Monday, October 31, 2011

can you pick only 3 life priorities?

Although I swore never to read Mommy blogs again, I ran across a link to this one, entitled "The Myth of Everything" and a comment on the first, "Rejecting the Supermom Ideal".

The blog posts rehash some old ground, but I think we can all agree with their basic point: It's not possible for one person to do it all. We can't expect ourselves to do cutting-edge research, be full-time parents, teach 20 credits, keep our houses clean, run field projects, provide only home-grown and preservative-free food for our families, knit our own clothes from organic yak hair (preferably self-picked), etc., etc.

Fine, so we can't do it all. The "Myth of Everything" post suggests that we pick three priorities, and only engage in activities if they fit those priorities. (Does anyone else find it odd that the blogger doesn't name her priorities? I suppose it's very personal, but..) The "Rejecting the Supermom Ideal" post gives an example of three priorities. In her case: family, health, and writing.

I like the idea, but find the logistics difficult. Very vague priorities ("family") could mean almost anything. Activities related to "family" include everything from cleaning the house (so your family has a comfortable, safe space to live) to cooking healthy meals, to spending fun time with your kids. With priorities that vague, they would never serve to guide my decisions.

These kinds of priorities probably work better for someone who is not working, also, or whose work is freelance, or who works 40 hours a week and doesn't bring any work home. No matter what I feel about, say, teaching, my class prep and grading take up a huge amount of my time. To pretend it won't be a priority in terms of the time I spend (rather than in terms of my interests) would be to deny reality.

Still, I find the "three priorities" concept a useful thought exercise, but I want to add a twist. First, I'll list my top three priorities. Then, I'll list the top three things that take up too much of my time and discuss how I can minimize their impact on my life. Here goes:

Priority #1: Have some fun with my kids. This means arts and crafts, running around at the park, board games, cooking together, spending time that is enjoyable to all of us. We spend a lot of time together, but too much of it occurs while I'm keeping one eye on the kids and one on my computer. Too many of their requests for my time and attention are met with "Can you play with your brother/sister? I'm trying to get something done here."

Priority #2: More publications and external grants. Tiny U, like any liberal arts college, sucks most of my time into teaching and service. I need to prioritize that which will advance my career, whether here or at another institution.

Priority #3: More down-time, at least some of which is spent with my spouse. All work and no play... well, you know. I've struggled with depression for the last few years, and I think a lot of the problem comes from being too over-committed, and not having enough time to do what I want. When I do have time to do things for myself, I often feel guilty because of all the work piling up. Down-time, and my adult relationship, must be a higher priority.

Now, on to my plans to minimize the activities/needs that take up way too much of my time:

Time-Suck #1: Cleaning house. This includes laundry, dishes, and other tasks that much be performed daily or we're living in squalor. This does not include things I consider optional, like washing the windows or weeding the garden, which frankly can be ignored for years without greatly impacting my quality of life. My plan here is to minimize the amount of crap we have around the house. Our wardrobes, toy collection, kitsch, kitchen utensils, etc., should all exist in manageable amounts. My husband and I also dream of down-sizing our house (and cleanable space). Avoiding this time suck also, ironically, includes making clean-up a daily priority, rather than letting things fester until the weekends. We're also trying to more evenly spread the tasks, and insist that the kids help, even if it's just a little.

Time-Suck #2: Grading. Class prep can take a lot of time, but I generally enjoy it, and most of my classes are prepped already. What really sucks in my time is grading. One way I can minimize my grading is by continuing a trend I've already started, which is to create intro classes that have a strong on-line component, where all the on-line activities are computer graded. The other thing I can do, which I've really resisted up to this point, is to drop certain requirements. For example, every year I teach a 60-person Intro to Biological Anthropology class. In previous years, I've required two 5-page papers from each student. This year, I'm going to switch to only one. I don't have TAs who can grade those papers, and I find that grading 600 pages of undergraduate writing takes more time than it is worth, especially if I'm also grading the essays on their exams, their lab write-ups, weekly quizzes, etc.

Time-Suck #3: The Inter-tubez. OK, I admit, I have a problem. Twitter, Facebook, political blogs, cooking blogs, mommy blogs, anthropology blogs, random surfing...I have to get off-line more. There are a lot of good things about the internet. It helps me feel connected to the wider world, even from the middle of nowhere. It's also easy to surf while my husband and I spend our evenings sitting in silence in the dark dining room, while our kids sleep in the living room. (Long story short: we have no bedrooms due to on-going home improvement.) But time spent on-line can take away from true down-time - where I can do creative projects or talk to my husband - as well as research time. I've started limiting the blogs I can read, but I think the next step is to schedule more time away from the dark, silent dining room. My husband and I need a date night. (Not only does that help with Time-suck #3, but it helps with Priority #3! Double-score!) We need to create a space where we can spend our evenings while enjoying the benefits of light and sound. (This just requires bringing some comfortable chairs down to the kitchen.)

What are your priorities and time-sucks? How do you want to change your time budget?

Friday, October 28, 2011

care and feeding of your undergraduate research minions

In my previous posts on this topic (, and here), I talked about structuring research with undergraduates, and choosing good undergraduate RAs. This post is about keeping your research team running smoothly, once you've assembled them.

First, I should mention something that I left out of my post on choosing undergraduate RAs. I wrote that I announced the RA positions in my classes and had students fill out applications. But I didn't just "announce" the positions, I gave a short presentation in each class where I explained exactly what would be expected (hours per week, weekly meetings, readings, writing or independent research, etc.), and exactly what tasks I foresaw being part of the RAship (washing bones, initial sorting of bones, data entry into Excel, helping to format bibliographies in Word, library research on assigned topics, creating figures in Illustrator or Photoshop, etc.). I asked the students I chose for the positions to think about which of these activities they would find more interesting. Some students really want to work with their hands, others really prefer to crunch numbers, and others just want you to point them in the direction of basic tasks. Matching your RAs with their interests will make life easier on everyone.

Second, I insist that everyone on the research team attend a weekly meeting. It can take some doing to find a time when everyone is available, but it's too easy for over-stressed and over-committed students to just disappear for a week or two or ten. A weekly meeting greatly cuts down on the number of AWOL RAs, and improved team communication. At the meeting, we tell each other what we've done on the project during the past week, and I discuss and assign tasks for the coming week. My RAs have the opportunity to ask why we're undertaking certain tasks, and to get clarification on our ultimate goals. Often, the conversations turn to fieldwork opportunities, graduate school plans, academic problems, etc. These are smart, committed students, and they have lots of questions about how academia works, what career options there are in archaeology, and what the best course schedule would be for the next semester. I really enjoy these conversations, they're essential to the advising part of my job, and they add an aspect of mentoring to the RAship that wouldn't necessarily occur without those weekly meetings.

Finally, I try to push my RAs to get more out of the experience, so that it is as beneficial to them as possible, while at the same time keeping them tied tightly to my own research needs. An example of pushing my RAs: Not all of my RAs end up doing independent research. Depending on the type of RAship, they may just do the tasks I set them, and never really think about the context and purpose of those tasks. However, Tiny U has a number of fellowships/grants to support undergraduate research, so I strongly encourage my RAs to identify aspects of my research that they find most interesting and to pursue those as independent research projects in future semesters. I even come up with a list of appropriate topics, with some indication of the data that would be needed to test the hypotheses and the methods that would need to be employed. I help RAS to craft proposals for the fellowship applications, work through the research itself, and oversee the subsequent write-up (including co-authored papers or conference presentations).

At the same time, though, I find it critical to tie student's research very tightly with my own. Some of my RAs express an interest in doing something well outside my research interests, such as working in a different region, or with plant remains. I am very firm in saying "no" to their requests to take on directed studies or in any other way getting intimately involved with that type of independent research. I just don't have the time to walk them through the process if it means learning new literature and methods myself. If they want my help, they must work on materials I have in my lab, or on some side issue with the data that I've collected. I will work with them on other topics, but only if it relates so directly to my research that there is potentially a publication down the road (for example, the research may produce some useful comparative data to my own), or at least their literature review will help fill in holes in my own knowledge (for example, if the student wants to research stable isotopes, a topic I need to learn more about myself.)

Restricting my undergraduate RAs to my research has been incredibly important. I'm grateful that I'm allowed to do so. Some of my Tiny U colleagues in other departments are not so lucky. Many departments require students to do a senior research project, chosen by the student, and supervised by a faculty member. The faculty members cannot dictate or limit the students' choice, and frequently end up supervising research on topics very far from their own interests, sucking up a great deal of time and energy. If you're in a program like that, you have all of my sympathy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

gathering your (undergraduate research) minions

In a previous post, I talked about including undergraduates in your research. Mentoring and providing research opportunities is an important part of my job at a liberal arts college, and something the tenure committee will look at closely. On the other hand, supervising undergraduate assistants can suck a lot of your energy and time away from your own research, unless you manage it wisely. My last post was on the structure of undergraduate research as it integrates with your own. This post is on how to gather your undergraduate research team.

I find it hard to recruit good undergraduate research assistants. It's not that they aren't out there, it's just that I don't always know what characteristics will make the best RA. At first, I chose students who showed a great deal of enthusiasm in my classes, even if they hadn't been the top grade-earners. This turned out to be a mistake. They were pleasant and fun, but they didn't get top grades because they weren't consistent workers. They couldn't be trusted to show up on time, or to put that last bit of effort in to do the task right.

After that, I only chose students who were at the top of my classes. In general, this worked better, but I ended up with a student with unusual interpersonal skills (I assume she fits somewhere on the autism spectrum), which caused very severe communication problems for which I was not prepared. This also can lead to RAs who had overcommitted to other research or extracurricular activities and aren't willing to do as much for your research as you could hope.

My current approach has worked better. Last Spring, I announced the upcoming RA positions in all of my classes (and Dr. Mr. Palimpsest's archaeology class). I asked students to fill in a statement of interested that asked for their:
planned time of graduation
majors and minors
overall GPA and GPA in anthropology
classes taken in anthropology or archaeology
previous research experience
other jobs/commitments expected during the RA period
name of one reference

Most of the students who applied were already known to me, so I could judge their pleasantness, commitment to their work, eye for detail, etc., from personal experience. The information about how well they did in school in general, as well as how over-committed they plan to be, was extremely useful.

This semester, I have a cracking research team. Partly this is luck, but partly this reflects changes in the characteristics I value in an RA. YMMV, of course, but here's what I look for now:

pleasant personality, but not necessarily a social butterfly. I'm a complete introvert, but I have nothing against extroverts. I did learn the hard way, though, that enthusiasm for archaeology sometimes just reflects the student's extroversion, not their true commitment to the field. On the other hand, extremely quiet students may not just be "reserved", their quietness may mask an inability to effectively communicate with others.

attention to detail and pride in doing things right. These traits often separate the A students from the B students, but not all A students have them, and not all B students lack them. I can often see these traits in how well students write, and whether or not they go the "extra mile" in class assignments.

first- or second-year students. I find these students to be less over-committed, better able to balance the RA-ship and classes, and, ideally, willing to continue working with you for years to come.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

about inside candidates

Are you reading the archaeology jobs wiki? I recommend it, if you're on the academic market. We archaeologist seem a bit reticent about sharing too many details. Personally, I don't have a problem with saying who is on the short-list for a particular job. After all, they're giving public presentations! But, I understand the wish for privacy.

There are many comments on the wiki about inside candidates. Many potential applicants are concerned by visiting scholars or adjuncts already affiliated with the hiring department. In some cases, these concerns are particularly strong because the supposed inside candidate is a spouse of an existing faculty member, or the person was hired for the visiting position the year before under almost the same job description.

I think we over-estimate the "problem" of inside candidates. I've applied for a lot of jobs, heard about the inside machinations of job searches at many other institutions, and participated in search committees myself. Here are some of the actual situations I've seen (or heard about from credible sources):

1) The adjunct spouse appears to fit the job description, but there was never any intention of hiring him/her. The thought had never occurred to the search committee, or the spouse in question has some other part-time job that they wish to keep.

2) The visiting scholar who was hired last year (under basically the same job description) was hired out of an applicant pool of 12. The tenure-track job attracts an applicant pool of 120.

3) The visiting scholar received a job offer from another institution before their current institution can offer them a tenure-track job.

4) The visiting scholar managed to piss off the whole department within the first two weeks of her new job. She fits the job description, but wouldn't be hired in a million years.

5) The visiting scholar was hired because he was the protegee of the department chair. But, the department chair is hated by the rest of the department, so when it comes to a formal search for a tenure-track job, with a search committee and vote by the whole faculty, the visiting scholar doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell. Everyone will vote against the department chair's choice, just out of spite.

6) The committee that hired the visiting scholar had one member with a strong interest in hiring a faculty member who could teach in the Environmental Sciences program. That person is on sabbatical the next year, and when the tenure-track search committee is formed, he is replaced by someone who is passionate about hiring a faculty member who can teach in the Asian Studies program. The visiting scholar works in the Amazon, and is therefore screwed.

7) The department would never hire an adjunct from their own program. They think all the good candidates should be able to get tenure-track jobs right out of graduate school, and they're not interested in anyone else.

8) The department would never hire a faculty member's spouse. They think that any good archaeologists should have been able to get his or her own job, and if that person was unwilling to live 2,000 miles away from their 3 kids, that just shows they lack serious interest in their career.

I could go on, but you get the point. For heaven's sake, apply for the job, regardless of whether you think there's an inside candidate!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

becoming a "radical scholar" at a liberal arts college

Earlier this month, I wrote about Kate Clancy's call for women (especially parents) to become "radical scholars".

Here's what Clancy says about becoming radical:
But those of us who insist on playing with our toys in the academic sandbox need to be radicals. And I do think a lot of the ways we need to be radical involves how we perform our job: we need to set boundaries so that we aren’t always doing the service work no one wants, we need to make our passions our scholarly interests in the face of some who would invalidate it, we need to perform our confidence in front of people who might undermine us. We need to get tenure.

But I think it also means reflecting critically on what it takes to get tenure, and whether the way it’s done is the way it should be done. There are two problems with the current criteria for tenure: they don’t reflect modern, interdisciplinary scholarship, and they don’t include metrics to evaluate influence and perspective beyond peer-reviewed publications.

She goes on to discuss the importance of new methods of publishing and service to the field (like blogs), and developing new ways of counting interdisciplinary scholarship toward tenure.

Clancy's article is from the perspective of an R1 faculty member. But what about those of us at liberal arts colleges (LACs)? I don't know if women and mothers at LACs get tenure at lower rates than men and non-mothers, but we still face many of the same balance issues. How do we become radical scholars?

Here are a few ideas from my own experience:

1) Teaching counts for more in tenure decisions at a LAC, so include time-saving technology, child-focused research, and other mother-friendly activities in your teaching and sell them as pedagogical innovation. Seriously. I teach intro courses in cultural, biological, and archaeology. In those courses, I include a substantial on-line component, where students use their home computer to take exams, quizzes, do weekly assignments, on-line prelabs, participate in discussions, etc. In my tenure file, I call this "innovative use of technology" that "continues the opportunities for collaborative and interactive learning outside the classroom." But do you know the major reason I do it? Because most of those on-line activities are automatically graded by the computer, and the grades automatically added to the on-line grading system. When a question requires human attention, I can grade at my own convenience, on my own computer, without having to haul around stacks of paper, or deal with 75 different examples of illegible handwriting.

Another example: I'm obsessive about breast-feeding (Pumpkin is sleeping and nursing in my lap as I type). I've done a lot of research on it. I'm also interested in other aspects of pregnancy and reproduction. So, I've made that the topic of one week of my ecological anthropology class. It's not my field, but it's an interest of mine, and it allows me to apply research that's important for the care of my own children to my teaching.

2) Service may count more at a LAC than at an R1 school (depending on the LAC and the R1, of course). Here at Tiny U, community-service based class activities are considered particularly impressive in a tenure application. I'm focusing my community service activities around young children, so my mothering experience and interests will complement my professional service. This year, my North American Archaeology class will be putting together a presentation on archaeology and site stewardship, as well as local culture history, for the preschoolers and kindergarteners in town. Yup, I'm taking my "big kids" to my own Bunny's kindergarten class. I get double bonus points for volunteering in my child's classroom and doing professional community service!

3) Although LACs put more focus on teaching than R1s, at many colleges, research will also be rewarded. Here at Tiny U, a mediocre teaching record and a stellar research record will get you tenure, but a bad research record will not necessarily be balanced by even the highest teaching honors. At Tiny U, only a small percentage of the faculty do significant research, but we have little pots of money to encourage faculty to do more. I've never been turned down for any money I've applied for, including grants in the $5,000-20,000 range! If you're one of the few here who do research, you can have a significant advantage when it comes to available seed money.

Obviously, the reason so few of us do research is because our teaching and advising loads are so high. This is where it becomes important to say "no", and to refuse typically "mothering" roles that both administrators and students may wish you to fulfill. I don't listen to students' personal problems. I'm happy to serve as their academic adviser, but they need to come to me with coherent questions and plans, I won't spend an hour discussing their vague dreams for the future. I'm not their mother. I'm not rude when I refuse this role, I'm just professional and distant, and I refuse to take any conversational opening that invites more "sharing". Every once in a while, a student is unable to read the conversational cues that say "I'm not your personal counselor, I'm your professor, let's keep this professional", but in general, I find my more "hands-off" role easy to maintain. (I should mention that I'm neither young, pretty, short, nor particularly feminine in appearance, advantages that help maintain some distance and respect.)

4) Public outreach is a category of service that is also highly prized at some LACs. I often have great ideas for public outreach (I'll give a series of lectures on human evolution! I'll put together an archaeology day!). I've decided to avoid these as much as possible, unless I can "double-dip", for example, by having one of my classes put together the archaeology day as a community-service based component of their classroom experience.

That brings me to the topic of this blog. One of the original purposes of this blog was to create a forum where I could vent, which is one of the reasons I made it anonymous. (The other reason is that I am concerned my colleagues in anthropology would see this blog as wasted time that could be spent on teaching or publishing.) I have used this space to vent in the past, but I've since regretted making this blog anonymous. In general, I like my job and my colleagues, and I don't have that much to complain about that I can't openly acknowledge. I wonder, if I was more open about my identity, could I foster more dialog on the topics of zooarchaeology, teaching methods, and family/work balance which are the main focus of this blog? I never intended for this blog to influence the field, or impress anybody, but it would be nice to have more interaction with other archaeologists interested in the same topics. Obviously, the few people who comment on this blog already know who I am. I'm not really keeping my identity secret, especially from other zooarchaeologists, but I do regret that I didn't begin this blog openly. I feel it would be too difficult to change now.

As a final note, I planned to write this post 10 days ago, but I was delayed by the same sorts of life events that make motherhood and academia hard to merge. Pumpkin had minor surgery, and my parents were here for a week to help. Between the surgery, a day at home for Pumpkin, and a volunteer responsibility at Bunny's school, I lost most of last week. This week, Bunny doesn't have school Thursday and Friday, and Pumpkin has been sick at home the last two days. If I'm lucky, he'll be well enough to go to daycare tomorrow, so I'll have one day this week to work. I had a Wenner-Gren grant proposal 80% done on the 7th, and I've barely touched it since. (Hmm, maybe I should be doing that instead of writing this blog.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the anthropology job market

It's the academic job market time again! In honor of the season opening, I want to remind you all of the classic "archaeology academic job draft" post by Archaeonumeracy. Now, onto the job market joy!

These two links came across my radar yesterday:

The first article talks about how horrible the anthropology job market is, at least in academia. I'll admit, there are times when I wonder if I made a mistake going into anthropology. I love it, but would I have been just as happy as a paleontologist? Or a wildlife biologist? Would my job prospects have been much better in those fields?

The second article predicts strong growth in the anthropology/archaeology job market, mostly in CRM and government jobs ("government" as in Department of Defense). I've told my students that graduate school in anthropology can be a good choice, but if being a university professor is the only acceptable outcome for them, they need to find another field. On the other hand, even students who are interested in applied fields can have trouble finding the right training, as many graduate programs continue to give short shrift to the practicalities of the job market.

This past week, I sent out my first job applications of the season. I'm being picky about my applications. I already have a job and I can afford to wait until something I really want shows up*. On the other hand, this looks like a (relatively) good year on the job market. I've already seen five jobs I'm willing to apply for, and there will probably be more. Who else is on the job market this year? Are you feeling more optimistic than in previous years?

*I'm still debating whether or not to apply for the job at Stanford, which is clearly the faunal job of the year. Why or why do all the faunal jobs have to be in coastal California where nobody can afford to live?!? Does anybody else wonder if it's worth taking a great job, but in a place where your quality of living would be low?

Monday, October 17, 2011

chicken domestication in China

8,000 year old chicken bones have been uncovered at the Cishan site, in the northern province of Hebei, China. The archaeologists argue they are domestic fowl because they are somewhat larger than wild jungle fowl, but still smaller than modern chickens.

It's not clear how many chicken bones were recovered. I get the impression that there weren't very many. Given the sample, I don't want to make too much of the find. Still, I was struck by this quote:

Several bone fragments were identified to be from domesticated chickens, said Qiao Dengyun, head of the Handan Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology...Qiao said the bone fossils date back to 6,000 BC, earlier than the oldest domesticated chicken previously discovered in India that dated back 4,000 years.

"Most of the bones were from cocks, indicating that ancient residents used the practice of killing cocks for their meat and raising hens for their eggs," said Qiao.

If a site was occupied for a long time, then hens should still be found, even if their average life is much longer than that of cocks. If we find a strong sex bias in the chicken remains from many early Neolithic sites, we may want to re-think the original purpose of chicken domestication, or at least of chicken capturing. Sex biases could reflect a variety of cultural processes and values. For example, there is a bias toward male macaws in the Southwest that is thought to represent macaw breeding monopolies in sites to the south (southern traders kept the females and only traded out the males). Perhaps a male bias in chickens suggests they were first kept for fighting purposes, rather than food. Or perhaps they were display/ritual animals, or kept for their feathers, like red-tail hawks (again, in the Southwest.) This could account for the larger size, but not through selection, rather through the focused capture of larger wild males.

Lots of food for thought here. It will be nice to see more data.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

taphonomy as art

Check out this video (made with animated cut paper) of the stages of decay in a whale carcass. Even I, a zooarchaeologist, find it strange that this video is so beautiful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

another Pat Shipman article on people and animals

I would be remiss if I didn't link to this Guardian article covering Pat Shipman's work on the critical importance of human/animal relationships. Shipman's book, The Animal Connection, is on my Amazon wish-list (it even comes in a Kindle edition! Yipee!) I'll try to review it as soon as, you know, I can afford to buy it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"a letter to my daughter"

I came across this nice blog post by a PhD-mom-trailing spouse, nicely illustrating some of the anger and depression and resentment and frustration that can come from academic two-body problems.

Monday, October 10, 2011

talking to little kids about Columbus Day

My kindergartner came home last week full of exciting tales about Columbus. Needless to say, none of those tales included genocide.

I've only begun the process of talking to my kids about the hard truths behind our national myths. Last year, we tackled Thanksgiving, after Bunny's preschool fed her the whole Pilgrims and Indians story. This year, it's Columbus Day.

Here's what I told Bunny about Columbus. I'm interested in how others have faced this challenge, so please leave a comment!

First, I told Bunny that there were lots of people living in the Americans, and they built great cities, made beautiful art and music, and did all the things that we do today (i.e., made food, spent time with their families, worked, etc.)

Then, I told her that Columbus was sailing a ship from Europe and just happened to reach the Americas. I said that Columbus was a person just like all other people, he had both good traits and bad traits. I told her Columbus did some very good things: he was brave and smart to sail all that way, he tried to trade with the people he met, bringing them things from Europe that they didn't have, and taking thing from the Americas that the Europeans didn't have. (Bunny wanted to know what things. I told her "corn". Dr. Mr. Palimpsest suggested "syphilis", but luckily Bunny didn't pick up on that.)

But, I added, Columbus did some bad things. I told her that Columbus stole things from the people he met. We have talked about slavery before, so I told her that he took some of the people as slaves. Finally, I told her that Columbus and his crew were carrying bad diseases, and they spread these diseases to the people in the Americas, so many, many people died.

This last point took a lot of explaining, and was difficult to keep on a kindergarten level. Bunny wanted to know why the people in the Americas died from the diseases when the Europeans did not (epidemiology on a preschool level, anyone?!) She was also a little scared by this information, so her father and I were very careful to explain that this was a long time ago, and these diseases can now be treated by doctors. She was interested to learn that the shots she's forced to endure are vaccinations to ensure she doesn't get sick like the people Columbus met.

We summed up the whole thing by saying that some people celebrate Columbus Day because Columbus was brave and smart, but not everyone likes to celebrate because of the bad things he did.

How do you handle these issues?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

early domestic dogs: brains punctured and fed mammoth

Check out this story on early domestic dogs. The skulls were punctured, perhaps to release the dogs' spirit, and one of the skulls was found with a mammoth bone in its mouth, perhaps "food for the journey".

I can't get to the original JAS article, so I don't know the date/location of these finds, but they represent 1) another piece of evidence for very early dog domestication (I'm assuming); and 2) another example of the unique relationships we have with other species.

UPDATE: I was able to get to the original article. Here's the citation:
Mietje Germonpré, Martina Lázničková-Galetová, Mikhail V. Sablin, in press, Palaeolithic dog skulls at the Gravettian Předmostí site, the Czech Republic, JAS.

The finds come from the Předmostí site in the Czech Republic, and date to 26-27,000 y BP. What I find interesting about this assemblage is the high number of canid remains, some of which are identified as dog, and others identified as wolf. The authors mention over 1000 mammoths (MNI), and over 4000 canid specimens (NISP), for a MNI of over 100. Since carnivores are not usually such a high percentage of archaeological assemblages, I would be predisposed to consider the site a wolf den. Unfortunately, the skulls come from early excavations that were not well documented, and therefore the context of the skulls identified as dogs, not wolves, are unclear.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

bringing our whole selves to our careers

In my last post, I directed you toward Kate Clancy's blog, and her post "Three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: On being a radical scholar".

I was particularly struck by this:

Dr. Turner encouraged us to push against a job that forces us to “constantly abstract ourselves,” that we should bring our whole selves to the table because of what we offer but also because it makes us whole.

How many of us publicly admit the side of us that yearns for more childcare, but not also the side of us that yearns to turn off our computers and snuggle our kids for an afternoon? How many academics hide who they love, or what they love, for fear of not fitting in or not seeming serious?


So no more. I’m bringing everything that I am to my job. This isn’t just about loving my kid, or being an athlete, or writing a blog, though it’s a start to fully embrace these things. This is about wanting to push the boundaries of how anthropologists and doctors think about female reproductive physiology. This is about the intersection of feminism and evolutionary biology. And this means that I need to more explicitly make this passion my primary scholarly interest.

Two thoughts:

1) Even here, at Tiny U, where my research expectations are low, I hide the degree to which my family comes first. My colleagues don't realize how much time I spend with my kids, or that I want a larger family. Yes, you read that right: I have two kids, but I still want another one! This is such academic heresy that I'm afraid to tell most of my colleagues, especially as I near my tenure deadline. And yet, should this truly be something I hide? All I'm really saying is that I, like the average American woman, want more than two kids. We all know successful academic men with more than two kids, why should it be shameful for a woman to want three?

2) Unlike Clancy, issues of reproduction are not my primary scholarly interest. But that shouldn't stop me from integrating my career and my motherhood/wifehood/womanhood. I teach the biological anthropology classes at Tiny U - how often do I bring up issues of reproduction? When I teach intro to cultural, do I bring up issues of women's labor and gender roles as they relate to children? I have advocated for families when I serve on university committees, why not focus my mandatory service requirements on family issues?

More on this later, particularly on Clancy's contention that we should become "radical scholars".

Friday, October 7, 2011

article on tenure for women and mothers

Academic women, mothers, advocates for women and mothers: Read This.

Enough said.

Monday, October 3, 2011

9kyo domestic horse?

Better late than never: This BBC article highlights claims of 9k year old domestic horses in Saudi Arabia.

When I teach about animal domestication, I make a distinction between different types of domesticates:

commensals: These are mice and pigeons, but also pigs, guinea pigs, cats, and other, more acceptable, animal companions. These animals are domesticated largely through their attraction to human-created environments.

herd animals: sheep, goats, cattle, etc. These animals were domesticated from hunted populations, largely through substituting humans for the leadership positions within the herd structure. The original purpose of domestication was for the primary products (meat, blood), but secondary products (wool, milk, traction) could become important later.

transport animals: elephants, horses, llamas, camels, etc. These animals are often difficult domesticates, in that their social structure isn't as easily dominated by humans, or they cannot be allowed to stay in their normal wild social organization, because the males will fight, etc.

I usually tell my students that most transport animals were domesticated far later than the other kinds of domesticates, because they are more difficult to control, and because the domestication of animals for their secondary products alone (transportation, traction) is seen as unlikely before fully domestic economies had already formed.

This article on early horse domestication suggests that horses were originally domesticated for the meat, not the transport. If that's the case, it's not as surprising to find horses were domesticated just as early as sheep, goats, and cattle. Horses fill a different ecological niche than those other herd animals, and may have been a useful way to exploit some parts of the desert environment.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

lessons from cave art: kids are part of the family, too

There's an interesting article in the Guardian about the participation of young children in creating cave art.

The article is a wonderful example of the archaeology of childhood and children. We often claim children are invisible in the archaeological record, but of course that isn't true. I think we overlook the significance of indirect evidence for children, but here is some very direct evidence.

I'll admit, though, that when I read the article, I wondered if the journalist or the archaeologists were parents. Some of the statements were a bit odd, as if the authors were surprised to find that children were a part of their family's day-to-day lifestyle.

The research shows us that children were everywhere, even in the deepest, darkest, caves, furthest from the entrance. They were so involved in the art you really begin to question how heavily they were involved in everyday life.

"To be honest, I think there were probably very few restrictions on what children were allowed to do, and where they were allowed to go, and who they were allowed to go with.

"The art shows us this is not an activity where children were running amok. It shows collaboration between children and adults, and adults encouraging children to make these marks. This was a communal activity."

I'm not sure why this would be a surprise. What else would kids do while the parents made art/made dinner/cleaned the cave/gathered food/etc? Do we expect all families, past and present, to have the same kind of disconnect we do in the industrial world, where children are sent to daycare/school, while their parents pursue separate adult lives? If you've ever tried to take on any task with young children in the house (you know, like making a snack, or peeing?), you know that young kids want to be with you all the time. My five-year old daughter wouldn't, and couldn't, be left behind on the talus slope while I wandered into the deepest chambers to mold some clay.

Industrial societies tend to separate work from family, religion from daily life, children from adults. Most of us segregate children in schools while we work, keep them in church daycare while we worship, and consider art a subject in school, or the focus of a nursery project, not an integrated aspect of family life. But our attitudes are not descriptive of the majority of people, past and present, and we should be aware of that.

Another quote that caught my attention:

The majority of the drawings are flutings covering the walls and roofs of the many galleries and passages in the complex. One chamber is so rich in flutings by children it is believed to be an area set aside for them. The marks of four children, estimated to be aged between two and seven, have been identified there.

"It suggests it was a special place for children. Adults were there, but the vast majority of artwork is by children," said Jess Cooney, a PhD student at the university's archaeology department."It's speculation, but I think in this particular chamber children were encouraged to make more art than adults. It could have been a playroom where the children gathered or a room for practice where they were encouraged to make these marks in order that they could grow into artists and make the beautiful paintings and engravings we find throughout the cave, and throughout France and Spain. Or it could have been a room used for a ritual for particular children, perhaps an initiation of sorts."

This is very interesting. Yes, it could be a specific ritual place for children. At the same time, it could just be a place where people hung out. (There's no information in this short article about where this chamber is relative to the outside, or what evidence it produced for daily living.) By the end of the day, my children's imprint on our house is certainly far more visible than that of the adults. That's why we have an evening clean-up session, and I keep the permanent markers out of little hands. I'll be interested in learning more about the context of this chamber, and what makes the archaeologists believe it is a ritual area.