Planned object

Title: Epistemological status of archaeology - current controversies


Burdukiewicz, Jan Michał

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Archaeologia Polona Vol. 44 (2006)


Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences

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24 cm


The current debate on the epistemological status of archaeology started in the 1960s. The spectrum is broad from archaeology viewed as a science to a post-modern concept of archaeology as an ideology without a chance at verifying its own concepts. As a branch of the social sciences, archaeology cooperates closely with the natural sciences. David Clarke and Lewis R. Binford supported a strongly realistic and scientific approach, called later “processual archaeology. Their opponents, like Ian Hodder, prefer to be “post-processualists”, placing archaeology in a nonscientific post-modern perspective. This division in archaeology runs even deeper with several universities offering students a choice of studying “scientific archaeology” or “archaeometry instead of archaeology” viewed as a kind of “art” or no more than traditional humanities. “Post-processualists” do not respect the key scientific principles such as the one stating that the reality can be recognized objectively and tested through deductive theories, demarcation of science and non-science, Occam’s razor, the tertium non datur principle, as well as analytical and quantitative methods. According to the most extreme “post-processualists”, called “radical constructivists”, entire branches of knowledge, including ontology and epistemology, are redundant. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether the past existed or not, as this has no effect on our knowledge of it. Constructivists believe that prehistoric artifacts are nothing more than our mental constructions. In opposition to the “post-processual” epistemological pessimism, numerous scientific achievements applied recently to archaeological research have brought magnificent results regarding our knowledge of human origins and the development of human culture. The natural sciences have extended our archaeological methods of research and their epistemological background. Archaeologists can pursue the epistemological approach of palaeontologists and geologists, who investigate the past (including the origins of cognition) very closely, instead of the approach of those of who continue to dispute inexplicable philosophical questions


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Archaeologia Polona



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