ANT 374: Prehistory of North America

This course surveys the archaeology of North America, excluding Mesoamerica. We will trace the archaeological history of Native American societies from their origins in Eurasia over 15,000 years ago to contact with Europeans. The objectives of the course are to familiarize students with the wide range of human adaptations that prevailed over time and space, to link the evolution of those adaptations to the historically known and modern surviving descendant native cultures of North America, and to provide students with a framework for understanding the archaeological methods and theories that provide this information.

Here is the full syllabus for the course: 374_syllabus

Philosophy: I teach this course on a level that is consistent with early graduate courses on geographical regions. For students interested in going to graduate school for anthropology, it gives them a sense of what it will be like. For all of the students, reading recent research papers and discussing modern debates in the field helps to develop critical thinking, debate, and oral presentation skills. This course is intense because I want students to leave with a solid base of knowledge about North American archaeology that will help to generate their own ideas for research, on the undergraduate and even graduate levels.

Innovations: This course covers A LOT of information. I try to keep the format variable and explore a number of different topics within the general information on prehistory. Throughout the semester, we have 5-7 debate classes where we explore a current and important debate within North American archaeology. In past semesters, we have discussed theories on how people first entered into the Americas, whether or first Americans killed off the megafauna, whether or not cannibalism occurred in the Southwest, and the origins of Iroquoian societies in the Northeast. For each class, in addition to covering what we currently know about particular time periods and regions, we read a recent or important scholarly article related to the topic. These usually deal with explanations for the patterns seen or new or innovative techniques that were used to formulate our current body of knowledge. Reading these articles gives students an opportunity to explore actual research and to think critically about how research is done, how interpretations are made, and how we build knowledge about North American Prehistory. The students finish the semester with a 20-page research paper designed to give them experience in conducting background research. They must present a detailed review of the existing body of literature on a topic of their choosing. After they turn in the paper, I sit down one-on-one with each student, and we discuss their paper. It is an opportunity to discuss what they did well and how they can improve. Often, final papers are never returned, meaning that students do not always learn much from the process. These meetings give me an opportunity to discuss the research process with the students and give them feedback on their work.

Finally, we go on an educational, but fun trip to the Town Creek site, a local Mississippian village, and the Morrow Mountain quarry site, where prehistoric peoples gathered stone tool material for over 8,000 years. Here are some images from the last trip:

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