A term developed in sociology by Robert K. Merton in the late 1940s as a way of connecting high‐level social theory with empirically observable patterns. Similarly, in archaeology, it has become a way of seeking accurate means for identifying and measuring specified properties of past cultural systems. The emphasis is on trying to understand how the archaeological record was formed, what survives, why things survive, and how the record can be interpreted. As such it stands between high‐level social theory (e.g. hermeneutics) and low‐level general laws or principles (e.g. stratigraphy). It may also be seen as a bridging argument that connects what is observed in the archaeological record with reasonable interpretations of those observations.
Subjects: Archaeology — Social Sciences.