May your remains one day be discovered by someone with a strong grounding in Middle Range Theory
April 23, 2011 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Lewis R. Binford, one of the most influential American archaeologists of the last half-century and an early advocate of a more scientific approach to investigating ancient cultures, died on April 11 at his home in Kirksville, Mo. He was 79.

An interesting general introduction to Archaeology is provided in the compiled lectures that became In Pursuit of the Past, Binford (1983, with a new edition in 2002). Binford pointed out a need for archaeologists to be continuously self-critical as they work towards a balance between theory and practice. He also emphasized that it is a field “wholly dependent upon inference to the past from things found in the contemporary world” and pointed out that this is fundamentally different from the approach of most fields where the past is seen as the period that helps us understand the present and predict the future.
Professor Binford brought about a virtual revolution in archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s by elevating its status from a descriptive study of antiquities to a scientific discipline devoted to anthropological understanding of ways of life of ancient societies. His ‘archaeology as anthropology' proposition emerged as a dominant paradigm in contemporary archaeology.

This trend, popularly known as New Archaeology, laid emphasis on a regional approach to archaeological sites, method of hypothesis testing; and culture as a system of inter-related components serving as means of human adaptation. These concepts have now become central tenets of modern archaeology and made Professor Binford a legendary figure.

Professor Binford's field studies covered archaeological sites in North America, Europe, Africa and Middle East. His major contributions include interpretation of differences in prehistoric stone tool assemblages in terms of seasonal variations in human activity – early man as a mere scavenger of leftovers from carnivorous kills rather than a mighty hunter; and emergence of agricultural way of life due to innovative initiatives of splinter hunter-gatherer groups that moved away from their parent communities.

He also made pioneering contributions to ethnoarchaeology and conducted prolonged investigations of the Nunamiut Eskimos of Alaska. He published about a dozen major books on archaeology. These include ‘New Perspectives in Archaeology,' ‘Nunamiut Ethnoarchaeology,' ‘Bones; Ancient Men and Modern Myths' and ‘In pursuit of the Past.' Three volumes, entitled ‘An Archaeological Perspective,' ‘Working at Archaeology' and ‘Debating Archaeology' are collections of his major research papers. His last major publication, ‘Constructing Frames of Reference,' was published by the Chicago University Press in 200l and dealt with 400 hunter-gatherer societies across the world.
Lawrence Guy Straus; Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Editor, Journal of Anthropological Research has published a very thorough, interesting glimpse into the life, impact, and ideas of Lewis Binford [PDF].
posted by infinite intimation (7 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I am in love with the title of this post. I just finished up Arch Theory last quarter and, upon hearing of Professor Binford's passing, was suddenly struck by an urge to do archaeology as ethnography.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:31 PM on April 23, 2011


posted by crunchland at 2:45 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Great title, sad loss.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:09 PM on April 23, 2011

posted by cobaltnine at 8:30 PM on April 23, 2011

. He did great work.
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:22 AM on April 24, 2011

posted by tracicle at 3:55 AM on April 25, 2011

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