The scope and limits of biological explanations in archaeology

Dissertation, Victoria University of Wellington (2003)
Ben Jeffares
Australian National University (PhD)
I show how archaeologists have two problems. The construction of scenarios accounting for the raw data of Archaeology, the material remains of the past, and the explanation of pre-history. Within Archaeology, there has been an ongoing debate about how to constrain speculation within both of these archaeological projects, and archaeologists have consistently looked to biological mechanisms for constraints. I demonstrate the problems of using biology, either as an analogy for cultural processes or through direct application of biological principles to material remains. This is done through setting out the requirements of a Darwinian Archaeology, and then measuring various approaches against these requirements. This approach leads to the conclusion that archaeologist's explanations of the past must include within their formulations an account of human cognitive capacities within their explanatory framework. The limits of our understanding of the human past will be the limits of our understanding of Homo sapiens.
Keywords Philosophy of Archaeology  Philosophy of Biology  Philosophy of the Social Sciences
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