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On the Logic of Archaeological Inference: Early Formative Pottery and the Evolution of Mesoamerican Societies

  • Robert J. Sharer (a1), Andrew K. Balkansky (a2), James H. Burton (a3), Gary M. Feinman (a4), Kent V. Flannery (a5), David C. Grove (a6), Joyce Marcus (a5), Robert G. Moyle (a7), T. Douglas Price (a3), Elsa M. Redmond (a8), Robert G. Reynolds (a9), Prudence M. Rice (a10), Charles S. Spencer (a8), James B. Stoltman (a3) and Jason Yaeger (a3)...


The 2005 articles by Stoltman et al. and Flannery et al. to which Neff et al. (this issue) have responded are not an indictment of instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) but, rather, of the way Blomster et al. (2005) misuse it and of the hyperbolic culture-historical claims they have made from their INAA results. It has long been acknowledged that INAA leads not to sources but to chemical composition groups. Based on composition groups derived from an extremely unsystematic collection of sherds from only seven localities, Blomster et al. claim that the Olmec received no carved gray or kaolin white pottery from other regions; they also claim that neighboring valleys in the Mexican highlands did not exchange such pottery with each other. Not only can one not leap directly from the elements in potsherds to such sweeping culture-historical conclusions, it is also the case that other lines of evidence (including petrographic analysis) have for 40+ years produced empirical evidence to the contrary. In the end, it was their commitment to an unfalsifiable model of Olmec superiority that led Blomster et al. to bypass the logic of archaeological inference.

Los artículos de Stoltman et al. (2005) y Flannery et al. (2005) a los cuales Neff et al. responden en este mismo numero no son una condena a los fundamentos del “instrumental neutron activation analysis” (INAA), sino más bien una crítica a su mal uso por Blomster et al. y a la forma hiperbólica que tomaron sus conclusiones histórico-culturales. Hace tiempo que se ha reconocido que el INAA no nos conduce a las fuentes de las materias primas cerámicas, sino a grupos de composición química. Blomster et al., basados en grupos de composición derivados de una colección de tiestos de siete localidades obtenida en forma no sistemática, concluyeron que los olmeca nunca recibieron cerámica gris raspada ni tampoco cerámica blanca caolín de otras regiones. Y que no hubo intercambio de esas cerámicas entre los valles vecinos del altiplano mexicano. Esta interpretación resulta errónea porque no se puede hacer directamente de la simple composición química de unos tiestos una conclusión comprehensiva y general sobre procesos histórico-culturales. Además, otras líneas de evidencia, que incluyen los análisis petrográficos, han producido por más de 40 años evidencia empírica que contradicen las conclusiones de Blomster et al. Finalmente, fue la confianza de estos autores en un viejo, y poco verificable de manera directa, modelo de superioridad olmeca lo que los llevó a evitar la lógica de la inferencia arqueológica.



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Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
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