Is Archaeology a Science?

Jan 2014
1,905
Florida
#4
One of the key features of science is testability and reproducibility that results in facts. While archaeology does have some testability and reproducibility that results facts, such as carbon dating, this is rarely the be-all and end-all. Rather, these facts are used to support interpretations. Interpretations use various pieces of evidence as support, but they are in the end opinions. Interpretations are what are used in the humanities, whereas testable and reproducible facts are what are used in the sciences. Thus, while archaeology does incorporate some scientific elements, it is firmly in the camp of the humanities.
 
Feb 2011
13,513
Perambulating in St James' Park
#6
One of the key features of science is testability and reproducibility that results in facts. While archaeology does have some testability and reproducibility that results facts, such as carbon dating, this is rarely the be-all and end-all. Rather, these facts are used to support interpretations. Interpretations use various pieces of evidence as support, but they are in the end opinions. Interpretations are what are used in the humanities, whereas testable and reproducible facts are what are used in the sciences. Thus, while archaeology does incorporate some scientific elements, it is firmly in the camp of the humanities.

That was my general opinion too, tho didn't consider the testability, well put. Whilst Carbon dating is generally a repeatable experiment the final conclusion is a matter of untestable interpretation. I was always a bit confused though because Prof Brian Fagan of Oxbridge, who's an authority in this sort of thing and quite literally wrote the book on it, once stated that his ideas were supported by Science. I also had a discussion a while ago with an Archaeologist/Egyptologist from the British Museum and she described herself as a Scientist.

What really prompted me though is a little debate on facebook where I complained that the IFLS group were posting too many Archaeology based news that had no real place in a Science group. This ended up with a few people claiming Archaeologists to be Scientists and naturally I wanted to claim the glory for History ;)



Lord no. Most archaeological reports have more guesswork than a horoscope in your local paper. I have no training but I could probably write one myself, when in doubt just proclaim your discovery to be a 'ritual site'! :zany:

I teach some very basic Archaeology to school kids but to my shame I've never been to a site and have no in depth knowledge. I hope to change that in a few weeks by volunteering at a local Anglo-Saxon dig. I had always presumed that there was an awful lot of guesstimation from watching Time Team et al. Archaeologists tend to be their own unique bunch of woolly-jumper, spectacle-clad lunatics and are far too eccentric to be claimed by the respectability of Science.




 
Mar 2014
8,881
Canterbury
#7
Archaeology employs scientific principles and sometimes takes scientific measurements, but a surprising amount of it is guesswork and interpretation, and what's left is subjective.

Lord no. Most archaeological reports have more guesswork than a horoscope in your local paper. I have no training but I could probably write one myself, when in doubt just proclaim your discovery to be a 'ritual site'! :zany:
Strange object? Pagan god. Out-of-place object? Offering to pagan god. Actual pagan god? Anomaly. Request funding and holy water.
 
Last edited:

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,579
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#8
Technically? My personal knowledge of some archaeologists [one specialized: egyptologist] makes me think that archaeology is an "interdisciplinary doctrine", not a proper science.

And archaeologists are aware of this: when they ask help from geologists, experts of C14 analysis, genetic engineers, astronomers ... they do realize to be in some way "limited".

And this is their weakness. I knew an egyptologist at a meeting in Turin about the "real age" of the sphinx. There was no match: the "followers" of the "new paradigm" had even geologists on their side [sustaining that the rock of the body of the Sphinx had eroded by rain, not by wind ...]. Time is saying egyptologists were and are right about the Sphinx, but I do remember that in those years they looked like conservative priests hiding the truth on mass medias ...
 

cladking

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
2,772
exile
#9
I used to think of archaeology as a "soft science" but the more I learn about it the farther divorced from scientific methodology and scientific process they actually are. Most archaeologists are trained as scientists so they do tend tohave a scientific perspective but they can't and won't apply science is all aspects of the study.

In many real ways most science differs from what the layman thinks it is. In medicine most advancement comes from outside and now days even cosmology is can be distant from true science and the experimental method. Mathematics has crept into physics and to some degree has dispolaced true science. Theoretical advancement will be impossible outside the scientific method in all probability. What we are seeing now is merely technological advancement made possible from older knowledge.

Science is a mess and the soft sciences are hardly science at all. The status quo is inviolable in this day and age.
 
Jan 2014
1,905
Florida
#10
That was my general opinion too, tho didn't consider the testability, well put. Whilst Carbon dating is generally a repeatable experiment the final conclusion is a matter of untestable interpretation. I was always a bit confused though because Prof Brian Fagan of Oxbridge, who's an authority in this sort of thing and quite literally wrote the book on it, once stated that his ideas were supported by Science. I also had a discussion a while ago with an Archaeologist/Egyptologist from the British Museum and she described herself as a Scientist.
I've noticed that archaeologists consider themselves to be scientists as well. However, just because archaeology incoporates science doesn't mean it is a science. I don't know if they've always considered themselves to be scientists, but I suspect that it either has something to do with the way humanities are hung out to dry these days or archaeologists pretending that there is a difference between what they do and witch craft.
What really prompted me though is a little debate on facebook where I complained that the IFLS group were posting too many Archaeology based news that had no real place in a Science group. This ended up with a few people claiming Archaeologists to be Scientists and naturally I wanted to claim the glory for History ;)
Huzzah!
 

Similar History Discussions