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Re: archeology meets the scientific method

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  • Alastair Millar
    ... Yes - this is why the open mind/flexibility is essential. ... I would reiterate my point about needing to look at the original material - which many
    Message 1 of 3 , Jan 28, 2000
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      It was written thus:
      >...the prevalence of artifacts turning up that
      >completely upset a whole school of thought
      >about the period.

      Yes - this is why the open mind/flexibility is essential.

      >I cite the famous banana peel found in the
      >London dig under a pair of Tudor shoes.
      >Big stir in English history circles.

      I would reiterate my point about needing to look at the original material -
      which many historians do not do - and not just at what others have written
      about it.

      There are MANY ways in which later artifacts can end up underneath earlier
      ones - especially in an urban environment, where (a) the site stratigraphy
      is far more complex and (b) the recovery conditions are among the worst
      because excavations are always 'rescue' digs. I don't know the 'nana skins
      in question, but I wouldn't *think* of commenting on them without knowing
      something about the site...

      >... what looks good on paper often proves impracticle
      >in use and vica versa. [snip]

      Yes - hence "experimental archaeology". A good example is the working out
      (from literary sources and some odd archaeological fragments) of the
      appearance and operation of the Roman ballista/bolt thrower.

      >That's why the scientific method includes a series of field trials
      >as a significant part of any research.

      True - WHERE THIS IS POSSIBLE. Some things cannot be tested as such, esp. as
      regards the content and spread/diffusion of religious concepts. One can make
      educated guesses based on the dating and location of particular items - e.g.
      religious symbols - but these cannot be tested in practice.

      >...too many academics become too invested professionaly,
      >personally and emotionally in a theory or theories after some
      >articles or books, which they then attempt to either prove or
      >re-inforce, even in the face of growing or even overwelming
      >evidence to the contrary.

      I wholeheartedly and unreservedly agree this. This is a major problem.

      Alastair v Praze
    • MHoll@aol.com
      In a message dated 1/28/2000 7:00:10 AM Central Standard Time, ... In regards to Russian history, this was a particularly serious problem with American
      Message 2 of 3 , Jan 28, 2000
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        In a message dated 1/28/2000 7:00:10 AM Central Standard Time,
        alastair@... writes:

        > I would reiterate my point about needing to look at the original material -
        > which many historians do not do - and not just at what others have written
        > about it.

        In regards to Russian history, this was a particularly serious problem with
        American historians of a few generations ago. Some of the professors (who are
        at retirement age now) were told, as students and grad students, that "they
        couldn't learn to speak Russian anyway", therefore not to bother to try to
        pronounce and to concentrate instead on reading proficiency. As any language
        teacher will tell you, language learning is a complex phenomenon that
        involves active and passive knowledge, and reading, writing, listening AND
        speaking, where any missing element will affect adversely every other aspect.

        Thus, by no conscious or willfull error of any particular person, scholars of
        Russian history were very limited in their ability to understand Russian
        scholarship, and of course to read period texts. Add to that a cold war
        mentality, and the results are not great.

        That is not to say all of American historical scholarship on Russia (of that
        time) was bad or flawed, but almost all of it has serious problems. Witness,
        for instance, the standard translation into English of the First Novgorod
        Chronicle by Michell and Forbes. I caught at least one significant mistake in
        it.

        Today, scholars have had the advantage of much better language teaching and
        more decent language requirements in their curriculum (that is, more semester
        hours!), therefore their understanding of the primary material is much better.

        In fact, one of my favorite historians is Janet Martin. Although her book
        _Medieval Russia_ is a textbook and a little dense for easy reading, I think
        she presents the problems of medieval Russia more clearly than anyone I've
        read before.

        Not to mention Eve Levin, John Fennell (he is an exception to the above
        rule), and others.

        In other words, even we should not take anything at face value, but always
        read a variety of literature on a subject, especially if we don't have access
        to primary materials for whatever reason.

        Predslava.
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