Is Archaeology a Science?

Lowell2

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
6,541
California
#11
By these descriptions, geology isn't a science either since replication of the formation of continents, rocks, etc can't be replicated.

even in physics, many of the theories regarding stars are only partially testable. So far no one has managed to "replicate" the "big bang".
https://philosophynow.org/issues/3/The_Science_of_Archaeology
A broad and, I hope, generally acceptable view of the contrast between arts and sciences is that sciences are those subjects in which the relative plausibility of rival hypotheses is capable of evaluation by some form of testing, and arts those in which subjective assessments are made. One might go further and claim that all science must be based upon mathematical principles, whereas in arts subjects this is not so.
Mathematics is different basically because we arbitrarily have assigned meaning to the various terms (we define a triangle, we assign a specific value to a number).

archaeological practice, like that of all science, but not that of all arts subjects, involves the systematic collection of information in as objective (or, at least, as comparable) a way as possible. This is usually followed by analysis according to the logical frameworks outlined above. These data, and the results of analysis, are then, properly, disseminated for others to employ.
You discover some item with odd writing on it. A few decades later someone thinks that they have figured out how to translate the writing on that item -- the Rosetta stone. The presumed translation is indeed testable -- can one use this translation method to figure out other texts? How old is something? is carbon 14 valid? How does it compare to other methods?

Yes, archaeology has more theories than "proven facts" but that does NOT make it less a science.
 
Jun 2015
44
NSW
#13
My ten cents worth (which is worth about four pence in the UK right now) is that archaeology is a subject of the humanities which uses some science to reach conclusions and pose hypotheses.

But in the end, it's a discipline of considered opinion rather than hard fact.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,842
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#14
By these descriptions, geology isn't a science either since replication of the formation of continents, rocks, etc can't be replicated.

even in physics, many of the theories regarding stars are only partially testable. So far no one has managed to "replicate" the "big bang".
https://philosophynow.org/issues/3/The_Science_of_Archaeology


Mathematics is different basically because we arbitrarily have assigned meaning to the various terms (we define a triangle, we assign a specific value to a number).



You discover some item with odd writing on it. A few decades later someone thinks that they have figured out how to translate the writing on that item -- the Rosetta stone. The presumed translation is indeed testable -- can one use this translation method to figure out other texts? How old is something? is carbon 14 valid? How does it compare to other methods?

Yes, archaeology has more theories than "proven facts" but that does NOT make it less a science.
Correct, at the end "geology" is an application of exact science to an observational doctrine. Like in astronomy we can only observe many of the phenomenons object of study, we cannot replicate them or make experiments [imagine if a geologist replicates an earthquake!! A part the difficulty to obtain a decent earthquake, it would be against ethics. Like a psychologist wanting to do an experiment of mass psychology to push an entire nation to enter war with a neighbor ...].
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,842
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#15
The Sphinx ...

May be just the debate [exploded in early / middle 90's] about the age of the Sphinx is perfect to explain why archaeology is an interdisciplinary doctrine with some evident "weakness".

How was it possible that geologists dismantled the whole context of Egyptology about that monument?

It depended on which geologists were involved ... the followers of the paradigm "Sphinx from Atlantis" [to make it simple] involved geologists with poor knowledge about Egyptian history.

Looking at similar pictures:





... they noted those signs of vertical erosion and they had no doubt: continuous intense rains. In Egyptian history there have been more wet periods, but not that wet ... we have to go back to an age near to the end of the glacial age to have enough rains for enough years to cause similar signs ...

When the geologists considered it was the Sphinx the were astonished.

The geologists were right: that soft stone has been eroded [vertically] by water.

But the geologists weren't aware that the Sphinx has been covered by the sand for many centuries and that during night, the low temperature of the desert climate, made humidity condense, generating a moisture which percolated through the sand, affecting, chemically, the soft stone of the body of the Sphinx. Centuries and centuries of this phenomenon left those vertical signs.

When a geologist knows [from an egiptologist] that the Sphinx has been covered for centuries and centuries by the sands ... he takes into consideration this alternative [which is compatible with the age that Egyptology attributes to the Sphinx ...].
 

Otranto

Ad Honorem
May 2013
2,083
Netherlands
#16
Strange object? Pagan god. Out-of-place object? Offering to pagan god. Actual pagan god? Anomaly. Request funding and holy water.
Yes, like this thing (originally posted by Lowell2 in the archeology thread):



Identified as a toy. Really? It can have so many other applications: religious, practical or decorative. What happened to "we don't know?"
 
Mar 2014
8,881
Canterbury
#17
Identified as a toy. Really? It can have so many other applications: religious, practical or decorative. What happened to "we don't know?"
Or, in the case of that object, what happened to 'the person who made this was evidently warped in the head and we shouldn't spend too long wondering why' :lol: It looks like the Cloverfield monster's baby wearing a zombie meerkat as a hat.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
13,609
Perambulating in St James' Park
#18
I suppose it's a bit like an Archaeologist in 5,000 years time uncovering a Walmart/Asda car park and stating that the zig-zag lines for the no parking areas are obviously part of some sort of magical cult ritual.
 
Mar 2014
8,881
Canterbury
#19
One thing that bugged me when my archaeology lecturer spoke of 'putting people back into history' is, some people are nuts. Others have bad taste. How are we supposed to distinguish the bonkers and the Bowens from the ordinary run-of-the-mill finds?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,842
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#20
Without context ...

I suppose it's a bit like an Archaeologist in 5,000 years time uncovering a Walmart/Asda car park and stating that the zig-zag lines for the no parking areas are obviously part of some sort of magical cult ritual.
Ah, if future archaeologists will not be able to contextualize our urban environment ... surprises could come.

I like to remind this example:

let's imagine that a global nuclear war erases our civilization and after centuries and centuries mankind restarts from prehistory. After 5,000 years archaeologists find the covered ruins of my home town, on the side of an Alpine lake.

In the town they detect the ruins of a construction, not too big, with a courtyard, containing a garden with a fountain. Next to the fountain there is a statue of a female figure and in the garden 7 little statues of odd personages. This curious group of figures is not rare to be found among the ruins of ancient villages south of the Alps.

The archaeologists make the hypothesis that it existed a cult of a Mother Goddess with 7 minor nature deities [or natural spirits, trolls? fairies?], may be connected with water [it happens that the Mother Goddess is near a fountain or anyway some water].

What have the archaeologists of the future discovered?

The Italian fashion to put in the garden the statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!
 

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