Sensory archaeology

Key concepts and debates

Authored by: Robin Skeates , Jo Day

The Routledge Handbook of Sensory Archaeology

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138676299
eBook ISBN: 9781315560175
Adobe ISBN:


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The aim of this opening chapter is to identify and discuss the key current concepts and debates of sensory archaeology, and to show how our authors have engaged with them. 1 We begin with the question of the very status of sensory archaeology: is it appropriate and helpful to describe this evermore popular area of study as a distinct field of archaeology, and one whose accumulated impact on the discipline can now be designated as a ‘sensory turn’? We then define and evaluate from an archaeological perspective the terms ‘sensorium’, ‘sensory order’, ‘sensescape’, and ‘ways of sensing’. We likewise discuss the concept of the sensorial field, which seeks to challenge various analytical divisions employed in sensory studies. The term ‘affect’ also requires special attention, given its frequent (and sometimes imprecise) use in the literature of sensory archaeology. We then reflect critically, from a multisensory perspective, on archaeological museums and heritage sites and on their associated professional principles and practices. Finally, we reconsider the methods that can be used to undertake sensory studies, particularly in archaeology. What emerges is both a healthy diversity of perspectives and—perhaps surprisingly—something of an emerging consensus.

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