Department of Sociology and Anthropology
College of Liberal Arts
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
College of Liberal Arts
BA, University of California at San Diego; MA, San Francisco State University; 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.
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.
Death and burial are how most individuals enter the archaeological record and one could say that deliberate burial of the dead is the first direct evidence we have for the emergence of ethical and religious systems of thought. Human remains, their mortuary treatment, and associated material culture illuminate past patterns of social organization, economics, belief systems, health, and the negotiation of gender, status, and identity. In this course we explore the scientific and theoretical tools used to analyze and interpret past mortuary practices, how archaeologists create new knowledge about the past through the formulations and testing of hypotheses, survey mortuary practices from their first occurrence in the archaeological record, and what human remains can tell us about changes in the human experience over time and space. We will learn how human remains are identified, how determinations of age, sex, biological affiliation, health, and injury are made, how to interpret formation processes, to interpret associated material culture to understand the negotiation of gender and status; how humans have cared for the deceased members of their societies at different times and places in the human past; and the ethics of studying human mortuary remains.
While it is commonplace to describe the present era as one dominated by technology, humans have always been critically dependent on technology. Many of today’s key technologies such as agriculture, writing, ceramics, woodworking, textiles, glass, and metals were invented before the dawn of recorded history. In this class, we will explore these ancient technologies, how they came to be invented, how they evolved, and how they were integrated into the social and economic life of ancient peoples to become the foundations of modern society. This course features lectures, readings, and hands-on laboratories and projects on ancient technology and experimental archaeology. Laboratories and projects will focus on how scientists create new knowledge about the past by testing hypotheses about ancient technology. The course concludes with either an individual project, such as replicating a particular artifact or process, or a class project, such as building and using a Mesopotamian glass furnace.
One of the most fascinating dimensions of archaeology is the discovery that people have done essentially the same things in different places and different times, independently of developments elsewhere. Agriculture, writing, urbanism, complex economies, and so on, all have been independently invented multiple times in different parts of the world. This fact raises some intriguing questions about what it means to be human. By comparing how these developments occurred in different places and times, archaeologists can, in a sense, perform experiments on the past. Each semester this course is offered we will focus on a separate theme in archaeological research, such as the transition to agriculture; production, trade, and exchange; the origin of writing; imperialism, colonialism, and warfare; pseudoscience/pseudoarchaeology; or human evolution. We will study competing theoretical perspectives and different world regions to gain a broad understanding of the theme and how both theory and data are used to create a comprehensive understanding of the human past.
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.
Middleton, William D. "Discussant." Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. (2016). Print.
Middleton, William D. "Research on chemical traces of human activities." Liangchengzhen: 1998-2001 Excavation Report (volumes I-IV). Ed. Luan Fengshi, et al. Wenwu, Shandong: Cultural Relics Press, 2016. 1575-1595. Print.
Middleton, W.D. "Laboratory for Archaeological Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin." Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Ed. C. Smith. New York, NY: Springer Science+Business Media, 2014. 4362-4363. Print.
Middleton, W.D., et al. "Integration of Multiproxy Landscape and Climate Data with Hyper- and Multi-Spectral Satellite Imagery for the Analysis of Landscape Change." 5th International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology: The Age of Sensing. Duke University. Durham, NC. 13 Oct. 2014. Conference Presentation.
Middleton, W.D., et al. "Applications in Landscape Analysis and Cultural Resource Management for Hyperspectral Satellite Imagery." 40th International Symposium on Archaeometry. UCLA. Los Angeles, CA. 22 May 2014. Conference Presentation.
Middleton, W.D., et al. "Satellite Paleoecology in Oaxaca, Mexico: Assessing Potential Productivity of the Prehispanic Landscape." 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Society for American Archaeology. Austin, TX. 24 Apr. 2014. Conference Presentation.
Middleton, W.D., et al. "Applications in Landscape Analysis and Cultural Resource Management for Hyperspectral Satellite Imagery." Digital Domains Conference. Dartmouth University. Hanover, NH. 21 Mar. 2014. Conference Presentation.
Middleton, W.D., et al. "Reconstructing the Formation and Land use History of the Mound 2 Depression at Rio Viejo, Oaxaca, Mexico." Quaternary International 342. (2014): 33-44. Print.
Middleton, W.D. "Review of: Polity and Economy in Formative Coastal Oaxaca." Journal of Anthropological Research 70. (2014): 474-475. Print.