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“Leapin’ lizards, Mr. Science”

Old reflections on the New Archaeology (and musings on anthropology, art, bioethics, and medicine)

By Leigh E. Rich

Perhaps my favourite class as a graduate student in anthropology was an elective taught by the chair of our department, an immensely affable man who, despite his stature in the discipline and successes as a scholar, was humble and approachable. The class was small, with only a handful of students sitting around a middling table in a cramped conference room—books, journals, artefacts, and dust taking up twice as much space as any of the rest of us. I was young and unclear what I wanted from life. And I wasn’t sure I fit within the program, likely because of that “Marxist” disease that afflicts most rebellious youth (and maybe still lingers with me today?) that “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member” (Marx 1995, 321). So I enrolled in this seminar on the history of archaeology. Not exactly the most essential course every cultural anthropologist needs (that ought to have shown my adviser just how far into the liminal I was!), but it shaped in me a yet-unrecognized interest in concepts like logic, science, and modernity in an almost Foucauldian sense—not as an Archaeology of Knowledge (that training would come later) but, rather, through a “knowledge of archaeology.”

Though I didn’t know it at the time, the course tapped into a deep-seated curiosity about history and, in particular, the history of science and medicine. This perhaps should have been no surprise. Since young, with seemingly only one exception (the works of Shakespeare, which I adore and don’t spend much time worrying about where they came from), my interests have tended to centre less on what a particular writer, scholar, or discipline has purported (though still important) than how individuals or entities got that way—like “just-so stories” about who and what we claim are the movers and shakers of our world. It has made me more of an “armchair” anthropologist than a “real” one and provided me just enough knowledge of philosophy and history and various other disciplines to make me “dangerous.” Perhaps I am still longing to linger in the liminal, but at least now it stems from conscious critical interest rather than kneejerk rejections against authority.

Even twenty years later, I remember most every aspect and clear details of the class, the Xeroxed readings still stuffed into files that have travelled across three states and different twists in my academic journey, increasingly distanced from archaeology. [continued …]

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Rich, Leigh E. 2015. “Leapin’ lizards, Mr. Science”: Old reflections on the New Archaeology (and musings on anthropology, art, bioethics, and medicine). Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 12(4): 531–535.

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