Applying Evolutionary Archaeology: A Systematic Approach by Michael J. O’Brien, R. Lee Lyman (auth.)

By Michael J. O’Brien, R. Lee Lyman (auth.)

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When it has attracted attention, it is as often as not misunderstood and misapplied. Future Directions If evolutionism is going to play a role in archaeology, a significant portion of the discipline is going to have to become involved in the kinds of debates that up to this point have been the sole property of biologists and philosophers of biology. Archaeologists are going to have to become involved in such things as construct- 22 Chapter 1 ing units and developing methods that are useful in evolutionary studies.

Perhaps the best way of highlighting the novelty is by examining the tenets that underpin essentialism and materialism. In a general sense, the basic dichotomy between the two ontological positions is fairly easy to understand because of their polarity. For clarity, it is worth repeating that another term for essentialism is 1 Darwin actually used the term materialism in his Notebook M to refer to his position (cited in Bowler 1990:85), but he did not directly contrast it with essentialism. 32 Chapter 2 typological thinking, and another term for materialism is population thinking (Mayr 1959a; see also Dobzhansky 1951).

Note, however, that as used here the terms are interchangeable. Kinds, for our immediate purposes, are units that an analyst uses to partition variation by creating piles of specimens that are alike in certain specifiable ways. Under the essentialist ontology, the analyst searches through a collection of objects to find defining characteristics, which are both inherent and recognizable, thus making them integral to the correct placement of the objects into natural kinds. Kinds can be observed at any scale—attribute of a discrete object, discrete object or attribute combination, or set of discrete objects—and include any number of individual things or events, and at some point—usually after multiple specimens have been studied—become inflexible units in that they cannot change to incorporate an individual that falls outside the boundaries of the kind.

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