Thursday, November 27, 2008

Do cultural anthropologists consider archaeology as part of “Anthropology”? – Comments on a new magazine, “Anthropology Now”

Michael E. Smith writes in his blog (Publishing Archaeology) this statement about 4-field anthropology (below). I have long argued that "4-field" anthropology was simply code word for "cultural anthropology" in that the emphasis was always placed on archaeologists to do more what the cultural/linguists do and never the other way around. When was the last time, for example, you heard a 4-field lobbyist argue for more science training in the curriculum for cultural students. It has been a sham of an argument and often, like CSULB, used as a weapon to belittle archaeologists and their curriculum. Smith is lucky in this sense as ASU has assembled the School of Human Evolution and Social Change out of a variety of departments including Anthropology - so he doesn't have to engage in these loaded debates.

Ultimately, the problem is the lack of real debate about what the product of an anthropology degree is supposed to be - there are good reasons to have "4-field" anthropology but they can't simply be a mishmash of crap that the various faculty teach that gets a "4-field" bow stuck on top. But that is for another day's discussion...

Smith's blog:

Since I began teaching in a program that is not called a “Department of Anthropology” three years ago (it’s the “School of Human Evolution and Social Change), I’ve done some thinking on the discipline of anthropology. Many anthropologists in the U.S. have made lots of noise over the years about supporting the notion of “4-fields anthropology”—that is, an academic discipline made up of several subdisciplines: cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics (Brenton 1996). Of course there are doubters and skeptics, and these may now be in ascendance (Borofsky 2002; Segal, and Yanagisako 2005). In my experience, discourse promoting the 4-fields approach was mainly expressed in order to convince university deans that anthropology is a good thing, that we need more resources, etc.

For a long time, it seemed to me that a major obstacle to achieving some kind of integrated 4-field anthropology was the attitudes of cultural anthropologists. The basic attitude of many cultural anthropologists I have known is that cultural anthropology is the “real” anthropology. Archaeology and physical anthropology are part of this “sacred bundle” of four fields, but they are definitely junior or inferior members of the team. Most departments need them for their undergraduate enrollments and grants, but their practitioners are not really anthropologists in the same sense as cultural anthropologists.

I recently came across information on a new anthropology magazine called Anthropology Now, referred from the excellent blog “Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in [**CULTURAL**] Anthropology” (Oops, I accidentally inserted a word! But wait, it makes the blog name more accurate!) Here is the goal of the magazine:

“ABOUT THE MAGAZINE: Anthropology Now focuses on the ways that anthropological theory and research can inform and affect contemporary public discourse and public policy debates. It offers readers thought-provoking and timely content focused on contemporary issues and debates.”

The editorial statement goes on to say that other subdisciplines already do well in the popular media, but “For a variety of reasons, cultural anthropological approaches to current social issues do not often get incorporated in existing media.”

In case the orientation of the magazine is not clear, look at the Editorial Board. Not surprisingly, all members are cultural anthropologists.

Now I have nothing against a new magazine in (cultural) anthropology. In fact, I think it’s a great idea. But the text on the website just confirms my jaundiced view that cultural anthropologists consider themselves as the “real” anthropologists.

I am of two minds about whether I think this matters or not.

(1) From an intellectual perspective, I would be happy to have cultural anthropologists go ahead and appropriate “anthropology” for themselves. I am an archaeologist, and in my own research I get much more mileage out of literature in urban studies, geography and history than I do from works in cultural anthropology. I disagree VERY STRONGLY with the view that “archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing” (Binford 1962; Gillespie, and Nichols 2003; Willey, and Phillips 1958). That is just a silly statement that made some kind of sense back in the 1950s, but is completely off base today.

(2) From a professional perspective, however, U.S. universities are stuck with anthropology as a discipline. If it splits up into factions, this has very real negative consequences for the research and teaching of all concerned. Anyone in a university knows that there is strength in numbers and factionalism is typically punished by deans. Even when an intellectual case was made for splitting anthropology into two departments at Stanford University, they ended up merged again by top-down fiat (with little or no consultation with faculty). So like it or not, U.S. anthropology departments in U.S. universities are stuck with four fields (or as many of them as a small program can provide).

Sorry to ramble like this. I wish the new magazine best of luck. We really do need something like this. But reading the web site brought back some old resentment about the attitudes of cultural anthropologists toward archaeologists. But now that I teach in a “program formerly known as anthropology,” I don’t need to worry about such things myself. It has been intellectually liberating to be able to concentrate on my research and have lots of diverse colleagues (anthropologists and others) to interact and cooperate with. My courses, however, are still labeled “Anthropology,” which is just fine.


Binford, Lewis R. (1962) Archaeology as Anthropology. American Antiquity 28:217-225.

Borofsky, Robert (2002) THE FOUR SUBFIELDS: Anthropologists as Mythmakers. American Anthropologist 104:463-480.

Brenton, Barrett P. (1996) Four-Field Approach. In Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, edited by David Levinson and Melvin Ember, pp. 508-510. vol. 2. Henry Holt, New York.

Gillespie, Susan D. and Deborah L. Nichols (editors) (2003) Archaeology is Anthropology. Archaeological Papers vol. 13. American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC.

Segal, Daniel A. and Sylvia J. Yanagisako (editors) (2005) Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle: Reflections on the Disciplining of Anthropology. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.

Willey, Gordon R. and Philip Phillips (1958) Method and Theory in American Archaeology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

[From Do cultural anthropologists consider archaeology as part of “Anthropology”? – Comments on a new magazine, “Anthropology Now”]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Survey and Resectioning - Online and on the phone

I came across this website from the University of Portsmith Department of Civil Engineering today that covering many of the details about engineering surveying: The site includes a series of PowerPoint presentations on a variety of essential archaeological field skills (e.g., leveling, setting up a theodolite, theodolite errors, converting rectangular to polar coordinates, etc.). Of particular interest is a Java based "General Purpose Angular Resection Program." As anyone who has taken my Archaeological Field Research Design class will know, resectioning is the best way to establish the position of survey instrument, yet the calculations can be a pain. Having an applet to do this greatly reduces the chance for calculation blunders.

The applet works on Mac and Windows, though on Mac OS X the menus for the applet appear on the menu bar not in the the little applet windows (so user beware). Below is a little screen shot of the input screen for the applet.


If you don't like the applet version of this program, you might try this browser based version:

or the cell phone version (iphone!):

More resectioning information:


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Science, Empiricism, and the New Archaeology

For my M&T Students out there, you might check out: Is he correct? Why? Why not?

Topography generation through photosynth'd blimp photos

The potential of using point clouds generated from relatively uncontrolled blimp photos to establish topography for an area continues to impress me. This summer Chris Lee and I took a series of photos of the "lower town" area of Mycenae, Greece. Using these photos (and photosynth) I was able to generate this surface map (using Surfer). You'll have to check the original photosynth to see the images from this but the reconstruction of the terrain is fairly remarkable. The little grid of circles is formed from the tops of olive trees in a plot. Pretty damn cool.


Sunday, November 16, 2008


I have updated the PSPP 0.6.1 package to include what I hope are all the libraries required to make PSPP work on the Mac OS 10.5 platform. You can download that now at:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Photosynth Point Clouds -> Topography?

Using the work of BinaryMillenium I grabbed the bin files that were used to generate the photosynth for one of the Easter Island projects (a series of blimp photographs taken along the slope of Rano Rarku, the statue quarry. That synth can be found here: Rano Raraku - Interior Using the python script, I converted the point cloud data into XYZ data and then used Surfer to generate a surface from those points. My goal was to see how well photosynth might be used to generate topographic maps of landscapes. I had to cut out areas where there were spurious points and areas that were not well covered by the photos. Interestingly, the result is pretty good, though Ill have to do more analysis to compare these results with those from other topographic data generation techniques. Very promising! Best of all, photosynth seems to work best the greater the topographic structure -- cases that are tough (and expensive) to map by transit.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Photosynth and Moai

Here is an example of how to document a moai using photos taken casually over the last few years:

Moai Tuturi