Friday, March 2, 2012

Umbrella Men and Archaeology

This is a little more esoteric post. It is a short film by Errol Morris called “The Umbrella Man”, posted by the New York Times. It is surprisingly relevant to archaeology, and it’s also a pleasure to watch.

Click the umbrella to watch the video.

The most obvious thing for archaeologists to take away from this is the hazard of building assumptions on top of assumptions on top of anomalies – to be careful of what kind of story one creates around that unusual artifact, for instance.

What struck me even more, however, was that the Umbrella Man represents the potential and even probable reality of seemly nonsensical factors behind any historical circumstance. Once you look too close - when you really attempt to read each detail  - probability, predictability, and indeed Occam's Razor itself may fall apart. That smoking pipe or that broken teacup can reflect a world of circumstances, histories, habits, or choices….. Or, the pipe is just a pipe and the cup is just a cup. It seems instructive, however.

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