CAA2016 has ended
Back To Schedule
Friday, April 1 • 08:55 - 09:20
S10-02 A plea for (non-mathematical) reason. Rethinking the use of computational methods in archaeology

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

A Plea for (non-mathematical) Reason. Rethinking the use of computational methods in archaeology

Catalin Nicolae Popa, Oliver Nakoinz

In this paper we argue that while computational methods offer exciting possibilities to archaeology, their large-scale unreflected use is making our discipline too mechanical and mathematical. 

There is little doubt that many digital methods have made a positive contribution to our work. The use of digital techniques during and in combination with archaeological fieldwork has unquestionably given us more control over what we excavate. Such methods have also provided simpler and more interactive ways to explore our data and convey them to others. But they are no substitute to interpretation!

However, some computational methods are frequently employed as a means to explain the material record, with near total disregard of archaeological theory. Most of these approaches fall into the category of computer modelling and simulation. There are a plethora of studies and presentations utilizing such methods with little theoretical grounding. For example agent-based modelling papers, where theories of agency are rarely referred to. Additionally, results are often taken for granted, as if offering factual solutions, without critical evaluation and interpretation.

Such use of computational methods is damaging to the community employing them and to archaeology as a whole. The over-enthusiasm with these approaches, the belief in the objective nature of ‘the machine’ (i.e. computer), and the wish to transform archaeologists into applied mathematicians brings the dawn of a New New Archaeology (sic!). Currently, many scholars are still sceptical towards studies employing such methods, contributing to a division of the discipline. But archaeology does not need another theory war! We suggest an integrated approach, with balanced parts of method and theory. For archaeologists using computational methods this implies a wider integration of post-processual critique. In this manner, the full potential of these approaches can be realised as they would find their well-deserved place in archaeology.


Dr. Sara Perry

University of York
University of York Twitter: @archaeologistsp Personal Page: http://saraperry.wordpress.com


Friday April 1, 2016 08:55 - 09:20 CEST
Domus Media, Auditorium 13