Theodore E. White and the Development of Zooarchaeology in North America

Theodore E. White and the Development of Zooarchaeology in North America

Theodore E. White and the Development of Zooarchaeology in North America

Theodore E. White and the Development of Zooarchaeology in North America

Synopsis

Theodore E. White and the Development of Zooarchaeology in North America illuminates the researcher and his lasting contribution to a field that has largely ignored him in its history. The few brief histories of North American zooarchaeology suggest that Paul W. Parmalee, John E. Guilday, Elizabeth S. Wing, and Stanley J. Olsen laid the foundation of the field. Only occasionally is Theodore White (1905-77) included, yet his research is instrumental for understanding the development of zooarchaeology in North America.

R. Lee Lyman works to fill these gaps in the historical record and revisits some of White's analytical innovations from a modern perspective. A comparison of publications shows that not only were White's zooarchaeological articles first in print in archaeological venues but that he was also, at least initially, more prolific than his contemporaries. While the other "founders" of the field were anthropologists, White was a paleontologist by training who studied long-extinct animals and their evolutionary histories. In working with remains of modern mammals, the typical paleontological research questions were off the table simply because the animals under study were too recent. And yet White demonstrated clearly that scholars could infer significant information about human behaviors and cultures. Lyman presents a biography of Theodore White as a scientist and a pioneer in the emerging field of modern anthropological zooarchaeology.

Excerpt

In the early 1980s I had the opportunity to study a zooarchaeological collection that prompted me to reread several of Theodore White’s classic papers that had the main title “Observations on the Butchering Technique of Some Aboriginal Peoples.” I had originally read those papers about a decade earlier, when I was writing my master’s degree thesis, because I was reading everything I could find on zooarchaeology, a branch of American archaeology only then coming into its own. I wanted to learn about zooarchaeology— the subject of my thesis— and White’s papers were among the few available at that time. in the early 1980s my reason for rereading White’s papers was a bit different. the second time around I was interested in figuring out why some skeletal parts were abundant and others were rare in the collection I was studying. Interpreting the different frequencies of the various skeletal parts of animals that had possibly been exploited by prehistoric humans or hominids had become a hot research topic in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My doctoral dissertation research concerned the density, a mass-volume ratio, of individual skeletal parts and how that intrinsic property of bones influenced the destruction of some skeletal parts and the survival of others, thereby creating skeletal part frequencies that varied markedly from those frequencies in collections of multiple complete skeletons. in the early 1980s my memory was that White had suggested extrinsic factors in the form of differential transport by humans and destruction from butchering as factors that could influence frequencies of skeletal parts in zooarchaeological . . .

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