Wall Street Journal: Archaeologist Binford Dug Beyond Artifacts

The Wall Street Journal noted the passing of noted SMU archaeologist Lewis Binford, widely acknowledged by his peers for transforming scientists??? approach to archaeology and earning him the legacy as the “most influential archaeologist of his generation,” according to Scientific American

Wall Street Journal reporter Stephen Miller interviewed SMU archaeologist David J. Meltzer for the obituary.

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EXCERPT:

By Stephen Miller
Wall Street Journal

Lewis Binford led the “new archaeology” movement that sought to reorient the discipline from describing artifacts to describing prehistoric ways of life.

Mr. Binford, who died Monday at age 79, helped cast new light on the past by studying the living and applying his findings to the remains of prehistoric societies.

Within archaeology, Mr. Binford was known as a contentious advocate for his ideas.

“One needs to know something about what the world is like before trying to explain what one imagines it to be like,” he wrote in 2002.

While an assistant professor at the University of Chicago in 1962, Mr. Binford wrote an article, “Archaeology as Anthropology” challenging archaeologists to study cultural dynamics and change instead of concentrating on catalogs of artifacts.

“Lewis Binford led the charge that pushed, pulled and otherwise cajoled archaeology into becoming a more scientific enterprise,” said David Meltzer, professor of prehistory at Southern Methodist University. “Much of how we conceptualize and carry out archaeology in the 21st century is owed to Lew’s substantial legacy.”

Raised in Virginia, Mr. Binford served in the Army and learned to speak Japanese in Gen. MacArthur’s headquarters at the end of the Korean War. He said he first became interested in anthropology while acting as translator for a group of U.S. social scientists helping resettlement efforts in Japan.

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