The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Madeline Kneberg and the Birth of Biological Anthropology in Tennessee


1Sociology and Anthropology, Illinois State University, 2Anthropology, University of Minnesota

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The name of Madeline Kneberg is synonymous with archaeological research in Tennessee as she teamed with T. M. N. Lewis to bring systematic archaeological research to the Tennessee valley and the University of Tennessee. Kneberg was trained as a classical four-field anthropologist at the University of Chicago and was groomed by her mentor, Fay-Cooper Cole, for research in biological anthropology. Given her background, Kneberg assumed the lead in interpretation of the skeletal remains from archaeological sites, and these remains were critical elements in the overall interpretation of these sites and the pre- and proto-history of the Tennessee valley and its tributaries. Kneberg’s approach to skeletal analysis focused on basic demographic parameters but is characterized by attempts to explain the biology of these people in a broader context of adaptation and population movement. While her work does reflect the influence of the typological perspectives typical of the time, she clearly rejected strict typologies and embraced the importance of normal population variation in analysis. In addition, Kneberg established biological anthropology as an integral component of the anthropological curriculum at the University of Tennessee starting in 1940. This included teaching human evolution during the era of the Butler Act. Although sometimes overlooked, Kneberg’s pioneering efforts paved the way for the establishment of a strong tradition of biological anthropology at the University of Tennessee.

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