2021 Rip Rapp Archaeological Geology Award

Presented to Joseph Schuldenrein

Joseph Schuldenrein

Joseph Schuldenrein
Geoarcheology Research Associates


Citation by Dr. Michael Aiuvalasit, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Geological Society of America presents its 2021 Ripp Rapp Award of the Geoarchaeology Division to Dr. Joseph Schuldenrein. Dr. Schuldenrein’s 45+ year career is distinguished by the breadth of his globe-trotting research, his innovative applications of geoarchaeology to urban settings and forensics, and the role he has played in advancing geoarchaeology within cultural resource management in the United States.

Dr. Schuldenrein received his PhD from the University of Chicago, completing a dissertation on the prehistoric human ecology of the Jordan Valley under the supervision of Professor Karl Butzer. He has contributed geoarchaeological expertise to large-scale interdisciplinary archaeological projects in Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, South Africa, Egypt, Albania, and Ireland, and since 1997 he has been a Visiting Scholar with the Department of Anthropology at New York University.

Such a range of experiences and working relationships has translated into Dr. Schuldenrein developing novel applications of geoarchaeological methods. Perhaps because he is an inveterate New Yorker, Dr. Schuldenrein has become a pioneer in urban geoarchaeology – undertaking studies in both modern urban contexts, like New York City, and ancient urban cities of the Indus Valley. Dr. Schuldenrein is also an innovator in applying geoarchaeology to forensic investigations. His research into the site formation processes and the geological contexts of mass graves provided critical evidence used to support the conviction of Saddam Hussein and others for the Kurdish genocides. He was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the Regime Crimes Liaison Unit, U.S. Mission in Iraq and Iraqi High Tribunal for his contributions.

Dr. Schuldenrein’s efforts to help establish geoarchaeology as an essential component of cultural resource management in the United States could stand alone in an argument for why he deserves this award. In 1989 he founded Geoarcheology Research Associates (GRA), which has produced hundreds of geoarchaeological and geomorphological studies. He continues to run GRA as President and Principal Archaeologist. Dr. Schuldenrein has long advocated for the importance of geoarchaeology within our professional community, among industry, to government planners and regulators, and through his public-facing internet radio program. Many geoarchaeologists he’s employed and trained have gone on to successful careers both in and out of academia. And although he works outside of the “publish or perish” pressures of the academy, he consistently publishes the results of his research. In sum, Dr. Schuldenrein’s life’s work presents a pathway for geoarchaeologists aspiring for careers that are outside the ordinary.


Response by Joseph Schuldenrein

What a remarkable honor this is. One cannot but pay tribute to AG founder George Rapp for reframing the Quaternary to include archaeology. I warmly recognize my citationist, Michael Aiuvalasit along with the GSA Awards committee, and my esteemed collaborators who wrote supporting letters. And I thank my family for putting up with long absences and stringent deadlines.

I acknowledge those who guided me. Bruce Gladfelter introduced me to field work, lab analysis and geoarchaeology’s emergence in Cultural Resource Management and Heritage Preservation. Paul Goldberg patiently shepherded me through my PhD field work in Israel underscoring how landscape change affected the archaeological record. And finally my adviser, the late Karl W. Butzer, who saw geoarchaeology in every construct that mapped on changing landscape to the human career.

Karl’s insights opened my eyes to the long view of our profession. His holistic approach presaged the Anthropocene, wherein the dominant change to the human-landscape dynamic is us. Geoarchaeologists are uniquely placed as archivists, practitioners, even guides and visionaries. Look back to look forward. In Pakistan’s Indus Valley I examined how shifting Holocene precipitation impacted flood cycles and settlement responses of the ancient Harappans; ultimately the forced landward migrations of urban networks destabilized subsistence economies and led to the civilization’s demise. Climate change anyone?

We are at the nexus of a new geo-archaeology. Venues and professional pathways are being overhauled. University programs redirect from academic centers to business models. Geoarchaeology is folded into compliance and preservation programs. Old terms and priorities are reconfigured. Consider Research, Relevance and Reach Out.

Research used to mean pick a topic or region and pursue it. This is no longer the mantra. Now your research universe is imposed upon you. For example, building a highway in your city elicits a call for your services. Make the best of it. Complex stratigraphy is still there! But you are better equipped to unravel its complexities with new technologies at your disposal; XRF, multi-spectral imagery, GPR and GIS.

Relevance is the current signature message. Geoarchaeologists now address questions of 21st century vintage. My foray into forensics became a career turning point. In 2005 the GRA team investigated the geoarchaeology of Iraqi genocide. Remote sensing combined with deep-testing pinpointed the only settings where mass graves were found. We modeled, ground-truthed and verified in court a site formation sequence that contributed to the conviction of Saddam Hussein.

And finally, Reach Out. Sadly, today’s geo-political landscape grows hostile to science precisely as its utility to promote sustainability has never been greater. Dwindling financial support for research is at crisis levels. This situation prioritizes teaching undergraduates. We must broaden our appeal to the public and to future policy makers. As practitioners our unique skill sets equip us to confront new challenges better than anyone.

As I humbly accept this award I implore my younger colleagues to confront the urgency of our times. Re-calibrate, re-orient. The planet demands it and there is so much opportunity if only you envision it and put it to work.