Comparative Retreat


De Bello Gallico is a personal account by Julius Caesar of his conquest of Gaul, the text was probable written in the winter months between 58 and 52 bc.

Serious issue posed in archaeology is  that often the data available from the ground is surprisingly small. The nature of survival also creates discrepancies, a settlement graveside can be found with no evidence of settlement or vice versa. The identification of sites with particular cultural groups can prove rather vexing as the finds on one particular site can yield a range of differing cultural artifacts from a range of cultural sources. Or when a settlement site mentioned in historical sources is compared with evidence for occupation in the period from archaeology, nothing is found.

Traditionally given the difficulties and small data set archaeology could furnish for the Iron age, classical sources were used by archaeologists as providing first hand ethnographic accounts that could put some flesh on a very small and limited data set of bones.

Increasingly as archaeology has become aware of the issues surrounding the use of classical sources it has retreated more from comparative study to a more focused engagement with exclusive appraisal of the  archaeological record.

Give a very terse and short account of Caesar’s treatment of the Druids, which demonstrates a wider systemic issue with the compare and contrast perspective of classical ethnography and the disconnect between the historical and archaeological records.

I love the messy issues involved with these sources, multiple layers of very different situations that are nested within words and develop organically over- time with more layers added as each generation approaches them from a range of differing perspectives.

But I like comparative approaches and I am more comfortable with history in its art and craft form, when all is fluid, uncertain and treacherous. Its when its at its most interesting as it can’t be passively read and demands constant engagement and questioning.


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