One of the advantages of studying archaeology (and conducting archaeological research) in the USA and Mexico is that it is considered an anthropological discipline, based in a four-field approach.
The historical reason for this archaeological tradition in this part of the world has to do with the origins of anthropology. Franz Boas, the founding father of anthropology as a science, envisioned a holistic approach for a better understanding of cultural variation and cross-cultural comparisons. Archaeology as anthropology has received a wonderful feedback from cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, and linguistics anthropology. For a better understanding of past societies, it is compulsory to have broad perspective of contemporary societies (actually, evolution, as a theory, relies on geological events that occurred in the past, and only are understood in the present).
Since the foundation of archaeology as a distinct subfield within academic anthropology, it has been a self-sustaining endeavor. Faculty archaeologists have to teach, conduct research, and publish. Museums are not just for storing archaeological artifacts. Boasian archaeology brought museums to schools and universities.
During a sabbatical, Franz Boas founded anthropology and archaeology in Mexico. He brought an international student to Columbia University and was advisor of the first Mexican PhD in Anthropology, Manuel Gamio. Now, the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) and important departments such as Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas-UNAM are the inheritors of this approach in anthropology.
For this geographical area, USA and Mexico, this approach is so important. Historically, our ancestors have continuity not only in contemporary communities of Native Americans, but also in our daily lives. For this reason, attending schools and universities with this anthropological paradigm allows us to have a holistic view of the past. This anthropological archaeology is not the History of Art anymore, which was primarily concerned with the aesthetics and artifacts of the elite.
Anthropological archaeology is concerned with daily life activities, status in the past, ecological adaptations, evolution of technology, and political economic changes. This academic tradition has opened the door to ethnoarchaeology, geoarchaeology, zooarchaeology, and paleoethnobotany. With these interdisciplinary intersections, archaeology reinforces anthropology as a SCIENCE with all capital letters. Diverse anthropological events around the world and during distinct epochs can be compared by cross-cultural studies.
Archaeology contributes to anthropology in a unique way: the study of diachronic and long-term processes that all the other social sciences do not have. Geography, sociology, political sciences, cultural studies, and even history all rely on historical sources.
Anthropological archaeology relies on material culture. The focus is the study of ancient populations, as complex or simple as they were. We use both qualitative and quantitative methods. We analyze different social strata by combining bottom-up and top-down perspectives. Also, archaeology has the opportunity for addressing agency, identity, ethnicity, and gender roles.
There are other archaeological traditions that consider themselves apart from anthropology. For instance, almost all colleges in the United Kingdom teach archaeology as history, some even consider anthropology as part of archaeology. This has had some advantages for the development of archaeological theory and the study of material culture, especially in relation to issues about interpretation and reflexivity. There are contributions for the study of historical archaeologies: Medieval, Post-Renaissance, Colonial or Industrial. However, it is important to take into consideration that those traditions were born in places (paraphrasing Eric Wolf 's “People Without History”) with historical records, often in former Colonial countries.
One of the advantages of the anthropological paradigm of archaeology in Mexico and the USA is the study of the so-called peoples without history. With the study of myths, oral traditions, epigraphy, non-western writing systems, ethnohistory, and the aid of the four-field approach, our multiple data sets and understanding will be more ever more robust. We can also incorporate current theoretical orientations in social sciences and methodologies derived from Historical, Medieval or Industrial Archaeology. Even better, with an anthropological archaeology perspective we can study Medieval, Historical, or colonial societies.
An additional opportunity that we have in Mexico and the USA is that we are studying our ancestors. Studying the past is not only pure scientific inquiry; it is also a way of reconstructing identity, recovering heritage, and providing historical discourse to nations, peoples, and identities. Now, there are current theoretical orientations that talk about Post-Colonial Archaeologies. I think is excellent that in a Hegelian way the inheritors of the past—it does not matter if they were born in the South of Rio Grande (Latin America) or anywhere else—can conduct archaeometry, geoarcheology, or zooarchaeology and they can establish bridges with other archaeological traditions in a way that is more dialogic and multi-vocal.