Systematics Introduction Notes

 Created: 21 Jul 2020  Modified: 23 Jul 2020   BibTeX Entry   RIS Citation  Print

Notes from the Introduction to Systematics in Prehistory (Dunnell 1971)

  • Framed institutionally as a juxtaposition between “new” and “old” archaeology - the latter being CH.
  • Defines “archaeology” as the technical and recovery aspects (i.e., the study of the record), and “prehistory” as the academic discipline aimed at explanation of the content of that record.
  • Borrowing of models for explanation itself from phil sci, and borrowing of models for the content of explanation from sociocultural anthropology, are counterproductive. Especially the latter because it denies the virtue of prehistory which are “time and change” (p.3)
  • Makes the point about explicit definition of concepts – and our tendency to reify concepts, to regard concepts as the same thing as the empirical referent. “Analogously, ideas are not distinguished from observable phenomena.”
  • General lack of concern for what theory actually is.
  • Book does not cover theory construction, but focuses on the lowest level, unit or concept construction
  • Discomfort with the formal theory of the “old” archaeology stems from the implicitness and thus inconsistency and confusion) with unit construction and how that plays into “interpretation” (or explanation.
  • Systematics itself defined as “the set of propositions, concepts, and operations used to create units for any scientific discipline.” (p.7)
  • Need to create a metalanguage to talk about how to define units; RCD mentions that it is unfortunate that “the subect matter and interests of prehistory are sufficiently complicated or that we understand our subjects so poorly that the metalanguage of mathematics cannot be made to bear the major weight of communication.” MUCH MORE about this later. Photons ARE defined as mathematical objects, despite the fairly immense mathematical machinery involved in doing so (the double cover of the Poincare group and Lie Algebras, etc etc … see (Schwichtenberg 2018) for a relatively accessible account).


References Cited

Dunnell, Robert C. 1971. Systematics in Prehistory. New York: Free Press.

Schwichtenberg, Jakob. 2018. Physics from Symmetry. Springer.