Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie Bd. 318 (Human Development in Landscapes 14)

Archaeology and the Historical Understanding
Artur Ribeiro

In archaeology, it is commonly assumed that past societies can be understood through general principles, which dictate how all social life develops, or through historical particularism, which dictates that societies develop in their own specific way. It is also assumed that these two ways of perceiving past societies are mutually exclusive.
Due to these incorrect assumptions, it is often believed that case-studies (particular) can be offered in support of a theory (general) when in truth, both these elements are actually scientifically distinct. These assumptions have caused a further misunderstanding: it is believed that narratives, which describe particular histories, cannot be considered scientifically reliable since they cannot authentically represent a general explanatory principle. Narratives remain, to this day, commonly misperceived as purely descriptive. Thus, in order to correct this problem, it is necessary to recognize that generalization is based on the quantitative principle that similar causes will (probably or necessarily) produce similar effects, whereas historical particularism is not based on particular causes or effects at all, rather, historical particularism is based on the qualitative principle that human behaviour can only be understood (Verstehen) through specific social contexts.

This book analyses in detail the connection between historical explanations and social contexts and what this ultimately means to archaeology. It provides a case-study of how Bronze Age societies developed in Southern Portugal and case-study on how Persian religious rituals became magical rituals in Iberia during the first centuries AD. Finally, the book explains how it is possible for archaeology to embrace both science and history without incurring in contradiction. 

Bonn 2018
ISBN 978-3-7749-4168-7