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Gordon F.M. Rakita

Executive Summary
I have a record of scholarship that includes:

  • a research agenda centering on the following overlapping themes:
    • Bioarchaeological method and theory
    • Mortuary and ritual behavior
    • The prehistory of the U.S. southwest & northern Mexico

  • a sustained and significant body of published works of high quality including (career totals):
                2 Books/Monographs
                2 Edited Volumes
                1 Reader w/ Peer-Reviewed Introduction
                17 Peer-Reviewed Articles & Chapters
                5 Book Reviews
                30 Reports & Other Professional Publications
                Professional Presentations - 13 Regional
                                                            - 23 National
                                                            - 6 International
                14 Symposia Organized
  • a national and international reputation for excellence in my field as evidenced by:
    • requests to review proposals for the National Science Foundation
    • invitations to serve as a discussant at the Society for American Archaeology meetings
    • invitations to present at international conferences
    • invitations to give scholarly presentations at institutions around the United States
    • requests to review manuscripts submitted to top journals in my field
    • service as an external member on Ph.D. dissertation committees
    • citation of my publications by colleagues in my field

Introduction
            I am a bioarchaeologist.  Bioarchaeology is the interdisciplinary study of human remains and their associated funerary treatments. The approach uses methods developed in archaeology, physical anthropology, general anthropology and affiliated fields to help develop a fuller understanding of past human societies.  Typically, bioarchaeologists fall on either the archaeology or the biology side of the bioarchaeology spectrum.  My research tends toward the archaeology side with a greater emphasis on funerary and ritual customs in prehistoric communities.  My primary region of study is the prehistoric American southwest and northern Mexico, though I do have ongoing interest in the Andean region and an emerging focus in historic cemeteries.  While most of my research would be described as “pure” or academic, recently I have been conducting more local, applied research and have contributed to publications for the public.  Being at the University of North Florida has afforded me the opportunity to explore a wide range of research interests, some which continue early themes in my career and others which are new.  My various overlapping research foci include; ancient mortuary practices and the general prehistory of the Casas Grandes culture, archaeological approaches to ritual behavior, the history of bioarchaeology, ground-penetrating radar and historic cemetery studies.  Below I list my publications since my most recent promotion and briefly discuss how they fit into my research agendas.  Of course, not all fit neatly into one focus, and I make note where publications speak to multiple research interests. 

Casas Grandes Ritual Behavior
            My work on the mortuary and ritual behavior of the ancient Casas Grandes culture is most fully explored in my book, Ancestors and Elites: Emergent Complexity and Ritual Practices in the Casas Grandes Polity, published by Alta Mira Press in 2009.  The book expands upon my previous research on the emergence of complexity and ritual practices at the prehistoric site of Paquimé and presents my analysis of mortuary and ritual behaviors in the Casas Grandes region of Chihuahua, Mexico.  The Casas Grandes culture developed in the desert of northern Chihuahua and southern New Mexico around the thirteenth century A.D.  By integrating both archaeological and biological data from human burials, I am able to provide a unique insight into the emergence of socio-political complexity and changing religious systems at the site of Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico. My book situates my research within the context of southwestern mortuary and ritual practices, but also grounds my empirical data within broader anthropological theories relating to ancestor worship, ritual and religious behavior, ritual specialists, and emergent complexity.  Taking a bio-cultural perspective, I argue that the manipulation and use of human bone in the Casas Grandes culture occurred as part of the emergence of specific religious cults and ritual practices that supported and encouraged the development of social and political complexity in the region.  Just prior to my book being published I published a focused examination of the use of human bone relics and ancestor worship as a chapter in the Reanalysis and Reinterpretation in Southwestern Bioarchaeology volume (Rakita 2008).  Obviously, these publications speak to my interest in Casas Grandes mortuary ritual and general prehistory as well as to bioarchaeological approaches and anthropological studies of human ritual behavior.

Mortuary & Ritual Theory
            As someone interested in prehistoric ritual, the methodological and theoretical underpinning to how archaeologists reconstruct this unique aspect of human behavior is crucial.  In 2008, I and a colleague published an introductory chapter to a collection of previously published articles that explored prehistoric ritual (Rakita & Buikstra 2008).  This compilation came out from the Society for American Antiquity Press.  In our chapter, we describe the history and trajectory of ritual and religion studies in Americanist archaeology.  Since mortuary ritual is a major component of the bioarchaeological approach, the history of how we approach prehistoric ritual also plays a part in my interest in the history of bioarchaeology. My engagement with the mortuary ritual literature can also be seen in recently published reviews of books focusing on Southeastern U.S. mortuary practices (Rakita 2012) and death rituals during the early colonial period (Rakita 2011).

Casas Grandes Prehistory
            Prehistoric mortuary practices cannot be examined in the absence of an understanding of other aspects of a culture, thus I continue to explore the general prehistory of the Casas Grandes culture.  For the past seven years I have been collaborating with other scholars to decipher the nature of this region.  Recently I participated in a seminar at the Amerind Foundation in Dragoon, Arizona where I and a colleague presented a paper on the organization of craft production at Paquimé (Rakita & Cruz Antillíon n.d.).  This paper will be published as part of the Archaeology of Paquimé volume for prehistorians and a version for a public volume is already drafted as well.  I have also contributed a chapter for a volume to be published by the School for Advanced Research on Casas Grandes prehistory (Rakita n.d.).  This volume is designed for lay people and is one in a series that the school has been publishing. 
            I am co-director with colleagues from the University of Missouri of an archaeological field project centered on the borderlands between Chihuahua and New Mexico that seeks to expand our understanding of the development of the Casas Grandes culture.  The site that we are investigating, called the 76 Draw site, lies at the northern edge of the Casas Grandes phenomena just south of Deming, New Mexico.  Our work at 76 Draw has been supported by a 2010 summer research grant from UNF.  In 2011 we published (Rakita et al. 2011) the results of our first three seasons of work at the site.  We have conducted both ground-penetrating radar surveys and sub-surface excavations at the site.  This past summer we continued our excavation efforts and also completed a systematic collection of surface artifacts at the site.   Our field work and analysis of the recovered artifacts have led to publications on obsidian sources (Van Pool et al. n.d.) and faunal remains (McCarthy et al. n.d.) soon to be published.  Prior to working at the 76 Draw site, my colleagues and I published a study of a site in northern Chihuahua which contained a unique collection of over 200 rock mortars (Van Pool et al. 2009).

Ground-Penetrating Radar Work
            In 2006, in collaboration with a colleague in the College of Computing, Engineering & Construction, the UNF Anthropology program acquired a 500 MHz ground-penetrating radar (GPR) system.  This acquisition has prompted me to explore the uses of GPR in a variety of field settings.  My co-direction of the 76 Draw Project and some work on the Philmont Scout Ranch (Rakita 2010a) have allowed me to test GPR’s utility for identifying sub-surface features in the American Southwest.  I have also been using this technique here in the Jacksonville, Florida area.  This has led to some applied and community outreach work.  For example, I was awarded a $1,136 contract to conduct a GPR survey of a historic mission site in St. Johns County (Wester Davis & Rakita 2013).  While not a large contract, the funds did allow me to employ UNF students to assist in the fieldwork and analysis and write-up of the GPR data.  Just this summer we completed, in conjunction with our colleague from CCEC, our attempt to use GPR to assess the condition of the San Carlos fort at the plaza of old Fernandina on Amelia island (Wester Davis et al. 2013). However, the best example of our GPR work is our recent report to the sexton of a local cemetery (Rakita & Wester Davis 2012).  The United Methodist Church of Middleburg, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, requested that we use our GPR to look for unmarked graves in their cemetery.  Our report also represents a new research interest of mine namely understanding changing mortuary practices in historic cemeteries.  Since the work in Middleburg, I and my lab team have conducted GRP surveys at two other local cemeteries and I developed a related Community-Based special topics course in the spring of 2013.  I have just received a Research Enhancement Plan grant through the UNF College of Arts & Sciences and Office of Sponsored Research to upgrade our GPR processing software.

The Field of Bioarchaeology
            The history of the field of bioarchaeology has long interested me.  I continue to publish explorations of how our field has changed over its approximately forty years of existence.  My chapter (Rakita 2013) in a festschrift for Jane Buikstra, the originator of the approach, explores the contributions she has made and how her research trajectory has changed through time.  I have been asked to contribute a chapter on the development of bioarchaeology in the U.S. for a volume exploring bioarchaeology across the globe and will be drafting this chapter this fall.  As Associate Editor for Bioarchaeology for the Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin, I published two short essays on recent developments in the field (Rakita 2010; Rakita 2011).

Prehistoric Andean Mortuary Ritual
            I maintain an interest in the mortuary practices of the Chiribaya culture of the Andean coast.  The Chiribaya culture developed during the eighth through thirteenth centuries A.D. along the southern coast of Peru.  I continue to collaborate with colleagues to explore what Chiribayan mortuary remains can tell us about gender and economic roles and the life-histories of these pre-Hispanic people.  This year, a colleague and I (Lozada & Rakita 2013) published an analysis of Chiribayan mortuary practices that sought to identify culturally specific age-grade classes and gender construction.  We found that the practice of burial in large funerary urns was restricted to children under the age of six years.  We further concluded that keros (ritually special drinking cups) and musical instruments were more common in the graves of male individuals while weaving tools were more common in female graves.  In an earlier publication (Lozada et al. 2009), we examined the inclusion of camelid remains (llamas, alpacas, vicuña, and guanaco) in Chiribayan graves.  By including bioarchaeological analyses of genetic relatedness of skeletal remains and forms of cranial deformation, we were able to document economic specialization and unequal access to camelids among Chiribayan sub-populations.

Ongoing Scholarly Projects
            Over the next few years, I expect several of the above mentioned research foci to continue to bear fruit.  For example, my co-directors of the 76 Draw project are planning a poster session at the 2014 Society for American Archaeology meetings.  I will be present a poster that details our analysis of the surface collections we made at the site this past summer.  We have plans to return to 76 Draw in the summer of 2014 and are currently considering further GPR work at the site and the excavation of architectural features discovered at the end of our 2013 season.
            I am currently preparing a proposal for a book manuscript in the Issues in Southwest Archaeology Series by AltaMira Press.  In the book, I will examine southwestern burial practices through a bioarchaeological lens.  While explicitly bioarchaeological approaches to southwestern mortuary practices are fairly recent phenomena, scholars have been studying human burials in the region for over a century.  Each chapter in the proposed book will review, synthesize, and comment on a major issue in southwestern mortuary studies.  Throughout the book, I will identify how theoretical or methodological trends have impacted southwestern mortuary studies, highlight seminal studies and how they have influenced our thinking, and emphasize how a bioarchaeological approach provides for a rich and nuanced picture of past societies.  This work will bring together my interests in the history of bioarchaeology, southwestern prehistoric societies, and mortuary practices.
            The study of prehistoric mortuary practices in the American southwest is experiencing several challenges, including repatriation of burial collections, a decline in the number of large mortuary samples being excavated, and the loss of data from previously excavated burials.  Moreover, the region is experiencing an increasing level of applied, cultural resource management archaeological work.  Given this state of affairs, the development of a regional database of prehistoric mortuary practices is imperative.  To that end, I and a colleague from Arizona State University have started the Southwest Mortuary Database Project. The project is a collaborative effort to create a regional database of mortuary programs practiced across the greater southwest through prehistory.  The primary goals of the project are 1) to chronicle the modal patterns in mortuary programs and the diversity of mortuary behavior across the southwest through time, and 2) to provide a venue for the responsible, respectful, and ethical curation of extensive, already existing southwestern mortuary data sets.  We have already developed regional mortuary databases, securely archived on the Digital Archaeological Record (http://core.tdar.org/project/5871) and have presented results of our work at two Society for American Archaeology symposia.  We will be synthesizing our work for publication over the next year.  We are currently in the process of assembling the work of our colleagues for publication as an edited volume.
            My recent work with UNF students at local cemeteries has prompted an interest in understanding how mortuary practices have changed in the First Coast region over the past centuries.  In 2012, I attended two workshops (one by the National Preservation Institute and one by the Florida Public Archaeology Network) on historic cemetery preservation.  Our developing community cemetery project seeks to document the history of mortuary practices in the Jacksonville area and address issues of cemetery preservation.  While this project is primarily applied research, I do envision academic and scholarly venues for dissemination of our research.

Impact & Significance of My Research
            The impact of a scholarly agenda can be measured in a variety of ways.  One piece of direct evidence of the impact of my research is citations by others of my published works.  Below I provide a table showing total number of citations and citations per year for selected works .  I have sorted the table by number of citations per year.  Using this metric, my 2005 edited volume on archaeological approaches to mortuary remains is having the greatest impact with just over 3 citations per year.  I am pleased to see that my 2001 co-edited volume on style and function in archaeology and 1998 monograph from the CAA press each show robust numbers of citations.  My 2009 single-authored book on Casas Grandes mortuary ritual already has 8 citations.  A review of these 8 citations shows that my work is being cited in important venues in my field including the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology and American Antiquity.

Publication & Publisher or Venue

Year of Publication

Years since published

Total Citations

Citations per year

Rakita et al (UPF)

2005

8

25

3.13

Hurt & Rakita (Bergin & Garvey)

2001

12

25

2.08

Rakita (AltaMira Press)

2009

4

8

2.00

Buikstra et al. (CAA Press)

1998

15

28

1.87

Rakita (PhD Dissertation)

2001

12

18

1.50

Buikstra et al. (in UPF volume)

2005

8

11

1.38

Lozada et al. (in Mosley volume)

2009

4

5

1.25

Rakita & Buikstra (SAA volume)

2008

5

6

1.20

Hurt et al (in Bergin & Garvey vol.)

2001

12

9

0.75

Rakita & Buikstra (in UPF volume)

2005

8

5

0.63

Rakita & Raymond (in Kiva)

2003

10

4

0.40

Hurt et al (in American Antiquity)

2001

12

4

0.33

Rakita (in Latin American Antiquity)

2001

12

1

0.08

            Indirect evidence of the significance of my scholarship and my reputation within my field include requests for me to serve as a reviewer of others’ scholarly work.  Since promotion I have been asked to review three separate grant proposals by the National Science Foundation.  Throughout my career I have been asked to peer-review 15 manuscripts (8 since promotion) for various journals including: Advances in Archaeological Practice, American Antiquity, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Journal of Anthropological Research, and Latin American Antiquity.  I have twice been invited to serve as a discussant for symposia held at the Society for American Archaeology meetings.  This year I have been asked to serve as external reviewer of two colleagues going up for promotion and tenure at other universities.  I serve as an external member of two Ph.D. dissertation committees.  In October of 2012 I was invited to participate in a seminar on Casas Grandes prehistory at the Amerind Foundation (an Anthropological think-tank) in Arizona.  The previous summer I was invited to present my research at a symposium at the 54th International Congress of Americanists in Vienna.  Finally, I was selected to serve as program chair for the national meetings of the Society for American Archaeology an honor that indicates that my disciplinary colleagues trust my decisions regarding the quality of their proposed presentations and how those presentations should be grouped and scheduled.

Student Participation in My Research
            Bioarchaeology is a collaborative field and I have a record of encouraging my students to participate with me on projects of shared interest.  These projects include a variety of research settings including both laboratory and field work.  For example, our project at the 76 Draw site by necessity requires the efforts of student field crews.  However, I and my co-directors are interested in the contributions of our students above and beyond their fieldwork.  As the director primarily concerned with the field laboratory, I encourage each student as they rotate through lab to identify a project they are interested in for future research.  This year, as a result, we have a session organized for the 2014 Society for American Archaeology meetings that includes 9 posters each of which has one or more students as authors.  Such presentations often lead to publications and I am a co-author with students on two chapters accepted for publication in the proceedings from a regional conference (McCarthy et al. n.d.; Van Pool et al. n.d.). 
            My GPR work similarly engages student collaborators.  Again, students work alongside me in the field.  However, I try to help students recognize that fieldwork is usually the beginning of our research.  The reports for our last three GPR projects (Rakita & Wester Davis 2012; Wester Davis & Rakita 2013; and Wester Davis et al. 2013) are all co-authored by a student of mine.  Over the course of these three projects, she has become quite familiar with both the field collection and computer processing of GPR data.  The progression of her authorship role (from second author to primary author) is an indication of her taking on a greater role in the research process.

Data derived from Google Scholar, accessed September 7th, 2013, http://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=89zGrloAAAAJ