Phobias in archaeology

Prof. Alice Beck Kehoe

Refusal to seriously discuss pre-Columbian transoceanic contacts, including contacts across bodies of water such as the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico, is rooted in prehistoric archaeology's foundation in nineteenth-century cultural evolution, a paradigm still dominant in the discipline. Belief in gradual agent-less development driven by environmental and innate forces, and the effort to discover universal laws of cultural development, mistakenly claim to use evolutionary biology principles. The doyen of paleontologists, George Gaylord Simpson, denounced the hypothetico-deductive method favored by "evolutionary" archaeologists and outline instead the method for historical sciences based on the principle of actualism. Joseph Needham outlined criteria for evaluating questions of "diffusion" (innovations stemming from intersocietal contacts). Both of these preeminent scientists are ignored by most archaeologists. The paper concludes with description of Needham's visit to Mexico in 1977 to examine firsthand, evidence for pre-Columbian trans-Pacific contacts.