W. C. McKern and the Midwestern Taxonomic Method

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This book explains the deep influence of biological methods and theories on the practice of Americanist archaeology by exploring W. C. McKern's use of Linnaean taxonomy as the model for development of a pottery classification system.

By the early 20th century, North American archaeologists had found evidence of a plethora of prehistoric cultures displaying disparate geographic and chronological distributions. But there were no standards or algorithms for specifying when a ...

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Overview

This book explains the deep influence of biological methods and theories on the practice of Americanist archaeology by exploring W. C. McKern's use of Linnaean taxonomy as the model for development of a pottery classification system.

By the early 20th century, North American archaeologists had found evidence of a plethora of prehistoric cultures displaying disparate geographic and chronological distributions. But there were no standards or algorithms for specifying when a culture was distinct or identical to another in a nearby or distant region.

Will Carleton McKern of the Milwaukee Public Museum addressed this fundamental problem of cultural classification beginning in 1929. He modeled his solution—known as the Midwestern Taxonomic Method—on the Linnaean biological taxonomy because he wanted the ability to draw historical and cultural "relationships" among cultures. McKern was assisted during development of the method by Carl E. Guthe, Thorne Deuel, James B. Griffin, and William Ritchie.

This book studies the 1930s correspondence between McKern and his contemporaries as they hashed out the method's nuances. It compares the several different versions of the method and examines the Linnaean biological taxonomy as it was understood and used at the time McKern adapted it to archaeological problems. Finally, this volume reveals how and why the method failed to provide the analytical solution envisioned by McKern and his colleagues and how it influenced the later development of Americanist archaeology.


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Product Details

Meet the Author

R. Lee Lyman is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri—Columbia and coeditor of Setting the Agenda for American Archaeology. Michael J. O'Brien is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri—Columbia and coeditor of Changing Perspectives on the Archaeology of the Central Mississippi Valley.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Preface and Acknowledgments
Pt. I W. C. McKern and the Midwestern Taxonomic Method
1 Introduction 3
2 Taxonomic Classification and Biological Taxonomy 13
3 Developing the Midwestern Taxonomic Method, 1930-1935 51
4 Subsequent Developments, 1935-1940 101
5 Applications, Comments, and Later Proposals 135
6 The Midwestern Taxonomic Method in Light of Biological Systematics 179
Pt. II Historical Documents
7 Culture Type Classification for Midwestern North American Archaeology 199
8 A Suggested Classification on Cultures 200
9 Local Types and the Regional Distribution of Pottery-Bearing Cultures 204
10 The Problem of Culture Classification 208
11 Certain Culture Classification Problems in Middle Western Archaeology 214
12 Some Assumptions and Implications of the McKern Classification System 227
13 Review of Rediscovering Illinois: Archaeological Explorations in and around Fulton County 233
14 The McKern and Related Systems of Classification 241
15 The Midwestern Taxonomic Method as an Aid to Archaeological Culture Study 250
16 Application of the Midwestern Taxonomic Method 262
17 Taxonomy and the Direct Historical Approach 267
18 Regarding Midwestern Archaeological Taxonomy 272
19 An Inaccurate Description of Midwestern Taxonomy 277
References Cited 281
Index 299
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