Archaeological Stratigraphy, Flat Ontology and Thin Description. A Note on (Inter)Disciplinary Dialogue


  • Staša Babić Department of Archaeology Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade



new materialism, ontological turn, stratigraphy, archaeological record


Over the last decades, some archaeologists have adopted the approaches from philosophy and anthropology that may loosely be denoted by the term new materialism. The key assumptions are that archaeological investigation, regardless of the theoretical stance applied, has always been burdened by the modern mode of thinking and dichotomies such as nature/culture or subject/object, wherefrom stems the anthropocentric approach to the study of objects, primarily in respect to humans. It is suggested that the reality consists of a plethora of diverse elements, all deserving equal attention and all their existences being of equal relevance. Objects, animals, plants, all have the potential to act in a network of equal actors. A researcher must therefore respect the flat ontology, where none of the actors has primacy.

The paper problematizes some of the (un)intentional implications of the ontological turn for the theory and practice of archaeology. First of all, the proposed flattening destabilizes the key disciplinary distinction – study of the human past through its material remains. The downplaying of the importance of human actions in the formation of networks of mutually equal actors at the same time downplays the human responsibility. In this way, various forms of inequality among humans as research priorities and the potential of social engagement of archaeology are neglected. Similar critique of new materialism is raised in the fields of philosophy and anthropology as well. This brings about the issue of interdisciplinary transfers of thin descriptions – selective adoption of concepts whose full implications remain neglected.


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How to Cite

Babić, Staša. 2019. “Archaeological Stratigraphy, Flat Ontology and Thin Description. A Note on (Inter)Disciplinary Dialogue”. Etnoantropološki Problemi / Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 14 (3):811–831.

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