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On the Logic of Archaeological Inference: Early Formative Pottery and the Evolution of Mesoamerican Societies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Robert J. Sharer
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6324 (rsharer@sas.upenn.edu)
Andrew K. Balkansky
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901-4502
James H. Burton
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706-1393
Gary M. Feinman
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, the Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605-2496
Kent V. Flannery
Affiliation:
Museum of Anthropology, 1109 Geddes, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079
David C. Grove
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611
Joyce Marcus
Affiliation:
Museum of Anthropology, 1109 Geddes, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079
Robert G. Moyle
Affiliation:
Department of Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192
T. Douglas Price
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706-1393
Elsa M. Redmond
Affiliation:
Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192
Robert G. Reynolds
Affiliation:
Department of Computer Science, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202
Prudence M. Rice
Affiliation:
Office of Research Development and Administration, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901-4709
Charles S. Spencer
Affiliation:
Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192
James B. Stoltman
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706-1393
Jason Yaeger
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706-1393

Abstract

The 2005 articles by Stoltman et al. and Flannery et al. to which Neff et al. (this issue) have responded are not an indictment of instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) but, rather, of the way Blomster et al. (2005) misuse it and of the hyperbolic culture-historical claims they have made from their INAA results. It has long been acknowledged that INAA leads not to sources but to chemical composition groups. Based on composition groups derived from an extremely unsystematic collection of sherds from only seven localities, Blomster et al. claim that the Olmec received no carved gray or kaolin white pottery from other regions; they also claim that neighboring valleys in the Mexican highlands did not exchange such pottery with each other. Not only can one not leap directly from the elements in potsherds to such sweeping culture-historical conclusions, it is also the case that other lines of evidence (including petrographic analysis) have for 40+ years produced empirical evidence to the contrary. In the end, it was their commitment to an unfalsifiable model of Olmec superiority that led Blomster et al. to bypass the logic of archaeological inference.

Los artículos de Stoltman et al. (2005) y Flannery et al. (2005) a los cuales Neff et al. responden en este mismo numero no son una condena a los fundamentos del “instrumental neutron activation analysis” (INAA), sino más bien una crítica a su mal uso por Blomster et al. y a la forma hiperbólica que tomaron sus conclusiones histórico-culturales. Hace tiempo que se ha reconocido que el INAA no nos conduce a las fuentes de las materias primas cerámicas, sino a grupos de composición química. Blomster et al., basados en grupos de composición derivados de una colección de tiestos de siete localidades obtenida en forma no sistemática, concluyeron que los olmeca nunca recibieron cerámica gris raspada ni tampoco cerámica blanca caolín de otras regiones. Y que no hubo intercambio de esas cerámicas entre los valles vecinos del altiplano mexicano. Esta interpretación resulta errónea porque no se puede hacer directamente de la simple composición química de unos tiestos una conclusión comprehensiva y general sobre procesos histórico-culturales. Además, otras líneas de evidencia, que incluyen los análisis petrográficos, han producido por más de 40 años evidencia empírica que contradicen las conclusiones de Blomster et al. Finalmente, fue la confianza de estos autores en un viejo, y poco verificable de manera directa, modelo de superioridad olmeca lo que los llevó a evitar la lógica de la inferencia arqueológica.

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Copyright © 2006 by the Society for American Archaeology.

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