Digging with documents: Ethnology as a tool for understanding human evolution
Ethnology is the practice of comparing and contrasting the features of multiple ethnohistorically-documented human societies. Also known as ‘cross-cultural analysis’ or ‘comparative anthropology,’ it has a long association with archaeology. For example, the pioneering archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers was also an exponent of ethnology. Similarly, the career-capping book of the most influential archaeologist of the second half of the 20th century, Lewis Binford, is a work of ethnology. However, ethnology has never been considered a key archaeological tool. In this talk, I will argue that it should be. Drawing on my own work and that of colleagues, I will show that there are both theoretical and practical reasons for archaeologists to enthusiastically embrace ethnology. Adding it to the suite of techniques that we expect archaeology undergraduates and graduate students to be familiar with will enable the discipline to make faster progress with the task of understanding the patterns in the archaeological record.