Ending the war on error: Towards an archaeology of failure

Max Price, Yitzchak Jaffe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Failure is a fundamental part of the human condition. While archaeologists readily identify large-scale failures, such as societal collapse and site abandonment, they less frequently consider the smaller failures of everyday life: the burning of a meal or planning errors during construction. Here, the authors argue that evidence for these smaller failures is abundant in the archaeological record but often ignored or omitted in interpretations. Closer examination of such evidence permits a more nuanced understanding both of the mundane and the larger-scale failures of the human past. Excluding failure from the interpretative toolbox obscures the reconstruction of past lives and is tantamount to denying the humanity of past peoples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1598-1606
Number of pages9
Issue number396
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Antiquity Publications Ltd.


  • agency
  • archaeological reasoning
  • error
  • failure
  • intentionality
  • ritual
  • scale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • General Arts and Humanities


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