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ARC4ICA Essay: Analogy and ethnography: a straitjacket for archaeological explanation?

by Caroline Seawright
Honours Essay for Issues in Contemporary Archaeology at LaTrobe University, July 2015.


Analogy is inextricably linked with human perception, discovery and cognition (Edgeworth, 2003, pp. xiii, 13). Analogical reasoning is a form of inferential logic whereby likely relationships are implied between similar entities with varying degrees of probability (Binford 1967, p. 1; Van Reybrouck 2000, p. 42; Wylie 1982, pp. 392-393). Since the 19th Century, archaeologists have used ethnographic analogy to understand the human past behind the archaeological record (Charlton 1981, pp. 133-134, 136; Wylie 2002, pp. 137-138). They illustrated ancient prehistoric hunter-gatherers' lifeways using ethnographic analogies. Sir John Lubbock utilised general analogical research to "throw some light on" (1865, pp. xiii, 1) prehistoric peoples. He contended that contemporary Inuit scrapers were "absolutely identical" to common prehistoric tools, so their use is thus "entirely explained" (Lubbock 1865, p. 407), regardless of dissimilarities (Van Reybrouck 2000, p. 71). William John Sollas (1911, pp. 91, 94) similarly believed that knowledge of modern hunter-gatherers was useful for analogies to understand prehistoric people, by directly comparing Tasmanian Aboriginals with Palaeolithic peoples. Yet, without this ethnographic-based beginning, "few identifications or comparisons would be possible" (Kent 1994), as the archaeological record "cannot speak to us ... cannot tell us how or why they were made or what they mean" (Peregrine 2001, p. 1). However, such uncritical social evolutionary-based similarity studies are not useful archaeological tools (Stiles 1977, p. 89).

Analogy and Ethnography in Archaeology

Seawright, C , Analogy and ethnography: a straitjacket for archaeological explanation?, Articles by Caroline Seawright, < kunoichi/themestream/ ARC4ICA.html>.

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