Anthropology Rock Stars

Coturnix wants to know about scientist who have rock star status. Reminds me of when I was a young hominin taking method and theory of archaeology. My teacher used to use that analogy in reference to a couple of archaeologists.


Coturnix defines scientist rock stars as:

What I take it to mean is a scientist who did or discovered something really important and whose name is, thus, as well known as any movie star or rock star. A household name. Someone whose pronouncements on any and every topic would be as widely reported by the media and as widely repeated by the regular folks as pronouncements by Brittney Spears (“Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision he makes and should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.”).

I can only think of three from the world of anthropology.
1) Richard Leakey – the Leakeys are to anthropology like the Bachs are to music. I can’t think of anybody who hasn’t heard of them.
2) Donald Johanson – Lucy – need I say more. Yes, I will. Johanson was the first to explore the Middle Awash. Arguably one of the most important fossil bearing areas ever. We can certainly say that it rivals Olduvai Gorge or Koobi Fora or Swartkrans
3) Timothy White – Continued the Awash work where Johanson left off. He has been involved, in one form or another, with most of the significant finds of the last 25 years.
If we relax the standards just a bit one could include:
4) Lewis Binford – Father of Processualist Archaeology
5) Michael Schiffer – Father of Behavioral Archaeology and about the only man as smart as Binford…
and if you really, really relax the standards:
6) afarensis – the father of this blog…still waiting for the hot female groupies in a peach tank top, khaki shorts and a fedora (long story)…

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15 Responses

  1. i wud say that wolpoff & stringer are more well know to the gen public that white because they are on NOVA specials and stuff all the time.

  2. On the other hand, White gets his name splashed across the newspapers and what not on a regular basis. Witness the recent PR from the Australopithecus anamensis finds. Also, all the interviews in connection with ‘The First Humans…”

  3. How about Louis Leakey, the grand-dad of anthropology rock stars? Without Louis there would be no Richard.(Does it have to be a living rock star?)
    I am but a dilatant and I know who the first three are. That suggests your nominations are on track.

  4. I could have included Louis but I wanted to limit myself to the currently living (which also ruled out V. Gordon Childe)…

  5. Surely Jane Goodall has achieved rock star status as a Primatologist and as the foremost expert on Chimpanzees.

  6. I find it interesting that the only anthopologists who make your “A” list are Biological (Physical) Anthropologists… ;-)

  7. I’m sure he wouldn’t rise to “rockstar” status, but Michael Coe is a fascinating figure in archaeology. His books on Maya culture are mandatory reading for anyone interested in Mesoamerican archaeology. The stories I’ve heard include that he has (or had) a feud with his brother over a woman and one even locked the other in a cenote for hours!

  8. I hate to break it to you, but I haven’t heard of any of these people except #6. I suspect they require familiarity with the discipline, or perhaps it’s a generation gap. I suspect none of them are nearly as well known as Stephen Hawking. They are only household names for a very limited subset of households.

  9. I’d add Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, while they were not paleoanthropologists nor archaeologists… they did integrate primatology into undertanding humanity. Likewise, Franz Boas would make my cut, because he integrated understanding the cultural aspect of humanity.

  10. Yes! Back in the early 70’s, my Anthro Prof, and Dept head WAS like a rock star… Hard drinking, swearing, cutting a wide swath through the undergrad co-eds… He recruited me, and others that shared his behavioral methodology and philosophy, and we were all his posse, in today’s terms. And the summer digs were all like Woodstock! Ah, those were the days my friend!

  11. Goodall is definitely a rock star (I actually met her once and have an autographed copy of In the Shadow of Man). If 4 and 5 make the cut then Fossey would as well… as would Marvin Harris
    I would have included Boas and Kroeber and Mead but they are all dead. I also thought about William Bass because lots of folks have heard of the “Body Farm”
    Paul – can you name any other anthropologist with the name recognition of the first three. I could name bunches of anthropologists (of all types) whose work I think is profoundly important and who deserve to be “rock stars” but they are not know outside the anthro community…I’m open to suggestion.

  12. If you’re going to count Dr. Jane Goodall as an anthropologist, then she ranks at the top of the rock star list. Among the chimpanzee crowd, she is known as simply Jane. Sort of like Madonna or Cher. No last name required.

  13. Goodall is definitely a rock star…. If 4 and 5 make the cut then Fossey would as well.
    So would that make Birute Galdikas the equivalent of the obscure garage band Insufferable Music Snobs insist is superior to the Beatles or the Stones?
    And if we’re relaxing standards to include the dead, how about Heinrich Schliemann?

  14. Sean – didn’t understand the first part of your comment. As for Schliemann, Naww, Blegan and Evans were better archaeologists…and don’t forget Sir Flinders Petrie!

  15. If linguistics is still considered a branch of Anthropology (and assuming he isn’t dead), I would think Noam Chomsky might qualify: known as much for his liberal politics as Bono.

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