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The Future of Archaeology in the Age of Presentism

Issue: Vol 6 No. 1 (2019) Special Issue: Futurity, Time, and Archaeology

Journal: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology

Subject Areas: Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jca.33674


The Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce proposed that “every true history is a contemporary history”, meaning that any historical enquiry is basically a dialogue between present society and the past(s). Quite similarly, we may claim that “all true archaeology is an archaeology of the present”: this is not only because any archaeological approach to the past is undertaken from the present; more fundamentally, it is because, as an assemblage of material things, the present is made of all the remains of the past which are still surviving within the materiality of our present time. But what could this mean, an “archaeology of the present”? And how does it challenge the conventional archaeology that we have been taught to practice? Foremost, an archaeology of the present looks at things, observing how human activity has transformed – or is transforming – the materiality of the world around people. In doing so, such an approach is no longer directed towards the past in itself (seen as the temporality where the origins of everything take place); rather, it points towards the future, stressing all kinds of processes of emergence. Time, thus, is no longer uni-linear and sequential: developing in the long run, it becomes instead multi-linear and periodical – that is to say, filled with returns, survivals and disappearances. And contexts, also, are transformed, since, at every moment in time they may connect many different environments.

Author: Laurent Olivier

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