Origins Research in Archaeology at the Turn of the Millennium and Giambattista Vico's New Science (1744)

Stephanie Koerner

PhD Thesis. 1999

Since ancient times questions about the origins of human behavior, social institutions, agriculture, inequality and the state have figured centrally in the ways scholars have thought about human history. During the 19th century, these questions became the foci of anthropological archaeology's various areas of 'origins' research. Throughout anthropology's history, major changes in methods and theory have been accompanied by efforts to remodel the discipline's diverse areas of origins research. Today each origins research question is the focus of one or even several specialized fields of multi-disciplinary inquiry. But the importance of origins research to the ways anthropology defines its aims and structures its fields of inquiry is not the only manifestation of paradigm continuity. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the most polemical debates have turned on divisions between paradigms for human history based on assumptions of an ontological antithesis between nature and culture.

This study examines the relevance of Giambattista Vico's New Science (1744) to (a) research on the history of dualist paradigms for anthropology; and (b) the development of frameworks for going beyond the constraints of paradigms based on a nature-culture antithesis in anthropology's key areas of origins research. Vico's New Science was intended to serve as an alternative to several influential modern systems, including: social theories based on a State of Nature - Social Contract dichotomy, and the new physical science of Galileo, Leibniz and Newton. For Vico, this was not an exclusively intellectual matter, but also an important social issue. Without a satisfactory science of humanity, at risk was an intellectual culture alienated from human affairs.

The findings of the present study indicate that at least two comparisons can be made, namely: (a) between several patterns of socio-cultural change which marked the transition from medieval to modern times, and 20th century developments which have been motivating a re-evaluation of ideals view of the Scientific Revolution and Birth of Modernity; and (b) between several key components of Vico's New Science and present day projects to go beyond a nature-culture antithesis in anthropology's major areas of origins research.