Evidential Reasoning in Archaeology

London: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing (2016)
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Material traces of the past are notoriously inscrutable; they rarely speak with one voice, and what they say is never unmediated. They stand as evidence only given a rich scaffolding of interpretation which is, itself, always open to challenge and revision. And yet archaeological evidence has dramatically expanded what we know of the cultural past, sometimes demonstrating a striking capacity to disrupt settled assumptions. The questions we address in Evidential Reasoning are: How are these successes realized? What gives us confidence in the credibility and robustness, the trustworthiness, of the evidential claims based on archaeological data? And, what constitute best practices in building evidential claims, critically scrutinizing them and putting them to work in archaeological contexts? Rather than retreat to abstractions about how how science operates in the ideal, we approach this question by interrogating a number of close-to-the-ground case studies with the aim of teasing out the wisdom embodied in archaeological practice. The cases we consider – of fieldwork, strategies for working with old evidence, and the role of external resources – illuminate the role of various types of inferential scaffolding and bring into focus practice-grounded epistemic norms that we believe serve archaeologists better than the all-or-nothing ideals of truth and objectivity that dominate programmatic debate.

Author Profiles

Robert Chapman-Ames
University of Westminster
Alison Wylie
University of British Columbia


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