Department of Sociology and Anthropology
College of Liberal Arts
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
College of Liberal Arts
BA, University of Colorado at Boulder; MA, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin at Madison
Archaeology is the study of the human past, from the origin of our species through to the development of modern, industrial states by means of the physical remains of past human behavior. In studying the past, archaeology seeks to explain how we, modern humans, came to be. This course investigates how archaeologists study the past, explains how human society has changed over time, and presents an overview of world prehistory. Specific topics include the evolution of modern humans, the peopling of the world, the development of agriculture, the rise of state-level societies, and associated social and material technologies such as writing and urbanism. Case studies will be used throughout to demonstrate how archaeological research is conducted and how archaeologists use their research to formulate explanations of the past that have relevance for the present.
Humans and their societies have always been shaped by their environment, but as human societies became more complex, their relationship with their environment changed from one of simple adaptation to one in which they had the power to change their environment. Often, the changes they have wrought have had unintended consequences, forcing societies to adapt to the changes that they themselves have brought about. Although we tend to think that this is a relatively recent phenomenon, humans have been altering their environment since the first human societies made the transition to agriculture over ten thousand years ago, if not longer. In this class, we will use the tools of environmental archaeology to explore the history of human interactions with their environments and to draw lessons on how we could manage that interaction today.
Since the first humans set out from Africa nearly two million years ago, our ancestors and relatives managed to settle in almost every continent. Wherever they went, they left traces of their lives that are tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years deep. We call these traces the archaeological record. Almost everywhere our ancestors settled, they did many of the same things, such as inventing agriculture, cities, writing, and state-level societies. However, they did this in ways unique to each region and time. This course examines the archaeology of a specific region, such as the Middle East, Mesoamerica, North America, or East Asia, in detail. We examine the geography, culture, archaeological record, and significance of the region to various key themes in archaeological research with respect to other world regions.
Archaeology is one of the few social sciences that lends itself well to the application of analytical techniques from the physical sciences. This is due to the fact that archaeology relies primarily on physical evidence, artifacts and features, whose origin, composition, age, and manner of production can be elucidated through application of the physical sciences. This course examines the application of physical science techniques to archaeological questions, including the age and origin of materials, how things are made, what people ate, their daily activities, and their state of health throughout their life. The course will include in-class labs in which students have the opportunity to apply some of these techniques and a final research project in which the student picks their own archaeological question to answer.
More than half the global population today lives in densely populated urban areas, which are further surrounded by complex networks of smaller communities. Yet, the earliest cities appeared less than 6,000 years ago, a small fraction of time since our species’ first appearance. The characteristics that define us as human were forged in radically different social universes from those of today. We lived our lives among not much more than 20-30 other people at any one time, hunting and gathering our food, and occasionally moving from place to place. This lifestyle was so successful and adaptable it endured pressures from more complex societies well into the 20th century. Understanding what life was like in such these small-scale societies is important because the material and social world in which they lived is the foundation for societies where food production, social hierarchy, and occupational specialization are the norm. This course will examine both the ethnographic and archaeological record of hunter/foragers from around the globe in an attempt to understand how it proved to be such a versatile and resilient way of life and how its successes, in fact, laid the foundation for social inequality, complexity, and food production.
1 - 12 Credits
The student explores in depth a topic of choice, under supervision of a faculty member. The student will typically meet weekly with the instructor to discuss the readings and will write paper(s) that synthesize and critique them, or the student may work with the faculty member on original research.
Chase, Brad, et al. "What is Left Behind: Advancing Interpretation of Pastoral Land-use in Harappan Gujarat Using Herbivore Dung to Examine Biosphere Strontium Isotope (87Sr/86Sr) Variation." Journal of Archaeological Science 92. (2018): 1-12. Print.
Meiggs, D., et al. "Pastoral Land Use of the Indus Civilization in Gujarat: Faunal Analyses and Biogenic Isotopes at Bagasra." Journal of Archaeological Science 50. (2014): 1-15. Print.
Meiggs, David C., Benjamin S. Arbuckle, and Aliye Öztan. "The Pixelated Shepard: Identifying Detailed Land-use Practices at Chalcolithic Köşk Höyük, Central Turkey, Using a Strontium Isotope (87Sr/86Sr) Isoscape." Isotopic Investigations of Pastoralism in Prehistory. Ed. Alicia R. Ventresca-Miller and Cheryl A. Makarewicz. New York, NY: Routledge, 2018. 77-95. Print.
Meiggs, David C. and Carolyn R. Freiwald. "Bioarchaeological Approaches to Human Migration." Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Ed. C. Smith. New York, NY: Springer, 2014. 3538-3545. Print.
Meiggs, David, Chase Brad, and P. Ajithprasad. "Pastoral Land-use of the Indus Civilization in Gujarat." Session: Archaeologies of Land Use; Annual Meeting, Society for American Archaeology. Society for American Archaeology. Austin, Texas. 23-27 Apr. 2014. Conference Presentation.
Meiggs, David. "The Pixelated Shepherd." Session: Isotopic Investigations of Pastoral Production: Innovative Approaches to Patterns of Mobility, Economy, and Exploitation. Annual Meeting. European Association of Archaeologists. Istanbul, Turkey. 10-14 Sep. 2014. Conference Presentation.