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BibArch Home Up Evidence & Fact Scientific Method

Scientific archaeology consists of the application of the scientific method (see chart) to explain the phenomena observed in the archaeological record. The scientific method consists of an ordered process wherein tentative explanations for observable phenomena, i.e., possible causes based upon general theory, become stated as testable research hypotheses. 

Research hypotheses, as part of a structured research design, arise from research problems based upon theory. Researchers then must test these hypotheses against representative samples of raw data (the phenomena incorporated in the archaeological record). Explanation follows falsification of research hypotheses translated into revised theory.

Science advances by disproof, proposing the most adequate explanations for the moment, knowing that new and better explanations will come later. In archaeology, the elimination of research hypotheses by testing them against the archaeological record occurs through falsification. Through application of the scientific method absolute certainty that a research hypothesis consists of the final word on a matter, or without a doubt the true explanation of a matter cannot occur.

Research hypotheses surviving falsification remain only tentative explanations for observed phenomena. Reasonable certainly that a research hypothesis provides a plausible explanation, after repeated testing against the archaeological record, generally results in its acceptance as a “fact.”

A fact can never find acceptance with absolute certainty in science. At most, general theory built upon application of the scientific method can give meaning to the archaeological record with only reasonable certainty.

Page last edited: 01/24/06 09:10 PM

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