Double Helixes and Double Crosses (was: Favorite NON-fiction)

Wed Jan 29 02:44:06 PST 2003

Gaertk at aol.com wrote:

> And to answer Andrew's comments, I expect archaeologists to 
> try to follow this methodology too.  Obviously, devising 
> experiments is very difficult for them (and control groups
> are out of the question; you get what you dig up), but that 
> just places more importance on the other steps (analysing
> other's data, both before and after).

It depends which bit of archaeology you talking about. Modern 
Archaeology tends to follow the pattern:

1. Gather as much data as you can before the site is destroyed or gather 
as much non-destructive data as you can, work out how much destructive 
data you can afford to gather (prehaps intentionally leaving some places 
undisturbed in case future developments have better techniques and 
equipment available) and based on previous work/gut instinct/accepted 
method decide which areas to sample data from out of the site you have 
permission to work.
2. Form hypothesis based on current knowledge/work on existing hypothesis
3. Clean up catalogue off finds. As money/permission allows perform 
further tests on as many pieces as possible.
4. Anaylyse data. Revise hypothesis and compare with other equilivent sites
5. Publish site report of basic details and conclusions
6. Work on wider theories based on site reports
7. Revise theories as new site reports become available. If necessary go 
back to reexamine artifacts (if available) or original data.
8. Possibly test out theories to see if you can build a bridge/make a 
kiln/forge metal/brew beer in the way you think they did.
9. Publish theory for peer review.

Most of the work done in stage 1 (in the UK/by UK teams) is rescue 
archaeology so it is a matter of getting as much data as possible before 
the site becomes a hotel or a road or rabbits eat it or it falls off a 
cliff or whatever. It also means that you can dig sites you wouldn't be 
able to otherwise with out offending anyone (especially if there are 
bodies involved) since people are often willing to allow you some 
measuring in return for the care you are taking removing the stuff that 
would otherwise get bulldozed.
Stage 1 is carried out by many people, possibly over a number of years 
(especially if it is University run), although under the direction of 
the site manager and stage 3 is also often done by different people many 
of whom specialize in specific areas. It's not uncomman to have field 
archaologists who just dig up the stuff and other archaeologists who 
actually analyses it. Historians and others also get in on the act 
around stage 5 (why go sit in a cold, muddy field with no toilet for 
miles when someone will do it for you) and Archaeologists might well let 
others take it from there except in the very specific area they are 
looking at. Getting to stage 5 can take years (there is massive amount 
of unpublished results out there just because people don't have the time 
to sort them out)

Obviously the above is something of a simplification but hopefully not 
so much of one as to make it a lie.