Touchstone Thursday: Mary Sellers’s The Secret Notebook For The Practicing Archaeologist: With Preliminary Notes Toward An Ethno-Science Of Archaeology



My Dad used to say, ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest.’ I’d have to say that ‘Never a truer word was spoke.’ Today’s excursion to yesteryear exemplifies the adage. Mary Sellers penned a tongue-in-cheek paper for the ages in 1973. However ironic this piece may be, I believe she’s speaking from the heart in this sketch of our discipline as it was and (for the most part still) is practiced in North America. 

The Plains Anthropologist, 18:140-148, 1973
I’ve long since forgotten whether it was Brian Hayden or Meg Conkey who introduced me to this Thursday’s touchstone. So I’ll tip my hat to both of them, hoping that the party responsible will forgive me for being such a sieve-brain.



If you thought Horace Miner’s ethnography of the Nacirema was fun, and it you thought Kent Flannery’s vignettes in the The Early Mesoamerican Village were a hoot, you’ll get a great big kick in the pants when you read Mary Sellers’s history-making treatise. Nothing. Repeat. Nothing has changed since this was written. And Mary Sellers, now deceased, was (as the Brits would say) ‘spot on’ with this exposé of Us. That’s a good and bad news story, since there’s much in this paper that shows the discipline and its practitioners in a harsh light, even by 1970’s standards. I could get all moralistic and huffy. But I’d rather you just went and grabbed this wonderful work and read it forward and backward. 

     Having spent some of the best times of my life in the field and at the GOA (sensu Ms. Sellers), I have a permanent soft spot for her insights. They’re too numerous for me even to begin to brief you on them here. So, find it, read it, and love it. I (still) do.
     You will, too.

[For anyone without the resources to gain access, please leave a note in the comments on facebook.]

The wit and wisdom of Mary Sellers


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