On the Seattle Times’ “Anthropology: The Great Divide”

Have you caught Kate Riley’s piece in the opinions column of the Seattle Times? It is dramatically titled, Anthropology: the great divide as if there’s some big dilemma happening within anthropology.

If you haven’t yet read it you may want to hold off on clicking to link.

Kate discusses the events and anthropologists behind the Kennewick Man issue. The Kennewick ManKennewick Man issue has become a classic of sorts. In the last 11 years or so, the remains of this prehistoric man found on a bank of the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington have increased the bureaucracy with archeology and Native American tribes, with scientists and the law. But not to the point that Kate’s making it out to be.

See it all started with Richard Jantz a plea of help via email. Julie Stein did not like what she read because she felt the excavation and analysis of the Kennewick remains were done with ulterior motives. And so began the “great divide.”

What I’m not too clear about is Kate Riley’s quote on how Stanford’s Anthropology Department split apart, which is now being merged back, was because of the Kennewick controversy. Riley writes,

“At Stanford University, the chasm was so insurmountable the anthropology department split into two.”

Correct me if I’m wrong but Stanford’s Anthropological Sciences department split from the department of Cultural and Social Anthropology in 1998 because of resource issues and major intellectual differences.

I’m not privy to the exact intellectual differences, I’ll disclaim that. Alls I know was that on one side were the socio-cultural anthropologists, who deal with understanding human behaviors, cultures, etc. and on the other side were the more bio-physical ones who study human evolution, bodies, population genetics form and function, etc. And they couldn’t get along. That’s fine… it happens in many departments. Nothing new. And these sorts of divisions have some tangents to the Kennwick Man feud, but I highly doubt that Kennewick was the cause of the division.

Again, I might be wrong, and please let me know if I am… but I think Riley is a bit misleading with her association of Stanford’s Anthropology department and Kennewick. It is one thing to describe an academic debate but another to tie what happened at an institution to what seems like a unrelated debate.

3 thoughts on “On the Seattle Times’ “Anthropology: The Great Divide”

  1. True, the Kennewick Man controversy did not cause Stanford’s department to split, it was over the intellectual divide between archaeologists and cultural anthropologists, a divide that has played out in the Kennewick Man case. Archaeologists are unwilling to allow the Kennewick skeleton human status, claiming that it is not related to Native Americans or anyone else for that matter. However, the evidence, as summarized in Respect for the Ancestors indicates that the skeleton was Native American. In fact, there is no evidence for any other conclusion unless one begins to listen to Stanford’s other theory brought out of the murky waters of history known as the Solutrean Hypothesis, a hypothesis which has no empirical evidence supporting it (and similarities between tool types is not empirical evidence, but like design). I think it is a poor light on the anthropological and archaeological professons that individuals are unwilling to acknowledge that their professions are centered around human individuals and their culture (past and present) and as such, basic human principals of justice, rights, and respect should be followed at all times.

  2. Hi, I understand you commented on my piece in the Seattle Times. You say in your blog that my article said that Kennewick Man controversy caused the rift at Stanford. I think you misread my article, because that is absolutely not true. I discussed the Stanford situation as another example of the divisions in anthropology over the studies of ancient remains. Many people I interviewed referred to the Stanford situation as another example of this split. Please correct this.
    Thank you.

  3. Kate, on the contrary, it not my mistake but rather your piece which does not make the distinction very clear. To me, your piece seems as if Stanford’s disintegration of the Anthropology department folds in with the Kennewick issues, because it’s just another example of the dischord between cultural studies and scientific analysis.

    But that’s wrong. The divisions between cultural anthropology and physical anthropology aren’t very cut and dry. They are also not consistent. Even with your clarification, I see little correlation between the rift at Stanford and the rift between that Kennewick caused to warrant being addressed in the same article. They are two separate issues and need not be lumped in one big why cultural anthropology doesn’t interface with physical anthropology.

    Reducing academic and intellectual differences in such summary pieces doesn’t help ‘bring it all together’. Such a method also does not dutifully inform people of what’s really going on behind the scenes. People read these sorts of pieces and figure that anthropology is this horribly dysfunctional discipline that can neither work cooperatively in the field nor in the academic sphere. And that’s the real troublesome part of a piece like this, it misleads people.

Comments are closed.

A WordPress.com Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: