Word and artifact: A study of cultural affiliation

Donald H. Gaff
Dept. of Anthropology, Michigan State University
June, 2005


The idea of cultural affiliation occupies a central position in the practice of anthropology and involves many critical concepts in anthropology like culture, identity, and relatedness. Cultural affiliation enjoys a similar position in archaeology, where study often concerns the relationship between different archaeological cultures as well as the relationship between archaeological cultures and historic or living peoples. Cultural affiliation has become even more important in archaeology since the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990 which mandates cultural affiliation for finding a relationship between present day Indian groups and earlier groups. This dissertation reviews how archaeologists have approached cultural affiliation. In order to better understand cultural affiliation, a new body of theory is introduced and developed. This theory proposes that a focus on knowledge might clarify issues in cultural affiliation. Properties of the relationships between knowledge and experience might be exploited to yield a better understanding of archaeological topics including cultural affiliation. Essentially, the theory recognizes that statements about cultural affiliation are claims made about perceived relationships and that these claims can be evaluated by delineating the links between the claims and the experienced world. To illustrate the utility of the theory, the dissertation employs two different case studies. The first involves the late prehistoric Huber phase from southwestern Lake Michigan and its possible association with the historically-known Miami. The second case study focuses on the attempt of the present day Pawnee to have the Smithsonian repatriate Steed-Kisker phase remains. In both cases, various researchers have taken different views of cultural affiliation. The proposed theory is used to explore how decisions about affiliation were made.