In something of a break from recent video tradition, The Archaeology Channel have produced an audio interview, Desert Days with Dr. Fred Wendorf, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory Emeritus, Southern Methodist University (SMU), hosted by Rick Pettigrew, founder and President of Archaeological Legacy Institute. Here’s the show description:
Dr. Fred Wendorf came of age and began his career during a formative period in American archaeology. But after leaving his permanent mark on the development of archaeology in the American Southwest and the United States, he essentially founded the study of the prehistoric eastern Sahara, beginning with the Aswan Dam Project in the Nile River Valley. His life, nearly ended by a bullet on a WWII battlefield in Italy, has included an archaeological research career spanning six decades and an unsurpassed record of seminal contributions. His recently published book, Desert Days: My Life as a Field Archaeologist, is a record not only of a life, but of an epoch in the history of archaeology on two continents. This is history he not just witnessed, but to a significant degree he created it through his innovative approaches and endless energy, which should serve as an inspiration to subsequent generations of archaeologists.
Dr. Richard Pettigrew of ALI interviewed Dr. Wendorf for The Archaeology Channel on two separate occasions, first in person at the Society for American Archaeology Conference in Atlanta on April 24, 2009, and then over the telephone on June 9, 2009. Guided by Dr. Wendorf’s book, this interview covers a wide array of topics, including his role in the creation of the first truly large contract archaeology projects in the United States, his momentous and very fruitful decision to launch a field expedition in the Nile River Valley against the wishes and advice of others, and the contributions of his research toward the understanding of human cultural development. Personal anecdotes combine with long considered assessments to paint a genuine picture of his life and career and the era they have spanned.
As will be apparent from this link, it was Dr. Wendorf and his colleague Romuald Schild who were the first to discover Nabta Playa, back in 1994, a site familiar to many, especially because of the Neolithic stone circle, a great surprise given its geographical location in the southern reaches of modern-day Egypt. The site is interesting because it is said to span from 8,500 BP when it’s thought the inhabitants were pastoralists tending sheep and goats, whose Middle Neolithic descendants went on to practice agriculture and the building of megalithic structures. Indeed it was sites such as this that reinforced the idea that ritual activities became more complex over thousands of years as agricultural people began to settle into sedentary lives, and found themselves with ample time to engage in erecting monumental structures related to their spiritual beliefs – until the discovery at Göbekli Tepe, where it emerged that stone monuments and circles erected around 12,000 years ago, actually preceded full-scale or or widespread agriculture.
There aren’t many archaeologists around today who can claim 60 years service in the field, much of which has been spent in the desert regions of the Sahara, and yet who can still find the time to write 30 books and numerous journal articles – I’m still listening as I write this, so on this occasion I’ll refrain from commenting further for now, other than to recommend setting aside an hour or so to sit back and listen to Dr. Wendorf’s interview in its entirety, as he recounts some of the many fascinating anecdotes of his field experiences.