Languages of Observation
Robert C. Dunnell
There is nothing more fundamental to science than the categories used to perceive the external world. They are so fundamental that most people are completely unaware of the influence such structures exert on understanding. In some respects archaeologists, continually faced with unfamiliar objects and object parts, have proved more perspicacious than many “hard scientists” in these matters. “Typology” and “classification” are recurrent, if somewhat sporadic, concerns. The Lower Mississippi Valley (sensu this volume, hereafter LMV) has figured heavily in those considerations and has served as the testing ground for many new approaches throughout the twentieth century. Even so, the lack of familiar models in common sense (where these processes are necessarily cryptic) and the failure to recognize the role of theory or to reach a consensus on a particular theory have left us chasing our tails at the expense of the ever-diminishing archaeological record.
Here I explicate the role of classification in science generally and then in archaeology per se. A review of the history of “typological” constructs in the region precedes a critique of the dominant approaches today. I conclude by suggesting remedies.
Contrary to its popular use as a synonym for hypothesis, here I use the word “theory” to mean the assumptive structure necessary to construct a system of explanation (Dunnell 2002 ; Guralnik and Friend 1968:1511). Thus, there is no “theory” that people first entered the New World through the Bering Strait land bridge, for example. Such a statement is a hypothesis. The theory comprises the assumptions that allow one to write the hypothesis and integrate it with others into a body of knowledge. There is no point to arguing about the