Understanding: Fragments of a Unifying
DE VRIES, THOMPSON AND WIRTZ
Concepts of past cultures have probably changed as much in the last thirty years as
have ideas of the earth system. The two massive data sets await reconciliation.
Gunn 2000: 227
The normal sense of a satisfying explanation in archaeology is that it makes a set of
facts in some sense intelligible by demonstrating that they seem 'natural' when
viewed from the perspective of a certain framework of thought.
Cherry 1985: 44
The previous chapters have given various illustrations of how socio-natural systems evolved within their environment as they developed collective and individual habits, techniques, rituals and more elaborate ways of communication and organization. These developments are sequences of processes of exploitation and adaptation. Simmons (1989) lists elements and stages of these multi-faceted interaction processes: domestication, simplification, diversification and conservation. Goudsblom (1996) stresses the differentiation in behaviour and power between people and animals and between people; increasing numbers and concentrations of people; and the specialization, organization and stratification with its interdependencies. In investigating aspects higher on the scale of complexity, there is kind of a trade-off: the distant past is badly observable but fairly simple, the near past is better communicated through writing and art but–if only for that very reason–more complex. As Roberts remarks: 'Because information shrinks rapidly backwards through time, historical myopia is created…'(Roberts 1989: 193) The scientific evidence, particularly regarding human-environment interactions, is also biased in other ways as explained in Chapter 5.