I’ve been doing a little reading in archaeology. Learning a bit about how people may have lived 5,000 years ago in one part of Europe or another is fascinating. Not quite so fascinating, but difficult to avoid, is the intellectual superstructure built up by modern archaeologists as they try to understand what they’re digging up.

Two buzzwords: processual and post-processual. Bet you don’t know what they mean. I didn’t either, until I read the very decent articles on Wikipedia. I’m deeply suspicious of both approaches. There seems to be quite a lot of projection (in the Jungian sense) going on. The archaeological record is, frankly, mostly a mess of broken pots, tools, weapons, jewelry, bones, and houses that, for one reason or another, got buried.

You can learn a certain amount from this type of stuff. For instance, you can analyze the obsidian in a cutting tool and determine from its chemical composition that it came from a deposit 300 miles away. That tells you there was probably some form of trade between the source of the obsidian and the place where you found it. But trying to infer the nature of a whole culture from the stuff that was hard enough to survive being buried for thousands of years is not science. It’s not even science fiction — it’s just fiction, pure and simple.

Tell me about the pottery, the ovens, the wall paintings, the changes in pollen count over the centuries. I’ll make up my own stories, thank you very much.

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1 Response to Pottery

  1. Very!!

    Sometimes it seems that if the oldest surviving bow known were 15,000 yrs old, and the oldest arrow was only 13,000 yrs old, they would insist that there was a 2000 yr period where people threw bows at one another.

    Obviously, bows were used for drilling long before, and were probably used for hunting more than murder, but I tend to oversimplify and exaggerate my metaphors (that’s what they are for?).

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