<< Previous Page

Lewis Binford

21 November 1931 – 11 April 2011

Appreciations by:




Appreciation by
Colin Renfrew

Lewis Binford in the Master's Lodge at Jesus College, Cambridge, 1995
(photograph by Nancy Stone)

Lewis R. Binford was the most influential archaeologist of the past half-century. As the principal protagonist of processual archaeology, as the 'New Archaeology' was soon termed, his message was above all a positive one. It was that the limitations of the traditional narrative culture history, still in the 1950 the norm of archaeological output, could be transcended, and the Hawkesian 'ladder of inference' (about which he wrote in his introduction to New Perspectives in Archaeology (edited by L.R. and S.R. Binford, Chicago, Aldine, 1968) could be superseded by an appropriate methodology. He and his early students of the 1960s did indeed go on to develop explicit methodologies for the reconstruction of social systems, and the work continues for the symbolic and cognitive dimensions where, as 'post-processual' archaeologists have rightly indicated, there is still much to be done.

Lew was not primarily an excavator, but he had an acute sense of problem, which led him into the field as a pioneering ethnoarchaeologist. He sought to make reasoning explicit: he was the most energetic proponent of archaeological theory, and the rapid development of archaeological theory over the past three or four decades owes much to his early impetus. Lew was in many ways larger-than-life, and he could be very good fun. The photograph, right, was taken around 1995 by his then wife Nancy Stone in the Master's Lodge at Jesus College, Cambridge as he responded to the local conventions of dress. He was a great raconteur: I remember on his first visit to Sheffield in 1971 the candles burning out (and being replaced) as we sat around the dinner table discussing his fieldwork among the Nunamiut of Alaska. And he could be an inspiring teacher: no-one who attended his practical classes in the University of Southampton in 1980 will forget his instruction in butchery. He was a difficult man to defeat in argument — as Sir Edmund Leach learnt in a memorable confrontation at the Sheffield Conference in 1971.

Although his own concern was primarily with the archaeology of hunter-gatherers, his approach to archaeology was much wider — embracing historical archaeology as well as prehistory. He was one of the great archaeologists of our time.

Back to top

Appreciation by
Stephen Houston

Lewis Binford is not someone I knew, although he was said to be forceful in public debate. My view of him comes instead from his early books and essays that we, as young students, were compelled to read. Frankly, I disliked them. Whatever had inspired the "new archaeologists" who came into direct contact with Binford did not seem to spark or thrive in the awkward, opaque manifestos on our syllabi. The charisma lay elsewhere. I remember now the boisterous, implausible claims, a lack of interest in meaning or the random and fortuitous, an ethnoarchaeology that seemed blind to local, cultural nuance or historical conditions. How many excavations or archaeological surveys did Binford actually do to put his ideas into practice, the cynical young student would ask? Despite the scientism and objective regard of evidence, there was also a disquieting emphasis on Binford himself as a combatant of all that was foolish and classist in archaeology. We had to hear, for some reason, about his loathing of Robert Braidwood, a figure clearly worthy of respect, and what appeared to be Binford's distaste for all that was tweedy or traditional. Did this come from what I surmised to be Binford's hardscrabble background? Some difficulty with his academic position at the University of Chicago? We were meant to know and care about these matters. They would be on the exam.

Binford was the Angry Young Man of archaeology. Like John Osborne or Kingsley Amis, he was a voice of his time, an intellectual adjunct to the rebellions of the '60s and their precursors in the post-War period. It was all there: the wish for aggressive change along with a conscientious disrespect for that which came before. Yet, Angry Young Men do, at some point, become old. Motivated by some inner flame of resentment, Binford was at first an outsider. Then, rather uncomfortably, he became a distinguished figure in the academy, occupying a succession of named chairs, the author of ever-thicker books. To state that he forced us to greater clarity of argument and to follow logical consequence in our review of evidence is almost banal at this point -- although these statements are true, most definitely so. More than others, he made self-conscious Theory the prestige-topic in archaeology (an often lopsided development, to be sure). He enjoined people to consider the behavioral meaning of detail and the difficulties of moving from physical evidence to assertion and back again. To him goes good credit for guiding archaeologists to think through what they were doing, to pose a clear set of questions at the outset. Alas, serendipity, an obvious part of all archaeology, was banished in the process, along with intuition and the many hard realities of fieldwork. Even as a student, I saw that Binford and Binfordism were not for me. He was far less effective when social complexity entered into the picture. That complexity tended to explode his reductive notion of variables, to the extent that his influence will remain largely, I suspect, with researchers of hunters and gatherers, the past and present peoples that interested him most. Perhaps a future generation will return to Binford's work and find instruction in his youthful belligerent energy.

Back to top

Appreciation by
Yannick Raczynski Henk

Dutch

Zonet hoorde ik dat Lewis Binford gisteren gestorven is. De goede man was 79 en zijn gezondheid was al een tijdje niet al te best, dus een enorme verrassing is het niet, maar er is daarmee wel iemand verscheiden die de archeologie als wetenschap baanbrekend veranderd heeft, en dat terwijl hij zelf niet eens een archeoloog was.

Het is denk ik weer zo'n situatie waarin, als Binford het niet bedacht was, er wel iemand anders mee gekomen was, maar het blijft een feit dat hij (en zijn geestverwanten) met de New Archaeology vanaf de jaren 60 de archeologie een dusdanige schop onder haar hol gegeven heeft dat we nu nog steeds af en toe met een sippe lip aan ons achterwerk voelen of het nog steeds beurs is.

Zijn confrontationele stijl van werken en presenteren bezorgde hem meer vijanden dan vrienden en inmiddels hebben we ook al een tijdje last van post-processuele archeologen (zucht), maar inhoudelijk staan zijn theorieën na veertig jaar in grote lijnen nog steeds overeind en ik ben van mening dat de archeologie daar een betere wetenschap door geworden is.

Ik heb hem een keer persoonlijk ontmoet en hij bleek een aangename gesprekspartner, maar ik heb ook lezingen van hem gezien waarin hij weliswaar bijzonder erudiet en scherpzinnig te werk ging, maar er ook voor wist te zorgen dat de helft van het publiek de zaal schuimbekkend verliet.

Binford was al een aantal jaren uit het voetlicht verdwenen en heeft de laatste jaren niets meer gepubliceerd, dus hij is niet bepaald in het zadel gesneuveld, maar dat neemt niet weg dat hij het verdiend heeft dat we even stil staan bij het feit dat hij er niet meer is. De Binford is dood, lang leve de Binford!

English

In Lewis Binford we lost a man who managed to fundamentally change archaeology as a science, while he was not even an archaeologist himself.

He (and his kindred spirits) and their New Archaeology gave archaeologists worldwide such an almighty boot up the hindquarters that forty years on we still check our backsides now and again to see they are still sore.

His rather confrontational style of working and presenting made him more enemies than friends and we have been suffering from the presence of post-processual archaeologists for some time now (sigh). But after four decades his ideas are still largely intact and valid and it is my firm belief that archaeology is now a better science for it.

I met him in person once and he turned out to be a very pleasant conversationalist but I have also attended several of his lectures in which he presented his theories very eloquently and cleverly, but in the mean time also managed to make half the audience walk away frothing at the mouth.

Binford has been out of the public eye for some time now, but that does not mean we do not owe him a few minutes of reflection on the fact that he is no longer with us. The Binford is dead, long live the Binford!

Back to top

Appreciation by
Mark Leone

Lew Binford was at the height of founding the New Archaeology when I became a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I met him through Bill Longacre and Paul Martin. Before meeting him, I read two of his most important pieces. They were so hard to read that I realized that I could either hate what he said or learn what all the words meant. The words meant a lot. Soon, I understood that Binford intended to redefine the purpose of American, and ultimately world, archaeology. I signed on; still do; and bring that intention to historical archaeology.

Lew Binford visited Paul Martin's archaeology project in Vernon, Arizona often. It was in this environment that I got to know him. In one passionate and difficult evening he told me simultaneously that my dissertation proposal did not make a lot of sense, and then told me what to do to make it both sensible and testable. While this was not the biggest intellectual impact he made on me, it was the beginning. Certainly, Lew convinced me that archaeology could be made into a general social science, and he proved it. But, above all, what he showed all of us was his astonishing capacity to connect archaeological things to the questions that mattered. He did this for everybody. He did it generously. He did it constantly, around the world, day and night. In doing so, he revolutionized the field. In my opinion, it is still the field he made.

Even though Lew has been retired for a few years, and even though he is now gone, he is one of those people who allows us to believe that people live on afterwards in and through us.

Back to top

Fond memories by
Charles McNutt

Lewis Binford with the McNutts

I first met Lewis Binford in 1959 in Lincoln, Nebraska; I last saw him in 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. I'm sure many colleagues have friends whom they see but periodically, but with whom they consistently feel close. That describes my 51-year relationship with Lewis.

In 1959 my wife Phoebe and I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska; I was employed by the River Basin Surveys and finishing up my dissertation. One evening, responding to a knock on my front door, I was presented to a large individual who announced "My name is Lewis Binford and Jimmy Griffin told me to get your dissertation." I informed Lewis Binford that he could not have my dissertation because Phoebe and I were still pasting the plates up. Nonetheless, I asked him in. I learned that Lewis was a Michigan grad student and in Lincoln doing a study of projectile points.

I was quite taken by Lew and his interest in projectile description. We talked until late that night about projectile points—specifically about how to describe "notches" and "stems." I remember this discussion because we began to jot our ideas down on a piece of paper that we passed back and forth. Occasionally during the following decades this piece of paper would emerge from my files, reminding me of that night.

I saw Lew but a few times in the following years, until the early 1970s. Phoebe and I, now with two children, would visit my mother in Santa Fe each summer. Lew was working at the University of New Mexico. During our summer trips it became our custom to stop in Corrales and visit the Binfords—Lew, Mary Ann, Martha, and Clinton, usually spending the night in a house that Lew had built for Mary Ann's mother.

We maintained these visits over a number of years, continuing after Mary Ann's unfortunate death. I learned two interesting things about Lew during this period. The first is that Binford was an extraordinarily skilled carpenter and mason. He not only made major alterations in his home, but also designed and built a two storey vacation house for Mary Ann's mother, and designed and built a chicken house of which he was inordinately proud. The floor was of railroad ties, to prevent coyote burrowing, baby chicks were warmed with heat absorbed by adobe, and eggs could be gathered from little doors in the back of nesting areas without disturbing the hens. (I thank Martha for reminding me of these details.) He often employed willing graduate students at above-scale wages on his projects. Lewis enjoyed this phase of his existence immensely.

The second thing I learned was that Lew was a compulsive story teller. By "compulsive" I mean that Lewis would begin to recount some situation, then warm to it, and finally elaborate it to a climax that was could usually be refuted quite easily. And Lewis was completely aware of this—but he frequently ploughed ahead. On one occasion when Phoebe and I were going to France, Lewis told us he was fond of France, had worked with Mousterian, and had a house there we could stay in. I think Lewis probably did like France, he certainly worked on Mousterian, but he definitely had no house there—and must have known we would find out. (We did and after we returned my wife—a small-to medium sized woman—accosted Lewis, called him a fibber, and punched him in the stomach. Lew was so amazed that he just replied "ugh!—that's my reputation".)

I don't believe Lew's compulsiveness ever intruded into his professional life, but some who are less fond of him have suggested that it did. Somewhat in the nature of Gregor Mendel and his peas. I think Lew was well aware of this, and it explains the almost overly elaborate use of citations in his magnificent Constructing Frames of Reference.

During the ensuing decades we visited periodically. I saw Lew at a couple of meetings and he came to Memphis to address our graduate students on one occasion. As our photograph shows, Phoebe had long since forgiven him—it was difficult to be mad at Lew for any extended period—and we enjoyed him as our house guest for the week-end.

Last year (2010) I attended the SAA meetings—conveniently held in St. Louis. I found that Lewis was there—indeed a session was to be devoted to him. I was able to see not only Lew, but also wife Amber and daughter Martha. The session largely comprised past students, vying to outdo each other in expressing adulation of the master. I think even Lew was a bit embarrassed at times. In his later years, Binford had received major honors both at home and abroad, but I think the sessions organized by his students had a special place in his heart. It was a fitting event for Lew's last meeting.

Academics can be said to live largely in their minds—much of their joy, frustration, and feeling of pleasure takes place on a mental plane. I feel I am very fortunate to have shared and benefitted from such feelings with one of the major intellects of our time.

Back to top

Appreciation by
Patty Jo Watson

It is virtually impossible for an anthropological archaeologist of my generation (Ph.D. 1959) to conceive of the discipline bereft of Binford as a physical presence. For nearly half-a-century he was always there: pushing, prodding, lecturing, scolding, publishing. He was at his best in face-to-face, mano-a-mano debate. He freely admitted early in his career--1972, An Archaeological Perspective, p. 6-- that he always had difficulty writing English. Nevertheless, he published articles and books non-stop, every one of which was read, thought about, discussed, and argued over. That corpus of his writings survives, as does the extensive array of commentary instigated by it, and an international library of research undertaken by archaeologists whom he influenced.

Lewis Binford as a physical presence is gone, but he has left a formidable legacy.

Back to top

Appreciation by
Stan South

Lew and I were in graduate school studying under Joffre Coe at Chapel Hill in 1955. Coe got a contract for $1200, with VEPCO [Virginia Electric Power Company] to do a survey of the Roanoke River in the area to be flooded by construction of a dam and hired me to do the work. I hired Lew Binford and my wife Jewell for 75 cents an hour and sometimes Lew's wife, Jean visited and dug with us.

We found 74 sites. One of them, the Gaston Site, had pottery in the top 18 inches. When Joffre Coe visited the site to see what we were doing, he said before we left we should dig down about 20 feet until we hit water at the river level. He said he wanted to see the profile of the entire site. So, toward the last week, we began that trench profile on the river's edge and found a Savannah River Archaic level at 5 feet. Then below that we found white quartzite side-notched points, which I named Halifax from the county in which the site was located. Radiocarbon dates from charcoal at the pottery level were 1040 years ago, from the Savannah River level were around 4500 years old, and from the Halifax layer, 6000 years earlier.

When I called and talked with Joffre's wife to report we had found a stratified site (a rare find in those days), she said Joffre had come back from the visit and told her we had found a stratified site, but hadn't told me.

I included a report on the survey in my master's thesis and in 2005 R.P. Steven Davis, Jr. said he had so many requests for the thesis that he was going to publish it as Archaeology on the Roanoke. Steve said of my work there in his Foreword:

'The reader will also find that all of Stanley South's signature qualities as a preeminent research archaeologist — scientific inquiry firmly grounded in cultural evolutionary theory, the search for patterning in the archaeological record, and an engaging writing style — are all recognizable in his first research effort. Indeed, it is hard to imagine such a mature product -from the fieldwork through analysis to final report - coming from someone who at the time was relatively new to archaeology' (Archaeology on the Roanoke 2005: xvii).

Back to top

Appreciation by
Nicholas Gessler

A brilliant strategist, a relentless tactician, Lew embodied the revolutionary spirit of the late '60s when he arrived with his wife Sally in California. Passionate and charismatic, at times even princely, he imparted a progressive vision of a new science, a clear and rational mode of thought and an unencumbered intellectual zeal towards reforming archaeology. Drawing from the philosophy and history of science and dedicated to explicating and explaining cultural process, he argued that only by understanding the past can we hope to administer the future. These were troubling, challenging and inspiring times. The ethics of anthropology and our involvement in Vietnam loomed large. Lew was as complex and multifaceted as the politics of that period. His words, 'don't ever let anyone tell you how to think' echo more resoundingly now than they did then. This was a taste of the excitement that he and Sally brought to UCLA as I embarked on my graduate career.

I had transferred out of science and engineering into anthropology and archaeology. Lew and Sally's arrival at about that time was propitious. He became my Doktorvater. My few years' close apprenticeship with the Binfords slowly faded after the extended summer of 1968 in Les Eyzies, working on material from Combe Grenal. I am grateful for the friendship and support that they provided and the courage to work towards developing theory for describing, understanding and explaining cultural process and evolution. In my case this led me away from archaeology, away from discursive and mathematical models, to computational simulations of multiple agency and evolution. I am also grateful for the hard work and play, Lew's sense of humour, his stories, singing and biting satire, and for an enduring friendship that was nurtured during those magical months.

Back to top

Appreciation by
Robert L. Kelly

I first met Lew in the fall of 1978, when I began my MA program at the University of New Mexico. I had already received some excellent training in archaeology from David Hurst Thomas and Robert Bettinger. But the way that I think about archaeology today is heavily colored by my altogether-too-brief education under Lew. Back then, I was focused on hunter-gatherers in the Great Basin of the western US. But under Lew, my horizons were broadened; I began to see the relevance tropical and arctic hunters-gatherers had to understanding desert foragers. My doctoral dissertation on the causes of sedentism was based on my MA thesis on hunter-gatherer mobility strategies (my 1983 publication in the Journal of Anthropological Research) which was an outgrowth of the term paper I wrote in Lew's hunter-gatherer seminar, the first class I took when at New Mexico. And the intellectual approach of everything I've done in my career, e.g. my book The foraging spectrum, has followed from what I learned from Lew.

None of us can escape death; what matters is how we are remembered. So, here's one story (of many) that I like to recall about Lew. About 1984, when I was living in New York, Peggy Nelson invited Lew up to the State University of New York (Buffalo) for a talk. She suggested I come up too, just to visit, and so I did. One night she, Lew, Ben Nelson and I were at dinner at a Japanese restaurant. When the check came, there was the usual scramble and Lew won, apparently by saying something in Japanese to the waitress. I had heard that Lew spoke at least some Japanese (that he had learned in the 1950s while stationed in Japan), but I wondered how well he actually spoke it. So, while the others were putting on their shoes I sought out the waitress and asked her what my friend had said. 'Oh, I have no idea' she said in heavily accented English, 'I'm Korean.' I still don't know how well Lew spoke Japanese.

Back to top

Lewis R. Binford and East Asia
Seonbok Yi
Seoul National University, Korea

To many archaeologists educated and working in non-English speaking countries today, perhaps Lewis R. Binford may mean nothing more than a mere name in textbook, who contributed to the shaping of modern archaeology. That seems to be true at least for many Pacific coastal countries of Asia. For those educated in non-Western academic environment, it was (and still is) hard to understand why archaeology must be regarded as anthropology. When my classmates and I came upon his early writings in the 1970s in Korea, we could not understand him. Of course, his rhetoric was difficult to follow but it was more than a mere linguistic barrier. For example, it was a totally foreign argument that archaeology needs to be science rather than history, as the latter is none other than mere pigeonholing of the past events. Being natives of a country where the archaeological past is intricately interwoven with history, we could not but be baffled. After all, isn't archaeological research related to the interpretation of history? And doesn't historical interpretation of archaeological remains mean more than mere filling-in the gaps of the time-space systematics?

Appreciating his arguments was difficult without understanding the conceptual and historical background of American archaeology. For example, without understanding the notion of culture as an extra-somatic means of adaptation, one might never be able to grasp the reasoning behind his arguments. But, then, why do we have to define culture in such a materialistic way? It is a question that I still feel uneasy answering, when it is put to me by a student.

I came to understand what he was talking about as a graduate student in America. At the same time, with apparent shortcomings in case studies by the New Archaeologists, I felt that a lot of his arguments would not be accepted back home but taken as mere 'idiosyncracies' of American archaeology. For example, in the early 1980s when I accidentally met a group of Chinese archaeologists at a SAA meeting, they asked me, as a fellow Asian, to explain some salient aspects of the New Archaeology. To my answer, a senior archaeologist commented that the same had been said by others years ago, and immediately dismissed Binford's tripartite functional division of artefacts and related arguments as nonsensical. I experienced similar situation many times over the years.

Such instances may imply that Binford has contributed little to the development of archaeology outside of the western world. I believe, however, that this is not the case. To me, his most important contribution seems to be epistemological critique of the then prevailing notions about the meaning of the archaeological remains. By questioning relentlessly the validity of archaeological knowledge, he led others around the world to consider why we do archaeology and whether we do it right. This left a far-reaching impact in East Asia.

Here, due to historical reasons, archaeology is a serious and noble discipline, but archaeological 'explanations' had been built around the notions of diffusion and migration. Therefore, to those who had felt uneasy with traditional interpretations, Binford sounded like 'thunder from the blue sky'. To my generation of Asian archaeologists who had to struggle with his writings, whether we agreed with him or not, the fallacy of those age-old 'mega-explanations' such as the ethnic origins looked transparently clear.

Probably Binford himself never fully realised how much change he had inspired for the world of archaeology. At least for East Asia, the change, albeit much quieter and slower, had been profound and fundamental with struggles to establish the identity of the discipline. Future generations may never remember his name or care about him. However, they will do archaeology with this simple question in their mind. How do we know what we know?

Back to top

Appreciation by
Lev Klejn

When Lewis Binford's revealing publications began to appear in the 60s (and I seemed to be the first to note and review them in Soviet Russia), what struck me was their similarity to the ideas of early Soviet archaeologists of the late 20s and early 30s: the stress on theory, sociological interests and preference for the laws of cultural process (evolution) over the minutiae of particular history. Yet in Soviet Russia the ideas were mainly theoretical, whereas Binford and his pupils implemented a detailed programme. Furthermore, in the USSR the whole theoretical movement came to an abrupt halt in the mid 30s, while in the USA it developed through the 60s and 70s.

One weakness of processual archaeology (as well as of early Soviet studies) was an obsession with laws of cultural process, leading to material cultures being regarded as living dynamic systems, rather than dead reflections of disappeared objects without a systemic character. The 'new archaeologists' tended to ignore the preliminary analysis of the archaeological record, of all the stages that had led from past events and processes to their reflection in archaeological material. This fault was addressed by Michael Schiffer's 'Behavioral Archaeology', and the greatness of Binford was that he himself then turned to the study of the formation of the archaeological record and became at the head of this new movement in American archaeology. Thus he was the leader of two subsequent stages in the history of archaeology — processual and behavioural archaeology.

It is really the last of these that should be called post-processual rather than the trend promoted by Ian Hodder, which is technically post-post-processual. This latter movement has been sobering and inebriating at the same time, sobering in its critique of 'scientification', but inebriating because it turned peoples' heads with the attractions of intuition and playing games. It has been superseded by the third advent of Evolutionism (after the classic evolutionism and neo-evolutionism) as represented by Darwinian archaeology and kindred trends. All of these are undoubtedly nearer to the 'new archaeology' and to Binford than to the '(post) post-processual archaeology' of Hodder.

Indeed interest in Binford is not falling but growing, at least in Russia. In my 1970s book The new archaeology (written in Russian), Binford was of course the main hero, but in the conditions of those times the book could not be published in the Soviet Union: the suggestion of a scientific revolution in American archaeology could even not be raised in our country. Now, however, publishers in the Ukraine have made up their mind to print it (Klejn 2009). I did not remake or update it, only supplied it with a new preface and Lewis had the chance to hold it in hands and send me a thank-you letter. I also present the New Archaeology in my book History of archaeological thought (2011), also in Russian. At the time of writing, a pan-Siberian conference in Ussuriysk is considering the application of the new archaeology to current research in Siberia. For Russians, Binford is alive and only just beginning to exercise his triumphant influence.

References
  • KLEJN, L.S. 2009. Novaya Arkheologiya. Donetsk: The National University.
    - 2011. Istoriya Archeologicheskoy Mysli. St. Petersburg: Izdatel'stvo St.Peterburgskogo Universiteta.

Back to top

Appreciation by
Bob Chapman

Lew Binford will be remembered, and rightly praised, for his substantive research and for its impact on the archaeology of the second half of the twentieth century. There was also a personal impact that was felt by his students, colleagues, friends and those who studied archaeology but never met him.

When I was a first-year undergraduate in the autumn of 1968, I wrote an essay on the origins of agriculture in the Near East. I was then advised by David Clarke, my tutor, to read a radical new approach in Binford's paper on 'Post-Pleistocene adaptations' in his co-edited volume New perspectives in archaeology. I found this volume side by side with Clarke's Analytical archaeology on the first floor of Bowes and Bowes bookshop in Cambridge. As a student who had fieldwork experience before going to university, and who believed in archaeology as a predominantly practical subject, these more interpretive volumes came as a shock. And yet there was something about them, a revelation if you like, that convinced me to purchase them immediately.

As I read Lew's paper, along with all the others in New perspectives in archaeology, working my way through text that was literate (although opinion was divided on this!) and numerate, lucid and opaque, and theoretical and analytical rather than descriptive, my perception of archaeology and its potential changed almost instantaneously. More than anything else there was optimism and a sense of the possibilities of archaeology. His emphatic statement that 'the practical limitations on our knowledge of the past are not inherent in the nature of the archeological record' but 'lie in our methodological naiveté' was bold and exciting, just the kind of stimulus needed at that time to ignite an enthusiasm for a more interpretive kind of archaeology: theory seemed really challenging, but it was absolutely essential to the practice of archaeology and the construction of well-founded knowledge of the past.

Many others of my generation had comparable experiences. The works of Binford and Clarke were starting points for a different kind of archaeology. The study of theory has long since been accepted in archaeology and the diversity of theoretical approaches has mushroomed in a discipline in which debate on such issues is prevalent and often heated. The approaches of Binford and Clarke have been subjected to debate and intense criticism in the last four decades. But what continually strikes me is that, apart from the merits of their individual work, the history of archaeology would have been amazingly different, indeed much the poorer, without them.

Enthusiasm, optimism and challenge were as important as theory. These were attractive to us as students learning our subject. Lew stressed the importance of showing students the frontiers of their discipline and encouraging (or, in his typical way, demanding!) them to develop the intellectual tools (as he put it) to go beyond these frontiers. This is an example to anyone involved in teaching archaeology and must be counted as one of Lew's important legacies.

Back to top

Appreciation by
K. Paddayya

Thanks to the encouragement of our professor and senior colleague the late Professor H.D. Sankalia, who had already published his book New archaeology: its scope and application to India in 1977, even before the mid 1980s some of us at the Deccan College in Pune were experiencing the taste and thrills of New Archaeology. The ideas picked up from Lewis Binford's 1962 and 1964 papers in American Antiquity and his edited (jointly with Sally Binford) book New perspectives in archaeology, as well as those ideas put forward by David Clarke in his book Analytical archaeology (1968) , his now famous paper 'Archaeology: the loss of innocence', published in Antiquity (1973), and his edited book Models in archaeology, surely started stirring our minds, though these did not yet form a regular component of our field methodology. Some of us were even inspired to enter into occasional correspondence with Binford.

Lew Binford and Nancy Stone on an Acheulean site  at Yediyapur in the Hunsgi Valley, South India, June 1986
Lew Binford and Nancy Stone on an Acheulean site at Yediyapur in the Hunsgi Valley, South India, June 1986

It was in the summer (May/June) of 1986 that we had an opportunity to receive the New Archaeology package, straight from the horse's mouth (so to speak). During a four-week long visit to Pune with his wife Nancy Stone, facilitated by a Ford Foundation grant, Lew provided expertise at the Summer School in New Archaeology. This was attended by some 30 young lecturers and researchers from across India. The participants, now occupying senior positions in archaeology across the country, still fondly recall the inspiration that they received from Lew's long lectures (illustrated with 35mm slides), each lasting well over two hours — be they about his expositions of New Archaeology, the Mousterian controversy with Professor Bordes or his fieldwork among the Nunamiut Eskimos. These were heard with rapt attention, sometimes seemingly creating in the minds of participants the illusion that they were seeing the Eskimos themselves at work or the caribou on their seasonal migratory paths. There were, of course, also occasions of commotion during these lectures. For instance, a question from one of the participants, whether reliable knowledge about the past was possible at all, brought out the fiery element in Lew. His answer was explosive: 'If you don't believe in it, then leave archaeology!' His academic grit and wit, coupled with his imposing physical frame and Nancy's charm won everyone over, including office and hotel staff. They virtually became a Hollywood couple!

As part of their stay in India, Lew and Nancy visited archaeological sites including Inamgaon, Ajanta and Ellora in the Deccan and Bhimbetka in central India. I took them to the Stone Age sites of the Hunsgi Valley in South India. They not only braved the warm and humid weather but seemingly enjoyed experiencing the landscape with its inimitably simple way of life. Lew interacted joyfully with the village school children and their teachers, demonstrating true effusion for the anthropological spirit of understanding and appreciating diversity in human life patterns — a major tenet of his New Archaeology programme.

It was during this visit to the Hunsgi Valley that Lew's abilities as a great teacher in field archaeology came to the fore. Walking over several Acheulean sites Lew recognised the surface or near-surface character of cultural levels which, until then, had been a puzzle to us. He called these sites 'deflation surfaces'. This meant that the horizons were probably buried underneath or sealed by soft deposits such as silt, caused by surface run-off as a result of vegetation clearance and farming activities. We tested this theory in subsequent field studies and at Isampur and other sites we found cultural levels still buried under 2–3m thick silt deposits.

My personal relationship with Lew became closer during my two visits to the US as a Fulbright Fellow in 1987 and 1999. During my visit in 1987, I stayed with Lew and Nancy for two weeks and was given the position of adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. In January and February I gave some ten seminars on the South Asian Palaeolithic to the faculty and graduate students. While I could bring to their notice recent work in India, these seminars also proved to be a rich learning experience for me as Lew and his colleagues politely but clearly challenged many of my propositions and suggested alternate ideas. It was at this time that Lew was developing his theme of Middle Range Theory. (Coincidentally, one of his former students Mike Schiffer was independently formulating an equivalent research strategy called formation processes.) I brought this concept of formation processes to India which soon attracted the attention of both younger scholars and students. We held a seminar on this topic later; and it is now a widely employed research strategy in Indian archaeology. In 1990 Lew agreed to read the manuscript of my little book New archaeology and aftermath and sent me a prompt and flattering response saying 'It is super!'

In 1999 I visited Lew and Nancy once again, this time at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Here too they played wonderful hosts. Lew and his colleagues, Garth Sampson and Tim Dalbey organised a lecture of mine on the Isampur Acheulean excavation. Lew was then finalising the text of his last major work Constructing frames of reference and in fact gave me some of the typed chapters. The sheer size of the book flabbergasted me when it appeared in print in 2001. To make its reading easier for students in India, I prepared a review essay on it. Lew and Amber (with whom Lew had now moved from Dallas to Kirksville) approved the text, which was published in Man and Environment (Vol. 34, 2009).

From Kirksville, Amber was kind enough to keep me posted by email from time to time about Lew's continuing academic pursuits and the condition of his health. All of us should be grateful to Amber for the loving personal and academic support she gave to Lew in the last decade of his eventful life. It is reassuring to know that he breathed his last with Amber and his daughter Martha by his bedside.

Lew and New were synonymous in archaeology for half a century. Lew was one person whose commitment to the discipline was total. In one of the emails shortly before Lew's death Amber mentioned that, even in that critical condition he was reliving his academic encounters at Bordeaux and his fieldwork with the Nunamiuts, some of whom became life-long friends. In his death I truly feel the loss of a good friend, an unfailing and inspiring guide and a warm host; it is with much sadness that this legend of archaeology now passes into the pages of history.

Back to top

A Complicated Man
Appreciation by Geoffrey Clark

If I had to pick the most influential Anglophone archaeologist of the past 50 years, I'd pick Lewis Binford. I didn't know him personally (in fact never met him), but I read most of his work and often assigned it in the method and theory seminars I taught for almost 40 years. Along with Kent Flannery and Patty Jo Watson, Binford was one of the architects of processualism, an archaeology that aspired to be, if not exactly a science, at least 'science-like.' As a 'second generation' processualist, my career overlapped extensively with his.

Binford was an 'ideas man'. There's a pretty good consensus that his major contributions were conceptual and methodological, rather than empirical. He was concerned with epistemological questions (how we know what we think we know about the past) and the conceptual frameworks we use to assign meaning to pattern. His excursions into the empirical (e.g. Binford 1981a, 1984) were sometimes regarded as sloppy (e.g. Klein 1986) and, to my knowledge, he received only a single NSF grant. It funded half the Nunamiut study (Binford 1978a), his first foray into ethnoarchaeology that, if it didn't quite match 'the bear and his footprint' (that came later), at least tried to put 'the Indian (back) behind the artifact' (Binford 1978b, 1980).

In my seminars, I would sometimes divide his work into 'pre-classic', 'classic', and 'post-classic' phases. In his early career, his papers in American Antiquity (Binford 1962, 1964, 1965) erected a conceptual framework - iconoclastic at the time - that raised the bar so far as scientific rigor was concerned, underscored the deficiencies of culture history, introduced a deductive component to explanation, and energised grad students like me with the exciting proposition that we could wring much more out of the archaeological record than the time-space systematics with which the culture historians were preoccupied. He argued for a hypothesis testing research protocol that, in my view, has become, and remains, the 'industry standard'. I tend to equate 'classic Binford' with his 'actualistic studies' phase, and the notion that the complex natural and cultural processes that contribute to the formation of an archaeological record will severely constrain the behavioral inferences we draw about past human behavior. Middle-range theory comprised the instruments, many of Binford's own devising, for measuring those natural and cultural processes (Binford 1981a & b). It is noteworthy that he took issue with aspects of Michael Schiffer's behavioral archaeology (e.g. 1976) that, so far as I could tell, sought to do much the same thing (cf. Binford 1981c). But then he took issue with practically everyone. It was a mark of some distinction to have been the target of a Binfordian assault.

Another mid-career focus was on Neandertal adaptations, a research interest that Binford passed along to some of his students. It evolved from the well-known Bordes-Binford debate over the relative importance of functional or cultural explanations for interassemblage variability within the Mousterian and over the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition (e.g. Binford 1973; Bordes 1961, Bordes & de Sonneville Bordes 1970). That debate ended in stalemate somewhere in the 1980s, having splintered along generational and linguistic lines. Although widely read in Anglophone countries, Binford never seems to have been very influential in the research traditions of Latin Europe (see Cleuziou et al. [1991], Coudart [1999] for some reasons why).

As a paleoarchaeologist, the Binford paper that had the biggest impact on me was the essay on paradigms, systematics and archaeology that he published with Jerry Sabloff (Binford & Sabloff 1982). In it, they identified and compared the biases, preconceptions and assumptions implicit in the concept of 'culture' in the Old and New World research traditions. They showed how bias was inevitable, that it permeated all research, and that it determined the meaning we assign to pattern in every context and at every level. Having spent my career the Old World, I am all too familiar with the effects of implicit bias when it comes to explanation (e.g. Clark 1987, 1993). Although almost 30 years have elapsed since it was published, those observations are as true today as they were in 1982. Like all of us, Binford had some 'unfinished rooms' (the Neanderthal 'nests' at Combe Grenal come to mind) and, in my opinion, he very considerably underestimated the cognitive capacities of the Neanderthals (in fact, pre-modern hominins in general). He also misconstrued the material correlates of those cognitive capacities, but there is little consensus on that thorny issue, even today.

Not everyone liked Binford, who appears to have suffered from a 'superiority complex.' He sometimes came across as arrogant, dismissive, superficial (... or so I've been told by several prominent workers). He had an unfortunate habit of trying to strip his intellectual targets of their self-respect. With an ego the size of the Hindenburg, he did not shrink from inflicting his opinions on others, but a contributing factor was also his cavalier attitude toward data. Some archaeologists accord to data an existence and importance independent of the conceptual frameworks that define and contextualise them. Binford was well aware of the importance of conceptual frameworks and the roles they play in the research process. If I had to tack a contemporary label on him, I'd call him an emergent behavioral ecologist (Clark 2009). Binford was, at bottom, a realist. He had a good conceptual mind, a flare for methodology, and an appreciation of the limitations of archaeological data for inferring process, but he wasn't especially adept at identifying the test implications necessary to infer process from its material remains, and he was given to a certain amount of statistical légère de main (Klein 1986).

Binford could also be unfair. A notable example is his insightful and (mostly) accurate critique of Robert Braidwood's views (e.g. 1962) on the origins of domestication (Binford 1968). Braidwood was one of the first to argue for a hypothesis testing research protocol, something Binford appropriated and for which he took credit (Clark 2004). Others to whom he did not give due credit include James Sackett, Art Jelinek, Anthony Marks, Lawrence Straus, John Yellen, Richard Klein, and Michael Schiffer. He could be disputatious, difficult to get along with. Something of a 'silverback', his interactions with colleagues during his long tenure at the University of New Mexico and his shorter affiliation with Southern Methodist were often less than harmonious. That notwithstanding, he had a marked impact on several generations of scholars, including his near-contemporaries (e.g. William Longacre, Jim Hill, Les Freeman, Bob Whallon, Fred Plog, John Fritz, Meg Conkey), younger colleagues (e.g. Lawrence Straus, Jeremy Sabloff), some of his more prominent students (e.g. Larry Todd, Luanne Wandsnider, Bob Hitchcock, Steve Kuhn, Mary Stiner) and archaeologists interested in ancient foraging societies worldwide.

Binford had an extraordinarily productive career. He wrote on a wide range of topics, only some of them mentioned here. He was charismatic, creative, argumentative, iconoclastic, with little patience for those who seemed unable to grasp what he was trying to say (his tendency toward jargon probably had something to do with that...). But, in the final analysis, I cannot think of anyone who has had a more positive impact on our discipline than Lewis Binford. Archaeology as it is practiced today is a more sophisticated, critically self-conscious endeavor because of what he thought, wrote and published, and because of what he passed on to his intellectual progeny.

References
  • BINFORD, L.R. 1962. Archaeology as anthropology. American Antiquity 28: 217-25.
    - 1964. A consideration of archaeological research design. American Antiquity 29: 425-41.
    - 1965. Archaeological systematics and the study of culture process. American Antiquity 31: 203-210.
    - 1968 Post-Pleistocene adaptations, in S. & L. Binford (ed.) New perspectives in archeology: 313-41. New York: Aldine.
    - 1973. Interassemblage variability: the Mousterian and the 'functional argument'. in C. Renfrew (ed.) The explanation of culture change: 227-54. London: Duckworth.
    - 1977. Forty-seven trips: a case study in the character of archaeological formation processes, in R.V.S. Wright (ed.) Stone tools as cultural markers: 24-36. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
    - 1978a. Nunamiut ethnoarchaeology. New York: Academic Press.
    - 1978b. Dimensional analysis of behavior and site structure: learning from an Eskimo hunting stand. American Antiquity 43: 330-361.
    - 1980. Willow smoke and dogs' tails: hunter-gatherer settlement systems and archaeological site formation. American Antiquity 45: 4-20.
    - 1981a. Bones - ancient men and modern myths. New York: Academic Press.
    - 1981b. Middle range research and the role of actualist studies, in Bones - ancient men and modern myths: 21-30. New York: Academic Press.
    - 1981c. Behavioral archaeology and the 'Pompeii Premise'. Journal of Anthropological Research 37: 195-208.
    - 1984. Faunal remains from Klasies River Mouth. New York: Academic Press.
  • BINFORD, L. R. & J. A. SABLOFF. 1982. Paradigms, systematics and archaeology. Journal of Anthropological Research 38: 137-53.
  • BORDES, F.H. 1961. Mousterian cultures in France. Science 134: 803-810.
    - 1973. On the chronology and contemporaneity of different paleolithic cultures in France, in C. Renfrew (ed.) The explanation of culture change: 217-26. London: Duckworth.
  • BORDES, F. H. & D. DE SONNEVILLE-BORDES. 1970. The significance of variability in Palaeolithic assemblages. World Archaeology 2: 61-73.
  • BRAIDWOOD, R. J. & B. 1962. Southwestern Asia beyond the lands of the Mediterranean littoral, in R.J. Braidwood & G.R. Willey (ed.) Courses toward urban life: 132-46. Chicago (IL): Aldine.
  • CLARK , G.A. 1987. Paradigms and paradoxes in contemporary archaeology, in M. Aldenderfer (ed.) Quantitative research in archaeology: progress and prospects: 30-60. Beverly Hills (CA): Sage.
    - 1993. Paradigms in science and archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Research 1: 203-234.
    - 2004. Robert John Braidwood (1907-2003) and Linda Schreiber Braidwood (1909-2003). SAA Archaeological Record 4: 40, 41, 59.
    - 2009. Accidents of history: conceptual frameworks in paleoarchaeology, in M. Camps & P. Chauhan (ed.) Sourcebook of Paleolithic transitions: methods, theories and interpretations: 19-42. New York: Springer.
  • CLEUZIOU, S., A. COUDART, J.-P. DEMOULE & A. SCHNAPP. 1991. The use of theory in French archaeology, in I Hodder (ed.) Archaeological theory in Europe: 91-128. London: Routledge.
  • COUDART, A. 1999. Is post-processualism bound to happen everywhere? The French case. Antiquity 73: 161-7.
  • KLEIN, R.G. 1986. Review of Faunal remains from Klasies River Mouth (Binford). American Anthropologist 88: 494, 495.

Back to top

Some Memories about Lew Binford
Appreciation by J. M. Adovasio

Though our professional careers overlapped for several decades, I never actually met Lew until the summer of 1989. At that time, Olga Soffer and George Frison were working in collaboration with Palaeolithic scholars from the former USSR and had arranged a trip by a group of American archaeologists to visit a series of Upper Palaeolithic sites in Russia, Ukraine, and what was then Moldavia. I was selected to be a participant in this adventure along with Lew, Dave Meltzer, Bruce Bradley, Dena Dincauze, Les Davis, Vance Haynes, and one non-American, Clive Gamble. Of course, Olga and George attended as well. I met Lew in New York City, while awaiting our flight to Leningrad via Helsinki, but I have no specific recollection of our first introduction. Later in the course of our trip, several memorable incidents occurred which will remain with me indelibly.

On one of these occasions, our entourage was travelling by bus in a relatively remote area. Our Soviet hosts, desirous of making a favourable impression on Lew, who was a literal legend among our Russian and Ukrainian colleagues, decided to provide him with not one, but two female 'hostesses' for this part of our trip. As was his wont during these often long bus rides, Lew situated himself roughly in the middle of the bus in a seat to himself. The hostesses descended upon him, much to his obvious chagrin, and he plaintively asked me and Olga what these ladies were seeking. I should explain that Olga is a native speaker of Russian and I had a passable childhood familiarity with Ukrainian. Never one to pass up the opportunity to torment, Olga replied that the ladies wanted him! A clearly distressed Lew then said to Olga and me, 'Tell these kind ladies I am married!' Of course, we waited a suitable spell to ensure that Lew was sufficiently discomforted before conveying to the hostesses that their services were not needed. They thereupon, without further ado or ceremony, exited the bus at the next stop.

On another occasion, our party was examining the famed ivory rods or cylinders from one of the celebrated Upper Palaeolithic burials at Sungir. One of our Russian colleagues inquired as to what Lew thought these impressive items were. Without hesitation, Lew responded that he through they were sled runners! Upon translation, one of the Russians asked me in Russian whether Lew was serious and, if so, had he been drinking that day. Lew asked me what the gist of the conversation was, and I told him that our Russian colleagues found his functional response 'interesting'.

Still later on that trip, after a folk dancing demonstration that was put on in our honour, Lew showed another side of himself to our hosts by taking the stage and vigorously singing several songs for the assembly. We, as well as the Soviets, were taken aback not only by his willingness to do this unbidden, but also by his obvious enjoyment of the whole event. The singing episode transpired in Kishinev (Chişinău), in what is now Moldova, just as major unrest was beginning to grip this part of the soon to be disintegrating USSR. Shortly prior to that time, in the greatly industrial city of Donetsk (Донецьк), Lew and I shared another 'moment' which, of all of those from the 1989 trip, was the most memorable to me.

Throughout our journey, George Frison and Olga had paired various combinations of us together each night so that by rooming together, we might exchange ideas or otherwise 'bond' on some level. Donetsk at that time was in the grip of a major miner's strike involving over one million demonstrators. Our party was whisked off to an un-airconditioned high-rise hotel, where Lew and I found ourselves to be roommates on an upper floor. The evening was surreal. Inside our room, the temperature was in the 80s and very humid. Outside our hotel, the streets were filled with sign-waving, loudly protesting demonstrators. Sitting in his shorts on a bed, Lew looked over at me through a cloud of Marlboro smoke and observed that I wasn't half the asshole he heard I was! Momentarily speechless, I could only nod and ruefully smile because I was then having similar thoughts about him.

After this trip, I would occasionally encounter Lew at one meeting or another but I did not have much opportunity to interact with him until, by diverse fates, we both ended up at Southern Methodist University in the early 1990s. I was directing the completion of several projects of their soon to be closed cultural resource management program while Lew, of course, was a newly installed chair and professor. Our paths did not often cross, but we encountered each other frequently enough to exchange more than just 'hellos', through we never got deeply involved in any serious conversations. He always found my research into baskets, textiles, and other such perishable-plant fibre artefacts to be 'quaint', and he even observed to one of our mutual friends, who duly reported it to me, that I could have been great had I not gone the basket way!

After my time at SMU, I only saw Lew very infrequently and, indeed, I had not seen him at all these past several years. Despite our lack of contact and, indeed, the episodic and infrequent nature of our meetings, I am and will always be pleased that our paths crossed. I would like to think we were both the better for it. I would also like to think that, in his Donetsk assessment of me, he was only half right!

Back to top

Lewis Binford and Polish Archaeology
Appreciation by Paul Barford and Stanisław Tabaczyński

The significance of the work of Lewis Binford for the development of archaeology in the English-speaking world needs no emphasis. His influence was also felt well outside that zone, for example in Central Europe, an exceptional example of the work of a scholar transcending cultural and political boundaries. The 'new archaeology' movement which his writings inspired found an echo in the archaeology being practiced in the eastern bloc: as Klejn showed long ago, there were significant similarities with the 'progressive' archaeology which had developed in Central and Eastern Europe. This meant that the trends started by Binford found fertile ground in some parts of the archaeological milieu in Poland.

The reception of the research and ideas of the Binfordian brand of the New Archaeology of course varied within the scope of the discipline however. Researchers into the Stone Age for example were particularly interested in his ethnoarchaeological approach; the discussion over the cultural or technological interpretation of the different tool assemblages of the Mousterian aroused great interest here. Researchers in other periods found inspiration in his research on the relationship between social structure and material culture and the subject of the creation of the archaeological source. Another area where his works were read and cited concerned ecosystems and settlement geography interpreted in terms of the economic and subsistence bases of prehistoric societies. Some of these areas are still being explored today.

Binford never visited Poland. In December 1992 however a group of young Polish archaeologists from Poznan travelled to meet him at the Euro-TAG meeting in Southampton where Binford was a guest speaker on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his seminal 1962 article 'Archaeology as anthropology' (Binford 1962). Arkadiusz Marciniak (pers. comm.) recalls a cross-continental minibus drive was organised so Polish students could take part in this event. Lewis Binford willingly agreed to spend some time with the Polish delegation. They were highly surprised when this university professor appeared unconventionally dressed in Texan cowboy boots and hat. The atmosphere of the meeting was relaxed and friendly and Binford regaled them with tales of the beginnings of processual archeology, his work among Nunamiut and his reactions to the critique of his ideas by the avant garde of British archaeologists. After this, he invited all the students for a beer, which turned out to be an exceptionally entertaining, challenging and unforgettable gathering.

Reference
  • BINFORD, L. 1962. Archaeology as anthropology. American Antiquity 28(2): 217-25.

Back to top

Appreciation by
Clive Gamble

Butchering a sheep with second year archaeology students at Southampton in 1980
Butchering a sheep with second year archaeology students at Southampton in 1980

I first heard Lew, by chance, on the radio in my brother's basement flat in north London. It was 1971 and Lew was the star of the Explanation of Culture Change conference, organised by Colin Renfrew in Sheffield. I knew about Binford because I was an undergraduate at Cambridge where he was largely dismissed as an 'American theorist'. I had struggled though his paper on 'A preliminary analysis of functional variability in the Mousterian of Levallois facies' grateful that at 60 pages it was only a preliminary account rather than the full thing, and dipped into 'Post-Pleistocene adaptations', regarded by my supervisor Eric Higgs as a seriously flawed account of the origins of agriculture. So Lew was all a bit of a mystery to me.

That was to change. The radio in the flat was tuned to Radio 3. A lively debate was underway between Jacquetta Hawkes and Lew with Colin holding the ring. It was a very restrained performance by Lew. He didn't lose his temper and start thumping the table when Hawkes insisted that archaeology was the handmaiden of history. He wasn't exactly courteous but he was describing an archaeology that was vital and interesting and certainly not subservient.

He then had his own programme where he explained the New Archaeology. When he was speaking it all made sense. But the written version published in the Listener was still challenging. Back in 1972 a statement such as 'One therefore views the archaeological record as a by-product of behaviour' needed a great deal of un-packing. And judging by student reaction it still does. It was also in this talk that I first heard of formation processes and his work in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

I always thought his trips abroad brought out the best in him. Back in the USA there were too many battles. In Europe Lew was like a character from a Henry James novel where American brashness meets European reserve, a feature that emerges in his own description of his friendship with François Bordes. Back in the USA he was the archaeological terminator; often to friend and foe alike.

With Olga Soffer and George Frison being welcomed to the City of Briansk and its nightingales in July 1989
With Olga Soffer and George Frison being welcomed to the City of Briansk and its nightingales in July 1989

Lew's upbringing in Virginia celebrated the power of the word. Binford in front of an audience was always an event. Rooms would fill at conferences and then just as suddenly empty after he had finished. He would often start slowly and then get into his stride until, with his arms waving, he was 'really talking' and the atmosphere resembled a revival meeting. It was at that stage that the ideas came out in a torrent. There was often a creative use of data but that didn't matter because the wave of ideas transcended the vagaries of the evidence and minor details such as the age of anything.

I first met Lew at the SAAs in Philadelphia in 1980. Robin Torrence, one of Lew's students at New Mexico and then a lecturer at Sheffield, pushed me towards him with the fear-inducing words, 'Lew, here's someone who can talk to you about the Palaeolithic'. Well we did for quite a long time although after my five minutes there was a good hour of listening. It was at that conference that a European symposium on Ranking, Resource and Exchange set out to break the American monopoly on theoretical excitement in archaeology and Lew was the discussant. He thrilled us all by announcing that 'We have come a long way since the Beaker Folk'. That evening in a party fuelled by a great deal of single-malt in the Presidential suite of the Sheraton Hotel a very different kind of archaeology was confirmed.

Later that year Lew came to lecture at Southampton for a term. We became friends and he relied on Elaine and myself to take him on trips with students to Maiden Castle and the Cerne Abbas giant where he outcompeted the local folk group in the pub by singing Nunamiut songs. He gave many lectures and one I will always remember was to an adult education class. He captivated them with his stories from Alaska and Australia about doing ethnoarchaeology. That evening he was not the ferocious theoretical archaeologist but the novice who fell into ice-cold streams and whose glasses froze at night so he could not put them on in the morning; someone who was always being rescued from his own ignorance.

A Binford seminar at the Upper Palaeolithic site of Amvrosievka in 1989
A Binford seminar at the Upper Palaeolithic site of Amvrosievka in 1989

The next year we visited Lew and Mary-Ann at their wonderful abode in Corrales, New Mexico. They were so welcoming. It was a short visit, we were getting married the next week in New York State. We kept in close touch. Mary-Ann came with him two years later when he received his honorary doctorate from Southampton. They were both so proud and Lew was only half-joking when he said that now his mother would take him seriously as an academic. There was also a classic clash of super-egos at an over-heated dinner with Peter Ucko that would have repercussions a few years later when the wheels came off the World Archaeological Congress. I was never forgiven for siding with Lew but it wasn't a difficult choice to make.

For all the aggression and overpowering presence there was a very vulnerable side to Lew. He was devastated by the death of his son Clint in a car accident in 1976. In 1984 Mary-Ann died suddenly and I remember receiving the news by letter. He wrote to me saying that the only way out was to work otherwise the pain was too great. He then found the perfect partner in Nancy Medaris Stone and they set off on their world travels. We would often meet up outside Southampton. Then in 1989 thanks to Olga Soffer and Nikolai Praslov I was grafted on to an American Archaeological Delegation to the USSR. Olga handled Lew perfectly threatening him with the bottle of 'be-nice pills' if he misbehaved, while I was under instructions from Nancy to make sure he took his official medication. Most of the time I succeeded. Wherever we stopped on our travels to sites such as Kostenki and Amvrosievka, Lew would be surrounded by students.

Lew was a wonderful friend and mentor. Yes he could be frustrating and annoying. There was always an edge. But the rewards of that friendship were remarkable. I used to phone him up at any time and later email him and back would come his thoughts. He was able to spin a world out of a few facts. What I think he did most was to turn archaeologists into optimists. Instead of worrying about the gaps in the record or the patchy nature of the data Lew always maintained there were ways around that. What mattered were the questions.

I last saw Lew a year ago at the SAAs in St Louis where a symposium in his honour was organised by former students. St Louis was close enough for Amber Johnson, his wife and dedicated co-worker for the last ten years, to drive him from Kirksville, Missouri. It was an emotional session followed by a long lunch. His daughter Martha was there to make it a truly family affair. As I said goodbye I didn't want to believe that this might be the last time. Some consolation that a few weeks later asteroid 213629 was named after him and, I like to think, will be emitting sparks for a long time to come as it circles overhead.