Events, narrative and data: Why new chronologies or ethically Bayesian approaches should change how we write archaeology

Griffiths Seren, Neil Carlin, Ben Edwards, Nicholas Overton, Penny Johnston, Julian Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper, we discuss how the history of our discipline continues to shape how we think with material culture to produce narratives. We argue that recent developments in scientific dating—in combination with New Materialist and Big Data approaches—offer the potential to produce radical new interpretations. However, we can only achieve this if we adopt ‘ethically Bayesian’ approaches which recognise that some of the most fundamental aspects of our epistemological structures are highly situated, reflecting a Eurocentric, colonial legacy. This legacy is especially important when we study societies that did/do not produce texts—so-called ‘prehistoric’ societies. We suggest that the revolutionary potential of radiocarbon dating on archaeology has not been fully achieved, precisely because chronometric data have not yet been made sufficiently independent from materials-determined narrative structures. We outline the importance of ethically Bayesian approaches as means to challenge this disciplinary inheritance. We argue that we need to describe the richness and specificity of the pasts we bring into being in ways that take better account of the historical processes through which heterogeneous assemblages emerge, rather than to search for preconfigured entities (like ‘the Bronze Age’). Times have changed; we need our approaches to time to catch up.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Social Archaeology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2023


  • Big Data
  • Ethically Bayesian
  • New Materialism
  • chronology
  • narrative


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