Sunday, November 14, 2004

Systematics in Prehistory ebook

Systematics in Prehistory ebook - Robert C. Dunnell questions the validity of the concepts and assumptions of scientific classification of prehistoric societies based upon artifacts. A hypertext companion to the book with the same title that features chapter summaries and a glossary.

From the site:

Man has probably had an interest in his past as long as he has been man. Depending upon which authorities one reads and which criteria he uses, this interest has been expressed as archaeology in Western Civilization variously since the birth of that civilization in the Near East, since the time of classical Greece and Rome in the Mediterranean, or since the European Renaissance. Over this period of time--be it five thousand or five hundred years--there naturally have been radical changes in the approach and nature of archaeology.

Today, judging by the meager perspective that can be gained contemporarily, we seem to be entering such a period of change. Often this change is phrased in terms of different approaches or competing schools called the "new archaeology" and the "old archaeology." The "new archaeology" has a different view of the relevance of man's past to his present; its goals appear to be aimed at explanation of man's past, not just at its recitation With new aims have come, at least to some degree, new means for accomplishing them. The newly envisioned goals provide a clarity of purpose, and the people practicing the "new archaeology" are more systematic and articulate about what they are doing, how they are doing it, and, most importantly, why they are doing it. In looking back, or rather across, to the "old" the complaints of the new are not so much that the old is wrong--indeed, the old has produced nearly all that we now have of man's past--but that its goals are too narrow, when it has goals at all. An interest in the past is no longer deemed a justification for a discipline in terms of "current relevance."

In particular, the new has criticized the old as being "an art." This criticism has been drawn for nearly twenty years, usually by pointing out that there is no means within archaeology to rationally evaluate its conclusions. One has to be content with "believing" or with assessing the merits of a set of conclusions by a knowledge of the professional status of the individual who did the work.

There is no denying that this was true and continues to be true of much that is done in archaeology and that this is not a healthy state of affairs. Because of these rather obvious faults, there is a strong tendency to reject the "old archaeology" and to replace it, or attempt to, with the "new archaeology." This, however, it to deny the results of the old and, indeed, the "new archaeology" itself which is born of the old and covertly contains much of it.

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