Week 15 SCRAP Reading Group: Analogy in Archaeology

This was our 15th meet-up of the Virtual SCRAP Reading Group–we’ve been meeting every two weeks since the spring (plus a couple breaks here and there). This week, our topic of discussion was on comparative approaches and analogical reasoning in archaeology. Our special guest was Dr. Rachel Horowitz. The short readings were chosen by Shawn, and below you will find his summary and discussion questions.

Horowitz, Rachel A. (2020) Between Rocks and the Maya: The Necessity of Comparative Approaches with Respect to Lithics, Methodologies, and Theoretical Frameworks. The SAA Archaeological Record, 20 (1): 18-21.


Lamoureux-St-Hilaire, Maxime (2020) Comparative Approaches and Analogical Reasoning for Mayanists: Where to Go? The SAA Archaeological Record, 20 (1): 8-13.

Both articles are derived from a special section of the Archaeological Record, in turn derived from a SAA Forum organized by Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire. The two articles chosen work in complementarity, with Max’s article serving as a summary and framework for both the forum
and the section and Rachel Horowitz’s article as the case study—in this case, concerning lithic production and similarities/differences between sedentary societies and mobile foragers—and a common point of reference upon which we might build our conversation. Both, focus on the concept and use of analogy and cross-cultural comparison in archaeological analysis and interpretation.

Questions for Consideration, as per Max’s guidelines (p.9):

  1. How might we identify relevant context-specific case studies for use in cross-cultural comparison? What contexts matter most? Technology? Economy? Ideology? Language? Socio-political structure? To what extent can we profitably extend analogies based on one point of comparison to others? Are we more likely to forward interpretations that defy testing?
  2. What constitutes “appropriate space” in publications or presentations for defining the “loaded terms” we use? Is it sufficient to simply align one’s work with established bodies of literature, or should our works be essentially self-contained? What is the role/responsibility of the audience?
  3. Comparison isn’t just about noting the similarities, but the differences. Does this change with scope (i.e. micro-scalar vs. macro-scalar)? How have you explicitly or implicitly referenced similarity or differences in your use of analogy?
  4. Archaeology has always been a team sport. In what ways do you engage specialists in other fields or realms of archaeological knowledge in your work. What has this brought to the table (i.e. let’s raise a glass and take a moment to sing the praises of our colleagues)?
  5. What is the audience’s role with respect to our choice of comparative case studies?