Connections

A connection links two or more, formerly separate, entities in a meaningful way with one another. Connections, which often encompass a large number of links, thus create sense (cf. Shanks and Hodder 1995: 11). In this work, I am interpreting by making a series of connections. This is not a unique approach and is probably part of all archaeological reasoning: archaeologists have, in their analyses and interpretations, always been connecting different finds, contexts, and sites with each other (e.g. implicitly: Jacobs 1991; explicitly: Hodder 1986: chapter 7, Mithen 1991: 103, 113; Jones 2002: 33-8). This electronic text, however, is different from other archaeological accounts in that the connections suggested in the content of the argument correspond to the argument's hypermedia format, with hyperlinks such as this on every page. I argue for connections by making them.

Throughout my work, I connect many individual pages with many others. Much of what I am trying to argue cannot be found on any individual page, but can only be fully comprehended by considering all the pages in this work in the context of all the other pages. Even this point needs to be considered in the context of the other pages. Since connections make sense of the entities they link, I hope my work as a whole makes sense of all its parts.


The power of connections to make sense

The power of connections to make sense has been further investigated in several academic disciplines, both sciences and humanities. Connections have been fore grounded in discussions about various issues, e.g. regarding the understanding of meaning and complex ideas (past or present), the functioning of the human brain, and the characteristics of human knowledge and science in action. As Ian Hodder stated (1992: 176-7), "we make sense of the world by making links between different aspects of our knowledge."

According to Structuralism, the meanings of words (or things) reside in the relationships between these words (or things) and other words (or things). Any one word (or thing) taken by itself is meaningless, unless it is seen in its context: everything depends on everything else (Hodder 1986: chapters 3+7; Tilley 1989).
According to Associationism, many different elementary sensations are connected with each other in the human mind; more complex sensations such as ideas are made sense of by reducing them to those elementary sensations of which they consist.

According to Radical Constructivism, all the different processes in the human brain are connected solely with one another, and not directly with an outside world; the brain makes sense of stimuli by constructing an image of the outside world which is consistent with all the stimuli it receives.

Hans-Georg Gadamer suggested that the past is firmly connected with the present through its 'effective-history', and is therefore understandable, i.e. can be made sense of.

Several sociologists of science have argued that science proceeds within 'actant-networks' that connect statements with written documents, with technical artefacts, with human beings, with the entities being studied, with concepts, with institutions, with professions etc. Everything in such networks makes sense of everything else.


Using connections as a tool for interpretation

The sense-making power of connections can be used as a tool for interpretation:

Metaphors and analogies connect different ideas or contexts with one another. They make sense of one thing by understanding it with the help, and in the terms, of another.

Walter Benjamin connected numerous quotes and illustrations with his own commentaries and thoughts. In this way, he made sense of nineteenth-century Paris.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari connected various plateaus in a rhizome with one another. In this way, they made sense of what they called 'capitalism and schizophrenia'.

Georges Perec connected the many episodes of his novel, like pieces of a puzzle, to a larger pattern. In this way, he made sense of life.


What is being connected in this dissertation? What do I make sense of?

I make sense of my 'data' by linking single archaeological sites with patterns in the later prehistoric evidence, with historic and present evidence, with related sites or topics, with meanings of the past and its remains, and with various other bodies of theories and ideas.

I make sense of archaeological interpretation by linking past and present as well as writers and readers.

I make sense of belonging to a wider human community by linking several pages of this work with (other) relevant sites on the World Wide Web. My dream is that one day all people taking part in the discourse of archaeology and associated fields maintain web-pages for their ideas and the issues they are dealing with, making it possible for others to link directly to their pages and establish a virtual web of archaeological discourse in which, directly or indirectly, everyone is connected with everyone else.


How did people in the past make sense of monuments?

They did so by linking these monuments with other ancient monuments and finds, with themselves and their ancestors, with particular interests, concepts and ideas, and with their cultural memory and history culture, as well as with wider worldviews.


Missing links?

A list of meaningful connections can never be comprehensive, because in a complex world there is always more to connect with. As additional links are established, new sense is being made. For this reason that readers are invited to write to me, and to allow me and others, at a later stage, to make sense of their thoughts and ideas by linking them with my work.


Literature

Hodder, Ian (1986) Reading the Past. Current approaches in interpretation in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hodder, Ian (1992) Theory and Practice in Archaeology. London and New York: Routledge.

Jacobs, Jörn (1991) Die Einzelgrabkultur in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Beiträge zur Ur- und Frühgeschichte Mecklenburg-Vorpommerns, vol. 24. Schwerin: Archäologisches Landesmuseum Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Jones, Andrew (2002) Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mithen, Stephen J. (1991) Ecological Interpretations of Palaeolithic Art. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 57(1), 103-114.

Shanks, Michael and Ian Hodder (1995) Processual, postprocessual and interpretive archaeologies. In: I.Hodder, M.Shanks, A.Alexandri, V.Buchli, J.Carman, J.Last and G.Lucas (eds) Interpreting Archaeology. Finding meaning in the past, pp. 3-29. London: Routledge.

Tilley, Christopher (1989) Interpreting material culture. In: I.Hodder (ed.) The Meanings of Things, pp. 185-194. London: Routledge.

© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 3 December 2001