Robert C. Dunnell's Systematics in prehistory at 50

Left: Top 20 topics in titles of works citing ‘Systematics’. The gamma value indicates their overall abundance, and the topics are labelled with the most heavily weighted words in each topic. Right upper: clusters of citing works according to topic simila
Riede, F., Araujo, A., & Marwick, B. (2022). Robert C. Dunnell's Systematics in prehistory at 50. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 4, E16. doi:10.1017/ehs.2022.18

The year 2021 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Robert C. Dunnell's (Free Press, 1971) diminutive yet dense Systematics in prehistory. At the height of the debate between Culture History and New Archaeology, Dunnell's work sought to address a more fundamental issue that was and still is relevant to all branches of prehistoric archaeology, and especially to the study of the Palaeolithic: systematics. Dunnell himself was notorious and controversial, but the importance of his work remains underappreciated. Like other precocious works of that tumultuous time, Systematics in prehistory today remains absent from most course reading lists and gathers dust on library shelves. In this contribution we argue for a greater appreciation of its as yet unfulfilled conceptual and analytical promise. In particular, we briefly chart its somewhat delayed impact via evolutionary archaeology, including how it has also influenced non-Anglophone traditions, especially in South America. The obstinate persistence of classification issues in palaeoanthropology and palaeoarchaeology, we argue, warrants a second look at Dunnell's Systematics.

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