Archeologist James A. Brown was elected as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences earlier this May. Membership within the NAS is one of the highest honors given to a scientist or engineer in the United States. Brown is professor emeritus of anthropology at Northwestern. Dale Mortensen, a Northwestern University economics professor and a 2010 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, was also elected to the NAS.
Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Orville Wright were all NAS members. How does it feel to be held up among such renowned innovators?
It’s a little intimidating. I mean, how can it not be? But then I remember that there are many lesser people within the NAS. Nonetheless, all of them have distinguished themselves in one way or another.
How have you distinguished yourself?
I was elected to NAS for my most current work on Cahokia (a Native American settlement in southwestern Illinois) that existed from 100 to 500 years [circa 700-1400 AD]. It’s a very famous site – the largest town site and the largest earthwork north of Los Angeles. It’s the perimeter of Egypt. It’s just huge and I devoted a lot of attention to it.
What was your most interesting find there?
I discovered a copper workshop. All the objects were smashed, but nonetheless important. This was where native copper was hammered into large sheets, then used in ornaments for religious ceremonies.
You’ve done an overwhelming amount of research on aboriginal cultures in North America. But what project do you take the most pride in?
Definitely the one on Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. I prize this information greatly and look back on it with pride.
What’s up next for you?
I’m continuing the work I have been involved with Cahokia and the Hopewell tradition in Central Ohio (Mound City).