The Scientific Method in Paleolithic Archaeology

Author(s): Melanie Chang; April Nowell

Year: 2018


Paleoanthropological hypotheses are often qualitatively different from questions asked by scientists studying the evolution of other living groups. They are frequently complex and very specific. Rather than seeking to illuminate basic evolutionary processes and mechanisms, they focus on precisely reconstructing events in human prehistory. They are often driven, at least in part, by public interest. These characteristics can enhance paleoanthropological studies because they foster novel research approaches, but they may also encourage the formulation of hypotheses that are essentially untestable given the available data. Perhaps for these reasons, explicit hypotheses are sometimes omitted or never clearly stated in paleoanthropological research papers, and many studies are essentially inductive or descriptive.

We conducted a survey of Paleolithic studies published in 10 archaeological journals since 2000. We evaluated each study according to three criteria: (1) Is an explicit hypothesis stated? (2) Can the hypothesis be tested given the data that were examined? (3) Do the methods actually used in the study adequately test the hypothesis? We examined chronological trends throughout the study period and compared results for different journals. We examine our overall findings and specific examples to elucidate the nature of Paleolithic archaeological studies and their status as a hypothetico-deductive discipline.

Cite this Record

The Scientific Method in Paleolithic Archaeology. Melanie Chang, April Nowell. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 442528)

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Abstract Id(s): 20474