George ODELL, Professor | October 14, 2011
“[…] George was an early champion of low- power microscopy in the study of lithic use- wear (Odell 1978, 1979, 1981a; Tringham et al. 1974) and, over the years, became its most accomplished practitioner. He applied his impressive expertise to the archaeological record of the Belgian Neolithic (Odell 1978, 1980), to an Illinois Valley record that spanned millennia (Odell 1987, 1996), and to the southern Plains. Along the way, George made major substantive contributions in, for instance, the exploration of form–function correspondences (Odell 1981b), the origins of bow and arrow technology in North America (Odell 1988), and technological organization (Odell 1994). He also organized two important conferences whose resulting publications were highly influential (Henry and Odell 1989; Odell, ed. 1996). Toward the end of his career, George wrote a comprehensive synthesis of lithic analysis (Odell 2003). Yet George Odell cannot be pigeonholed as a narrow lithic analyst, and an equally important facet of his career should not be overlooked in the understandable focus on stone tools: his contribution to the broader study of prehistory. In the process, he made important contributions to survey methods (Odell and Cowan 1987) and to site testing (Odell 1992). Among other important contributions, George excavated a major protohistoric settlement in eastern Oklahoma and authored a comprehensive volume on the site (Odell 2002). Most of us can only regard this record with the mixture of awe and envy that it inspires. In the aggregate, it is more than enough to secure George Odell a prominent place in the history of archaeological lithic analysis. Yet George made an equally important contribution when, in 1993, he revived Lithic Technology, which had ceased publication several years before. Improving its layout and format, George transformed Lithic Technology into an influential forum of lithic analysis and guided it with a steady editorial hand for nearly 20 years. (The journal is now in the capable hands of Grant McCall.) Recalling (again) the superabundance of lithic evidence, it is remarkable how few journals are dedicated to its systematic study. Without George’s sustained efforts, the first among those few journals would not exist. George’s path crossed mine in the early 1990s. Thereafter, we stayed in frequent contact on matters of common interest. By circumstance, George and I were not close friends, but I like to think that we were fairly good professional colleagues. Among his manifest qualities, two stand out (besides his fondness for lame puns, as McCall and Horowitz remind us). First was George’s unfailing good nature. He was as serious about the field as any archaeologist I know, but George was rarely met without a smile on his face and a kind word on his lips. Anyone who has traveled the thickets of academe in the past 25 years knows how rare and can appreciate how refreshing such personal qualities are in a prominent researcher. Second was George’s unfailing scholarly civility. As active researchers, he and I disagreed as much as we agreed — not least about when bow and arrow technology first reached the Americas and by what evidence that appearance was demonstrated (Odell 1988; Shott 1993) — but always constructively. This quality too was both rare and welcome in a field where, sadly, civil discourse is not always the rule in debate. In sum, George Odell was an archaeologist of the highest personal and professional caliber, who demonstrated great expertise in important areas of analysis, notably use- wear analysis, and broad interest in the intelligent study of the cultural past. The rest of us can aspire to George’s standards of scholarship and, perhaps on our best days, approach them. This book represents some of the best days of two generations of lithic analysts. However imperfect it may be, we offer it in heartfelt tribute to a man who exemplified the highest standards of lithic analysis”.
Michael J. Shott | 2015
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