The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia

By John L. Cotter; Daniel G. Roberts et al. | Go to book overview

II

A Retrospective View:
Interpreting the Evidence

STRATIFICATION AND THE OPEN SOCIETY

SANITATION AND HEALTH CARE

COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY

DEVIANT BEHAVIOR

SPORTING PHILADELPHIA

If the task of the archaeologist ended with retrieving the material evidence of past cultures from the earth, one could say without reservation that archaeology in Philadelphia has been eminently successful; the volume of evidence produced in this city and its immediate environs has been staggering. The archaeologist's goal, however, is not merely to amass evidence but to explain what the evidence means, and explanation of this sort requires careful analysis. To make logical inferences about the nature of past lifeways from a collection of broken ceramics, rusted utensils, robbed trenches, and the like, the archaeologist must describe each piece of evidence in terms of its spatial and temporal characteristics and classify it in a way that allows comparison with other artifact collections. As noted several times elsewhere in this volume, archaeology in Philadelphia has been generally lacking in this regard; most artifact collections in this well- excavated city have not been thoroughly analyzed.

One reason for this shortcoming is that, to date, archaeology in Philadelphia has been practiced almost exclusively on an ad hoc, catch-as- catch-can basis. Perhaps because archaeologists have been too busy digging, artifacts have too often sat gathering dust on a laboratory shelf once the fieldwork phase of an investigation has ended. Only in rare instances has there been systematic analysis aimed at establishing correlations or incongruences between the archaeological data and the historical record. Even at Independence National Historical Park, where the National Park Service has sponsored numerous archaeological investigations, data analysis has generally accomplished little beyond answering the elemental questions of site iden

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