As we continue to reflect on and celebrate PLOS ONE’s 10th anniversary, we bring you the next in our Meet the Editors series, interviewing Michael Petraglia who became an Editorial Board Member in late 2006.
Michael Petraglia is currently a Professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in Jena, Germany. He focuses on the study of human evolution, particularly the effects of climate change on human populations and dispersal patterns. He has directed a number of large-scale archaeological studies around the world, leading interdisciplinary surveys and excavations, particularly in the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian peninsula. Michael graduated from New York University with a BA in Anthropology in 1982,and he completed his PhD at the University of New Mexico in 1987. Thereafter, he took up a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, and he has been affiliated with the Human Origins Program (NMNH) ever since. For many years, he was the Director of the Cultural Resources Department of the Parsons Corporation, based in the Washington, D.C., area, having managed large-scale archaeological work in advance of development. Michael has been a Lecturer in the Department of Biological Anthropology (Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies) at the University of Cambridge and a Professor of Human Evolution and Prehistory, in the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford. Michael joined the PLOS ONE Editorial Board as Academic Editor at the launch of the journal in 2006.
How did you first become interested in archaeology, in particular human evolution?
I have been interested in archaeology for as long as I can remember, starting with a fascination about the Egyptian pyramids and mummies. In my teenage years, I began doing volunteer fieldwork in North America, working on Native American and colonial sites. My interest in human evolution began in graduate school, having studied with Lewis Binford, a major international figure in Archaeology and Palaeolithic Archaeology. My PhD at New Mexico focused on an Upper Palaeolithic rockshelter site in southwestern France. From there, I was a postdoctoral fellow and Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution, where I completed a book on the Old World Palaeolithic collections in the National Museum of Natural History, while conducting Palaeolithic research in India. My broader work in human evolutionary studies began with my lectureship at the University of Cambridge, where I first taught the subject. From there, I became interested in the evolution of cognition, the evolution of human behaviour and the effect of climate change on Out of Africa migrations. I have been engaging in this type of research since the start of my teaching at Cambridge.
What challenges and developments can we expect to see for this field in the next few years?
Archaeology is a growing and fast-moving discipline, blossoming in multidisciplinary research domains and booming in fieldwork efforts on a global scale. Given that we work on the evolution of humans and our place in the natural world, it is a subject that crosses the traditional scholarly divide between the humanities and the natural sciences. Interdisciplinary, scientific archaeology is complex in that the field incorporates a multitude of subjects, such as environmental studies, geology, palaeontology, genetics and linguistics. A variety of new and ever-developing laboratory methods, including dating techniques, ancient DNA, isotopes, and proteomics, have opened up new windows into the past. The application of new technologies, from satellite imagery to 3D computer methods, continues to improve our ability to describe and investigate the past.
You joined PLOS ONE’s editorial board when the journal was launched 10 years ago. What attracted you to PLOS ONE in the first place?
I was pleased to join the editorial board of PLOS ONE given the journal’s emphasis on the application of a rigorous scientific approach. Rigorous field and laboratory standards are paramount in modern archaeological work, and PLOS ONE provided a new forum for significant publications in archaeology and human evolutionary studies. I was particularly interested in PLOS ONE because it was an open-access journal, which was not common in the discipline at the time. The media and the public at large are fascinated by human evolution and archaeology, and I felt that a reputable open access scientific journal would help people learn more about our discipline and the human past.
The journal has grown beyond expectations. Why do you think a journal like PLOS ONE – a multidisciplinary and rigor-focused journal- is relevant to scientists in general and within your field in particular?
Many journals are highly specialised and few scholars tap into non-specialist journals. Given its range and scope, PLOS ONE provides a forum for transcending traditional disciplinary divides, and its articles are easily accessible across disciplines. I have found that many researchers in my field are pleased to publish in PLOS ONE given its solid reputation and given that peer-reviewed research is published fairly quickly, and not delayed, as is often the case with other journals and edited books. The accessibility of articles in PLOS ONE is especially important to archaeologists and researchers in developing countries, whose home institutions often can not afford ridiculously high journal fees.
How do you see the future of publishing? Are there any initiatives that you find particularly exciting or promising?
Someday, I hope that all journal articles in my field are available to researchers around the world and the public at large, and not hidden behind pay-walls. After all, scientific research is heavily supported by tax-payers, so members of the public should be able to see, enjoy and learn what is being accomplished in the ever-expanding, and exciting field of human evolutionary studies.