes, I know what you are thinking but please remember this is an example from Disney that we are working with here), what it could be. Scuttle being the all knowing water fowl explains to her that it is a DingleHopper. The DingleHopper is for vanity purposes only, it is in essence a hair brush or comb. And Ariel procedes to brush her hair with it several times throughout the film.
Thinking contextually in Archaeology If you were to come across something you had never seen before, what would the first thing that you did? You would start to compare it to things that you are already familiar with! The human brain can only create things in the mind that already have some presence in our memories. (Its why most science fiction creatures are based off of creatures that habitat our planet already) With that being said a shiny pronged object with a handle could very well be what Ariel thought, a hair brush. But for those of us who have no been raised by fish, we understand that the object is in fact a Fork. Yes the fish girl was combing her hair with an eating utensil.
The point I am trying to make here is that. Unless we completely understand the context in which an object is found, we can know very little about it. That Native scalping tool that you just found, in the site where the ancient kitchen is being dug up, might actually just be a meat carving utensil. Also we do not always have a full understanding of a culture that we might make to great mistake of thinking a fork is a comb. And that is all Context