Method of the biographical approach to objects

The biographical approach becomes only viable if the object of interest is studied through time. Only then can the transformations of meaning be understood. How this should be done is often less clearly set out. As usual, the method used is explained by examples. These examples, however, appear to have a similar characteristic in that they are thick descriptions as conceptualized by Geertz.



This need for thick description has led to an adoption of the concept of the biography of object mainly by anthropologists. However, there are some archaeological exceptions. Although the term biography was not applied, Spector and Tringham both tried through the use of narrative to relate objects to persons and their changing social meaning. The last phase of use/discard of the object is taken and a fictious, but not necessarily false, narrative is constructed that takes into consideration what is known of the specific culture under study.

Chapman and Gaydarska are more explicit about their methods as they analyze the pottery, figurines and Spondylus rings in the prehistory of the Balkans in a biographical manner. They adopt a rigorous re-fitting programme in which the context of the (parts of) objects takes an important place within the biographies they create. These biographies include the transformation of meaning throughout a life-history. The re-fitting has as its purpose to reconstruct phases of use and deposition instead of making complete objects. Furthermore, they try to relate the objects to persons and the meanings they could convey in which idealised biographies are described. As they focus on context, they show how objects, people and places can be connected. This avenue of thought could be of importance for archaeological heritage management as it gives an insight into how people can be bound to places and objects.