RCIN and OZwRCIN projects


Planned object

Title: Epistemological status of archaeology - current controversies


Burdukiewicz, Jan Michał

Date issued/created:


Resource type:



Archaeologia Polona Vol. 44 (2006)


Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences

Place of publishing:



24 cm

Type of object:



The current debate on the epistemological status of archaeology started in the 1960s. The spectrum is broad from archaeology viewed as a science to a post-modern concept of archaeology as an ideology without a chance at verifying its own concepts. As a branch of the social sciences, archaeology cooperates closely with the natural sciences. David Clarke and Lewis R. Binford supported a strongly realistic and scientific approach, called later “processual archaeology. Their opponents, like Ian Hodder, prefer to be “post-processualists”, placing archaeology in a nonscientific post-modern perspective. This division in archaeology runs even deeper with several universities offering students a choice of studying “scientific archaeology” or “archaeometry instead of archaeology” viewed as a kind of “art” or no more than traditional humanities. “Post-processualists” do not respect the key scientific principles such as the one stating that the reality can be recognized objectively and tested through deductive theories, demarcation of science and non-science, Occam’s razor, the tertium non datur principle, as well as analytical and quantitative methods. According to the most extreme “post-processualists”, called “radical constructivists”, entire branches of knowledge, including ontology and epistemology, are redundant. Moreover, it is irrelevant whether the past existed or not, as this has no effect on our knowledge of it. Constructivists believe that prehistoric artifacts are nothing more than our mental constructions. In opposition to the “post-processual” epistemological pessimism, numerous scientific achievements applied recently to archaeological research have brought magnificent results regarding our knowledge of human origins and the development of human culture. The natural sciences have extended our archaeological methods of research and their epistemological background. Archaeologists can pursue the epistemological approach of palaeontologists and geologists, who investigate the past (including the origins of cognition) very closely, instead of the approach of those of who continue to dispute inexplicable philosophical questions


Bocheński, J.M. 1992. Współczesne metody myślenia. Poznań
Brockman, J. (ed.) 2005. Nowy renesans. Granice nauki [New renaissance. Limits of science]. Warszawa
Callahan, K.L. 1997. Current trends in archaeological theory. Internet: http://rupestreweb.tripod.com/theory.html
Collingwood, R.G. 1946. The idea of history. Oxford
Dawkins, R. 1982. The extended phenotype. The long reach of the gene. Oxford
Gardin, J.-C. 1980. Archaeological constructs. An aspect of archaeological theory. Cambridge-Paris
Gardin, J.-C. 2001. Logistic modelling and the transfer of knowledge in the humanities. In Quo vadis archaeologia? Whiter European archaeology in the 21st century?, Z. Kobyliński (ed.), 22–9. Warsaw
Hodder, I. 1986. Reading the past. Cambridge
Johnston, I.C. 1999. And still we evolve. A handbook for the early history of modern science. Nanaimo. Internet: http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/darwin/ title.htm
Klejn, L.S. 1978. Arkheologicheskie istochniki. Leningrad
Klejn, L.S. 2001. Metaarchaeology. København
Kmita, J. 2003. Od eleatów do lingwistyki kognitywnej. In Konstruktywizm w humanistyce, A. Pałubicka and A.P. Kowalski (eds), 19–30. Bydgoszcz
Kuhn, T. 2001. Struktura rewolucji naukowych [The structure of scientific revolutions]. Warszawa
Lakatos I. 1995. Pisma z filozofii nauk empirycznych. Warszawa
Lakatos I. 2004. Science and pseudoscience. Internet: http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/lakatos/science And Pseudoscience.htm
Minta-Tworzowska, D. 2000. Postmodernizm, myœl poststrukturalistyczna a archeologia. In Archeologia w teorii i w praktyce, A. Buko and P. Urbańczyk (eds), 87–95. Warszawa
Mamzer, H. 2003. Strategie konstruktywistyczne w archeologii. In Konstruktywizm w humanistyce, A. Pałubicka and A.P. Kowalski (eds), 149–62. Bydgoszcz
Mamzer, H. 2004. Archeologia i dyskurs. Rozważania metaarcheologiczne. Poznań
Nadel, L. (ed.) 2003. Encyclopaedia of cognitive science. London
Orr, H.A. 1998. The big picture. E.O. Wilson’s new book is ambitious, vague, and philosophically naive, Boston Review, October/November 1998, 36–8. Boston
Pałubicka, A. 2000. Archeologia jako nauka historyczna o kulturze. O badaniu formy i funkcji znalezisk archeologicznych. In Archeologia w teorii i w praktyce, A. Buko and P. Urbańczyk (eds), 75–86. Warszawa
Pluciennik, M. 1999. Archaeological narratives and other ways of telling. Current Anthropology 40: 651–78
Popper, K.R. 1961. The open society and its enemies. London
Popper, K.R. 1970. A realist view of logic, physics, and history. In Physics, logic, and history, W. Yourgrau and A.D. Breck (eds), 1–30. New York
Popper, K.R. 1976a. The logic of the social sciences. In The positivist dispute in German sociology, T. Adorno, H. Albert, R. Dahrendorf, J. Habermas, H. Pilot and K.R. Popper, 87–104. London
Popper, K.R. 1976b. Reason or revolution? In The positivist dispute in German sociology, T. Adorno, H. Albert, R. Dahrendorf, J. Habermas, H. Pilot and K.R. Popper, 288–300. London
Popper, K.R. 1992. Wiedza obiektywna. Ewolucyjna teoria epistemologiczna [Objective knowledge. An evolutionary approach]. Warszawa
Popper, K.R. 1997. Nieustanne poszukiwania. Autobiografia intelektualna [Unended quest; an intellectual autobiography]. Kraków
Rao, C.R. 1994. Statystyka i prawda [Statistics and truth]. Warszawa
Raup, D.M. and S.M. Stanley 1984. Podstawy paleontologii [Principles of palaeontology]. Warszawa
Renfrew, C. and P. Bahn 2002. Archeologia. Teorie, metody, praktyka [Archaeology. Theories, methods and practice]. Warszawa
Renfrew, C. and E.B.W. Zubrow (eds) 1994. The ancient mind. Cambridge
Rorty, R. 1979. Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton
Shanks, M. 2005. The science question in archaeology. Internet: http://traumwerk.stanford.edu/projects/
Shennan, S. 2003. Genes, memes and human history: Darwinian archaeology and cultural evolution. London
Snow, C.P. 1959. The two cultures and the scientific revolution. London
Tabaczyński, S. 1998. Archaeological sources: problems of identification and inference. In Theory and practice of archaeological research, W. Hensel, S. Tabaczyński and P. Urbańczyk (eds), 33–63. Warszawa
Tabaczyński, S. 2000. Rzeczowe korelaty kultury: znaczenie pojęcia i problemy interpretacyjne w badaniach archeologicznych. In Kultury archeologiczne a rzeczywistożć dziejowa, S. Tabaczyński (ed.), 113–35. Warszawa
Topolski, J. 1973. Metodologia historii. Warszawa
Trigger, B.G. 1989. A history of archaeological thought. Cambridge
Wątroba, W. 1996. Socjologia i fallibilizm. Wrocław
White, L. 1975. The concept of cultural systems. New York
Wilson, E.O. 2002. Konsiliencja. Jednożć wiedzy [Consilience. The unity of knowledge]. Poznań
Woleński, J. 2000. Epistemologia, vol. 1. Kraków
Wylie, A. 2002. Thinking from things. Essays in the philosophy of archaeology. Berkeley


Archaeologia Polona



Start page:


End page:


Detailed Resource Type:




Resource Identifier:



IAiE PAN, call no. P 357 ; IAiE PAN, call no. P 358 ; IAiE PAN, call no. P 356 ; click here to follow the link



Terms of use:

Copyright-protected material. May be used within the limits of statutory user freedoms

Digitizing institution:

Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Original in:

Library of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences



Edition name Date


Citation style:

This page uses 'cookies'. More information