Tag Archives: archaeology

  • A Short History of the Ancient World, Part One: The Growth and Collapse of Civilizations

    To mark the publication of our new and beautifully illustrated textbook, A Short History of the Ancient World, we will be featuring two back-to-back posts by the authors. Today, Nicholas K. Rauh provides background on his own archaeological research and how it informs the narrative of the book—particularly the book's emphasis on how civilizations rise and fall, and what we can learn from this today.

    For the past 22 years, I have conducted archaeological survey on the south coast of Turkey. Survey is a uniquely non-intrusive field activity that locates and records the remains of past human activity as it survives on the existing landscape. Typically, these remains lay hidden by dense vegetation in remote rural areas. Ruined buildings, scraps of wall, and debris fields strewn with bits of pottery, glass, roof tile, and bone help to confirm the existence of what was formerly an isolated farmstead, a village, or perhaps a small city. An underlying principle of survey archaeology assumes that the current landscape represents a palimpsest of past disturbances, the result of various energies—natural, animal, and human—that worked to transform the landscape over thousands of years. Ruined temples in remote canyons, large fortification walls hidden today by dense forests, and random sherd scatters in the middle of cultivated fields all need to be assessed within the context of a continually changing landscape. Only by analyzing things in context can we hope to determine their appearance, not to mention their purpose in earlier times.

    During the past decade, I have investigated more than a dozen ruined settlements in the remote highlands of south coastal Turkey. The extant remains of cemeteries, houses, baths, temples, inscribed dedications, and fortification walls indicate that Roman-era settlements in these highlands once sustained sizable populations. Today these same highlands support scattered villages of perhaps a few dozen inhabitants. In other words, during Roman times the rural landscape of south coastal Turkey was populated far more densely than it is today. Admittedly, modern urban centers such as Antalya and Alanya on the Turkish coast compensate for this disparity by accommodating far larger populations than anything conceivable in ancient times. Nonetheless, the results of my archaeological survey indicate that Roman-era settlement carpeted the rural landscape far more densely than today, with the inhabitants seemingly leaving no viable resource unexploited. This reminds us that in the space-time continuum, human settlements grew in size and complexity and forested terrain was cleared and converted into well-manicured landscapes. Eventually, these same settlements fell abandoned, and the landscape gradually reverted to some semblance of its natural state. Investigating the remains of 2000-year-old habitats in these remote rural hillsides helps to instill a profound sense of history in what I do.

    Nick Rauh investigating the remains of an Iron Age fortification wall on Dana Island.

    The fact that these abandoned country sides harbor vestiges of past civilizations holds important lessons for our current era of unprecedented population growth. Contemporary pursuit of economic expansion with its inordinate dependence on energy and natural resources calls to mind the inability of past civilizations to transcend unforeseen barriers or thresholds to growth. This theme is precisely what my book with Heidi Kraus, A Short History of the Ancient World, attempts to address. At several points during the ancient experience, societal, and most probably ecological disturbances, interrupted growth by setting in motion sudden epochs of societal collapse and reorganization. Recurring patterns characterized by long fore loops of societal expansion and conservation followed by sudden back loops of release and reorganization appear to have transpired during the Bronze Age and again at the end of the Roman era. These patterns suggest that from a material standpoint societal trajectories of expansion and collapse are largely unavoidable. During antiquity the duration of growth fore loops was sometimes prolonged through active lines of communication between neighboring civilizations (something referred to as interconnectivity). While interconnectivity conceivably extended growth and prosperity in participating societies, it ultimately synchronized their trajectories and rendered the inevitable back loop of collapse and reorganization all the more chaotic. While interesting in and of itself, this recurring pattern of expansion and collapse among macroregionally connected civilizations furnishes a useful bell weather for contemporary global concerns.

    A Roman-era rock-cut tomb at Direvli.

    In A Short History of the Ancient World, Heidi Kraus and I lean heavily on evidence for the inherent systems and structures used to forge ancient civilizations. We enumerate the cultural attributes of each ancient civilization according to an established set of criteria. We carefully describe the resource potential of each society’s ecological niche. We explore the ideological mainsprings employed by ancient hierarchies to justify their religious and political ascendancy. We evaluate the success with which these hierarchies utilized the fine arts to express their ascendant ideologies. Most importantly, we calibrate the growth fore loop of emergent civilizations by employing constructs of state formation, world systems, and resilience theory. As coeval civilizations achieved the conservation phase of growth fore loops, we explore the admittedly limited evidence for interconnectivity on a macroregional scale. We argue that, while initially conducive to prolonging growth, ancient globalization inevitably synchronized the back loops of interconnected civilizations during the collapse phase of the cycle. Last, we take care to observe how the influx of new peoples, cultural influences, and technologies insured that the processes of renewal would occur under modified conditions of scale and complexity.

    Much of what is stated in A Short History of the Ancient World is theoretical and open to debate. We readily concede that our interpretation of the ancient experience represents one of several ways of looking at the past. Our purpose in doing so has been to recount the history of theancient world in a manner that is as meaningful as it is relevant, as approachable as it is compelling.

    Nicholas K. Rauh is Professor of Classics at Purdue University and an award-winning teacher. He is the author of The Sacred Bonds of Commerce: Religion, Economy, and Trade Society at Hellenistic Roman Delos (1993) and Merchants, Sailors, and Pirates in the Roman World (2003).

  • Teaching a Four-Field Introductory Anthropology Course: Q&A with Kristina Killgrove

    Through the Lens of AnthropologyAt this year’s meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado, November 18-22, we will launch our first ever four-field anthropology textbook. In the process of producing Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert J. Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González, we have had many interesting conversations with instructors across North America about how they approach their four-field courses. Not surprisingly, their approaches vary, as do the particular challenges they face in their courses. To keep this discussion going, we offer a few short Q&As with instructors from different subfields of anthropology. Last week, we posted a Q&A with cultural anthropologist Jason Antrosio. This week, we pitched the same questions to biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove.

    Q: How long have you been teaching an introductory general anthropology course? Is the course team-taught at your institution? Do you have a few large classes or many small sections of the class offered by many different instructors?

    A: We usually offer one large-ish class (up to 70 students), two small sections (c. 20 students), and one online section each semester. I’ve taught it once at this institution and a few times at a former institution. Our intro courses are sometimes taught by tenure-track faculty and sometimes by adjuncts. At this university, we are required to have the same Student Learning Outcomes across all sections in a given semester, so there is some coordination of syllabi and course goals involved.

    Q: What is your goal for the course? That is, do you have a particular vision of anthropology that you want to pass on to students or are you content to introduce some of the more interesting elements of the discipline with the hope that you can recruit more students to take more anthropology courses?

    A: Most of the students who take our four-field intro class are not majors but rather students fulfilling a university area requirement. So we teach a broad overview and include all four fields, with tangible examples of each (e.g., bringing in artifacts for archaeology, hominin casts for bio anthropology, etc.). Our goal is for students to gain a broader perspective on what it means to be human and how we got to the complex cultures we have today.

    Q: How do you structure your course to realize that goal?

    A: As above, several weeks are spent on each of the four fields, and we include experiential aspects as much as we can (easier in small classes than in the large ones).

    Q: What do your students usually find to be the most interesting part of the course?

    A: Mine always seem to like conversations about linguistics—differences in speech patterns, accents, etc., across the US. I pull examples from English to illustrate linguistic anthropology because students can easily relate to them. We can, for example, poll the class about pop vs. soda or other regionalisms, and talk about ethnocentrism in language (e.g., a server at a Chinese restaurant brings chopsticks and you ask for “real utensils” instead).

    Q: What do you see as the greatest challenge in teaching a four-field introductory anthropology course?

    A: Covering all four fields effectively. While it’s relatively easy for me to cover bio and archaeo, since that’s what I do best, tackling the heady issues in cultural anthropology (especially in an age of trigger warnings and other sensitivities) is more difficult for me. Obviously, these issues are salient to the field and to college students’ lives, so having a text with clear-cut examples of the importance of cultural anthropology (and an instructor’s manual with helpful hints about ways to lead discussion and introduce topics in an appropriate way) would be helpful.


    Kristina Killgrove is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of West Florida. She regularly teaches introductory courses in biological and general anthropology, as well as specialty courses in biological anthropology at the undergraduate and master’s levels. Her research focuses on the bioarchaeology of ancient Rome, and she is a contributing writer at Forbes focusing on anthropology in the news.


    If you would like to request a copy of Through the Lens of Anthropology to consider for course use, please email requests@utphighereducation.com and be sure to include your course name, the semester in which the course is being offered, and the estimated enrollment.

  • Excerpt: The Transition to Food Production

    Through the Lens of AnthropologyIn the second of a series of four excerpts, all leading up to the publication of Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert J. Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González, we would like to share a few educational yet entertaining pages on the domestication of plants and animals—as well as the place of alcohol in human evolution.

    Through the Lens of Anthropology is an introductory four-field textbook with a fresh perspective, a lively narrative, and plenty of popular topics that are sure to engage students. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 6: Cultural Evolution from 20,000 to 5,000 Years Ago. Both of the feature boxes included in this excerpt (Box 6.2: Why Did People Domesticate Plants and Animals? and Box 6.3: Was Alcohol a Driving Force of Human Evolution?) ask very good questions, and of course they are visually supported by the cartoon of an early human keg party (Figure 6.1).

    If you have ever wondered about the history of human subsistence, or when humans began consuming alcohol, this excerpt is worth a read.

    Download the excerpt here.

    Invitation: Help us to launch Through the Lens of Anthropology at this year’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado, November 19, 4-5 pm, University of Toronto Press, Booth #205. We will be serving Fat Tire Amber Ale!

    Note: If you are scheduled to teach an introductory anthropology course, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy of Through the Lens of Anthropology. This is a textbook that is interesting to read, manageable to teach, and that succeeds at igniting interest in anthropology as a discipline. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review it for yourself!

  • Writing Archaeology

    This week marks the official launch of the new edition of Introducing Archaeology, along with its companion website (www.introducingarchaeology.com) and a new Twitter account featuring short excerpts from the book (@Archaeologytext). In this blog posting, author Robert J. Muckle describes the process he went through in revising his book and highlights how much the world of archaeology—and writing about archaeology—has changed in the 8 years since the initial publication of Introducing Archaeology.

    I like writing about archaeology. Articles, reviews, reports, columns, and books. All of it. I even like writing course materials. What attracted me the least was the idea of working on a second edition of Introducing Archaeology.

    The first edition was published in 2006, and although I was somewhat reluctant, I figured it was time. When I write books, I anticipate a shelf-life of several years, but 8 years seemed liked it was pushing the limit. I know that some authors like to work on newer editions, but I have done it with other books, and it just felt too much like work. I particularly like the early stages of book production, such as identifying the niche, deciding what topics to cover and how to cover them. Simply tweaking things, I don’t like so much. But after careful consideration, lasting months, I made the proposal to the publisher and they agreed it would be worthwhile to do a second edition.

    One of the reasons I overcame my reluctance was that I am quite excited about the emergence of the archaeology of the contemporary world. I have long been interested in this aspect of archaeology, but only within the past couple of years has it moved inwards from the fringes of academic archaeology. I relished the opportunity to develop a new chapter, which I have titled “The Archaeology of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” One of the reasons I wanted to develop this chapter for a new edition is that when I teach the introductory archaeology course (which I do every fall and spring term), I notice the students are genuinely interested. I can almost see light bulbs going on in their heads. It makes archaeology relevant to them. It makes archaeology method and theory come alive for them. It gets them over the hurdle of thinking archaeologists deal with dead things of no real consequence. Topics in this chapter include activist archaeology, the archaeology of homelessness, the archaeology of undocumented migration from Mexico to the United States, forensic archaeology, disaster archaeology, and archaeologies of climate change, contemporary waste, and sustainability.

    Another reason I overcame my initial reluctance is that I think those teaching archaeology are now ready for coverage of the social and political contexts of archaeology, and the explicit recognition of bias, which I include. One of the challenges of writing a textbook for an introductory archaeology course is that one has to cover the core material as it is taught in most institutions (i.e. the basic methodological and cognitive skills used to reconstruct past lifeways). The second edition of Introducing Archaeology covers that, but it also includes explicit coverage of the social and political contexts of archaeology. Unlike most texts, Introducing Archaeology also includes explicit coverage of bias in archaeology. Archaeologists are talking and writing about these things (social and political contexts, and bias) much more in 2014 than they were in 2006.

    Another thing I wanted to do with a second edition was include box features. There were none in the first edition, and there are now 16 in the second. I chose topics that students consistently find engaging and also have value in illustrating the nature of archaeology. These include such topics as archaeology and popular culture, archaeology and Indigenous peoples in North America, archaeology and beer, pseudoarchaeology, and the paleo diet.

    The writing of Introducing Archaeology, Second Edition has been guided by the principles of curriculum reform recently developed by the Society for American Archaeology, and endorsed by several other associations and societies of archaeologists and anthropologists. These principles include making students explicitly aware of (i) the non-renewable nature of the archaeological record, (ii) the fact that many other groups besides archaeologists have a vested interest in the archaeological record, (iii) the socially relevant contributions of archaeology in the present, (iv) the ethics that guide archaeologists, (v) the importance that archaeologists be effective communicators, (vi) the basic cognitive and methodological skills, and (vii) real-world problem solving. While maintaining the basic cognitive and methodological skills at the core, the book also incorporates each of these other principles as well. The non-renewable nature of the archaeological record, for example, is emphasized through such topics as the rise of commercial archaeology, heritage legislation, and the destruction of sites through looting and warfare. The vested interests in the archaeological record by others are covered by situating archaeology in the heritage and tourism industries as well as within Indigenous contexts.

    In addition to the principles of curriculum reform, the writing was also guided by the six things I hope all readers retain, even if they never take another archaeology course. These are the six essential things I think everyone should know, and I use the text to support that:

    (i) archaeology is important and relevant to everyday life,
    (ii) the archaeological record is vast,
    (iii) archaeology is firmly grounded in scientific method and theory,
    (iv) archaeological sites are being destroyed at an alarming rate,
    (v) archaeology is filled with bias, and
    (vi) people have been smart for a very long time.

    Despite the addition of a new chapter and the boxes, the book remains fairly concise (about 300 pages, including index). It is comprehensive enough that it can stand alone as the sole book for a course, and concise enough that instructors can add other readings. There is enough in the book that a cultural anthropologist should have no problem using it to teach an introductory course in archaeology, while at the same time concise enough that it allows experienced archaeologists to incorporate their own interests.

    One of the reasons that I like to write for small publishers and university presses in the higher education market is that they tend to produce very well-priced books. I am glad to know that the University of Toronto Press priced this book very well, at about $50.

    Instructors who adopt the book also get the benefit of what I think is a good set of new ancillaries, all developed by me. These include, for the instructor, an instructor’s manual, sets of PowerPoint slides, and a test bank. For the student, ancillaries include a companion website complete with chapter-by-chapter study questions and links to resources on the web. I complained and I grumbled while working on the ancillaries, but I eventually came around. And I am glad I did. I think they will be very useful for students and instructors.

    In retrospect, writing Introducing Archaeology, Second Edition was not the chore I initially expected it to be. I am glad I decided to do it.

    Robert J. Muckle has been doing and teaching archaeology for more than 25 years. He is a professor at Capilano University near Vancouver, and has considerable experience directing projects in the realms of academic, commercial, Indigenous, prehistoric, and historic archaeology.

  • Writing and Teaching About Indigenous Peoples

    In the second of a short series of blog postings, author Robert J. Muckle discusses his experiences as an educator, and how those experiences motivated and shaped his writing of Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview.

    Over the past several years I have come to enjoy writing. The most personally rewarding kind of writing is when I wear the hat of an educator informed by anthropological research. It is in this role that I wrote Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview.

    As an educator in both university and public settings I recognized a niche for such a book. I have always been less than satisfied with existing textbooks when teaching courses on Indigenous peoples of the continent. These books are generally too comprehensive for my liking, and I’m not particularly keen on the way they are structured. They also tend to be costly, which puts a strain on the idea of requiring students to purchase supplemental texts.

    What I envisioned, primarily, was a core book that would provide some fundamental information, as well as a basic framework for a course, but still allow instructors room to focus on areas that interest them and their students. I have found that students appreciate it when instructors include personal interests in their teaching. I have considerable experience working with Indigenous peoples, but the structure of existing texts didn’t make it easy to personalize my instruction as much as I would have liked. I have also found that  in order to make course material relevant to the lives of students, it makes sense to use experience and examples from local Indigenous groups, those with which students are most familiar, while still contextualizing those studies within a larger continent-wide framework. The low cost of a concise book such as this allows one to be relatively guilt-free in also assigning other print or web sources, including ethnographies, scholarly articles, and more.

    Rather than using the common culture area framework, Indigenous Peoples of North America takes a different approach, including separate chapters on archaeology, traditional lifeways, colonialism, and contemporary times. The book also situates Indigenous peoples by providing basic data on such things as population and definitions; explores the relationships between anthropologists and Indigenous peoples in the past and present; outlines anthropological methods; and provides global contexts. Although the culture area approach does not dominate the book, it is used in some subsections.

    I also believe there is a niche for a concise book such as this in the supplementary textbook market. I envision that it may be used as a supplement in introductory-level anthropology courses, especially given the hugely important relationship between North American anthropology and Indigenous peoples. The book will also be appropriate for those courses or programs that focus on Indigenous peoples from different disciplinary perspectives such as Indigenous Studies, Indian Studies, American Studies, history, sociology, human geography, and other courses in the humanities and social sciences where instructors and students often desire a broader background than their own core texts usually provide.

    As a public educator, I have come to appreciate that there are many people outside of the academic and Indigenous worlds genuinely interested in the Indigenous peoples of the continent but there was no basic, easily accessible, and affordable resource they could use to educate themselves. I think this book can fill that void. I foresee that it will find a home on the bookshelves of many professionals, including other academics, K-12 teachers, bureaucrats, and others who have at least occasional contact or deal with issues relevant to Indigenous peoples. I also believe there are large numbers of the general public that want to understand more about Indigenous peoples and issues today than mainstream media usually provides. This book should work for them.

    —Robert J. Muckle, Capilano University

    Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

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