Debating principles of archaeological interpretation. An examination of the work of Leo S. Klejn

Organisers Ludomir Lozny (Hunter College, CUNY) and Stephen Leach (Keele University)

The publication of Leo Klejn’s “A Panorama of Theoretical Archaeology” fractured the intellectual iron curtain and marked the global entrée of Russian (Soviet) archaeology. Since then Leo Klejn is recognized as a leading European archaeologist and is known throughout the world but only to a narrow circle of archaeologists and not always for his main works. Klejn contributed to studies of the Neolithic Period, the Bronze Age, and the Scythian, Sarmatian and Slavic cultures, but his key interests are in archaeological theory and methodology. Over his career he held views that were considered unorthodox – deviating from the accepted line of Marxist-Leninist scholarship in the Soviet Union. He has authored major works on archaeological theory, and although never an ideological Marxist he used Marxism as an analytical tool. In his theoretical thinking Klejn acknowledges two general approaches to archaeological interpretation: one (rooted in material culture) that reconstructs the past and another that seeks to understand it. The session’s objective is to offer a platform for a debate on principles of archaeological interpretation. The speakers will have 20 min. each to critically evaluate Klejn’s reasoning and explanation.


What is archaeology? Paradigm shift in the USSR

Speaker: Sergii Paliienko (Kiev University)

In the USSR of the 1930s and 1940s archaeology was considered a part of the social sciences. Intensive excavations especially after World War II resulted in the accumulation of overwhelming amounts of data and thus created a need for improved archaeological methods and theory. Discussion on the goals and methods of the Soviet archaeology amplified in the 1970s and from 1986 to 1992 was published in the journal “Soviet Archaeology.” Leo Klejn, Vladimir Gening and Yurii Zakharuk were among the key discussants. In 1977, Klejn formulated his idea of the goals of archaeology as a source-studying science and in 1986 reinforced it in a review of Gening’s book: “Object and subject of archaeology.” The discussion turned into a politically-driven polemic critical of Marxism and the communist ideology. In 1992, Gening withdrew from the discussion and Klejn’s understanding of archaeology was accepted by numerous archaeologists especially in the former USSR republics and territories. The paradigm has been revised and the idea of archaeology as a source-studying science prevails in Russia and is associated with Leo Klejn.


Leo Klejn’s criticism of New Archaeology

Speaker: Valery A. Lynsha (Far Eastern Federal University)

When New Archaeology burst out in 1968 Leo Klejn responded to its intellectual challenge. In 1979, he finished a book “New Archaeology” which offered a critical analysis of its theoretical positions. Klejn combined materialistic dialectics, elements of semiotics, theory of communication, and systemic-structural approach to present alternative views on all the theoretical aspects of New Archaeology: functions of theory, place of laws, relation between facts and explanations, models, interrelations of history and evolution, the systemic approach, axioms and analytical process, culture and type, ethnographic analogies and parallels, etc. His main contributions were “sequentialism” and “echeloned archaeology”. Klejn considers archaeology to be neither anthropology nor history. Archaeology is a discipline in its own right, concerned with preparation of archaeological sources (records) for historical synthesis. Through the multi-step procedure of an archaeological investigation, echeloned archaeology transforms archaeological sources into historical records. These original elaborations were presented according to the style of Soviet archaeology, dressed up with citations from the classics of Marxism-Leninism. However, Klejn’s original elaborations profoundly deviated from the orthodox Soviet (Marxist) archaeology. That is why his book was published 30 years later.


Debating the nature of historical sources: A.S. Lappo-Danilevsky, R.G. Collingwood, L.S. Klejn

Speakers: Nadezhda I. Platonova (Russian Academy of Sciences) & Mikhail V. Anikovich (Russian Academy of Sciences)

Views of Collingwood and Lappo-Danilevsky on the nature of historical sources and the process of its investigation influenced Leo Klejn’s reasoning. Here we especially focus on the intellectual succession from Lappo-Danilevsky to Klejn concerning the methodology of historical studies and analysis of historical sources. Lappo-Danilevsky insisted on translating “the way of thinking of authors” (artifacts makers) into “the way of thinking of an investigator” (similar to the etic and emic anthropological approach), and claimed inexhaustibility and complexity of historical sources, including archaeological finds. The connection between Lappo-Danilevsky and Klejn is not direct, however, but was mediated by Klejn’s teachers – the creators of the Soviet archaeology. Although they rejected Lappo-Danilevsky’s methodology as too idealistic, his views on the nature of historic sources were partly assimilated by Kiparisov and Ravdonikas in the 1930s and 1940s, and subsequently by Klejn, who promoted and advanced these thoughts further.


Leo S. Klejn & the Normanist controversy in Russian archaeology

Speaker: Vladimir Ja. Petrukhin (Russian Academy of Sciences)

The role of the Normans (Varangians) in the origins of the Russian state constitutes the eternal problem of the Russian historiography. The struggle against the “reactionary Normanist theory” was the aim of the official Soviet historiography. Evaluation of the archaeological evidence found in Ladoga, Novgorod and Kiev, and also in the Upper Dnieper and Volga Rivers forced the necessity for a new synthesis.  The first attempt to clarify the situation was undertaken by Klejn in his book “The Varangian controversy” written in the 1960s but published in the post-Soviet period, in 2009. In this book Klejn offered a synthesis of “theoretical archaeology” and “historical archaeology.” The next steps in the Normanist controversy were connected with the 1965 dispute on “the Norman problem” (Klejn was the main discussant), focused on the principles of defining the Scandinavian antiquities in Russia. The discussion was initiated by the Norwegian Archaeological Review in 1969 and continued in 1970s. Parallel investigations continued during the archaeological workshops in Leningrad and Moscow Universities.


The necessity in theory: Klejn-Johnson argument

Speaker Piotr Jacobsson (University of Edinburgh)

In 2006, Antiquity published Leo Klejn’s review of Matthew Johnson’s Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. Whilst this paper and the brief exchange that followed are not in the main canon of Klejn’s writings on archaeological theory, they do highlight his divergence from Anglo-American scholars of the deductive and hermeneutic veins, particularly in the firm rejection of the volitional nature of theory. For Klejn theory cannot be chosen freely, as appears to be the case argued by Johnson, both in his book and the response to Klejn’s review. This objection is based in the constraint posed by the nature of archaeological sources, which, as Klejn elaborated, dictate the structure of observations lying at the root of research. This notion gives Klejn’s theoretical perspective a flavour of necessity – the theoretical positions have to be in the form they are if they are to be in rapport with the empirical substrate of the discipline. I discuss how else, despite its necessary nature, archaeological interpretation can explore social issues.


Debating Leo Klejn’s Metaarchaeology: its intellectual background & contemporary problems

Speaker: Visa Immonen (University of Helsinki)

There are two key reasons why Leo Klejn regards metaarchaeology among his most important contributions to the discipline: to make theoretical archaeology a distinct field of research, and to create an alternative to North American archaeological thinking. Klejn borrowed the term from Colin Renfrew and developed it along the lines of Lester Embree. For Klejn, metaarchaeology refers to the intellectual project of determining the subject matter of archaeology, its methodological nature and meaning as well as the relationship between facts and theory. With sharp and meticulous conceptual work, he develops metaarchaeology into an independent vision of archaeology as ‘a unified subject with a unified theory.’ I summarise Klejn’s conception of metaarchaeology and its intellectual background. However, after the scope and the interdisciplinary nature of archaeology have widened during the last decades, and the debates on processualism and post-processualism have turned into more subtle and nuanced discussions on philosophical realism and issues of ontology, the limitations of Klejn’s vision have become more evident.


Leo Klejn’s Concept of Theoretical Archaeology Seen through the Prism of Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigmatic Matrix

Speaker: Anna Zalewska (Polish Academy of Sciences) & Dorota Cyngot (Polish Academy of Sciences)

By considering Leo Klejn’s proposal presented in his “Metaarchaeology,” we analyse whether, and with what results, his thoughts on theoretical archaeology meet with the Kuhnian paradigmatic matrix. Further, we focus on the question whether the proposition of bonding values can be seen as the seed for a “paradigmatic in between” e.g., between processualism and postprocessualism, Marxism and structuralism, etc. The larger point discussed is whether to perceive Klejn’s offer for archaeology as a methodological guidance potentially useful for the whole discipline, or rather as stimulating hint for theoreticians operating under different paradigms and following different schools of thought.  In concluding remarks we ponder on Klejn’s idea to demarcate the range of archaeology in a very specific and strict manner and ask whether the suggestion is inspiring or rather constraining when thinking about the complexity of contemporary archaeological practice, especially in the context of transdisciplinary research projects.


Paleosociology in the theoretical writings of Leo Klejn

Speaker: Stanisław Tabaczyński (Polish Academy of Sciences)

Leo Klejn employs archaeological and ethnographic data to study historic societal interactions and to develop historical sociology “with its generalization of historical process and its formulation of historical laws.” I propose the use of the idea of polysemantisation of culture as this concept allows for better understanding of certain and until now not fully recognized features of the process of social changes and associated with it archaeological expressions of social interactions. In a wider context, this theory provides an essential correcting factor to Levi-Strauss’ opinion about the relationship between history and ethnology and it should also be considered in anthropological and archaeological approaches to examine past social changes. Thus, we should look differently at the mutual relationships between the two complementary perspectives organizing anthropological (ethnographic) and archaeological data: conscious expressions and unconscious foundations of social life.  The use of polysemantisation of culture allows for investigations of societies without script where artifacts indicate social status and therefore should be treated as conscious expressions of social structures of the time.  This approach is a modest supplement to the ideas of Leo Klejn.


On Leo Klejn’s contribution to study culture change

Speaker: Evgeny M. Danchenko (Omsk State Pedagogical University)

Theoretical concerns on cultural continuity and discontinuity take a special place in Leo Klejn’s research.  He distinguishes between chronological sequences of archeological cultures and their “genetic lineages” that suggest continuity. This approach helps in studying the origins of cultures and whether they change due to local processes or migrations. Cultural continuity may also result due to other processes, like cultural reinterpretation evidenced in syncretism. In the absence of script and developed systems of local chronologies, ancient inhabitants of Siberia understood the past through mythologies, which strengthen the role of genealogical legends. The myth-makers also addressed the evidence of the existence of the supposed predecessors. It seems plausible that a combination of folk stories and religious beliefs together with material evidence, like pottery ornamentation and the style of sacral bronze castings by alleged forerunners, set a pattern for subsequent imitators. Thus, a temporary disappearance and revival of certain cultural elements may be explained by reconsideration of traditions and symbols of earlier societies in accordance with the existing system of values and hence legitimize cultural continuity.


Ethnogenesis: chasing the imagined world

Speaker: Ludomir R. Lozny (Hunter College, CUNY)

Leo Klejn elaborated on the methods of ethnogenetic studies. My interests are in the methodology of such studies and in archaeological markers of ethnic groups. I argue that identification of such markers is problematic. Ethnological studies have shown that the relationship between material culture and ethnicity is complex. My position stems from realization that people do not share culture but participate in culture. Archaeologists are primarily interested how being-in-place articulates and use the concept of culture but relate it to space rather than place. For the local people place becomes most significant, because they symbolically fill it with specific meanings. Place becomes multivocal for it bears the meanings that researchers favor in addition to whatever meanings other people might have attached to it.  I conclude that people create multiple meanings of place and that people with power force others to accept their meaning and understanding of place. As we move away from ethnically-bound polities, the concept of place rather than space becomes the critical focus of decision-making that stipulates the pragmatics of local research on past and present culture.


In Conversation with Leo S. Klejn

Poster Presenter: Stephen Leach (Keele University)

This poster presentation is a compilation of just some of the many questions and answers that have passed back and forth between myself and Leo Klejn from 2009 until the present day – a conversation that is still ongoing!  In the west Klejn’s name is spoken of as a name to be respected, but his theories are as yet not widely known.  This interview thus serves as a general introduction to Klejn’s archaeological theory.  At the same time it raises some of the concerns that it is likely to provoke among many western archaeological theorists (in particular, regarding Klejn’s view of the relation between archaeology and history).  The subject matter of the interview encompasses: the relations between archaeology, history and forensic science; the role of archaeological theory; evaluation of recent trends within archaeological theory; ethnogenesis; and, the history of archaeology.  Klejn is revealed as a maverick of archaeological theory – difficult to classify according to any pre-existing ‘map’ – but also as a theorist with ideas that are worthy of serious critical consideration.


From theory of knowledge to archeology and back. Leo S. Klejn on the human condition

Poster Presenter: Elena Nazarenko (Saint-Petersburg State University)

I discuss Leo Klejn’s contribution to the theory of knowledge on human societies in general. In “Archaeological sources” Klejn points out the incompleteness of archaeological records for producing historical and anthropological knowledge. In the book “The Principles of Archeology” he argues that there is a dialectic foundation of archaeological interpretations, namely that each interpretative principle has its opposite e.g., universalism-particularism, determinism-indeterminism, etc. For Klejn archeology has the advantage over other of the social sciences, like history, sociology, economy, etc. because these universal and dialectic in nature principles define the interpretative character of archeology. Such dialectic approach can be used not only in archeology, however; it seems useful for investigations of other types of human groups, modern societies included. I conclude that the present as well as the past is not palpable. Should we consider archeology as one of the applied sciences to investigate the human condition, it becomes imperative to define how we can gain knowledge about both, past and present societies.

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