ADRIAN PRAETZELLIS - my home on the web

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My latest (2015) effort is Archaeologcial Theory in a Nutshell, a short theory-for-phobics textbook. I think the illustrations turned out well. I've a feeling my efforts to condense some hard ideas into a few pages may not be well received by all those who like to see their students sweat.

I'm also the author and illustrator of Death by Theory (2011) and Dug to Death (2003), two archaeology mystery novels that pretend to be archaeological textbooks -- or possibly the other way around; they are published by AltaMira Press. No one was more surprised than me when Mitch Allen, now of Left Coast Press, agreed to publish my literary efforts. Both books have used as undergraduate texts at universities including UC Berkeley, Stanford, University of Chicago, Boston University, and Harvard. Which only goes to show...

For though your wisdom may decry it
The simple folk will surely buy it.
I will allow it is but trash
But then, it furnishes the cash
— [William Combe, Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1809)]

Buy these books, read them, then burn them. The royalties will help support me in a style to which I'd like to become accustomed.

DBT coverCover picture Death by Theory

Adrian Praetzellis provides a brief, readable introduction to contemporary theoretical models used in archaeology for the undergraduate or beginning graduate student. He demystifies a dozen flavors of contemporary theory for the theory-phobic reader, providing a short history of each, its application in archaeology, and an example of its use in recent work. The book
• teaches about different contemporary archaeological theories including postcolonialism, neoevolutionism, materiality, and queer theory;
• is written in accessible language with key examples for each theory;
• includes many illustrations and cartoons by the author.

A European Neolithic burial. A large stone Venus. Nothing unusual about it except that it was found on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Archaeologist Hannah Green her shovelbum nephew find themselves in a tangled web of competing interests--avaricious land owners, hungry media, and a cult of goddess worshippers--while investigating one of the finds of the century. In untangling the mystery of the Washington Venus, Hannah and Sean have to confront questions of archaeological evidence, of ethics, of conflicting interpretation of data, and of the very nature of archaeological truths. Helping them are a cadre of disdainful graduate students who propose various theories--processualist, marxist, feminist, postmodernist--to explain the bizarre events.

Dr. Hannah Green--heroine of Praetzellis's textbook-as-novel Death by Theory--has really gotten herself into trouble this time. The spunky archaeologist has been asked to manage the contract archaeology project at a historic site in New Zealand when the regular archaeological staff of University of Invercargill abruptly dies off. On the scene, Hannah discovers she needs to teach her team about research design, survey methods, archival research, professional ethics, curation, and especially field safety, if they are to complete the contract before young Mr. Wallace levels the site in favor of a golf course. With a cast of characters that includes Missy-Jojo-the-Dog-Faced-Girl as lab supervisor, erotic romance writer and field volunteer Elena Solara, the ghost of socialite Bunny Wallace, and shovelbum Rusty Spittle, Praetzellis' brief textbook-as-novel introduces students to the hows and whys of field methodology in an entertaining but informative way.


Write, write, write. Talk, talk, talk.

As an archaeologist who works a lot in the cultural resource management context, I've written and co-written many technical reports and even a few published articles. Some of the former are posted at here at the ASC webpage or click on any of the blue links below and go straight to the article.

ARCHAEOLOGY OF CHINESE RAILROAD WORKERS (with Mary Praetzellis). Historical Archaeology 49(1):162-174. 2015.
Archaeologists have spent nearly five decades excavating sites associated with Chinese immigrants to the American West. They have studied hundreds of places and millions of artifacts and compiled enormous amounts of information. It is time for synthesis; it is time for sharing beyond the narrow archaeological community. This article suggests some new approaches to help move this work forward.

ARCHAEOLOGISTS AS STORYTELLERS: THE DOCUDRAMA (with Mary Praetzellis). Chapter 6 in Subjects and Narratives edited by Ruth M. Van Dyke and Reinhard Bernbeck. Univeristy of Colorado Press. 2015.
Imagine a conversation about the use of narrative interpretation in archaeology moderated by a talk show host... The "guests" include New Archeologist Lewis Binford, theorist Rosemary Joyce, and 2000 year old Jewish historian Josephus, and others. It's weird, amusing, and quite possibly offensive. The above link goes to the audio file. The script is in the printed version.

STRUCTURE, AGENCY, & THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF AFRICAN AMERICANS (with Mary Praetzellis). Chapter 19 in Contemporary Issues in California Archaeology, edited by Terry L Jones and Jennifer E. Perry. Left Coast Press. 2012.
In this chapter, we give examples of how we have chosen to tackle a quandary that faces historical archaeologists more than most: how to think about the relationship between structure and agency when we study historical inequality. We suggest that this is not merely a theoretical argument, but would point out the relationship between these positions and the rise of neoliberalism in the so-called developed countries.

Review of THE DEATH OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY European Journal of Archaeology15(3):519-566 . 2012.
This is a very cool little book that I read in only a few hours. Thoroughly worthwhile and contraversial.

ARCHAEOLOGY AND HERITAGE VALUES (with Mary Praetzellis) Historical Archaeology 45(1):86-100. 2011.
This article uses the archaeology of Nihonmachi (an early Japanese and Japanese American settlement in San Jose, California) and African American archaeology in West Oakland, California to present a different model of public-oriented archaeology. As it moved into the 21st century, the US National Park Service embarked on an ambitious program of public involvement and civic engagement to use heritage site to inform the public about contemporary issues.  Meanwhile although section 106 of the NHPA mandates the dissemination of information recovered from important archaeological sites in the name of public benefit, CRM’s contribution to civic engagement has not achieved its potential.

MANGLING SYMBOLS OF GENTILITY IN THE WILD WEST (with Mary Praetzellis) American Anthropologist 103(3):645-654. 2001.
Gentility (aka, "Victorian culture") was the preeminent model of propriety in mid- and late-nineteenth-century California. Thanks to industrial production and an efficient supply network, the genteel mores of Victoria's England came to be expressed in a suite of artifacts that became de rigueur for anyone who aspired to a position of respectability—even in the wilds of the American West. The trappings of gentility, however, were not used only by the aspiring white middle class to achieve some kind of nervous social acceptance. In this essay, we present archaeological examples from a high-ranking Mexican-Californio, a Chinese American merchant, African American porters, and an expensive brothel to suggest that the symbols of gentility had power outside the parlors of the white middle class and that other groups manipulated the potent symbolic content of these artifacts for their own diverse ends.

BEFORE WARM SPRINGS DAM: A HISTORY OF THE LAKE SONOMA AREA (with Mary Praetzellis and Suzanne Stewart)
The Warm Springs Cultural Resources Study was one of the first large projects conducted under federal historic preservation laws and regulations enacted in the 1960s. From 1974 to 1984, prior to the filling of Lake Sonoma behind Warm Springs Dam, in Sonoma County, California, the area was intensively studied by a team of archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, architectural historians, ethnobotanists, historians, and Native American traditional scholars. Before Warm Springs Dam was the last of many reports produced by the team, presenting the results for some of these studies for a general audience.

This report describes the results of an archaeological excavation on Sacramento's I Street, the city's historic Chinese district. Archaeologists uncovered remains associated with the boardinghouses of two Chinese family associations from the mid-1850s. The use of Chinese and English ceramics by the residents is linked to the business relationship between attorney Josiah Gallup and the family association's resident agent. This is one of the niftiest sites I've excavated.

The biggest archaeological project I've ever directed, Cypress involved the investigation of 22 city blocks and resulted in over 120 discrete artifact assemblages associated with specific households: unskilled working-class households, upper-middle-class families, immigrants from many countries, and native-born whites and African Americans. The project was sponsored by the California Dept. of Transportation (Caltrans).

Three Cypress-related products are available:
* our interpretive report "Putting the 'There' There" which uses archaeology, oral history, and other sources to look at the history and cultures of West Oakland (several downloadable .pdf files);
* the Block Technical Reports (on CD). BTRs occupy the territory between artifact catalog and interpretation. Most important archaeological remains from the Cypress project were in the form of artifact-filled pits, privies, and wells. For each street address we investigated, the corresponding BTR contains the history of occupation, historical association of each collection of artifacts, and the artifact data in table form. Each feature also has a useful one page summary that makes it very easy to compare/contrast collections.
* the Cypress database is Access-based and is available on request.
* "Privy to the Past" a 28-minute DVD available from Left Coast Press. Kathleen Deagan commented: "I found it to be a wonderful teaching aid. It was most useful in communicating the nature of provenience, and the need to be fully attentive to excavation techniques within proveniences. It also gave students a better idea of what rescue archaeology is all about and how it contributes to understanding the past." Thanks Kathy; the check's in the mail. The DVD's title was the inspiration of Cypress Project Field Director Jack Mc Ilroy. What more is there to say?

TALES OF THE VASCO. (with Mary Praetzellis and Grace Zeising)
This pdf of an illustrated, 38-page pamphlet consists of five narratives, each based on archaeological discoveries and historic documents uncovered as part of ASC's Los Vaqueros Reservoir study. An example of archaeological storytelling, it was written for a general audience.

Picture of a trowel


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