One of the themes that emerged from the back to back conferences I attended recently (hence no blogging) was that Archaeology Matters. Actually, Archaeology Matters was the theme of the Northwest Anthropological Conference, held in Portland March 27 to 30th. Paul Minnis gave a great key note speech on Utilitarian Archaeology. He discussed some of the ways in which archaeology can be applicable to current issues, and also how some of the contextual information archaeologists find so important may not be that relevant to these applications. For example, knowing that certain plant species were domesticated and used as a food staple in the past is useful information, without knowing the details of when and how this domestication took place. At the Society for American Archaeology Meetings, April 3-7, I heard several talks about research explicitly focused on applying archaeological data to current climate change issues (e.g. Jago Cooper in the Caribbean) and related issues of sustainability (e.g. Junko Habu in Japan).
While archaeologists have argued for the applicability of our work to contemporary issues for a long time, this area of interest does seem to be expanding. The requirement that we concretely contribute to contemporary issues in a tangible way is growing. It is clear from a review of grant review criteria (e.g. the push for broader impacts and transformative research at NSF). I wonder if this will help us to change public perceptions of our field. From numerous attacks on anthropology and archaeology in the last year or so in the public sphere (summaries of the issue here, here, and here) it is clear that not all non-archaeologists are convinced of the applicability of our work.
A paper I like:
Smith, M. E., Feinman, G. M., Drennan, R. D., Earle, T., & Morris, I. (2012) Archaeology as a Social Science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 109(20): 7617-7621.