Martin Furholt

Narratives, Concepts and Data: The Relevance of Franz Boas’s Research Perspective for European Archaeology

Published: 2023-04-24 | DOI: 10.54799/LWSL6792

Abstract

Starting out from a general appreciation of the work of Franz Boas for the field of European archaeology, I discuss his epistemological position, which favoured an inductive over what he perceived as an ideologically biased, deductive approach to anthropology. Today, the 19th-century German inductive tradition with which Boas identified himself has fallen out of fashion in European archaeology, and the broad strokes of human history are commonly described in terms of models largely based on deductive reasoning. The social evolutionist motifs that are prominent in the mainstream narratives on prehistoric societies largely reproduce modern prejudices about social organisation or about what is assumed to be human nature, and then project these prejudices into the past. This justifies Boas’s critique, as the archaeological material itself does not seem to play any significant role in the formation of these narratives. Without dismissing the importance of deductive reasoning, I argue that it is crucial that European archaeologists give a more prominent role to the inductive use of empirical data, to enable us to challenge current models and retell prehistory in a way that may reveal novel information about the past. This paper examines the role of modern prejudices in research on different aspects of the European Neolithic, focusing on three powerful myths about human nature that heavily impact the narratives produced about the past, concerning family, power and rationality. This paper then suggests alternatives for an understanding of social change in prehistory.

Resumé

Med udgangspunkt i en generel vurdering af Franz Boas' arbejde inden for europæisk arkæologi diskuterer jeg hans epistemologiske holdning, som foretrak en induktiv tilgang frem for en, deduktiv tilgang til antropologien, som han opfattede som ideologisk fordrejet. I dag er den tyske induktive tradition fra det 19. århundrede, som Boas identificerede sig selv med, gået af mode i europæisk arkæologi, og de store linjer i menneskets historie beskrives almindeligvis i form af modeller, der i høj grad er baseret på deduktive argumenter. De social evolutionistiske motiver, der er fremtrædende i de almindelige narrativer om forhistoriske samfund, gengiver i vid udstrækning moderne fordomme om social organisation eller om, hvad der antages at være den menneskelige natur, og projicerer derefter disse fordomme ind i fortiden. Dette bekræfter Boas' kritik, da det arkæologiske materiale i sig selv ikke synes at spille nogen væsentlig rolle i dannelsen af disse narrativer. Uden at afvise betydningen af deduktiv tænkning argumenterer jeg for, at det er afgørende, at europæiske arkæologer giver en mere fremtrædende rolle til den induktive brug af empiriske data, så vi kan udfordre de nuværende modeller og genfortælle forhistorien på en måde, der kan afsløre nye oplysninger om fortiden. Denne artikel undersøger den rolle, som moderne fordomme spiller i forskningen om forskellige aspekter af den europæiske bondestenalder, med fokus på tre stærke myter om den menneskelige natur, som har stor indflydelse på de fortællinger, der produceres om fortiden, vedrørende familie, magt og rationalitet. Derefter foreslår artiklen alternativer til en forståelse af social transformation i forhistorien.

How to Cite

Furholt, Martin. 2023. “Narratives, Concepts and Data: The Relevance of Franz Boas’s Research Perspective for European Archaeology”. EAZ – Ethnographisch-Archaeologische Zeitschrift 57 (1). https://doi.org/10.54799/LWSL6792.
Sketch of different depositional practices of human bodies in the enclosure ditches at the LBK settlement site of Vráble, southwestern Slovakia, showing combinations of regular burials, headless burials, isolated individual limbs and bones, river pebbles and more in and along the enclosure ditch, as well as near houses. Figure: M. Furholt.
Sketch of different depositional practices of human bodies in the enclosure ditches at the LBK settlement site of Vráble, southwestern Slovakia, showing combinations of regular burials, headless burials, isolated individual limbs and bones, river pebbles and more in and along the enclosure ditch, as well as near houses. Figure: M. Furholt.
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