2022 Rip Rapp Archaeological Geology Award

Presented to David K. Wright

David K. Wright

David K. Wright
Department of Archaeology Conservation & History, University of Oslo


Citation by Steven Forman

It is an honor for Mike Waters and I to recognize the contributions of my former PhD student Prof. David Wright from the University of Oslo, Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History, who we nominated for the Rip Rapp Award in Archaeological Geology. I first met David at the Univ. of Illinois-Chicago in 2000, when he wandered into my office seeking advice on fluvial geomorphology for his PhD research along the Galana River, Kenya. David then ventured into the “dark side” in our OSL lab to date, “undateable” terraces. This familiarity initiated a collaboration for the next decade along the shores of Lake Turkana which was enjoyable and fruitful. David distinguished himself in the field by successfully negotiating with barefoot, teen-age boys, brandishing AK-47 rifles, by offering water, food, and rides on top of our Land Rover, almost as armed guards. After such diplomatic interactions, our fieldwork on understanding lake level fluctuations went well.

David’s success in the field, and his broad, global perspectives reflects his command of at least five languages: German, Swahili, Korean, Norwegian, and English. He is truly an international geoarchaeologist who has tackled research on human-landscape interactions on five continents, the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, with literally hundreds of collaborating scholars and students. He represents a new breed of geoarchaeologists steeped in climate change science, with cultural awareness and sensitivity, and with proficiency across the geosciences, including geochronology, geospatial analysis, biogeochemical proxies, and associated numeric analysis. His research in East Africa is of global significance because with his prolific pen, he challenges the persistent 20th century concept for the Anthropocene. He values getting to know the dirt and working through the field evidence at any one site, to better inform subsequent laboratory analysis and modeling. His driving quest is to better understand how humans adapt to and subsequently effect ecosystems and respond to and modulate climate variability. David, your many collaborations, long research partnerships and many scholarly contributions are highly significant, even greater is your future promise, and you are surely deserving of this award; and many thanks for walking into my office in 2000!


Response by David K. Wright

Thank you so much to professors Steve Forman and Mike Waters for nominating me for this wonderful award. Both have been critical mentors and colleagues for me in the budding and blossoming phases of my career, and I sincerely appreciate their patience with me through that process. Past recipients of this award are the giants of our profession, and I am honored and humbled to share the stage with them as well as future recipients. This award was made possible by the generous initiative of Dr. George “Rip” Rapp, who has been a pillar of geological archaeology since the 1960s. It is from people like these that I have drawn inspiration for being an archaeological wanderer, interested in everything and never content with the knowledge I have acquired…there is always so much more to understand.

We stand now on the edge of a profound change in earth systems at the hands of our own species, and it is my opinion that geoarchaeologists are the best positioned to communicate what the Anthropocene is and how it will affect terrestrial biodiversity in the future. Geoarchaeologists stand, rather uncomfortably at times, with our feet in the realm of Humanities as well as Earth Sciences. This gives us the unique position to bear witness to the quantitative and qualitative scale of human-induced land over change in the past. Without this understanding, there is literally no chance of mitigating future land cover change because the Anthropocene is a byproduct of human technological evolution, which can be traced over three million years into the past. With every project, I think of the planet my children are inheriting, and my research seeks to explore relationships between the protists, fungi, plants, and other animals they co-inhabit this magnificent place with. My research has found that people are resilient and resourceful in the face of extreme challenges, and I hope that someday research like mine will be used to undo the worst effects of the Anthropocene—learning from the successes and failures our forebearers had in enhancing biodiversity in their built environments.

Finally, I would like to thank my family, most especially my wife, Kristina, who has joined me in my journey around the world and enabled me to explore the depths of our planet on the five continents I have had privilege to work on. She is always my strongest advocate and first sounding board, an incredible listener and intellectual bulwark in her own right. Many years ago, I read a rather touching dedication to a report, which I will attempt to paraphrase here: “at the end of the day, you can’t hug your offprints.” While I hope my intellectual contributions are seen as worthy of the past and future recipients of this prestigious award, and I am appreciative for everything my mentors have given me along the way to get there, it is my family that gives me the hugs and love to make it all worth it and I push onward and upward to leave the earth a place that is better for them.