Monday, March 17, 2014

The First Law of Archaeology

You are digging in some ruins. You find a mysterious object, and you are uncertain about what it is or how it was used.

The answer is easy: it was religious! (This is sarcasm, and, the link is to a very good blog on the historical method.)

Interestingly, I was just listening to a lecture about an instance of this error of "punting" and explaining anything mysterious you dig up as religious. It seems a couple of 19th-century archaeologists from northern Europe had written a good bit about all of the ruins recently found in North Africa that were used for ritual sacrifices. This was going along swimmingly, until someone from Mediterranean Europe took a look, and said, "Oh, those things: those are olive presses. The peasants around where I live still use the same sort of structure."

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