IMHO: inventing modern human origins

Bibliographic Collection: 
APE, CARTA-Inspired Publication
Publication Type: Book Chapter
Authors: Davidson, I
Editors: Matthews, JM; Porr, M
Year of Publication: 2019
Book Title: Interrogating Human Origins. Decolonization and the Deep Human Past
Chapter: 2
Edition: 1st
Pagination: 35-55
Date Published: 12/06/2019
Publisher: Routledge
City: London
Publication Language: eng

IDK: introducing defined knowledge IDK is LOL-speak for I Don't Know. Knowledge of the past, like all knowledge, depends on the meanings of the words used in acquiring and maintaining it. Part of coming to know things is learning to name them. Too often we take for granted the definitions of the basic concepts, yet it turns out that often they derive from a prior history with quite political origins that impact what we think we know. As an example of this, my use of the first person is intended to show that I am aware of the subjectivity I bring to this piece. But it is also open to the criticism that I am writing as an old white male of certain education, privilege and background. My view is that it is better to be open about both of those things than to conceal them behind impersonal passive (aggressive) language. There are two related but different issues in the study of human origins. On the one hand is biological evolution of humans and our ancestors, traditionally studied through the analysis of fossilised skeletal remains; on the other is the evolution of hominin and human behaviour, traditionally studied from archaeological evidence including stones and bones. It turns out that there are questions about classification in both domains, and these questions turn on the fact that both researchers studying skeletons and those studying behaviour use language composed of words, and hence classifications and concepts, defined by conventions. All of those classifications and concepts have history about how the conventions were originally defined: they derive from the history of the disciplines in the societies in which they arose, and from common usages among the general public of those societies. In most cases, those societies were actively engaged in colonialism during the period when the disciplines were developed, and the evidence was viewed through a corresponding cultural filter. The words and concepts of the discipline of archaeology carry the marks of colonialism. A modern approach to archaeohistory needs to look carefully at the colonial legacy in the interpretations that imbue our disciplines. At the same time, the concepts of postcolonialism and decolonisation can also be examined for their subjectivities and theoretical contexts.