Method and Theory in American Archaeology

By Gordon R. Willey; Philip Phillips | Go to book overview

Introduction
American Archaeology and General Anthropological Theory

It has been said that archaeology, while providing data and generalizations in such fields as history and general anthropology, lacks a systematic body of concepts and premises constituting archaeological theory. According to this view, the archaeologist must borrow his theoretical underpinning from the field of study his work happens to serve, or do without. Whether the latter alternative be an admissible one does not seem to be an arguable point. Acceptable field work can perhaps be done in a theoretical vacuum, but integration and interpretation without theory are inconceivable.

The above remarks apply to archaeology in general, but the sole concern of this study is American archaeology. It seems to us that American archaeology stands in a particularly close and, so far as theory is concerned, dependent relationship to anthropology. Its service to history in the narrower sense, i.e., as the record of events in the past with the interest centered on those events, is extremely limited, because for pre-Columbian America there is in effect no such history. The use of traditions derived from native informants and other documentary sources of the contact period as starting points for pushing back into the unrecorded past--the "direct historical approach"--is not archaeology serving history, but the reverse. As a technique of investigation, American archaeology, like archaeology generally, provides useful data for geology, paleontology, climatology, etc., and it recovers valuable material for art museums and the study of aesthetics, but it is not involved theo-

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