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The Awful Truth about Statistics in Archaeology

David Hurst Thomas
American Antiquity
Vol. 43, No. 2, Contributions to Archaeological Method and Theory (Apr., 1978), pp. 231-244
DOI: 10.2307/279247
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/279247
Page Count: 14
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The Awful Truth about Statistics in Archaeology
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Abstract

The archaeology of the past two decades has become increasingly quantitative, computerized, statistical, and this is as it should be. All right-thinking archaeologists begin with samples and attempt to generalize about the populations from which their samples were drawn. Statistical theory has evolved to assist investigators in making just this important inferential step and archaeologists have increasingly turned to statistics to square their research with the canons of Science. But the statistical revolution in archaeology is not without its price. We must now face the fact that all applications of statistics to archaeology can no longer be applauded. The archaeological literature is badly polluted with misuses and outright abuses of statistical method and theory. This paper discusses some of these faulty applications and makes some recommendations which, if heeded, should improve the quality of quantitative methods in archaeology.

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