One World Archaeology

Peter J. Ucko looks at the strengths and weaknesses of archaeological methods and interpretations.

Archaeology is the study of the past – this much seems to be beyond dispute. Less acceptable is the claim made by many archaeologists, at least prior to 1986, that archaeology is the objective study of the past.

Confidence in the scientific basis of archaeology can be traced to the advent of the so-called 'New Archaeology' in the 1960s. At this time, archaeology's traditional analysis of human social groupings within a historical framework of specific events and dates came under direct attack. The approach lacked rigour and had failed, hitherto, to make its practices and deductions dependent on the archaeological record itself rather than on pseudo-culture history. A 'loss of innocence' was heralded throughout the archaeological world.

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