Those of you that also read my day-job ponderings at Knowledgescape, will have suffered through my pontifications upon requirements analysis. I’m quite keen at isolating what I call Truths from the morass of Wishes, Laws and outright Lies.
The urge to apply the same approach to archaeology has led me to ponder about the nature of Truths that can’t be tested. Guided by the admirable Matthew Johnson, I’ve come to realise that there is no real way to empathically connect with the past. Any interpretations we make are the result of the knowledge and experience (and quite often the fanciful imaginations) of the present. Faced with this bleak picture, where do you start?
Right where I’d start with requirements analysis: ‘how do we know this is a property of the system we are describing?’
I’m reluctantly willing to accept that archaeology is never going to give me 100% Truth, and that the trick is to work out, based on dispassionate assessment of the available evidence, what the closest approximation to the Truth is likely to be. What a terrifying proposition.
I’m a great fan of probability, and my brief dabble in chemistry (at A level) has left me with the feeling that human reactions can be viewed very much like chemical reactions: anything that takes less energy input to start the reaction is more likely to occur. I paraphrase, it was a long time ago! But this means that I have great difficulty imagining invasions of Beaker people changing the face of society in one fell swoop, but am more sanguine about believing that an idea was introduced and spread through example and eventually custom.