Patty Jo Watson—1999 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement

Award Citation:

Patty Jo Watson is an exceptional archaeologist because of the breadth and depth of her contributions to the discipline.  She continues to make important advances in terms of teaching, fieldwork, and theoretical insights.  Her publications and graduate seminars reflect a deep interest in several historical and anthropological questions that can only be answered by archaeological investigation.  She has a keen sense that solutions to questions must always be logically examined and she articulated this issue in the landmark publication entitled Archaeological Explanation: The Scientific Method in Archaeology, published by Columbia University Press in 1971 with a second edition in 1984.

Dr. Watson received her M.A. in Anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1956.  Her Master’s thesis, “New Material from Northern Iraq: The Halaf ‘Period’ Reconsidered,” reflects her initial fieldwork experiences with Professor Robert Braidwood.  Fieldwork in northern Iraq and Iran was challenging during the 1950s, but the rewards were there for the archaeologist willing to excavate, analyze, and interpret the evidence for the origins of plant and animal domestication.  Dr. Watson received her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1959 with a dissertation that examined “Early Village Farming in the Levant and its Environment.”

Patty Jo’s introduction to fieldwork came on the Iraq-Jarmo Project of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. During the 1950s she worked with Neolithic materials from Jarmo in Iraq and did pioneering work on the use of ethnoarchaeological analogy, while participating on the Iranian Prehistoric Project of the Oriental Institute.  The results of her work in the Middle East would become the basis of her Ph.D. dissertation and dozens of subsequent articles and monographs.  Her description of the modern village of Hasanabad (Archaeological Ethnography in Western Iran, published in 1979 by the University of Arizona Press) is still one of the most thorough examinations of the continuity of architectural and technological traits in one portion of the Middle Eas

The results of her fieldwork on Neolithic cultures in the Middle East are contained in the published reports on Jarmo and Girikihaciyan.  The evidence of plant and animal domestication in the Old World would stimulate her interest in pursuing the origins of plant domestication in the New World.  For Patty Jo Watson, one vital clue to the date and nature of early domestication would be found in the dust-dry passageways of the Salts Cave section of Mammoth Cave.  She led innumerable exploration and mapping expeditions in both Mammoth Cave and Jaguar Cave. Part of this important work is contained in The Prehistory of Salts Cave, Kentucky, published in 1969, and in Archaeology of the Mammoth Cave Area, published in 1974.  Her discoveries underground would be combined with careful archaeological surveys and excavations at the shell mounds along the Green River in Kentucky.  The underground and surface data she collected has been summarized in professional papers and articles that map out the variety and sequence of plant domestication in the eastern United States.  All of this is contained in the edited volume entitled Of Caves and Shell Mounds, where Patty Jo and her students outline the evidence accumulated by decades of research.  The range of her writings reflect her eagerness to share with both professional archaeologists and the interested public.  She has written articles for a vast range of publications, including Paleorient, Sumer, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Archaeology magazine, Expedition, and the World Book Science Annual.

Her focus shifted from the eastern United States to the southwestern United States during 1972 to 1974, when she codirected the Cibola Archaeological Research Project.  The work at Cibola focused on the investigation of a large pueblo site related to the Zuni nation.  That project provided a fertile ground for testing assumptions about ceramic production, decoration, and evolution within a complex New World community.

The decades of fieldwork in North America did not extinguish her interest in the Old World.  From 1991 to 1994 she served as a consultant on the Xiaolangdi Dam Salvage Archaeology Project at Bancum in the People’s Republic of China.  Her contribution to that project included expertise in flotation recovery, precision in sampling and interpretation, and ethnoarchaeological documentation.

The profession of archaeology has greatly benefited from her books and articles.  The most richly blest have been her students, who had the opportunity to study with her in both classroom and field.  She has endless patience with students whether they are struggling to master new ideas in a classroom or trying to stay warm while mapping 4000 year-old footprints preserved in the muddy floor of an almost inaccessible cave passageway.  She is a tireless scholar who is still making major contributions to archaeology.  Patty Jo holds the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professorship at Washington University in St. Louis. She has received numerous honors and awards, including the Fryxell Medal from the Society for American Archaeology and the Distinguished Service Award of the American Anthropological Association.  It is fitting that we honor her with the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.

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