Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Holdaway, Simon J. and LuAnn Wandsnider

2006 Temporal Scales and Archaeological Landscapes from the Eastern Desert of Australia and Intermontane North America. In Confronting Scale in Archaeology: Issues of Theory and Practice edited by G. Lock and B. Molyneaux, pp. 183-202. Kluwer, New York.


Published by Springer-Kluwer, 2006.


Time gets much less attention than space in discussions of archaeological scale. This may seem strange in a primarily historical discipline for which the demonstration of human antiquity is something of a defining moment (Grayson, 1983). Part of the reason may lie in the nature of time. Time unfolds along a continuum, and the way observers perceive time depends on their location and the scales they adopt. Compare the contemporary Western experience of earth time, for example, with time at the scale of the universe. A person traveling at the speed of light would experience a different time (Hawking, 1998; Ramenofsky, 1998) than the person caught up in the linear progression of our planet-bound life. Of course, archaeologists rarely deal with quantum time, but the example serves to remind us that time is not an absolute dimension. Archaeologists create their own conceptual units for measuring time. They project these units at different scales and choose their own observation points, dividing the continuum of time into arbitrary packages that relate in some way to specific research goals (Ramenofsky, 1998).


While the archaeological record may potentially be viewed at a variety of different scales from a range of different view points, issues of compatibility between data, analysis and interpretation cannot be ignored. We begin with this point, using it as the basis for a critique of the recent and current hunter-gatherer literature and drawing on our current work from western New South Wales, Australia, and southwest Wyoming, USA. We argue that neither of the current interpretative approaches to the hunter-gatherer archaeological record, ethnoarchaeological models or insights derived from behavioral ecology, deal adequately with the temporality of the record. Integrating the temporality of data and interpretation suggests to us a third way, whereby we can use explanations developed by viewing the archaeological record at a variety of scales to create a rich historical tapestry of past human behavioral variability.