About the Center

Tomb at San Agustín, Colombia

A broad global trend toward larger social formations bound together by increasingly complicated forms of organization is recognizable across the past 10,000 years or so. The trend was imagined in the work of cultural evolutionists as early as the mid 19th century almost entirely without knowledge of societies that could not be observed in history or the ethnographic present. In the late 20th century, however, archaeology's ability to inform us about social, political, economic, and cultural organization in ancient societies surged. This, together with a heightened pace of archaeological research around the world, has yielded a flood of new knowledge about long-term trajectories of social change in many regions. It comes as no surprise that these trajectories conform to some broad general patterns while at the same time revealing abundant variation with respect to pacing, forms of organization, and the ways in which different social forces interact to produce change.

The early 21st century is a time of special opportunity for the development and evaluation of richer concepts to help make sense of our new knowledge.

The Center for Comparative Archaeology at the University of Pittsburgh aims to help accomplish that goal by fostering the broad comparative study of social change in trajectories of such time depth that their earlier periods, at least, are knowable only through archaeological research.

The Center for Comparative Archaeology disseminates, through traditional and non-traditional forms of publication, both the results and the raw material for comparative archaeological research. As the empirical database for comparative archaeological research becomes broader and deeper it is an increasingly challenging, not to say daunting, task to put the growing corpus of information to good use. As the rate of publication of traditional data-rich "site reports" has dwindled, even protecting irreplaceable archaeological information from loss has become a serious worry. The Center for Comparative Archaeology places particular emphasis on preserving and making available the detailed data that are produced by archaeological projects in the field and in the laboratory so that innovative forms of analysis may be applied to cases from different regions. The central role in this effort is played by the Comparative Archaeology Database, which provides open access to archaeological datasets from around the world. These datasets are supported, explained, and complemented in a variety of ways by traditional publications.

The Center for Comparative Archaeology furthers the completion of ambitious comparative studies in archaeology and enriches the discussion of comparative archaeological research at the University of Pittsburgh by supporting Visiting Scholars. Appointment as a Visiting Scholar in the Center is normally for a term of one year. A Visiting Scholar proposes and pursues a program of comparative archaeological research and, in collaboration with a permanent faculty member in archaeology, leads a seminar that meets periodically through the academic year to pursue a particular comparative topic or approach.