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The Quality of the Archaeological Record$
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Charles Perreault

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226630823

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226631011.001.0001

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Archaeology and Underdetermination

Archaeology and Underdetermination

(p.135) 6 Archaeology and Underdetermination
The Quality of the Archaeological Record

Charles Perreault

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines whether the current research program of the discipline matches the quality of the archaeological record and argues that most processes studied by archaeologists operate over a decade or less. This is 2–3 orders of magnitude faster than the sampling interval and the resolution of archaeological data. This has three consequences. First, most archaeological results are wrong. The chance that an archaeological interpretation, picked among dozens of equifinal alternatives, is valid is vanishingly small. Second, most archaeological research is also unneeded. The short-scale processes studied by archaeologists are borrowed from other disciplines, such as cultural anthropology. These disciplines do not need archaeology to confirm or disprove their ideas. Third, archaeological theory is balkanized. The archaeological literature is crowded with a daunting number of theories and claims that are mutually exclusive. New theories and processes are added to the literature faster than old ones are eliminated. Archaeologists are ignoring the equifinality problem for historical reasons that are outlined here. This was further amplified by the way archaeologists understood uniformitarianism, a human-centric view of the world, and the way archaeologists test hypothesis. Paleontologists, faced a similar problem years ago and solved it by changing their research problem.

Keywords:   History of archaeology, Anthropological archaeology, Uniformitarianism, History of paleontology, Research program, Equifinality, Archaeological theories, Individuals, Agency

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