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Mircea Anghelinu

Mircea Anghelinu, Valahia University of Târgoviste (Romania), is Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Ph.D. advisor and member of the Department of History of Valahia University of Târgoviste. He does research in Paleolithic archaeology, archaeological theory, and history of archaeology. He has run many national and international research projects and published the results of his investigations in prestigious archaeology journals such as Quaternary Geochronology, Journal of Archaeological Science, L'Anthropologie, Quartaer, Quaternary International.

Why culture-history? On the (not that) puzzling resilience of an archaeological paradigm in Southeastern Europe

The stubborn persistence of the cultural-historical narratives in Southeastern European archaeology, despite innumerable theoretical and empirical challenges experienced in the last decades, certainly begs for an explanation. As typical cases of late-comers into European modernity, Southeastern European countries share many features, including a complex ethnic landscape, slow institutional modernization, late urbanization and industrialization, strong étatisme etc. One may add the subordinate geopolitical status and the unforgiving Communist experience. Expectably, the cultural identity issues and the peculiar metabolism of the related disciplines, history and archaeology (with the notable exclusion of social/cultural anthropology), ran along similar lines. Romania may therefore provide a paradigmatic case study in all these respects. The Western-educated cultural elites, including archaeologists, played a crucial role in the Romanian national revival and modern state construction. Much like everywhere in Europe, a long, glorious and continuous past, preferably inhabited by proto-modern citizens, served as the ideological ideal for modern ethnic solidarity building. The commitment to the culture-historical paradigm in its early XXth century heyday appeared as the most natural choice for the nascent Romanian archaeology, also struggling at the time with an increasing number of archaeological finds begging for classification. Several factors, including the tacit hostility to vulgar Marxism, the symbolic authority of the inter-war educated archaeological elites, the academic and political isolation, and the gross nationalism of the official policy further explain the successful survival of the culture-history in Communist times. Along with political, economic and ideological changes, the post-Communist decades brought different challenges to the culture-historical paradigm. The shift of generations, the easy access to Western archaeological literature with its alternative narratives (ranging from post-processual to neo-Darwinian), the relative fragmentation of the previously highly centralized academic environment and the increased awareness on the political (mis)use of history and archaeology have been, however, only gently eroding the pillars supporting culture-historical approaches. Explaining this inertia needs once more to go beyond the apparently benign strength of this research model (i.e. fast and effective classification engine of great value, for instance, for the developing preventive archaeology), to the inextricable connection between culture-history and nationalism. Despite considerable alteration, ethnic nationalism and its straightforward reading of the past are still very much popular, with the less appealing interpretations of academic archaeologists viewed by the general public as boring at best and subversive at worst. As virtually all Romanian archaeologists are still state employees, their incentive in challenging the dominant narratives stays limited, especially as previously experienced isolation in culture-historical descriptivism in Communist times proved a safe strategy for their careers. Furthermore, the growing appeal of archaeological science/archaeometry (and the related career opportunities provided for the young generations) leaves limited scope for a critical discussion of theoretical issues that might involve the very tenets supporting culture-history. As for the future, it seems that any replacement of the dominant paradigm will have less to do with a Popperian falsification test (i.e., an endogenous critique), but to the structural transformation of the societal parameters which assured its previous survival and success (i.e. the strong connection between nationalism, state policy and the distant past).

Selected publications:

M. Anghelinu, Evoluţia gândirii teoretice în arheologia românească. Concepte şi modele aplicate în preistorie/ The Evolution of Theoretical Thought in Romanian Archaeology. Concepts and Models Applied to Prehistory, Târgovişte: Cetatea de Scaun, 2004.

M. Anghelinu, Theory and Method in Romanian Prehistoric Archaeology. In P. Cattelain (ed.), Acts of the XIVth UISPP Congress, University of Liège, 2-8 September 2001, Section 1, Theory and methods, BAR-IS 1145, 2003, 87-93.

M. Anghelinu, Modernität, Nationale Ideologie und die Vorgeschichte. Erwägungen zur Professionelisierung der Prähistorischen Archäologie in Rumänien, Annales d'Université "Valahia" de Târgoviște, Section d'Archéologie et d'Histoire, tome IV-V, 2002/2003, 28-39.

M. Anghelinu, Arta şi religia preistorică în teoria arheologică românească / Prehistoric Art and Religion in Romanian Archaeological Theory, Arheologia Moldovei, XXV, 2004, 6-15.

M. Anghelinu, Failed Revolution: Marxism and Romanian Prehistoric Archaeology between 1945 and 1989, Arheologia Bulgarica, XI, nr. 1, 2007, 1-36.

M. Anghelinu, Empirismul a murit, trăiască empirismul: câteva considerații privind actuala criză de identitate a arheologiei românești/Empiricism has died, long live empiricism: some thoughts on the current identity crisis of Romanian archaeology, Anuarul Institutului de Istorie A. D. Xenopol, XLIX, 2012, 369-374.


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