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Chapter Summary
Archaeology is the study of the ancient human past using the material remains of past human behavior. These
material remains make up the archaeological record, the archives of prehistoric times.
While historians study written records, archaeologists deal with an anonymous past. Archaeology is unique among
the sciences in its ability to study culture change over long periods of time.
Text-aided archaeology combines the evidence of archaeology with documentary sources, while prehistoric
archaeology is the study of prehistory, the period of the human past before the advent of written records.
The study of world prehistory, which developed in the 1950s, is the study of human prehistory from a global
perspective using archaeological data and other sources.
All human societies are interested in the past, but they think of it in different terms and use it for different purposes.
Archaeologists, Westerners generally, conceive of time in a linear way, while many non-Western groups measure
time by the cycles of the seasons and the movements of heavenly bodies. They use linear time only when it is of use
to them.
Archaeology is not the only way of approaching history, for many societies have
oral histories, alternative perspectives on the past that are of vital importance in
preserving traditional culture and values.
Theoretical approaches to human prehistory abound, but can be divided, in general terms, into processual and postprocessual approaches. The processual (culture-as-adaptation) approach uses multilinear cultural evolution and
cultural ecology to provide a viable general framework for studying world prehistory, based on the assumption that
human societies evolved in many diverse ways. Archaeologists conventionally make a distinction between prestate
and state-organized societies as part of this framework.
Evolutionary ecology makes use of the mechanism of natural selection and optimal foraging strategy to interpret
hunter-gatherer societies in terms of energy costs and risk management.
In recent years, archaeologists have distinguished between external constraints on cultural change, such as
environmental factors, and internal constraints, created by the actions of individuals and groups.
A new generation of research is focusing on ideologies, human interactions, gender relations, and other topics,
combining processual and post-processual approaches to study both types of constraints and their influences on the