Archaeology for the People:

The Joukowsky Institute Competition for Accessible Archaeological Writing

As archaeologists, we write for each other in journal articles, book chapters, monographs, and other forums, using language that makes sense to fellow members of the profession. That is as it should be: we have no more reason to “dumb down” our findings than do, say, astronomers, brain surgeons, or epidemiologists in publications for their own communities of scholarship. At the same time, the results of archaeological discovery and analysis are important and deserve the widest possible audience: archaeology has momentous findings to report, and for the periods before written history stands as the only source of evidence we have for the human condition.

Unlike other fields which have benefited from brilliant writing in a popular vein by  scholars such as Stephen Jay Gould or Carl Sagan, archaeology as a discipline has done rather poorly at the effective communication of its most interesting and important results to the general public, and indeed to itself, which is also important. Certainly, some writers, such as Brian Fagan, have excelled at the task of popular dissemination of some of archaeology’s big themes.  Yet most websites, TV shows, and archaeology magazines (such as Archaeology or Biblical Archaeology Review) tend to emphasize the sheer luck of discovery, the romance of archaeology, and supposed “mysteries” that archaeology tries (but usually has failed) to resolve.

We believe that archaeology is worthy of a better level of writing, one that is accessible and exciting to non-specialists, but at the same time avoids excessive simplification, speculation, mystification, or romanticization.  As a discipline, we have some fascinating and astonishing results to report, findings that impact our entire understanding of who we are as a species, and how we have come to be as we are now.  Some of the most effective writing in this vein has appeared not in professional venues, but in publications with a far wider readership. As just one example, we would cite Elif Batuman’s article in The New Yorker Magazine (December 19, 2011) on the Göbekli Tepe site in Turkey, and the many fundamental questions it raises about religion, technology, and human social evolution.

With these thoughts in mind, and to encourage more writing in this vein, we propose a competition for new archaeological writing. We invite the submission of accessible and engaging articles, accompanied by a single illustration, that showcase any aspect of archaeology of potential interest to a wide readership. As an incentive, we offer a prize of $5,000 to the winner. The prize-winning article, together with those by eight to ten other runners-up, will be published in Fall 2015 in a volume of the Joukowsky Institute Publications series (published and distributed by Oxbow Books).


  1. Anyone may enter the competition, except faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University.
  2. Authors must be able to vouch that their article is solely their own work and has not been published elsewhere.
  3. Articles should be about five to six thousand words in length; include no references, notes, or other scholarly apparatus; be accompanied by a single piece of artwork; and be submitted as a double-spaced Word document. The first page should provide your name, address, and e-mail.
  4. The deadline for receipt of entries is September 1, 2014.  Articles must be submitted electronically, to [email protected]
  5. Submissions with be read anonymously and adjudicated by a panel consisting of faculty and postdoctoral fellows at Brown University.
  6. The result of the competition will be announced in November 2014.
  7. Questions concerning the competition should be directed to Prof. John Cherry ([email protected]) and Prof. Felipe Rojas ([email protected]).