22 March 1993
Prof Faye Gale
University of Western Australia
Dear Prof Gale
I write on behalf of David Rindos who, I understand, is being considered for a tenured position at the University and that you, like Yale, require letters from outside that communicate a candidate' standing in the profession. I am pleased. therefore, to be able to contribute my assessment, based on reading of much of Rindos' work and the abundant citations of his ideas in the archaeological and anthropological literature. My speciality is the archaeology of agricultural origins and the effects of agriculture upon subsequent societies, particularly in the Near East. As a member of the National Academy of Sciences and having worked in this field for some 30 years, I believe I have the perspective to make this kind of evaluation. Further I have served for many years on tenure review committees here at Yale and earlier at Rice University.
The origins of agriculture has been a central intellectual issue in archaeology and history for many decades and it has been dominated by a number of competing paradigms, drawn from work in agronomy, archaeology, ecology, systems theory, and cultural evolution, each championed by one or more senior scholars. The most influential among these individuals have little or no training in botany and little or no real understanding of plant life, development, and evolution so their views necessarily were asymmetrical, in favor of human actions and intentions. Moreover, with few exceptions such scholars have confined their analyses to one or another of the "nuclear" regions of the world where domestication took place.
Rindos entered this debate while still a graduate student, writing an influential article in one of our primary international anthropological journals, Current Anthropology. The views as expressed here were subsequently enlarged upon in his book, The Origins of Agriculture: An Evolutionary Perspective. Two later articles in Current Anthropology, and a splendidly lucid piece on Darwinian selection in the important collection of theoretical and topical articles on agriculture Foraging and Farming. In all of these he has taken a position that humans are subject to the same biological and evolutionary constraints as other life forms, and that to ignore this is to miss the mechanisms that actually drive human history. His model knows no geographical or temporal limits, nor does it depend upon one or another "primary cause" that may be difficult to demonstrate in any particular case. The force of his arguments is evident in the fact that no one writes about agricultural origins any more, whether in a particular or a general sense, without considering what Rindos has to say.
No doubt his background in plant systematics and biology gives him a different perspective from that of most archaeologists and anthropologists, and those who critize him do so on the grounds that he fails to consider purely human motivation. In my view, what he has done is to show that human intervention into the process of domestication can be readily subsumed under more general laws of variation and contingency. In short, Rindos has enlarged the arena of discourse to the benefit of us all.
Based on the work that I have cited and his considerable international reputation, Rindos would be a strong candidate for promotion at Yale. At Yale, we take into account the full range of research and publications, fully recognizing that ones' reputation grows as the field assimilates one's ideas. This takes some time, so that even articles, like the one I mentioned first, while not a measure of current productivity, establishes a point of departure that signalled the beginning of an important intellectual trajectory. In other words, it is the patter of significance and not just the total number of works, that we would judge. Based on this criterion, as I said before, Rindos would be a strong candidate for promotion.
I am not familiar with the full range of his work, nor with any of his teaching or university contribution, so I have confined my remarks to that area of his research that I know.
I hope these remarks will be of value in your deliberations. Rindos is a rare scholar whose energy and brilliance should be nurtured and I trust that your committee will reach the same decision.