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September 22, 1999

Catastrophe theory
A mathematical theory which demonstrates how, in a system comprising three or more variables, a small change in one variable can produce a sudden discontinuity in another. Its appeal to archaeologists lies in the fact that it shows how sudden changes can stem from comparatively small variations. Its application to archaeological problems presents many difficulties, but it has been used to explain the dramatic change in settlement patterns or the collapse of Maya and Mycenaean civilization by comparatively small changes in internal factors without the necessity of external influences such as invasions or natural disaster. (Champion 1980)

1. The doctrine that sudden, violent, short-lived, more or less worldwide events outside our present experience or knowledge of nature have greatly modified the earth's crust. 2. The doctrine that the present configuration of the earth's crust, as well as the distribution of living beings, is mainly the result of a "great and sudden revolution" (Cuvier) of 5,000 or 6,000 years ago, and by extension that geological processes of the past were of much greater intensity than those of the present. 3. The doctrine that changes in the earth's fauna and flora are explained by recurring catastrophes, followed by creation of different organisms. (Bates and Jackson 1984)

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America