Friday, February 22, 2008

Feb. 21: Understanding the Past / Cannibalism and Creationism

Feb. 21: Reading assignments for Thursday, Feb. 21: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 9: “Understanding the Past,” Pp. 212-237 and Chapter 11, “Old Time Religion – New Age Visions,” pp. 278-310.

Understanding the Past...and Difficult Subjects (Cannibalism and Creationism)

Monty Python is at it again, talking about things that people would really rather not talk this case cannibalism and other nasty bits!

Today's assignment was to read the chapter in Ashmore and Sharer about how archaeologists try and understand the past through one of the three "schools of thought" in contemporary archaeology, Culture-History, Processualism, and Post-Processualism. The main thing to remember is that the Culture-History developed first, focused on historical explanations for culture change (what, when, where), and was the dominant approach up until the 1960s. Processualism was a materialist reaction which really began in earnest in the 1960s, as a dissatisfaction with the Culture-History school; processualism was an attempt to find laws of cultural change (how and why) through rigorous application of the scientific method. However it also could go only so far in grappling with issues of the human past, and so in the 1980s, it was critiqued itself in a new movement (actually a series of approaches) called postprocessualism, which tied to get at the individual's place in the human past and the attempt to learn about the ideology (meaning, symbolism, etc.) of past cultures. The outline of the chapter is found below.

We watched the second half of the videotape "Archaeology: Ancient America;" the first half we watched in Tuesday's class. The tape's first half was about the 9000-year-old Archaic culture of the U.S. Southwest, which would develop into the Anasazi, and then the Pueblo Indians. The second half was about the evidence for cannibalism found in some of the caves occupied during the times of the Anasazi, a matter of debate among archaeologists. We talked in class about the evidence, about the different types of cannibalism (ritual cannibalism, contingency cannibalism, and dietary cannibalism) and found that while cannibalism is nowhere near as common as popular imagination would believe, it has, and does happen in severe survival situations (contingency cannibalism as a result of the plane crash in the Andes, or the stories of the Wendigo in the Canadian subarctic) and in some ritual contexts in a few cultures (eating or biting the heart of a brave enemy to attain his courage in my tribe, the Ioway, or the former cannibalism of certain peoples in Papua New Guinea associated with the disease "kuru"). But there is no evidence of sustained dietary cannibalism of any group of people in a nonsurvival situation. Ultimately, this taboo is so embedded in human experience, it still brings up strong emotional reactions when discussed...even in scientists! ;-)

And in the last discussion of the day, we wrestled with the chapter in Feder about scientific creationism, and the evidence and social context of arguments for and against it. It was a tough discussion, I hope we will have more, but one we can't shy away from, whatever we ultimately decide to believe for ourselves about what we think we understand about the past. If anthropologists/archaeologists can't talk about taboo subjects, who can?


I. CULTURE HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION- Temporal and spatial syntheses of data- what, when, where

- A. Inevitable variation- all cultures change over time

- B. Internal factors:
--- 1. Cultural invention- new ideas arise within cultures
--- 2. Cultural selection- like natural selection
--- 3. Cultural drift- like genetic drift, tranmission incomplete so over time has a random effect
--- 4. Cultural revival- of elements that fallen into disuse

- C. External factors:
--- 1. Diffusion
--- 2. Trade
--- 3. Migration
--- 4. Conquest
--- 5. Environmental change

II. PROCESSUAL INTERPRETATION- Often based on data collected through culture history, test series of competing hypotheses- how and why

- A. Systems (synchronic)- interactions in system
--- 1. Feedback
--- 2. Negative feedback
--- 3. Positive feedback

- B. Ecological (synchronic)- interaction with its environment
--- 1. Cultural ecology: physical landscape, biological component, cultural environment
--- 2. Cultural adaptation
--- 3. Computer simulation

- C. Multilinear evolutionary concepts (diachronic)- over time, causality from either prime movers or multiple/multivariate factors
--- 1. Multilinear cultural evolutionary models
--- 2. Prime movers
--- 3. Multivariate strategy

III. POSTPROCESSUAL AND EMERGENT INTERPRETATIONS- original meaning of culture at level of individual, as decision-maker and meaning-laden context (cultural relativity)

- A. Decision-making models


- A. Combine all three

FEDER Chapter 11: "Old Time Religion- New Age Visions"
Scientific creationism: Noah’s ark, Footprints in time, Creationism through animatronics, Other guises of creationism
The Shroud of Turin- testing the shroud
Burial boxes of Jerusalem
New Age Prehistory
Current Perspectives: Religions Old and New

Reading assignment for next class, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 10: “Archaeology Today,” pp. 238-254 and Feder, Chapter 12, “Real Mysteries of a Veritable Past,” pp. 311-333.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Paper Style Guide Issue

I notice that the AAA website currently has problems with its style guide PDF file. Instead, use the SAA style guide, which is pretty much the same. It is at: You might want to download and save the entire PDF document for reference in case SAA has problems in the future when you are writing your Paper #2.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Feb. 19: Reconstructing the Past

Feb. 19: Reading assignment for today’s class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 8: “Reconstructing the Past,” Pp. 179-211.

Reconstructing the Past

Learn more about this image at The Darl Living Surface: A Transitional Archaic Camp


Past activities can never be observed, so must interpret based on comparison with other societies- living, recorded in writing (history, ethnography)
Analogy- unknown is inferred from known

Uses and abuses of analogy (e.g., Abuse (use of only one criterion))

Specific and General Analogy

Specific analogy-
1. cultural continuity,
2. comparability in environment
3. similarity of cultural form
General analogy- actualistic studies between actual behaviors and particular material remains

Sources of Analogs:
Ethnoarchaeology (living societies)
Experimental archaeology
More the analog links, more reliable-- sources such as history, enthnography, actualistic studies (experimental archaeology)

Analog + spatial order of data = reconstruction of past behavior

Learn about using GIS in archaeology at ESRI's Journal of GIS in Archaeology


Three broad areas- Techno-economic (text terms it technology, but really focuses on both technology and economics), 2. Social Systems, and 3. Ideology

1. Technology (includes economy too, so sometimes also called Techno-economic) – most direct (physical) interaction with the environment- the set of techniques and knowledge to procure raw resources and transform them into tools, food, shelter, etc. -Cultural choices using the environment- Cultural ecology.

Cultural Ecology- interaction of people/culture with the natural environment. Much of it is focused on subsistence. Reconstruct the ancient environment through observation of the current landscape (topography and biotic & mineral resources) and collection/analysis of ecofacts.

2. Social systems- roles and relationships among people, such as kinship, political structure, exchange networks, etc. - settlement patterns- spatial arrangement at different scales- activity areas, households, sites, landscapes (site cachement), regions- which data are nonlocal and represent exchanges (analogies from ethnography, economics, geography)

Two different approaches:

A. Settlement Archaeology- study of spatial distribution of ancient human activities and occupations at scales from site to regional
B. Exchange systems- ways to acquire goods and services not available locally

Spatial patterns reflect behavioral patterns-

a. single structure/household/occupation level (ex: cave floor)- activity areas (food preparation, sleep, storage) (ex: Micromorphology)

b. sites or settlements may reflect social stratification and social control (size and elaboration of residential units)

c. region (GIS helps)
-reconstruct function of each component in the settlement system and look at ways the components fit together into system (social network)
-Regional Analysis (from economic geography)
Locational Analysis- located in place where maximum number of resources can most efficiently be used with least amount of effort, natural environment and also neighboring groups
Central Place Theory- as landscape fills with people, settlements tend to be evenly distributed, and central places- settlements with wider goods and services, arise at regular intervals in overall distribution- pattern tends to be hexagonal-lattice, like honeycomb
==Most recently broadest scale also focuses on the landscape, relationships among all cultural and natural features on the land
--Symbols attached to natural features in the land, such as mounds and rock art locations

3. Ideology- ideological systems- knowledge and beliefs as way to explain the world and meaning of life --most difficult to approach in archaeology- few material remains- symbols (symbolic archaeology) but difficult to be sure of the interpretation- writing IF present can help but many societies did not have writing, --rock art, pottery decorations, archaeoastronomy- study of ancient astronomical knowledge from material remains (observatories, medicine wheels, solar year, lunar phases, and stars), etc. can all help with this. Worldviews underlying concepts- three vs four, etc

The Goal of Archaeology is to reconstruct and understand past lifeways- most complete reconstructions should take into account all three areas—although technology-economy are the easiest areas to investigate, and social organization is not far behind, the reconstruction also should attempt to work with the ideological sphere as well, though as an immaterial aspect of culture (though its products often have material results), ideology is much more difficult and less amenable to the scientific method which was developed for material aspects of reality (and some scientists believe that materiality IS the only reality!)

Reading assignments for next class on Thursday, Feb. 21: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 9: “Understanding the Past,” Pp. 212-237 and Chapter 11, “Old Time Religion – New Age Visions,” pp. 278-310.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Feb. 14: Dating the Past

Feb. 14: Dating the Past
Reading for Today: Ashmore and Sharer, "Dating the Past," pp. 157-178.

Dating the Past

This is a great video about radiocarbon dating, also known as carbon-14 dating! This is the most generally useful method of absolute dating used in archaeology.

The most important things to remember about dating archaeological data:

1. Every method has its applicability/limitations to certain situations, materials, and ages.
2. The more you can cross-check dates through different methods, the more reliable the dates.
3. Your dates are only as good as your data, the way they were collected, etc.
4. You generally will not do the dating yourself, only the sampling; data is sent to laboratories and specialists, and can be expensive.
5. Dating materials is not an end in itself; dating is only significant in terms of the research questions you are asking.

TOPICS DISCUSSED IN CLASS (Read the Chapter for details):

Direct dating- analysis of the artifact, ecofact, or feature itself to find its age
Indirect dating- analysis of the material associated with the artifact/ecofact/feature to find the age (ex: the matrix around the artifact)

Relative dating- evaluating the age of one artifact/ecofact/feature relative to another (which is older than the other)
Absolute dating- placing the age of the artifact/ecofact/feature on an absolute time scale (such as 4000 B.C. or A.D. 1970)…most are expressed in a range (the plus-minus symbol, or as "ca."= circa)

Stylistic seriation
Frequency seriation - battleship-shaped curves

Sequence comparison aka cross-dating


Horizontal stratigraphy

Obsidian hydration

Bone chemistry

Radiocarbon dating (carbon-14)
Potassium-argon dating
Argon-argon dating
Uranium-series dating
Fission-track dating



Genographic Project

In today's class, we also watched a portion of the DVD about the National Geographic Society's "Genographic Project."

DNA studies such as the Genographic Project have been used to supplement and cross-check the archaeological record, and the spread of humankind across the globe.

Next class's reading assignment (Tuesday, Feb. 19) is Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 8: “Reconstructing the Past,” Pp. 179-211.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Feb. 12: Analyzing the Past

Feb. 12
Reading for today:
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 6, "Analyzing the Past," pp. 125-156.

Analyzing the Past: Artifacts, Ecofacts, and Features

We talked about Lithic Analysis today and in the video you saw an example of flintknapping. There are LOTS of vids on flintknapping on YouTube (See and this is just one at least a bit of several listed on YouTube...including a 10-year-old flintknapper!

Remember! Next class (Thursday, Feb. 14) your first paper is due!

Today in class, we watched the videotape "People of the Hearth" about the PaleoIndian occupation of Barton Gulch in southwest Montana, about 9,400 years ago. It was very well done, with re-enacted scenes of daily life, and portrayed a processualist approach to archaeology. There were many specialized analyses in the video, including faunal analysis (ex: the deer bones at the site), floral analysis (ex: the use of goosefoot and prickly pear seeds for food), and lithic analysis (ex: the presence of obsidian). There were also several examples of experimental archaeology, including atlatl use, flintknapping, and cooking using ancient technigues such as sandwiching meat packets between layers of dampened bulrushes (Scirpus). Then we proceeded to the lecture; the outline is given below (just highlighted terms are given here; be sure and read the text!).



Lithics:Chipped/Flaked Stone and Ground-stone

Lithics are the most common prehistoric artifacts in Montana

Chipped Stone:
Types of stone that fracture in a regular way: flint or chert, CCR, obsidian, basalt, quartz/quartzite
Variety of techniques
Bulb of Percussion
Lithic scatter
Direct percussion
Indirect percussion
Pressure flaking
Retouching (retouched flakes)
Striking platform
Kinds of tools:
=Drills, gravers, points, blades, microblades, knives, spokeshaves, scrapers, shavers
=Mano and Metate/grinding slab/quern
=Mortar and pestle
==>See also: ;

Ceramics: pottery, figurines, musical instruments, spindle whorls
(ceramics is additive technology vs lithics is subtractive)
Potsherd (sometimes spelled shard)
Clay, temper, kneading/wedging
Pinching, Coiling, slabs, molds, wheel
Slip, glaze
Firing: up to three stages: dehydration, oxidation, vitrification
Analysis: by attribute (stylistic, form, technological); residues; provenience
Analyses: Form, wear use, residue
Montana Ceramics: Not much, only Intermountain Ware and the kind up in NE Montana
-->See also:

Extracts metals from ores
Cold hammering copper
Copper - bronze -iron (+ carbon = steel)
==>See also:

Organic Artifacts
Problem with preservation
Wood, plant fibers (textiles, basketry, etc.), bone, antler, ivory, shell
Analysis: form, biotic resources

Classification different than artifacts; based on appropriate connection to zoology, botany, geology

1. Microspecimens: pollen, phytoliths
2. Macrospecimens: seeds, leaves, casts/impressions

MNI= minimum number of individuals

Human Remains: biological / physical anthropology
Ethical issues
==>See also:; ETHICS:

Soils and Sediments
=Geoarchaeology purposes (4):
1. Establish stratigraphy of site
2. Date the site
3. Understand natural site formation processes
4. Reconstruct the ancient landscape
==>See also:

Again, formal, and technological analyses (stylistic not as common as location)
--location and arrangement show distribution and organization of human activities
1. Constructed features- Built to provide space for an activity or set of activities (ex: windbreak, house, grave)
2. Cumulative features- Formed by accretion rather than a preplanned or designed construction of an activity area or facility (ex: midden, quarry, workshop area)
-conjoining studies
==>See also:

Sites mentioned in this chapter:
Stonehenge (England)
Chalcuapa (El Salvador)
Gordion (Turkey)
Shang Dynasty bronze vessels (China)
La Tene (Munsingen, Switzerland)
Hohokam (Arizona)
Olsen-Chubbuck (Colorado)
Upper Mantaro River Valley (Peru)
Star Carr (England)
Makapansgat (South Africa)
Tehuacan (Mexico)
North Acropolis, Tikal (Guatemala)
Lake Titicaca (Bolivia)
Acrotiri, Thera/Santorini (Aegean Sea, Greece)
Pompeii (Italy)
Ilopango volcano area (El Salvador)
Quirigua, Motagua River (Guatemala)
Scara Brae (Orkney Islands, Scotland)
Pyramids (Egypt)
Moche Valley (Peru)
Sweet Track, Somerset Levels (England)
Mono tribal sites (Sierra Nevada, California)
Bighorn Medicine Wheel (Wyoming)
Meer II (Belgium)

Next Class Readings for Thursday:
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 7: "Dating the Past," pp. 157-178


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Feb. 7: Fieldwork

Feb. 7
Reading for today:
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 5, "Fieldwork," pp. 87-124.
Feder, Chapter 10, "Good Vibrations: Psychics and Dowsers," pp. 261-277.



Archaeological survey: Methods archaeologists use to locate sites or acquire data from sites or regions without excavation; observing surface remains and using remote sensing for surface and subsurface remains (ibid. 87). Includes ecological factors. Reveals site numbers/types/form/size/spatial distribution. Not all sites found by survey, some known from history or general knowledge. High quality maps and/or aerial photographs necessary to plot site locations.

Three Basic Methods of Site Discovery:

1. Surface survey: Direct inspection of the terrain while walking at ground level, also called archaeological reconnaissance or reconnaissance survey. Should be done along transects at set intervals based on initial plans, but sometimes field conditions require rethinking the strategy. Oldest and most common survey method.

2. Aerial survey: Survey from above, including aerial photography (high altitude, low altitude, and radio-controlled airplanes with rigged cameras). Low raking light at sunrise and sunset very helpful. Not just regular film, use also infrared, radar, thermography (differential heat on ground). Satellites also used at times; for example Landsat especially useful for roads and regional studies. GIS (Geographical Information Systems) data incorporate multiple sources. All remote sensing techniques require ground truth (or "ground truthing") which simply means physically checking the ground itself to check the features being interpreted in the aerial photos, for example.

3. Subsurface survey: Survey of resources under the surface, either by direct intrusive methods like auguring, coring, or shovel testing (this last is the most common and often done on archaeological reconnaissance if the soil development indicates the likelihood of subsurface deposits; such tests are done on transects, and are often called STPs, or shovel test pits), or remote sensing technologies :
-- magnetometer (for variations in magnetism under ground, as with certain kinds of stone features like walls, or large areas of fired materials like clay in kilns)
-- resistivity detector- measures the differences in subsurface features to conduct electrical current, often because of moisture differences
-- ground-penetrating radar- sends back echoes revealing different densities below surface

These last three technologies require expensive technologies, expert interpretation of the results, and are generally limited in usefulness to larger built subsurface features and remains like walls and floors of structures, and sometimes burials
Not mentioned in the text, archaeologists have also used metal detectors, especially for systematic battlefield surveys; one of the first and most famous examples of this use was at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana.

Once a site is located, it is given a trinomial designation in the U.S. as I described in the last class; other numbering or naming systems are used in other countries. Sites are sometimes also given names, either the historic name if known (Diamond City, near Helena), or as is common in the U.S., a landowner's name (MacHaffie Site, near Helena) or descriptive term (Pictograph Cave, near Billings). Finally, sites locations are established using satellite-based GPS (Global Positioning Systems). This is only a consistent development over the last ten years or so; back when I was doing surveys we used only a topographic map and the UTM system (boy that was fun…you young whippersnappers don't know how easy you got it these days!)

After a site is located, by old-fashioned walking or by one of the remote-sensing based surveys, then it all comes back to walking the ground, mapping the site, and describing what is seen on the surface. The site is mapped, either using traditional mapping technologies such as the transit, or newer technologies such as the laser transit and GPS. Topographic maps and planimetric maps can provide different views of the same site data.


Excavation is the principle method that archaeologists use to recover data beneath the surface, and is also sometimes a method of discovery. Subsurface remains are generally the best preserved and least disturbed data (but not always…note that subsurface remains can suffer massive disturbance through rodent burrowing even within recent years… and that some surface remains have laid essentially undisturbed for thousands of years in high remote deserts!)

The two basic goals of excavation:
1. Reveal the three-dimensional patterning/structure in deposition of artifacts, ecofacts, features; evaluation of the provenience and association
2. Assess the functional and temporal significance of the patterning; evaluation of the context
The goal is to reconstruct the past behavior; proper and complete records are VITAL to this effort-- archaeology without proper recordation, notes, maps, etc. is simply LOOTING

For the three-dimensional patterning, it is important to note the distinction between the two horzontal dimensions of a surface (usually synchronous..of the same time period), and the one of depth (usually diachronous…of different periods)


Stratification- observed layers of matrix (pl. matrices) and features; each layer is a stratum (strata is plural)

Law of Superposition- geological principle that the sequence of strata from bottom to top reflect the order they were laid in, from earliest at the bottom to the most recent at the top (Please check out the figures in your text for a nice illustration, fig. 5.14 on p. 104 and fig. 5.15 on page 105) Even though there may be cases of reverse stratigraphy that seem to fly in the face of the law of superposition, it still holds true (see fig. 5.15, p. 105).

Stratigraphy- the study and interpretation of stratification. Looking for evidence of redeposition or disturbance--sometimes clarification in complex cases is assisted through conjoining studies ("refitting studies") in which fragments of artifacts and ecofacts from different strata are fitted back together. Stratigraphic evaluation includes both temporal and functional evaluations.

Nonarchitectural features: middens, burials, hearths, quarries
Architectural features: walls, floors, platforms, staircases, roadways

One way to approach stratigraphic evaluation is by using a schematic diagram called a Harris Matrix, a way to abstract the relationships between various stratigraphic elements (see fig. 5-16, p. 108)

Excavation Methods

There are two basic kinds of excavations:

1. (Vertical) - Penetrating excavations- Mainly going deep vertically, to see in cross section the depth, sequencing, and composition of the deposits; test pits, trenches, tunnels.

2. (Horizontal) - Clearing excavations- clears occupation levels horizontally to see the extent of the deposit and the arrangement of features/artifacts/ecofacts of the deposit

Usually both types are excavation are used at a site to fit the different goals of research. Excavation is like taking apart a giant 3D puzzle, and putting it back together on paper/computer…thus the vital importance of complete notes and recordation!

The Toolkit
Take a look at the tools for an excavator's toolkit on p. 111…I will comment for you to note that the "gold standard" for archaeologists is the sharpened Marshalltown triangular trowel (medium size)…it is the identifying badge of the profession of field archaeologist beyond all others! At the minimum you also need a good compass (Brunton is the ideal, but Silva is ok too), folding rule, and tape measure (metric for prehistoric, standard inches and feet for historic). Add a shovel (flat-nose for excavations!) and a good screen, and by gum, those are the essentials.

Micromorphology- The microscopic study of fine deposit residues cut from excavated matrices such as floors.

Provenience Control

Horizontal and vertical provenience must always be the guide and structure for excavation; words fail here…Be sure and look at the excellent diagrams of the grid and excavations on pp. 112-113. It is one of those things easier to show than to tell.

Remember…excavation of a site is destruction of the site. Without proper controls, notes, and research design, there is little noticeable difference between archaeology and looting.
The goal is to take enough proper field notes, scaled drawings, photographs, and standardized info on forms, to be able to reconstruct the site as an ideal.

Field drawings are done as:
1. Sections (side/profile view, or vertical/stratified sections; arifacts in the unit walls, etc.)
2. Plan view (horizontal relationship of features and artifacts/ecofacts)


Data are collected (artifacts, ecofacts, soil samples from the matrix and features for pollen and other analysis, etc.). There are established systems of collecting, storing, processing, and labeling/storing the data for efficient retrieval later (much like a library or archives). Ecofacts are usually processed by specialists in faunal analysis, floral analysis (including pollen or phytolith analysis), etc. Lithic analysis is also important to understand where the source materials for stone artifacts originated.


Classification is the process of rearranging or ordering objects into groups on the basis of shared characteristics that archaeologists call attributes.

An attribute is any observable trait that can be defined and isolated. Three basic categories of _directly observable_ attributes are used in archaeology, and the classification will depend on the research questions being asked:

1. Stylistic attributes: color, surface finish/texture, decoration (painted/unpainted), alterations, etc. Stylistic types include pottery classifications based on decoration and finish (ex: the many types of pottery styles of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico

2. Form attributes: overall 3D form and aspects of the artifact's shape; dimensions (metric attributes)- length, width, thickness, weight. Form types include pottery component shape attributes (ex: thickness of wall, curve of wall, strap or loop handles) or grinding stones cross-sections (ex: round, rectangular, etc.)

3. Technological attributes: raw materials (constituent attributes) and traits relating to the manufacturing process. Technological types include metallurgy processes (ex: different alloys of copper such as brass or bronze) and kiln processes (ex: tempering of sand using sand grit or crushed shell)

Besides classification based on _directly observable_ attributes, artifacts can be classified using _inferred attributes_ measurable only by tests such as spectrographic or chemical analysis, which are not done in the field.

Classification serves 4 basic purposes:

1. Classification divides a mass of undifferentiated data into groups/classes

2. Classification allows the researcher to summarize characteristics of many objects by listing only shared attributes through the definition of …
---------Types: represent clusters of attributes that occur together repeatedly in the same artifacts. For example, Oneota Allamakee Trailed pottery which my tribe the Ioway made in precontact times, is typically distinguished by generally globular form (form attribute), trailed decorations such as chevrons (stylistic attribute), and shell-tempered clay (technological attribute)…other types of precontact pottery in the Midwest may have one or the other of these attributes, but all three attributes taken together make up the Oneota Allamakee Trailed TYPE.

3. Classification defines variability of the artifact, which can lead to further to understanding, as when variability in pottery in some cultures relates to social subgroupings of status or lineage identity.

4. Classification, by ordering and describing types, enables the researcher to suggest a series of relationships among classes.

Ultimately there is no right or wrong classification scheme…it is only a working cognitive tool to get at answering a particular research question. For example, for pottery, if one is studying food storage, one might choose to classify based on form attributes, but if one is studying social identity, one might choose stylistic attributes instead.

It is also possible to relate hierarchies of artifact classifications with hierarchies of social groupings, but depends on the base data.
- Individuals make artifacts based on cultural standards, or norms (attributes).
- Subassemblage -Patterned set of artifacts used by occupational or other groups (hunters, farmers, mothers, etc.).
- Assemblage -Patterned set of subassemblages that represent a community's behavior patterns.
- Archaeological culture -Patterned set of assemblages, sum total of material remains, assumed to represent the culture of a past society

Sites and other subjects also mentioned in this chapter:
Stonehenge (Britain)
Tehaucan Valley (Mexico)
Athens, Rome, Carthage (Mediterranean region)
Troy (Greece); Heinrich Schliemann
Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania); the Leakeys
Lascaux Cave (France)
Tell / tepe - hill/mound (term used in SW Asia/Middle East)
Shahr-I Sokhta (Iran)
Sarepta (Lebanon)
Nile Valley (Egypt)
Sybaris (Greece)
Cahokia (Illinois)
China Lake Valley (California)
Teotihaucan (Mexico)
Pompeii (Italy)
Cerén (El Salvador)
Koobi Fora (Lake Turkana, Kenya)
Lindenmeier Site (Colorado)
Royal "Acropolis", Copan (Honduras)


FEDER's chapter on "Good Vibrations: Psychics and Dowsers" is a good match for the Ashmore and Sharer chapter. Feder discusses the real life hard work of finding and excavating sites (which I can vouch for personally), compared to the fantasy of being able to predict where a site is using a dowsing rod or pretending to be able to see into the past and explain what happened at a site.

Claims that are not testable, through excavation, etc., are not science. The evidence of incidents that have been tested does not support the claims of psychic archaeology or dowsing for sites.

On the other hand, Feder is pretty dismissive of water dowsing, but my very down-to-earth Grandpa swore by it, and he and his dad could dowse for water. I do not claim that ability. But then my Grandpa actually tracked down a Will-o-the-Wisp in his youth in the dark brush along the Missouri River in pre-WWII Nebraska, when no one else would go with him because they were afraid of ghosts. He didn't believe in ghosts, as he had never seen one. But the Will-o-the-Wisp he tracked down was actually a piece of phosphorescent wood, its internal gases causing it to float its ghostly way through the dark trees. Grandpa caught that Wisp that dark night…but he didn't crush it like lesser men when confronted with the unknown…he let the Wisp-wood go, content with discovering its mystery, and letting it go on its own mysterious way.

Archaeology is a matter of hard work, though we wish it were otherwise…wishing doesn't make it so.

I believe there is room for science and for mystery in this world. The trick is to not be deceived, and confuse one for the other. Science is an astounding tool to discover empirical truth…but it is a very cold God.

Next Time: Fieldwork
Readings for Next Class on Tuesday:
Reading assignment for next class: Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 6: “Analyzing the Past,” pp. 125-156.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Feb. 5: How Archaeology Works

Feb. 5
Reading for today:
Ashmore and Sharer: Chapter 4, "How Archaeology Works," pp. 61-86.
Archaeological data, deposition and site transformation processes, research design; archaeological research projects.

Above: An Episode From Trent de Boer's "Shovel Bum" 'Zine

How Archaeology Works

Lot of basic archaeological terms and concepts to cover today

ARCHAEOLOGICAL DATA Relating to human (cultural) activities.

Artifacts: "…Portable objects whose form is modified or wholly created by human activity" (ibid. 61) (ex: pottery, hammerstone, projectile point, glass bottle)

Ecofacts: "…Nonartifactual natural remains …that provides information about past human behavior" (ibid. 63). (ex: bones, seed, pollen, soils)

Features: "…Nonportable human-made remains that cannot be moved from the place of discovery without altering or destroying their original form…" (ibid. 62) (ex: hearths, burials, storage pits, postholes, postmolds, roads)

Sites (Note: not "sight"…"site" comes from Latin "situ") "…Spatial clusters of artifacts, features, and ecofacts…" (ibid. 63) Usually the boundaries are defined by an arbitrarily-chosen decline in density of artifacts, ecofacts, or features; occasionally can be defined by moats, ditches, etc. The site is the basic working unit of definition in archaeology. In the U.S., sites are given numbers based on the Smithsonian trinomial system: 24LC100 stands for: 24 = the 24th state in alphabetical order = Montana; LC = Lewis and Clark County; 100 = the number given to the site within Lewis and Clark County. (ex: a historic gold mine, a prehistoric camp, a kill site, a lithic scatter; a Mayan temple)

Landscapes (not in text, but becoming more frequent): Sites functioning as systems, interacting as part of and with the natural setting/systems, a setting which may also be modified by human activity (ex: a buffalo jump with drive lanes, cliffs, processing area, and camp some distance away; a mining area with camp, cabins, mill, roads, tailings, ore dump, garbage dumps, and shafts, adits, etc.)

Settlement Patterns (not in text): Systems of sites (and landscapes) connected to and interacting with each other across the larger landscape and region. (ex: tipi ring sites, buffalo jumps, and associated landscape settings from the Late Prehistoric across north central Montana; gold camps and mining districts across western Montana, including such places as Bannack, Nevada City, Virginia City, the site of Diamond City, and the historic core of Helena).

Regions: A geographic concept, definable by topographic features such as mountain ranges and bodies of water, but also by the cultures themselves (ex: Intermontane or Northern Plains regions of Montana; the Prairie-Plains of the Midwest; the Highland Mayan region of Guatamala and surrounding countries).


Behavioral Processes
1. Acquisition
2. Manufacture
3. Use
4. Deposition

Transformational Processes - draws on "Taphonomy" (what happens to plants and animals after they die)
1. Changes caused by nature
2. Changes caused by humans

Matrix: "…The physical medium that surrounds, holds, and supports archaeological data…" (ibid. 71) (ex: soil, gravel, rock, sand)

Provenience (sometimes spelled provenance): Three-dimensional location of the data within the matrix, or on the surface. (ibid. 71)

Association: "Two or more artifacts [ecofacts, features]…occurring together in the same matrix"…"crucial to the interpretations of past events…" (ibid. 72)

Context: "…Evaluation of…data based on both behavioral and transformational processes" (ibid. 72)
=1. Primary context: undisturbed since initial deposition
=== a. Use-related: undisturbed data deposited where aquired/made/used
=== b. Transposed: deposited by activity outside of where acquired/made/used (ex: discard sites, middens)
= 2. Secondary context: "…Situations in which provenience, association, and matrix have been altered by transformational processes caused either by human or natural activity" (ibid. 74)

Research Design: The plan for gathering and evaluating the archaeological data.

Data Sampling
= 1. Data universe: "A bounded research area" (ibid. 76) (ex. Single site, portion of site, geographic area containing many sites; also can be temporal (time) boundaries rather than spatial (geographical))
= 2. Divide data universe into sample units ("the unit of investigation;" there are different types)
=== a. Nonarbitrary sample units: existing boundaries (ex: room, house)
=== b. Arbitrary sample units: no inherent natural/cultural relevance (ex: grid units).
NOTE: Sample units should not be confused with data; data = the artifacts/ecofacts/features within each sample unit.
Population: Aggregate/grouping of all sample units; not the same as the data universe.

Data Gathering:
1. Total Data Gathering: "…Investigation of all the units in the population" (ibid. 78); rarely if ever occurs, not practical, especially for large sites (bit note it is related to the unit of investigation!); sometimes this is attempted if a site will be totally destroyed, but really never accomplished.
2. Sample Data Gathering: Only a portion is recovered, due to time, money, etc. constraints; but sometimes also to leave some undisturbed for future investigation/study.

Data Sampling:
= 1. Probabilistic (Statistical) Sampling: Used to specify statistically how the data sample relates to the larger data population.
=== a. Simple Random Sampling: Ensures each unit has equal chance for selection using random number generation.
=== b. Systematic Sampling: Selects first sample unit randomly, while remainder selected by predetermined, equal interval from first.
=== c. Stratified Sampling: Used to ensure sampling will be done of significant variations in the population (ex: slope, ecotype, distance from water, etc.). The divisions of categories are made, and then random/systematic sampling from within each division.
= 2. Nonprobabilistic Sampling: Use personal experience and judgment, such as most at risk or accessible areas; problem is, without statistical sampling, cannot really say it is representative of the population.

Research Stages
1. Formulation- Problem/hypothesis definition; Background research; Feasibility studies
2. Implementation- Permits; Funding; Logistics
3. Data Gathering- Survey (Phase I and II data recovery); Excavation (aka Phase III)
4. Data Processing- Cleaning and conservation; Cataloging; Initial Classifications
5. Analysis- Analytic classifications; Temporal frameworks; Spatial frameworks
6. Interpretation- Application of Culture History/Processualism/Postprocessualism
7. Publication- Research Results used as foundation for new research
…Start again with …1. Formulation!


Archaeological research requires a broad range of expertise. While investigators try to be versed in multiple areas, no one can do it all; you need teams, and you generally need to outsource some types of laboratory analysis, such as dating materials.

Most archaeological research in the U.S. is done either as CRM work relating to environmental law compliance (the most common is Section 106 of National Historic Preservation Act, and NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act). Some of this compliance work is done in-house by federal agencies like the Forest Service, but most of it is outsourced to private CRM contractor firms and occasionally universities have contracting efforts as well. Ultimately, contract archaeology is a business. Students who have graduated often end up working as field technicians doing contract archaeology; these folks are often known as "shovel bums."

I was a "migrant archaeo-tech" myself for a few years on projects across the U.S., from 1985 (after graduation with my B.A. in Anthropology from U of MT) to 1990 (when I finally landed a more settled job as a seasonal field-tech for the Forest Service). The job of "shovel bum" is hard, but much more romantic and interesting than many of the other "wage-slave" jobs most students get after graduation in restaurants, as office temps, cubicle slaves, etc. You do break your back and sweat as a shovel bum, but you breathe fresh air and see some interesting things. Interested? Check out the YouTube offering above, and the Shovel Bum cartoon on the archaeology channel. There is a site that helps hook people up with Shovel Bum jobs at; no recommendation or warranty is intended here, caveat emptor (buyer beware) and all that...I haven't worked doing this kind of thing since 1990 (wow, almost 18 years ago!)...if you do this, you are on your own there! But I enjoyed life as a archaeovagrant as a rootless soul in my twenties.

More rare is what people think of as traditional, research-oriented archaeology. These are most often associated with university field schools, which students pay for as part of a degree program. The University of Montana at Missoula holds a field school every summer (the one for 2008 isn't listed yet--this is the one for last year); other universities from across the U.S. do the same, with some projects within Montana or neighboring states. There are even some private organizations that run or participate in digs, like Earthwatch, but the participant usually pays a good chunk of money to do so. The other possibility is that the Forest Service and other federal agencies sometimes over opportunities as volunteers to help with short projects during the summer, sometimes archaeological projects, or more often historic preservation projects stabilizing historic buildings. You can find out more about that on the Passport-In-Time (PIT) website.

Next Time: Fieldwork
Readings for Next Class on Thursday:
Ashmore and Sharer, Chapter 5, "Fieldwork," pp. 87-124.
Feder, Chapter 10, "Good Vibrations: Psychics and Dowsers," pp. 261-277.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Two Class Papers

To help clarify some questions about the two short research papers that are required this term, as noted in the syllabus: "Guidelines/stylesheet will be supplied on how to incorporate the words, work or ideas of other authors into your two papers."

(1) The first short paper (3 pages) will evaluate two or more websites/programs/articles on archaeology. A well-organized critique and comparison covering the intended audience, and research goals and theoretical perspectives, and relating the reviewed materials to information given in the course. This paper is due on FEB. 20 [ERRATA: SHOULD BE FEB. 14]."

For Paper #1, there was an error in the first part of the syllabus saying the due date was Feb. 20, stated in class during this week's Tuesday class the due date is FEB. 14as you can see in the daily schedule portion of the syllabus. The paper is to be a minimum of three typed or computer-printed pages on an archaeological topic of you choice, something you have an interest in or wonder about. You need at least three properly cited and quoted sources (see FORMAT below).

At least one source has to be from a library, such as a journal article. The Internet is great, but you need to be comfortable with research in a library as well, for success in academic studies. Besides the school library, you can use the public library downtown. When you do your paper, please hold down your citations to a sentence or a paragraph for each; don't submit a paper made up of nothing but great blocks of cut-and-paste citations, and little of your own thoughts. I want to see YOU and YOUR thoughts and opinions in the paper, SUPPORTED by the citations (the citations should not take the place of your own thoughts and opinions).

"(2) A second short paper (5 pages) will be an essay by the student reacting to the book "Collapse" by Jared Diamond, relating it to what has been learned about archaeology in the course, and using at least three other sources from the library or the Internet, properly cited, and original in thought. This paper is due on APRIL 30."

For Paper #2, "three other sources," mean other than, but in addition to, Diamond's "Collapse," so that there will be 4 sources.


Both papers should be 2-3 pages, double-spaced, typed, and in a professional format (Society for American Archaeology (SAA); handed out separately). LATE PAPERS WILL BE DROPPED ONE FULL GRADE FOR EVERY DAY THEY ARE LATE (A paper that would have been graded a B, will get a C if it is turned in one day late, etc.). Hardcopies are required; E-mailed papers are not accepted.

The format to be used is that by the American Anthropological Association, and the style sheet (very similar to MLA style) is at:

In brief, no footnotes are used. Instead, inline citations are used:

Dr. Puffbottom excavated a troglodyte vase of the 13th Dynasty at the Toucan site (Puffbottom 1932: 45), for a nonquoted citation.
"The troglodyte vase was the ugliest ceramic I found there" (Puffbottom 1932: 85), for a quoted citation.

And if you have a paragraph of cited text, indent the entire paragraph, and then add the citation at the end:

yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah. yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah. yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah. yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah. yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah yada blah (Puffbottom 1932: 56-57).

And the cited sources belong at the end of the paper:

Puffbottom, Emil
1932 "13th Dynasty Troglodyte Vases at the Toucan Site, Pajarito Province, Maladonia." Journal of Troglodyte Studies 28 (5): 20-90.

See examples of how you cite magazines, journals, books (sole author or edited collections of articles), movies, websites/internet documents, etc. on the AAA stylesheet.


When I was doing my undergrad papers long, long ago, I used a structure/system for short papers based on the following, and generally got good grades doing it this way:

1. Name of paper, my name, date, class
2. Intro paragraph: what I'm going to talk about, the subject of the paper
3. Point 1 with citation 1
4. Point 2 with citation 2
5. Point 3 with citation 3
6. Tie together all three points; how do all three points relate to each other, in your thoughts...what do you think; has it confirmed or changed your opinion, added to it...?
7. Summary paragraph: what I talked about, what my conclusion is, and any last thoughts or brief citation that seems to wrap it all up nicely


"Academic Integrity
The University of Montana-Helena adheres to high standards of academic integrity. A single instance of the following violations will result in an F grade for that assignment; a subsequent violation will result in an FX grade for the course (see Catalog), and in both cases I will report the violation to the academic dean:

• Plagiarism: submitting the words, work or ideas of others without properly crediting them; this includes tracing/copying the artistic work of others, including sources from the Internet
• Using work generated in another class, by you or someone else, for credit in this class without permission from the instructor."