Letter by Glenn Schwartz and Melinda Zeder

Dear Colleagues,
As you may have heard, the University of Pennsylvania Museum recently announced its decision to terminate the employment of 18 research specialists and disband the Museum’s program in archaeological sciences (MASCA) as a response to the Museum’s worsening financial status during the economic downturn (see the link below to a news release on this decision).

While this decision affects a number of outstanding researchers who have made major contributions to archaeological sciences, we believe that the termination of Dr. Naomi Miller’s position represents a catastrophic blow to Near Eastern archaeology. We are urging colleagues to register their concern over this decision and its implications for archaeological sciences in general and, in the case of Dr. Miller’s termination, for Near Eastern archaeobotany in particular.

We are attaching Dr. Miller’s vitae here but would like to summarize for you some of her most outstanding contributions.  Over the course of Dr. Miller’s 30+ year career in archaeobotany she has transformed the field of Near Eastern archaeobotany and with it our understanding of human/landscape interaction in this important region.  Her landmark dissertation completed in 1981 was the first systematic examination of agriculture and environmental impact in an urban context in the Near East. She has in the years since gone on to produce major synthetic work exploring issues of economy and environment in Near Eastern urban and pre-urban settings in southeastern Anatolia, northern Syria, and the Anatolian Plateau. Her research has set standards in its use of careful and comprehensive empirical analysis to examine key issues of agricultural practice and environmental impact. Not only has she examined ancient human/landscape interactions but she has used lessons learned from the past to conserve present landscapes and project future such interactions. She has been a tireless field archaeologist, affiliated with numerous archaeological projects in Iran, Turkey, Syria, Turkmenistan, and North Africa. In addition to her own numerous, high impact publications, she has been the editor of three edited volumes that range in focus from major regional archaeological syntheses to path-breaking methodological considerations of the application of archaeobotany to understanding agricultural practice and plant use. She has been an active participant in scholarly forums. She has been a mentor to many younger archaeobotanists.

The termination of her employment also represents a major blow to the University of Pennsylvania Museum which, due solely to her efforts, has become known world-wide as one a leading center of archaeobotanical research. Her contributions to archaeology are internationally known, with a standing as high or higher than many of Museum research staff not threatened with termination by this action. During her 21 years at Penn, she has built a first class laboratory, assembled extensive modern comparative collections, and acquired many important archaeobotanical assemblages from all over the Near East. All of this investment and the continued use and care of these remarkable collections is threatened by this action.

We do not know whether this decision can be reversed or whether some other position could be found for Dr. Miller (or any of the other researchers affected by this decision) within the Museum or the University in general. But we do think that this decision should not be allowed to go forward without some response from the scholarly community that has benefited so greatly from Dr. Miller’s work and that of her fellow research specialists in the Museum.

We think that the best course of action is to notify our colleagues about this action and urge them to register their concerns with Museum Director Richard Hodges, who we understand appreciates Dr. Miller’s many contributions  and is not ultimately responsible to taking this particular course of action. For maximum effect we suggest that any such letters be closed copied to University President Amy Gutmann and Provost Ronald Daniels, who may be less familiar with her many contributions (see addresses below).

In particular, we think it important to emphasize the tremendous loss to the profession, the Museum, and the University that this decision represents and to urge the Penn administration to seek a reasonable remedy commensurate with Dr. Miller’s high standing and continued contributions to the archaeology of the Near East. We believe that a large volume of such letters that highlight different aspects of Dr. Miller’s contributions and the varied negative impacts of her loss to the profession would be more effective than a single letter endorsed by multiple concerned colleagues, although some combination of single and multiple authored letters might also be called for here.

We hope that you would be willing to submit one such letter. And please feel free to forward this request to other colleagues.


Glenn Schwartz and Melinda Zeder

News Release on Penn Firings:


Dr. Naomi Miller’s WebSite:

Addresses of Penn Administrators:

Dr. Richard Hodges, Director
University of Pennsylvania Museum
3260 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Dr. Amy Gutmann
Office of the President
University of Pennsylvania
100 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6380

Ronald Daniels, Provost
University of Pennsylvania
122 College Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6303


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