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Grand Challenges for Archaeology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Keith W. Kintigh
School of Human Evolution and Social Change, P.O. Box 872402, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2402 (
Jeffrey H. Altschul
Statistical Research, Inc., P.O. Box 31865, Tucson, AZ 85751 (
Mary C. Beaudry
Department of Archaeology, 675 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215-1406 (
Robert D. Drennan
Center for Comparative Archaeology, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 (
Ann P. Kinzig
School of Life Sciences, P.O. Box 874501, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-4501 (
Timothy A. Kohler
Department of Anthropology, P.O. Box 644910, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4910 and Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (
W. Fredrick Limp
Department of Geosciences, 304 JB Hunt, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701 (
Herbert D. G. Maschner
Idaho Museum of Natural History, 921 S. 8th Avenue, Stop 8096, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209 (
William K. Michener
University Libraries, 1312 Basehart Drive SE, MSC04 2815, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001 (
Timothy R. Pauketat
Department of Anthropology, 109 Davenport Hall, MC-148, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801 (
Peter Peregrine
Department of Anthropology, 711 East Boldt Way, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI 54911 and Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (
Jeremy A. Sabloff
Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (
Tony J. Wilkinson
Department of Archaeology, South Road, Durham University, Durham, DH1 3LE, United Kingdom (
Henry T. Wright
Museum of Anthropology, Ruthven Museums Building, 1109 Geddes Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 and Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501 (
Melinda A. Zeder
National Museum of Natural History, P.O. Box 37012, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012 (


This article represents a systematic effort to answer the question, What are archaeology’s most important scientific challenges? Starting with a crowd-sourced query directed broadly to the professional community of archaeologists, the authors augmented, prioritized, and refined the responses during a two-day workshop focused specifically on this question. The resulting 25 “grand challenges” focus on dynamic cultural processes and the operation of coupled human and natural systems. We organize these challenges into five topics: (1) emergence, communities, and complexity; (2) resilience, persistence, transformation, and collapse; (3) movement, mobility, and migration; (4) cognition, behavior, and identity; and (5) human-environment interactions. A discussion and a brief list of references accompany each question. An important goal in identifying these challenges is to inform decisions on infrastructure investments for archaeology. Our premise is that the highest priority investments should enable us to address the most important questions. Addressing many of these challenges will require both sophisticated modeling and large-scale synthetic research that are only now becoming possible. Although new archaeological fieldwork will be essential, the greatest pay off will derive from investments that provide sophisticated research access to the explosion in systematically collected archaeological data that has occurred over the last several decades.



Este artículo representa un esfuerzo sistemático para responder a la pregunta: ¿Cuáles son los retos científícos más importantes de la arqueología? A partir de una consulta masiva dirigida ampliamente a la comunidad profesional de arqueólogos, los autores aumentaron, priorizaron y refinaron las respuestas que surgieron de esta encuesta, durante un taller de dos días el cual se centro específícamente en esta cuestión. Los 25 grandes retos que emergen, se centran en los procesos culturales dinámicos y en el funcionamiento de los sistemas humanos y naturales en su conjunto. Para presentarlos aquí, organizamos estos desaflos en cinco temas: (1) surgimiento, comunidades y complejidad; (2) resiliencia, persistencia, transformatión y colapso; (3) movimiento, movilidady migratión; (4) conocimiento, comportamiento e identidad; e (5) interacciones humano-medioambiente. Cada pregunta va acompañada de una discusión y una breve lista de referencias. Un objetivo importante en la identificatión de estos retos es el de informar las decisiones sobre las inversiones en infraestructura para la arqueologia. Nuestra premisa es que las mayores inversiones prioritarias deben ser aquellas que nos permitan abordar las cuestiones mas importantes. Responder a muchos de estos desaflos requerird adoptar tanto la elaboration de modelos sofisticados, como investigaciones a gran escala sintetizadoras que apenas ahora estdn siendo posibles. Aunque sera fundamental llevar a cabo nuevos trabajos de campo arqueológicos, la mayor recompensa se derivard de las inversiones que proporcionen a las investigaciones sofisticadas acceso a la multitud de los datos arqueológicos recolectados sistemáticamente que se ha producido en las últimas décadas.

Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 2014

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