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Anthropology 802
Perspectives on Prehistory

Spring 2011

Excavation cartoon

  Instructor: Bettina Arnold
Office Hours: SAB 229 M 11:00am-12:00noon; T 3:00-4:00pm or by appointment x4583
Class email reflector:

Textbook: Matthew Johnson 2010 Archaeological Theory (2nd ed.) London: Blackwell.

Course Reader: On e-Reserve at

Course Description:
This course is designed to explore the complex interaction between method and theory in archaeological interpretation. Readings, lectures and discussions focus on fundamental methodological concepts and theoretical issues. The four short Case Study papers encourage analytical thinking and provide an opportunity for the practical application of the principles covered in class and readings. Leading class discussion as part of a team requires the deconstruction of readings and the creation of questions designed to generate debate. The final paper is expected to demonstrate the student's ability to synthesize theoretical and methodological approaches in a critical analysis of an archaeological problem. Students will formulate research questions, identify and interpret material culture patterns and explore the complex relationship between time, space and material culture in archaeological interpretation.

Requirements, Evaluation & Grading:

  1. Three short Case Study papers/written exercises (five pages each, minimum). See attached Paper Guidelines: 30% of course grade.

  2. One book review (five pages minimum). Choose a recently published (2005 to present) monograph on an archaeological subject. For a template, see the E-Reserve Reader. 15% of course grade.

  3. Final paper on one of the themes covered in the course of the semester (15 pages minimum.) See attached Paper Guidelines: 45% of course grade.

  4. Student Discussion Leader Pairs: Twelve student pairs/trios will be assigned the role of leading discussion for the last hour of each class beginning with Week 3 (February 9). See Discussion Guidelines: 10% of course grade.

  5. Attendance and participation: Attendance and participation are mandatory.

  6. Extra Credit: Two points possible for attendance at two archaeology-related talks (see for listings of on-campus lectures this semester).

Policies and Penalties:
Late assignments will be docked two points per day. If you know that you will miss a class, you must inform me asap. Leave a message at the office (x4175) or e-mail me at before class if you are unable to attend because of illness, especially if you are scheduled to lead discussion! (Viable excuse: Armageddon.)

  Themes and Due Dates:  
  Week 1
Introduction: Archaeology Past and Present

  Week 2
Archaeological Reasoning: How It's Done

  Weeks 3-4
Time, Space and Culture Change
  *Feb 16*, Case Study Paper #1 due

  Weeks 5-6
Economic Archaeology: Bringing Home the Grubs
  *March 2*, Final Paper Topics due!

  Week 7
Social Archaeology: Putting Faces on Past Populations I

  Week 8
Social Archaeology: Putting Faces on Past Populations I
  *March 23*, Case Study Paper #2 due

  Week 9
Spring Break: No Class!!

  Weeks 10-12
Cognitive Archaeology: Structure and Belief
  *April 13*, Case Study Paper #3 due

  Weeks 13-14
Materials Analysis: Getting from Statics to Dynamics

  Week 15
Archaeology in its Socio-Political Context
  May 4, Book Review due

  Week 16
Final Paper Due! *May 11, In class*

  Reading Assignments:

All reading assignments are either in the course textbooks or in the e-Reserve Reader available at Readings are in alphabetical order by author; from Week 3 on, the week by which each article is to be read is indicated in parentheses at the end of the citation: (3) = Week 3.

  Week 1
Introduction: Archaeology Past and Present
  In Johnson Chs. 10 and 11

1. Binford, Lewis 1962 Archaeology as anthropology. American Antiquity 28:217-25.

2. Bradley, Richard 1993 Archaeology: the loss of nerve. In Archaeological Theory: Who Sets the Agenda?, edited by Norman Yoffee and Andrew Sherratt, pp. 131-133. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press.

3. Kuznar, Lawrence 1997 Chapter 7: The Mutable Past. Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology. London: Altamira.

4. Taylor, Walter 1983 A Study of Archaeology. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University. Read Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2.

5. Trigger, Bruce 1989 A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 1 (pp. 1-25).

6. Wylie, Alison 2002 Ch. 1 ("Introduction".) Thinking from Things: Essays in the Philosophy of Archaeology, pp. 1-22. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

  Week 2
Archaeological Reasoning: How It's Done
  In Johnson Chs. 1, 2, and 3

1. Chamberlin, Thomas C. 1965 Method of multiple working hypotheses. Science 149:754-59.

2. Feder, Kenneth Frauds, Myths and Mysteries. Chapter 2: Epistemology: How you know what you know, pp. 9-26. New York: Mayfield.

3. Thomas, David Hurst 1991 Archaeology: Down to Earth. New York: Harcourt. Chapter 6.

4. Wylie, Alison 2002 Ch. 7 ("The interpretive dilemma"). Thinking from Things: Essays in the Philosophy of Archaeology, pp. 117-126. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

  Weeks 3-4
Time, Space & Culture Change
  In Johnson Chs. 5 and 9

1. Anthony, David 1990 Migration in archaeology: the baby and the bathwater. American Antiquity 92:895-914.(4)

2. Wylie, Alison 2002 Ch. 8 ("Epistemological issues raised by symbolic and structuralist archaeology"). Thinking from Things: Essays in the Philosophy of Archaeology, pp. 127-135. Los Angeles: University of California Press.(3)

3. Renfrew, Colin 1986 Introduction: Peer polity interaction and socio-political change. In Peer Polity Interaction and Socio-Political Change, edited by Colin Renfrew and John Cherry, pp. 1-18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (4)

4. Shennan, Stephen 1989 Cultural transmission and cultural change. In What's New? A Closer Look at the Process of Innovation, edited by Sander Van der Leeuw and Robin Torrance, pp. 330-46. New York: Unwin Hyman.(4)

5. Thomas, David H. 1991 Archaeology: Down to Earth Ch. 4. New York: Harcourt.(3)

  Weeks 5-6
Economic Archaeology: Bringing Home the Grubs
  1. Cobb, Charles 1993 Economic approaches to the political economy of non-stratified societies. In Archaeological Method and Theory Vol. 5, Michael Schiffer (ed), pp. 43-100.(5)

2. Dark, Kenneth 1995 Ch. 5, pp. 117-142 Theoretical Archaeology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.(5)

3. Kohl, Philip 1987 The ancient economy, transferable technologies and the Bronze Age World-system: A view from the northeastern frontier of the ancient Near East. In Centre and Periphery in the Ancient World, edited by Michael Rowlands, Mogens Larsen and Kristian Kristiansen, pp. 13-24.(6)

4. Mithen, Steven 1989 Ecological interpretations of Upper Paleolithic art. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 57:103-14. (5)

5. Earle, Timothy 1987 Specialization and the production of wealth: Hawaiian chiefdoms and the Inka Empire. In Specialization, Exchange and Complex Societies, edited by E. Brumfiel and T. Earle, pp. 64-75. (6)

  Weeks 7-8
Social Archaeology: Putting Faces on Past Populations
  In Johnson Chs. 7 and 8

1. Clark, John and Michael Blake 1994 The power of prestige: competitive generosity and the emergence of rank societies in lowland Mesoamerica. In Factional Competition and Political Development in the New World, edited by Elizabeth Brumfiel and John Fox, pp. 17-30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.(7)

2. Hayden, Brian 1995 Pathways to power: principles for creating socioeconomic inequalities. In Foundations of Social Inequality, edited by T.D. Price and G. Feinman, pp. 15-86. New York: Plenum. (7)

3. Spector, Janet 1991 What this awl means. In Engendering Archaeology, edited by Joan Gero and Meg Conkey, pp. 132-62. Oxford: Blackwell. (9)

4. Wobst, H. Martin 1977 Stylistic behavior and information exchange. In For the Director: Essays in Honor of James B. Griffin, edited by C. Cleland, pp. 317-42. Anthropological Papers 61. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology.(7)

5. Joyce, Rosemary 2008 Introduction pp. 6-25 and Ch. 2 46-66. In Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender and Archaeology. New York: Thames & Hudson.(9)

  Week 9
Spring Break, No Class!!

  Weeks 10-12
Cognitive Archaeology: Structure and Belief
  In Johnson Chs. 6 and 7

1. Barrett, John 1988 The living, the dead, and the ancestors: Neolithic and early Bronze Age mortuary practises. In The Archaeology of Context in the Neolithic and Bronze Age: Recent Trends, edited by John Barrett and Ian Kinnes, pp. 30-41. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.(12)

2. Kyriakidis, Evangelos 2007 Chs. 1 and 2 in Evangelos Kyriakidis (ed.) The Archaeology of Ritual, pp. 1-22. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute, University of California at Los Angeles.(11)

3. Morris, Ian 1987 Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek City-State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Read Chapter 2.(10)

4. Ucko, Peter 1969 Ethnography and archaeological interpretation of funerary remains. World Archaeology 1:262-280.(10)

  Weeks 13-14
Materials Analysis: Getting from Statics to Dynamics
  In Johnson Ch. 4

1. Binford, Lewis 1980 Willow smoke and dog's tails: Hunter gatherer settlement systems and archaeological site formation. American Antiquity 45:4-20.(13)

2. Vach, Werner and Kurt Alt 1993 Detection of kinship structures in prehistoric burial sites based on odontological traits. In Computing the Past: Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology, J. Andresen, T. Madsen and I. Scollar (eds). Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, pp. 287-292.(13)

3. Yentsch, Anne 1991 The symbolic divisions of pottery: Sex-related attributes of English and Anglo-American household pots. In The Archaeology of Inequality, edited by Randall McGuire and Robert Paynter, pp. 192-230. Oxford: Blackwell.(13)

4. Sofaer, Joanna R. 2006 Chs. 1 and 2. The Body as Material Culture, pp. 1-30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (14)

5. Dobres, Marcia-Anne and John Robb 2000 Ch. 1 Agency in archaeology: paradigm or platitude? In Marcia-Anne Dobres and John Robb (eds) Agency in Archaeology, pp. 3-17. New York: Routledge. (14)

  Week 15-16
Archaeology in its Socio-Political Context
  In Johnson Chs. 12 and 13

1. Arnold, Bettina 1990 The past as propaganda: Totalitarian archaeology in Nazi Germany. Antiquity 64:464-78. (15)

2. Veletta Canouts and Francis P. McManamon 2001 Protecting the past for the future: federal archaeology in the United States. In Neil Brodie, Jennifer Doole and Colin Renfrew (eds.) Trade in Illicit Antiquities: the Destruction of the World's Heritage, pp. 97-110. Oxford: Oxbow Books. (15)

3. Trigger, Bruce 1984 Alternative archaeologies: Nationalist, colonialist, imperialist. Man 19: 355-70. (15)

4. James, N. 2008 Repatriation, display and interpretation. Antiquity 82:770-777. (16)

5. Nicholas, George P. and Kelly P. Bannister 2004 Copyrighting the past? Emerging intellectual property rights issues in archaeology. Current Anthropology 45(3): 327-350. (16)

  Student Discussion Pair Guidelines:  
  1. Both discussion partners will choose a specific approach or topic central to the readings assigned for the week in which you will be leading the hour-long discussion. Examples: Identifying gender, the individual, belief systems, or ethnicity in the archaeological record. Examples: Marxist archaeology, the cultural historical approach, archaeology and nationalism. Let me know via e-mail by the Monday of your discussion week what perspective you plan to take with your questions!

  2. Both partners will read all the assigned reading associated with that approach or topic and will identify and read at least THREE sources each that are not in the assigned readings. Prepare an Additional Readings Bibliography (this should contain six sources, three contributed by each of you. Be sure to indicate which sources you contributed). E-mail this list of readings to the class reflector by the Monday before class.

  3. Generate a list of at least 10 discussion questions designed to elicit class participation. Avoid questions with Yes/No or one-word answers! Your job is to identify thought-provoking angles to which your classmates will respond. You may choose to critique the approach by identifying both its limitations and its potential and designing questions that will generate strong opinions. The one-page list of discussion questions must be e-mailed to the class reflector by the Monday before class. Be sure to plan a strategy whereby each of you is equally involved in leading the discussion. This can be done by dividing the hour into 30 minute segments, or by alternating questions during discussion.

  4. Think critically! This involves more than simply shooting holes in someone else's theory or approach. Demonstrate that you are able to see more than one side of an issue. Be prepared to suggest alternatives. Each of you may choose opposite sides of an argument related to the theme, playing Devil's Advocate during the class discussion. You may generate questions that critique an approach, or you may generate questions that are designed to elicit examples of cases in which an approach succeeds.

  5. Some rules of engagement: Belittling classmates whose opinions differ from your own is not the goal here. Disagreeing with someone without resorting to ridicule is a useful life skill. Find a way to ensure that everyone in the class actively participates in discussion at least once.

  6. Many of you will someday be in front of a class of students, attempting to generate an enthusiastic and engaged response through precisely this sort of Q&A. Use this opportunity to learn how to generate the kinds of questions that elicit debate and facilitate learning.

  Paper Guidelines:  
  1. Papers must be typed and double-spaced (computer or typewriter). Margins are to be no greater than 1". Paginate all pages beginning with Page 2!

  2. Short Case Study papers must be 5 pages long, minimum (there is no maximum page number). The case studies you will be analyzing and interpreting will require you to apply some of the archaeological principles and approaches covered in class and in your readings. These must be your own work, although you may consult source material outside the class readings if you wish. Be sure to include a Bibliography of all references cited, if any. You are encouraged to produce your own tables, charts or graphs based on the data included in the case studies.

  3. Final paper: The final paper must be a minimum of 15 pages. You are expected to explore one of the course themes further in the final paper. This includes a) citations from the reading and b) original ideas/thoughts/opinions, backed up by cogent arguments. You must cite at least TEN sources in constructing your argument, listed in an attached Bibliography. This is one way to get credit for the reading you have been doing even if you tend to be somewhat reticent in class discussions.

  4. When citing sources within the text of your papers, the following rules apply:

    Sources which are part of the assigned reading should consist of the author's last name (first initial if there are two authors being cited in the paper with the same last name) followed by the year of the publication, a colon and the page number(s). (This is the standard procedure in anthropological publications). Quotation marks should be used where appropriate, as in the examples below.
    Example #1: "The moon is made of green cheese" (McDonald 1989:123). Example #2: According to Williams, the moon is made of fried green tomatoes (1988:19-23).
  5. If you have experienced a burst of energy and ambition and have done some additional reading not assigned in the syllabus (unlikely but not impossible), then you should cite the authors as above.

  6. You should include a bibliography with full references for all citations at the end of your papers!!

  7. The course is structured to give you a maximum amount of writing experience. The short paper + final paper format ensures that at least some of the work will be done throughout the semester rather than in a mad rush three days before the last day of classes. Good luck!
© 2000 Bettina Arnold, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Design: Homer Hruby, Last Updated: January 25, 2011