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The McKern Taxonomic System and Archaeological Culture Classification in the Midwestern United States: A History and Evaluation

Author:

B. K. Swartz

Ball State University, Muncle, Indiana, US
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Abstract

In the first half of the 20th century three major archaeological culture unit classifications were formulated in the United States. The most curious one was the Midwestern Taxonomic System, a scheme that ignored time and space. Alton K. Fisher suggested to W. C. McKern in the late 1920's that the Linnean model of morphological classifi­cation, which was employed in biology at a time of pre-evolutionary thinking, might be adapted to archaeologi­cal culture classification (Fisher 1986). On the basis of this idea McKern conceived the Midwestern Taxonomic System and planned to present his concept in a paper at the Central Section of the American Anthropological Association at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in April, 1932. Illness prevented him from making the presentation.

The first public statement was before a small group of archaeologists at the time of an archaeological symposium, Illinois Academy of Science, May 1932 (Griffin 1943:327). After input from various archaeologists a formal account was prepared as a manuscript entitled "Culture Type Classification for Midwestern North American Archaeology" at the Chicago Conference, December 10, 1932. Other participants at this conference were Samuel A. Barrett, Fay­ Cooper Cole, Thorne Deuel, Carl E. Guthe, A. R. Kelly (Cole and Deuel 1937a:34) and James B. Griffin (as a graduate student, personal communication, 1986). This classification method was more fully and formally presented three years later, in December 1935, at the original Indianapolis Archaeological Conference (Guthe 1937). A more detailed history of the origins of the McKern system is provided by Griffin (1943).
How to Cite: Swartz, B.K., (1996). The McKern Taxonomic System and Archaeological Culture Classification in the Midwestern United States: A History and Evaluation. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology. 6(1), pp.3–9. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/bha.06102
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Published on 20 May 1996.
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