On Epistemology in Archaeology: Critique of the Text “Archaeological Excavation from Epistemological Perspective” by Marko Porčić

  • Predrag Novaković Faculty of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
archaeological fieldwork, archaeology, epistemology, archaeological knowledge, critique, archaeological practice, methods, internalism


The paper is the reaction to the contribution by Marko Porčić in this volume of Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology, presenting his views on the epistemological character and status of excavation in the archaeological process of knowledge acquisition. Here it is argued that the analysis of Porčić is simplified, non-consequential and founded upon the outdated concepts of epistemological analysis of science, which takes into account only the internal disciplinary epistemology and sharply divides theory from practice, thus considerably lowering the potential for research of archaeological epistemology. Discussing a research field, especially a humanistic one such as archaeology, exclusively in the light of its own categories and concepts and ways of thinking inevitably leads to massive reduction in understanding of knowledge production. If the ideal of so-called hard sciences, followed by Porčić, was a severe detachment of objects from subjects, supposedly leading to guaranteed neutrality (objectivity) of knowledge – the first half of the 20th century ideal, today abandoned in many respects even in hard sciences themselves – the constitutive element in humanistic disciplines is (auto)reflexivity and interactivity of researchers in respect to “other people and their work”, and therefore a completely different role of “subject” and their surroundings. Following his internalist approach, Porčić attempts to approach the epistemic structure of archaeology and its modes of knowledge building from the point of view of the so-called (by the author himself) general epistemological model, according to which a research starts by shaping a previous statement (hypothesis), followed by testing and final verification of a new knowledge. Attempting to preserve the “neutrality” of epistemological analysis, Porčić does not take into account the fact that every knowledge, including the scientific one, is historically and culturally conditioned; this fact, which is the foundation of every consideration of knowledge and ways of its production, particularly apparent in humanistic disciplines, is also present in the epistemology of hard sciences, to which Porčić refers. His perseverance to remain strictly in the domain of “theory” and complete neglect of the role of practice in the process of knowledge acquisition is expressed in a string of completely false statements, such as e.g. (theoretical) redundancy of archaeological excavations, or finitude (limitedness) of archaeological inquiry, reached upon by simple syllogistic exercises, often starting by erroneous or tautological premises. Perhaps the most eloquent illustration of the inadequacy of the so-called general epistemological model for archaeology is the neglect of preventive archaeology – today amounting to more than 90% of all archaeological fieldwork in Europe. However, Porčić practically denies all epistemological value to this work, persevering in the extremely reductive view of archaeology, and at the same time neglecting important epistemological perspectives of the discipline.


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Author Biography

Predrag Novaković, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Department of Archaeology


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