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The New Archaeology Movement Essay

949 words - 4 pages

With the evolution of available technologies and methodologies, some archaeologists became frustrated with the traditional ways of archaeology; they felt that the new technologies should be used to improve archaeology and the outcomes of professionals in the field. The New Archaeology was a movement that sought to contribute to the existing anthropological knowledge of human behavior by emerging as a science and separating itself from the historical approach. New archaeology did not merely incorporate scientific technology, but it also employed various scientific methods and approaches.
Lewis Binford was the most influential figure in New Archaeology; he considered that cultures were composed of “three interrelated subsystems: technology, social organization, and ideology” (Walsh 309). Because of this theory, he believed that finding physical remains that fell under a specific subsystem would help archaeologists interpret the significance of the artifact and in turn, would allow them to understand earlier civilizations. Binford was very eager to prove that archaeology was not just a mere subset of history, but that it had the potential of being a science that was just as important as anthropology. In order for archaeology to evolve, he believed that the field needed to implement a more scientific method of research.

With the guidance of Binford, New Archaeology employed scientific approaches for studying and interpreting past cultures and their remains. Traditionally, archaeologists relied on “historical explanation” to interpret the significance of artifacts; however, New Archaeology introduced the concept of implementing a scientific attitude and considering culture as a process (Renfrew and Bahn 41). Deeming culture as a process would, in the New Archaeologist’s mind, help determine “how changes in economic and social systems take place” (Renfrew and Bahn 41). This viewpoint would encourage generalization. It would assume that all cultures functioned in the same or similar manner, because scientific processes, such as photosynthesis, are set; the same outcome will occur each time. Culture cannot be treated as a process because, in doing so, one would not take into account the many characteristics that distinguish cultures from each other and that would alter the outcome of each civilization.
Furthermore, Binford believed that archaeology should contribute to explaining the significance of past occurrences, instead of merely reconstructing them; consequently, he promoted the use of “explicit theory” (Renfrew and Bahn 41). Archaeologists were to formulate a theory for an event that had occurred in the past and would need to provide proof in the form of sites and artifacts to prove that the event actually occurred. New Archaeology supported the notion of using theories to explain the past. This would force archaeologists to provide proof for their conclusions, instead of merely claiming that something is correct based on his authority in the...

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