Philosophy of Archaeology

Edited by Adrian Currie (Cambridge University, University of Exeter)
About this topic
Summary Archaeology has long been a philosophically and methodologically reflective science. This, in addition to being situated between the physical, social and historical sciences, makes it ideal (and typically under-utilized) fodder for philosophical analysis and understanding. This entry attempts to include both the clearly philosophical, and work attempting new, integrative approaches to archaeological reconstruction. Major issues in the philosophy of archaeology are epistemological, methodological and ethical. Epistemically, the status of archaeological evidence, and its capacity to underwrite reconstructions of prehistoric social worlds, must confront the decay of traces over time and the limited applicability of repeated experimentation so favored of physical sciences. Methodologically, archaeologists worry a lot about how best to treat their evidence: the long debates between processualists, structuralists, post-modernists, etc... are a testament to this. Moreover, archaeology is by its very nature pluralistic: it draws together many forms of evidence, from a diverse range of fields (from physics to evolutionary theory to comparative religion), making it a hot-spot for integrative and disunified approaches to science. Finally, archaeologists are often in the business of utilizing the material remains of sometimes venerated - and sometimes politically explosive - past people. This requires an ethical understanding of the delicate relationships between the scientist and the (often politically underrepresented) groups who also lay claim to such remains.
Key works For rich philosophical and historical discussion focusing largely on the epistemological and methodological issues in archaeology, Alison Wylie's work is invaluable, particularly Wylie 2002 which collects several of her papers. Another important work covering the epistemological issues is Kosso 2001's 'Knowing the past' . The papers collected in the Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Theory provide a good overview of theoretical issues in the science.
Introductions Historically, epistemological discussion in anthropology has coalesced around the evidential status of so-called 'ethnographic analogy': the use of contemporary anthropological evidence to inform pre-historical reconstruction. Alison Wylie's "The reaction against analogy" Wylie 1985 both provides a history and a philosophical analysis. Currie 2016 connects these issues to reconstruction in biology. Another good introduction to epistemological issues (which connects archaeology to wider issues in historical reconstruction) is Jeffares 2008. For a nice introduction to ethical issues in archaeology, see Bahn 1984.
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1 — 50 / 457
  1. added 2020-02-11
    Time and Traditions: Essays in Archaeological Interpretation.Marrilee H. Salmon - 1979 - Philosophy of Science 46 (3):494-495.
  2. added 2020-02-11
    Explanation in Archeology; An Explicitly Scientific Approach. Patty Jo Watson, Steven A. Leblanc, Charles L. Redman.H. David Tuggle - 1972 - Philosophy of Science 39 (4):564-566.
  3. added 2019-11-25
    Templi Ptolemaei — A Look at the Purpose of the Serapeum at Alexandria.Jan M. van der Molen - Jan 28, 2019 - University of Groningen.
    The most discussed of architectural marvels tend to be the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus or the Parthenon at Athens, supposedly because they are the ones we happen to have nominated ‘world wonders’; but that doesn’t mean all the rest of temple-type sites to be found across the greater Mediterranean area have less wonder about them. On the contrary; when wanting to explore and explain the role temples played in the lives of their ‘subscribers’ and a (...)
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  4. added 2019-11-06
    La influencia epistemológica del modelo cartesiano de la mente en arqueología cognitiva.Alfredo Robles Zamora - 2019 - Límite: Revista de Filosofía y Psicología 14 (14).
    The aim of this work is to expose the Cartesian Model of the mind in Cognitive Archaeology and point out how it relates to the questions behind this branch of archaeology. Based on this, some of the premises assumed by the Cartesian Model and how they influence the formulation to the problem of epistemological relativism in the branch are explained. According to this problem, since there is no way to evaluate hypotheses in this research area, the investigations on cognition, based (...)
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  5. added 2019-10-26
    What Can the Lithic Record Tell Us About the Evolution of Hominin Cognition?Ross Pain - forthcoming - Topoi:1-15.
    This paper examines the inferential framework employed by Palaeolithic cognitive archaeologists, using the work of Wynn and Coolidge as a case study. I begin by distinguishing minimal-capacity inferences from cognitive-transition inferences. Minimal-capacity inferences attempt to infer the cognitive prerequisites required for the production of a technology. Cognitive-transition inferences use transitions in technological complexity to infer transitions in cognitive evolution. I argue that cognitive archaeology has typically used cognitive-transition inferences informed by minimal-capacity inferences, and that this reflects a tendency to favour (...)
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  6. added 2019-10-21
    The Evolution of Social Communication in Primates: A Multidisciplinary Approach.Marco Pina & Nathalie Gontier - 2014 - Springer.
    How did social communication evolve in primates? In this volume, primatologists, linguists, anthropologists, cognitive scientists and philosophers of science systematically analyze how their specific disciplines demarcate the research questions and methodologies involved in the study of the evolutionary origins of social communication in primates in general, and in humans in particular. In the first part of the book, historians and philosophers of science address how the epistemological frameworks associated with primate communication and language evolution studies have changed over time, and (...)
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  7. added 2019-10-02
    Speculative Annihilationism: The Intersection of Archaeology and Extinction.Matt Rosen - 2018 - Hampshire, UK: Zero Books.
  8. added 2019-06-20
    文化進化の考古学.Hisashi Nakao, Takehiko Matsugi & Nobuhiro Minaka - 2017
    The book includes some examples of cultural evolutionary studies on archaeological remains in Japan.
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  9. added 2019-06-12
    Violence in the Prehistoric Period of Japan: The Spatio-Temporal Pattern of Skeletal Evidence for Violence in the Jomon Period.Hisashi Nakao, Kohei Tamura, Yui Arimatsu, Tomomi Nakagawa, Naoko Matsumoto & Takehiko Matsugi - 2016 - Biology Letters 1 (12):20160028.
    Whether man is predisposed to lethal violence, ranging from homicide to warfare, and how that may have impacted human evolution, are among the most controversial topics of debate on human evolution. Although recent studies on the evolution of warfare have been based on various archaeological and ethnographic data, they have reported mixed results: it is unclear whether or not warfare among prehistoric hunter – gatherers was common enough to be a component of human nature and a selective pressure for the (...)
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  10. added 2019-06-06
    Correction To: ‘Violence in the Prehistoric Period of Japan: The Spatio-Temporal Pattern of Skeletal Evidence for Violence in the Jomon Period’.Nakao Hisashi, Kohei Tamura, Yui Arimatsu, Tomomi Nakagawa, Naoko Matsumoto & Takehiko Matsugi - 2016 - Biology Letters 2016:20160847.
    Whether man is predisposed to lethal violence, ranging from homicide to warfare, and how that may have impacted human evolution, are among the most controversial topics of debate on human evolution. Although recent studies on the evolution of warfare have been based on various archaeological and ethnographic data, they have reported mixed results: it is unclear whether or notwarfare among prehistoric hunter–gathererswas common enough to be a component of human nature and a selective pressure for the evolution of human behaviour. (...)
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  11. added 2019-06-06
    Scientists and Their Cultural Heritage: Knowledge, Politics and Ambivalent Relationships.Soraya Boudia & Sébastien Soubiran - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (4):643-651.
    For many years, scientific heritage has received attention from multiple actors from different spheres of activity—archives, museums, scientific institutions. Beyond the heterogeneity revealed when examining the place of scientific heritage in different places, an authentic patrimonial configuration emerges and takes the form of a nebula of claims and of accomplishments that result, in some cases, in institutional and political recognition at the national level, in various country all around the world. At the international level, the creation of the international committee (...)
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  12. added 2019-06-06
    Tim Murray , Encyclopaedia of Archaeology: The Great Archaeologists. Santa Barbara: ABC–CLIO, 1999. Pp. Xxii+950. ISBN 1-57607-199-5. $150.00. [REVIEW]David Shotter - 2003 - British Journal for the History of Science 36 (4):480-480.
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  13. added 2019-06-06
    Neil Cossons , Perspectives on Industrial Archaeology. London: Science Museum, 2000. Pp. 176. ISBN 1-900747-31-6. £19·95. [REVIEW]Colin Divall - 2001 - British Journal for the History of Science 34 (4):453-481.
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  14. added 2019-06-06
    Middle-Range Theory in Historical Archaeology.Peter Kosso - 1993 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 24 (2):163-184.
  15. added 2019-06-06
    Jaroslav Malina and Zdenek V Sícěk. Archaeology Yesterday and Today: The Development of Archaeology in the Sciences and the Humanities, Translated and Edited by Marek Zvelebil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Pp. Xiv + 320. ISBN 0-521-26621-1, £40.00, $65 ; 0-521-31977-3, £15.00, $19.95. [REVIEW]Tim Murray - 1992 - British Journal for the History of Science 25 (4):489-490.
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  16. added 2019-06-06
    Re-Constructing Archaeology: Theory and Practice. [REVIEW]Alison Wylie - 1992 - International Studies in Philosophy 24 (1):135-136.
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  17. added 2019-06-06
    Medieval Archaeology.Charles L. Redman.Kathleen Biddick - 1991 - Speculum 66 (4):939-942.
  18. added 2019-06-06
    The Method and Theory of V. Gordon Childe. [REVIEW]Alison Wylie - 1986 - International Studies in Philosophy 18 (3):67-69.
  19. added 2019-06-06
    The Archaeology of Medieval England. Helen Clarke.Kathleen Biddick - 1986 - Speculum 61 (2):395-396.
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  20. added 2019-06-06
    Mohammed, Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe: Archaeology and the Pirenne Thesis. Richard Hodges, David Whitehouse.Bryce Lyon - 1985 - Speculum 60 (3):682-684.
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  21. added 2019-06-06
    Archaeology and History: I: Lectures and Essays. [REVIEW]Helga Botermann - 1979 - Philosophy and History 12 (2):213-215.
  22. added 2019-06-06
    Scientific Methods in Medieval Archaeology. Rainer Berger.A. R. Ubbelohde - 1973 - Speculum 48 (2):340-341.
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  23. added 2019-06-06
    Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology. Vol. Xxv, Nos. 1–2 and 3–4; Vol. Xxvi, Nos. 1–2. Liverpool: University Press, 1938. Paper, 12s. Each Double Number. [REVIEW]E. Harrison - 1939 - The Classical Review 53 (5-6):217-217.
  24. added 2019-06-06
    The Humanistic Value of Archaeology. [REVIEW]A. Shewan - 1935 - The Classical Review 49 (1):16-16.
  25. added 2019-06-05
    Review of Evidential Reasoning in ArchaeologyRobert Chapman and Alison Wylie, Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology. London: Bloomsbury Academic , 264 Pp., $82.00. [REVIEW]Adrian Currie - 2017 - Philosophy of Science 84 (4):782-790.
  26. added 2019-06-05
    Between the Vertical and the Horizontal.Cristián Simonetti - 2013 - History of the Human Sciences 26 (1):90-110.
    Archaeology, like most sciences that rely on stratigraphic excavation for studying the past, tends to conceptualize this past as lying deep underneath the ground. Accordingly, chronologies tend to be depicted as a movement from bottom to top, which contrast with sciences that illustrate the passage of time horizontally. By paying attention to the development of the visual language of disciplines that follow stratigraphy, I show how chronologies get entangled with other temporalities, particularly those of writing. Relying on recent ethnographic work (...)
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  27. added 2019-06-05
    Jericho: From Archaeology Challenging the Canon to Searching for the Meaning of Myth.Eben Scheffler - 2013 - Hts Theological Studies 69 (1):1-10.
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  28. added 2019-06-05
    Book Reviews: Harold Kincaid, John Dupré, and Alison Wylie, Eds. Value‐Free Science? Ideals and Illusions.New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 241. $65.00. [REVIEW]Evelyn Brister - 2008 - Ethics 118 (4):735-738.
  29. added 2019-06-05
    Critical Traditions in Contemporary Archaeology: Essays in the Philosophy, History and Socio-Politics of Archaeology. Valerie Pinsky, Alison Wylie.Linda E. Patrik - 1992 - Philosophy of Science 59 (4):701-703.
  30. added 2019-06-05
    A History of Archaeological Thought. Bruce G. Trigger.Jeremy Sabloff - 1992 - Philosophy of Science 59 (4):703-705.
  31. added 2019-04-06
    弥生時代中期における戦争:人骨と人口動態の関係から(Prehistoric Warfare in the Middle Phase of the Yayoi Period in Japan : Human Skeletal Remains and Demography).Tomomi Nakagawa, Hisashi Nakao, Kohei Tamura, Yuji Yamaguchi, Naoko Matsumoto & Takehiko Matsugi - 2019 - Journal of Computer Archaeology 1 (24):10-29.
    It has been commonly claimed that prehistoric warfare in Japan began in the Yayoi period. Population increases due to the introduction of agriculture from the Korean Peninsula to Japan resulted in the lack of land for cultivation and resources for the population, eventually triggering competition over land. This hypothesis has been supported by the demographic data inferred from historical changes in Kamekan, a burial system used especially in the Kyushu area in the Yayoi period. The present study aims to examine (...)
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  32. added 2018-12-22
    Alexander, My Forefather: Nationalism and Archaeology in the Greek Macedonia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.Rosalind MacDonald - 2015 - Constellations (University of Alberta Student Journal) 6 (1).
    Classical archaeology in the service of the state and national identity is not a new concept, although it is one that is seen less, or at least less blatantly, in modern Europe. This particular use of the classical past is still very much in use in the region of Macedonia, both the Greek province and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Nationalism uses archaeology and the imagery of the ancient world to claim legitimacy in the modern world. By claiming the (...)
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  33. added 2018-12-06
    A Quantitative History of Japanese Archaeology and Natural Science.Hisashi Nakao - 2018 - Japanese Journal of Archaeology 6 (1):3-22.
    This study examines the relationship between Japanese archaeology and natural science through a quantitative analysis of the two most authoritative archaeological journals and two other relevant journals in Japan. First, although previous studies have emphasized the impact of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tokyo on the scientific aspects of Japanese archaeology, results of the present study suggest that its impact has been more limited than previously assumed. Second, while previous studies claimed that research funding by the Japanese (...)
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  34. added 2018-10-06
    12 Aboriginal Ecotourism and Archaeology in Coastal IVSH/F Australia: Yarrawarra Place Stones Project.Wendy Beck, Dee Murphy, Cheryl Perkins & Margaret Somerville - 2005 - In Claire Smith & Hans Martin Wobst (eds.), Indigenous Archaeologies: Decolonizing Theory and Practice. Routledge.
  35. added 2018-09-21
    A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography.Aviezer Tucker (ed.) - 2008 - Wiley-Blackwell.
    The fifty entries in this _Companion_ cover the main issues in the philosophies of historiography and history, including natural history and the practices of historians. Written by an international and multi-disciplinary group of experts A cutting-edge updated picture of current research in the field Part of the renowned _Blackwell Companions_ series.
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  36. added 2018-07-17
    Violence and Warfare in Prehistoric Japan.Tomomi Nakagawa, Hisashi Nakao, Kohei Tamura, Yui Arimatsu, Naoko Matsumoto & Takehiko Matsugi - 2017 - Letters on Evolutionary and Behavioral Science 8 (1):8-11.
    The origins and consequences of warfare or largescale intergroup violence have been subject of long debate. Based on exhaustive surveys of skeletal remains for prehistoric hunter-gatherers and agriculturists in Japan, the present study examines levels of inferred violence and their implications for two different evolutionary models, i.e., parochial altruism model and subsistence model. The former assumes that frequent warfare played an important role in the evolution of altruism and the latter sees warfare as promoted by social changes induced by agriculture. (...)
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  37. added 2018-03-05
    Narratives, Mechanisms and Progress in Historical Science.Adrian Mitchell Currie - 2014 - Synthese 191 (6):1-21.
    Geologists, Paleontologists and other historical scientists are frequently concerned with narrative explanations targeting single cases. I show that two distinct explanatory strategies are employed in narratives, simple and complex. A simple narrative has minimal causal detail and is embedded in a regularity, whereas a complex narrative is more detailed and not embedded. The distinction is illustrated through two case studies: the ‘snowball earth’ explanation of Neoproterozoic glaciation and recent attempts to explain gigantism in Sauropods. This distinction is revelatory of historical (...)
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  38. added 2018-02-17
    Archaeology and Aletheiology: The Heideggerian Transformation of The Aristotelian Conception of Ontology.Alejandro G. Vigo & Erick Raphael Jiménez - 2011 - Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 32 (1):67-102.
  39. added 2018-02-17
    Archaeology and the Origins of Philosophy.Robert Hahn - 2010 - State University of New York Press.
    _Detailed study of how Anaximander’s cosmological and philosophical conceptions were affected by architectural technologies._.
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  40. added 2018-02-17
    On the Possibility of Lawful Explanation in Archaeology.Merrilee H. Salmon - 1990 - Critica 22 (66):87-114.
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  41. added 2018-01-16
    Is an Archaeological Contribution to the Theory of Social Science Possible? Archaeological Data and Concepts in the Dispute Between Jean-Claude Gardin and Jean-Claude Passeron.Sébastien Plutniak - 2017 - Palethnologie 9:7-21.
    The issue of the definition and position of archaeology as a discipline is examined in relation to the dispute which took place from 1980 to 2009 between the archaeologist Jean-Claude Gardin and the sociologist Jean-Claude Passeron. This case study enables us to explore the actual conceptual relationships between archaeology and the other sciences (as opposed to those wished for or prescribed). The contrasts between the positions declared by the two researchers and the rooting of their arguments in their disciplines are (...)
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  42. added 2018-01-12
    How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Strategies for Putting Old Data to Work in New Ways.Alison Wylie - 2017 - Science, Technology, and Human Values 42 (2):203-225.
    Archaeological data are shadowy in a number of senses. Not only are they notoriously fragmentary but the conceptual and technical scaffolding on which archaeologists rely to constitute these data as evidence can be as constraining as it is enabling. A recurrent theme in internal archaeological debate is that reliance on sedimented layers of interpretative scaffolding carries the risk that “preunderstandings” configure what archaeologists recognize and record as primary data, and how they interpret it as evidence. The selective and destructive nature (...)
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  43. added 2018-01-12
    From the Ground Up: Philosophy and Archaeology, 2017 Dewey Lecture.Alison Wylie - 2017 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 91:118-136.
    I’m often asked why, as a philosopher of science, I study archaeology. Philosophy is so abstract and intellectual, and archaeology is such an earth-bound, data-driven enterprise, what could the connection possibly be? This puzzlement takes a number of different forms. In one memorable exchange in the late 1970s when I was visiting Oxford as a graduate student an elderly don, having inquired politely about my research interests, tartly observed that archaeology isn’t a science, so I couldn’t possibly be writing a (...)
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  44. added 2018-01-03
    Black Feminist Archaeology.Whitney Battle-Baptiste - 2011 - Routledge.
    Black feminist thought has developed in various parts of the academy for over three decades, but has made only minor inroads into archaeological theory and practice. Whitney Battle-Baptiste outlines the basic tenets of Black feminist thought and research for archaeologists and shows how it can be used to improve contemporary historical archaeology. She demonstrates this using Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, the W. E. B. Du Bois Homesite in Massachusetts, and the Lucy Foster house in Andover, which represented the first archaeological excavation (...)
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  45. added 2018-01-03
    "In This Here Place": Interpreting Enslaved Homeplaces.Whitney Battle-Baptiste - 2007 - In Akinwumi Ogundiran & Toyin Falola (eds.), Archaeology of Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. pp. 233-248.
  46. added 2017-09-18
    Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology.Robert Chapman & Alison Wylie - 2016 - London: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing.
    Material traces of the past are notoriously inscrutable; they rarely speak with one voice, and what they say is never unmediated. They stand as evidence only given a rich scaffolding of interpretation which is, itself, always open to challenge and revision. And yet archaeological evidence has dramatically expanded what we know of the cultural past, sometimes demonstrating a striking capacity to disrupt settled assumptions. The questions we address in Evidential Reasoning are: How are these successes realized? What gives us confidence (...)
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  47. added 2017-05-09
    From Excavation to Archaeological X-Files.Dawid Kobialka - 2013 - In Alfredo González Ruibal (ed.), Reclaiming Archaeology: Beyond the Tropes of Modernity. Routledge. pp. 56.
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  48. added 2017-02-15
    Contesting Religious Claims Over Archaeological Sites.Elizabeth Coleman - unknown
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  49. added 2017-02-15
    Picturing the Prehistoric.Stephanie Moser - 1993 - Metascience 4:58-67.
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  50. added 2017-02-15
    [The Origins of Israel and of Monotheistic Faith-Contributions of Archaeology and Literary-Criticism. 2.].J. M. Vancangh - 1991 - Revue Théologique de Louvain 22 (4):457-487.
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1 — 50 / 457