Henry T. Wright— 2009 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement

Award Citation:

In his long and productive career, Henry Tutwiler Wright has epitomized the qualities that are recognized by the AIA’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement: significant contributions to archaeology through fieldwork, publications, and teaching.  His contributions to the field in all three of these areas are manifold.

Henry Wright is both a consummate field archaeologist and an outstanding theoretician.  His highly influential publications on the origins and functioning of ancient state-based societies are grounded in his fieldwork in China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Madagascar, Syria, and Turkey.  A senior scholar who still draws his own finds in the field, Dr. Wright has trained and mentored hundreds of archaeologists while writing at a formidable pace.

Throughout his career, his research has focused primarily on the study of the emergence of the world’s earliest state-level societies.  His work on state emergence began in 1965 when, as a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, Wright directed an archaeological survey around the early Mespotamian city of Ur and conducted excavations at an Early Dynastic village site in southern Iraq.  From 1968 through 1978, he extended his Mesopotamian research into Iran, where he carried out both excavations and surveys.  Subsequently he did fieldwork in Madagascar, investigating a case of much later state emergence.  In addition, Wright co-directed a field project for six years in the Eastern Desert of Egypt exploring Greco-Roman trade routes; worked for some seasons in Turkey; regularly participates in the British mission to Tell Brak in Eastern Syria; and, for the last 10 years has collaborated on projects in China, recently beginning a new project in southwest China with one of his newly graduated Ph.D. students.  In addition, Henry Wright brings his well-honed field skills to help train students and young colleagues around the globe in modern archaeological field techniques on projects in many countries including Eritrea, China, Mongolia, Turkey, Mayanmar, Madagascar, Michigan, Mexico and Thailand.

Wright exhibits a global breadth and depth in his theoretical writings and publications as well.  His more than 120 publications run the gamut from the detailed archaeological reports and monographs that comprise the core ‘data’ of our discipline to major theoretical discussions of theories of state emergence – a topic to which he brings encyclopedic knowledge and intellectual rigor.   The extraordinary range of his work can be illustrated by the titles of his publications from the earliest, “An Archaeological Survey of the Upper Potomac Valley,” in The West Virginia Archaeologist (1959) to his latest ones: “The Polycentricity of Archaic Civilizations” in A Catalyst for Ideas (2006); “Prepottery Neolithic Sites in Eastern Syria,” Paleorient (2006), and Early State Formation in Central Madagascar: An Archaeological Survey of Western Avaradrano (2007).

Wright is also the consummate teacher, not only in the field, but also in the classroom and laboratory.  He has had some 35 doctoral students and has served on more than 50 additional doctoral committees.  His dedication to teaching and nurturing students has been acknowledged by the University of Michigan, where he has been appointed the Albert C. Spaulding Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology.

Henry Wright’s enormous contributions to scholarship have been acknowledged by his receipt of a MacArthur Foundation Award in 1993 and election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1994.  His outstanding contributions to archaeological fieldwork, publication and teaching make Henry T. Wright an incomparable recipient for the Archaeological Institute of America’s 2009 Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement as well.

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