Cognitive Science: An Introduction/Anthropology Methods

Anthropology has long been a part of cognitive science, but its influence, and percentage of papers that use anthropological methods, have been relatively small.

Cultural AnthropologyEdit


Cognitive ArchaeologyEdit

Archaeology, as a subsection of anthropology, allows us to take a unique approach at ethnography by focusing on the examination of past material remains. The interpretation of these artifacts allows for the development of theories about past human activity. Cognitive science and archaeology go hand-in-hand, as in its broadest sense, this interdisciplinary study allows us to explore the ways in which people of the past thought. For example, we can study how ancient humans represent their environment in relation to themselves and their community (Goodfellow, 2017) [1]. By viewing the findings of archaeologists through the lens of evolutionary psychology, cognitive scientists are able to question and support theories that are relevant in their own field such as memory capacity, attention, problem solving, etc.

Why Study Archaeology in Cognitive Science?Edit

To create convincing cognitive theories and models, it is important that they are not only logically and theoretically sound but also have grounds in real world scenarios. In other words, our theories must have ecological validity. Archaeological evidence, albeit some roadblocks, allows us to test the ecological validity and receive feedback on the theories and cognitive models themselves. Furthermore, it is also an important component in determining the actual timeline of certain cognitive developments as well as the context in which these skills were developed (Wynn, 2002) [2].


Although both archaeologists and cognitive scientists contribute to the general knowledge on the topic, each discipline conducts research and uses methods that are best suited to their research goals. Looking at the findings of both disciplines is crucial to creating a comprehensive picture of what cognitive archaeology is. The work of each discipline is mutually beneficial to the other as findings are used to test or support theories as well as guide interpretations.

The methodology in archaeology is observational in nature and therefore, the understanding of cognition is based on inferences (Wynn, 2002) [3]. The main focus of study for archaeologists is the ethnographic interpretation of artifacts as symbols. Archaeologists are interested in symbols or patterns that signify the establishment of place, measurement, instruments of planning, rank or power, associations with the supernatural world, and depictions of the world through artistic representations (Renfrew & Bahn, 1991) [4]. Symbols or as they are called in cognitive science, representations, enable researchers to construct a cognitive map. A cognitive map is defined as one's perception of the world around them in relation to the individual themselves and their community (Goodfellow, 2017) [1]. This cognitive map creates a small picture of past human activity which ultimately helps cognitive scientists with the larger scale image of our evolutionary history.

Cognitive scientists emphasize the exploration of data drawn from the Paleolithic era (Coolidge & Wynn, 2016) [5]., an approach that is well fitted with the research questions and goals of evolutionary psychology. By using established models and theories of cognition as a guide, they can make interpretations and inferences about the archaeological data (Thornton, 2012) [6]. This interpretation should not be guided by the traditional categories of symbols, as aforementioned, but approached with psychological concepts in mind . A series of linked inferences is necessary to make a convincing argument within the discipline . This series of inferences should identify specific features that tell us about cognition within the archaeological record (Wynn, 2002) [3]. Experimentation in this field is possible and can be done through duplication; researchers simulate the production and uses of certain artifacts such as stone tools in order to test hypotheses (Stout, Schick, & Toth, 2009) [7].

Special TopicsEdit

Cognitive Science of ArtEdit

Cognitive Science of ReligionEdit

Evolutionary ArchaeologyEdit

Study QuestionsEdit

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  1. a b Goodfellow, M. (2017). To boldly go where [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from
  2. Wynn, T. (2002). Archaeology and cognitive evolution. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 25, 389. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X02000079
  3. a b Wynn, T. (2002). Archaeology and cognitive evolution. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 25, 390. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X02000079
  4. Renfew, C., & Bahn, P. (1991). Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London: Thames and Hudson. Page 389-390.
  5. Coolidge, F. L., & Wynn, T. (2016). An introduction to cognitive archaeology. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25, 386. doi: 10.1177/0963721416657085
  6. Thornton, C. (2012). Renewing the between cognitive archeology and cognitive science. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39, 2036. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2012.01.037
  7. Stout, D., Schick, K., & Toth, N. (2009). Understanding Oldowan knapping skill: An experimental study of skill acquisition in modern humans. In K. Schick & N. Toth (Eds.), The cutting edge: New approaches to the archaeology of human origins (pp. 247–266). Gosport, IN: Stone Age Institute Press.