Archaeological identities

Yesterday, anthro-blog Savage Minds offered a guest post on shifting boundaries of archaeological affiliation and practice in the 21st century by historical archaeologist Jane Eva Baxter. In some ways, I thought her reflections highlighted some disciplinary trends and practical issues that complement the emphases of the “grand challenges.” What do you guys think?


Of Sharks and Syllabi

Generally speaking, the internet tells me that dipping my toes in the (shark infested?) waters of the academic job market this is not the best idea ever. The odds are never in your favor. 


This is how fun the academic job market is.

And yet, for now at least, I am doing it anyway, fully acknowledging that I’m in a privileged position to be able to go out on this particular limb. This year, several job ads requested not just the standard cover letter, CV, and list of references, but also teaching portfolios, evaluations, and sample syllabi. Preparing this last component of my applications took some time, but it was…well, actually pretty cool.* It encouraged me to reflect on my best experiences in the classroom, as both a student and an instructor, and to seek out ideas and advice for future classes. Whereas synthesizing and wrapping up the dissertation has made me excited to pursue new research, preparing course materials made me excited to pursue the teaching dimension of academic archaeology.

For the sake of collective inspiration and teaching enhancement, what were y’all’s favorite classroom experiences in archaeology? Did any whole classes stand out? Specific activities? What experiences rocked your theoretical socks off, opened your eyes to new questions (perhaps to a “grand challenge”), or best prepared you for an applied career?

From my own experience… As an undergrad at Wake Forest U, I took a four-field course called “Culture and Nature,” taught by archaeologist Paul Thacker.  A few days into that semester, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. This catastrophe and the subsequent economic, social, and political fall out provided a stark example of the ways in which seemingly natural events reverberate across human societies. As the course continued, covering the origins cultural ecology, the development of the conservation movement, and a variety of other topics, we often returned to the world of current events, reflecting on how post-Katrina discourses were informed by different perspectives on the relationship between culture and nature. By linking important concepts to a story unfolding on the news, I think all of us students gained a much deeper appreciation of the issues the course aimed to cover. 

So yeah. What was your favorite archaeology class, and what was so great about it? Let’s reminisce! 


*When it comes to the job market, it’s folly to ignore the facts. But as long as I’m going through with it, I needed a way to prevent total paralysis induced by doom and gloom realities. Finding a silver lining in syllabus prep was my strategy.

Regarding the “Grand Challenges” and young archaeologists…

Today, I did the regular ritual of tearing open the packaging of the latest issue of American Antiquity like it was a late Christmas present. I quickly skimmed the table of contents and immediately zeroed in on the “Grand Challenges for Archaeology” article written by a whole host of established intellectual heavy-weights.

In terms of overall content, I thought they touched on a bunch of great topics. For those of you without a subscription, the co-authors organized the various topics into five themes:

1) emergence, communities, and complexity

2) resilience, persistence, transformation, and collapse

3) movement, mobility, and migration

4) cognition, behavior, and identity

5) human-environment interactions

More importantly, they didn’t take the “we’re the EXPERTS, and this is what we think you should think is important” approach. Instead, they attempted to crowd-source the problem by sending out questionnaires through various outlets.

Herein lies the rub…

Older professionals were much more likely to respond than younger ones, with over twice as many responses from those 50 and older (66 percent) as from those ages 30-49 (32 percent). The main demographic disappointment was the sparse response from younger archaeologists and students (2 percent). [page 7]

As a person who is just a couple of years older than the primary demographic disappointment age bracket, I immediately muttered, “What the f@#$ happened here?”

How did my generation drop the ball on this one? Would the content of this piece be any different if us younger folks had stepped up with more frequency?

That is not a rhetorical question. Any and all thoughts are welcome.

Kintigh, Keith W. (and 14 others)
2014 Grand Challenges for Archaeology. American Antiquity 79(1):5-24.

UPDATE: I think the topic of how the authors sampled has been covered. If you decide to comment, please address if/how the content of the article could have been different had it included a larger sample of younger respondents.

If some of my favorite lithic analysts were rock stars (Part 1 of 2)…

Awhile back, another grad student asked for a quick and dirty “How do I get started analyzing lithics?” reading list. This got me to thinking about how I would go about organizing such a list.

In perhaps a pretty good example of the random ways in which my brain works, I thought, “What if my favorite lithic analyst were rock stars?”

So, here goes, in a less than exhaustive fashion, with a clear bias towards Southeastern Archaeology, and in something of a chronological order…

Archaeologist: Lewis Binford
Comparable Rock Star(s): Led Zeppelin

Why?: Binford (1979, 1980) kicked off what would become the “organization of technology” theoretical perspective, which still dominates lithic analysis. Most studies today are a derivative of a derivative of a derivative that lead back to Binford’s works from the late 1970s and early 1980s. While not necessarily sexy to some in the theory world today, back then it blew minds. Similarly, Led Zeppelin was this innovative band that doesn’t seem so cutting edge today only because so many generations of subsequent musicians have been influenced by their style, whether they explicitly recognize it or not.

Recommended tunes:

Recommended reads:

Binford, Lewis R.
1979 Organization and Formation Processes: Looking at Curated Technologies. Journal of Anthropological Research 35(3):255-273.

Binford, Lewis R.
1980 Willow Smoke and Dog’s Tails. American Antiquity 45:4-20.

Archaeologist: Michael Shott
Comparable Rock Star(s): Black Sabbath

Why?: What I admire about the way in which Michael Shott approaches lithic analysis is that he’s not scared to get into the weeds. When it comes to terminology, he’s clear and explicit (like his re-framing of the term “curation” in terms of expended vs. unexpended utility). He also comes up with really innovative proxies and statistical techniques to actually bridge the gap between method and theory. His approach reminds me of Black Sabbath, because those guys were very technically sound musicians, but definitely had a very unique sound. Also, Black Sabbath’s early vibe hits me as a bunch of guys who had little time for elaborate, 10-minute long guitar jams. They were looking to rock. In a similar sense (at least to me), when I read Shott, I imagine theory and data in a mosh pit throwing down.

Recommended tunes:

Recommended reads:

Shott, Michael J.
1986 Technological Organization and Settlement Mobility: An Ethnographic Examination. Journal of Anthropological Research 42(1):15-51.

Shott, Michael J. and Jesse A.M. Ballenger
2007 Biface Reduction and the Measurement of Dalton Curation: A Southeastern United States Case Study. American Antiquity 72(1):153-175.

Archaeologist: Bob Kelly
Comparable Rock Star(s): Lynyrd Skynyrd

Why?: There are some bands that are just timeless. I remember riding around backroads with my step-dad, and one of the few things we could always agree on was that when “Tuesday’s Gone” came on the radio, the volume went up, and all talking ceased. Timeless. That’s the same feeling I get every time I read Kelly’s (1988) “Three Sides of a Biface.” If you’re interested in studying lithics, find this article. Read this article. Crank the Skynyrd.

Recommended Tunes:

Recommended Reads:

Kelly, Robert L and Larry C. Todd
1988 Coming Into the Country: Early Paleoindian Hunting and Mobility. American Antiquity 53(2):231–244.

Kelly, Robert L.
1988 The Three Sides of a Biface. American Antiquity 53:717-734.

1995 The Foraging Spectrum. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.*

Parry, W.  and R. L. Kelly
1987 Expedient core technology and sedentism. In The Organization of Core Technology, edited by J. Johnson and C. Morrow, pp. 285-304. Westview Press, Boulder.

*Not purely lithics by any means, but you should own this book.

Archaeologist: Steve Kuhn
Comparable Rock Star(s): The Pixies

Why? The Pixies, to me, are this highly influential band that every burgeoning music junkie eventually stumbles upon and falls in love with. If you don’t get chills while listening to “Where is My Mind?” during the closing scene of the movie “Fight Club,” you hate freedom. I’m a little biased* when it comes to Kuhn’s work, but I think it’s every bit as influential to lithic studies as The Pixies are to Indie Rock. Moreover, since most of his work is on the Paleolithic in Europe, I use his work as a litmus test to see how REALLY interested in stone tools people are (or, if they’re just interested in Paleoindians first and lithic tech second). If they’re REALLY interested in understanding the subtleties in interpreting stone tool raw material economies, then they should have tracked down a copy of Kuhn’s (1995) Mousterian Lithic Technology. This may or may not make me some kind of lithic tech hipster.
*Steve is one of my co-advisors.

Recommended Tunes:

Recommended reads:

Kuhn, Steven L.
1990 A geometric index of reduction for unifacial stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 17:583-593.

1994 A Formal Approach to the Design and Assembly of Mobile Toolkits. American Antiquity 59(3):426-442.

1995 Mousterian Lithic Technology. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

2004 Upper Paleolithic raw material economies at Üçağızlı cave, Turkey Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 23:431-448.

Archaeologist: Bill Andrefsky
Comparable Rock Star(s): The Clash

Why? I like The Clash. You like The Clash. EVERYONE likes The Clash. If you know someone who doesn’t like The Clash, I highly suggest you stop being friends with this person (they are, afterall, the only band that matters…). Why is The Clash comparable to Bill Andrefsky? EVERYONE likes Bill Andrefsky.  Apparently, his Cambridge Press handbook on lithic technology is one of their top sellers. Getting started in lithics? BUY THIS BOOK. I also like several of the subsequent volumes he’s edited. I highly suggest you get them all, and then pop in The Clash’s two-disc greatest hits collection, and enjoy the ride.

Recommended tunes:

Recommended reads:

Andrefsky, William, Jr.
1994 Raw Material Variability and the Organization of Technology. American Antiquity 59(21-34).

1995 Lithics: Macroscopic Approaches to Analysis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

2006 Experimental and archaeological verification of an index of retouch for hafted bifaces. American Antiquity 71(4):743-757.

Wilson, Jennifer and William Andrefsky, Jr.
2008 Exploring Retouch on Bifaces: Unpacking Production, Resharpening, and Harnrner Type. In Lithic Technology: Measures of Production, Use, and Curation, edited by W. Andrefsky, Jr., pp. 86-105. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Archaeologist: Julie Morrow
Comparable Rock Star(s): Heart

Why? One word: Barracuda. That song will always rock my face off. When I was working on my Master’s thesis, I read Morrow’s dissertation from cover to cover, because I was attempting to analyze a quarry assemblage and feeling slightly overwhelmed.  It also rocked my face off. If you are interested in lithics, and in particular Paleoindian lithics in the mid-South, you must also read her dissertation. CLASSIC. She also co-authored one of the first papers that looked at variation in Paleoindian projectile point morphology across space. Again, this is a CLASSIC.

Recommended tunes:

Recommended read:

Morrow, Juliet E.
1995 Clovis projectile point manufacture: a perspective from the Ready Lincoln Hills site, llJY46, Jersey County, Illinois. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 20(2):167-191.

Morrow, Juliet E. and Toby A. Morrow
1999 Geographic Variation in Fluted projectile Points: A Hemispheric Perspective. American Antiquity 64:215–230.

Archaeologist: Phil Carr
Comparable Rock Star(s): The Drive-By Truckers

Why?: In the past few years, there’s been a slew of hipster bands that try to pull off a country Americana sound, and they don’t sound very genuine to me (I’m looking at you Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I do not doubt you love your ma and pa, but I seriously question whether or not you’ve been to Alabama or Arkansas. You’re all from f@#$ing LA). On the other hand, The Drive-By Truckers are Southern boys – through and through. If I listen to “Southern Rock Opera” or “Pizza Deliverance,” I get homesick. Immediately.

Like the Drive-By Truckers, Phil Carr is Southeastern – through and through. He (and his partner in crime, Andrew Bradbury) do really solid, theoretically-driven analyses, and have written a couple of foundational works that really take the pulse of lithic studies in Southeast.

You want to hear lyrics that really capture what growing up in the South is like? Listen to the Drive-By Truckers. You want to know what’s going down in the South in regards to lithics? Read Phil’s stuff. Or just talk to him at SEAC. He’s really nice and has tolerated me for years.

Recommended tunes:

Recommended reads:

Carr, Phillip J. and Andrew P. Bradbury
2000   Contemporary Lithic Analysis and Southeastern Archaeology. Southeastern Archaeology 19(2):120-134.

And this book….

Archaeologist: Randy Daniel
Comparable Rock Star(s): R.E.M.

Why? This past Christmas, two of my aunts were reminiscing about the time they went to see R.E.M. in the early 1980s. Then I thought about when I first heard R.E.M., which was about the time “Losing My Religion” came out in the early 1990s, and during my high school years, “Monster” was one of my favorite albums. A few years ago, they put out a new album and I remember Steve Colbert being obviously starstruck as he interviewed him. Think about that for a second. That’s more than 30 years of being relevant in the music world.  They’re also from the South, I might add…

When I was working on my thesis, David Anderson handed me a giant stack of books with the directive, “Read these and write up a proposal before doing anything with those boxes of rocks you brought back from South Carolina.” One of those books was Harney Flats, which Randy published in 1987. Also included in the stack was Daniel’s (1998) book on the classic Hardaway site. Then two years ago at SEAC, he participated in a forum where read a brief, poignant prepared statement calling on lithic analysts in the South to get off the sidelines and jump into some of the big, exciting debates occurring in Southeastern Archaeology. I’ve asked him if he was planning on publishing that. YOU should ask if he plans on publishing that. WE SHOULD ASK HIM TO PUBLISH THAT. It was nothing less than a “call to arms,” and a much-needed one if you ask me. So, step back and think about that…Randy is closing in on close to 30 years of being at the forefront of lithic tech in the Southeast. Harney Flats is as good a read now as It’s the End of the World as We Know It is to listen to. They both came out in 1987.

Recommended reads:

Daniel, I Randolph, Jr., and Michael Wisenbaker
1987   Harney Flats: A Florida Paleo-Indian Site. Baywood Publishing, Co., Inc., Farmingdale, NY.

Daniel, I. Randolf, Jr
1998   Hardaway Revisited: Early Archaic Settlement in the Southeast. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

2001   Stone Raw Material Variability and Early Archaic Settlement in the Southeastern United States. American Antiquity 66:237-265.

Archaeologist: Todd Surovell
Comparable Rock Star(s): Pantera

Why? I remember being 15 and my best friend, Bobby Krimmel, said, “Hey man, listen to this…seriously, shut up and listen to this.” It was my first taste of Pantera. We listened Great Southern Trendkill and Vulgar Display of Power over and over again. If I could describe Pantera in a phrase, they were unapologetically badass. Crunching drums, roaring vocals, and spastic guitar riffs.

Fast forward to grad school and Steve Kuhn told me, in a tone similar to Bobby’s, “Shane, read this. Seriously…read this…it will be on your comps.” It was Todd Surovell’s dissertation, which he had since turned into a book.

To be honest, I have no idea if Todd listens to Pantera. I’m guessing not. However, like how Pantera brings it full-throttle with the badassery, Surovell lets you know immediately in his book that there will be math. You could say he’s unapologetically quantitative, and at first that seems pretty daunting.

However, when I was a teenager, I downloaded the guitar tabs for Pantera’s “Walk” and thought, “Hey, I can do this.” Similarly, once I got over the shock of seeing all of Surovell’s equations and slowly worked through them, I thought, “Hey, I can do this.” You should do it, too. Take your time. Don’t get overwhelmed. By the time you get to the end, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion I did – this is a significant toolbox for the study of stone tools.

Recommended tunes (you should turn your speakers down):

Recommended reads:

Surovell, Todd A.
2009   Toward a Behavioral Ecology of Lithic Technology: Cases from Paleoindian Archaeology. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

So, as I’ve gotten to end of this, I realized that this will be part 1 of 2. Reason number 1? I should be revising my dissertation. Reason number 2? I can think of more folks I’d like to add…