Anthropology 500C

Method and Theory in Archaeology

Although complete for on-line presentation, the materials as handed out in class are always definitive and final forms in the event of any differences in this version.

Class Time:9:35 AM TR

Place: Faner 3515

Instructor: Jon Muller

Office: Faner 3525

Office Hours: 8-9:30, 11-12:30, TR Faner 3533

also available by appointment


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Organization of the course

This course seeks to provide a basis for understanding and critically assessing the theory of contemporary American archaeology. Although the course is not a course in the history of archaeology, the course will be historically organized in order to highlight the intellectual context and interplay of ideas in the development of the theory of the subdiscipline. Although there will be brief treatment of the historical roots of archaeology, the main body of the course begins with the culture-historical and other archaeological schools of the 1920s and later. The functionalist stillborn school of the early 1940s will be treated, followed by an examination of the research programs that developed into the processual school of the 1960s. The myriad postprocessual and neoevolutionary paradigms will be considered within the broader context of their development in relation to or in opposition to processualism, as well as in terms of their agenda and goals. From time to time, faculty with special interests may make presentations to the class.

Assignments and Grading

There are four essential requirements:

1) active participation in classroom discussion

2) a research paper of professional presentation quality on method (practice)

3) a research paper of professional presentation quality on theory

4) a final essay examination



Research papers and other reports must be your own original work for this course.

An outline for each paper topic must be approved in advance by the instructor.

Unexcused lateness of any assignment will result in a penalty of a decrease of one letter grade per day that the assignment is late. beginning after the start of class the day the assignment was due.


1) Classroom discussion will be an important part of the course, and it is vital that each student read the general assignments for each class. Some individual classroom presentations will be assigned.

As assignments and readings are done, the criteria listed in the next section on verification, validation, and assessment should be used to assess the logic and structure of the arguments made by the authors.


2) The first paper (=10 pages not including bibliography, 12-pt. typeface, 15-pt. leading) should be a critical discussion of a practical analytical method, treating its use historically in relation to shifting problems and goals in archaeology. One purpose of the assignment is to assess the oft-stated principle that methods and theory are intertwined.

a) Origin of the method in scientific basis and in archaeological problems (explicit or implicit),

b) Give two examples of the use of the method by archaeologists working within two different research paradigms and contrast and compare these usages,

c) On the basis of the discussion in parts one and two, discuss the likely place of the method in the field and its relation to the theoretical and practical development of archaeology.

Examples of analytical methods range from the very specific such as radiocarbon dating, to broader scale methods such as approaches to the analysis of style, GIS, or settlement archaeology.


A 1 to 2-page preliminary bibliography (minimum of 6 references) and outline must be submitted by September 9 and the paper is tentatively due on September 30. The paper is worth approximately 25% of the course grade.


(3). The second paper (=10 pages not including bibliography, 12-pt. typeface, 15-pt. leading) should focus on a major theoretical debate of the past 40 years.

It must consider

a) the basic theoretical positions represented in the debate,

b) the logic, validity, and (if possible) the truth of each position, and

c) how the debate might be resolved.


Possible topics include debates over evolution of political hierarchy, selectionism in archaeology, realism versus materialism, the nature of cultural things in archaeology, or Marxist archaeology.


A 1 to 2-page preliminary bibliography (a minimum of 6 references) and outline must be submitted by October 21 and the paper is due on December 2. The paper is worth approximately 25% of the course grade.


(4). A two-hour, final examination at the regularly scheduled exam time in the final exam week will cover all the major topics covered during the semester. (25% of the course grade).

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Verification, Validation, and Assessment in the Readings and the Papers

The following questions concern judging your readings and sources critically.

Check the

1) problem. Is the problem, the thing being tested or proved, a warranted proposition? Is it reasonable to attempt to investigate the problem scientifically?

2) frame of reference. Do the authors explicitly state their basis of operation? How are judgments about the facts made?

3) sources and secondary materials. Are sources used correctly? Are sources quoted correctly? Is the proper background given to support the proposed investigation and results?

4) assumptions. Are the assumptions explicit? Are they reasonable? Are they necessary? Are they sufficient?

5) analytical design. Are the report and the work behind it laid out in a reasonable way? Is there a research plan or are they just muddling around?

6) instruments and techniques. Are the tools&emdash;the methods used&emdash;adequate for the problem? Is it possible for the methods to produce the evidence needed for the purposes of the report?

7) logical structure. Are there logical errors? Is the argumentation logically valid (internally consistent)? Is deductive logic used correctly?

8) facts. Are the supposed facts really so? Have only the confirming facts been discussed? Was negative evidence sought?

9) interpretations. Do the conclusions follow from the evidence given?


Each week's section will contain as many as three types of readings, though not necessarily in this order:

a) anthropological or other background for the development of archaeological theory on a certain topic.

b) primary texts (archaeological discussions contemporary with the development of the topic)

c) modern commentaries (if any) and discussions

In addition, there will be specific readings in some cases that will be the subject of classroom reports by members of the class.

I have asked you to buy Trigger's History and the Preucel conference papers. Willey and Sabloff's History and the McGee and Warms' reader may also be helpful. However, I also strongly recommend that you make copies of many of the other readings for your own library, as these are references that you should be referring to in the future, over and over again.

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