Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. By Tim Ingold, 2013. Paperback, 163 pp. ISBN 978-0-415-36723-7.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that, far from being merely a repository of knowledge about the four “A”s of Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, it is rather a key that can be used to open them up. Making ranges freely between the four subjects as though there were no such thing as disciplinary boundaries, drawing from the author’s own background in anthropology to illuminate the other related and overlapping fields. The book sketches out a fundamental approach to the material world, and our place within it, that has much relevance for contemporary archaeologists.

The first chapter, “Knowing from the Inside”, starts with the core ethnographic method of participant-observation. Ingold makes the important point that all knowledge-making is participant-observation in the sense that the investigator is enmeshed in the world, learning about it from the inside. Thus archaeologists excavating a site are understood to be participants within a field of material energies, forces and flows which includes themselves: archaeological knowledge emerges through their practical engagement with things embedded in the earth.

Throughout the book, whenever the activity of making is mentioned, it refers as much to knowledge-making as to the making of a pot or a basket. Theoretical issues are grounded in the messy practices of real life. Chapter 2, “Materials of Life”, develops the idea of making as growth. The maker joins forces with the active and vibrant matter being worked, to participate in its emergence. Process is accorded primacy over static state, with things regarded more in terms of fluidity than solidity. The emphasis is on emergence and becoming, not so much on finished forms.

Chapter 3, “On Making a Handaxe”, should be read by all archaeologists, including those who study the material remains of the contemporary world. Issues dealt with are as relevant to the study of modern artefacts as Lower–Middle Palaeolithic tools. There is a real challenge here for anyone who holds that the form of artefacts can be wholly explained in terms of cognitive designs imposed upon the material world, or as external expressions of pre-given ideas.

The following two chapters, “On Building a House” and “The Sighted Watchmaker”, grapple further with the argument from design. Were the great medieval cathedrals, for example, the product of prior design? Surviving drawings made by medieval masons might be taken to indicate that they were, but Ingold makes a compelling case that these were all part of processes of material engagement and creative problem-solving, not preconceived designs as such. Such buildings were hundreds of years in the making, and are still in the process of becoming.

Chapter 6, “Round Mound and Earth Sky” is (along with Chapter 3) another must-read for archaeologists. Continuing with one of the main themes of the book, it examines round mounds as growing entities that are more than just human constructions dating from the distant prehistoric past. They are cumulative by-products of a whole range of beings and forces which include burrowing mammals, worms, insects, soil bacteria, writhing tree and plant roots, rain and groundwater movement, as well as human activity, and many of these combined processes are still going on today. Upturning conventional ideas of mounds as edifices erected on the surface of the earth, Ingold argues that the mound has no base or foundation as such—it emerges from the earth as much as it stands upon it—and this leads him to question the incessant need of archaeologists to assign foundation dates to such monuments.

As a field archaeologist, I can see aspects of the stratigraphy of mounds that Ingold overlooks. Actually, it often is the case that a base-level can be found—indicating a moment in time when the landscape was cleared and levelled, a circle marked out, some retaining stones set in place perhaps, an encircling ditch dug, and the earth heaped up in the middle to form the first version of the mound, setting off the processes of organic growth that the author describes. Furthermore, this level can sometimes be dated with reasonable precision by the potsherds or other artefacts scattered upon it, sealed by overlying mound material, or contained within the primary fill of the encircling ditches. However, that is not to take away from the main argument of this chapter. The account of the mound as the locus of a mixture of meteorological, hydrological, geological, animal and human activity—in a veritable “joining of forces”—is of great relevance to our understanding of the formation of humanly-modified ground in general, including contemporary deposits.

Chapter 7, “Bodies on the Run”, moves on to consider sculptures and other art objects, both ancient and modern. Using these as examples, Ingold extends the critique of ideas about prior design to an incisive critique of underlying theories of agency. Again, customary lines of argument are turned on their head. It is often taken as a matter of debate as to whether agency should be accorded to non-human and non-animate entities. But Ingold questions whether agency should ever have been extended to humans in the first place—much better to think in terms of combined actions and of mixtures of flows and forces, in which humans get caught up and swept along. In flying a kite, for example, the intentional action of the person holding the kite is only one ingredient in an enmeshment of forces that includes the lively movements of the air: neither the flight of the kite nor its form, developed and honed through countless such material engagements, can be explained by human agency alone.

The next chapter, “Telling by Hand”, deals with tacit knowledge that often cannot be put into words, but can be demonstrated through performance. It contains an important critical appraisal of André Leroi-Gourhan’s wonderfully original book Gesture and Speech (1964). From this develops a discussion of how forms emerge, not so much from the imposition of pre-given ideas, but from the rhythm of engagements between humans and materials. The emphasis of this chapter on the extraordinary capabilities of the hand connects neatly with the earlier chapter on handaxes.

The final chapter, “Drawing the Line”, gathers together the main themes of the book and ties them in with other widely known aspects of Ingold’s thinking, such as the concept of the meshwork. In keeping with the principal argument, lines on paper and paths through landscapes are explored not so much as finished forms but as journeys, unfolding through time. Something of the experience of working as ethnographer alongside Saami herders of northeast Finland comes through here, as indeed it does throughout the book.

Ingold’s work is unusual in that it admits the sun and the rain and the swirling currents of the atmosphere, along with the generative forces of the earth, into its theoretical framework. It reminds us that we inhabit a planet, characterised not so much by static objects but by changing states of matter, and that to know the world we have to directly engage with its material flows and “join forces” with them. This way of thinking meshes in well with an earth-orientated discipline like archaeology that situates itself at least partly outside in the open air, digging into the muddy ground of excavation sites. Archaeologists of the contemporary world will find much in the book to incorporate into their own “making”.

Matt Edgeworth
University of Leicester
[email protected]

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