Lewis Binford, founder of the New Archaeology movement and one of the seniormost figures in world archaeology, has passed away at the age of 80.
Professor Binford was suffering from heart-related problems for the past few weeks and died at his country home at Kirksville in Missouri State of the United States on April 11, according to K. Paddayya, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology and former Director, Deccan College, Pune.
Professor Binford brought about a virtual revolution in archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s by elevating its status from a descriptive study of antiquities to a scientific discipline devoted to anthropological understanding of ways of life of ancient societies. His ‘archaeology as anthropology' proposition emerged as a dominant paradigm in contemporary archaeology.
This trend, popularly known as New Archaeology, laid emphasis on a regional approach to archaeological sites, method of hypothesis testing; and culture as a system of inter-related components serving as means of human adaptation. These concepts have now become central tenets of modern archaeology and made Professor Binford a legendary figure.
Professor Binford's field studies covered archaeological sites in North America, Europe, Africa and Middle East. His major contributions include interpretation of differences in prehistoric stone tool assemblages in terms of seasonal variations in human activity – early man as a mere scavenger of leftovers from carnivorous kills rather than a mighty hunter; and emergence of agricultural way of life due to innovative initiatives of splinter hunter-gatherer groups that moved away from their parent communities.
He also made pioneering contributions to ethnoarchaeology and conducted prolonged investigations of the Nunamiut Eskimos of Alaska. He published about a dozen major books on archaeology. These include ‘New Perspectives in Archaeology,' ‘Nunamiut Ethnoarchaeology,' ‘Bones; Ancient Men and Modern Myths' and ‘In pursuit of the Past.' Three volumes, entitled ‘An Archaeological Perspective,' ‘Working at Archaeology' and ‘Debating Archaeology' are collections of his major research papers. His last major publication, ‘Constructing Frames of Reference,' was published by the Chicago University Press in 200l and dealt with 400 hunter-gatherer societies across the world.
Inspired Indian youth
Professor Binford had close academic and personal contacts with the faculty of Deccan College. He was the principal resource person at the Summer School in New Archaeology held at the college in 1986.
During his one month-long stay in India, Professor Binford interacted and inspired a wide section of junior and senior archaeologists. He also visited famous archaeological sites in the Deccan and Central India such as lnamgaon, Bhimbetka and Ajanta caves. Professor Binford kept fond memories of his links with Indian archaeology till his last moments. He is survived by wife Amber Johnson and daughter Martha.