Lawrence H. Keeley

August 24, 1948–October 11, 2017

Lawrence H. Keeley passed away on October 11, 2017, after several years of poor health. Born in 1948, Keeley grew up in Cupertino, California. He earned a BA from San Jose State College in 1970. After MA work at University of Oregon (1970–72), Keeley moved to University of Oxford (Wadham College), completing his DPhil in 1977. His thesis work established microwear analysis of stone tools as a rigorous archaeological method. University of Chicago Press published Experimental Determination of Stone Tool Uses in 1980. Nearly four decades later, it remains in print.

Keeley’s analyses of tools from Hoxne (England) and Koobi Fora (Kenya) provided some of the first direct evidence for the range of technological and dietary practices carried out by pre-modern hominins. More broadly, he helped move lithic studies beyond formal typological approaches to a functional approach that could be applied anywhere in the world, and he trained a generation of lithic analysists in this approach. In recognition of his influence, the Society for American Archaeology presented him with its Award for Excellence in Lithic Studies in 1995.

Keeley held a postdoctoral appointment at the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale in Tervuren, Belgium (1977), and then worked in contract archaeology in Washington State (1977–78). In 1978, Keeley was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of Illinois at Chicago. He spent the remainder of his career there, and served as department chair for several years during which time the department built up a successful PhD program. He retired in 2014.

During the 1980s, his interests shifted to understanding the spread of agriculture in Europe. He conducted fieldwork on early Neolithic villages in eastern Belgium as well as cross-cultural research on the adoption of agricultural practices by complex hunter-gatherers. His work contributed significantly to major debates between ecological and demographic explanations for the adoption of agriculture (which Keeley favored) and symbolic/social explanations.

Excavating enclosed Neolithic villages led Keeley to suspect that prehistorians were systematically underestimating the prevalence of conflict in the archaeological record. His book War before Civilization (1996) led to a renewal of interest in the subject, and was instrumental in shifting debate from whether conflict occurred in the past, to asking how prevalent war was, and why it occurred. This debate has since moved beyond archaeology into numerous other social scientific arenas.

Keeley trained numerous undergraduate, MA, and PhD students. He was generous with his time and expertise, visiting his students’ field sites in North America, Europe, and Vietnam. He stressed rigorous, falsifiable research design and logical argumentation, an approach he instilled in his students, many of whom have gone on to successful careers as archaeologists.

Keeley was a skilled and enthusiastic storyteller—his colleagues, students, and friends will always remember him holding forth at lunch or over drinks after work, where Keeley (“Lar” to those who knew him well) conducted the real work of teaching. Keeley is survived by his wife Lesley, son Pete, daughter-in-law C.J., grandchildren Marceline and Sheridan, and brother Dale. (Mark Golitko)

Cite as: Golitko, Mark. 2017. “Lawrence H. Keeley.” Anthropology News website, December 8, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.721

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