Hawkes’ Ladder of Inference

Hawkes, C.  1954.  “Archaeological Theory and Method: Some Suggestions from the Old World.”  American Anthropologist 56(2): 155-168.

Christopher Hawkes started a conversation about the nature of the archaeological discipline that set an agenda for the remainder of the 20th century.  Many of the other articles posted on this site are an attempt to wrestle with the issues raised by Hawkes in the section of his article now commonly referred to as Hawkes’ Ladder of Inference.

What questions is the discipline of archaeology capable of answering?

What are the limitations of the discipline?

How can archaeologists move beyond these limitations to explore new areas of inquiry?

Hawkes Ladder of Inference:

Archaeology can assess the following types of questions with increasing difficulty as one descends the list.

1. Processes that Create Sites and Materials
2. Subsistence Economics (Modes of Production/Environment)
3. Social/Political Institutions and Dynamics (Political Economy)
4. Religious/Spritual Institutions and Thought Life (Ideology)

One thought on “Hawkes’ Ladder of Inference

  1. Is Hawkes’ correct in thinking that things like ideology are more difficult to detect archaeologically than, for example, the processes that went into building a wall?

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