Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Dictionary of Artifacts

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by Geoffrey D. Summers)

Not specific to Egypt, but as Kat pointed out - probably of interest to many readers.

Barbara Ann Kipfer, Dictionary of Artifacts. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

This book entitled Dictionary of Artifacts comprises a two-page "Preface" in which the author sets out the ambitious aims of providing "informative definitions in accessible language about the vocabulary describing artifacts." She then states that entries relate to a wide range of related issues from analysis, examination and identification to production and technology, and includes examples of artifacts and types. Thus a main failure of this work lies perhaps in the choice of a misleading title for what is in fact an eclectic dictionary of archaeological terms amongst which artifacts feature very prominently. The book is aimed at "students, archaeology professors, archaeologists, museum staff, archaeology volunteers, and general readers." There follows 346 pages of dictionary entries. Some 110 line illustrations (slightly more if each individual drawing is counted) and occasional small photographs are scattered throughout, sometimes confined to the wide margin on the outer edge of each page, occasionally indented into the relevant portion of text, or more often spread across a section of a page. These pictures are generally informative although line illustrations are not provided with scales.

It was exciting to learn that Barbara Ann Kipfer, a professional lexicographer with a special interest in archaeology, had produced a Dictionary of Artifacts because I thought it would be extremely useful for a course entitled "Artifact Analysis" that I teach in the Graduate Program in Settlement Archaeology at the Middle East Technical University at Ankara, where the great majority of our students speak Turkish as their first language but English is the language of instruction. I have however been greatly disappointed and found it difficult, in spite of the inordinately long time taken to write this review, to come up with much to write that is positive.

One underlying problem is that the majority of what archaeologists, for whom this book has been principally compiled, call artifacts, objects, or simply finds, are, in actual fact, only those parts of complex artifacts that have survived burial in archaeological contexts. Survival is a result of both the accidents of preservation and the different organic and inorganic materials from which they are made. The author is clearly aware of the shortcomings for, in the Preface, she writes, "More than 2000 entries [the publisher's blurb on the flap says close to 3000] cover all aspects of artifacts: specific artifact types, prominent examples of artifacts, technological terms, culture periods, words associated with the making of and description of artifacts (including material and methods), principles and techniques of examination and identification, and terms regarding the care and preservation of specimens."

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