The Logicist Analysis of Explanatory Theories in Archaeology

  • Jean-Claude Gardin
Part of the Methodos Series book series (METH, volume 1)


All the products of archaeological research can be regarded as theories in the etymological sense of the word: namely points of view concerning events or ways of life in ancient societies, inferred from the analysis of material remains. This is fairly obvious when archaeologists embark upon explanations of complex historical phenomena about which written texts offer little or no evidence, such as the emergence of agriculture at different times in various parts of the world (the so-called Neolithic revolution), the decline and fall of the Maya empire, etc. Ideas differ regarding the weight of various factors in such phenomena—climatic, economic, demographic, etc. We are clearly dealing then with alternative theories of a complex process; but the same is true of the more modest products of archaeological research. Assigning a function to an object of unknown use, for instance, is a way to “explain” it, from a utilitarian or any other viewpoint (social, religious, magical, etc.). More basically still, the attribution of space and time coordinates to archaeological finds is an inevitable component of any explanation in which those finds play a part. Thus, it is impossible to account for the sudden abundance of coarse hand-made pottery in ancient Hellenistic sites of the Black sea unless we are able to demonstrate first that those unexpected potsherds belonged to the traditional ware of the Scytho-Sarmatian tribes that roamed through Eurasia in the last centuries of the 1st millennium B.C. and eventually mixed or traded with Greek settlers in that area. The generality of this process stands out in the interpretation of iconographical monuments; in order to make sense of prehistoric paintings, for instance, one needs to put forward a number of arguments by analogy which are in fact different ways of looking at the painted caves—in other words, different viewpoints, different theories meant to explain the motivations of prehistoric artists or the destination of their works.


Logicist Program Logicist Analysis Archaeological Research Explanatory Theory Archaeological Remains 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

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  • Jean-Claude Gardin

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