Pamela B. Vandiver— 2006 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology

Award Citation:

The Archaeological Institute of America is pleased to name Pamela B. Vandiver as the recipient of the 2006 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology. Professor Vandiver is a pioneer in the scientific study of archaeological ceramics, faience, and glass. Her work combines materials science, field archaeology of production sites and materials sources, ethnographic study of traditional crafters, and replication of traditional techniques. She has authored or co-authored eight books and more than 100 papers in refereed journals or edited volumes. Much of her work has been groundbreaking and of interest across a wide spectrum of archaeological professionals. For example, the book she co-authored with W. D. Kingery in 1986, Ceramic Masterpieces: Art, Structure and Technology, is considered a masterpiece itself, featuring scholarship that integrates materials science, art history, and archaeology. Reviewers have said of it “an epochal book that will be one of the standard manuals for the study of ceramics,” and “you might think an archaeologist who has handled over a million bits of ceramic in a short professional lifetime would know pottery. I have the feeling I did not start to learn until I read this book.”

She is perhaps best known for her work on East Asian and Near Eastern ceramics. For example, her 1990 paper on ancient glazes for Scientific American helped a wide audience understand how materials and technology were manipulated by potters throughout history to achieve a variety of unique aesthetic effects. Her 1989 work on the origins of ceramic technology at Dolni Vestonice, Czechoslovakia, published in Science, was a model of the use of archaeological fieldwork and data, laboratory analysis of artifacts, and replication experiments to identify possible functions of the earliest known ceramic objects. As a founding organizer of the “Materials Issues in Art and Archaeology” sessions held regularly at Materials Research Society symposia she initiated a remarkable series of books that present current work in archaeological science, conservation science, and materials science of art, architectural materials, and archaeological objects. She co-edited all seven of those volumes while also publishing important research of her own in them on topics such as ancient glass, faience, glazes, and reconstruction of ancient ceramic materials and fabrication methods.

After an early career as a potter, Professor Vandiver received a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Near Eastern Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She then held the post of Senior Research Scientist in Ceramics at the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education for many years, serving as Acting Director in her last year there. Most recently, she accepted a position at the University of Arizona as Professor of Materials Science and Engineering with a joint appointment in the Anthropology Department.  At the University of Arizona she teaches courses in the materials science of art and archaeological objects, and helped develop a new graduate program in conservation science that fuses architectural history, art history, anthropology, archaeology, and materials science and engineering.

Her current research interests include applying materials analysis, resource survey, replication experiments, landscape archaeology, and material culture theory in order to characterize ancient technologies and practices and to discover what people had to know and use in order to invent and practice these technologies. Throughout her career she has been a cutting-edge pioneer in scientific studies of cultural materials for explaining past technological and artistic choices, processes, and goals. Her interdisciplinary work in the laboratory, field, and studio has had a major impact in many areas of archaeology, art history, materials science, and heritage conservation. Her eight books and more than 100 papers have revolutionized the study of ancient ceramics, faience, and glass. Pamela Vandiver is clearly a worthy recipient of the AIA’s Pomerance Award.

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