Scientific proof (geology vs archaeology)

I have a background in archaeology (almost finished my MA). I left archaeology for two reasons. Firstly because theres absolutley no work for archaeologists. Secondly, because I got really fuckin tired of it – for many good reasons – the nature of the subject it self not the least.

There are brilliant archaeologists out there. I know a couple of them and I have the deepest respect for their knowledge. And I still love so much about the history and prehistory of man. The middle ages are a topic I constantly read about for example.

But then there are those archaeologists who just produce and preach pure pseudoscience. Ive had my share of teachers that most certainly wasnt up to the standards I demand. Scientific standards that is. There are a lot of archaeologists who doesnt understand the purpose and limitations of science. And there are also those who DO know the purpose and limitations of archaeology, but on the other hand then makes the mistake to presume that the limitations of humanities applies to natural science as well.

One good example of this, pointed out by a Swedish archaeologist is the debacle surrounding a supposed impact event during the bronze age of Bavaria. Depicted in for example greek and roman stories. He made a nice blogpost. His post is brilliant actually unlike my rabble of a post – but its what he write about and the fact that there are people that takes a stand against his post that bothers me and makes my want to emphasise on more aspects. (One could also see comments on the post on Facebook).

The problem starts when people truly not understand that if geologists examine a supposed impact crater – and instead finds a lake that originated from something else – then that its not open for debate by people who dont know geology.

Dont get me wrong, geologists can make mistakes on topics of geology and in those cases those mistakes will be pointed out by some other geologists – since the question is purely geological!

But thats not the issue Im writing about – the issue is that a study in natural science can provide proof in a manner that humanities cannot. If a ancient story says that a lake is a result of an impact, and the geologists can rule that out – then theres not a question of two just as likely or equal theories on that lake. One is a scientific theory. The other one is a claim in an ancient text. It doesnt matter if there are thousands of historians and archaeologists that find the text plausible – if the lake in question isnt a crater – the lake in question isnt a crater! No argumentation from any historian or archaeologist can change that fact.

People just dont get that sometimes. Really bright and educated people. But especially people with absolutley no background in natural science. People who tend to use phrases such as: “Oh we dont know everything today but we think we are so smart. Look at what the ancient chinese/babylonians/atlanteans knew long before science could prove it….”

Sure. Geologists can make mistakes and in some aspects geology can be (funny enough – pun intended) considered a “soft” branch of natural science that sometimes includes theories that you cannot prove in a lab more than you can prove archaeology in that manner. Somethings are “just theories”. But a soft geological theory is still ten times harder than any one based on ancient tales from a book.

My point is not to bash archaeology – but to bash all those morons out there who doesnt understand the difference in scientific value between the geological proof and that of the ancient tale.

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8 Responses to Scientific proof (geology vs archaeology)

  1. Silver Fox says:

    A friend of mine once said, “Archaeology is geology or it is nothing!”

  2. Daniel says:

    Silver Fox: I wouldnt necessary agree with that since I know theres more to it than the digging in the dirt – like interpeting symbolism for example, but a part of me def agrees.

  3. Silver Fox says:

    I think his main point was, that you can do all the anthropological and archaeological interpretation that you want, but if you don’t know the age of the sediments, etc, that the archaeological find or artifact is located in, then you really don’t know much. (He was a geologist and geoarchaeologist.)

  4. Daniel says:

    Yes thats true. Without those things there would be no context of time and space – the foundation of archaeology in a classical sence.

    But my point is that without the interpetations and theories the objects would be just dead objects of no value as well – more than perhaps estetically if they looked pretty or financially if they where made of preciouss metalls and such – so theres a lot more to archaeology than chronological context even if that is of course perhaps the most important foundation of the discipline.

    But there are those archaeologists who do research without working in any aspect whatsoever with chronology. Just theories on sociology and genus or symbolism. They base their “proof” basically on comparative geology – etnoarchaeology and such. “This axe is used for talking to the gods in this tribe today, perhaps this axe from the stoneage was used in the same manner” – and such things. They dont work with dating or fieldwork at all…

    It is a strange field indeed. Humanities with roots in natural science. Very often there is a conflict and that conflict shows.

    And I can agree that when its only theory and no facts based on sediment, locality and other methods for placing the object in a timeline – the “science” part of archaeology is not really there…. but on the other hand.. without the soft parts.. its just collectioning and dating of artifacts.. not that much to interest humanity with. Indiana Jones-like… treasure hunters. “we can date this, but we wouldnt dare guessing what it was used for”… 😛

  5. toni says:

    While I agree with portions of this post, it was very hard to follow with the multitude of grammar and spelling mistakes. Not all archaeology is about ethnoarchaeology or cognitive archaeology. I have had the privilege of having been involved in very scientifically based archaeological projects. Provenience, typology, and scientific dating can provide very credible proof concerning many aspects surrounding a find. Not all archaeology is pseudoscience. There will always be conflicting theories, and this should be embraced, for it is in the conflict that true scientific inquiry takes place.

  6. Daniel says:

    toni: I stopped reading your comment after the first sentence. If you had bothered to read the “about the blog” before giving your retarded comment about my language skills you would have seen that Im not an english-speaker. So yes, there will be spelling and grammar mistakes in English in most things I write.

    That kind of arrogance in a comment doesnt really inspire a person to read the rest. A tip for the future: If you intend to write something to someone, dont start of by insulting them. In Sweden we learn stuff like that in kindergarten. But I guess that where ever you are from they skip basic social behaviour completly.

    But Im sure you are used to people actually listening to what you say (or at least think so) – and actually for some strange reason be interested (or so you think). But this is a Swedish blogger who dont care about you and your comments.

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