A few months ago I began the laborious (and downright frustrating) task of writing a history of research for the Bronze Age in Croatia and Serbia. The majority of literature is culture-historical in orientation. This means that the primary focus has been on establishing a chronological development through a discussion of artefact typologies. Quite frankly I find this all extremely dull, not to mention infinitely complex and in some cases almost incomprehensible. Often when reading the extensive descriptions of pottery vessels and metal objects I am plagued by the question: ‘so what exactly is this telling me?’ Frequently this is left unanswered.
Many archaeologists in this part of the world are what I would term ‘culture happy.’ By this I mean that all objects and sites are designated to a cultural group based on appearance, style and their date. In some cases though using this approach is nonsensical; Bronze Age material culture in this area is so complex (and in some cases just plain weird), and often researchers are left stumped and even more confused. By trying endlessly to place artefacts and sites into precise little groups, are we as archaeologists completely missing the point?
There seems to be an incessant pandemic, not just in central Europe, where academics are fearful of ‘getting it wrong.’ Perhaps this is a product of the academic system itself. Yet it is just not enough anymore to think that the material speaks for itself, and provide safe answers to the same safe questions. As archaeologists, we need to concentrate more on the questions we ask as opposed to the answers we generate. Questions that incite imagination, exploration and encourage us to think outside of the box open up all sorts of possibilities. It is possibility that enables fresh thinking, making our wonderful discipline even more exciting and dynamic.