Patterns in Prehistory

The analytical tools we use to evaluate the visible world determine the structure of our “reality”. If we image the human body with a CT-scanner (an anatomic 3-D view of the body) the results will differ from the results if a FDG-PET scanner (metabolic imaging of the body that uses radioactive glucose) is used. Nevertheless both results are valid in their own context, and the combination of both (FDG-PET/CT) may be more valid regarding the extend of a disease compared to only one imaging modality.

Knowledge and Interpretations of Archaeological patterns also depend on choice of analytical tools. This fact was nicely demonstrated by the 2009 thesis of Héloïse Koehler regarding Middle Paleolithic groups in Northern France during the Early Weichselian.

Koehler showed that the use of different analytic frames revealed different interpretative results. While the lithic assemblages are quite similar at a general scale of analysis, they look very different at a fine scale, at which five groups could be distinguished. Koehler proposes that these groups may reflect distinct technological traditions, included within similar cultural areas.

We are waiting for other publications that use new approaches to overcome outdated interpretations in prehistory. Such approaches could be inspired by an Epistological Constructivism that proposes that knowledge should be understood as socially construct, defined by practice and by the activities of and interactions between individuals. Knowledge in this definition becomes “fluid” and expandable and more scientific.

Unfortunately the thesis of Héloïse Koehler is not available via the www. A good overview, written by herself can be found at:
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One Response to Patterns in Prehistory

  1. Ber (Hubert) says:

    I tend to agree! There is much to be said for a moderately constructivist view of archaeological knowledge formation, in particular in paleolithic archaeology where ambiguous and sparse data grossly underdetermine our interpretations. Moderately constructivist, because in the end it is the structure of those empirical data data (archaeological patterns) that constraints our interpretations/constructions. I’ll have a look at Koehler’s PhD thesis. French (and German) palaeolithic industries are notoriously difficult to handle conceptually. It would seem that most French archaeologists presently don’t use such labels as “Quina Mousterian” or “Industries charentiennes à influences micoquiennes” anymore as definitive allocation of an assemblage to a “tradition”or “culture” but as loosely wielded, convenient labels (constructs!) the heuristic value of which diminishes with the distance to the region where they were coined. That being said, it is nevertheless hard to deny that, for example, the Aquitaine French Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition is a very different piece of cake than the Middle European Keilmessergruppen. I am curious to see if Koehler manages to shed some light on these issues.

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