Prof. Romuald Schild – FNP Prize laureate 2020
Professor Romuald Schild from the Institute of Archeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw received the 2020 FNP Prize in the field of humanities and social sciences for explaining the climatic and environmental determinants of sociocultural processes during the Stone Age in North Africa and the Great European Plain.
Schild was born in 1936 in Lviv. In 1957, he graduated from the University of Warsaw. He obtained his doctorate in 1962 at the Institute of History of Material Culture of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw – now the Institute of Archeology and Ethnology – where in 1967 he also obtained his habilitation. He received the title of professor in 1983.
From 1990 to 2007, Schild was the director of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He lectured abroad, among other places, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1971, 1982, and 1983, and at the British Academy. He is a member of the Committee on Pre- and Protohistorical Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences and an active member of the History and Philosophy Department of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Schild was the first Polish and Poland-based scientist selected – in 1998 – to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. He is also an honorary member of the Society of Antiquaries of London and recipient of an honorary doctorate from the Institute of History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, but also the honorary president of the Society for Later Prehistory of Northeastern Africa. In 2005, Schild was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for scientific achievements, and in 2018, the Erazm Majewski Prize in archeology from the Polish Academy of Sciences for his book Wilczyce: A Late Magdalenian Winter Camp in Southern Poland.
According to Google Scholar, the current number of Schild’s citations is 4913, and the Hirsch index is 35, which is a record among Polish archaeologists. His output includes almost 300 works and 25 books, which he co-authored or edited.
Prof. Romuald Schild is a prehistoric archaeologist known around the world as a leading researcher in projects dealing with fundamental issues related to the prehistory of Central Europe and Northeast Africa.
He received the FNP Prize for research on the identification of climatic and environmental determinants of sociocultural processes in the Stone Age in North Africa and the Great European Plain. He was one of the first scientists to recognize and describe the effects of environment and climate change on life of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene human communnites of the Eastern Sahara.
The awarded discoveries were made primarily as part of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition. Since 1962, scientists associated with this expedition conducted excavations in the countries of Northeast Africa: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Schild was one of the heads of this world’s largest and longest continuously operating prehistoric expedition in Africa, taking the position of its deputy director in 1970–1999 and director in 1999–2007.
Together with expedition researchers, Schild determined how climate change and the environment affected social systems in Northeast Africa. The research revealed that – thousands of years ago – the much more humid climate than the current one caused that – about 11,500 years ago – the Late Stone Age early pastoralists and foragers settled in the Egyptian Western Desert for the first time. Almost 9000 years ago, near the desert seasonal lake of Nabta Playa, the foragers and cattle herders erected a great Ceremonial Center or offering fields, and about 6500–6100 years ago, they built ancestral remembrance memorials by rising anthropomorphic stone stelae (menhirs) in groups symbolizing clans or extended families. These pastoralists also built “lines of menhirs” aimed at bright stars important in their cosmogony. When the savannah became too dry for people – about 6000 years ago – prehistoric pastoralists who were so far clustered in small settlements set out in search of favorable conditions and entered the Nile valley, bringing with them beliefs essential in the religion of Ancient Egypt, such as the sacredness of the polar region of the sky where dwell the stars that never die and where souls wander after death.
Many scientific publications and over 20 books were published based on the research of Schild and the Combined Prehistoric Expedition. Three of them belong to the canon of archaeological literature for many years now: Prehistory of the Nile Valley (Academic Press, 1976), Prehistory of Eastern Sahara (Academic Press, 1980), and Holocene Settlement in Egyptian Sahara, Volume 1: The Archaeology of Nabta Playa (Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001). These books are among the most cited works in archeology.
Schild gained recognition from the international scientific community not only thanks to his discoveries but also thanks to his scientific versatility and field experience. In his research, Schild used a wide range of research instruments, pioneering for those times. For example, he employed the innovative “dynamic analysis of chipped flint assemblages”. Moreover, he also widely used the radiocarbon and luminescence dating and focused on issues of climate evolution and geoarchaeology, often ignored at that time. Schild has always led the work of large research groups – even several dozen people – bringing together scientists from many disciplines. Thus, the Combined Prehistoric Expeditiion paved the way for other groups working in Northeast Africa.
In Poland, the main subjects of Schild’s field research and works were the Stone Age mining and distribution of red ocher and flint. He researched important paleolithic sites in Poland, including the multilayered camps of Całowanie near Warsaw, several dozen sites in Rydno, near Skarżysko Kamienna, and the 16,000 year old winter hunting camp in Wilczyce near Sandomierz.
Schild’s research achievements locate among those of the greatest researchers of prehistory specializing in the archeology of the Old World. His studies have not only deepened our knowledge about man and his environment in the oldest periods of prehistory but also changed many previous views on this subject.