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Archeologists composed the list of 25 most important problems

Posted November 12, 2014

More and more historians argue that archaeological evidence can considerably help policy makers. But what research questions are most important and should be funded? Famous mathematician David Hilbert formed a list of twenty-three problems in mathematics in 1900. The problems were all unsolved at the time, and several of them were very influential for twentieth century mathematics.

Archaeologist in work. Image credit: Capture The Uncapturable via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Archaeologist in work. Image credit: Capture The Uncapturable via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Fifteen archaeologists associated with the Santa Fe Institute composed a list of twenty-five problems facing contemporary archaeology “Addressing many of these challenges will require both sophisticated modeling and large-scale synthetic research that are only now becoming possible. Although new archaeological fieldwork will be essential, the greatest payoff will derive from investments that provide sophisticated research access to the explosion in systematically collected archaeological data that has occurred over the last several decades,” the authors of the article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say.

One of the most difficult problems is the emergence of social inequality. Present societies are characterized by a hierarchical structure. However, this was not always the case. “Contemporary and ancient foraging societies apparently did not tolerate more than minor differences in wealth or power, despite individual differences in strength, intelligence, ability, and, of course, age and sex,” the archaeologists claim. Archaeologists should explore how this important transformation happened?

Another pressing issue is prediction of large-scale societal declines and even collapses. Careful look to past disasters can help us to forecast and hopefully avoid future ones. Such studies can be especially valuable during increasingly turbulent twenty first century. “Given the growing concern about the sustainability of our planet amid well-documented demographic and environmental trends and pressures, the causes and warning signs of collapse examined over long time periods may provide useful contexts for modern planning efforts,” the researchers emphasize.

In addition, it is very important to understand how people react to abrupt environmental changes? What are political and institutional responses to such events as tsunamis or volcanos? What can be learned from these experiences? Investigation of these problems demands more collaboration with colleagues from other fields.

“Detecting and assessing the intensity and frequency of abrupt and short term environmental perturbations in the archaeological record will require the integration of data from settlement archaeology, zooarchaeology, paleoecology, sedimentology, seismology, geomorphology, and allied disciplines,” the scholars think.

Article: Kintigh K.V. et al., 2014, Grand challenges for archaeology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America, source link.

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