Biblical Archaeology Review 38:3, May/June 2012

Archaeological Views: An Anthropologist’s View of Early Israel

By Jill Katz

As an anthropologically trained archaeologist, I am often asked, “What does anthropology have to do with Biblical archaeology?” My response is usually a lighthearted, “not as much as it should.”

Anthropology and archaeology are, of course, distinguished by the vitality of their subject matter: Anthropologists concern themselves with the living, while archaeologists prefer the dead. For the past century, anthropologists have used a method based on participation and observation. This means that anthropologists partake in the daily life of their subjects, asking lots of questions both formally and informally. They do this while simultaneously maintaining a critical perspective (not in the negative sense), particularly regarding the structural and functional makeup of the society.

In contrast, archaeologists can neither live with their subjects nor interview them. All we have are clues from the past, which by themselves are highly skewed toward materials that have a long shelf life. Thus excavation reports include countless examples of ceramic vessels, stone objects and architectural foundations but very little clothing, wooden objects or organic foodstuffs.

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