Synopses & Reviews
This annually updated reader is a compilation of archaeology-related articles from sources such as Newsweek, Natural History, Archaeology and The Archaeologist at Work. Visit the student Web site, Dushkin Online (www.dushkin.com/online) which is designed to support Annual Editions titles.
Table of Contents
UNIT 1. About Archaeologists and Archaeology
1. Metaphors We Dig By, Warren R. DeBoer, Anthropology News, October 1999
The following “study” emerged from a casual classroom survey of introductory archaeology students at Queens College during the 1998–99 academic year. It hits home with any professional archaeologist who has to agree that we usually don’t know our posteriors from a hole in the ground, to paraphrase a line from this article.
2. The Awful Truth About Archaeology, Dr. Lynne Sebastian, The SAA Archaeological Record, March 2003
“You’re an Archaeologist! That sounds soooo exciting!” Of course it sounds exciting because of the hyperbole and mystic surrounding archaeologists perpetuated by T.V. shows, movies, and novels—professional archaeologists know better! Yes, the thrill of looking at the past is truly exciting. But the process of discovery is slow, tedious, frustrating, and even on occasion time wasting—nothing is found. Digging square holes in the ground and carefully measuring artifacts, cataloging, taking notes, and hopefully and ultimately publishing something meaningful about the past. It is a work of love that has its inherent reward in knowledge.
3. The Quest for the Past, Brian M. Fagan, from Quest for the Past: Great Discoveries in Archaeology, Waveland Press, 1994
This excerpt from Brian Fagan’s book provides an overview of the history of archaeology that traces archaeology’s roots to antiquarians, grave robbers, and looters.
4. Distinguished Lecture in Archeology: Communication and the Future of American Archaeology, Jeremy A. Sabloff, American Anthropologist, December 1998
Jeremy Sabloff discusses the role that archaeology should play in public education and the need for archaeologists to communicate more effectively with relevant writing for the public. He further suggests the need to recognize nonacademic archaeologists and to focus on action archaeology or what is more usually termed public archaeology.
5. First Lady of Amazonia, Colleen P. Popson, Archaeology, May/June 2003
Betty Meggers is a strong-willed octogenarian with immmovable beliefs about ancient jungle culture. It is very important to Betty Meggers that her theories are the only right ones—even if the archaeological data happen to prove her wrong. However, she is credited with bringing the question of environment into archaeology. And, she uses her strong personality to find collaborators to carry on her immovable beliefs—archaeologist subordinate science in favor of personality! In this editor’s opinion, this destroys archaeology as a science.
6. Archaeology’s Perilous Pleasures, David Lowenthal, Archaeology, March/April 2000
Archaeology is presented here as our obsession with heritage. David Lowenthal writes that human interest in things ancient often lends itself to the idea that primacy confers entitlement. Tangible remains lend to archaeology a sense of its immediacy and importance to the public. From this basis, however, conflicts arise between contemporary human groups over ownership of the past; thus archaeologists need to be aware of the sensitivity of their endeavors.
7. The Travails and Tedium of Conflict-Zone Fieldwork, Lori A. Allen, Anthropology Newsletter, October 2002
While archaeologists are fascinated with the question of heritage, sometimes that heritage can be hard to get to! This author explains how she “went native” to continue her fieldwork in a combat zone. Get a view of the ironic conditions of continuous warfare coupled with a "life goes on as usual" attitude: a so-called normalization of violence. She aptly quotes Sartre “If colonialism was a system…then resistance began to feel systematic too.” Food for thought!
8. All the King’s Sons, Douglas Preston, The New Yorker, January 22, 1996
A well-told narrative of modern archaeology, Douglas Preston’s article is based on scientific archaeology. It is not, however, a typical “scientific” or “monograph” report common to academic archaeology. This tale of archaeology, with all the immediacy and punch of being in the field, is wish fulfillment for students or laypersons of archaeology because it is about a spectacular find—the biggest archaeological site in Egypt since King Tut’s tomb. No "blah, blah Egypt, blah, blah dummy", here!
UNIT 2. Problem Oriented Archaeology
9. Prehistory of Warfare, Steven A. LeBlanc, Archaeology, May/June 2003
The sate of primitive warfare is examined and found to be endemic to all such cultures as seen through archaeology. It is suggested that warfare occurs under conditions of resource stress and poor climates. It is surprising to learn that warfare has actually declined over time. Foragers and farmers have much higher death rates, approaching 25% of the population than more complex societies.
10. The Iceman Reconsidered, James H. Dickson, Klaus Oeggl, and Linda L. Handley, Scientific American, May 2003
The so-called Iceman that was discovered more than a decade ago and has been reevaluated by more thorough archaeological evidence. It seems the “Otzi’s” secrets include the fact that he did not die on a boulder as first believed. It is now believed he floated there during the temporary thaws that occurred over the past 5,000 years. We have come to know a great deal about the mysterious Iceman.
11. In the Beginning Was the Word, Brian Bethune, Maclean’s, December 9, 2002
A very interesting dissertation on the validity of the Bible. The major Christian and Catholic traditions are based on the Jewish Bible. Archaeological evidence is compelling that this account is both fallacious and misleading in terms of time, place, and events that supposedly occurred during these “Biblical Times.”
12. Who Were the First Americans?, Sasha Nemecek, Scientific American, September 2000
The traditional view that the peopling of the New World was accomplished by a uniform “race” of big-game hunters following their prey across the Bering Strait about 12,000 years ago is rejected in this article. Sasha Nemecek reports on several alternatives. From the many possibilities, strong arguments are made for pre-Clovis occuptions, suggesting the New World may have been populated by modern humans as far back as 20,000 years ago.
13. Who’s On First?, Anna Curtenius Roosevelt, Natural History, July/August 2000
This article rejects the traditional view that the peopling of the New World was accomplished by a single group of big-game hunters. However, acrimonious public debates continue. Anna Roosevelt’s book review is critical of too much oversimplification and suggests additional alternative scenarios. She is particularly skeptical of the evidence for a pre-Clovis occupation. The roles of NAGPRA and Kennewick Man are noted.
14. The Slow Birth of Agriculture, Heather Pringle, Science, November 20, 1998
This article presents a discussion on the relationship between agriculture and social organization. Heather Pringle suggests that crop cultivation does not necessarily lead to sedentary settlements or village life, as anthropologists have assumed. A larger vision of hunter-gatherer life emerges that suggests that a more complicated process is necessary to cultivate food and to become sedentary settlers.
15. Archaeologists Rediscover Cannibals, Ann Gibbons, Science, August 1, 1997
From digs around the world, archaeologists have unearthed strong evidence of cannibalism. People may have eaten their own kind from the early days of human evolution to the present time.
16. New Women of the Ice Age, Heather Pringle, Discover, April 1998
By combining research on the roles of women in hunting and gathering societies with recent archaeological evidence, Heather Pringle offers an emerging picture of women of Ice Age Europe as that of priestly leaders, clever inventors, and full-fledged hunters.
17. Woman The Toolmaker, Steven A. Brandt and Kathryn Weedman, Archaeology, September/October 2002
Women were not only leaders and hunters in the Ice Age, but ethno archaeology tells us that in modern tribal societies women are also skilled toolmakers. These female flintknappers again defy the stereotypical roles of men and women showing that today’s tribal women, as did women in the archaeological past, excel at toolmaking.
18. Why Women Change, Jared Diamond, Discover, July 1996
While the question of human female menopause is not exactly an archaeological artifact to dig up, it is important to our human nature and an essential fact of evolutionary biology. Archaeological and ethnograpic studies of hunter-gatherers show that female menopause is a many splendored thing with both adaptive and nonadaptive aspects. It might be viewed lightheartedly as part of the female mystique.
19. Yes, Wonderful Things, William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, from Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage, HarperCollins, 1992
One of the catchiest definitions of the word “archeologist” is that archaeologists are people who dig up other people’s garbage. Modern garbology is useful in that timely historical reconstruction can be done by direct comparison of what people say they do and what their garbage indicates they in fact do.
20. Bushmen, John Yellen, Science 85, May 1985
This article examines a revealing experiment in which anthropologist John Yellen excavates !Kung Bushmen campsites. Comparing the archaeological data with information from living informants and historical resources, Yellen discovers a kind of lyrical “back to the future” experience. A whole way of life and values has disappeared, but the natives cannot permit themselves to confront these changes.
UNIT 3. Techniques in Archaeology
21. Camera Bodies, Eugene F. Lally, Anthropology News, October 2002
A simple and obvious technique of photography adds a great deal to the visualization of anthropological and achaeology data. In this brief article, modern photographic techniques are surveyed. It is pointed out that the challenge of using a camera manually, without all the fancy new innovations, allowed the author to take an excellent photograph of Toas Pueblo pottery (archived for archaeological purposes).
22. High-Tech “Digging”, Chris Scarre, Archaeology, September/October 1999
Chris Scarre reports that the greatest advance in techniques used in archaeology over the last 50 years has been in dating sites. More recently, the last two decades have seen dazzling new information about past human societies gained by techniques borrowed from advances in nuclear physics, laser technology, and computers. At the most personal level, DNA studies have put real people into archaeological studies.
23. Space Age Archaeology, Farouk El-Baz, Scientific American, August 1997
Exploiting the technology of remote-sensing devices ranging from space satellites to handheld ground sensors, Farouk El-Baz reports that archaeologists are able to achieve a new “hands-off” approach. They can now generate a virtual archaeological reality, as well as secure the future preservation of historical sites.
24. A Wasp’s-Nest Clock, Rachel Preiser, Discover, November 1997
Most prehistoric rock art is impossible to date because it lacks the organic carbon necessary for radiocarbon dating. However, Rachel Preiser describes an unusual case in which two Australian scientists were able to date an in situ fossilized wasp’s nest that was directly overlying a painting of a human figure. The technique of optical luminescence dating placed the nest and painting at 17,000 years old. This may be the world’s oldest portrait of a human.
25. Profile of an Anthropologist: No Bone Unturned, Patrick Huyghe, Discover, December 1988
Archaeologists have borrowed a method first used by physical anthropologists to develop a technique of learning the age, gender, possible ethnicity or ancestral relationships, etc. and the cause of death of extant human beings through analysis of skeletal remains. As long as there are bones, there is archaeological information to be gained—whether the person lived in ancient times or the more recent historic past. Determining the cause of death such as if by warfare, personal violence, criminal violence, suicide, cannibalism or natural death sheds a great deal of light on culture of the individual who is being studied. The next article is an example of the application of the forensic technique.
26. ‘Let the Bones Talk’ Is the Watchword for Scientist-Sleuths, Elizabeth Royte, Smithsonian, May 1996
Elizabeth Royte reports on a forensic anthropologist who works with the authorities to determine if “Nursing Home Man” is the victim of the perfect crime or just someone who wandered away and met with an untimely death (he was only 45). It appears that knowledge from criminal cases can be applied to archaeological investigations and vice versa.
27. What Did They Eat?, Eleanora Reber, Anthropology Newsletter, February 1999
If an unglazed pot is used for cooking food, lipids and water-soluble compounds from the contents are absorbed into the vessel. These residues may be extracted and identified. A gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer then identifies each compound through its molecular fragments. As with most radiometric measures, the samples must be painstakingly protected from contamination. Eleanor Reber indicates that with this modern technique, much can be learned about prehistoric diets.
28. The Archaeologists Who Wouldn’t Dig, John Fleischman, The Sciences, May/June 1997
The history of the legendary Pylos of Homer’s Iliad is being rewritten by the use of a notably simple archaeological technique. John Fleischman reports that in archaeology, surveying is done by simply walking over a site or region and observing surface artifacts, which may be mapped and/or collected. At Pylos, without even lifting a shovel, the history of an entire landscape is revealed.
UNIT 4. Historical Archaeology
29. Alcohol in the Western World, Bert L. Vallee, Scientific American, June 1998
The history of alcohol has its historical roots in ancient civilization. As with all things human, alcohol’s archaeological and historic role in Western civilization has changed, depending on accepted cultural concepts. Alcohol has been viewed as being nurturing, relaxing, fun, safe to drink, and a dangerous and addictive drug. Jesus Christ sanctioned the use of alcohol over 2000 years ago. But many contemporary Christians consider alcohol consumption to be sinful. The paradox is that concepts of good and bad, etc. change through time.
30. Reading the Bones of La Florida, Clark Spencer Larsen, Scientific American, June 2000
Clark Larsen reports on bioarchaeology, an emerging field that focuses on organic archaeological remains, lending new detailed perspectives to the history of the lives of Native Americans as a result of European contact. Changing food resources, contaminated shallow well water, and forced heavy labor generated negative health effects on the Indians.
31. Living Through the Donner Party, Jared Diamond, Discover, March 1992
The infamous story of the Donner Party unfolds anew as an anthropologist invokes the dynamics of scientific thinking. In generating a new idea about an old problem, the type of predictability about human behavior necessary for cultural historical reconstruction of the past is demonstrated.
32. Case of the Colorado Cannibal, Andrew Curry, Archaeology, May/June 2002
An unusual case of a whodunit cannibalism is explored in this article. Unlike the Donner Pass incident above, it is in fact archaeologists who have tried to solve the mystery of a man (Alferd Packer) also known as “the Colorado Cannibal.” Mr. Packer denies the murder, but not the cannibalism. Or was he just an “opportunistic” cannibal? Either way, he was one hungry guy. This is an interesting historic note of the Wild West.
33. Life in the Provinces of the Aztec Empire, Michael E. Smith, Scientific American, September 1997
Few Aztec sites have actually been excavated. From the sites discussed in Michael Smith’s article, it appears that both rural and urban commoners of this city-state enjoyed a fairly good standard of living, the difference being that wealth appears to be mostly quantitative rather than qualitative. Both historical and archaeological data indicate that the workings of the market economy were independent from Aztec state control.
34. Legacy of the Crusades, Sandra Scham, Archaeology, September/October 2002
Sandra Scham discusses the “Crusader Complex” in the Middle East. This involves the complexities of warfare, religion, and how people perceive each other. The Christian Crusades lasted from 1097-1291 and still have left their impact on the mental and geographic maps of the peoples in the Middle East.Some archaeologist today view the Christian Crusades, and its far reaching aftermath to be the historical basis for the Holy Wars in the Middle East.
35. Israel’s Mysterious Stone, Haim Watzman, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2003
The question of forgeries has plagued archaeologists from the inception of this mysterious field of science. The tablet in question is contested on the basis of its actual authenticity. While it appears, at this point in time, to be authentic, there is a great deal of debate on the actual date the tablet was written and on the content of the tablet.
UNIT 5. Contemporary Archaeology
36. Burying American Archaeology, Clement W. Meighan, from Archaeological Ethics, AltaMira Press, 1996
The application of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is challenged in this essay. Who decides when there is a valid genetic and cultural relationship between living persons and those long deceased? How is it decided? An argument is presented that science and archaeology are being put aside to cater to an overly “politically correct” and misplaced sympathy for the American Indian.
37. Ownership and Control of Ethnographic Materials, Sjoerd R. Jaarsma, Anthropology News, October 2002
This essay suggests an alternate viewpoint—that is to concentrate less on the way academic anthropologists approach the community they study and to focus more on how the community they study views “their” anthropologists. Ethnographers and archaeologists go into the field to gather their material, usually for the purported purpose of writing an academic book. But what of their impact on the “native” peoples and how the ethnographer modify what they are observing?
38. Last Word on Kennewick Man?, Archaeology, November/December 2002
So here is the latest word on the controversial 9,400-year-old “Kennewick Man” skeleton, which addresses the question brought up in the above two essays. Does “Kennewick Man” belong to archaeologists or to “the American Indian”? Or is this really the latest word? Developments and challenges regarding these controversial bones continue as this book goes to press.
39. Tales From a Peruvian Crypt, Walter Alva and Christopher B. Donnan, Natural History, May 1994
The looting of an ancient pyramid led to an operation in salvage archaeology during which one of the greatest archaeological finds in the Western Hemisphere was recently made. The discovery of the fantastically preserved burial chamber of an ancient warrior-priest revealed the art, rituals, and religion of the Mochica people of ancient Peru.
40. Guardians of the Dead, Roger Atwood, Archaeology, January/February 2003
There is a lot more happening in Peru regarding looting. This article presents the looter’s viewpoint. They loot because they need money. A looter states “Around here there is not other kind of work.”
41. In a Box, John J. Miller, National Review, November 2002
Academic archaeologists condemn looting, grave robbing, and pot-hunters. In this article, it is pointed out that an important ossuary (a limestone box) might have housed the bones of the Biblical James. James is believed to have been a brother or a cousin of Jesus. However, this ossuary was looted and not found in its archaeological context and therefore is worthless. This article suggests that encouraging the “collecting and selling” of artifacts might be better because it would bring more important artifacts to the surface for academic archaeologists to study.
42. Land Can Be Divided. Histories Cannot, Amy Dockser Marcus, Washington Post, July 1, 2000
Archaeologists find themselves politically involved in high stakes matters when it comes to excavating the extensive sites of the Middle East. Here, land crosses national, cultural, and religious identities, both present and past, in a complex pattern that defies solution. Amy Marcus suggests that perhaps archaeologists may be able to introduce some commonalities into this complex mixture to assuage some of the most current conflicts.
43. The Past as Propaganda, Bettina Arnold, Archaeology, July/August 1992
What happens when archaeologists lie? Nazi-driven archaeologists manipulated archaeological data to create a propaganda line that was ethnocentric, racist, and genocidal. The Nazi Party machine used this German-centered view of the past to justify expansionism and genocide.
44. Proving Ground of the Nuclear Age, William Gray Johnson and Colleen M. Beck, Archaeology, May/June 1995
Archaeologists interested in studying central Nevada have discovered that the predominant artifacts of this area are those singular and silent reminders of a more recent era, the Cold War. Moral and ethical issues play a role in the consideration of preservation of these nuclear weapons test sites as historic monuments, lest we forget.