This book challenges existing conceptions of plant and animal usage and significance within archaeology in order to include their role in material culture. It is time to augment the way that archaeological data is analysed and integrated. That is why this chapter introduces a concept termed ‘the holistic approach to material culture’ and a problem termed ‘the missing majority’. Archaeologists are used to dealing with fragmentary data and problematic evi-

dence. The history of the subject and the nature of the evidence have allowed the durable materials of stone, pottery and metal to dominate archaeological reports and the resulting discussions, just as much if not more than they dominate archaeological ways of thinking. To re-think not the value of individual studies of pottery, stone and metal, but rather the way in which the agendas arising from these artefacts have dominated material culture discourse is not to negate what has been achieved, but rather to augment and integrate perishable material culture as a fundamental act of enrichment. Clearly, this is an ambitious agenda and one that many archaeologists may not

think worthwhile given that the material culture from plants and animals survives so rarely and is missing from significant periods of the archaeological record. Why then does it matter so much? The clearest demonstration of why it matters is to take a look around you. If you are inside a building, whatever room you are in, living room, library, study, or craft studio, the chances are that you have a range of possessions and furnishings around you which will be dominated by organic materials. Consider clothes, bags, furnishings, furniture and utensils, and then add tools with organic handles. The room you are in will perhaps also have organic structural elements such as door frames. The building may also be made partly or wholly from organic materials. These are far more substantial and durable elements

than the organic products that may be present as food and drink. The things around you and what you wear identify your social persona in a moment and signal the relationships you have between other members of your society and your relative status. The perishable organic material forms the majority of the material culture and is missing from most prehistoric sites worldwide. More problematically, it is missing from our archaeological worldview. Although we live in a world where material culture ownership is significantly

higher than most periods of archaeological study, these fundamental truths are just as relevant, if not more so, to the societies of the archaeological past. To think about and discuss organic material culture only on the rare occasions when we find it is simply to miss important facets of the cultural repertoire, and the relationships between the individuals of a society and between people and their environment. It is for these reasons that this book is relevant to more than the set of people who already study plant and animal remains as elements of the archaeological record. Furthermore, the agenda set by the need to produce material culture can be argued to be far more significant than is currently appreciated as a tenet of archaeology. It is recognized that the absence of evidence is not the same as the evidence of absence. In just the same way, the absence of large amounts of good data is not at all the same as a lack of significance of the missing data. Nor can it be argued that its effect on the small amount that does survive can be dismissed as negligible. The central tenets of this book are therefore that the majority of material culture

is made up of organic raw materials, that most of these are highly perishable materials, and that their absence has severely affected our interpretation of their significance. This is the problem that I have termed ‘the missing majority’. Just because these crafts are invisible does not and should not preclude them from being an essential aspect of archaeological thinking. The sophisticated techniques that allow archaeologists to routinely extract the maximum amount of information from few and fragmentary remains could equally well be used to address the concept of a holistic approach to material culture and mitigate against the problem of the missing majority. If scientists can now extract the Neanderthal genome from scraps of bone or identify the type of liquids stored in pots, it should be possible to recover far more evidence about perishable technologies than has so far been done. These are scientific breakthroughs and can be literally described as archaeology working on molecules of evidence but although the ‘missing majority’ could and should use these opportunities, much more could be made of the artefactual, environmental, palaeoeconomic data that we already have. New techniques will undoubtedly draw out more of the ‘missing majority’ and help develop the agenda but a more fundamental shift needs to ripple through the discipline from fieldwork through analysis to interpretation and presentation. A key part of this introduction is to set out the approach and its context

explaining the ways in which this book can be used. There is no single intended reader of this volume; rather people will come to it and leave with a variety of resonances. For anthropologists and archaeologists interested in material culture studies there is the consideration of complex relationships between individuals and

communities, and an argument that the choice of material and its location and place within the landscape is as much a part of the creation of identity as any other aspect of material culture production and consumption. For archaeologists in the broadest sense there is the consideration of organic eras

and agendas in the conception and day-to-day production of material culture. For archaeologists specializing in the analysis of plants and animals and environmental evidence there is a way of approaching the interpretations of different kinds of familiar evidence. Last but by no means least, for the craft practitioners in the contemporary world whose raw materials come from plants and animals, there is an historical depth to their craft traditions. They will know what I mean when I say that they can understand this book with their hands as well as their minds.