Friday, September 19, 2008

The Staley Prize: What are the Best Books in Anthropological Archaeology?

The J. I. Staley Prize is awarded each year by the School for Advanced Research to an outstanding book in anthropology. This is a highly prestigious prize, with a cash award of $10,000. With one exception, no archaeology book has ever won the Staley Prize. The exception, an outstanding joint archaeology-ethnology book is:

Kirch, Patrick V., and Marshall Sahlins (editors)

1992 Anahulu: The Archaeology of History. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Why haven’t archaeologists been more successful with this prize? I was on the Staley prize committee a number of years ago, and after serving I made an effort to stimulate people to nominate more archaeology books. Books are eligible from two to eight years after their publication date. When I served, some very good archaeology books had been nominated:

Earle, Timothy

1997 How Chiefs Come to Power: The Political Economy in Prehistory. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Fletcher, Roland

1995 The Limits of Settlement Growth: A Theoretical Outline. Cambridge University Press, New York.

I think that the following books, currently eligible, are among the finest recent books in archaeological anthropology, and I hope they get nominated. There are others as well. All it takes is a nomination letter to the J.I. Staley Prize committee (information below).

Moore, Jerry D.

2005 Cultural Landscapes in the Ancient Andes: Archaeologies of Place. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Scarborough, Vernon L.

2003 The Flow of Power: Ancient Water Systems and Landscapes. SAR Press, Santa Fe.

Smith, Adam T.

2003 The Political Landscape: Constellations of Authority in Early Complex Polities. University of California Press, Berkeley.

So, again, why haven’t more archaeology books won the prize? Are archaeology books of lower quality than books in cultural anthropology? Are they less anthropological? Perhaps it is because the discipline of anthropology is dominated by cultural anthologists. Although few of them will admit it outright, many cultural anthropologists think that cultural anthropology is the REAL anthropology. From this perspective, archaeology and physical anthropology are some kind of affiliated fields, not as fully congruent with the discipline of anthropology as cultural anthropology. Be that as it may, it is up to archaeologists to nominate our best books for this prize. Please do so.

Here is a description from the SAR website:

"The School for Advanced Research (SAR) presents the J. I. Staley Prize to a living author for a book that exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The award recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It honors books that cross subdisciplinary boundaries."

Nominations this year are due October 1: Here is more information:

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