Thursday, October 2, 2008

ASU Archaeologists are Published in a book on “Cultural Astronomy”

Anthony Aveni has just published a hefty new reader (826 pages) on cultural astronomy and archaeology (Aveni 2008). Interestingly, it reprints two papers of mine (Smith 2003, 2005) and a paper by my colleague Keith Kintigh (1992). Before you start to worry that we have turned in our trowels for telescopes, however, take a look at these papers (mine are posted on my website). They are criticisms of archaeoastronomy (Keith’s paper) and cosmological/astronomical interpretations of site plans (mine).

So what are these critiques doing in a book that promotes astronomical and cosmological methods and perspectives? This really seems out of place in an archaeological publishing atmosphere in which many authors are more interested in promoting (railroading) a view or cause than in providing an even-handed evaluation of evidence for and against. Tony Aveni, in contrast, is an empirical scientist who understands that critique and debate are important parts of scholarly discussion. He is sufficiently rigorous, unbiased, and confident to engage and even embrace contrary views. This is quite refreshing. I wish more archaeologists were like this. Unfortunately all too many archaeological publications seem more like propaganda statements than unbiased empirical investigations.

My idea for this entry came from two sources. First, a free copy of the Aveni reader arrived in the mail today. Second, I’ve been thinking about the issue of empirical adequacy and quality in archaeological publications after reading Kristin Landau’s previous guest blog on Walter Taylor. Maybe its not a coincidence that Kristin studied with Tony Aveni at Colgate.

Aveni, Anthony (editor)
2008 Foundations of New World Cultural Astronomy: A Reader with Commentary. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Kintigh, Keith W.
1992 I Wasn't Going to Say Anything, But Since You Asked: Archaeoastronomy and Archaeology. Archaeoastronomy and Archaeology News 5:1, 4.

Smith, Michael E.
2003 Can We Read Cosmology in Ancient Maya City Plans? Comment on Ashmore and Sabloff. Latin American Antiquity 14:221-228.

2005 Did the Maya Build Architectural Cosmograms? Latin American Antiquity 16:217-224.

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