Explorations in Archaeology and Philosophy

Showcasing 12 articles in four parts, Explorations in Archaeology and Philosophy emerged from a 2017 interdisciplinary conference, and the editors aimed to represent the diversity of topics that arise when archaeology and philosophy meet. This target is emphatically achieved.

Part I deals with ‘Theory and Inference’, and contains an interesting chapter titled ‘Mortar and Pestle or Cooking Vessel?’, in which Rune Nyrup defends the use of analogies as a form of archaeological reasoning – even in cases where the analogies fail to provide a convincing explanation. There is also an essay arguing that we should take seriously the problematic undertones of the conspiracy theory that aliens imparted knowledge to ancient non-European civilisations.

In Part II, there are articles on ‘Interdisciplinary Connections’, including explorations of the history of human innovation, the status value of mammoth-ivory flutes in Upper Palaeolithic life, and the difficulty of assessing the health of historical human populations.

Two chapters in Part III – ‘Cognition, Language, and Normativity’ – make use of the two-systems theory of mind, which says that humans possess both a fast, automatic thinking system, and a slow, ruminative one. Murray Clarke argues that the development of such systems gave early humans the ability to expand globally, and Ronald Planer links the theory to the origins of language.

Chapter 11, ‘The Acheulean Origins of Normativity’, discusses the interesting phenomenon of over-imitation: Acheulean stone-cleavers, for instance, exhibit a notable preference for one ‘sidedness’ over another in their method of construction, which – technologically speaking – has no basis. Presumably, apprentice flint-knappers copied every aspect of their teachers’ techniques, even the unnecessary ones. Shipton et al. argue that such conformity was evolutionarily advantageous in the Acheulean environment.

In Part IV, there are two articles on ‘Ethical Issues’: Artur Ribeiro argues that a Hegelian understanding of agency should be adopted by social archaeologists, while Elizabeth Scarbrough warns of the possible dangers of UNESCO World Heritage status to site preservation.

Each article raises interesting points, contributing to an overall collection worth the attention of any archaeologist interested in theoretical issues.

Review by Robin Hughes
Explorations in Archaeology and Philosophy, Anton Killin and Sean Allen-Hermanson (eds), Springer, £89.99, ISBN 978-3030610517