George L. Cowgill— 1987 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology

Award Citation:

George Cowgill has been for over two decades an international 1eader in the application of numerical techniques to the analysis of archaeological data. His specific contributions are manifold.

In an age when archaeologists everywhere are grappling with enormous collections of artifacts, the advice Professor Cowgill has given us and the examples he has set are more relevant than ever before. Already in 1964 he proposed a new approach to the extraction of meaningful information from large archaeological assemblages. Cowgill was an early member of the Teotihuacan Mapping Project, begun in 1962 by Rene Millon. The quantities of data gathered at that metropolis were daunting and there were ample opportunities to apply statistical methods to the classification of artifacts, to the chronological seriation of ceramics, and to the construction of sampling strategies. Cowgill also supplied grist for the mill in many of his experiments with archaeological applications for computer technology. He described how he set up data storage banks and how he wrote programs to analyze the data; for example, maps of pottery distributions were generated for different phases of occupation at that great urban complex. Yet his interests have always extended far beyond strictly statistical or methodological concerns: he has investigated the factors behind the growth and decline of Teotihuacan, the extent of its trade connections, and its political relationships. The goal has always been to see not only the trees but also the forest.

George Cowgill has contributed greatly to studies of prehistoric demography, offering 'thoughtful evaluations of the work of those scholars who have invoked population pressure as an important factor in culture change. At the same time he has refrained from harsh criticism of his colleagues, preferring instead to play the modest role of mediator and advocate.

Professor Cowgill holds advanced degrees both in Physics and in Anthropology. Since 1960 he has held posts at Brandeis University, currently as Chairman of the Department of Anthropology. In the Boston area he has played an active role in the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology, and served the Boston Society of the Archaeological Institute of America as its first vice-president.

For over two decades, George Cowgill has offered us level-headed perspectives on the study of the past. A large proportion of archaeologists working around the world have benefited directly from his sound judgment and his clear prose. If it is true today that "the days of the innumerate in archaeology are numbered," that fact is in no small measure a result of the inspiration he has provided to his peers, students, and a younger generation of scholars. It is with great pride that the Archaeological Institute of America presents to George L. Cowgill the Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology.

 

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