Lewis Binford bigraphy, stories - American archaeologist

Lewis Binford : biography

21 <! November 1931 - 11 April 2011

Lewis Roberts Binford (November 21, 1931&nbsp;&ndash; April 11, 2011) was an American archaeologist known for his influential work in archaeological theory, ethnoarchaeology and the Paleolithic period. He is widely considered among the most influential archaeologists of the later 20th century, and is credited with fundamentally changing the field with the introduction of processual archaeology (or the "New Archaeology") in the 1960s. Binford's influence was controversial, however, and most theoretical work in archaeology in the late 1980s and 1990s was explicitly construed as either a reaction to or in support of the processual paradigm. Recent appraisals have judged that his approach owed more to prior work in the 1940s and 50s than suggested by Binford's strong criticism of his predecessors.

Personal life

Binford was married six times. His first marriage was to Jean Riley Mock, with whom he had his only daughter, Martha. Binford also had a son, Clinton, who died in a car accident in 1976. He frequently collaborated with his third wife, Sally Binford, who was also an archaeologist; the couple married while they were graduate students at the University of Chicago, and co-edited New Perspectives in Archaeology (1968), among other works. After his marriage to Sally ended, Binford married Mary Ann, an elementary school teacher. His fifth wife was Nancy Medaris Stone, an archaeologist. At the time of his death he was married to Amber Johnson, an associate professor of anthropology at Truman State University who had worked with Binford as a research student at Southern Methodist University.

Awards and recognition

Binford was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for American Archaeology and an honorary doctorate from Leiden University. There is an asteroid named Binford in his honor.



Binford is mainly known for his contributions to archaeological theory and his promotion of ethnoarchaeological research. As a leading advocate of the "New Archaeology" movement of the 1960s, he proposed a number of ideas that became central to processual archaeology. Binford and other New Archaeologists argued that there should be a greater application of scientific methodologies and the hypothetico-deductive method in archaeology. He placed a strong emphasis on generalities and the way in which human beings interact with their ecological niche, defining culture as the extrasomatic means of adaptation. This view reflects the influence of his Ph.D supervisor, Leslie White. Binford's work can largely be seen as a reaction to the earlier culture history approach to archaeology. New Archaeology was considered a revolution in archaeological theory.

Binford was involved in several high-profile debates including arguments with James Sackett on the nature and function of style and on symbolism and methodology with Ian Hodder. Binford has spoken out and reacted to a number of schools of thought, particularly the post-processual school, the behavioural school, and symbolic and postmodern anthropologies. Binford was also known for a friendlier rivalry with French archaeologist François Bordes, with whom he argued over the interpretation of Mousterian sites. Binford's disagreement with Bordes over the interpretation of Mousterian stone artifacts provided the impetus for much of Binford's theoretical work. Bordes interpreted variability in Mousterian assemblages as evidence of different tribes, while Binford felt that a functional interpretation of the different assemblages would be more appropriate. His subsequent inability to explain the Mousterian facies using a functional approach led to his ethnoarchaeological work among the Nunamiut and the development of his middle-range theory.

New Archaeology

Binford first became dissatisfied with the present state of archaeology while an undergraduate at UNC. He felt that culture history reflected the same 'stamp collecting' mentality that had turned him away from biology. At Michigan, he saw a sharp contrast between the "excitement" of the anthropology department's cultural anthropologists (which included Leslie White) and the "people in white coats counting their potsherds" in the Kelsey Museum of Archeology. His first academic position was as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, where he taught New World archaeology and statistical methods in archaeology. Shortly after his appointment he wrote his first major article, Archaeology as Anthropology (1962), which was stimulated by problems in archaeological methodology that had became apparent with the use of radiocarbon dating to verify the dates and cultural typologies generated with relative dating techniques such as seriation. Binford criticised what he saw as a tendency to treat artifacts as undifferentiated traits, and to explain variations in these traits only in terms of cultural diffusion. He proposed that the goal of archaeology was exactly the same as that of anthropology more generally, viz. to "explicate and explain the total range of physical and cultural similarities and differences characteristic of the entire spatio-temporal span of man's existence." This would be achieved by relating artifacts to human behavior, and behavior to cultural systems (as understood by his mentor, cultural anthropologist Leslie White).

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Living octopus

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