- Honorary Degree (1996)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand
BIOGRAPHYBorn in 1948 in Paris, Catherine Perles has earned an international reputation and high praise as a scholar, professor, and director of a major archaeological laboratory. Of particular importance has been her two decades of research detailing the technological and economic developments that comprise the earlier prehistory of Greece. Her publications—four major monographs and more than 70 articles— have had widespread influence on scholars in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Full professor of prehistory at the University of Paris X (Nanterre) since 1985 and recipient of a prestigious DOCTORAT D'ETAT in 1986, Perles attained one of France's highest scholarly honors in 1993 with her election to a chair at the Institute of France.
Perles' connections with Indiana University began in 1971, when she was engaged by IU's Thomas Jacobsen to work with the team studying a Stone Age cave site in Franchthi, Greece. With cave materials spanning nearly 30 millennia—from c. 30,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C.—the task of analyzing the team's findings is still ongoing, while the task of describing them has evolved into a multivolume publishing project under the auspices of the Indiana University Press. Perles has already published two well-received volumes in the series (numbers 3 and 5), and a third is eagerly awaited. Her collaboration with IU has continued in other ways as well. In 1986 Perles was elected a member of the IU Institute for Advanced Studies, and she chose to make IU her titular home while she was the Kress National Lecturer of the Archaeological Institute of America during the same year. In 1989 she gave the David Skomp lecture, the highest professional honor offered by the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University.
Important though Perles's studies of Franchthi's stone tools have been, they are only part of the achievements of an already very rich career. Perles has worked in France, Greece, Egypt, Senegal, Mauritania, Turkey, Cyprus, and Poland. She serves on the editorial board of three major archaeological journals, as well as on key French public scientific commissions and committees. In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate students at her own university, Perles supervises doctoral students at universities throughout France. According to the distinguished archaeologist Jean-Claude Gardin, Perles's work shows "a range of abilities which is rarely met, from the mastery of excavation and laboratory techniques of all kinds to the self-critical control of interpretive processes"; it combines "the exercise of imagination and literary talent with the observance of scientific principles of the most uncompromising sort." Her early studies, analyzing the origins and consequences of the human mastery of fire, addressed not only the technical aspects of ancient fire technology but also its social and cognitive effects. Her more recent work on stone tools has moved from consideration of Stone Age production methods and trade patterns, to analyses of the prehistoric representation of space, to basic questions of epistemology—how social scientists know what they think they know.
As her collaborators at IU have summed it up, Perles "has made great masses of mute stones, silent for millennia, speak with great detail and fidelity.... She has maintained rich, enduring, and productive connections with Indiana University for more than twenty years, and her work has reflected great credit on our university."