Controversies in Archaeology

Your final assignment, as introduced in the syllabus, is to explore an archaeological
controversy. Your choices are the meaning of Paleolithic art, the extinction of Pleistocene
megafauna in the Americas, or the origins of agriculture.
For this assignment you will tackle ONE of three archaeological controversies by critically
analyzing and comparing different interpretations that archaeologists have offered about
these topics. You will select your topic from the list below, which makes your life easier
since the references are already compiled. This is not a research paper – you do not need to
look up everything that has ever been written about these controversies. However, you will
need to use all of the readings provided in the list below for your chosen topics.
You may consult your notes or textbook where appropriate for additional background
information. However, the goal is for you to see what archaeologists themselves are saying
rather than reading about them through secondary sources, such as textbooks or newspapers.
The Paper
The paper should be between 1250 and 2000 words (not counting the bibliography or any
direct quotes), and it must be typewritten, double-spaced, and proofread for errors.
Your paper should begin by introducing the controversy – give background on why it is a
controversy, why people care, and what is at stake. Keep this brief, perhaps confining it to
the first paragraph. Assume that your reader is moderately informed about archaeology and
human history (like a fellow student in the class), but that he or she does not know this
specific problem or why it is important. Next, introduce the two or more interpretive models
or explanations that you plan to contrast. Then, systematically compare and evaluate them.
You might to do this by presenting one side first and then the other, or you do a point-bypoint comparison. You should conclude by briefly stating which perspective you find the
most convincing. Be sure to cite your sources appropriately in the body of your paper and
with a reference page.
You will be graded on (1) how well you present various sides to the controversy, (2) how
thoroughly you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the perspectives – which might
include logic, use of data, etc., and (3) how thoughtfully you organize the paper.
Please remember that this paper is eligible for the Writing Proficiency Requirement (see
The Sources
All of the sources you need for this paper are in a folder called “Articles for
Archaeological Controversies Paper” which you can find in the Week 8 and Week 11
class sessions.
As with all formal papers, you should include a bibliography listing all the references used
for this paper. Fillers are not helpful and do not give you extra credit. Any standard format
for the bibliography (eg. MLA or APA) is acceptable as long as you give full information on
the author’s name, the title of the book or article (including the book or journal in which the
article appeared), year of publication, place of publication and publisher, and inclusive page
numbers. Be consistent in the format that you use for all your references.
In the body of the paper, you should give in text citations for all quoted and paraphrased
material and for any factual information or ideas that are not common knowledge in the
field. It is fine to use direct quotations but use them sparingly and only when the author
worded something in a particularly insightful or convincing way. Otherwise, paraphrase in
your own words but still give them credit for the information. An easy format used in most
anthropology journals involves parenthetical citations placed in the sentence.
For example: “Binford (1968:271) has suggested that Mousterian tools are . . . ” or
“Mousterian tools are thought to be . . . (Binford 1968:271).” Acknowledging the sources of
your ideas is absolutely essential because to do otherwise is plagiarism. Please consult the
syllabus for policies on plagiarism, but I will repeat that plagiarism is a serious offense.
The Topics
You will choose one of the following three topics, but you must write your paper using all
of the readings provided for that topic. Keep in mind that these are academic sources, so
they may be challenging to read. Give yourself enough time to sort through them. Also,
you will find that the articles in the journal Current Anthropology (see Topic 1) have
comments by professional anthropologists that are published between the main article and
the bibliography. The article author then has a published rebuttal or response to these
comments. The comments make the articles seem longer than they really are, but they may
help you interpret the readings and the greater issues. If you decide to use information
contained in those extra comments, you must reference the particular author who wrote
those words. That is, you cannot take a quote from another anthropologist’s comment and
then attribute it to the author of the article. If you want to draw on the published
comments, just add separate entries in your “References Cited” section for them.
Helvenston, Patricia A. and Paul G. Bahn (with comments by John L. Bradshaw)
2003 Testing the ‘Three Stages of Trance’ model. Cambridge Archaeological Journal
Lewis-Williams, J. David and Thomas A. Dowson
1988 The signs of all times: Entoptic phenomena in Upper Paleolithic Art. Current
Anthropology 29:201-217.
Mithen, Steven J.
1989 Ecological interpretations of Paleolithic art. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Grayson, Donald and David Meltzer
2003 A requiem for North American overkill. Journal of Archaeological Science 30:585-593.
Haynes, Gary
2002 The catastrophic extinction of North American mammoths and mastodonts. World
Archaeology 33(3):391-416.
Martin, Paul S.
1973 The discovery of America. Science 179:969-974.
Cohen, Mark N.
1977 The theory of population pressure and the origins of agriculture. In The Food Crisis in
Prehistory: Overpopulation and the Origins of Agriculture, pp. 18-70. New Haven: Yale
University Press.
Hayden, Brian
1990 Nimrods, piscators, pluckers and planters: The emergence of food production. Journal
of Anthropological Archaeology 9:31-69.
Sherratt, Andrew
1997 Climatic cycles and behavioural revolutions: The emergence of modern humans and the
beginning of farming. Antiquity 71(272):271-287.

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