Thursday, March 13, 2008

Archaeology is imagination

Within the field of archaeology there have been, and still are, strong research traditions which emphasize on the accuracy of the collection of data and the use of scientific techniques. The underlying conception is that by the use of rigorous and preferably scientific techniques we can produce more accurate interpretations of the past - in less fancy words, do better archaeology.

I have experienced something of a loss of innocence in my relationship with scientific archaeology. I would not go as far as to claim it has no use whatsoever - scientific methods can certainly serve to answer some questions, as long as those questions are suited to be answered by those methods. However, it is only our interpretation that makes them archaeology.

However, there is a part in the process which leads from archaeological finds or scientific results to archaeological interpretation, which I am sorely tempted to call a leap of imagination. It may be well-informed and persuasively argued imagination, and based on a sound theory, and if we want to move beyond the mere description of material things, it is necessary, but still, it has more to do with fantasy than with science.

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