Wednesday, September 29, 2010

archaeological landscapes

One of my earliest memories is of running up and down the Miamisburg Mound, near Dayton, Ohio. I have family in the area, and when we visited, we would take a picnic to the park where the mound is located. My cousins and I would run up and down the steps, or roll down the sides of the mound, while the adults sat around and reminisced. On summer afternoons, there were often many families in the park.

If my parents explained the significance of the mound to me, I certainly didn't understand or remember. Many, many years later, I was sitting through a lecture on Midwestern moundbuilders, when the professor started showing pictures of the Miamisburg Mound. I experienced a wrench of cognitive connection, and had a sudden mental image of running down steep steps, in the dappled green shade of what seemed to me, as a child, a veritable forest of trees. Oh, so that's why there'd been a big hill in that park.

Archaeological sites are embedded within a larger landscape, one imbued with meaning, full of economic implications, and environmental diversity on a micro- and macro-scale. All landscapes are contingent, and while archaeological sites write the history of human occupation on that landscape, the sites continue to be a living part of the landscape well after that occupation has ceased. Archaeological sites affect vegetation regimes, they affect local biodiversity. Due to changes in the soil, Archaeological sites can often be identified by the differences in modern vegetation on the site, when compared to nearby areas. In the Amazon, prehistorically created terras pretas continue to be used by modern farmers as agricultural fields, as the soils are much richer than "natural". Archaeological sites are frequently re-used. Obvious examples include ritualistic "power grabs", like building the cathedral of Mexico City over the major Aztec temples, but archaeological sites are often re-used for purely practical reasons, rather than legitimization or socio-religious ones. At Kincaid Mounds site, in southern Illinois, a farmhouse was built on the largest mound during the historic period, to raise it above the frequently flooded ground-level.

As archaeologists, we often ignore the modern (or post-occupation) uses of archaeological sites, or treat them as something to be filtered out during the "real" analysis of the site. At least in the United States, we're often not comfortable with the archaeological landscape. Perhaps this is because few of us are descendants of the initial occupants. We are all too aware that the original meaning of the landscape has not carried down to us, and a current picnic spot may have been a place of great spiritual power to someone in the past. Our culture is also less enamored than many by places we associate with the dead. Unlike many Mexican communities, or Victorian-era Euro-Americans, we do not consider cemeteries to be a place to bring your children, gossip, laugh, eat, and enjoy life.

We miss something, though, as archaeologists and as human beings, when we attempt to wall off archaeological sites, make them into museums, separate them from the living world. Don't get me wrong, we need to protect archaeological sites. We also must understand the needs of communities who may hold some sites sacred. But, where practical, we benefit by embracing the archaeological landscape. Archaeological sites are living entities, long after those who lived in them have ceased to breathe, and as researchers it behooves us to remember the long post-occupation history of our sites, how they were used, re-used, and re-invented. Additionally, our field benefits by bringing more people into the archaeological landscape, by making the past a place where children race up and down mound steps and families picnic on summer afternoons. Archaeology has a fair amount of public support, a "gee whiz" factor largely based on Indiana Jones and Egyptian mummies, but true stewardship of archaeological sites will come only when our past is integrated into our present.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

profitablity of the past

A Bulgarian archaeologists claims to have found the relics of St. John the Baptist (in Bulgaria, naturally). I have no comment on the veracity of the claims, but I did think that this story by an English-language Sofia news agency was refreshingly forthright in its coverage of the economic benefits of the finds. In the Middle Ages, towns throughout Christendom begged, borrowed, stole, or faked relics - and took advantage of real ones, of course - for exactly these reasons:

"Investments in history and in archaeology are very profitable for whichever country," said Simeon Djankov, Bulgaria's Finance Minister.

According to him, the return would be about 200 times, while the investment in archaeological heritage in general does not cost much.

"It is worth investing there for archaeology's sake as well, and also because of the new job positions it would create. Investments in this sector return repeatedly and in a relatively short period of time," Djankov said.

He has explained that if there are archaeological landmarks and other attractions, "tourists might decide to stay there not for a day, but for two or three days."

You should read the story. It's short, but interesting, and the Bulgarian Diaspora Minister uses some rather shocking language.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Catalhoyuk dust-up

I hadn't heard about the firing of most lab heads on the Catalhoyuk project. I don't have much to say, other than: Wow.

I'm sure it is true that the analytical team on a long-term project like Catal gets stuck in its ways. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that once a particular scientific team has been chosen, the theoretical and methodological outlooks of those people will shape the nature of the project and are unlike to change over the long-term. But I'm skeptical that bringing in "new blood" will actually accomplish much, other than piss a lot of people off and make the new crew rather wary. There are also a lot of logistical problems to face. Will data continue to be gathered in the same way? If new types of data are gathered using new techniques, new forms, new databases, etc., then how compatible will it be with the old data? If the new data is compatible with the old data, what rules will there be about publishing the new and old data together? How much credit will the old analysts get for their work? How much can they continue to publish after 2012 on this material? Sounds like a real mess!

Catalhoyuk is such a fascinating site, and has incredible importance, both intrinsically and as a highly visible example of archaeology. I hope the potential problems are worked out quickly and smoothly.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

weekly accountability: Sept. 19-25

My writing goals for this week were to finish my pre-tenure sabbatical application and to write the introduction and background section of a conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article.

I did not meet my writing goals this week. I finished the pre-tenure sabbatical application, but I didn't get to the journal article at all. There are a couple reasons for this. One is that I've been really sick all week, so I'm barely keeping my head above water. The other reason is I think I'm over-estimating how much I'm capable of getting done during the week. My writing hours have been going very well, and I've gotten more done in the last two weeks than I have since classes started. The fact remains I have a very teaching-intensive job and I'm prepping a brand new class outside my field of expertise. It's not surprising that I'm not as productive as I think I "ought" to be. I have decided to ease back on my expectations a bit.

My goals for next week are to re-write the introduction and background sections of the conference paper that I'm turning into a journal article.

Friday, September 24, 2010

balance, pt. 4: class prep

I don't teach any classes in my field of research. The closest I come is a four-field course on environmental theory and anthropology. I don't even teach the introductory archaeology course at Tiny Liberal Arts College (it's taught by Dr. Mr. Palimpsest). Instead, I teach introductory courses in biological anthropology and (gasp!) cultural anthropology, as well as higher-level courses in bioanth and archaeology. The only higher-level archaeology class that I teach is focused on a region I've never been to, much less conducted research on.*

I can easily spend 6 hours prepping for each class period, especially if it's a new class. Since I have a high teaching load, if I'm not careful I lose all my time to teaching and have none left over for research. One trick I've learned that helps: do all class prep in the evening, after the kids go to bed. This has two advantages: 1) it forces me to work during a time that I often get lazy and just want to read a book (or write a blog post). The panic of not having anything to teach the next morning will work wonders; and 2) it forces me to limit the time I devote to class prep. Prep-work, like a gas, expands to take all available time between its initiation and the actual class. If I prep in the evenings, then pure need for sleep will eventually force me to call it quits.

I should note that this plan didn't work at all when I had all new preps, my first year on the job. Then I had to work evenings and all day to get it done. I will also admit that this plan worked a lot better before Boo Too was born. Between sleep deprivation, and an infant who will only sleep while in my arms, my evenings have been increasingly devoted to the Red Menace (aka Netflix). I've found the evening prep time to work well in the past, however, and highly recommend it. I hope to return to it, once Boo Too starts sleeping on his own.

*"Why?" you ask. Don't ask. The inner workings of this department are not for the faint of heart.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

macaw breeding in Paquime

JAA has a very interesting article on stable oxygen and carbon isotope tests on scarlet macaws from Pacquime. (Anyone know how to add the accent on the last e? Anyone?):

Somerville, Andrew D, Ben A. Nelson, and Kelly J. Knudson
2010 Isotopic Investigation of Pre-Hispanic Macaw Breeding in Northwest Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29: 125-135.

To summarize briefly, the oxygen isotopes suggest most macaws were born and bred at the site, rather than imported from Mesoamerica. The carbon isotopes suggest that adult birds, at least, were fed mostly maize. The outliers were as interesting as the overall pattern. One bird, for example, appears to have come originally from a wetter, warmer climate, probably within the original range of the birds in Mesoamerica.

It's a great example of human manipulation, where prehistoric peoples extended the range (and diet!) of a species. I wonder what other species or sites could be investigated in this manner. As much as I would love to see this kind of analysis applied to the movement of domestic herd animals across Eurasia and Africa, sufficient chronological control is impossible. Macaws are an oddity in many ways: very long-lived animals that were kept alive for a secondary product (feathers), were traded in very small numbers, and were not clearly bred in captivity outside of a few centers. There aren't a lot of other cases like them.

There are on-going debates over the origin of macaws in the Southwest, of course, so it would be fascinating to see whether the oxygen isotopes suggested a Pacquime origin for birds in the Four Corners region. I assume such analyses are on-going.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

agricultural landscapes of the Ozarks

I love this essay about Ozark agriculture and subsistence traditions. Like many areas that are marginal for agriculture (whether due to technological, population, or environmental constraints), the Ozarks encourage alternatives to industrialized agriculture, and in particular create areas of high agricultural biodiversity. Similar things happened in the past, as well, affecting the diversity of both plant and animal species in areas around villages and fields. I'm most familiar with cases from the Americas, and there are just too many to mention. Everyone should read these three books:

Cultivated Landscapes of Native North America, by William Doolittle, Oxford University Press, 2002

Cultivated Landscapes of Native Amazonia and the Andes, by William Denevan, Oxford University Press, 2003

Cultivated Landscapes of Middle America on the Eve of Conquest, by Thomas M. Whitmore, Oxford University Press, 2002

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

video recommendation

I watched Breaking the Maya Code last night, the 2007 documentary based on Michael Coe's book. I highly recommend it.

A list of things I liked:
- I'm a sucker for history of anthropology stories, particularly those that show the importance of the social/historical context in the development of the field and in the interpretation of data. The movie does a good job with that, for example exploring how a WWI soldier's view of warfare (and Communism) affected his ability to objectively evaluate a Soviet researcher's (in retrospect largely correct) findings. I spend a lot of time in my classes - even intro classes - talking about the importance of cultural context in interpreting scientific data, and making it clear that data discovery and data interpretation are not the same thing. And, as much as we may not want to admit it, passing or failing peer review does not mean an idea is "true" or "false", just that it is or is not generally accepted by the scientific community of that time and place.

- The movie at least hints at the inherent biases built into our interpretations of Maya writing. It does not do a great job of explaining that monumental inscriptions were only one type of writing among the Maya, and our view of their world would be quite different if we had more perishable texts, but at least it mentions the issue. It also does a nice job explaining how archaeological interpretations of the Maya world were shaped by what part of the writing system was readable at that point in the history of the discipline. In many ways, Mayanists were like the man looking for his keys under the streetlight, not because he lost them there, but because that was the only place he could see.

- The movie is much better than your average Mayan documentary in avoiding over-dramatization. You know, the Maya "collapse", "lost cities of the jungle", "enduring mysteries of a lost tribe", and all that crap.

- At the end, the documentary at least pays lip service to the importance of the (yes, still very much alive!) Maya people in the translation of ancient texts. I would have liked to see this discussed more throughout the movie, but it was a nice segment. It includes some interesting commentary on the politics of learning Mayan history, in the context of the modern nation states where the Maya live. Plus, the computer program created to write in Maya was seriously cool.

Some things I didn't like:
- Alas, it's too long. It's not too dull, but at 116 minutes, it would eat an entire week of class. Obviously, it can be broken up into sections, but I always like to show the full video when possible.

- I mentioned that the documentary avoided sensationalism. In the process, it left out some rather striking aspects of Maya history. Of course I can't read the glyphs, but I wondered if some of the translations had been sanitized. I'm sure there are a lot of inscriptions about lords "defeating" enemies, but I remember reading a lot about enemies being tortured, flayed, defleshed and scattered. Similarly, de Landa's burning of Maya books was mentioned in the documentary, as a response to ancient Maya "sacrifices" taking place in nearby villages. I don't know about that specific incident, but human sacrifice continued to take place well into the historic period, often with political implications. Most modern Americans, at least, would have a better understanding of de Landa's horror at what he considered to be "devil worship", if they knew the specific acts he was condemning. I'm not condoning de Landa's actions, just saying that the video skimmed over some of the less pleasant bits (from our modern perspective) of ancient Maya culture.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

weekly accountability: Sept. 12-18

Here is my weekly statement of writing accountability (as discussed in this post):

My goals for last week were to write a complete draft of my pre-tenure sabbatical application. I did not meet them (quite). Still, I'm very happy with my progress so far in the daily writing challenge. I did manage to write 2,800 words and get most of the basic text for the application written, but I still have to finish all of the references, write up a justification of the research methods I plan to use, and do a lot of editing.

I didn't meet my goals because I didn't start the daily writing hour until Wednesday, so I had a short week.

My writing goals for next week are to finish the pre-tenure sabbatical application and send it to colleagues for feedback, and then to re-write the introduction and background sections in a conference paper that I'm revising for publication.

Friday, September 17, 2010

discussion is worth a thousand lectures

I'm the product of state schools, so I'm comfortable with large lecture classes. I'm a good lecturer, too. I get a lot of student evaluations that say I'm witty and make "a boring subject more interesting." (gee, thanks.) Here at Tiny Liberal Arts College, though, lectures are looked down upon. Even in "large" (meaning 70-120 student) introductory courses, there are professors who never lecture, but teach entirely through readings, activities, and discussion.

I've not yet learned the knack. I do a lot more activities than is typical for a big state school (and always did, even when I was teaching at a big state school), but I really can't wrap my head around teaching an intro course through discussion alone. I've been assured by my colleagues that students learn the material much more thoroughly and remember it for longer if they "learn through doing". The problem, as they acknowledge, is that you cover a lot less material. I'm sure students would understand the principles of evolutionary theory much better if they discover them for themselves. At the same time, it took Darwin decades to publish on natural selection. Why have students re-invent the wheel?

OK, natural selection might be a bad example, since a strong understanding of Darwin's theories would be worth the extra time. But what about topics that are less conceptually fundamental, like the details of the Neolithic revolution in North China, or of variation in primate social organization? There is a real trade-off here: do we teach more facts, allowing students to become familiar with the breadth of anthropological material, or do we teach fewer topics but more thoroughly? Note that this is a wash for most students. The average student will learn less of more material in the first scenario, or learn more of less material in the second. The changes come on the ends. Poor students probably do better with more dynamic class structures, while strong, self-motivated students don't learn as much as they could.

My personal preference is to lecture a great deal in intro courses, with activities and discussions for the most important, foundational concepts. In upper-division courses, I've moved away from lectures. I find that I need a lot of structure to those courses to make sure the important topics are covered and the discussions and activities are useful. Free-form discussion on the reading just doesn't do it for me.

Here's one example of the type of structure I've imposed on an upper division course. The course is an over-view of the culture history of the region-that-shall-not-be-named.

The class is organized around weekly thematic topics (diet, agricultural systems, government, trade, religion, etc.). Each student in the class chooses a sub-region or cultural group at the beginning of the semester. Every week, they bring a single-paged summary of the theme as it applies to their sub-region. For example, if this was a North American archaeology class (it's not) they would bring and present information to the rest of the class about the agricultural techniques that have been documented for, say, the Hopewell, or the Missisippian, or the Ancestral Puebloan area. This forces students into research (although they're still using secondary summaries, not primary sources of data). It also gives every student something to say, and helps move discussion along.

If you have an interest in implementing this structure with undergraduates, I have a couple of suggestions: 1) the grading structure must punish students who don't show up. The first time I taught this class, participation per se didn't count (just the quality of the research), and I frequently had half the class absent. 2) walk students through the research process the first time or two, because students who have no clue what you want will not tell you until it's too late. 3) have exams, not just weekly or semester-long research papers, and include all of the students' presentations on the exam. In other words, all students have a vested interest in coming to class, taking notes on other students' presentations, asking clarifying questions, and pushing their colleagues to produce high-quality work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

balance, pt. 3: research

If I didn't have to - or didn't want to - do research, I could easily achieve a zen-like state of life balance. Alas, in the real world, I desperately try to cram research into the crevices left by a 20-credit teaching load, two small children, service, and the necessary maintenance of our bodies and home. Research is the sand around the rocks in the jar of time, or maybe it's the water. It's definitely the straw that makes the jar too heavy to move (not to mangle my metaphors or anything).

I had a post planned about Research Day (one day a week that I don't teach but dedicate to research), but to be honest, that's never worked for me. I kept thinking that it should, but inevitably that day is eaten up by meetings and paperwork and all the little things that have built up over the week. So, I've decided to try a new approach.

A friend posted this useful link on Facebook. It's the first article in a series by Kerry Ann Rockquemore aimed at helping academics write. She argues that most of us try to apply the habits that worked for us in graduate school (scheduling large blocks of writing time) to a new job situation where large blocks of uninterrupted time just don't occur. She suggests a daily writing system, and this first article offers several challenges. These are:

  • Let go of any past writing failures and release yourself from the negative feelings associated with not writing, producing, or finishing your work in the past.
  • Create a semester work plan that identifies your writing goals, outlines the tasks required to meet your goals, and maps the work that will be required to meet your goals onto your calendar (visit the NCFDD discussion forum if you need some examples).
  • Share your semester plan with your mentor and ask for his/her feedback.
  • Commit to 30 – 60 minutes of writing each day this week.
  • Greet your resistance with curiosity and compassion when it shows up (and it will).
  • Commit yourself to whatever supportive community will meet your needs this semester.
OK, so letting go of past guilt is a little on the touchy-feely side for me. The rest of this seems sound, though, and God knows I'm ready to try almost anything to improve my productivity. So, yesterday I came up with a semester plan. Here it is, with details changed to protect my anonymity:

Week of Sept 13 - write pre-tenure sabbatical application, send to colleagues for feedback
Sept 20 - Begin article A revisions, re-writing introduction and background sections
Sept 27 - revise and finalize pre-tenure sabbatical application, re-do graphs for article A
Oct 4 - re-write body and conclusions of article A, send to colleagues for feedback
Oct 11 - bibliography and formatting for article A; outline revisions for article B
Oct 18 - revise article A with comments, write section on [prey type] ecology for article B
Oct 25 - write section on ethnographic studies of hunting techniques for article B
Nov 1 - write section on climate change evidence for article B
Nov 8 - article B bibliography and formatting, submit
Nov 15 - begin work on grant application, outline and get finalized list of assemblages
Nov 22 - write project narrative
Nov 29 - finish project narrative
Dec 6 - bibliography, budget justification, PI biographies, etc.
I don't have huge expectations for this semester, I'm just trying to turn one conference paper into a full-blown publication, extensively revise one article for re-submission, and write the bulk of a rather large grant application. Oh, and apply for a pre-tenure sabbatical semester. I tried to be realistic with my goals each week.

In accordance with challenge #3, I intended to show this plan to my mentor when we met for coffee this morning, but we're both very sick, so we had to cancel. We've rescheduled for next week, and I'll definitely show it to her then.

To meet challenge #4, I spent some time playing with my electronic calendar system, and I have now blocked off 60 minutes every day except for one (long story). This morning, when writing time came, I closed my office door and started on my pre-tenure sabbatical application. I was able to write nearly 1,000 words in an hour, and I think I've set things up well for the next writing hour. Obviously, I hope to actually write more than 60 minutes a day on some days. This semester, my Friday schedule is very open, so I'm hoping that consistent writing on Mon-Thur will set me up for a very productive day at the end of the week. Who knows, I may even get well ahead of my schedule!

Challenge #5 - yeah, we're getting into touchy-feely territory again. I promise I'll be compassionate and curious about my resistence, or whatever.

Finally, on to the last challenge: committing myself to a supportive community. In the past, I've tried writing groups and they didn't work for me. I found Rockquemore's post on supportive communities extremely helpful in this regard. She describes many types of writing groups. I don't need a traditional writing group to read my work, I need someone to keep me honest about my writing time. Rockquemore describes a "Writing Accountability Group", a group in which each person declares, on a weekly basis:
1) my goals for last week were _______, 2) I did/did not meet them, 3) if I didn't meet them, it’s because of _______ and 4) my writing goals for next week are _______
Just that brief moment of accountability, I believe, could do wonders.

So, I see two options for creating a writing accountability group. One is to do a weekly writing accountability post on this blog, and to encourage any readers to join me. Anyone interested?

The other option would be to do a weekly post on Facebook, which might be annoying to a lot of my old high school acquaintances, but would have the advantage of making me feel accountable in a way that an anonymous blog post would not. On the other hand, a lot of my colleagues are Facebook friends, and if I start posting a string of failed writing weeks, it could affect how I'm perceived on campus, even my tenure case.

So, what do you all think? Accountability blog posts, or Facebook posts, or - heck, why not? - both?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

in memory of Paul Martin

I mentioned Dr. Paul Martin in a post just a few days ago. He was a great man, who contributed immensely to the field. He will be missed.

people and their animals

Awkward Family Pet Photos is one of my favorite sites of that type. Mostly it's just funny, but I find it of research value as well. OK, so "research" may be pushing it a bit far. Still, I have a deep and abiding interest in the relationship between people and other animals. The idea of keeping pets is fairly unique to the human species.

I say "fairly" because there are cases of primates in research situations who adopt kittens. The tendency of cats or dogs to accept infants of the other species for fostering may be a similar phenomenon. As far as I know, these all take place in a human-created environment. That doesn't mean they don't "count", but it suggests that the domesticated environment may be necessary for such activities. Does anyone know of any "wild" animals that keep pets?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

balance, pt. 2: menu planning

I plan a series of posts about my attempts (on-going and not 100% successful) to create life balance. For me, the key to balance is organization. Truth is, I am an extreme and pathological organizer (which is not the same thing as being an organized person. I over-organize and then hope to actually follow at least 75% of my plans and schedules). I'm sure someone with annoying tendencies toward pop psychology (like me!) would consider this an indication of control problems. Personally, I find hyperorganizing helps me to identify my priorities and make sure they aren't lost amid quotidian minutia (or random crap, if you prefer).

One of our family's top priorities is to cook healthy, fresh meals on a daily basis. Hence menu planning. At the end of a long day, with two kids needing attention, and an evening of work ahead of us, it is too easy to say "Hell, let's just nuke a frozen pizza." Menu planning helps us avoid that in two ways: 1) cooking dinner doesn't seem such a daunting task when we have all the ingredients, and some part of the meal may even be pre-prepped; and 2) it short-circuits those conversations that start with "Honey, what should we make for dinner?" "I dunno", and all too often devolve into "Hell, let's just nuke a frozen pizza."

There are a lot of Mommy Blogs out there with information about menu planning. (Try this one, for example. She runs a Menu Planning Monday on her blog). I've been playing with menu planning for about a year and a half, and I've tweaked a lot to find a system that works for our family. Our current system is working fairly well, so far.

Our menu planning system is a bit different from the "standard". We have a three-ring binder with four weeks worth of recipes and notes in plastic page protectors. When we've made it through the four weeks, we start over from the beginning. We like to eat a lot of the same foods over and over, so this works for us. At the beginning of the semester, we arranged the weekly recipes so that we have fast-prep dinners on busy days and the more complex cooking takes place on weekends and slower days. On Sunday afternoon, we shop and pre-cook some items that can then be used throughout the week. Pre-cooking greatly increases compliance.

The recipes/notes/etc. are printed from a Word document that I'm constantly updating/changing. Here's an example:

Week 1:

Sunday afternoon preparations:
Chop vegetables for stir-fry, soup, and fried rice (store in fridge)
Make spaghetti sauce (or thaw some from freezer)
Shop for all ingredients

Sunday dinner: Roast chicken, served with roasted vegetables
(the actual recipe for roasting the chicken is printed on the page)
Pull all remaining meat off chicken, chop and store in fridge
Overnight, make stock from the chicken carcass and roast vegetable odds and ends

Monday: Chicken stir-fry (using left-over roast chicken and pre-chopped veggies)
(again, the actual recipe is printed on the page)

Tuesday: Vegetable soup (using stock made from the chicken carcass and the pre-chopped veggies), served with brown rice
(again, the actual recipe is printed on the page)
There is also a note on the page to make some extra brown rice, which can be used for fried rice the next day

Wednesday: Chicken fried rice (using left-over roast chicken, pre-chopped vegetables, and leftover brown rice from Tuesday)
(actual recipe printed here)

Thursday: Spaghetti (using pre-made sauce), served with a green vegetable
There is also a note here to buy one pound of pork for next week's meals, since we usually buy organic pork, which comes frozen and must be thawed.

Friday: We don't plan a meal for Friday, because there is often a faculty party or we get together with friends

Saturday: Shrimp fajitas with corn tortillas, sour cream, and chopped tomatoes
(recipe printed here)

You get the idea. Many of our recipes have some flexibility in the ingredients or spices (like the stir-fry or soup, which could be made with any combination of vegetables), so we don't find this system too constricting. Also, I'm developing alternatives that use similar ingredients, to increase the diversity. For example, vegetable pot pie could be an alternative to the soup.

As an added bonus, this system has helped us to reduce our meat consumption, not that you can tell from this particular example. We buy a pound of pork or chicken breasts on Sunday, cut it into pieces, and cook the meat. Then we can pull a bit of the meat for each meal throughout the week, just enough to add protein and flavor. A pound of meat per week for the entire family isn't too bad, especially considering our many, many dietary restrictions (a topic for another post).

Friday, September 10, 2010

open access fauna

The fauna from the site of Chogha Mish, Iran, has been published on Open Context. It was released by Levent Atici, Justin Lev-Tov, and Sarah Kansa in late August. The original analysis was done by Jane Wheeler in the 60s. Honestly, I'm not certain I understand the purpose of Open Context (to get the data out there, presumably, but what else has been done or is planned to be done with this information? who can use it and for what?) That information may be on the webpage, I haven't looked yet.

I'm of two minds about publishing raw faunal data on the web. My major concern is that archaeologists who are not themselves zooarchaeologists (or people who are zoologists, ecologists, etc.), may use and interpret the data naively. For example, when I compare faunal remains from archaeological sites, I routinely compensate for problems in published analyses. An inexperienced analyst may identify multiple species of gerbils, for example, but I know there is no way those species could be told apart by skeletal material alone. I would automatically re-classify those bones as just "gerbils, in general", especially if I knew the person who did the original analysis was not particularly experienced. Nobody likes to admit this, but an unfortunate number of CRM faunal reports are done by unqualified analysts. I've done a lot of CRM myself, I'm not knocking it as a profession, but there are problems with some reports. Unfortunately, an archaeologist without specialization in zooarchaeology, who was trying to reconstruct the paleoclimate by using the habitat tolerances of those specific species of gerbils, may not realize that the data are flawed. (Quick note - I am NOT saying that the original analysis at Chogha Mish was flawed, I'm just giving an example of potential problems with on-line data dumps.)

Another potential problem is that non-zooarchaeologists often don't understand taphonomic processes, cultural filters, and other factors that skew faunal assemblages. In a previous post, I mentioned that artiodactyl remains increased through time in Ventana Cave, Arizona, due to changes in the site function (Bayham 1982). Long ago, I had a short but interesting discussion with Paul Martin (the geologist from Arizona) about the meaning of increasing artiodactyls in the archaeological record in the American West. Dr. Martin is certainly not naive about faunal data, but he was surprised by my contention that more artiodactyls in archaeological sites do not necessarily represent more artiodactyls in the surrounding landscape. Rather, I argued, the change represented a cultural filter. This is not a concept most natural scientists have been trained to consider, yet these same natural scientists may be very interested in our data.

One final complaint about the Open Context publication of Chogha Mish: I find the interface incredibly difficult. I hope it is possible to download all of this data into a more functional format (like an Excel spreadsheet), otherwise it's unusable. Again, I haven't taken the time to look at the site in detail, so maybe there is an easy way to do so.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

edited volumes

I noticed this rant, over at John Hawks' blog, about the difficulties in getting articles published in edited volumes. It prompted a rant of my own about the annoyances of being an editor of, and author in, edited volumes. Edited volumes take too much time to publish. I still have a very important article (to me) tied up in an edited volume, one of the first over-view articles of my on-going research project. The conference that forms the basis for the volume took place when my daughter (Little Boo) was seven weeks old. She started preschool yesterday, in the 4-year old class. In the time since that conference took place, I have held three different jobs, including finally landing a tenure-track position, produced another child (Boo too), and an edited volume of my own. For various personal and political reasons, it would be extremely hard to pull the article. So I wait.

The other problem with edited volumes is they take a huge amount of time for the editor, who isn't paid. Yes, I know that editing a journal also takes a huge amount of time, but often there is some kind of compensation, such as a teaching reduction. The editorship of a journal also brings with it significant professional exposure, etc. And, frankly, journals are usually edited by senior professors who may have better things to do with their lives, but aren't trying to get tenure and raise two kids under 4 while teaching 20 credits a year.

Don't get me wrong, I really am thrilled with my edited volume. I love the articles and I think it is a great book. I learned a lot in the process. But there are some serious downsides to editing or publishing in an edited volume. Journal publications are both easier and get you greater exposure.

Monday, September 6, 2010

faunal index pet peeve

I realize that having a pet peeve about faunal indices puts me at the top of the all-time nerd list. Since that ship has sailed, I might as well expound:

For any non-zooarchaeologists who might stumble upon this blog, a faunal index is a proportion of one type of animal out of some subset of the total faunal assemblage, used to explore changes in an aspect of diet or landscape use. For example, coastal archaeologists may use an index of the number of specimens of fish remains divided by the total fish added to all terrestrial mammals, as a measure of how important marine resources were in the diet. A very common faunal index is some variant of Bayham's (1982) original Artiodactyl Index. Bayham calculated the proportion of artiodacytls (by far the most important big game in the Southwestern context in which he was working) out of the total number of artiodactyls and rabbits (by far the most numerous prey species). Often, this type of big game index is calculated for a diachronic sequence, and changes in the index are interpreted as measures of changing foraging efficiency, with the increasing use of small game considered evidence for resource intensification.

There is nothing wrong with the use of indices (I use them myself all the time), but it's very important to remember that their interpretation is based on their archaeological context, not on trends documented within the faunal assemblages themselves. Changes in faunal indices can only be understood with a clear understanding of site function and the regional archaeological record. Bayham's (1982) study is the perfect example of this. Within the context of Ventana Cave, Bayham documented an increase in large-game use through time. He interpreted this not as an improvement in foraging efficiency but as a change in site function. What had been a base camp in the Archaic had become a specialized hunting camp in later periods. Therefore, the proportion of artiodacytls increased. This took place, however, during a period of clearly recognized economic intensification on a region-wide scale. Ergo, more artiodactyls = greater intensification.

Speth and Scott (1989) built on Bayham's work, discussing changes in labor organization that could lead to increases in the Artiodactyl Index, such as the ability of some men to forego agricultural work and specialize in hunting when populations reach a threshold size and organizational complexity. In the Southwest alone, there are several examples of increasing proportions of artiodactyls in assemblages, despite clearly documented economic intensification (ex. Cannon 2003; Dean 2006; Potter 2000). These are interpreted in various ways (evidence of specialization, importance of feasting behavior in larger social groups, etc.). Very seldom are they interpreted as evidence of increased foraging efficiency (although occasionally the argument is for climate amelioration.) I can think of many other examples in other regions of the world, although this question has been particularly well studied in the western United States.

My point is merely this: zooarchaeologists should not cite internal zooarchaeological evidence alone when interpreting faunal indices. To do so is not so much naive as unrealistic. None of us are actually using the theoretical underpinnings of these indices as the basis for our interpretations. Instead, we are using our understanding of the broader archaeological record, and we should be upfront about that. Theory alone is not driving our interpretations of these indices. We are using the indices to find the time period and degree of change, not to tell us what direction of change occurred.

Bayham, F.E.
1982 A Diachronic Analysis of Prehistoric Animal Exploitation at Ventana Cave. PhD Dissertation, Arizona State University, Tempe.

Cannon, M.D.
2000 Large Mammal Relative Abundance in Pithouse and Pueblo Period Archaeofaunas from Southwestern New Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 19:317-347.

Dean, R.M.
2006 Hunting Intensification and the Hohokam "Collapse". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 26: 109-132.

Potter, J.M.
2000 Pots, Parties, and Politics: Communal Feasting in the American Southwest. American Antiquity 65:471-492.

Speth, J.D. and S.L. Scott
1989 Horitculture and Large-Mammal Hunting: The Role of Resource Depletion and the Constraints of Time and Labor. In S. Kent, ed., Farmers as Hunters: The Implications of Sedentism, pp. 71-79. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Friday, September 3, 2010

"natural" river?

I'm a bit late noticing this story, about a court case that hinges on determining the "natural" state of the Salt River in Arizona. Specifically, there is interest in determining whether the river was navigable, and at what point in time. Should we consider the state of the river before the Hohokam Classic period, when the Salt River fed thousands of square km of irrigated lands? Was the river in its "natural" state at the time of early European colonization? What about when mammoths roamed the West?

The old nature/culture dichotomy that is so ingrained in Western thought has pretty much broken down in environmentally-focused fields of anthropology. Certainly, the Historical Ecologists have made it abundantly clear that there is no "natural" environment - the landscape was shaped by, with, and through humans, and humans were shaped by, with, and through the landscape.

The legal and environmental policy implications of this realization continue to be problematic. If legal claims to a particular river hinge on understanding its "natural" state, then what period of time should be used to determine the "nature" of the river? If large tracks of the Amazon rainforest were shaped by human hands, then how do we protect and restore those environments by fencing the area off? What does restoration even mean, when there is no "baseline" from which to measure our progress?

These questions aren't unanswerable, or even that difficult to answer, but they require a very different way of thinking about the environment, one that acknowledges the long history of human/landscape interactions and recognizes people as just one more piece of the environmental puzzle.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

noble Indian

While on family vacation this summer, I came across this statue:
It's not a very good photo (sorry), but what really caught my attention was the inscription. Here's a close-up (I have no idea why Blogger chose to turn the picture from it's original orientation. If anyone knows how to fix that, let me know):

It turns out that Mr. Toth has completed a series of these "Noble Indian" sculptures, called the Trail of the Whispering Giants, in all 50 states. There is a wikipedia page about them, and you can see the pictures here. They are all remarkably similar looking, despite representing a diversity of cultural groups.

My question is this: Does Mr. Toth believe all Native Americans are dead? Or is it just that living Native Americans are no longer noble? (Perhaps this is the artist's version of "the only good Indian...")

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Traditional Agriculture Video

Here's a great video about traditional O'odham agricultural techniques being used in AZ today. I got this from Southwestern Archaeology Today.

A few comments:
1) The intro to the video is very interesting - full of the ecologically noble savage stereotype, but since this appears to be a project created by Native Americans, should the stereotype be considered degrading or empowering? Can a stereotype ever be empowering?

2) Unless I'm mis-hearing or misunderstanding the narrator, he calls the farmers in this video Navajos.

3) The reporter on the scene talks about this type of agriculture as working with nature. It is, of course, but it's also creating nature. The potential to transform the landscape with these types of agricultural features is astounding. Imagine what the Salt River basin must have looked like at the height of the Hohokam Classic period, with the floodplain irrigated and the hills on all sides full of terracing and rock-pile fields. "Natural"? Well, no, but a highly efficient and sustainable adaptation to the environment.