Between the vertical and the horizontal: Time and space in archaeology

Cristian Simonetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Archaeology, like most sciences that rely on stratigraphic excavation for studying the past, tends to conceptualize this past as lying deep underneath the ground. Accordingly, chronologies tend to be depicted as a movement from bottom to top, which contrast with sciences that illustrate the passage of time horizontally. By paying attention to the development of the visual language of disciplines that follow stratigraphy, I show how chronologies get entangled with other temporalities, particularly those of writing. Relying on recent ethnographic work with archaeologists, the analysis reveals that excavation emerges as a double vertical movement of downward destruction and upward reconstruction that coincides with a systematic dissociation of time and space that has important effects for the understanding of the formation of sites. I conclude by looking at some of the implications of this dissociation for contemporary theoretical discussions, particularly those that emerged after the phenomenological push to horizontalize the discipline. Challenging this dissociation, I argue that the conceptualization of time in science should be understood as a process that depends on the body and unfolds in movement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-110
Number of pages21
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number1
Early online date13 Feb 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank the many archaeologists I worked with in Scotland. This article would have been impossible without their support. An earlier version of this article was presented in 2011 at the Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen. A similar version was also presented in 2012 at the Departamento de Antropologıa, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. I am grateful to those who organized these seminars and to those who attended them and gave me feedback. I would also like to thank Tim Ingold, Jeff Oliver and two anonymous reviewers for their very insightful comments on earlier versions of this article. This work was conducted thanks to two PhD studentships awarded by the Chilean National Commission of Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) and the College of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Aberdeen. Finally, I would like to thank David Robinson and Taylor & Francis for allowing me to reproduce two images – figures 8 and 6 – included in this article.


  • archaeology
  • chronologies
  • landscape
  • space
  • time


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