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Is archaeology a science
#1
"Is archaeology a science"

Quote:Archaeology uses scientific methods, but by no means in it's own right would I consider it a science. The problem for me lays in reconstructing a testable hypothesis. As we all know, how do you recreate an excavation where it can independently be verified by our colleagues?

Quote:An observation by a single person is merely a personal opinion, not science - pretty much all archaeological recording comes under that heading, where to draw that boundary between layers on a section drawing, where to measure the width of the pit...as Jack well knows I've long since leart to go back to the drawings for dimensions, it's scary how often and how much those written on the context sheets differ....almost all archaeology is subjective rather than objective, would be nice if it was the other way around, then we might just get taken more seriously by other 'scientists'?

To my mind we are subjective artists who create from raw materials a story, though often we use science to support the image from the past with a 'scientific steel framework'. I will confess however that I am an annoying processionalist - in that I try not to do anything other than record what is there as accurately as possible. Is that science? Dino is right, in that one persons distinct line is another's dotted line.

Can Science force repeatable activities? is there a way to re-examine a feature that has been dug away?

hhhhhmmmmmmmmmmm :face-huh:
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#2
Moreno, from the other thread: "Archaeology uses scientific methods, but by no means in it's own right would I consider it a science. The problem for me lays in reconstructing a testable hypothesis. As we all know, how do you recreate an excavation where it can independently be verified by our colleagues?"

This is absolutely why archaeology is not a science, obviously it uses scientific techniques and even a scientific method of observation in certain circumstances but to suggest that all archaeology is a science is ridiculous, especially if you are not then going to back up your statement - Jack is hopefully a better scientist than he is a philosopher!

If all archaeology is a science then explain to me the science of trying to match up a field boundary shown on a tithe map to a feature in the ground, or thow interpretating earthworks or aerial photos fits, for a couple of examples. If your view of archaeology is narrow enough to just consider the 'scientific' process of digging then you need to get out more (or perhaps stay in more?)
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#3
In the way that many subjective disciplines can be described as social sciences, I would say that archaeology is a science. However, I wouldn't want to draw a line that only allows objectivity or proccessuality to determine either our research agendas or our field techniques or even the broad philosophical approach to the subject. Phenomonology (however abstract) and intuitive approaches have their place as well....
With peace and consolation hath dismist, And calm of mind all passion spent...
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#4
It depends on what we define "science" as... Wiki turns out to be quite helpful in this case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science. There are several definitions and uses of the word, so depending on how strictly one is in their use of the word, archaeology can or cannot be a science. The basic definition they give ("a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe") is broad enough to potentially let archaeology into the club. That said, when I'm asked whether archaeology is a science, I usually say no so as to avoid confusion. There is no simple answer to this question, imo.
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#5
Yes and no.

It is and it isn't.

One supports the other but neither should be a slave to each other.

One supports incontrovertibale truth (in a way) the other allows an escape to pursue a pet theory.

And don't tell me you have never heard the phrase "ignore the evidence" - that evidence can be found in a lab or in the ground.

That's what makes it so fascinating...
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
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#6
As a great man once said - Archaeology is a science carried out by p*** artists


Beamo
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#7
RedEarth Wrote:Moreno, from the other thread: "Archaeology uses scientific methods, but by no means in it's own right would I consider it a science. The problem for me lays in reconstructing a testable hypothesis. As we all know, how do you recreate an excavation where it can independently be verified by our colleagues?"

This is absolutely why archaeology is not a science, obviously it uses scientific techniques and even a scientific method of observation in certain circumstances but to suggest that all archaeology is a science is ridiculous, especially if you are not then going to back up your statement - Jack is hopefully a better scientist than he is a philosopher!

Grin. I am......or I think I am...........}Smile
I'm a rubbish philosopher, never had any training in it, never read any books on philosophy don't know nowt about any of those named thinkers people love to quote.

But then again.............science is just a branch of philosophy.............from natural philosophy I understand. Its a way of thinking, a way of using structured thinking and backing arguments/theories with evidence.

When 'archaeologists' go beyond the evidence, they invariably fall foul of such 'wrong-thinking' later.

I know such story-telling is in vogue in archaeology at the moment. But those 'theories' created in such a manner that haven't been discredited yet will soon fall under the weight of evidence.

In my (humble) opinion there is never a need to go beyond the evidence to sex-up archaeology. The evidence often speaks for itself, and the answers are often lurking in the detail and cross-comparisons either at a regional, national or international level...or.....the gods of archaeology forbid......cross-comparisons with other 'fields of science.'

One amazing example I have come across recently is lipid analysis on early prehistoric pottery. I remember before the use of this technique there was a lot of talk of the secondary products revolution in the neolithic or summit along those lines. And a lot of talk about people using or not using cows milk. Also lots of theorising on the ritual significance etc...etc... and such story-telling.

Then comes along lipid analysis and bang......early prehistoric pottery had dairy products in it.
Next will come a combination of multiple determination radiocarbon dating (with statistics) on a range of sherds with lipid and other organic residue analysis.
Followed by evidence of when, where and in what those ritual-obsessed :face-stir: neolithic (or if you prefer - early 4th millennium to late 3rd millennium peoples) were using different animal products.
But I'm sure the ritual-obsessed archaeologists will continue to make up their stories of the 'meaning' of it all or how the experience of receiving the lab reports made them 'feel'.


RedEarth Wrote:If all archaeology is a science then explain to me the science of trying to match up a field boundary shown on a tithe map to a feature in the ground, or thow interpretating earthworks or aerial photos fits, for a couple of examples. If your view of archaeology is narrow enough to just consider the 'scientific' process of digging then you need to get out more (or perhaps stay in more?)

Thats easy. Both rely on such wild ideas as mathematics, and the systematic and random errors that are an inherent part of each method of recording, be it the photographing, the surveying, the map-making or the 'interpretation of the earthworks. The real science is in assessing the errors from each technique and how they have affected each set of results and to come up with a 'line of best fit' with its own statement of errors.

But let me explain where I'm coming from.........I once studied theoretical physics and electronics engineering to degree level. You should see how much of both are unrepeatable or unmeasurable or heavily theorized (made up).

Good archaeology is as good as any science. Even the standard format of site reports mirrors your basic lab report. When you look at archaeology in these terms.....

A site report becomes a lab report.
A critique or synthesis paper comparing the site results with other sites/evidence becomes a paper detailing a repeat of the experiment in the original lab report and a critique
A broader synthesis becomes a more detailed assessment of several sets of lab results
A program of (for example) radiocarbon dating or lipid analysis etc becomes a test of a theory

etc etc.

To me its a viable parallel.
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#8
beamo Wrote:As a great man once said - Archaeology is a science carried out by p*** artists

I probably said that as well, but don't remember having been pissed at the time!.

I think the difficulty with 'fitting' archaeology into traditional science is that there is no absolute truth and never can be, as we are only dealing with the residues of our past and not the principal source material. (Imagine trying to describe the form and social habits of an elephant if you have never come across one, just by analysing its shit!).

And what would archaeology be like if we never had the opportunity to add after an exquisite exposition, 'And another thing....' or 'Yes, OK, but....'
With peace and consolation hath dismist, And calm of mind all passion spent...
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#9
In my opinion Archaeology is a science in so far as it is based on evidence and the data gathered informs hypotheses. That data can and should be of a standard to be re-assessed as complementary scientific methodologies are developed. That leads me to a question - if archaeology is a science and excavation is pure data capture do research frameworks and the interpretive nature of recording (I rarely see a properly stripy section like I'd draw) skew the possible results and conclusions? Or did I just dissappear up my a**?

I guess I see archaeology as a proto-science. Like in the Enlightenment there were alchemists and chemists... only essential difference was outlook.

Really interesting debate :face-approve:
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#10
Jack Wrote:Grin. I am......or I think I am...........}Smile
I'm a rubbish philosopher, never had any training in it, never read any books on philosophy don't know nowt about any of those named thinkers people love to quote.

But then again.............science is just a branch of philosophy.............from natural philosophy I understand. Its a way of thinking, a way of using structured thinking and backing arguments/theories with evidence.

When 'archaeologists' go beyond the evidence, they invariably fall foul of such 'wrong-thinking' later.

I know such story-telling is in vogue in archaeology at the moment. But those 'theories' created in such a manner that haven't been discredited yet will soon fall under the weight of evidence.

In my (humble) opinion there is never a need to go beyond the evidence to sex-up archaeology. The evidence often speaks for itself, and the answers are often lurking in the detail and cross-comparisons either at a regional, national or international level...or.....the gods of archaeology forbid......cross-comparisons with other 'fields of science.'

One amazing example I have come across recently is lipid analysis on early prehistoric pottery. I remember before the use of this technique there was a lot of talk of the secondary products revolution in the neolithic or summit along those lines. And a lot of talk about people using or not using cows milk. Also lots of theorising on the ritual significance etc...etc... and such story-telling.

Then comes along lipid analysis and bang......early prehistoric pottery had dairy products in it.
Next will come a combination of multiple determination radiocarbon dating (with statistics) on a range of sherds with lipid and other organic residue analysis.
Followed by evidence of when, where and in what those ritual-obsessed :face-stir: neolithic (or if you prefer - early 4th millennium to late 3rd millennium peoples) were using different animal products.
But I'm sure the ritual-obsessed archaeologists will continue to make up their stories of the 'meaning' of it all or how the experience of receiving the lab reports made them 'feel'.




Thats easy. Both rely on such wild ideas as mathematics, and the systematic and random errors that are an inherent part of each method of recording, be it the photographing, the surveying, the map-making or the 'interpretation of the earthworks. The real science is in assessing the errors from each technique and how they have affected each set of results and to come up with a 'line of best fit' with its own statement of errors.

But let me explain where I'm coming from.........I once studied theoretical physics and electronics engineering to degree level. You should see how much of both are unrepeatable or unmeasurable or heavily theorized (made up).

Good archaeology is as good as any science. Even the standard format of site reports mirrors your basic lab report. When you look at archaeology in these terms.....

A site report becomes a lab report.
A critique or synthesis paper comparing the site results with other sites/evidence becomes a paper detailing a repeat of the experiment in the original lab report and a critique
A broader synthesis becomes a more detailed assessment of several sets of lab results
A program of (for example) radiocarbon dating or lipid analysis etc becomes a test of a theory

etc etc.

To me its a viable parallel.



That's all perfectly true and while I would concede that archaeology is or can be 'scientific' and, compares quite well to some other 'science' subjects, it so many other things too, depending on which direction you are coming from. You seem to take the view that it is and should only be a science, with anything else dismissed as 'story telling' and moving away from the evidence. But it is ultimately about people not pots, as I believe someone once said, so without the stories is it really telling us anything? I quite like the idea of it being more like a philosophical or theorectical discipline, using science and even guess work (there, I've said it!) to come up with a realistic or sensible interpretation. Wouldn't restricting it to just science make it a bit boring and limited?

Read all about it: pots had milk in them!
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