What Makes the Identity of a Scientific Method? A History of the “Structural and Analytical Typology” in the Growth of Evolutionary and Digital Archaeology in Southwestern Europe (1950s–2000s)

Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology 5 (1) (2022)
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Usual narratives among prehistoric archaeologists consider typological approaches as part of a past and outdated episode in the history of research, subsequently replaced by technological, functional, chemical, and cognitive approaches. From a historical and conceptual perspective, this paper addresses several limits of these narratives, which (1) assume a linear, exclusive, and additive conception of scientific change, neglecting the persistence of typological problems; (2) reduce collective developments to personal work (e.g. the “Bordes’” and “Laplace’s” methods in France); and (3) presuppose the coherence and identity of these “methods” over time. It explores the case of the “Structural and analytical typology” method, developed in France, Spain, and Italy from the 1950s to the 2000s by Georges Laplace and his collaborators for lithic implements. This paper (1) provides a detailed historical account of the evolving content of this collective endeavour over five decades; (2) it addresses the epistemological question of what makes the identity and unity of a scientific method, demonstrating that the core component of the “analytical typology” lies in its particular way to represent real-world phenomena through its notation system; and (3) it reveals how this little known but significant episode of advances in the methods and theory of archaeology, contemporary but independent of the “New Archaeology” trend in English-speaking archaeology, was instrumental in the continuation of evolutionary perspectives in France and in the development of quantitative and formal methods in archaeology in southwestern Europe, foreseeing crucial knowledge representation issues raised today by digital methods in archaeology and data curation.



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Sébastien Plutniak
École Française De Rome

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