"Science, Theory, and Reality in the "New Archaeology"

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Citation: D. T. Bayard (1969) "Science, Theory, and Reality in the "New Archaeology". American Antiquity 34(4): 376-384 (RSS)

Tagged: Anthropology (RSS)


The New Archaeology, which believes that archaeology should be anthropological, was in reaction to culture-historical methods, which based archaeological analyses on chronologies that were devoid of cultural content. The goal of the New Archaeology was to reconstruct extinct cultures and develop generalizations of cultural systems and their evolution, essentially, universal cultural laws.

In this article, Bayard summarizes three topical trends that he believes are the most salient to the emerging New Archaeology: 1) to develop a scientific, rather than historical, archaeology 2) a movement for the development of a rigorous body of theory, and 3) the desire to deal with culture reality rather than sterile taxonomies. Bayard believes the logic behind these themes are in error and potentially jeopardizing to new archaeology.

Because archaeology has a limited data set, it is impossible to develop generalizations about culture and its evolution, or to reconstruct extinct culture. Cross-cultural comparisons are not rigorous, and this runs counter to the New Archaeology's supposed desire for rigorous theory and a scientific archaeology.

Bayard believes that neither anthropology or archaeology are sciences in the same way as physics or biology, rather it is a discipline. In a discipline, rigorous data is preferable to rigorous theory. For this reason, Bayard doesn’t approve of using quantitative data and statistical methods to prove theoretical frameworks (feels it's reductionist and doesn’t use large enough data sets/variables to produce valid results anyways). “Archaeology (or for that matter anthroprology) cannot achieve theoretical rigor through the triumph of the will” (Bayard 1969).