Cience, Social Science, and Common Sense: the Agonizing Dilemma of Modern Archaeology

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Citation: Dunnell, R. (1982) Cience, Social Science, and Common Sense: the Agonizing Dilemma of Modern Archaeology. Journal of Anthropological Research 38:1-25 (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Cience, Social Science, and Common Sense: the Agonizing Dilemma of Modern Archaeology
Tagged: Anthropology (RSS)


Dunnell writes this as a "state of the discipline" after paradigm shift to the New Archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, Dunnell does not believe that archaeology as gotten any closer to being a scientific discipline, despite that being one of the central goals of the Processualist movement. However, Dunnell does see the development of CRM, with its specific research questions, regulations, and precision requirements, and also the potential to make mistakes, as an event that has opened the discipline to adopt some key elements of the New Archaeology. For example, sampling designs and regional scale investigations are commonly used in CRM projects, and academic archaeologists have seen the utility of this methods and are beginning to adopt them in their work. Because of this new CRM branch, archaeology is becoming a dichotomous field, with a theoretical branch struggling to articulate Processualist concepts, and a practical CRM branch who is contributing empirically derived answers to the questions that interested Processualists when the paradigm first began.

Dunnell believes that quantitative methods can’t lead to theoretical development, because archaeology is very amenable to quantification inherent in its data set. The root of the reason why archaeology has not become a scientific discipline, in Dunnell's opinion, has been the inconsistent and piecemeal borrowing of concepts, philosophical justifications, and a faulty understanding of what constitutes science. New Archaeology, then, as been an area of quiet innovation, and Dunnell worries that instead of altering archaeology to align with science, archaeologists are altering the definition of science.

Social sciences are inherently difficult to fit into scientific disciplines, but Dunnell does not believe that it is impossible. Archaeology's interest in explaining change is what Dunnell sees as the factor limiting it from becoming a truly scientific discipline. Explanations of change and the current research foci of archaeology are not suitable for scientific methods, therefore, we need to alter the definition of culture change and how we analyze that, rather than attempting to alter the definitions of science and forcing ill-fitting concepts onto the discipline.