Sunday, 8 January 2012

6th Experimental Archaeology Conference

I'm having a rest today after 2 hectic days of co-organising the 6th Experimental Archaeology Conference with colleagues at the University of York. Funny actually that I just wrote that, when what I am actually doing is marking student essays on the development of cities and social inequality. But it involves sprawling on the sofa with the laptop on my knee, so is sort of having a rest, compared to the past two days of session chairing. The conference went really well, with only 1 or 2 small last minute hiccups, and led to some useful discussions and ideas for future papers and whatnot. I find myself thinking more and more about subject areas that I always thought I wasn't interested in, or were not relevent to me, as a 'scientist'. In particular the philosophy of science and archaeological theory, and the nature of archaeological data.

One paper at the conference also got me thinking about the way that people teach and learn archaeology, and how this then has impacts on how those people, as future researchers, carry out archaeological research. 'Experimental Archaeology' is a really good case study of this. Archaeologists may have  never been taught what an experiment is, or how to design an experiment according to scientific method, or the nature of scientific data and how to draw conclusions that are supported by the data (and the way that data has been aquired). All these things that are second nature to someone with scientific training,  appear to be absent from the teaching of archaeology, and it is really hard to explain to someone why they need to control (or at least acknowledge) more variables when they don't know what the definition of an experiment is.

This is not to say that archaeology is all about science and the opinions of anyone without scientific training are less valid. We can only go so far producing scientific data - we still need theory for that data to be interpreted and have any meaning. But when science is done, it should be done properly, and any researcher should understand the nature of the data they have produced (and therefore what can and can not be supported on the basis of that data). I remember as an undergraduate I loathed being forced to take a core Philosophy of Science module, but I am so glad that I did. It really does make you think about the process of doing science, and being reflective is always a good thing.

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