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6/2/14 - Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures department head shares major book award

To protect their Catholic faith and traditional lifestyle from Ottoman invaders who infiltrated in the 15th century, one Albanian tribe fled north to the Shala River Valley in the Albanian Alps.

After the communist government collapsed in 1991, Albania -- a small Southeastern European nation of about three million residents -- opened its borders to researchers, scientists and other academics interested in learning more about the country and its peoples. Mississippi State University archeologist Michael Galaty began studying tribal societies that had sustained their lifestyles despite modern influences.

In 2013, he and a cross-discipline group of colleagues produced a book titled "Light and Shadow: Isolation and Interaction in the Shala Valley of Northern Albania." Galaty directed the project and served as the publication's chief editor.

The 272-page book recently was honored with the Society for American Archaeology's Book Award in the Scholarly Category.

Michael Galaty, head of MSU's department of anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures, stands on a mountain precipice in Albania's Shala River Valley.

Galaty heads MSU's Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. He came to the university last year after having served as chair of the sociology and anthropology department at Millsaps College in Jackson.

In making the announcement, SAA officials praised the book, which "represents an outstanding example of cross-discipline and community-based research directed by archaeologists. In this superbly written, painstakingly edited and beautifully illustrated volume, archaeology stands on an equal footing with other disciplines to examine how a marginal people resist domination and extinction."

While the Albanian Alps are not easily reached by travelers, the Shala River Valley tribe is able to easily move in and out of the terrain, Galaty said. However, during winters with more than 10 feet of snow on the ground, the tribe is often completely cut off from the outside world.

"The explanation had been that the Shala tribe survived because they were isolated, but they actually were strategically managing how they interacted with the outside world," he explained. "They were not an ancient tribal state; rather, they found ways to use their location to their advantage."

The Shala Valley had little electricity and no cellphones until around 2007, and the land is entirely owned by tribal members.

"They want to control the land themselves, but it will be interesting to see how long that lasts," Galaty said. "It's an incredibly beautiful place, and people are coming to trek through the mountains to visit what's becoming a big ecotourism destination."

Even though "Light and Shadow" is an archaeological research book, Galaty said it is widely accessible to other professionals.

"There's something for everyone," said the University of Wisconsin, Madison, doctoral graduate. "If you're a cultural anthropologist who's interested in globalization, it's a book worth reading. If you're a historian who's interested in Europe, it's a book worth reading. If you're an archeologist interested in prehistoric periods in Europe, it's a book worth reading.

"It has pretty wide appeal, and that's a big reason why it won the award."

Galaty said he hopes the award will help bring additional attention to the university, his department and MSU's Cobb Institute of Archeology.

"Light and Shadow," published by the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, is available through major book retail outlets.

Leah Barbour | Public Affairs

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