Tuesday, March 24, 2015

We need better chronologies

In the latest issue of Latin American Antiquity, George Cowgill has published a short note arguing that we need better chronologies. Cowgill is particularly well known for his contributions to quantitative thinking in archaeology. He is also known for his work at the site of Teotihuacan, in Mexico. In this note, he argues that we need better chronological control over our data, and he suggests that Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon determinations is one way to get it.

The article is a commentary to accompany a special section on chronologies that began in the previous number of the journal. The special section, assembled by the editors Geoffrey Braswell and María A. Gutiérrez, also includes articles suggesting revisions to the chronologies of Kaminaljuyú and Becan.

I mention all this because I think it is important and needs to be highlighted. While I can't say we've exactly neglected chronology, it has not really been a focus of research for many years. It needs to be. Not that it should be an end in itself--it is mainly a tool for addressing other kinds of questions--but until we have more precise and reliable chronologies, we can't find the answers to the more pressing historical or social questions in which we are really interested.

So, a salute to the editors for focusing attention on the issue and to the authors of these articles for their empirical and mathematical analyses.

References Cited

Ball, Joseph W. (2014). Rethinking the Becán Ceramic Sequence--Disjunctions, Continuities, Segmentation, and Chronology. Latin American Antiquity 25(4):427-448.

Cowgill, George L. (2015). We Need Better Chronologies: Progress in Getting Them. Latin American Antiquity 26(1):26-29.

Inomata, Takeshi, Raúl Ortiz, Bárbara Arroyo, and Eugenia J. Robinson (2014). Chronological Revision of Preclassic Kaminaljuyú,, Guatemala: Implications for Social Processes in the Southern Maya Area. Latin American Antiquity 25(4):377-408.

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