Note privind impactul marxismului în teoria și practica arheologiei preistorice din România

Cercetări Arheologice 12, 2003, 275-301

Note privind impactul marxismului în teoria și practica arheologiei preistorice din România

Authors: Mircea Anghelinu

Keywords: -


The study attempts to analyse the influence of Marxism on Romanian prehistoric archaeological research, from the point of view of both theoretical and practical archaeology. While the negative influence exerted by the communist regime and dialectical materialism on archaeological research cannot be denied, it is nonetheless true that this influence has never been subjected to critical evaluation. Thus, Marxism, mistaken for the political products of contemporary politics, was naively demonised, and the communist regime oppression was understood strictly as ideological constraint that deflected archaeology from its legitimate scientific purposes. In the author’s opinion, not only is Marxist theory not the only one responsible for the current theoretical standing of Romanian prehistoric archaeology, but its impact was rather an indirect one. To begin with, Marxist theory should be mistaken neither for the simplified version imposed by the official regime, dia-matul, nor for the communist regime itself, which, through its claim of ideological control, imposed this truncated version on archaeology. The most relevant argument in this respect is the constant popularity of Marxist interpretation in Western archaeology, often more interested in Marxism than Eastern research traditions proved to be. In fact, the difference between Western and Eastern archaeology resides in the inspiration sources, as well as in the adherence to these sources. While in Western countries Marxist interpretations are based either on Marx’s writings or on those belonging to empathic Marxist directions, therefore having a Gnostic nature, and employing Marxist theory variably on an operational basis, Eastern European archaeology was often coerced into orthodoxy, that is into the faithful application of Engels’s postulates as universal and incontrovertible “covering laws”. This was also the case of Romanian prehistoric archaeology. Endeavouring to demonstrate this state of facts, the article puts forward the study of a representative bibliographic sample covering the period between 1945 and 1989. Methodologically, the study is based on the premise that the influence exerted by a theory such as Marxism is to be sought in a conjunction between theoretical premise and practical application. It cannot be reduced to an incoherent import of Marxist terms into a general materialism or to concluding archaeological monographic studies with statements loyal to the official theory, yet entirely alien to the contents of the mentioned works. The author regards the research tradition onto which the new theory was grafted as a highly important issue. Romanian prehistoric archaeology emerged during the interwar period, as a descendant of positivism in historiography, of the German prehistoric archaeology school and of national ideology. It had fully embraced the cultural-historical theory – according to which prehistoric cultures are homogenous and integrated -, as well as its basic methods, namely typology and stratigraphy. Cultural variability, reduced strictly to the presence or ratio of characteristic artefacts, was explained either by a “cultural drift”, or, more frequently, by migration, diffusion and acculturation. The scientific mission of prehistoric archaeology was to expound regional cultural taxonomy, in order to expand national history further into the past. The distribution, in space and time, of diagnostic artefacts represented the means of reaching these scientific purposes, naturalist rather than humanist in spirit and practice. Quite different from these objectives were the targets of the Marxist approach: strictly indigenist, coherently materialistic and interested in the internal organisation of the communities subjected to research, it sought a confirmation for the theory regarding the succession of social-economic structures. To reach these targets, the new regime would initiate ample archaeological investigations including sites of all historic and prehistoric periods. However, the enormous amount of accumulated material perpetuated the “systematising” mission of prehistoric archaeology, especially that during the first decades of communist rule the archaeology specialists’ group generally remained the same as that of the interwar period. Finding Marxist theory far too general, and yet not being able to avoid it, and, on the other hand, being loyal to traditional empiricism, archaeologists would do no more than put forward materialist conclusions. In fact, the texts reveal a quite different reality: an interest for vertical stratigraphy, for identifying the “ethnic” traits of prehistoric groups and, implicitly, for explanations oriented towards migration and diffusion. Even the “exhaustively” investigated neo-eneolithic sites were in fact samples chosen to address cultural-historical inquisitiveness. This orientation would become even more obvious after 1970, when official ideology adopted a relatively more relaxed position towards Marxism. However, given that changes in the official policy continued to occur, prehistory scholars chose the safe path of descriptivism and idiography. Isolated, Romanian archaeology remained an outsider to theoretical disturbance promoted by New Archaeology, and, unavoidably, unaware of the post-processual response. There was however no lack of purely methodological innovations such as multi-disciplinary research and archaeometry. In any case, they imply no theoretical renewal, and do not represent the result of Marxist influence: the progress of archaeozoology is an outcome of the palaeoeconomy theory, a popular approach in European archaeology during the ‘70s, while archaeometry is no more than a mere imitation – incomplete and superficial – of D. Clarke’s ideas, and the use of computer processing methods for ceramic typology. Both attempts gained little popularity in professional circles. This limited integration can be explained, just as the general lack of success of the Marxist approach, by the organisation of the professional community. Following the pattern already established during the interwar period, the prehistory specialists’ group permanently observed a hierarchy based on practical competence and empirical expertise. In this respect, the Bucharest Archaeology Institute constantly represented the central board to validate competence and control research. The symbolic capital accumulated by the specialists’ elite as early as the interwar period was permanently based on an advantage impossible to compensate for the newer generations, easily controlled by means of graduate studies and funding. Thus, the structure of the professional community led to a rigid theoretic conservatism, equally hostile to Marxism and to theoretical innovations of a different nature. In conclusion, its generality and compulsory character blocked the Marxist approach to Romanian prehistoric research, while the traditional competence hierarchy excluded the possibility of theoretical innovation. Although Marxist terminology is to this day encountered in Romanian prehistoric research, this fact is only accounted for by the lack of alternative concepts. Still loyal to the model that created it, Romanian prehistoric archaeology remains a strictly empirical, conservatory and elitist discipline, a status which cannot be explained as a result of the pressure exerted by Marxism, as the Marxist approach itself is, to a considerable extent, a victim of tradition.

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How to cite: Mircea Anghelinu, Note privind impactul marxismului în teoria și practica arheologiei preistorice din România, Cercetări Arheologice, Vol. 12, pag. 275-301, 2003, doi:

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