Historians routinely draw quite far-reaching conclusions about all aspects of society from archaeological artifacts and textual documents that – naturally – represent only a minuscule fraction of all the artifacts and documents that existed in the time and place that is being investigated.
I have always held doubts about the validity of the boldest of those conclusions and have devised a simple experiment that I believe would shed some light on the strength of the standard methods of the historical-archaeological sciences:
- Take a modern society that the historians participating in the experiment (say, United States-based historians specializing in classical European antiquity) are not familiar with (e.g. rural Japan)
- Randomly sample artifacts and documents from that society, emphasizing such artifacts and documents that are capable of surviving several centuries
- Provide those samples to the historians without any context whatsoever (except for the location of the "find")
- Compare the conclusions drawn by the historians with reality
Has an experiment of this type ever been conducted?