Explaining Things of Archaeological Interest
This chapter focuses on explaining how and why things change. To situate the kinds of things that archaeologists need to explain, it begins with an overview of three levels of archaeological research. It then focuses on culture change, covering its mechanisms and conceptual frameworks, and explanations for the rise of food production and the collapse of civilizations. The final sections examine bias in archaeological explanations and how archaeologists evaluate competing hypotheses.
After studying this chapter, students should be able to
- identify and decribe the three different levels of research.
- outline the major mechanisms of culture change.
- demonstrate an understanding of conceptual frameworks and why they are useful.
- describe the differences between ecological, social, and ideological frameworks.
- outline alternative explanations for the rise of food production and the collapse of civilizations.
- identify the various types of bias in archaeological explanations.
- explain the criteria for evaluating competing explanations in archaeology.
- define all the glossary terms found in the chapter.
artificial selection – Involves the intentional selection of desirable traits in plants or animals. Also known as selective breeding. (p.226)
diachronic change – Change through time. (p.209)
Eurocentric – Focused on Europe. (p.220)
general theory – Focuses on explaining the significant events of the human past and the nature of culture; also known as grand theory and high-level research. (p.208)
grand theory – Focuses on explaining the significant events of the human past and the nature of culture; also known as general theory and high-level research. (p.208)
heuristic theory – A theoretical framework that guides research; also known as conceptual framework, paradigm, research strategy, research approach, general theory, and grand theory. (p.211)
paradigm – A theoretical framework that guides research; also known as conceptual framework, research strategy, research approach, heuristic theory, general theory, and grand theory. (p.211)
population pressure – The condition where human population is at or exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment. (p. 216)
selective breeding – Involves the intentional selection of desirable traits in plants or animals. Also known as artificial selection. (p.226)
synchronic change – Change over space. (p.209)
Trigger, Bruce. 2006. A History of Archaeological Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Johnson, Matthew. 2019 Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell
Dark, K.R. 1995. Theoretical Archaeology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press
Collapse of Civilizations
Yoffee, Norman, and George L. Cowgill, eds. 2001. The Collapse of Ancient States and Civilizations. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Areas of Grand Theoretical Interest
Kintigh, Keith W., Jeffrey H. Altschul, Mary C. Beaudry, Robert D. Drennan, Ann P. Kinzig, Timothy A. Kohler, W. Frederick Limp, et al. 2014. "Grand Challenges for Archaeology." American Antiquity 79 (1): 5–24.
Feder, Kenneth L. 2020. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. New York: Oxford.
Archaeological Sites Mentioned in the Chapter
Each of the following sites is on the list of World Heritage Sites maintained by UNESCO, except the Bering Strait. The links lead to the descriptions, which include photos and the rationale for its designations as a World Heritage Site. Where the official UNESCO designation differs from the name in the chapter, the UNESCO description is provided in parentheses.