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Incomplete Archaeologies takes a familiar archaeological concept – assemblages – and reconsiders such groupings, collections and sets of things from the perspective of the work required to assemble them. The discussions presented here engage with the practices of collection, construction, performance and creation in the past (and present) which constitute the things and groups of things studied by archaeologists – and examine as well how these things and thing-groups are dismantled, rearranged, and even destroyed, only to be rebuilt and recreated.
The ultimate aim is to reassert an awareness of the incompleteness of assemblage, and thus the importance of practices of assembling (whether they seem at first creative or destructive) for understanding social life in the past as well as the present. The individual chapters represent critical engagements with this aim by archaeologists presenting a broad scope of case studies from Eurasia and the Mediterranean. Case studies include discussions of mortuary practice from numerous angles, the sociopolitics of metallurgy, human-animal relationships, landscape and memory, the assembly of political subjectivity and the curation of sovereignty. These studies emphasize the incomplete and ongoing nature of social action in the past, and stress the critical significance of a deeper understanding of formation processes as well as contextual archaeologies to practices of archaeology, museology, art history, and other related disciplines. Contributors challenge archaeologists and others to think past the objects in the assemblage to the practices of assembling, enabling us to consider not only plural modes of interacting with and perceiving things, spaces, human bodies and temporalities in the past, but also to perhaps discover alternate modes of framing these interactions and relationships in our analyses. Ultimately then, Incomplete Archaeologies takes aim at the perceived totality not only of assemblages of artifacts on shelves and desks, but also that of some of archaeology’s seeming-seamless epistemological objects.