Soffer, Olga 1942-
Soffer, Olga 1942-
Home—Urbana, IL. Office—University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 309H Davenport, 607 S. Matthew Ave., Urbana, IL 61801. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, educator. Previously worked in fashion promotion; City University of New York, Hunter College, New York, NY, adjunct instructor of anthropology, 1978-80, Lehman College, adjunct instructor of anthropology, 1979-80; University of Wisconsin at Madison, instructor of anthropology, 1980-85; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, department of anthropology, assistant professor, 1985-88, associate professor, 1988-92, professor, 1992—, department of Slavic languages and literature, department head, 1993-98; Centre de Recherches Archeologiques, Meudon, Paris and Valbonne, France, visiting professor, 1992.
American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Anthropological Association, European Association of Archaeologists, Society for American Archaeology, Union Internationale des Sciences Prehistoriques et Protohistoriques.
Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, in the USSR, 1977-78; International Research and Exchange Commission Graduate Student—Young Faculty Exchange Program Fellowship, in the USSR, 1977-78, 1979; Wenner Gren Foundation Grant in Aid: Archaeozoological Research in the USSR, 1978-79; Foundation for Research into the Origins of Man Research Grant: excavations at the Upper Paleolithic site of Mezhirich, USSR; National Geographic Society Research Grant: excavations at the Upper Paleolithic site of Mezhirich, USSR; Explorers' Club Grant for Exploration: excavation of the Mezhirich Upper Paleolithic site, USSR, 1983; National Academy of Sciences, Eastern European Program Grant: Upper Paleolithic economies in European USSR; National Geographic Society Research Grant: research visit to Upper Paleolithic sites in the USSR; William and Flora Hewlett Summer Research Grant, University of Illinois: Library Research on the Upper Paleolithic of Czechoslovakia, 1985; University of Illinois Research Board Grant: purchase of computer equipment for archaeozoological research, 1985-86; National Academy of Sciences, Eastern European Program Grant: Survey of the Upper Paleolithic of Czechoslovakia, 1986; William and Flora Hewlett Summer Research Grant, University of Illinois: excavations at Dolni Vestonice II, Czechoslovakia, 1987; Fulbright Faculty Research Abroad Grant: archaeozoological research at Dolni Vestonice I and II in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, 1987-88; National Geographic Society Research Grant: excavations of Moravian Upper Paleolithic sites; University of Illinois Research Board Grant: archaeozoological research on faunal remains from Dolni Vestonice; American Council of Learned Socities, travel and subsistence grant to attend International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Science (Zagreb, Yugoslavia), 1988; University of Illinois Research Board Grant: archaeozoological research on faunal remains from Dolni Vestonice I, 1988-89; University of Illinois, Center for Advanced Studies Fellowship: The Origins of Ceramic Technology at Moravian Upper Paleolithic sites; University of Illinois Research Board Grant: archaeozoologic research on carnivores from Milovice, 1989-90; International Research and Exchange Board Collaborative Projects Grant: Archaeozoologic Research on Herbivore Fauna from Milovice, 1990; National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend: The Effect of Function on the Style of the First Ceramics, 1990; American Council of Learned Societies, travel and subsistence grant to participate in International Symposium on Chronostratigraphy of the Paleolithic in Asia and America, INQUA Commission on the Paleoecology of Ancient Man, Novosibirsk, National Endowment for the Humanities Travel to Collections Grant, 1991; University of Illinois Research Board Grant: Excavations of the Upper Paleolithic Site of Mezhirich, Fulbright Faculty Lecturing and Research Abroad Grant, in Leningrad, USSR, then Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1991-92; International Research and Exchange Board Collaborative Projects Grant, 1992; Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Conference Grant, 1992; IREX Collaborative Research Grant at the Upper Paleolithic Site of Mezhirich, Ukraine, 1993, 1994; IREX Short Term Travel Grant to Complete the Study of the World's Oldest Ceramics, Moravia, the Czech Republic, 1996; University of Illinois Research Board Award for a Study of the World's Oldest Textiles, 1997; Kennan Institute Short Term Grant for a Study of Hunter-Gatherer Perishable Technologies, 1998; American Museum of Natural History Collections Study Grant, 1999; Argonne National Laboratory, GeoSoilEnviroCARS Beamtime Proposals Research Grant, 2002; (IREX) Short-Term Travel Grant for research on Upper Paleolithic "Venus" figurines in Russia, 2002; University of Illinois European Union Center Faculty Travel Grant for research on bone and ivory weaving and net making tools in the Piette Collection at the National Museum of Antiquities in St. Germaine-en-Laye, France, 2002; LAS Award, Program of Faculty Study in a Second Discipline to study Feminist Theory in the Women's Studies Program, 2003.
The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain, Academic Press (Orlando, FL), 1985.
The Pleistocene Old World: Regional Perspectives, Plenum Press (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor, with Clive Gamble) The World at 18,000 BP, Unwin Hyman (Boston, MA), 1990.
Archaeological Dictionary of Stone Tools, In-t arkheologii AN SSSR (Moscow, Russia), 1991.
(Editor, with N.D. Praslov) From Kostenki to Clovis: Upper Paleolithic Paleo-Indian Adaptations, Plenum Press (New York, NY), 1993.
(Editor, with S.A. Vasil'ev and J. Kozlowski) Perceived Landscapes and Built Environments: The Cultural Geography of Late Paleolithic Eurasia, Archaeopress (Oxford, England), 2003.
(With J.M. Adovasio and Jake Page) The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory, Smithsonian Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Member of editorial boards, Soviet Anthropology and Archaeology (now Anthropology & Archaeology of Eurasia), Journal of World Prehistory, "Fundamental Issues in Archaeology" monograph series, 1993—, Eurasian Prehistory, 2001—, and PaleoAnthropology e-journal, editorial board, 2001—.
Olga Soffer is a writer and educator whose primary areas of research interest combine anthropology, archeology, and paleontology. She earned an undergraduate degree in political science and a master's degree in anthropology from Hunter College of the City University of New York, then went on to earn a doctorate in anthropology from the University's Graduate Center. Her career took a meandering path, as she first worked in fashion promotion in New York for nearly a decade before going back to school for her Ph.D. and delving into prehistoric anthropology and archeology. Her interest developed first as an interest in art that began with more-modern work and eventually wove back to prehistoric art and then the lives of the individuals who created that art. She credits her early work experiences with helping her to develop vital organizational and leadership skills, but was pleased with her choice to shift into academia. Soffer served as an adjunct instructor at both Hunter College and Lehman College in New York, and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, before finally taking a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she began as an assistant professor in 1985, and moved up to associate professor, and finally full professor in 1992.
Soffer's research focuses primarily on determining the activities that made up the lives of the people living during the Late/Upper Paleolithic period in Eurasia, and how these lives altered over time, starting with the Neanderthals of the period preceding them. Soffer takes many aspects of these individuals' lives into account, including technology, settlement patters, social and political behavior, and the ways in which their ideologies were expressed, basing all of her research on the scant relics and artwork left behind. She has made countless trips to Russia and Asia, participating in archaeological examinations of the region and examining the artifacts that might lead her to more comprehensive conclusions about the hunter/gatherers of this time period. Items such as baskets and textiles provide vital clues to the technologies available during the period and how they were evolving, as well as the place of women and children in the society. Studies of ceramics led Soffer to investigate any and all remaining textiles, which, though few and far between, provided a strong clue to the types of clothing worn during this period of prehistory, an appropriate discovery for an anthropologist who originally worked in fashion.
In addition to her teaching duties and research, Soffer is the author of several books on the Paleolithic period based on her research and her findings, including The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain, The Pleistocene Old World: Regional Perspectives, and The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory, which she wrote with J.M. Adovasio and Jake Page. The Invisible Sex sets out to counter many of the commonly held beliefs regarding prehistoric society that revolve around men as the vital and necessary individuals in the social scheme, and for the most part appear to ignore the roles of women entirely.
Despite the focus on men as the hunters and providers, often the ones pictured in cave art, and the ones responsible for many of the artifacts discovered from that period in the form of weapons and tools, Soffer insists that women played just as necessary and important a role in the social structure. Achievements have been attributed to prehistoric men without true archaeological evidence to back up the theories, such as the idea that man killed an endless number of wooly mammoths in the process of hunting for food, when in reality it is far more likely that the majority of the wooly mammoths whose bones were discovered had actually died from natural causes, and few if any at the hand of prehistoric man. Tools and weapons from the age are linked to men, but it is only natural that those made of stone were more likely to survive than any female-produced pottery or textiles that were far more fragile in the wake of thousands of years. Even though some examples have survived, enough to suggest that women were vital members of the prehistoric society, gathering items necessary for survival and participating in the making of many of the tools used by both men and women, the male-dominated view of the society persevered.
The Invisible Sex sets out to address this tendency toward male bias in history, examining the time period and listing the areas in which women may have played just as important a role as men. The book, however, received uneven reviews, and was cited for numerous factual errors and/or typographical errors that made it difficult to read. Barbara J. King, in a review for the Bookslut Web site, remarked: "By the time I reached the section about the Ice Age, a time period that's critical to the book and one with which I am less than fully familiar, I simply didn't trust what I read." She did note, however, that for readers less bothered by these types of errors, the book could be an enjoyable read, stating that "intriguing ideas from original research, particularly Soffer's, stud this section." King continued: "In a fascinating passage, the authors suggest that the category ‘women’ may have been invented about 45,000 years ago, perhaps before the counterpart invention of ‘men.’" A.M. Kuchling, in a review for the Web site of the same name, found the flow of the book uneven and choppy, and concluded: "Some individual chapters would make good standalone articles, but they don't mesh into a satisfying or very enjoyable book." However, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised the book, commenting that "theories are presented as accessibly as possible, with frequent humorous asides and a wide range of popular cultural touchstones."
In addition to her own writings, Soffer has served as editor or coeditor of a number of volumes, including The World at 18,000 BP, From Kostenki to Clovis: Upper Paleolithic Paleo-Indian Adaptations and Perceived Landscapes and Built Environments: The Cultural Geography of Late Paleolithic Eurasia.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Anthropologist, September, 1988, review of The Pleistocene Old World: Regional Perspectives, p. 700.
American Antiquity, April, 1989, James R. Sackett, review of The Pleistocene Old World, p. 443.
American Journal of Archaeology, January, 1989, Iain Davidson, review of The Pleistocene Old World, p. 142.
Antiquity, March, 1994, L.B. Vishnyatsky, review of From Kostenki to Clovis: Upper Paleolithic Paleo-Indian Adaptations, p. 176.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, September, 1993, E. Delson, review of From Kostenki to Clovis, p. 172.
Current Biography, July, 2002, Geoff Orens, "Olga Soffer," p. 62.
Nature, March 22, 1990, Bob Chapman, review of The World at 18,000 BP, p. 304.
New Scientist, April 28, 1990, review of The World at 18,000 BP, p. 75; March 31, 2007, "Not So Simple, Not So Strange: How Do You Give Prehistoric Woman Her Due? Not by Assuming She Was One of the Boys," p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, December 18, 2006, review of The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory, p. 56.
Science Books & Films, July 1, 2007, Donald H. Puretz, "300 Social Sciences, Anthropology," p. 153.
Science News, December 13, 1986, Bruce Bower, "When the Human Spirit Soared; Cultural Evolution Shifted into High Gear with the Appearance of Anatomically Modern Humans in the Late Ice Age," p. 378; October 21, 2000, "Stone Age Statuettes Don Disputed Apparel," p. 261; April 21, 2007, review of The Invisible Sex, p. 255.
Scientific American, November, 2000, Kate Wong, "The Caveman's New Clothes," p. 32; June, 2007, review of The Invisible Sex, p. 99.
SciTech Book News, November, 1987, review of The Pleistocene Old World, p. 3; April, 1993, review of From Kostenki to Clovis, p. 2.
Times Higher Education Supplement, October 9, 1998, Nicholas Saunders, "Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol," p. 24.
United Press International, February 11, 2000, "Wilma Just Didn't Know How to Dress," p. 1008038.
About Archeology,http://archeology.about.com/ (December 4, 2007), K. Kris Hirst, author profile.
A.M. Kuchling's Home Page,http://www.amk.ca/ (April 16, 2007), review of The Invisible Sex.
Australian Broadcasting Company Science Web site,http://www.abc.net.au/ (December 4, 2007), author interview transcript; "PM Radio," Eleanor Hall, interview transcript.
Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (December 4, 2007), Barbara J. King, "Invisible Women in Prehistory and Paleoanthropology (and Invisible Standards in Publishing)."
Crystalinks Web site,http://www.crystalinks.com/ (August 24, 2005), "Pre-historic Clothing."
Minnesota State University E Museum,http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/ (December 4, 2007), author biography.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Anthropology Department Web site,http://www.anthro.uiuc.edu/ (December 4, 2007), faculty profile.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Liberal Arts and Sciences News,http://www.las.uiuc.edu/ (December 4, 2007), "Discovering the Upscale Cavewoman."