Is Archaeology More of a Hard Science than a Social Science?
With the development of scientific techniques, archaeology has become more than digging for artifacts and buried communities. It seems to have become a broader field sometimes generalized as prehistory. An argument a historian friend of mine and I have had is over the importance of prehistory. He claims the formal methods of history, which depend on preserved documents, is the best evidence of what’s gone on, and that the role of prehistorical research is merely supportive of that priority. I’ve argued that unlike what someone writes, which might be incorrect or a deception, archaeology must depend on discovering factors which are far less amenable to “spin.”
Because there are no witnesses or records to study, prehistory research may rely on anything from satellite imagery and GPR to recent radiocarbon techniques such as chlorine-36 dating and the application of molecular genetics to human population history. I pointed out how prehistory methods have both added credibility to written reports, and at once made them more accurate. I used the story of Noah and the great flood as an example.
Written records have a flood covering the entire planet, and Noah surviving in an ark with two beasts of each variety. Some people do take that as an accurate report just because it is written and ancient. As most people know, oceanographers Dr. Pitman and Dr. Ryan discovered Black Sea communities long under water, and how complications resulting from Eurasian ice sheet meltwater some 7500 years ago allowed the Mediterranean to flow through the Bosporus Straits into the Black Sea and cause a huge flood.
With that evidence, we are now able to recatagorize the biblical tale (especially knowing it is predated by the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, and knowing of the Jewish Babylonian captivity in 586 BC where they likely heard the story) as creatively enhanced legend, rather than accurate history.
So I wonder if archaeology/prehistory might be a little out of place categorized as a “social science.”