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Letters to the Editor


In virtually identical wording to that found in the October 1997 issue of the Anthropology Newsletter, the November 1997 [15(5)] issue of the SAA Bulletin reports that Melinda Zeder received the first Gordon R. Willey Award. I commend the AAA for their selection of Mindy for this award as she is certainly deserving of it.

I note, however, that an error appears in both announcements, an error that tends to perpetuate a myth. In the announcement, it is stated that "The award is named after Professor Willey to recognize his tenure as AAA president (1961) and to encourage archaeologists to pursue his well-known maxim that `archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing.'" The error simply is that the axiom did not originate with Willey.

Philip Phillips first used the phrase "New World archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing" on the first two pages of his 1955 article entitled "American Archaeology and General Anthropological Theory" published in Southwestern Journal of Anthropology (11:246-250). This exact wording, including the phrase that preceded it in Phillips' 1955 article, was repeated on page 2 of Willey and Phillips' 1958 book entitled Method and Theory in American Archaeology. Perhaps more people read the 1958 book than Phillips' 1955 article, and given that Willey was senior author of the book, the seeds of a myth were sown. That Willey certainly subscribed to the notion is clear from his publications beginning in the late 1930s and extending through the 1960s.

I strongly endorse the intent of the AAA to honor the contributions of Dr. Willey to the field of anthropological archaeology. The literature clearly indicates, however, that "[Willey's] well-known maxim" is, in fact, the creation of Phil Phillips.

R. Lee Lyman
University of Missouri-Columbia

I am writing at the request of the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma Anthropological Society (OAS), an action that was authorized at our January 24, 1998 board meeting. As editor of the SAA Bulletin, you may also be interested in the following expression of concern by the OAS regarding a recently announced policy shift of the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers.

The Oklahoma Anthropological Society has a membership of approximately 600 mostly avocational archeologists who have an abiding interest in our state's cultural history and resources, and are committed to learn from them, and to disseminate information about them by public discourse and publication. With the help of professionals, we have in place a training program which has equipped scores of our members with the skills to excavate and to participate in laboratory analysis and report writing for publication.

The Tulsa District Corps of Engineers has a responsibility which encompasses 38 reservoirs in the Arkansas and Red River basins, and it is involved in a number of other civil and military construction activities. In the effort to still the voices of concern and discontent regarding the impact of Corps of Engineer projects on the region's cultural resources, the Corps, several years ago, expanded its staff to include archeologists given responsibility to manage the region's cultural resources and lessen its losses to construction activities. The four archeologists so engaged have done valuable work, yet because of the size of the job, much remains to be done. Many archeological sites are in jeopardy, and some sites have been lost. Many artifacts and human remains disturbed by Corps activities have yet to be addressed.

In early December, 1997, the Tulsa District announced a reduction in force. Included in this were half (two of four) of the current District staff of archeologists. In the interest of "doing more with less," it appears that Corps management has decided to reverse five years of effort and renege on commitments made to Native American tribal governments and to others, like those in our organization, who are concerned with cultural resource preservation. In doing so, it is also flirting with non-compliance with environmental and cultural resources protection laws. Apparently, it is willing to ignore the law in the interest of saving money.

It appears that the Tulsa District Corps of Engineers is not seriously committed to its legal obligations in terms of cultural resources. It is obviously not committed to the two young archeologists it is removing from service. More importantly, however, its actions constitute a threat to the preservation of some of the most important cultural resources in the woodland-prairie margins and southern plains of the United States.

Gene Hellstern
President, Oklahoma Anthropological Society

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