B.A., Columbia University; A.M., Ph.D., Harvard University
Kathryn Wasserman Davis Professor of Slavic Studies; Professor of Anthropology
Research on prehistory of Eurasia, current political use of remote past; anthropology as the study of cultural and biological evolution.
My work shows that cultural evolution during the Bronze Age did not proceed principally through internal local adaptations to restricted environmental settings, but occurred as a product of shared interconnections and experiences. Both then and today peoples constantly engage in exchanging material objects and ideas and in learning from each other. This shared story of cultural evolution shows us that there was no ethnic group in the past or in the present that was qualitatively exceptional in its contribution to this cumulative record of technological advance and control over nature. Nationalist distortions of the archaeological record that suggest otherwise must be critically evaluated, and thus my work provides that critique.
Anthropology is the most broadly conceived social science, documenting human cultural and biological evolution and diversity from their remote beginnings in the Paleolithic to the modern day. It provides a natural history of humankind showing that we are a single biological species, Homo sapiens, inextricably caught up in interdependent social bonds of interaction and development. The anthropological perspective is inherently comparative and multicultural, and it is this view of the discipline that informs my teaching of courses on archaeology and archaeological theory, the beginnings of civilization, nationalist distortions of the past, and area studies of peoples and cultures of the Middle East and Eurasia.
My fieldwork began in the late 1960s and has continued to the present, including visits and excavations on Bronze Age sites in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. My publications include more than 160 articles and reviews and seven edited and authored books. I regularly evaluate applications to federal and private granting agencies and give lectures on my research at meetings and universities here and abroad. As much as possible, I try to integrate students into my research projects or get them involved in other fieldwork opportunities.
Kayaking on New England ponds and streams in the summer or cross-country skiing over frozen lakes or on wooded trails in the winter are favorite activities. Maintaining a 19th-century farmhouse and attached barn also keeps me physically active. Another favorite activity is travel to "exotic" places, a predilection that perfectly integrates with my research.