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George Crothers

Research Interests:
Prehistorical archaeology
hunters and gatherers
origins of agriculture
institutional economics
nonlinear dynamics
eastern North America.

Ph.D., Washington University, St. Louis, 1999

M.A., University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1987
B.A., Washington University, St. Louis, 1981


My research focuses on the transition of hunting and gathering populations to the earliest horticultural societies. This transition involved a complex cultural dynamic that had significant economic, social, and technological implications in prehistory. Using perspectives from nonlinear dynamics and institutional economics, I am interested in building dynamical models of forager interaction and property rights institutions that emphasize hunter-gatherer autonomy, information acquisition, and individual action. The qualitative dynamics underlying hunter-gatherer economic systems presumably date to the initial radiation of modern humans. On a worldwide scale, however, similar individual-level forager behavior generated different collective responses in different environments and periodically involved structural elaboration, in which qualitatively new institutions emerged. Agriculture was one collective response that had profound effect on human society. When, where, and how this transition occurred is an enduring anthropological question.

My primary research area is west central Kentucky, particularly the Green River valley, where sites dating to both Archaic Period hunters and gatherers and Early Woodland horticultural groups are well known. Currently, I have two long-term field research projects. The first project involves archaeological remains found in the Mammoth Cave region. Mammoth Cave and other large, dry caves in the area contain many kinds of perishable remains and have one of the best-preserved archaeobotanical records from the Early Woodland Period in eastern North America. The second long-term field project involves investigation of the numerous Archaic shell midden sites located on the lower and middle Green River. Many of these sites were extensively excavated in the 1930s and 1940s and are curated in the Museum at UK. Working with both collections in the museum and new investigations at existing shell middens sites, my colleagues and I are reinvestigating several of the Green River sites to obtain modern archaeobotanical and faunal samples for comparative purposes. Both of these projects are multidisciplinary efforts that involve specialists in paleoethnobotany, zooarchaeology, geoarchaeology, and bioarchaeology.

Selected Publications:
  • 2012  Early Woodland Ritual Use of Caves in Eastern North America. American Antiquity 77: 524-541.
  • 2009   North American Cave Archaeology. In Caves and Karst of the U.S.A., edited by Arthur N. Palmer and Margaret V. Palmer, pp. 413-416. National Speleological Society, Hunstville, AL.
  • 2008   The Emergence of Exclusive Property Rights in Kentucky Prehistory. In Economics and the Transformation of Landscape, edited by L. Cliggett and C. Pool, pp. 127-147. Society for Economic Anthropology monographs, vol. 25. Altamira Press, Lanham, Maryland.
  • 2008  Holocene Human Footprints in North America. Ichnos: An International Journal for Plant and Animal Traces 15: 1-6 (with P. Willey, P.J. Watons, and J. Stolen).
  • 2007  Cave Archaeology and the NSS: 1941-2006. Journal of Cave and Karst Studies 69:27-34 (with P. Willey and P.J. Watson). Invited paper for the 65th Anniversary Issue.
  • 2007  Early Sunflower Head Remains from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, U.S.A. Journal of Ethnobiology 27: 73-87 (with R. Bonzani, P. Trader, R. Ward, and R. Switzer).
  • 2004  Hunters and Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology. Occasional Paper No. 31, Center for Archaeological Investigations. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (Editor).
  • 2004  The Green River in Comparison to the Lower Mississippi Valley during the Archaic: To Build Mounds or Not to Build Mounds. In Signs of Power: The Rise of Cultural Complexity in the Southeast, edited by J.L. Gibson and P.J. Carr, pp. 86-96. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
  • 2002  The Fluvial and Geomorphic Context of Indian Knoll, An Archaic Shell Midden in West Central Kentucky. Geoarchaeology: An International Journal 17:521-551 (with D.F. Morey, J.K. Stein, J.P. Fenton, and N.P. Herrmann).
  • 2002  Woodland Cave Archaeology in Eastern North America. In The Woodland Southeast, edited by D.G. Anderson and R.C. Mainfort, Jr., pp. 504-525. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa (with C.H. Faulkner, J. Simek, P.J. Watson, and P. Willey).
  • 2001  Mineral Mining and Perishable Remains in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky: Examining Social Process During the Early Woodland Period. In Fleeting Identities: Perishable Material Culture in Archaeological Research, edited by P.B. Drooker, pp 314-334. Occasional Paper No. 28, Center for Archaeological Investigations. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.
  • 1998  Clearing Up Clouded Waters: Paleoenvironmental Analysis of Freshwater Mussel Assemblages from the Green River Shell Middens, Western Kentucky. Journal of Archaeological Science 25: 907-26 (with D. F. Morey).