On the nature of empiricism in archaeology

Matthew H. Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


'Empiricism' can mean many things; I discuss it here as the belief that the data speak for themselves, without the need for intervening theory. Empiricism in this sense would be considered by most to be simply naïve, but I argue that it remains one of the most widespread implicit theoretical positions in archaeology as a whole. This article examines the intellectual origins and cultural context of empiricism, and asks why it endures. I discuss two case studies: the archaeology of castles; and the origins of the medieval village. I argue that empiricism should be understood rather than simply dismissed, and propose some therapeutic practices for archaeological interpretation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)764-787
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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