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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.

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