Patty Jo Watson— 2007 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology

Award Citation:

There are insufficient superlatives to fully describe the contributions by Professor Patty Jo Watson to archaeological inquiry and to the profession as a whole. Professor Watson has seamlessly moved between the realms of field (“dirt”) and theoretical archaeology. She pioneered in the development of ethnoarchaeology, cave archaeology, and archaeological gender studies, and advanced field methodologies for the recovery of organic materials. She has served her profession selflessly and has become an iconic role model for young scholars.  For these and other reasons, she clearly deserves the Archaeological Institute of America’s Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology.

One of Patty Jo Watson’s most significant contributions to archaeology involves the refinement and application of flotation technology to the recovery of small items, including archaeobotanical and archaeofaunal materials. Her paleobotanical research in Salts Cave, Kentucky, published in 1966 and many times thereafter, not only changed profoundly the manner in which we define agriculture in eastern North America but also set a high standard for subsequent research in both the New and Old Worlds.

Few scholars have made significant contributions to research in two very different world areas, but in addition to her studies of early agriculturalists in eastern North America, Professor Watson has conducted groundbreaking research in the Middle East, where, in the 1950s, she conducted her dissertation project as a member of one of the first international multidisciplinary teams led by Robert Braidwood. This research and her subsequent studies in northern Iraq, Iran, and Turkey anchor much of our understanding of western Asia, the earliest center of agricultural development.

Patty Jo Watson’s ethnoarchaeological fieldwork in Iran, conducted during the late 1950s and published as Archaeological Ethnography in Western Iran (Tucson 1979), is another pioneering effort. This, together with her theoretical writing, was a major stimulus for the field of ethnoarchaeology.

Professor Watson’s contributions to archaeological theory alone represent a major contribution to archaeological knowledge. These include her seminal and still influential Explanation in Archaeology: An Explicitly Scientific Approach (New York 1971), as well as her Archaeological Interpretation (New York 1986) and a set of more recent papers that include “A Parochial Primer: The New Dissonance as Seen from the Midcontinental United States” (in R.W. Preucel, ed., Processual and Postprocessual Archaeologies: Multiple Ways of Knowing the Past [Carbondale 1991]), “The Razor’s Edge: Symbolic-Structuralist Archaeology and the Expansion of Archaeological Inference (American Anthropologist 1990), and “Processualism and After” (forthcoming).  At the forefront of the discipline in thinking about the role of science in archaeology and archaeological inference, she has steadfastly maintained a commitment to interdisciplinary perspectives, as shown, for example, in her 1995 Distinguished Lecture to the American Anthropological Association, “Archaeology, Anthropology and the Culture Concept.”

Patty Jo Watson’s mentorship is also legendary. She has long integrated students into her field and laboratory settings, teaching exceedingly effectively in both large and small class contexts during her many years at Washington University, St. Louis (1969–2005).

Service to the profession of archaeology has involved the American Anthropological Association, where Patty Jo Watson held the office of American Anthropologist’s editor for archaeology from 1973–1977. She was a member of the Executive Committee of the Society for American Archaeology twice: from 1974–1976 and from 1982–1984. She was the editor of American Antiquity, the Society for American Archaeology’s  flagship journal, from 1983–1984. As chair of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Section H (Anthropology), she has also served both national and regional anthropological organizations in a variety of capacities as a responsible committee member. From 1999–2005, she was an Academic Trustee on the Governing Board of the Archaeological Institute of America.

In recognition of the breadth and excellence of her scholarship, Patty Jo Watson has been elected to both the National Academy of Sciences (1988) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1997). Within anthropology, Professor Watson has received distinguished awards from both the Society for American Archaeology (1990) and from the American Anthropological Association (1996). In 1999, she received the AIA’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.

Professor Watson has contributed to the science of archaeology through her rigorous, interdisciplinary approach that has profoundly influenced archaeological methods and theory. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the AIA’s Pomerance Award Committee recognize Patty Jo Watson’s achievements.

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