After the Revolution


The demonstration in the teens that culture change was analytically visible in the shifting frequencies of pottery types was truly innovative and revolutionary. Stratigraphy, or more correctly, superposition of pottery assemblages, confirmed that such shifts in frequencies were chronological indicators. But while stratigraphic excavation had initially served a confirmational role in chronology building and continued in that role, it quickly—by the mid-1920s—came to serve a largely creational role. As Judd (1929:408) observed late in that decade, “Chronology is the key that will unlock many secrets of American prehistory and stratigraphy is the stuff of which chronology is made.” Nelson (1937) made virtually identical remarks a decade later. Neither mentioned that it was percentage stratigraphy and seriation that had made culture change visible or that superposition had long been known to document the passage of time. Such statements no doubt contributed to the perception of many historians of Americanist archaeology that there was a “stratigraphic revolution” in the teens. The substantive literature of the time also no doubt contributed to that perception.


Culture History Stone Tool Ideational Unit Historical Type Depositional Unit 
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© Plenum Press, New York 1997

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