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Archaeology, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Questions about the scientific status of archaeology have been central to field-defining debates since the late nineteenth century and have frequently involved appeals to philosophical sources. With the possible exception of Collingwood, however, there was little systematic exploration of the bearing of philosophical literature on these questions until the advent, in the 1960s and 1970s, of the New Archaeology, a self-consciously positivist research programme. The New Archaeology originated in North America but has been widely influential, especially in giving prominence to philosophical and theoretical issues. The New Archaeologists’ advocacy of a positivist (Hempelian) conception of scientific goals and practice provoked intense debate which involved philosophers of science as well as archaeologists from the early 1970s. Although the positivist commitments of the programme were widely repudiated a decade later, philosophical exchange has continued and expanded to include consideration of a range of post-positivist models of scientific inference that emphasize the theory-ladeness of archaeological evidence, as well as hermeneutic and post-structuralist models of archaeological interpretation. The analysis of epistemological issues is also closely tied to foundational questions about how the cultural subject of archaeological inquiry should be conceptualized and has led, increasingly, to a consideration of normative questions about the values and interests that shape archaeological research and the ethical responsibilities of practitioners. In 1992 Embree argued that work in this area had achieved sufficient maturity to be recognized as a subfield which he designated ‘meta-archaeology’.

Citing this article:
Wylie, Alison. Archaeology, philosophy of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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