Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Analyzing archaeological discourse: Narratives and arguments of interpreting Inca material culture

Analyzing archaeological discourse: Narratives and arguments of interpreting Inca material culture

Hannon Hylkema 

The published scholarship of archaeologists is lexically complex and constructs unique discourse that is ripe for investigation. This essay analyzes the discourse of peer-reviewed archaeological texts which interpret pottery and textile evidence associated with inhabitants of the Inca state. The texts are limited to those published in the English language allowing for a foundational emphasis on the theoretical context created by Western ideology. In what ways do these texts make use of discourse, embodying narratives and arguments, as a linguistic device for writing about their interpretations of Inca people and Inca material culture? Archaeological texts have the power to create and or reproduce particular narratives and arguments that effect understandings of people historically as well as contemporarily. This essay distinguishes narratives and arguments as the key components of discourse within the collected sample of texts and works to elucidate their usage through means of critical analysis. For each text, passages exhibiting qualities of narrative and/or argument are systematically deconstructed and put into conversation with others. This preliminary study suggests that the positionality of Western archaeologists influences the ways in which they construct discourse and that this impacts the conveyance of their scientific interpretations about Inca material culture. Further research is needed to explore the catalogue of archaeological texts about Inca material culture in English and other languages, including Spanish and Quechua.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Do you get the impression that some Anglophone authors are more or less prone to rendering specific Incan practices in English (or Spanish) versus Quechua? Once a term such as “mitma” has been defined as “forced relocation,” for example, which language is used in the ongoing discussion? Does this vary according to the (probable) intended audience? The recency of publication? Other?

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 17, 2020 | Reply

    • Hi Dan, you pose a very interesting question here that I do not have the answer to. The line of linguistic questioning my essay addresses does not include this angle but could certainly do so with another examination of the literature. This essay is more-so preoccupied with the ways in which archaeological claims about portable objects and material culture production are substantiated within the specified body of scholarship. I suggest that these claims make up a discourse comprised of (but not limited to) two linguistic features–arguments and narratives–and that they can be identified and analyzed. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this abstract and pose novel questions related to the topic. Feel free to email me if you want to talk more or if you think I could answer another question for you about this essay!

      Comment by Hannon Hylkema | April 28, 2020 | Reply

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