In Context: Meaning, Materiality and Agency in the Process of Archaeological Recording

  • Thomas Yarrow

Text and Context

This chapter is concerned with archaeological ‘context sheets’, pro forma documents that are central to the way in which most British archaeological sites are recorded.1Whilst ostensibly unremarkable, they pose a number of interpretive challenges. As with documents more generally, the representational logic they engender seems to direct attention away from their own material and artefactual properties. Conceived as passive representations of the material properties of ‘the site’, their own material properties are paradoxically obscured, along with their capacity to cohere and elicit a variety of actions. Moreover, as literal embodiments of ‘context’, they seem to confound the anthropological assumption that context somehow exists outside or beyond the text itself.

In a discussion of the concept of the ‘archaeological record’, Edgeworth ( 2003) highlights the conceptual difficulty entailed in simultaneously imagining texts as both artefact and meaning:

A written record...


Material Culture Archaeological Record Material World Archaeological Fieldwork Site Supervisor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



In writing about archaeological fieldwork, my ‘informants’ have also been some of my most astute and perceptive critics. In particular, I wish to thank Chantal Conneller, Anwen Cooper, Duncan Garrow, Mark Knight and Lesley McFadyen, who have all contributed to the text at a number of levels. They are not, however, responsible for any shortcomings in the argument itself. The article was written with the support of a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social AnthropologySchool of Social Sciences, University of ManchesterManchesterUK

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