2023 Rip Rapp Archaeological Geology Award

Presented to Arlene Miller Rosen

Arlene Miller Rosen

Arlene Miller Rosen
University of Texas


Citation by Dr. Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach and Dr. Timothy Beach

The Geological Society of America presents its 2023 Rip Rapp Award of the Geoarchaeology Division to Dr. Arlene Rosen for outstanding contributions to the interdisciplinary field of geoarchaeology. Dr. Rosen is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she has built and directs a lab for Environmental Archaeology and has supervised multiple PhD students and post-Doctoral scholars, and provides significant outreach to students outside of her department as a graduate committee member and lab director. Prior to UT she was Professor of Environmental Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

This Award is based on Dr. Rosen’s remarkable reach, breadth, intellectual curiosity, and her quiet and unassuming impact on the field in arid lands geoarchaeology, botanical artifacts, including significant contributions to phytolith research, and especially climate change and the human past, with regional expertise on the Near East and China. We note that she also started her research in the Maya world in Guatemala and Belize with some very important projects, as she continues her important field work in multiple and often remote arid regions across the globe, including Mongolia.

Dr. Rosen’s accomplishments are numerous, but start with her remarkable dissertation Cities of Clay: The Geoarchaeology of Tells, which she completed for her PhD in Anthropology at the University of Chicago advised by Dr. Karl Butzer. This outstanding work is widely cited and the starting point for anyone working on tells.

Perhaps even more important is her book Civilizing Climate, which in just 15 years since publication has about 400 citations. This great book in many senses started the field of assessing archaeology and climate from a non-collapse perspective, showing the complex interactions of societies and climate. This is a must read in the field of climate and archaeology. She is currently preparing two more books in the fields of sustainability, the Anthropocene, and climate change, and she will finish these brilliantly as she has all of her previous projects.

Beyond her scholarship and teaching Arlene has served the Geoarchaeological community through numerous editorial board and editor appointments, special issues of journals, special sessions in Geoarchaeology, and organizing conferences on the Anthropocene.

In sum, Arlene Rosen is among the greatest geoarchaeologists alive today and respected universally for her contributions, balance, creativity, and deeply informed intellect. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Arlene Rosen for this prestigious Award.


Response by Arlene Miller Rosen

I am humbled and honored to join this distinguished group of pioneers (literally groundbreakers) who charted new pathways for archaeologists by demonstrating the critical importance of sediment contexts at archaeological sites and their landscape settings. By doing so, they changed the theoretical bases of archaeological enquiry. I well remember meeting Ripp Rapp when I was a novice in geoarchaeology and was impressed by his dedication to the field, and support of younger scholars. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my teachers upon whose shoulders I rest as a flea on the back of a mammoth. Although many folks have kindly advised me in the field and classrooms, the most influential were Roald Fryxell, Bill Farrand, Fekri Hassan, and of course my great mentor, Karl Butzer. From a young age, I discovered a passion for ancient lifeways which went hand in hand with a intense love of nature. After finishing a BA in Anthropology/Archaeology at University of New Mexico, I went on to do an MA at Washington State University. It was there that I first learned about geoarchaeology from Roald Fryxell. I later had the immense privilege of studying with the innovative geoarchaeologist, Fekri Hassan. Under his tutelage, I learned the techniques of geoarchaeology.

Someone once said, “Nature speaks softly in a foreign tongue, …and she lisps”. At WSU I learned the ‘alphabet’ which helped me read the messages nature leaves in the sediment record to reconstruct landscapes and climates of the past. If it’s the job of the Natural Scientist to read the language of nature, the task of the Social Scientist is to read the language of culture. In my pursuit of these goals my second great mentor was Karl Butzer who supervised my PhD at the University of Chicago and taught me to forage for ideas in the intellectual ecotone where the boundaries of different disciplines intersect. My challenge is to understand what archaeology and geomorphology have to say about relationships of societies to their landscapes and climatic milieu. Geoarchaeology is unique as it understands that sediment facies simultaneously touch both ‘natural’ landscapes as well as human settlement contexts and form a physical interface between nature and culture.

With the lessons and skills provided by my esteemed mentors, I was able to join projects in Algeria, the Western Desert of Egypt, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and most recently the Mongolian Gobi Desert. In all these localities there were abundant signs of both climate- and human-driven landscape changes, as well as pathways to human adaptations. Each of these studies bore critical messages for our current societies and the ways we might deal with the impacts of modern-day climate change.

I give my heartfelt thanks to my nominator, Alison Damick, my citationists Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach and Timothy Beach, my recommenders, Jennifer Farquhar, Rolfe Mandel, and Monica Ramsey, all of whom provide me great inspiration, and to some of my truly amazing students from whom I’ve learned a great deal. I gratefully thank the Archaeological Geology Division for honoring me with the 2023 Rip Rapp Archaeological Geology Award.