Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Two Stories: Blogging Archaeology and Top 10 Discoveries of 2007

I originally started this Montana Archaeology blog as a sort of online filing cabinet as an easy reference and bulletin board for online resources about Montana archaeology, kind of an online scratchpad for myself and whoever might happen upon it while surfing. And then when I began teaching the "Introduction to Archaeology" course at the University of Montana-Helena this term, I thought it might be a handy tool for students to see what was going on in class, and a way to begin to engage what has been called The New Media. While doing some surfing this morning before this afternoon's class, I found a great article on the use of blogs in archaeology. One of the quotes that caught my eye:

"The process of reading a blog is very similar to the process of making sense of archaeological material" (http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/blogs/part4.html).

Story 1: Archaeological Blogging

Archaeology Magazine has an article this month, Archaeology Blogs, which covers "Weblog History and Taxonomy," "Blogging and Academia," "Blogging Archaeology (Blogs are used by archaeologists to create a more transparent approach to fieldwork), and "The Archaeology of Blogging: How do we know what blogs to trust as sources of information or informed opinions?" This last part is very pertinent to what we are studying currently in class, namely, epistemology, or how do we know, what we know?

The article's author says:

When I began my blog, I had little idea of the history, potential, or diversity of the weblog as a medium. I am not sure that I have necessarily found the proper voice for my blog yet. It tends to vacillate between news on my own research and archaeology projects and more general observations on matters that catch my fancy. I've tried to speak at least some of the time to an audience in North Dakota where I now live and teach, and I also try to speak to my academic peers. The result, in hindsight, is a sometime bizarre blend of academic and popular. This uneven character of blogs is what distinguishes them from more formal academic writing, but is also what makes them such a compelling medium. Most academics, after all, drift between the mundane world of daily life and the obscure concerns of their research and writing. The idiosyncratic and uneven cadence of academic blogging perhaps brings out these juxtaposed facets of their lives better than anywhere else. In this regard, those of us involved in blogging archaeology and the archaeology of blogging, bring just a bit more of our life's work to light.

There are some great resources and ideas in this informative article...as a newbie to Archaeo-blogging, it is a real find!

Story 2: Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of 2007

Archaeology magazine has also published its "Top 10 Discoveries of 2007" in its Jan/Feb 2008 issue, according to China's English version article (No, Montana didn't make it...but it is fun to read about anyways!):

1. Solar Observatory at Chankillo, Peru
Travelers have noticed the 13 stone towers rising over Peru's coastal desert since at least the nineteenth century. But researchers only last year discovered the structures' purpose: they make up a sophisticated solar observatory, one of the earliest known in the Americas.

2. Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet, The British Museum, UK
Last June, Austrian Assyriologist Michael Jursa was doing what he has done since 1991, poring over the more than 100,000 undeciphered cuneiform tablets in the British Museum. But while analyzing records from the Babylonian city of Sippar, he made a startling discovery with Biblical implications. It came in the unlikely form of a tablet noting a one-and-a-half pound gold donation to a temple made by an official, or "chief eunuch," Nebo-Sarsekim.

3. New Dates for Clovis Sites, North America
New radiocarbon dates kept the controversy over the peopling of the Americas simmering in 2007. An analysis of dates for the best-documented Clovis sites suggests the culture arose later and was shorter-lived than once thought, a finding that some say deals a blow to the "Clovis first" theories that maintain the big-game-hunting people were the first immigrants to the New World.

4. Early Squash Seeds, Peru
New research favors the idea that agriculture began in the New World shortly after it first appeared in the Old World. Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University has the squash seeds to prove it.

5. Ancient Chimpanzee Tool Use
Archaeologists led by Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary have uncovered the first known ancient chimpanzee archaeological site, a grouping of stone hammers that were used by apes 4,300 years ago to smash open nuts. By analyzing pollen grains embedded in the stones, the team was able to identify five species of nuts the tools were used to open, four of which are not eaten by humans.

6. Urbanization at Tell Brak, Syria
Archaeologists have long believed that the world's oldest cities lay along the fertile riverbanks of southern Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq. There, in a land of plenty, went the idea, powerful kings began coercing their subjects to live together some 6,000 years ago. Their great invention--the city--later spread throughout the Near East. But last August, Harvard University archaeologist Jason Ur and two British colleagues turned that idea on its head. Their intensive field survey and surface collection of potsherds at the site of Tell Brak in northern Syria revealed that an ancient city rose there at exactly the same time as urban centers first sprouted up in southern Mesopotamia, but followed a very different model of development. "Urbanism," says Ur, "is not one brilliant idea that occurred one place and then diffused."

7. Lismullin Henge, Tara, Ireland
Early last year, archaeologists working on the route of a controversial highway near the village of Lismullin, Ireland, stumbled across a vast Iron Age ceremonial enclosure, or henge, surrounded by two concentric walls. The 2,000-year-old site is just over a mile from the Hill of Tara, traditional seat of the ancient Irish kings and site of St. Patrick's conversion of the Irish to Christianity in the fifth century A.D. The discovery of the massive henge, measuring more than 260 feet in diameter, confirms the long-held belief that the area around the hill contains a rich complex of monuments.

8. Polynesian Chickens in Chile
Scholars have long assumed the Spaniards first introduced chickens to the New World along with horses, pigs, and cattle. But now radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis of a chicken bone excavated from a site in Chile suggest Polynesians in oceangoing canoes brought chickens to the west coast of South America well before Europe's "Age of Discovery."

9. Homo habilis & Homo erectus, Kenya
Whether they are mother-and-daughter species or two sisters, the relationship between Homo habilis and Homo erectus is becoming strained. A pair of discoveries near Lake Ileret in Kenya call into question the idea that H. erectus, the species from which modern humans evolved, is descended from H. habilis, the earliest hominid known to use stone tools.

10. Greater Angkor, Cambodia
The capital of a Khmer state that flourished between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, Cambodia's Angkor is one of the most intensively studied sites in the world. But it continues to inspire more questions than answers, the most fundamental being why the sophisticated Khmer Empire collapsed. In 2007, research into the mysteries of the world's largest preindustrial city reached a milestone with the completion of a 10-year mapping project, which yielded clues suggesting that the sprawling metropolis may have collapsed under self-induced environmental pressures related to overpopulation and deforestation.

Wow, I am going to have to get the magazine and read up on some of these. The Clovis story is definitely of importance to Montana's archaeology. And the likelihood that Polynesians may have reached the Americas before the European entrance, at least in some locations, is not only interesting on its own, but since the controversial Kennewick Man had some skeletal features more similar to either the Ainu of Hokkaido, or the Polynesians, this is something that makes you go, hmmm.

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