Introduction to Comparative Archaeology: Mycenae and the Shang Dynasty

(July 2021) This course explores the theories and approaches used in comparative archaeology since the 18th century until today. It looks at the origins of theory from early anthropologists and its harsh critics, the contributions of early antiquarians and geologists, as well as the works of modern comparison of Early Complex Societies and their impact on the field. The renewed interest in comparisons between Western societies and China remain mostly historical in tone. How has this influenced the field?  Anthropological comparison attempts to explain cultural variances through the influence of other factors such as culture, ecology, and environment. But, archaeologists tend to be parochial. Is it possible to know enough about two or more cultures to compare them? Gargantuan levels of scholarship make it an Herculean task. To overcome the qualitative issue, archaeology, comparison has preferred statistical, or quantitative, analyses over qualitative analyses. Questions mostly revolve around origin-type theories or universalizing theories and evaluation of variances. But, modern comparisons can be as erroneous or misleading  as the earliest comparativists were. In today's globalized world, knowledge of other cultures is more easily accessible, but are we equipped to understand them?

Alexander Westra
Course Code: 
ARCH 304