Monday, February 23, 2015

Archaeology: A Study of Failed Systems or a Failed System?

Something that Professor Boyd mentioned in class on Tuesday has stuck with me and driven me to consider archaeology in a new light. I had heard that "archaeology is the study of failed systems" before, but it had not really sunk in for me until Tuesday's class. In the past at least, archaeology truly has been the study of failed systems as that was essential to its practice: in order for archaeologists to study something, it must be under the ground and in order for it to be under the ground, something must have gone wrong. However, I do not think that this is entirely true. There are too many reasons for things to end up under the ground for every bit of evidence discovered below the topsoil to be considered as evidence of failure. Thinking along the same grain, the idea that archaeology can be used as kindling for nationalism and be the evidence of a failed system is paradoxical. Thus, I would make the argument that everything found under the ground is a foundation. Just as we walk on ground that came to be there naturally over time, so history creates the foundation of today's civilizations.

Using this as a metaphor, I approached the Hodder reading in a new light. I would add to his argument in support of archaeology by saying that it is natural for there to be such different approaches and techniques in archaeology as it is not a laboratory science. There is no such thing as a controlled environment in archaeology and each stroke of a trowel is a test that cannot be recreated. Thus, saying that the many approaches to archaeological research are "anti-science heresy" is utter crap (Hodder 19). Just as we would not approach the geological research of a cliff face with the same tools and techniques as that of a riverbed, so we should not expect archaeology to conform to a specific set of rules.

Archaeology can be defined as neither the study of failed systems or a failed system itself.

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