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By Michael J. O’Brien, R. Lee Lyman (auth.)

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Cosmologists might refer metaphorically to the evolution of solar systems and the like, but they understand the difference between using the term evolution as a synonym for change or development and using it to refer to organismic descent with modification. Likewise, archaeologists for the most part appear unconcerned with the distinction, despite the fact that its importance was pointed out almost two decades ago (Dunnell 1982). By adopting Philip Phillips’s (1955:246–247) dictum that “North American archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing,” the discipline was forced to adopt the essentialist mode of science, thereby denying itself access to its one unique potential contribution to the study of the human organism— history (see Lyman and O’Brien [1997, 1998] for extended discussion).

Furthermore, the derivational process—a murky mental activity—reinforces the commonsensical ontology that the resultant kinds are real. You can, after all, find them. Materialism In opposition to the essentialist view that discoverable natural kinds exist, materialism does not involve inductive searches and instead creates units that are capable of performing particular jobs—not any and all jobs but rather particular jobs. This is not to imply that essentialist kinds can do no analytical work. Some of them, such as chemical elements, clearly can, and the same is true in archaeology— for example, essentialist pottery types can be used to mark the passage of time (O’Brien and Lyman 1998, 1999a).

The point is that units are not transferrable from one kind of science to another unless the properties under investigation are similar. When time and space are inconsequential—for example, when the subject is physical–chemical interactions Darwinian Theory and Archaeology 19 within an organism—the same kinds of units might be used by both a biologist and a physicist. However, when time and space are consequential, units are not automatically interchangeable. This should be noncontroversial: Historical entities— those that exhibit limited temporal and spatial distributions—require particular kinds of units for their investigation; ahistorical entities—those that do not exhibit temporal and spatial distributions, or, more appropriately, those that occur in all temporal and spatial contexts—require different kinds of units.

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