Lewis Binford’s legacy of change and innovation

National Academy of Sciences

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.

April 13, 2011|News|

David Meltzer voted into National Academy of Sciences

David MeltzerSMU Anthropology Chair David Meltzer has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for his achievements in original scientific research. Membership in the NAS is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States.

Meltzer, the Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and director of QUEST Archaeological Research Program, will be the 3rd SMU professor to be inducted into the NAS. All of them have come from the University’s anthropology department: emeritus faculty members Lewis Binford and Fred Wendorf were elected in 2001 and 1987 respectively.

Only an Academy member may submit formal nominations to the NAS, and supporting nomination materials and candidate lists remain confidential.

Meltzer was elected April 28 along with 71 other scientists, joining more than 2,000 active NAS members. More than 180 living Academy members have won Nobel Prizes. NAS members have included Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright and Alexander Graham Bell.

“It’s really an honor to be in that wonderful company,” Meltzer said shortly after being notified of his selection by phone. “I am thrilled, excited, shocked, humbled – it’s a great day.” He said he was particularly touched that the NAS members who voted him in then passed a cell phone around to offer their individual congratulations.

“David Meltzer serves as the model of a professor whose research contributes to his discipline and our understanding of civilization, and who uses that knowledge to enliven his classroom,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “His election to the NAS brings much-deserved recognition to Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and honor to SMU.”

“One of the hallmarks of top universities is the election of their faculty to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences,” said Paul Ludden, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “SMU is so proud of its top-tier anthropology faculty member, David Meltzer, for his election today.”

Meltzer’s work centers on 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 archaeology and history 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.

Read more from SMU News

May 1, 2009|News|
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