Method and Theory in American Archaeology

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

Chapter 3
The Historical-Developmental Approach in American Archaeology

TOWARD A SYNTHESIS OF NEW WORLD PREHISTORY

Culture-historical integration, as we have seen, is the descriptive process concerned with cultural forms, with plotting these forms in space and time, and with defining their relationships and inferred functions. There is, we think, common agreement that these are archaeology's primary tasks, on the descriptive level of organization. It is with these tasks in mind that we have attempted to formulate intelligible archaeological "units" for study. The questions of how such units may be named and defined and how they may be related one to another are, we maintain, the foundation of theoretical formulations on the explanatory level of organization, i.e., in the fields of culture-continuity and culture-change. Of the various trial examinations and hypotheses that might be built upon this foundation, a synthesis of New World archaeology as a whole is one that falls short of the higher level of organization, occupying a sort of gray borderland between description and explanation. The historical-developmental interpretation presented in the following pages is an attempt at such a synthesis.

We have already spoken of the tendency for large-scale area chronologies to take on the characteristics of developmental schemes. It might then be supposed that the difference between the

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