David Meltzer

David Meltzer elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

David J. Meltzer

David Meltzer, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in its class of 2013. He joins Scurlock University Professor of Human Values Charles Curran (class of 2010) as the second SMU faculty member to be elected to the Academy.

SMU anthropologist David Meltzer joins John Glenn, Martin Amis, Robert De Niro, Bruce Springsteen and other renowned leaders in various fields as a newly elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The class of 2013 will be inducted at a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 12 at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The new fellows and foreign honorary members — representing the sciences, the humanities and the arts, business, public affairs and the nonprofit sector — join one of the world’s most prestigious honorary societies.

“I’m thrilled, honored and — after looking at when the American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded and by whom, and who has been elected to membership over the years — more than a bit humbled by it all,” says Meltzer, the Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Meltzer researches the origins, antiquity, and adaptations of the first Americans – Paleoindians – who colonized the North American continent at the end of the Ice Age. He focuses on how these hunter-gatherers met the challenges of moving across and adapting to the vast, ecologically diverse landscape of Late Glacial North America during a time of significant climate change.

Meltzer’s research has been supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, The Potts and Sibley Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution. In 1996, he received a research endowment from Joseph and Ruth Cramer to establish the Quest Archaeological Research Program at SMU, which will support in perpetuity research on the earliest occupants of North America.

Meltzer is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Charles Curran, SMU’s Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010.

Since its founding in 1780, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the twentieth. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Members of the Academy’s 2013 class include winners of the Nobel Prize; National Medal of Science; the Lasker Award; the Pulitzer and the Shaw prizes; the Fields Medal; MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships; the Kennedy Center Honors; and Grammy, Emmy, Academy, and Tony awards.

> Read the full story from SMU News
> Visit the American Academy of Arts and Sciences online

Lewis Binford’s legacy of change and innovation

Lewis BinfordLewis R. Binford, SMU Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, died April 11, 2011 in Kirksville, Missouri. During his 40-year career as an archaeologist, Binford transformed scientists’ approach to archaeology, earning a legacy as the “most influential archaeologist of his generation,” according to Scientific American.

Binford first gained attention in 1962 as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago when he wrote a path-breaking article in American Antiquity proposing that archaeologists abandon their emphasis on cataloguing artifacts and instead study what the artifacts revealed about prehistoric cultures. The proposition launched what is now known as “New Archaeology.”

“Lewis Binford led the charge that pushed, pulled and otherwise cajoled archaeology into becoming a more scientific enterprise,” says David Meltzer, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in SMU’s Dedman College. “The impact of his work was felt not only here in America, but around the world. Much of how we conceptualize and carry out archaeology in the 21st century is owed to Lew’s substantial legacy.”

From Alaska to Australia, Binford conducted research throughout the world, focusing much of his attention on the archaeology of hunting and gathering. He spent 20 years in remote areas of Africa, Alaska and Australia conducting research on cultural patterns of contemporary hunter-gatherers and reviving the practice of ethnoarchaeology – the study of living societies to better understand societies of the past.

Cover of Lewis Binford's 'Constructing Frames of Reference: An Analytical Method for Archaeological Theory Building Using Ethnographic and Environmental Data Sets'He wrote 18 books and more than 130 articles, book chapters and reviews. His most recent book, Constructing Frames of Reference: An Analytical Method for Archaeological Theory Building Using Ethnographic and Environmental Data Sets (University of California Press, 2001), is considered a landmark in the study of hunter-gatherer populations.

His honors included membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the Huxley Memorial Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the Montelius Medal from the Swedish Archaeological Society and the Centennial Medal from the Portuguese Archaeological Society. He received in 2006 the Society for American Archaeology‘s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The International Astronomical Union named an asteroid for Binford in 2010 in honor of his contributions to the improvement of the study of archaeology. Read more from the SMU Forum, Aug. 27, 2010.

Binford earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1957 from the University of North Carolina and a master’s degree in 1958 and Ph.D. in 1964 from the University of Michigan. He served on the faculties of the University of Chicago, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of California at Los Angeles before joining the faculty at the University of New Mexico. He remained a member of the faculty there from 1968 through 1991 when he joined SMU.

“Any time a university can add a National Academy of Science-quality person to its faculty is a major gain for the university and the region,” says James Brooks, who played an important role in bringing Binford to SMU. Brooks is SMU provost emeritus and chair of SMU’s Institute for Study of Earth and Man. “Binford brought distinction to SMU, to Dallas and the Southwest.”

Binford is survived by his wife, Amber Johnson, and his daughter, Martha Binford. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Faculty in the News: March 1, 2011

bruce-bullock-fox-business-300.jpgBruce Bullock, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, talked about how higher oil and gas prices are affecting the U.S. economy with The Los Angeles Times. (3/1/2011) In addition, he discussed Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s prediction that oil could reach $300 a barrel in an article published in The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (2/28/2011) He also discussed the disruptions of the energy market caused by unrest in the Middle East with FOX Business Feb. 24, 2011. Watch Bullock’s FOX Business commentary in a new window. video

David Meltzer, Anthropology, Dedman College, commented on the discovery of an 11,500-year-old cremation site in Alaska that contains the oldest human remains yet discovered in northern North America for an article published by New Scientist Feb. 24, 2011.

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College, discussed the lack of population growth in Dallas over the last decade with The New York Times Feb. 25, 2011. He also talked about Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert stepping down and Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway moving into the mayor’s office with KERA Radio Feb. 23, 2011. Listen to Jillson’s KERA commentary here. audio

Willard Spiegelman, English, Dedman College, wrote about Houston’s John and Dominique de Menil Collection for The Wall Street Journal Feb. 26, 2011.

Robert Jordan, Diplomat-in-Residence with SMU’s Tower Center for Political Studies and former U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, talked with Bloomberg Television Live Feb. 24, 2011, about Saudi Arabia and the current upheaval in the Middle East. Watch Jordan’s Middle East commentary in a new window. video

Research Spotlight: No evidence for Clovis comet

Lubbock Lake site excavation New research challenges the controversial theory that the impact of an ancient comet devastated the Clovis people, one of the earliest known cultures to inhabit North America.

Writing in the October issue of Current Anthropology, SMU archaeologist David Meltzer and Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona argue that there is nothing in the archaeological record to suggest an abrupt collapse of Clovis populations.

“Whether or not the proposed extraterrestrial impact occurred is a matter for empirical testing in the geological record,” the researchers write.

“In so far as concerns the archaeological record, an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that does not exist.”

The comet theory first emerged in 2007 when a team of scientists announced evidence of a large extraterrestrial impact that occurred about 12,900 years ago.

The impact was said to have caused a sudden cooling of the North American climate, killing off mammoths and other megafauna.

It could also explain the apparent disappearance of the Clovis people, whose characteristic spear points vanish from the archaeological record shortly after the supposed impact. The findings are reported in the article “The 12.9-ka ET Impact Hypothesis and North American Paleoindians.”

As evidence for the rapid Clovis depopulation, comet theorists point out that very few Clovis archaeological sites show evidence of human occupation after the Clovis.

At the few sites that do, Clovis and post-Clovis artifacts are separated by archaeologically sterile layers of sediments, indicating a time gap between the civilizations. In fact, comet theorists argue, there seems to be a dead zone in the human archaeological record in North America beginning with the comet impact and lasting about 500 years.

But Meltzer, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in SMU’s Dedman College, and Holliday dispute those claims. They argue that a lack of later human occupation at Clovis sites is no reason to assume a population collapse.

“Single-occupation Paleoindian sites – Clovis or post-Clovis – are the norm,” Holliday said. That’s because many Paleoindian sites are hunting kill sites, and it would be highly unlikely for kills to be made repeatedly in the exact same spot.

“Those of us who do our research in the archaeology of this time period would actually be surprised if these sites were occupied repeatedly,” Meltzer says.

“So there is nothing surprising about a Clovis occupation with no other Paleoindian zone above it, and it is no reason to infer a disaster,” Holliday said.

In addition, Holliday and Meltzer compiled radiocarbon dates of 44 archaeological sites from across the U.S. and found no evidence of a post-comet gap. “Chronological gaps appear in the sequence only if one ignores standard deviations (a statistically inappropriate procedure), and doing so creates gaps not just around (12,900 years ago), but also at many later points in time,” they write.

Sterile layers separating occupation zones at some sites are easily explained by shifting settlement patterns and local geological processes, the researchers say. The separation should not be taken as evidence of an actual time gap between Clovis and post-Clovis cultures.

Holliday and Meltzer believe that the disappearance of Clovis spear points is more likely the result of a cultural choice rather than a population collapse.

“There is no compelling data to indicate that North American Paleoindians had to cope with or were affected by a catastrophe, extraterrestrial or otherwise, in the terminal Pleistocene,” they conclude.

Written by Kevin Stacey, University of Chicago Press

(Above, Lubbock Lake site excavations on a lake bed dated 13,000 to 12,000 years old, the time of the purported extraterrestrial impact. Photo by Vance Holliday.)

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Faculty in the News: May 11, 2010

Bruce Bullock, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, provided expertise for a story on what went wrong in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. The article appeared in The Washington Post May 9, 2010.

David Meltzer, Anthropology, Dedman College, was one of 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences who signed a letter to Science magazine in response to criticism of climate scientists. The letter appeared May 7, 2010.

Robert Krout, Music Therapy, Meadows School of the Arts, talked about the power of music to comfort hospitalized children with CBS 11 News May 6, 2010. video

Bernard Weinstein, Maguire Energy Institute, discussed the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on the price of gasoline with The Fort Worth Star-Telegram May 3, 2010.

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College, discussed the Obama Administration’s actions and rhetoric in the wake of the BP oil spill and the failed Times Square bombing plot with The Christian Science Monitor May 3, 2010.

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