In Praise of Vagueness: Uncertainty, ambiguity and archaeological methodology

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This article stipulates that vagueness is a socially important yet academically largely overlooked aspect of human interaction with the world. Vagueness and vague experiences can structure material categorisations of the world; it can contribute to the shaping of social relations and nurture the appreciation of difficult experiences. However, the recent archaeological (re)turn to science as the main provider of knowledge of the past renders vagueness futile as an empirical occurrence through its exorcism of elusiveness and ambiguity in the notorious pursuit of absolute, exact and quantifiable facts. This article challenges the pursuit and use of exact data in archaeological science and the consequential implications of the omission of vague occurrences, discussing the problem that ambiguous and absent evidence become neglected in subsequent conclusion. Second, it is demonstrated that vagueness and ambiguity can be integral to certain social and material phenomena. Third, the article examines recent archaeological analyses of burial practices in South Scandinavian passage graves from the Middle Neolithic in order to discuss the pursuit of certitude in archaeological observations and interpretations. Finally, it is argued that the idealisation of certitude in archaeological analysis needs to be complemented by an interpretative framework making it possible to recognise vagueness as a social phenomenon.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Archaeological Method and Theory
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)741-763
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2016

ID: 120196524