An agnostic approach to ancient landscapes: conversations about the cultural anthropology of archaeological research

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We argue that the phenomenological or ‘agnostic’ approach to evolutionary systems advocated by Thomas Henry Huxley is applicable in anthropological archaeology and show how agnosticism helps defuse the tension between humanists, natural philosophers and natural historians in integrative research. We deploy problem-framing methods from policy-relevant research in a palaeoanthropological context, developing a model of complex (scale-dependent, irreversible) causality and applying it to the problem of human-landscape interaction and primate foot anatomy. We illustrate this process with a single iteration of the ‘project cycle’ focussed on human-landscape interaction. Modern humans are co-operative resilience feeders, exploiting complex causality by perturbing stable, unproductive landscapes and feeding on the fluxes of energy and resources released as they spring back. Is it possible that this resilience-feeding is older than Homo sapiens?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-30
JournalJournal of Archaeology and Ancient History
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Agnostic
  • Landscape
  • Hominin
  • Palaeoanthropology
  • Phenomenology
  • Project cycle

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