Tuesday, March 30, 2010

job search wiki

If you haven't already seen it, here's the link to this year's archaeology job search wiki, a good place to keep up on the progress of job searches, both tenure-track and non-tenure-track. It's a bit late in the year to post this, but if you're still on the market, you may find it useful. Personally, I'd like to see a wiki with more details/gossip, but I recognize it would be hard to keep that within professional bounds. Too bad. I, for one, would like to name names (says the anonymous blogger).

Monday, March 29, 2010

another program in trouble

I mentioned before that the University of Nevada-Reno may be closing their PhD program. Today I saw an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, no link - you need to subscribe to read it) that Florida State University will no longer offer an anthropology major. The article implied that the anthropology faculty would be laid off, as does the Tallahassee Democrat, which claims anthropology is one of 21 programs to be eliminated.

The department webpage itself, however, suggests this is a temporary set-back. If you follow the link "Want to Major in Anthropology?" on the FSU webpage, you get this message:

Prospective Students Information

Unfortunately due to state budget challenges the Department of Anthropology is not currently admitting new students to the major or admitting new graduate students. Please leave your name and email contact information if want to major in anthropology when this suspension is lifted. We encourage everyone to give us this information to help us document the demand for the major.

I assume the faculty must be losing their jobs, though, since I can't imagine that merely suspending the major would actually save the university any money. On the other hand, my liberal arts college is currently undertaking a review with an eye to closing certain programs. The administration has already said that they won't fire any tenured or tenure-track faculty, however, and our campus has very few adjuncts. It isn't at all clear how closing these departments will save the university money if the faculty are still being paid their salaries. The programs being eliminated do not have their own administrative staff, so there is nothing to be gained in the short-term.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Politics of the Past

I found this article alleging that Israeli archaeologists have religious and political motives for their work to be, well, a non-story. Honestly, I can't comment on the allegations that the Israeli archaeological "machine" deliberately strengthens evidence for Jewish cultural achievements in the region and deliberately undermines evidence for the depth of Arab occupation. I don't personally know enough about Israeli archaeology, and all the Israeli archaeologists I know work in the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, where Jewish statehood is less of an issue. That said, I thought Nadia Abu el-Haj's book Facts on the Ground , and the controversy that surrounded her tenure case, were fascinating examples of the politics of the past.

Whatever may be the case in Israel, we would all be in denial if we pretended that representation of or research on the past is without political implications. Just look at the on-going controversy over the history curriculum in Texas. Saddam Hussein used to dress up as Hamurabi. Hitler pressured the German archaeologists to "prove" the Germanic prehistory of Greece to legitimize his territorial ambitions. Archaeologists in the USSR were asked to legitimize Russian rule of eastern Europe by perpetuating the myth of Slavic unity in prehistory. White Rhodesians were unwilling to admit that black Africans had built Great Zimbabwe, denying both the history of African people and their achievements, to justify colonial rule.

Politicizing the past is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. Today, Great Zimbabwe stands as a symbol for all Zimbabweans of their great history. Heck, the country was even named for the archaeology! Countries around the world take pride in their prehistory and history, lovingly preserving sites, architecture, and artifacts.

The political element is inevitable (although obviously more likely in highly charged contexts, like Middle Eastern history, or the Kennewick Man controversy, or post-colonial Zimbabwe). I'm not saying we should embrace the political, but it seems more sensible to acknowledge it than to claim an unobtainable neutrality.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ultimate gorilla essay

My Intro to Bio Anth students were asked to describe gorillas in the essay portion of their exam. Through the miracle of cutting and pasting, I have combined the "best" sentences and phrases to produce the perfect undergraduate essay. (Note to students looking for an essay to plagiarize: You don't want this one. No, honestly.)


Gorillas happen to be one of my favorite animals. The Gorilla is part of the great ape species and members of the Hominoidea order. Gorillas are found in the mountains and lowlands of southeast Asia, and in the mideastern part of the country Africa, on a mountain. Gorillas need tropical rainforests. They can also be on the side of mountains if they are covered in rainforest. At one point in time, they had a larger population and therefore occupied a larger area in Africa. However, Gorillas now only live in a more tropical area in the mountains of Africa. The reason this occurred was because more and more people (natives) started taking over more land for crops and possibly other "necessities".*

Gorillas are massive and silverbacks probably get up to 1000 lbs and 6 feet tall, while their female counterparts may account for half of their body size. They are terrestrial, quadrupeds. Gorillas exhibit sexual dimorphism, and have mandibles that extend past their maxillas, giving them a distinct look. They have sagittal crests and inconspicuous genitalia. They are very cute and lots of movies are made about them because they are very intelligent, but also very territorial. Gorillas are knuckle walkers and although they bang their fists against their chests they do not kidnap women and climb tall buildings.

Gorillas mostly sit on rocks and vegetate on fruits and leaves. Gorillas eat mainly leaves and a lot of them are not picky at all.

Gorillas have a social organization of alot of Gorillas but only one producing male. Gorillas live in monogamous pairs. Young males either challenge a silverback for his women, find women without a silverback, or steal young females and make their own group. The young stay and learn from their mother. They do not twin.

*In defense of this student, I'm hoping this is a quotation failure - that is, failure to understand how to use punctuation marks correctly - rather than mockery of subsistence farmers trying to feed their families.

Friday, March 19, 2010

ever-fascinating hobbits

Brumm, Adam, Gitte M. Jensen, Gert D. van den Bergh, Michael J. Morwood, Iwan Kurniawan, Fachroel Aziz, and Michael Storey
2010 Hominins on Flores, Indonesia, by one million years ago. Nature doi:10.1038.

Nature's advanced on-line publishing has an article by Brumm et al. on the Flores hominins, with news of stone artifacts from the site of Wolo Sege. The artifacts were found below a volcanic layer dated by Ar/Ar to 1.02 +/- 0.02 Mya. Human evolution is not my research focus (although I follow these debates with interest because I teach all the BioAnth classes here), but my attention was caught by the following:

Previously, the earliest stone artefacts at Mata Menge, associated
with the fossilized remains of S. [Stegodon] florensis florensis, as well as the absence of artefacts from Tangi Talo with its pygmy S. sondaari and giant tortoise, suggested hominin colonization of Flores between,0.9 and 0.88 Myr ago3–6,10 (Fig. 5). On this basis, the faunal turnover that occurred in the Soa Basin at this time was attributed to the arrival of this new predator, although it may have been hastened by a major volcanic eruption that blanketed the area9,18,19. It is now clear, however, in light of the evidence from Wolo Sege, that hominins
were present on Flores by 1 Myr ago. This suggests that the nonselective, mass death of S. sondaari and giant tortoise, associated with stratigraphic evidence for a major volcanic eruption at Tangi Talo ,0.9 Myr ago10, could represent a localized or regional extinction, and that the faunal turnover may have been a result of climate change, volcanic activity or some other natural process or event (Fig. 5). (Brumm et al. 2010:3)

The authors may be right, but just because there was a long period of co-existence between the tortoise, dwarf stegadons, and hominins, doesn't necessarily mean that early hominins had little or no role in the eventual extinction, or that climate changes was the only or primary cause of faunal turnover. Certainly, it appears from this evidence that faunal change was not the result of initial colonization of the island by hunters, but there are many examples of longer-term processes that lead to extinction. Changes in hominin population density, or technology, or hunting behavior, could all lead to hominin-caused extinctions, long after initial colonization. It's also possible that the natural disasters mentioned in the text would not have affected the faunal community so drastically, had there not been significant hominin predation.

My absolute favorite anthro blog, John Hawks' Paleoanthropology Weblog, had this to say about the finds:

I discussed this with my graduate seminar yesterday. The long persistence of this toolmaking culture, in what must have been a rather small human population, is weighing on my mind. Were there recurrent contacts from Java, keeping the population going? How dependent were these people on their tools?

Hominin predators can lead to unstable dynamics -- most predators will undergo predator-prey cycles, but humans can switch to other resources and continue to press a small prey species to extinction. The long persistence of tasty animals on Flores in the presence of hominins suggests that the subsistence practices of these hominins were different in some ways from later humans.

Again, I'm not sure I agree, although the issue of tool dependence, I believe, is a critical one. I think we know far to little about the population dynamics on Flores to conclude that their subsistence practices were different than later humans, just because the larger prey species persisted. How big were the hominin populations, relative to the stegadon populations? Would stegadons and giant tortoises actually have been the highest-ranked prey, when smaller animals may have easily fed such small populations of hominins? And, like I said before, are we actually certain that hominin predation wasn't having a strong negative impact on the prey populations?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ten things I hate about my tiny town

As promised.

1) Lack of opportunity - The university is the only major white-collar employer in this town, and it employs only 125 or so faculty members and has no budget for spousal hires. Academic trailing spouses have no opportunities to find jobs outside of the university, since the economy is almost entirely agriculture-based.

2) Lack of diversity - This town is 93% White, Euro-American, although there are probably a number of Latino migrant farm workers who are not counted in that statistic. I never used to think that my home town was all that diverse, but at 79% White, it's actually looking pretty good. Also, that stat's a bit misleading, since there's a major university in my hometown and the students and their children are more diverse than the town overall. While we stay in this town, my kids have almost no exposure to people of different ethnicities. We lose a lot of faculty of color, partly because this town - which seems so friendly to me - is not as comfortable a place for anyone who stands out as "different".

3) Climate - I grew up a couple of states over, in a climate very similar to this one. I hated it then, and I hate it now. I never had any intention of returning to this climate.

4) Food - This is not a region known for its fine cuisine, even under the best of circumstances. In this tiny little town, we don't even have the advantage of restaurants and food markets run by people who aren't from this region. The only "good" restaurant in town is Italian. The name is grammatically incorrect in Italian, and the chef is German-American. There is no decent "ethnic food" (as we generally interpret that phrase in the U.S.) The closest we come is a small stand on the main street that sells Mexican fast food. Thank God for the migrant workers, who provide a big enough market for Mexican food and ingredients that the basics are always available.

5) Isolation - We are three hours from an airport. We are three hours from a decent-sized anthropology department, with labs, lecture series, etc. We are two hours from a town of 50k. We are an hour from a town of 10k, a mall, any big-box store, etc. Dear Spouse and I are the only two anthropological archaeologists within an hour's radius, and the rest of our department consists of a single cultural anthropologist.

6) Lack of shopping - Like I said in an earlier post, you have to drive an hour to buy a frickin' bath mat. There is one grocery store. There is no book store. 'Nuff said.

7) Lack of opportunities for older children - It's great for little kids, but there is nothing here for teenagers except getting drunk in somebody's back field and cow-tipping. I can already predict which of the (handful of) small boys in my daughter's preschool is likely to be her prom date. I have two colleagues whose children were high school sweethearts, married each other, and settled down in town. The first time I heard that story, I went straight home and told Dear Spouse we had to leave this place before our daughter is old enough to date.

8) Hours - Everything closes on holidays and Sundays. There are no 24-hour grocery stores, drug stores, or convenience stores. Many businesses don't post their hours, since they assume people just know what they are. Since most residents have lived here their whole lives, that's often true.

9) Landscaping - OK, it's petty, but I absolutely hate what passes for landscaping in this town. Apparently, the ideal lawn is a flat expanse of grass, with absolutely no flowers, bushes, or trees. Flower beds around the houses, often as not, have nothing but clean gravel in them.

10) Lack of student-oriented businesses - I never thought I would miss the strip of cheap fast-food restaurants, bars, coffee shops, book stores, t-shirt shops, etc., that you find on the edges of every university I have ever known. This tiny town flat-out doesn't have some of those businesses (like the book store), and the others are located at an inconvenient distance from campus. Sure, everything is walkable, but if you want to grab a quick lunch in the middle of a busy day, you don't want to take the time to walk 10 blocks to downtown and then 10 blocks back. I'm convinced our enrollment problems are partly due to the lack of service for students. Who wants to come to a tiny school in the middle of nowhere, and not even be able to go to a coffee shop with your friends?

genetic analysis suggests Middle Eastern origin for dogs

I found this article interesting, as it discusses a new article in Nature about the origins of domestic dogs. Previous research on mtDNA had suggested an East Asian origin for domestic dogs. (Contrary to what it says in the article, this is perfectly in line with the archaeological record, and an early East Asian domestication event has been proposed since Stanley Olsen's pioneering zooarchaeology work.) The new SNP analysis described in this article, however, suggests that most modern dogs have a stronger affinity to the Middle Eastern wolf. Since our earliest examples of Middle Eastern dogs come from the Natufian (only around 12kya), and we have much earlier examples from central Asia, I'm a bit surprised. Still, absence of evidence, etc., etc. It wouldn't be shocking if we just haven't found the early dogs, yet.

Another comment - the article mentions that a few East Asian breeds show greater genetic similarities to East Asian wolves, rather than Middle Eastern. This suggests multiple domestication events, which is not at all an unlikely scenario. After all, the East Asian and Middle Eastern wolves are not separate species, in the classic sense; they can produce viable and fertile offspring together. For that matter, wolves and dogs are not separate species, so we shouldn't be too shocked to find that domestication occurred in multiple places.

One thing I would like to see is a comparison of modern dogs to New World wolves. Was there an influx of DNA from New World wolves into domestic dogs that entered with the first human colonists? Is it possible that we could see independent domestication in the Americas as well?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ten things I love about my tiny town

This is soon to be followed by a post entitled "ten things I hate about my tiny town", but for the moment, bask in the love.

Our tiny little university (c. 1500 students) is in a tiny little town (c. 3500 people), two hours from nowhere. (Seriously, the closest town of 10,000 is an hour away). There are some definite drawbacks, but here are some of the things I love:

1) Walking - no part of this town is too far to walk. I live five blocks from campus, three blocks from the grocery store, two blocks from the main (OK, only) shopping street, and across the street from the public library. My kids are half a block from their school, two blocks from their daycare...OK, you get the idea.

2) Safe - people can - and frequently do - leave their cars in the parking lot with the engines running. Nobody locks up their bikes, although students have been known to take unlocked bikes for joy rides. You usually find the bike again, down at the grocery store or somewhere else on campus. Nobody locks their house doors. In fact, half the townsfolk don't even have keys to their doors. We rented a house from a faculty member on sabbatical. They had to search for the keys, since the last time they'd used them is when they left them for the last sabbatical renters, 9 years earlier.

3) Families - there are wonderful families here, and I love the little friends my kids have made. Unlike a big research university, this small U is very family friendly, and we know a lot of faculty members in other departments with young kids.

4) Fitness facility - I love, love, love our local fitness center. It's a jointly owned operation of the town and the university. There are usually lots of students there, but also lots of kids and elderly people, and plenty of faculty members. My kids love the pool and the special toys in the gym, and it provides a track and plenty of machines for the adults. (Downside: having your students see you naked in the locker room.)

5) Community - it's easier to make friends here than any other place I've lived, post-graduate school. I've made friends in the neighborhood, at church, through daycare, and through the university. It's a very welcoming community, at least to us.

6) Cheap - it's rural, it's small, it's in the middle of frickin' nowhere. Land is cheap, houses are cheap, and we don't have any high-end stores, so everything you can buy here is cheap. Honestly, our house cost less than our combined incomes. Cheap.

7) Kid stuff - great parks, lots of toys for kids at the gym, it's safe to let your kids run around on their own. It's a cliche, but this really is a great place to raise a young family.

8) Internet - OK, this isn't really an attribute of the town itself, but it makes life here far more livable. If it weren't for on-line shopping, e-mail, social networking sites, etc., this place would be much too isolated. As it is, you have to drive an hour to buy a flippin' bath mat. Being connected gives you many of the advantages of a big town, while enjoying all the advantages of a small town.

9) Outdoors - we're close to old Mother Nature out here in the boondocks. We don't take advantage of it, but we could.

10) Politics - We're in a conservative part of a liberal state. That's still better than the last few places we've lived, which were vaguely liberal parts of conservative states. There's a lot more support for education here.

craziest person in the room syndrome

Academia seems particularly prone to "craziest person in the room syndrome" - the phenomenon where one nut from the committee/department gets their way every time, just because nobody wants to put the time, energy, and political capital into fighting. So, the nut's agenda wins, even when it's not in the best interests of the faculty/department/university, such as when the nut wants to hire the least qualified of the job candidates, or deny tenure to a qualified junior colleague, or re-hire an emeritus professor who was forced out after being, frankly, habitually too drunk to do his job. (No, these are not fictitious examples. Our resident nut has tried all three within the last calendar year.)

I think the problem comes from the supposedly democratic structure of academic departments. Theoretically, we're all equals, with the possible exception of the department chair, so nobody feels comfortable imposing their will on others (except, of course, for the nut). At the same time, the structure is not democratic, and differences in power are very real. For example, I am the only non-tenured tenure-track person in my department. I've seen our resident nut turn on junior faculty before and drive them out of the U. I don't want it to happen to me.

Senior faculty don't have my excuse, and sometimes I want to shake them and say "What the f*&k are you afraid of?!? Tell her/him he's insane and we're not going to do it!" But, of course, they don't want to start a feud with a colleague that they may very well have to work with for 30 years, especially when that person is not rational enough to follow social norms. I don't want to attack the tenure system, but "craziest person in the room syndrome" seems like a steep price to pay.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

throwing myself under the bus

Monday I had my bi-weekly meeting of Excruciating Faculty Committee. We've been talking about the lack of funds to replace people who are on leave/sabbatical, and one of the EFC members made the comment (not for the first time) that the administration takes advantage of the fact that "any real faculty member would throw himself under a bus for the students." This was seconded by another committee member who is pissed that his partner's teaching an overload because he's been "exploited" by the administration, who knew he'd just step up and do the extra work when one of his colleagues went on leave.

OK, repeat after me, folks: It's. A. Job. Honestly, I ain't throwing myself under a bus for anyone, except my own family (or possibly to get out of my commitment to Excruciating Faculty Committee). Sure, we're relatively low-paid, and many people feel under-appreciated, but the administration can't force full professors to teach an overload, and these people wouldn't face any retribution if they just said "no". It's not the administration's fault if y'all want to play early Christian martyrs.

What really bothers me about this, though, is that it strikes me as part of the growing attitude that higher education is a service job, especially at a liberal arts college. Like many service jobs, university teaching positions are increasingly low-paid and low status, and dominated by women. The idea that we should give far more than is called for by the bounds of our contract is part of the feminization of academia. I'm all for doing my job as well as I can, and I certainly recognize that I have responsibilities toward my students, but it is not a privilege to serve their every needs. I expect to be paid to do my job, and I'm not going to do more than I am paid for, unless we're talking about research that furthers my own career. The fact that this increasingly sounds like a "bad attitude" is a problem with the culture of academia.

will the real Pliocene hominin please stand up?

I love this. Too bad they made the jokes about George W. Bush, so it's NSFC (not safe for class).

Monday, March 8, 2010

UNR's PhD program to be suspended?

According to a Facebook fan group, "Save UNR's Anthropology PhD Program!", the University of Nevada, Reno is considering suspending their PhD program. I don't know if this is a credible threat, and I have no idea if this is for budget reasons, political in-fighting, or what. Still, the group already has 82 fans, some of whom are Great Basin archaeologists, so presumably they are more clued in than I am.

I hate to see PhD students left stranded, and I don't want anyone to lose their job. Still, I can't join in the lamentation for a PhD program lost. The truth is, we already have too many PhD programs. The last numbers I saw said that there are around 130 PhD's granted in anthropological archaeology every year in the US. The last year I was on the job market, I counted 35 tenure-track jobs total in archaeology. I suspect the job market is a lot worse right now.

Granted, not everyone who gets a PhD wants a tenure-track academic job, but there are still a lot more people who want it than can get it. For many students, a CRM or adjunct job is not worth the time, energy, money, health, and sanity that they would have to sacrifice to get a PhD. Given that graduates from the top schools take a disproportionate number of the available jobs, I find the proliferation of PhD programs at smaller schools to be troubling. I'm glad to be at a liberal arts college, because I would have serious moral issues training graduate students for a job market that barely exists.

More on AZ park closings

Here's another nail in the coffin - a state rep who refuses to hold hearings to allow the parks to be funded.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Commentary on Kim 2010

Kim, Jangsuk
2010 Opportunistic versus target mode: Prey choice changes in central-western Korean Prehistory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29:80-93.

The most recent edition of JAA has an interesting article on the application of prey choice models in Korea. Kim contrasts concepts of targeted vs. opportunistic hunting. Basically, he's arguing that decision making is heirarchical, and some higher-level decisions will affect prey choice, in ways not traditionally accounted for by prey choice models. Some foraging trips/economies may therefore be targeted - with foragers setting out to meet a particular by bringing back a particular resource - while others are opportunistic - with foragers taking any acceptable resource that they encounter.

This issue is particularly important, IMHO, for the study of agricultural societies. Too much of the development of models of hunting has been in the hands of archaeologists whose primary focus is on hunting and gathering societies. For much of the prehistoric world, wild resources were important in agricultural societies as well. Yet, agricultural labor needs and agricultural settlement patterns greatly affected hunting patterns. Garden hunting is only one part of this phenomenon. For example, agricultural societies may be limited to valleys, where irrigation is possible. The species of wild animals available in those valleys, however, may be quite different from what would be available to foragers living in surrounding mountains or deserts or dry plains. Long-distance trips for hunting species in such environments would likely be targeted, yet also limited by seasonal labor constraints.

Kim also makes the argument that prey choice models are less the ideal tools for studying human behavior because they are ecological (focusing on short-term responses to environmental conditions), not economic (with a recognition that human foraging involves planned behaviors aimed at supplying a perceived demand, embedded withn a particular social context.) I have to disagree with this. Actually, I think most prey choice models are economic models mascarading as ecological. Essentially, the models used by behavioral ecologists are rational choice models, straight out of the field of economics. Although the concept of natural selection is often invoked, the connection between prey choice models and any measure of reproductive fitness has always been tenuous. The fitness argument is, in fact, often irrelevant. Fitness is clearly not the only - possibly not even the primary - force behind many foraging decisions, and concepts of efficiency and optimality do not need to invoke fitness to be relevant.

A Sad Day

Here's a sad story: The state of Arizona is closing state parks because of their budget crunch. This includes Homol'ovi Ruins State Park, in Winslow. The park covers 7,000 square acres, and seven ancestral pueblos. There is real concern about what will happen to those cultural resources, now that the park staff is no longer there to protect them.

Thinking about the big picture, this is a disaster for Arizona, and for archaeology. The state is highly dependent on tourism. They've been selling tourists on Arizona's deep (pre)history, and the tourism helps sell Arizona residents on site stewardship. And yet, the state park's budget was cut by 61%, and the majority of the state parks will be closing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

And the Oscar goes to...

This is the best fictional representation of the academic job market I have ever seen. Just imagine the commercial possibilities, should we succeed!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why, Oh Why?

I teach the intro Biological Anthropology class. Evolution is the theme of the entire class, and fully half of the semester is devoted to human evolution. When students register for the class, the content is clearly stated in the course description, and we go over it on the first day of class, when I give them the syllabus.

This leads to a deep and imponderable question: Why, in the name of all that is holy, do students take this class if they don't believe in evolution?!?

This class isn't required, except for anthro majors. I've only had one anthro major who falls into this category, and I suspect she was using faith as an excuse for failing the class. Sure, the class fulfills a GenEd requirement in science, but students could fulfill the same requirement with GenChem, and with a lot fewer challenges to their worldview. And yet, a student told me today that she doesn't "really believe the Earth is billions of years old and that macroevolution happens."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I only want to preach to the choir. I know that's pointless. But it's also pointless to preach to the stone deaf and antagonistic.