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9/4/2017 Archaeology - Oxford Reference

Oxford Reference

Dictionary of the Social Sciences

Edited by Craig Calhoun

Publisher: Oxford University Press Print Publication Date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780195123715 Published online: 2002
Current Online Version: 2002 eISBN: 9780199891184


The study of the past through the recovery and interpretation of artifacts and their surroundings. Traditionally, archaeology has focused on classical and prehistoric societies, but
archaeological analysis has also been applied to the remains of more recent groups and peoples. Consequently, archaeology is often distinguished more by the range of research
techniques that have developed around the study of ancient civilizationsexcavation, laboratory dating, stratigraphy (the study of layers), and seriation (the use of evolutionary
theories to separate artifacts)than by attempts to assign it a particular object.

In universities in the United States, archaeology is most widely taught as a subeld of anthropology (one element of the four-elds approach to anthropology). In Europe it is associated
with historyparticularly that of ancient civilizations that possessed written languages. Civilizations that did not possess writing are typically the subject of a separate eld of research
called prehistory. This distinction reects archeology's origins in the renewal of interest in ancient Greece and Rome during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, in which the recovery
of texts was a fundamental objective.

During the nineteenth century, archaeology expanded its purview to include other civilizations and older periods of human habitation. Archaeological investigation became central to the
development of theories of cultural evolution, particularly to theories of the necessary stages of societal development. As the nineteenth century ended, these theories proved congenial
to nationalist and ethnic ideologies, and the focus of much archaeological work shifted toward establishing or proving theories of national origins. See diffusion and diffusionism; and

PostWorld War II archaeology has largely eschewed these investments. In the 1950s, Lewis Binford and David Clarke inaugurated a mostly Anglo-American movement known as New
Archaeology, which promoted a strongly positivistic approach that emphasized scientic proof, statistical study, and functional analysis over the descriptive tradition of cultural or
historical archaeology. Many of the differences between the New Archaeology and its cultural/historical counterparts have been taken up again in the contemporary debate between the
somewhat loosely termed processualist and post-processualist positions. Post-processualism, by and large, is responsible for bringing to archaeology the ideological and
epistemological challenges to positivism that have gured so prominently in other disciplines.


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