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Knowing the Mind Through Science


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My position paper for Anthropology 410.

My position paper for Anthropology 410.

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  • 1. Jeff GrimmAnthropology 410Position Paper Knowing the Mind Through Science I argue the position that through the use of Geographic Information Systems, CognitiveArchaeology can begin to enter the field of real statistical science through a new archaeologicalapproach called Landscape Archaeology (L.A.). L.A. is a growing field that can and does allowarchaeologist knowledge of mind for extinct cultures. Through the example of “An Analysis of Pre-Christian Ireland Using Mythology and G.I.S.” I will show what L.A. Is and that it is useful.Cognitive Archaeology Cognitive Archaeology (C.A.) is a sub-discipline of archaeology that utilizes psychology andsociology very heavily to infer details about human culture from material remains. Ideology, state ofmind, past experience and symbolism are C.A. primary areas of study. Humans do not operateexclusively on sensory stimuli, but, plan their actions based on previous experiences and beliefs.People living together begin to share a view of the world which affects their material culture.Additionally, people living together begin to share a view of the world which affects their materialculture. This shared view of the world is called a cognitive map and reverse engineering this map, frommaterial culture, is the primary modus operandi for cognitive archaeologists (Feagans). Within C.A. there are two major focuses, the first is how human thought influences and impactshuman surroundings and material culture. The second major focus is the exploration of the origins ofhuman cognition and its development. Within the first focus symbolic representations expressed inhuman physical culture are the primary concentration. The second focus is a concentration onexamining early hominin species as well as our own ancestors and their cognitive evolution (Feagans).
  • 2. Cognitive Archaeologists believe human thought is expressed symbolically in culture, becausethe human mind associates subject material into what is called ontological categories (Feagans).Ontological categories are groupings of “like” information that allows an individual to remember a vastamount of data without having to recall all of the details of each subject. A ready example of anontological category is the concept of, “animal,” which carries inferences different from the concept,“family.” These symbolic categories can be reverse-engineered to find out what people think, in regardto “animal” and “family” (Ontological Categories). Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn, in the bookArchaeology, draw upon Karl Popper’s theory of reality and the three intersecting worlds. Popperdescribes three worlds in the human mind that consist of:A) The world of physical objectsB) The world of subjective experiences and thought processesC) The world of human-made products (art, tools, etc) (Renfrew & Bahn).The last world (C) is the objective of C.A. and a topic of study for the first focus of the field. If thesecategories could be parceled into sub-ontological categories, which in turn, could also be sub-parceled,then by examining specific categories/sub-parceled categories, inferences about behaviors, associatedwith them, can be reasonably assigned through a structuralist approach. It was suggested by psychologist Merlin Donald that cognitive evolution could be examined asa model consisting of developmental stages. Donald argued that using a model such as this, wouldallow an amount of consistency with non-human primate studies. His stages begin with primatecognition (episodic culture) and then progress toward a state analogous to the cognitive state of Homoerectus, (memetic culture). Memetic culture is a transition to linguistic culture/mythic culture thatforms the foundation of early Homo sapiens cognitive state. The final transition as outlined by Donaldis one into theoretic culture where the use of external objects could be used for symbolic storage. This
  • 3. final stage is important as it allows for the ability for humans to record information that doesn’tnecessarily fit neatly and efficiently into ontological categories (Feagans). Renfrew notes that Donald isa little too inclusive in his definition and lumps Paleolithic cave paintings into the mythic culture alongwith early writing systems, like those in Mesopotamia (3500 BC). Renfrew has a slightly broadervantage point. Renfrew suggests additional stages of external symbolic storage between mythic and theoreticcultures. Renfrew’s view includes early agrarian societies. These cultures stored information, such as,astrological positions which provided critical calendar events, in relation to planting and harvesting.Hunter-gatherer cultures would also need to be included, as they would have needed to store migratorydetails of animals, as well as, symbolic information for rituals. Renfrew also warns that constructing anarrative model of human cognition does not need to be sequential. Renfrew points out that while thereis much theory and reason involved in human learning, people still learn behavior through repetitionand mimesis, depending on repetition within motor sequences. Do recent and current non-literatecultures fit into this framework? If so, do they fit into the theoretic phase or are they excluded?Renfrew points out the stark fact that even within our own society we have non-literate individualsresiding within complex urban culture, managing their affairs without the benefit of written language(Feagans).Enter the Geographic Information System A Geographic Information System (G.I.S.) is any computer program which allows for the userto compare, analyze and interpret visual geographic information. Often used in cultural resourcemanagement for the location of potential archaeological sites, cataloging existing sites, basic mappingand many other uses, G.I.S. has allowed archaeologists to ply their trade efficiently. ESRI makes themost common G.I.S. program, but, there are similar G.I.S. programs also used in archeology (What Is
  • 4. GIS?). With computers becoming such an important tool within archaeology it is not surprising thatCognitive Archaeologists have began to use them to uncover ontological meaning. What computersoffer the archaeologist is a more systematic technique of comparing assigned values within a projectand measuring these values in a scientific fashion. In particular, the use of Geographic InformationSystems software derives meaning from the cultural landscape rather than relying exclusively on theuse of artifacts and bones. When C.A. and G.I.S. are combined the resulting field of study is LandscapeArchaeology.Landscapes of the Mind Krzysztof Grzymski defines landscape as a holistic term dealing with linking artifacts andecofacts to specific spatial location. Landscape also encompass the ecological as well as thegeographies of the location along with the artistic and sociosymbolic aspects. Ecological include how aculture modified, utilized and shaped the way their landscape functioned. Geographies deal with spatiallayout of a landscape as well as what ecological factors that exist within the landscape. The artisticaspects revolve around how the culture depicted their landscape in art and as art. This information canbe treated using a structuralist approach or if ethnographic information is present, gleaned directly fromthe culture itself (Grzymski). L.A. at Ball State University used a combination of C.A. and G.I.S. alongwith known mythological data to attach known meaning to the landscape of Ireland.An Example: An Analysis of Pre-Christian Ireland Using Mythology and G.I.S. “An Analysis of Pre-Christian Ireland Using Mythology and G.I.S.” allowed archaeologists atBall State to compare pre-Christian Irish myths (known as the Dindshenchas) with actual
  • 5. archaeological sites mentioned within these myths. More specifically, archaeologists at Ball Statewanted to see if there is a geographic correlation between known archeological sites and regionsmentioned within the myths, as well as, find unidentified sites, through geographic details, whichwould validate the mythologies as solid ethnographic accounts. Importantly, this study connectsDruidic myth, ontological categories created within the myths and the real life geographic landscape inwhich archeologists work (Caviness). The Dindshenchas are a series of written myths that provide a vague, yet, firsthand account ofpre-Christian cultural practices among the Celtic people of Ireland. Pre-Christian Celtic religiouspractices continued well after the conversion to Christianity in Ireland. The Dindshenchas wererecorded during the time that the Catholic church mandated that pagan customs be incorporated intoreligious practices to make conversion easier (601 AD). The fact that the Dinshenchas preserve to thisday means that the old religions mythology held importance beyond their pagan religious significance.Also, the fact that the place names within the Dinshenchas continued into modern day gives a greatdeal of cultural continuity and shows that these stories may have been more then just stories. The Ball University research bridges the gap between the ideologies broached with C.A. and themethodical calculations of a database system. Cultural anthropologists analyzed symbolic andethnographic information from mythic interpretations while, archaeologists examine physical evidencefrom the field. The two disciplines have always been divided over techniques used to arrive at accuratedata. The Ball University study overcomes the towering barrier that has separated two sub-disciplinesand opens the way for future projects involving C.A. and G.I.S within the realm of L.A. Ball State archaeologists wished to predict the most logical route of the legendary Five Roadsof Tara, a road system prominent within the Dindshenchas. Data used included geographic informationsuch as water sources, geography, known settlements and other landmarks. Sites mentioned in theDindshenchas, such as religious hill sites, could not only be discovered, but, could be assignedanalyzable meaning, due to inclusion in the myth (Caviness). Significance could then be more
  • 6. accurately assessed in conjunction to artifacts found at the sites. Ball State employed ESRI’s G.I.S. program to map and correlate data, working initially off ofESRI’s Ireland base map. Layers were overlaid on this base map with each layer representing aparticular theme: 1) Dindshenchas Sites 2) Druid sites 3) Relevant locations 4) Known sacred sitesAfter these layers were systematically compared, several projected routes were created as prospectiveroutes of the Five Roads of Tara. These projected routes, may reveal that the Five Roads of Tara were,in fact, not mythical, but, actual travel routes (Caviness). The Ball State archeologists have shown that through using G.I.S. the mind of an extinct peoplecan be examined without the use of calipers or trying to group artifacts together to deduce theirsignificance. Granted, the use of existing known ethnographic information was primary contributingfactor to this project but the fact that verifiable information can and was extracted from a mythology isastounding. L.A. with its more quantitative approach will begin to play a larger role in archaeology inthe future. The roots of L.A. within the computer sciences and C.A. Demonstrate a shift from purelyspeculative analysis to using hard statistical fact. Paired with future non evasive excavation techniqueswho knows what the future holds?
  • 7. Works CitedCaviness, Dimitra-Alys A. "An Analysis of Pre-Christian Ireland Using Mythology and A GIS." Recent Proceedings. 1998. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.Feagans, C. "About Cognitive Archaeology." A Hot Cup of Joe. A Hot Cup of Joe, 14 May 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.Grzymski, Krzysztof. "Landscape Archaeology of Nubia and Central Sudan." The African Archaeological Review 21.1 (2004): 7-30. Jstor. Web. 9 Mar. 2013. < &Search=yes&searchText=archaeology&searchText=landscape&list=hide&searchUri= %2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dlandscape%2Barchaeology%26fromHomePage %3Dtrue%26acc%3Don%26wc%3Don%26fc %3Doff&prevSearch=&item=1&ttl=21049&returnArticleService=showFullText>."Ontological Categories : Ontological Categories Oxford Scholarship Online." Home Oxford Scholarship Online. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.<>.Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. "What Did They Think: Cognitive Archaeology, Art and Religion." Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London: Thames & Hudson, 2008. 396-402.
  • 8. Print."What Is GIS? | Geographic Information Systems." Esri - The GIS Software Leader | Mapping Software and Data. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. <>.Wynn, Thomas, and Frederick L. Coolidge & Martha Bright. "Hohlenstein-Stadel and the Evolution of Human Conceptual Thought." Steps to a ‘Neuroarchaeology’ of Mind, Part 2. University of Colorado Colorado Spings, 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2011.<>.