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Eve theory
DEFINITION: The hypothesis that all modern humans are descended from a common first mother who lived in southern Africa about 200,000 years ago. The Eve theory is similar to the Noah's Ark model and is based on genetic research showing that as modern humans spread throughout the world they rarely if at all interbred with existing but more archaic humans such as the Neanderthals. The Eve theory does not imply a creationist view only that there has been a chance survival of a single line of mitochondrial DNA.
Middle Range Theory
DEFINITION: A conceptual framework connecting raw archaeological data with higher-level generalizations and conclusions about the past which can be derived from such evidence. A theory concerned with explaining specific issues or aspects of society instead of trying to explain how all of society operates.
alliance theory
DEFINITION: A term emphasizing the marital bond and relations between groups and a structural explanation for marriage, exchange, and exogamy. Its theorists analyze the rules that determine which people a person may marry and which people he may not.
archaeological theory
CATEGORY: technique
DEFINITION: Any theoretical concepts used to assess the framework and meaning of the remains of past human activity. Such a theory is used to guide a reconstruction and an interpretation of the past by looking beyond the facts and artifacts for explanations of prehistoric events.
behaviorist theory
DEFINITION: Any theory that suggests that the archaeological record is really a snapshot of ancient behavior.
catastrophe theory
CATEGORY: term; related field
DEFINITION: A mathematical theory and branch of geometry which demonstrates ways in which a system can undergo sudden large changes as one or more of the variables that control it are continuously changed. I.e., the theory explains change through a succession of sudden catastrophes. A small change in one variable can produce a sudden discontinuity in another. Archaeologists use the theory to show how sudden changes can stem from comparatively small variations. It has been used to explain the dramatic change in settlement patterns and the collapse of Maya and Mycenaean civilizations by comparatively small changes without there being large causes such as invasions or natural disaster.
central place theory
SYNONYMS OR RELATED TERMS: central-place theory
CATEGORY: technique
DEFINITION: In geography, a theory concerning the size and distribution of central places (settlements) within a system or region. The primary purpose of a settlement or market town, according to central-place theory, is the provision of goods and services for the surrounding market area. Such towns are centrally located and may be called central places. As applied to archaeology, the theory states that human settlements will space themselves evenly across a landscape as a function of the availability of natural resources, communication and transportation routes, and other factors. Eventually, these will evolve into a hierarchy of settlements of different size that depend on one another. Central-place theory attempts to illustrate how settlements locate in relation to one another, the amount of market area (goods and services) a central place can control, and why some central places function as hamlets, villages, towns, or cities. The theory was first developed by German geographer Walter Christaller. Christaller's theory concentrated on centers of different order, since in a complex system there will be some larger centers offering more specialized services to a wider area; there may indeed be many levels of such centers in a complex settlement hierarchy. Christaller's model has been modified by other geographers, especially August Losch. The theory may suggest ways in which the factors have affected the settlement pattern. Central place theory has found useful applications in archaeology as a preliminary heuristic device.
conflict theory
DEFINITION: Any theory that traces the origin of the state to warfare or intragroup conflicts.
conoidal theory of flint fracture
CATEGORY: artifact
DEFINITION: The theory that ideally a cone will be punched out of a piece of flint when it is struck with sufficient force.
critical theory
DEFINITION: A theoretical approach which was an attempt to adapt Karl Marx's ideas to an understanding of events and circumstances of 20th-century life. The relations between the assumptions and discoveries of a scholarly discipline and its ties to modern life are subject to examination, automatically relating the questions, methods, and discoveries of a science such as anthropology to those of the anthropologist's own culture. The theory claims that all knowledge is historical.
design theory
DEFINITION: The theory that all technology is a compromise between the short-term and long-term costs, utility, and risk of failure of artifacts as they operate within a technological system.
eco-functional theory
DEFINITION: Any theory which posits that human culture is an adaptation to the environment and thus culture functions to maintain humans and the environment in a sustainable balance.
general systems theory
DEFINITION: A theory that human society can be studied as a system broken down into many interacting subsystems, or parts. It is the premise that any organization may be looked at to discover how its parts are related and how changes in either parts or their relationships produce changes in the overall system. In archaeological terms, the system might be the whole of a society's culture, or some part of it such as the economy or even a single settlement. Systems can be regarded as either open or closed; the latter have no input of energy or matter from the outside, tend to reach a state of stable equilibrium in which small changes can be offset, and eventually stagnate and disintegrate, while open systems have an input of energy from the outside, reach a state of unstable equilibrium in which any small change can produce significant transformations in the system as a whole, and are characterized by growth and change. The process by which a system tends to maintain equilibrium in the face of changed surroundings is termed homeostasis, while morphogenesis is the process by which the structure is changed or elaborated.
interpretive theory
DEFINITION: Any theory that says ancient thoughts, beliefs, motivations, and feelings may sometimes be recovered from the archaeological record.
materialist theory
DEFINITION: Any theory that posits that the way humans organize labor and technology to get resources out of the material world is the primary force shaping culture.
optimal foraging theory
DEFINITION: The theory that an animal's efficient foraging behavior should maximize an animal's net rate of food intake. It is a theoretical perspective used in evolutionary biology that attempts to develop a set of models to apply to a broad range of animal species based on theories of optimal net rates of energy gain.
recovery theory
CATEGORY: technique
DEFINITION: Any of the various principles that archaeologists employ in the process of recovery, such as where and how to search for sites and how to excavate those sites.
taphonomic theory
DEFINITION: A theory that argues that while the archaeological record may manifest human behavior when it is deposited, the natural world then mixes those materials and confuses interpretation.
CATEGORY: technique
DEFINITION: Any scientific explanation that has been widely tested and accepted; also, plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.

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