While trawling the internet recently, I was directed to a post on SEAC underground, a southeastern archaeology blog jointly authored by a number of graduate students and junior faculty. One of its authors was perplexed by the results of a recent survey in American Antiquity, which were published in the article “Grand Challenges for Archaeology” in the January 2014 volume. The survey was designed to address the question “What are archaeology’s most important scientific challenges?”Personally I wish they’d come up with a pat, pithy answer, something along the lines of “figuring out how to conduct effective fieldwork around inquisitive cattle” or “maximizing trowel cleaning potential in countries where steel wool is not readily available”.
Instead the answer consists of a complex hierarchy of problems, encompassing five separate categories, each of which is divided into three to seven subcategories. The problems involve concepts like emergence, mobility and cognition, numbering 25 grand challenges in all.
However, as Shane Miller, the author of the original blog post, indicates, one of the most striking issues brought up in the article was response rates. Apparently after distributing a web survey through “email requests and listserv postings by the major North American and European professional associations…[b]etween April 1, 2012 and June 30, 2012″(6) the authors found that only 2% of the survey responses were from “younger archaeologists and students”. This is exceedingly perplexing, given that many younger archaeologists and students maintain a fairly active online presence, and are often vocal about their views on archaeology. So if this is something you’ve got an opinion about, particularly if you’re a young archaeologist who blogs regularly, please head over to the original post “Regarding the “Grand Challenges” and young archaeologists” and chime in!
Kintigh, Keith W., Altschul, Jeffrey H., Beaudry, Mary C., et al. (2014). Grand Challenges for Archaeology American Antiquity, 79 (1), 5-24 DOI: 10.7183/0002-73188.8.131.52