The Quality of the Archaeological Record

The Quality of the Archaeological Record

Charles Perreault

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226630823

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Archaeologists routinely interpret the archaeological record in terms of microscale processes – individual-level processes that operate within the human lifespan. In embracing this goal, archaeologists have borrowed an agenda designed by, and for, disciplines that study humans in the present-time and use data with a quality that is orders of magnitude different than archaeological data. By forcing such an agenda on the record, archaeologists are offering explanations for the human past that are merely consistent with the record, instead of being supported beyond a reasonable doubt by a smoking gun. As a result, their research suffers from an inordinate equifinality. This book addresses this problem by developing a theory of the various pathways leading to equifinality and underdetermination, that links them to various aspects of the quality of the archaeological record, and that articulates how these different aspects are shaped by various forces such as site formation processes. Using published literature, archaeological data are found to be dominated with sampling intervals and resolutions in the order of 102-3 years – too long for the study of microscale processes. The history of archaeology, archaeologists’ view of uniformitarianism, and the way they are trained to confirm hypotheses have allowed archaeologists to ignore the underdetermination problem that plagues their research. I argue that archaeologists should recalibrate their research program to the quality of the archaeological record by focusing primarily on cultural historical reconstruction and macroarchaeology, i.e. the search for macroscale patterns and processes in the global archaeological record.