Category Archives: Archaeology

Archaeology as High Priority Research

In a September 30 op-ed in the USA Today, Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith question the use of NSF funds for social, behavioral, and economic sciences when those funds could be used to fund brain research to cure Alzheimers disease or find new cancer therapies.  Amongst the target of their derision: archaeology. Indeed out of the 9 “questionable” NSF grants they call out, a third are archaeological projects.

Rosemary Joyce has a thoughtful rejoinder on her blog that defends the importance of understanding the human past and the integrity of the peer review process.  There is also a critique to be made of the conditions that have created the appearance of Cantor and Smith’s false choice between saving lives and studies of Maya Architecture or Bronze Age Cyprus.

The key phrase in Cantor and Smith’s editorial to my mind is this:

With limited funding, we must prioritize. Congress is right to ask why NSF chooses to fund research on Mayan architecture over projects that could help our wounded warriors or save lives.

How is it, any critical thinker should ask, that such a wealthy nation has come to the point where it cannot support a broad spectrum of scientific research? Just by way of comparison, the Republic of Armenia, a nation beset for two decades by the economic crises that followed the demise of the Soviet Union, somehow finds a way to support a broad array of science, including archaeology.  This is to say nothing of the sizable budgets for social science research of all kinds provided by both European nations and the European Union.  So why, we must ask the Republican Congressmen, is such a broad spectrum approach to scientific research impossible for the USA?

The answer is obvious: they have made it impossible by spending like drunken sailors while in control of government and initiating tax cuts that sent the budget surplus achieved under Clinton straight into the pockets of one small segment of the population.  So the choice is not archaeology vs. saving lives.  It is archaeology vs. sending public resources to the 1%.  While I would never argue that research into the Bronze Age Caucasus is more important than curing cancer, I have no difficulty making the argument that knowledge of the human past, broadly disseminated to archaeology’s eager public (our approval ratings are undoubtedly higher than that of Congress), is of far greater value than giving investment bankers another tax cut. That is the real choice covered up by Cantor and Smith’s disingenuous editorial.  It isn’t just that NSF happens to currently have limited funds, these same congressmen created the conditions for those limits.  And they now seek to use those conditions of scarcity that were their own making as an excuse to cripple research that they don’t like.

Here we come to a final concern.  Why does the Republican Congress dislike social science?  In this respect, I think archaeology is a MacGuffin in Cantor and Smith’s essay.  The real target has always been any research that discredits orthodoxies central to doctrinaire Republicanism, such as the perfection of the market, the tyrannical force of government, or, and here we get close, the inerrancy of scripture.  NSF funded research has been critical to unravelling all of these positions.  Rather than engage in a scientific debate by funding more research, Cantor and Smith adopt the rear-guard strategy of shooting the messenger.  Or in this case, the funder.

Update: James Doyle has also posted a nice response to Cantor and Smith’s editorial that considers the true “broader impacts” of archaeological research.

Extraordinary kurgan burial shines new light on Sarmatian life

Leonid Yablonsky reports on his new research into the Sarmatians based on a kurgan excavated in the Southern Urals.  The gigantic cauldron alone is worth a look, but the tatooing equipment is really fascinating.

See the full text here: via Extraordinary kurgan burial shines new light on Sarmatian life – Archaeology News from Past Horizons : Archaeology News from Past Horizons.

From Project ArAGATS: Happy 15th Birthday!

With the close of the 2013 field season, Project ArAGATS found a fitting way to celebrate 15 years of research.


From Project ArAGATS: Iron 3 Tsaghkahovit

In the last day of the 2013 field season at Tsaghkahovit, Lori Khatchadourian and her team recovered a remarkable artifact from Room S of the Iron 3 town. The object is a ceramic spout rendered in the form of what appears to be a bull.

For more, follow the link:

From Project ArAGATS: EB Gegharot

The last few days on Gegharot’s West Citadel have brought a flurry of new information about the Early Bronze Age occupation of the site.  The complex stratigraphy is still being worked out but a series of superimposed floors, all with distinct hearth or hearth/oven features are helping us to put together a clearer picture.  

For more, follow the link below to the Project ArAGATS website.

via Project ArAGATS: Archaeology in the South Caucasus | The Joint American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.

From Project ArAGATS: New Views on Gegharot’s East Citadel

An unfinished operation on Gegharot’s East Citadel has already yielded interesting results. In an area not far from the East Citadel shrine that we documented in 2011 we have opened a paved stone floor dating to the Late Bronze Age.

via Project ArAGATS: Archaeology in the South Caucasus | The Joint American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.

From Project ArAGATS: 2013 Field Season Underway

Today is the fourth day of fieldwork for the 2013 Project ArAGATS excavations.  We are working at three sites this year: Gegharot Fortress, the Gegharot Kurgans, and the town at Tsaghkahovit.  Follow the progress of our work here:

via Project ArAGATS | The Joint American-Armenian Project for the Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.

Pets and Warriors

National Geographic posted a brief piece on the butchered dog remains from David Anthony and Dorcas Brown’s work at Krasnosamarskoe in the Volga.  You can read it at this link.  They make the fascinating argument that the killing of dogs was part of rites of initiation into a cohort of warriors. If this is indeed that case, it would raise a number of interesting questions pertinent to the long-standing controversy surrounding Napoleon Chagnon’s ethnographic work with the Yanomami.  If violence is socially inculcated within specific historical formations, as Anthony and Brown’s evidence suggests, then that would seem to close the chapter on the exaggerated claims of Chagnon’s initial study.

Upcoming: The Sovereign Assemblage: Sense, Sensibility, and Sentiment in the Bronze Age Caucasus

Upcoming Lecture Series Institute for the Study of the Ancient World @ NYU. The Sovereign Assemblage: Sense, Sensibility, and Sentiment in the Bronze Age Caucasus Adam T. Smith (Cornell University) April 8, 15, 22, & 29 at 6:00pm Lecture Hall … Read more »

Cornell Chronicle: New Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies

New press from the Cornell Chronicle on the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies:

The institute includes 18 faculty members and a postdoctoral researcher from five departments (anthropology, classics, history of art, landscape architecture and Near Eastern studies) and two colleges (Arts and Sciences; Agriculture and Life Sciences).

The complete story is here: Cornell Chronicle: Archaeology and material studies institute created.