Through the study of material culture, archaeology can provide fundamental insights for reconstructing the past. In the last twenty years, the discipline has developed theoretical approaches focusing on materiality and unique applications of quantitative and computational methodologies. As Giorgio Buccellati has suggested, archaeology can be considered intrinsically digital not only “in the sense that it turns digital once the data have been entered and processed, but, more radically, in the sense that it is by its very nature digital, in its genesis and its structure.” This observation is based on the fact that archaeology has a digital way of reasoning that moves in a bottom-up, inductive way, building its understanding from fragments of that past rather than starting from the whole and breaking it down. In other words, vast masses of non-contiguous individual elements reveal the hidden connectivity between them, in what Hodder has called “entanglement”. Archaeology is tied to excavation, which results in a destructive and non-repeatable practice that allows the archaeologist to gather sources directly in order to understand their entangled relations among humans and non-humans. Indeed, archaeology’s strength resides in its capacity to bridge the static nature of the archaeological record and the dynamism of the past, trying to interpret the stories preserved within the earth and allow the many voices from the past to be heard. In the past, archaeology was considered a method for gaining essential information from material culture about urban, technological, and economic aspects of earlier societies. Today it has become evident that archaeology not only gives us information on those who are not documented in the written sources but also allows for an analysis of society from anthropological, political, ideological, and social points of view. Above all, archaeology provides insights into the relationships between humans, things, and the environment in any period. Archaeology brings a different understanding of the past with respect to written sources, which stems from materiality. The relationship between written sources and archaeology has been the subject of long debate, often dividing archaeologists between those who do not rely on texts (generally pre- protohistory archaeologists) and those that are text-aided. Early medieval archaeology relies less on textual sources than that of the late medieval period, for which there are many available written documents. This has created a close relationship between medieval archaeology and written documentation in which textual evidence is used to support archaeological data and that data is understood as a confirmation of what was written. Archaeology, however, may contradict written documents or unveil information and perspectives that the textual sources obfuscate but it always works in a dialogue with different sources. The field of archaeology in particular uses a type of source, material culture, to a degree not seen in other disciplines and this is why archaeological questions related to materiality must be foregrounded. Only with a sound understanding of material evidence can archaeology interact with written sources. This is the only way for archaeology to produce original insights into the past. Archaeology provides an enormous amount of information about the past, describing the natural and anthropological environment and explaining the interactions, including social and political ones, of humans with the world around them. Archaeology has transformed the space in which humans and non-humans interacted from a passive container to an active one. This has been a crucial change and proof that archaeological research is an autonomous discipline. Consequently, this essay describes medieval Pisa’s material culture, making it speak for itself in dialogue with the written sources as the first step for a more thorough understanding of medieval Pisa through the lens of materiality. Finally, it is essential to highlight two variables that archaeological research must address continuously: sampling and complexity. Sampling is affected by the impossibility of collecting every single trace of the past, both because of the nature of archaeological recording and the randomness of its conservation and discovery. In fact, archaeological data is only part of a whole that we will never have the possibility of knowing in full but one that we may attempt to understand in general terms. Regarding the second variable, the complexity of research depends on the origins of the archaeological source and the methodology applied to the gathering and documentation of the archaeological record. This complexity is also influenced by the progressive evolution of the discipline, the lack of standardization, and the overall increase of archaeological data and the archaeologists producing data.
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