Every sherd is sacred: Compulsive hoarding in archaeology

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Since the beginnings of our subject in German countries in the late 19th century, a mostly unreflected, firmly positivist epistemology has been the foundation of our practice. Established by ‘fathers’ of modern archaeology like Virchow and Hoernes, we believe that “...beginning and progress...” in archaeology lie in “... the observation of plain fact, in the stringing together of individual, of themselves unremarkable observations to incontrovertible knowledge...” (Hoernes 1892, 43). Virchow (quoted in Hoernes 1892, 70) hoped that the anthropological disciplines would progress “...by purely inductive means...” in the future. One of the necessary (epistemo-)logical preconditions for the possibility to arrive at proof positive by inductive reasoning is the completeness of observations. And since it has become disciplinary dogma that only inductive reasoning based on correct and complete observations of archaeology can create reliable, i.e. ‘true’, knowledge about archaeological things (and people), a particular relationship of the discipline with these things necessarily follows: every archaeological object is an infinitely valuable treasure, is sacrosanct, must be conserved forever. Only this can guarantee that our observations remain repeatable and thus allow our discipline to progress by no other than inductive means. Industrial hoarding thus is a necessary consequence of our epistemological approach.


  • German archaeology, positivism, professional archaeological collections, hoarding disorder
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManaging the Archaeological Heritage
Subtitle of host publicationPublic archaeology in Europe
EditorsGhattas J. Sayej, Donald Henson, Yvonne F. Williumsen
Place of PublicationKristiansand
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9788291178318
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2015

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