Is Objectivity possible in Archaeology?

Objectivity is the state or quality of being ‘bias-free’ (where biases include personal feelings, experiences and imaginings) while subjectivity is the idea that our decisions and ideas are formulated as a result of our own mental experience (Kristianses and Rowlands 2005). The scientific method strives to produces results that are objective or objective truths and is concerned with reproducibility and testability of methods and theories.

As Karl popper (1959) and his theory of empirical falsification states that a hypothesis or statement can only be disproven by empirical testing. The process of deriving a hypothesis follows a series of logical deductions and the anticipation of the way something may behave. It could be suggested that subjectivism begins here with the initial hypothesis creation, as researchers when looking at previous experiments and articles will make their own (subjective) interpretations of these and then formulate their own theory, perhaps informed by their personal education, experiences and philosophes. As the archaeological record is often imperfect or at times ambiguous and has a number of factors acting that can cloud the interpretation or reconstruction of past life (Kohl 1998) it could be suggested that there is a great deal of speculation and theorising when reconstructing past life. In this sense, researchers attempting to do this may be subjecting the data to their personal ideas and feelings while not being aware of doing so. Reconstructing the past therefore may contain a lot of both subjectivity and objectivity, i.e the excavation and identification of bones is objective (and the identification of a bone is objectively true) by the posting of methodology and technique to allow reproducibility while the interpretation can be subjective. The field of post-processualist archaeology radically attacks the idea of objectivity and emphasises the subjectivity of archaeological interpretations. Kohl (1998) suggests that the acceptance of one theory over another may not be so based on the archaeological record as it is on the contextual social context in which it is formulated and the political perspective of the archaeologist proposing it. This again includes a great deal of subjectivity when choosing which theories carry greater value.

All archaeological theories whether scientific or post-processualist could be described as interpretive, based on the formation of a hypothesis said previously. As individuals we all have innate ideas and conceptions, when added to the idea that all theories could be interpretive we are left with the question; is any scientist individual or researcher fully objective in their observations? or is it possible that all observations and theories are subjective?


Kohl P.L (1998) Relativism, objectivity and the politics of the past, Archaeological dialogues, Vol. 5, p30-34

Popper K (1959) The logic of scientific discovery, Germany, Routledge

Kristiansen K and Michael R (2005) Social transformations in archaeology, Routledge


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Biologist. Archaeologist. Aspiring writer.

3 thoughts on “Is Objectivity possible in Archaeology?”

  1. Nja. Jag har varit ganska tydliga med att Svegiredemokraterna idag inte är rasister i traditionell mening, och att partiet är ett annat idag än det var i början.


  2. in response to someone who suggested naming and shaming etc. this is not the first article that awaaz have mentioned a name of someone charged with an offence, below link is to another post where the same has been donenewspapers receive releases from the authorities with the name of the accused, and report accordingly, as is the case of this article. Also this story is covered in other papers and on the front page of some too where even the address of the man has been published. I dont think theres any form of bias in this article.

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