Approaches to comparative analysis in archaeology

Michael Smith, Peter Peregrine

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

28 Scopus citations


Archaeology is inherently comparative. Comparison is necessary to understand the material record, for one cannot identify or understand an object never before seen without comparing it to a known object. Comparison is also necessary to understand variation over time and space, for one cannot identify or investigate variation unless one has examples spanning a range of variation, nor can one examine change without examples spanning a range of time. Comparative analysis is the only way to identify regularities in human behavior, and it is also the only way to identify unique features of human societies. Indeed, to Bruce G. Trigger the comparative nature of archaeological data and analysis places archaeology at the heart of the most important issues in the social sciences: The most important issue confronting the social sciences is the extent to which human behavior is shaped by factors that operate cross-culturally as opposed to factors that are unique to particular cultures. (Trigger 2003:3) In this chapter we outline the ways archaeologists have used comparison to understand the material record and to explore variation over time and space. After a brief history of comparative research on ancient societies, we review the variety of approaches used by the authors of this volume using seven dimensions of the comparative method in archaeology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Comparative Archaeology of Complex Societies
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781139022712
ISBN (Print)9780521197915
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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