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The Significance of Ethnographic Observation Essay

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Updated: Feb 12th, 2019

Ethnography proved to be a very important source for various data for archeological researches. Ethnographic observations may shed light on numerous “gaps” in the study of Prehistoric times. Data obtained during ethnographic surveys may also raise numerous questions and refute some commonly accepted theories which turn to be quite doubtful.

Many remarkable ethnographic works contribute to the development of the overall study. For instance, the works by Arthur or Silitoe and Hardy provide data which, by all means, should be taken into consideration by archeologists. Thus, Arthur observes, Xauta women, a group of a Kongo modern community, whereas Silitoe and Hardy Wola community of New Guinea. Both researches focus on the use of lithic tools and raise some important questions to be answered by archeologists.

The two works under consideration study the role of lithics as working tools and the influence of the working tools on the distribution of social roles in the society. The authors research the use of stone by modern communities which may shed light on the role of the development of stone tools in Prehistoric times.

These works research the labor patterns of people, they depict some details of the ways people in modern communities work. The authors focus on different aspects of the issue, and both of them make somewhat unexpected conclusions. Thus, Arthur concentrates on the role of women in the use of lithics and the role of females in the development of Prehistoric communities, whereas Sillitoe and Hardy study the use of stone tools and their role in the Prehistoric period.

Interestingly, Silitoe and Hardy suggest that archeologist should rethink “the place of stone tools within society and material culture” (Silitoe & Hardy 563). The data obtained by Silitoe and interpreted by Hardy testify that the modern community Wola uses more than two hundred kinds of raw materials to produce different tools, however, lithic materials are the most lasting ones, i.e. stone tools can be preserved for centuries while other materials vanish in several years (Silitoe & Hardy 563).

These findings prove that archeologist should take into account the development of modern communities in reconstructing the past. Likewise, Arthur casts doubt on the commonly accepted theories in archeology, however, the author is concentrated on the role of women in Prehistoric communities and offers “an alternative to the man-the-toolmaker model and redefining Western “naturalized” gender roles (Arthur 228).

Thus, the survey provides data that testify that women reveal quite sophisticated skills in tools making and, despite the widespread theory that women are not scrupulous in raw materials use, proves that females “prefer high-quality stone raw materials to ensure the quality” of their products (Arthur 238). So, the ethnographic observations revealed in the studies under consideration provide archeologists with new data which can shed light on many historic issues.

These new perspectives contribute to the development of the middle-range theory. Of course, archeologists have very few details to construct the trustful theories about the life in Prehistoric times. They only have remains of some tools which can lead to distorted facts (Silitoe & Hardy 563).

Fortunately, ethnographic observations may lead to deep understanding of the behavior of prehistoric people. For instance, Silitoe and Hardy dwell upon the types of work done by males and females, and working tools produces by men and women (562).

Besides, Silitoe and Hardy suggest that archeologist may be mistaken while determining “activity areas on the basis of the distribution of stone artefacts” (560). Thus, the survey data suggest that working tools are unlikely to have been “discarded within a working area”, but rather lost or put aside, while the majority of tools was rather kept nearby to be easily reached whenever it can be necessary (Silitoe and Hardy 560).

The survey also depicts certain operations which are made while producing some particular tools (Silitoe and Hardy 558). Likewise, Arthur depicts various techniques in producing working tools and collecting raw material (229). The survey reveals valuable data concerning working techniques, workers’ age and skills (Arthur 234). On the basis of the data obtained Arthur comes to unexpected conclusions.

Thus, as opposed to the common believe that women used to do less skilled work and use less sophisticated techniques and tools, the observation of the modern community in Africa has proved that women were responsible for a respectful work, i.e. hidework which required sophisticated skills, significant strengths and high-quality tools (Arthur 238).

Moreover, ethnographic observations helped reveal social dynamics which resulted in Arthur’s suggestion that “women are among – if not the first of—the earliest stone toolmakers, that women are responsible for Stone Age scraper tool kits” and that it is impossible to “solely associate high-quality formal stone tools with men” (238). Thus, it is obvious that such data and observations add a lot of answers to archeologists’ questions.

Of course, not only behavior connected with labor can be studied with the help of the ethnographic observations. Many other useful data can be used by archeologists. For instance, it is possible to observe social stratification. It is possible to note what social strata exist within the modern communities.

Ethnographic observations may focus on privileges and duties people of different social layers accomplish. It can be helpful to depict the signs of privileged layer and lower layers. Such signs can be revealed in cloths, items of personal decoration, and some other attributes. It can be also helpful to observe behavioral patterns with different age groups. Archeologists may find out many details from ethnographic researches in this field.

For instance, it is possible to observe what roles people of different ages play in modern communities. It can be essential to understand the place which elderly people occupy in such communities. It will enable archeologist to draw conclusions about the possible reasons for societies flourishing, surviving or vanishing. By all means, such data will enable archeologists to understand many processes which took place in Prehistoric times.

To conclude, it is possible to point out that ethnographic surveys reveal valuable data about the development of modern communities which can be used for the reconstruction of the development of people communities in Prehistoric times. Thus, on the basis of such surveys scientists can come to deeper understanding of the major changes and stages of development of Prehistoric people.

Moreover, concentrating on various aspects ethnographic observations are certain to provide comprehensive and trustful details for further archeological analysis and acquisition. All this brings up the necessity to further develop ethnography and continue researches in this field.

Works Cited

Arthur, K.W. “Feminine Knowledge and Skill Reconsidered: Women and Flaked Stone Tools.” American Anthropologist 112.2 (2010): 228-243.

Sillitoe, P. & Hardy, K. “Living Lithics: Ethnoarchaelogy in Highland Papua New Guinea.” Antiquity 77.297 (2003): 555-566.

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