Archaeology 101

This section collects information about basic archaeological concepts. Archaeology, in the USA, is considered a subfield of anthropology. Anthropology is the study of humans and their cultural behavior from a holistic perspective. Archaeology is the subfield of anthropology that investigates past human culture, through examination of material remains (e.g., sites, artifacts, documents) people have either abandoned or deliberately left behind. The science of archaeology involves recording, interpreting, and recreating past human life.

That simple definition does not adequately cover the complexity of what archaeologists do and what they think about. After all, a professional archaeologist gathers data and strives to contribute to an accurate reconstruction of the human past. Much of the data about that past is hidden in the soil. However, also technical analysis in laboratories of bones (both human and abandoned food bones), artifacts, and soil—and even the pollen it contains—are also subjects of archaeological study.

Archaeological study is about slipperier concepts like context, and also looking at a group of artifacts to date an occupation—or when a site was used. We also look beyond a single house, or even community (archaeological site), to consider how a landscape was used. After all, even ancient people got the items they needed for daily life from here and there, just like you go to the mall for one set of goods, the grocery store for another, the gas station for still others, and even the ball field for another kind of activity. Reconstructing daily life within a household is important to archaeologists, because that is a nexus of activity, but they look beyond the household to understand how a society functions.

Now we’ve made the full loop from archaeology back to anthropology—when archaeologists consider how an ancient society functioned, they look to models based on history and on anthropological theory to assemble the story of our human past.

There are 103 articles in this category. Each excerpt below links to the full article (click on the article headline or the 'Click here to read' link!)

Preserving our past for our future: The Chesser-Williams House

Submitted by Catherine Long

Chesser Williams House Lord Aeck Sargent 2The Chesser–Williams House is now at the campus of the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center. The House has exquisite art work on its exterior and interior. By moving the House to the Center, it will be preserved for educational programming. The project has received recognition from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of 22 projects in the United States that received a Cynthia Woods Mitchell grant in 2010.

Avondale Burial Place video

Submitted by J.W. Joseph (

Avondaleburialplace banner CURecently, New South Associates was contracted by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to recover, analyze, and relocate the Avondale Burial Place in southern Bibb County. Fieldwork discovered 101 individuals. Later analysis, including historical research, indicates the burial ground was most heavily used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although there are indicators that this location began as a slave cemetery and was subsequently used by African American tenant farmers. View an excellent video about this important project that’s in the full story.

Big buildings: Monumental and civic-ceremonial architecture

Eiffel tower from SE sunny day CUArchaeologists have two specialized terms for large-scale buildings and building-complexes: monumental architecture and civic-ceremonial architecture. One is descriptive. The other refers to function. Consider the activities that happen in the monumental architecture of modern times, and what insights this gives you for examples from the past.

Artifact styles…do not always match genetic data

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

SGA 0160 RJL PIDBA CUAre you interested in the earliest human settlers in North America? If so, you may enjoy browsing the information offered online in The Paleoindian Database of the Americas. The Georgia section now includes thousands of photographs and drawings of Paleoindian and Early Archaic projectile points, and metric data for the points, too, courtesy of R. Jerald Ledbetter. Style studies, for example of stone tools, do not always match the results of archaeogenetic studies.

Researcher skill: Assessing letters

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

National Tribune Sherman generals CUWhat did the countryside look like in northern Georgia during the Civil War? We get some idea from a contemporary description from General O.O. Howard, who lead troops traveling from Chattanooga toward Atlanta in the spring of 1864. How can you assess the accuracy of such reports? This is a basic skill required of researchers….

Cemeteries and lot lines

Submitted by Stephen A. Hammack (

SH lot line fig cropped CUA little known fact about historic cemeteries is that they were often purposefully placed on land lot lines. This type of land usage seems to have been based on common sense, as land owners established family cemeteries on the edges of their property in places that were least likely to hinder agricultural activities. Several examples from Middle Georgia are discussed, although placing cemeteries on the furthest edges of property lines was common across the Southeast, and quite possibly across the nation.

Cause and effect: Climatic change

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Cause effect graphic CUScientists, including archaeologists, think about causal relationships between two events (or situations or conditions) separated by the passage of time. As an example, think about the role of climate change in the decline of civilizations. Some have argued that climatic change can cause the decline of civilizations. But does this hypothesis overlook important factors that may or may not happen between the two events—between the change and the decline?

Electromagnetic induction research at Ocmulgee reported

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Bigman 2012 Ocmulgee Arch Prosp Fig2 CUIn a recent article, Dan Bigman of the University of Georgia describes using electromagnetic (EM) induction techniques to investigate two areas adjacent to the Funeral Mound at Ocmulgee National Monument, near Macon. These techniques allowed Bigman to learn more about the archaeological resources in the park without disturbing them. Using non-invasive methods allows archaeologists to learn about buried evidence of the past without disturbing it. You can visit the park yourself and see the area near the Funeral Mound for free.

Links between language diversity and archaeology?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Gorenflo et 2012 Fig 1A crop CUA recent study finds high linguistic variability in areas that also have high biodiversity. How much biodiversity does Georgia have? How much did it have over the last 10,000 or 20,000 years? What implications does this have for our understanding of ancient peoples of Georgia? Consider these issues in light of research published in May 2012 by LJ Gorenflo, Suzanne Romaine, RA Mittermeier, and K Walker-Painemilla.

Meetings: Crossroads to knowledge

Submitted by Catherine Long (

Meetings are a crossroads to knowledge. The full story discusses the April 2012 statewide preservation conference. You’ve missed that meeting, but it’s not too late—May also has interesting events scheduled for 2012 Archaeology Month, including the SGA’s Spring Meeting, which will be held Saturday, May 19th, at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville.

Beware of ticks!

Submitted by Pamela Johnson Baughman (

GALDA tick by LSchmitz CUMay is Archaeology Month in the state of Georgia, and also Historic Preservation Month, but did you also know that May is Lyme and Tick-borne Disease Awareness Month? The Georgia Lyme Disease Association sponsors this month to promote awareness about these diseases as well as encourage prevention practices. Find more information online here, where you can find resources, stories, statistics, and articles detailing the signs and symptoms of tick-borne diseases. In Georgia, ticks may be active year round, but they are most active on calm, cool, damp (humid) days over 60 degrees. You can engage in some prevention by avoiding tick infested areas, using tick/bug sprays, and checking yourself thoroughly after venturing outside.

Walking the landscape: Georgia’s prehistoric trails

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

“Before Georgia had roads, it was laced with Indian trails or paths,” writes Dr. Louis DeVorsey in his 2003 entry in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Indian Trails. Why did people establish, maintain, and travel these trails? Dr. DeVorsey suggests that normal economic needs motivated much of the travel. What do you think?

Urbanization causes archaeological resource destruction

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Megapolitan areas Grimm et 2008 Fig 3 CUCall it a megapolitan area or a megaregion, but Georgia’s Piedmont is experiencing an increase in human settlement that endangers—and destroys—archaeological remains. Join the Society for Georgia Archaeology and help preserve Georgia’s archaeological heritage. Once you’ve joined the SGA, volunteer with the Society to actively help the SGA to preserve, study and interpret Georgia’s historic and prehistoric remains.

Dams hold more than water

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Eagle and Phenix Dam Google Maps dam intact CUWe all know dams hold water, but they can also preserve archaeological information. The recent dynamiting of the Eagle & Phenix dam in the Chattahoochee River adjacent to downtown Columbus has revealed considerable data on the industrial history of the mill complexes that lined this stretch of the river. The water also concealed many archaeological artifacts. Read about what destruction of the dam has revealed, and the exhibits that will be created to tell the story of the Eagle & Phenix dam and the mills it served.

Volunteer for the SGA! Join now!

The Society for Georgia Archaeology is a volunteer organization. It only can achieve its goals if you help. So, join the SGA and become an active participant in SGA activities. Click here for more information on joining the SGA. Help our wonderful organization achieve its goals, and help preserve Georgia’s archaeological heritage in the process! Begin your involvement in the SGA by attending our Spring Meeting, to be held at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville on Saturday, May 19, 2012, in conjunction with 2012 Archaeology Month.

Archaeological lessons for us today: Coping with environmental stresses

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Butzer 2012 pg3636 PNAS Collapse Fig 1 CUHow do archaeological investigations can help us understand the present, and give us insights into the future of the world? A series of articles in a Special Feature called “Critical Perspectives on Historical Collapse,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2012, vol. 109, no. 10), and available online here for free, offers archaeological examples that are helpful in understanding how societies under stress react, and what reactions are more and less successful. Dr. Karl Butzer, in his contribution, argues that “resilience and readaptation depend on identified options, improved understanding, cultural solidarity, enlightened leadership, and opportunities for participation and fresh ideas” (p. 3632).

Archaeology: Real world to hypotheses, theories

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Framework K 12 Science Education FIG 3 1 three spheres CUHow do archaeologists do…archaeology? Archaeologists analyze the material remains (sites and artifacts) people have left behind, then interpret and recreate past human life. So, how does the analysis lead to the interpreting and recreating? A new, 2012 publication by the National Academies provides a helpful discussion of how all kinds of scientific researchers, including archaeologists, move from the real world to hypotheses and theories. Archaeologists use their understanding of material remains to reconstruct our human past.

Long-distance travel: The Leake Site example

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Leake on National Map topo CUIn an article in the Fall 2011 issue of Early Georgia (vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 173–200), Scot Keith discusses evidence for long-distance trade and exchange in Middle Woodland times (from about 350 BC to AD 650), using data from the Leake Site, near Cartersville. Members of the SGA in 2011 received that issue of Early Georgia as a benefit of membership. Join the SGA, and you will receive the current volume of Early Georgia!

Blue Ridge Parkway archive online with geolocation data

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Driving through Time truck CUDo you geotag your digital photographs? North Carolina archivists have determined the geographic location of myriad photographs and other historical materials that illuminate the history of the Blue Ridge Parkway, then put scans of those materials online for researchers to browse. Read more about Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina in the full story.

Ocmulgee 75th Anniversary celebrated

Submitted by Tammy Herron (

Ocumulgee 75th anniv visitor center CUSGA Vice-President Tammy Herron and two colleagues, George Wingard and Keith Stephenson, attended the 75th Anniversary Reception on Thursday, December 1, 2011 at Ocmulgee National Monument. In a later ceremony, the SGA received a Certificate of Appreciation for helping to “preserve and protect the ‘Ocmulgee Old Fields'” and for helping to “create Ocmulgee National Monument” in 1936.

An ethnohistorian’s insights into untangling the past

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Looking for de Soto cover CUHave you ever wondered what it would have been like to travel in North America with an early European adventurer? Read Joyce Rockwood Hudson’s Looking for De Soto: A Search Through the South for the Spaniard’s Trail (published in 1993) and you will learn what it was like to try to trace the route that Hernando De Soto and his entourage took through southeastern North America in 1540. Mrs. Hudson and her husband, then UGA professor Dr. Charles Hudson, set out to retrace and verify the route of the De Soto expedition in 1984.

Ways to make the past a story

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Fraser Rimas Empires cover CUHistorical and archaeological books and articles commonly tell the story of the past either using a timeline (a sequential version of the past) or using a specific topic—a place or person or theme—to anchor the tale. This story notes that there’re two sequential versions of Georgia’s past on this website—a table and a prose post. The full story contrasts these with Caldwell’s volume on research prior to the flooding of the Allatoona Reservoir, and a book on food and the human past (and future)—both with topical foci. Caldwell’s volume is recommended to anyone interested in Georgia’ prehistory.

Diaries as research tools

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Diaries are one of many primary sources about the past. Primary sources are records from people who had first-hand experience with what is recorded in the materials they have left behind. On this website we have a diary—of Abby the ArchaeoBus. The ArchaeoBus is a major outreach project of the SGA, and billed as Georgia’s mobile archaeology classroom. Using Abby’s diary as an example, consider the strengths and weaknesses of diaries as aids to understanding the past.

Columbian Exchange quiz results

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Columbian exchange correct answers chart CUFor about three months, the SGA’s website had a twelve-question quiz on the origins of commonly used species, mostly plants. The question posed was: is this species native to the Old World or the New World? The movement of plants and animals between the Old and New Worlds after Christopher Columbus’s First Expedition in 1492 is commonly referred to as the Columbian Exchange. Thus, the quiz provides insights into quiz-taker knowledge of the Columbian Exchange. Should you wish to take the quiz before reading the answers, click here.

How important is dating?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

In Small Things Forgotten title page CUMany people have encountered one of the editions of James Deetz’s In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life, which was first published in 1977 and is still an insightful volume. Dr. Deetz discusses, among many other things, the importance of chronology and dating to the study of the past. He also argues that small things are extremely important to understanding the past, giving examples of how we may continue behaviors with roots in the past in everyday life today.

What was the New World like in 1491?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Mann 2005 cover CU In 2005, Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus appeared on bookstore shelves, and still is selling well in a paperback edition with a new afterword. Mann’s book focuses on what the New World was like prior to the arrival of the Columbus expedition in 1492. Mann offers enough information for you to envision what you would have seen if you could have flown over the Western Hemisphere in AD 1000. What he writes about may be a bit (or a lot) different from what you learned in school about his subject.

Historic preservation primer available from HPD

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

HPD Preservation Primer 2011 CUCareful preservation planning means knowledge about important historical and archaeological resources are part of the planning process. In late October 2011, Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division released Preservation Primer: A Resource Guide for Georgia, available in both high- and low-resolution PDFs. The Primer will help you identify historic properties, evaluate them, and develop local preservation planning strategies. And help protect your community’s resources.

Origins of agriculture discussed in detail

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Price Bar Yosef 2011 Fig 1 worldwide origins of ag CUThe origins of agriculture is one of the major topics of the field of archaeology. The journal Current Anthropology has just published an issue dedicated to this topic, called The Origins of Agriculture: New Data, New Ideas. The issue’s twenty-two articles can be accessed for free. An article by Bruce D. Smith considers the origins of agriculture in eastern North America, in particular the seed plants squash (Cucurbita pepo), sunflower, sumpweed (Iva annua), and lambsquarters/pigweed (Chenopodium berlandieri).

Description of Indian mound from the 1770s

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Bartram Plate3 Ixia caelestina 1793 CUEver wonder what an Indian mound was like in the late eighteenth century? In the mid-1770s, natural historian William Bartram traveled through what is now Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. He described his adventures in a 1793 volume Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws…. He describes a special round building the Cherokees used for important group activities. His architectural description gives a good idea of what careful archaeological excavation may reveal of a building like this.

October 22nd is National Archaeology Day

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

2011 National Archaeology Day AIA CULeading national archaeological organizations are partnering to participate in National Archaeology Day, on 22 October 2011. What will you do to celebrate? In addition, across the US and Canada, there are events throughout the whole month of October. What will you do to celebrate archaeology this year? And, it’s not too soon to start planning your 2012 National Archaeology Day celebrations!

Conservation news near and far

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Hereclea Minoa Sicilia theater CUThis Weekly Ponder considers what archaeological resources are, and what it means to conserve them, using two examples. Earlier this month, the Secretary of the Interior awarded a 2011 Partners in Conservation Award to the Camp Lawton Preservation Team, which has been working to investigate and conserve this recently rediscovered Confederate prisoner of war camp that’s near Millen. The second example is the joint effort by The Israel Museum in Jerusalem and Google to put digital images of the Dead Sea Scrolls online; five are now accessible.

Test yourself about the Columbian Exchange

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Old World CUThis Weekly Ponder offers a short quiz about which side of the Atlantic Ocean twelve species of creatures, mostly plants, now grown and used in both the Old and New Worlds, originated prior to Christopher Columbus’s First Expedition, in 1492.

Social science > anthropology > archaeology

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Barfield 2010 Afghanistan cover CUArchaeologists think of human society as very complex. Other social scientists prioritize certain aspects of human social life. For example, political scientists look at political behavior, of individuals and the groups they form. We consider an example offered by anthropologist Thomas Barfield in which he observes that Afghani society prioritizes group interests (e.g., honor), whereas modern Americans, as a society, prioritize individual interests (e.g., household wealth).

Collective learning, baseball caps, and Clovis points

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Braves batter 2007 CUHumans are adept at collective learning. We share information with our peers and information is learned from our elders and passed along to the next generation. This means that we don’t have to expend as much energy learning something that another person already learned. How can this be seen archaeologically? Baseball caps and Clovis points are touched on in the full discussion.

Scales of data and analysis

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Data data data data CUConsider how quantities of fine-grained data obtained through careful, well-documented excavation can be integrated to investigate broader questions of socio-political evolution. Consider how the scale of data and the research questions you can ask using them are related.

On rifle-trenches: The General says…

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Sherman Memoirs vol I frontispiece author CUIn his Memoirs, General William T. Sherman provides a detailed description of the rifle-trenches soldiers from both sides occupied while fighting near Kennesaw Mountain—and elsewhere—during the Civil War. Today, we consider the remains of these trenches archaeological features. What would you expect them to look like archaeologically—if they have survived the nearly one-and-a-half centuries since 1864?

Reconstruct, stabilize, or ???

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Resource saving investment schematic CUArchaeologists and managers of archaeological resources, including those on public lands, must make a choice. Basically, those archaeological remains can be ignored, stabilized, or reconstructed—along with perhaps subtle choices on the continuum between each of these. If you were the owner or manager of an archaeological resource, which would you choose? What would you consider in making your choice?

Considering household wealth: residential architecture

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Potts Tract Structure 1 Fig 10 Hally 1970 CUArchaeology is a comparative science. How can we compare houses cross-culturally? How do houses reflect variable wealth among their owners and residents? How do their size and layout reflect the activities they are designed to accommodate? How does our concept of the house affect how we think about the residential living areas of ancient peoples? These issues are touched on in the full article….

Thanks, archaeology volunteers

Submitted by Jack T. Wynn (

Wynn at scull shoals CULong-time SGA member Dr. Jack T. Wynn of Dahlonega thanks “the hundreds of volunteers who have helped keep the pursuit of archaeology alive, vibrant, and fun for me for all these years!” He suggests that “if you have been wondering what you could do in archaeology, then contact the SGA leadership, or members of the SGA Chapter in your area, and find out what’s going on in archaeology in your neighborhood.”

Fire-fighting can threaten archaeological resources

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Georgia tmo 2011164 wildfire cropped CUOne consequence of wildfires is that they not only threaten homes, but they can also threaten archaeological resources. Buried features may be protected by the soil above them, but many archaeological features extend above the soil. This is true for hundreds of archaeological sites currently threatened by fires in New Mexico and Arizona. This is also true for Georgia sites now threatened by fires near Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Consider how we can effectively fight fires and at the same time provide protection for irreplaceable archaeological resources—is it possible?

Food storage is linked to horticulture

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

When people began to save food for longer than several days, they had to develop ways of storing it that would be safe from predators ranging from other humans to bacteria. Look around a typical Georgia kitchen today, and you probably will see a refrigerator and freezer, cupboards, perhaps a pantry, breadbox, and cookie jar—all for storing food. What strategies did ancient peoples use to store their food? This article uses an example from the Neolithic period in what is now Jordan to investigate how ancient peoples solved the problem of food storage.

Natural disasters and history

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

When we consider the long tale of our human past, how important are major disasters? Consider the recent earthquake/tsunami in Japan. Consider the impact of the 2005 hurricane season on the Gulf of Mexico, especially Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita. Also, consider a hinterland place like Georgia’s own Sapelo Island, and the hurricane of 1898. What choices do people face after a disaster? What are their options if they emigrate? What must they do to stay?

Consequences of travel to human history

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Crowds walking Broadway NYC 2010 CUDo you think that, as a species, people are mobile, and move around? What are the consequences to history of being more mobile or more sedentary? Consider the economic and religious motivations to being mobile—or not—and the implications for our human past—and future.

Understanding the Mississippian past by uniting archaeology and history

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Hudson 1997 Knights and Warriors cover CUArchaeologists call the period when explorers from the Iberian peninsula first wandered through Georgia the Mississippian period. Charles Hudson, in Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun (1997), describes the clash of the two cultures that resulted, focusing on Hernando de Soto and the group of hundreds of soldiers, craftsmen, and hangers-on who traveled with him in the 1700s, and the people living in the towns they visited. What makes his book truly special is that he weaves together information from Spanish chroniclers with archaeological data, to produce a well-rounded tale of this poorly documented period in Georgia’s past.

HPD uses online survey and public discussions to frame 5-year plan

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

HPD_Preserv_Plan_to_2011_cover_CU.jpgFrom mid-2010 to early 2011, Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division sought public input on what HPD should emphasize in their programs over the coming five years. The current State Historic Preservation Plan will be replaced by a new plan by the end of 2011. In general, archaeological resources take a back seat to historical resources, especially standing buildings and historic districts.

Archaeological remains of weddings?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

William Katherine engagement photo CUWhat archaeological remains do weddings leave? Obviously, even what constitutes a wedding varies greatly cross-culturally. What will be the archaeological remains of the huge, well-attended wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton? What are the archaeological remains of weddings in your community or that you’ve attended? What about weddings in other cultures?

LR Binford on cultural evolution

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

In April 2011, archaeologist Lewis R. Binford (b. 1931) died. His 2001 book Constructing Frames of Reference presents cross-cultural data on hunting-and-gathering peoples who lived similar to Paleoindian peoples of Georgia. One issue commonly discussed in archaeology and addressed by Dr. Binford in his book is the transition away from hunting and gathering to more sedentary ways of life.

Ca. 1800 Georgia illuminated in Creek ethnohistory

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Ethridge Creek Country title page CUEthnohistorian Robbie Ethridge, in Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World (2003: University of North Carolina Press) describes “a distant, lost world—the world of the Creek Indians at the close of the eighteenth century.” She unites archaeological and historical data to illuminate this largely overlooked period. Read Dr. Ethridge’s book and you will understand Georgia’s early history anew.

No cell phone: how do you communicate long-distance?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

North Wales Chester area terrain CUConsider this…you live in a world without cell phones, without cars, or even bicycles or horses to ride. You walk if you want to go somewhere. People living in the places you know about live in scattered, small villages and hamlets. So, if you want to communicate with someone who lives several villages distant, how do you do it? Think about this and then click over to the full story.

Making money may not be a long-term solution

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Confederate bill NYTimes CUHow do you make money? How does a nation make money? Often, countries “make” money by printing it. The full story discusses a recent article by Ben Tarnoff in the New York Times online that reviews the decisions made from 1861 on by the Confederacy’s money managers to fund the war. The discussion goes on to consider short-term solutions that do not solve long-term problems.

“Big things” in archaeology: cliodynamics and chiefdoms

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Gavritlets and2 2010 fig 1Archaeologists consider little things and big things. A little thing would be studying the soot on the outside of a pottery fragment to discover what species of firewood was used—and little things do have big implications. Cliodynamics is a new field that generates mathematical models of long-term social processes. The full story briefly examines cliodynamical modeling of late prehistoric Native American political units before the arrival of Europeans.

Visit Harvard’s Peabody Museum collection online

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Peabody Museum artifact 86 22 1039054 CUIn the March 2011 issue of American Anthropologist, Meg Gaillard reviews the website of the online collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. Take a look at the review and the online collection and see pictures of artifacts from Georgia, and some information about the conditions under which they came into the collection. The article considers a “groundstone bowl fragment” as an example of this useful online collection.

Are archaeology and civic engagement interlinked?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

NPS_logo_from_website_CU.jpgConsiderable archaeological data and information are held in the public trust—because archaeological resources are on public lands, because public money funds research, and because some archaeological research is conducted because of public policy and laws. Thus, this story examines the relationship between archaeology and civic engagement using a 2008 National Park Service Technical Brief that’s available online as a basis for the discussion.

Rituals and archaeology: MLK’s two burial places

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

MLK Coretta mausoleum King Center Atlanta CUDid you know that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remains have been buried twice? At his funeral in 1968, they were buried at South-View Cemetery on the south side of Atlanta. Then, in 1977, Dr. King’s remains were moved to the famous marble tomb at the King Center that is part of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. These events were accompanied by important rituals. Rituals are important components of cultural behavior, but they preserve poorly—and at best incompletely—in archaeological contexts. What are the implications of this for reconstructions of the past based on archaeological data?

Historic preservation is good for Georgia’s economy

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Recently, Georgia DNR’s Historic Preservation Division released Good News in Tough Times: Historic Preservation and the Georgia Economy, a report on the impact of historic preservation on the state’s economy. The report is downloadable and gives figures on some benefits to the state’s bottom line. Note that individual property owners have invested $560,000,000 in historic buildings over the decade beginning in 2000.

Archaeologists use iPads during excavations at Pompeii

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

iPad_use_at_Pompeii_apple_website_CU.jpgA recent story on the Apple website describes how archaeologists working at the famous site of Pompeii, near Naples in central Italy, have been using iPads to record detailed excavation data, using “off-the-shelf” software. While using the iPads in the field reduces post-fieldwork data-entry time, this story asks you to consider the potential drawbacks of using a tablet computer in the field instead of pencils, erasers, and graph paper.

Pillar carpentry

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Some historic buildings are known for their white columns. How did traditional carpenters make those columns? When they are standing in position and painted, it’s difficult to tell how they might have been made, even if you examine them closely. However, when a house is under renovation, construction secrets may be revealed.

Online database for JFK presidency

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Caroline_announcing_JFK_online_2011.jpgIn January 2011, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s daughter Caroline announced that tens of thousands of the most important papers (including drafts of speeches), images, and other materials from her father’s presidency are now viewable online on JFK’s Presidential Library and Museum website. These records provide valuable and detailed information about how an individual thought that are usually unavailable to archaeologists. (Photo is from Associated Press, online here.)

Archaeology’s greatest challenge in the media

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Indiana_Jones_promotion_image_2010_CU.jpgLook into your crystal ball. What do you think the greatest challenge is to archaeology in the media? Zachary Nelson argues in the November 2010 issue of The SAA Archaeological Record, the newsletter of the Society for American Archaeology, that the profession’s greatest challenge is…read the full article and see!

Now available: Extraordinary Fluted Points of the Tennessee Valley Region

Submitted by Ellis Whitt (

Ellis Whitt announces the availability of a book he has been compiling since 2008, titled Extraordinary Fluted Points of the Tennessee Valley Region. It has nearly 200 pages and contains full-page photographs of 170 extraordinary fluted Paleo artifacts with key bits of information about several of the photographed artifacts.

Interpreting broken pottery: Exploring rim diameters

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

DIA_small_vessel_example_CU.jpgArchaeologists often find large assortments of broken pottery—dating to either historic or prehistoric periods. Rim sherds, from the opening or mouth of the vessel, can be quite informative. This article leads the reader to consider what the implications of different vessel rim diameter assortments may be.

Report on GPR survey conducted during 2010 fall meeting now available online

Submitted by Kelly Woodard (

The report GPR Survey at Gascoigne Bluff, St. Simmons Island, Georgia presents the findings of the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey conducted during the SGA’s 2010 fall meeting. GPR survey of a portion of Gascoigne Bluff on St. Simons Island was performed on October 16, 2010, and report author Dan Elliott was assisted by SGA members in completing the survey. This project was a joint public outreach and research effort by the LAMAR Institute, the Society for Georgia Archaeology, and the Cassina Garden Club.

One archaeologist’s coolest thing I ever found

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

HPD_Preservation_Posts_Tucker_2010_Nov_CU.jpgIn the Georgia Department of Natural Resources—Historic Preservation Division’s free digital newsletter, Preservation Posts, for November 2010, Archaeology Section Chief and Deputy State Archaeologist—Terrestrial Bryan Tucker discusses his perspective on his profession, including his response to “What is the coolest thing you have ever found?”

Hawai’i archaeological site data available online

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Bishop_Museum_Kuliouou_shelter_1950_CU.jpgIn fall 2010, the Bishop Museum in Hawai’i put the state’s archaeological site file data online in a searchable database open to public use. Many states, including Georgia, restrict access to this information. Read about the Hawai’i database and consider the implications of making this data available to all.

The Lacy Hotel Project: Historical archaeology in graduate school

Submitted by Melissa Scharffenberg (Graduate Student at Georgia State University)

When Melissa Scharffenberg, a graduate student in archaeology at Georgia State University began contemplating thesis topics she was approached by the curator of the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. The curator asked if she would interpret the Lacy Hotel collection housed at the museum which she had previously researched and analyzed as an intern in 2007. Melissa thought her familiarity with the artifacts and history of the Lacy Hotel would make for a great thesis topic and provided the opportunity to start The Lacy Hotel Project which uses the combination of archaeological and historical data to document civilian life during the Civil War.

Archaeologists’ commitment to the public

Submitted by Kelly Woodard (

As archaeologists, we are the first to enjoy many pristine places and are able to contemplate how to bring them to life within communities. It is not in our blood to hide the past from the public. We preserve our findings and think of ways the public can best enjoy it. As true archaeologists, we do not stand selfishly by enjoying our priceless artifacts deep in the basement of our houses, hidden from the public. Instead, we tell the world about it, study it, and dedicate our lives to its interpretation.

Warfare and the protection of archaeological resources

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Republican_Palace_Baghdad_Iraq_Wikimedia_Commons_CU.jpgThe destruction inherent in modern warfare—for example, bombing, high-powered artillery, defensive construction by heavy equipment—is counter to the preservation of archaeological resources. The September 2010 issue of the newsletter of the Society for American Archaeology includes three articles in a section titled Antiquities in Warfare. More articles discuss Conflict Archaeology.

What attending SEAC meant to me

Submitted by James "Wes" Patterson, Fernbank Museum Natural History

James “Wes” Patterson of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History just attended his first SEAC conference. His essay is informative, humorous, and intriguing as one realizes that more happens at archaeological conventions than just lectures.

Cemeteries are constructed for the deceased but hold insights into the beliefs of the living

Submitted by Kelly Woodard (

The Flat Rock Cemetery in Lithonia displays the widespread rural African-American custom of burying the dead with simple fieldstones placed at the head and foot of the interment. Belief did not place significant importance on elaborate decoration of gravestones, as seen in formal cemeteries generally associated with white populations; but, instead placed emphasis on being buried in the cemetery as a community member and simple grave markers were used as a symbol of mutual aid reflected within the community.

Three-dimensional human images from the past

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Thomas_figures_stone_sculpture_face_CU.jpgTake a look at the black-and-white images in Cyrus Thomas’s famous book Introduction to the Study of North American Archaeology, which was published over a century ago (you can download it for free). Thomas includes images of stone sculptures recovered from archaeological sites in Tennessee. Study these figures, and consider other sculptures of human images. What can you learn from these comparisons?

What is this?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

US_Coast_and_Geodetic_CU.jpgThis story asks YOU to figure out what an object is. The clues are all in a single photograph.

Heritage management system discussed

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

mega_jordan_online_screen_CU.jpgHeritage management involves several basic steps. Resources must be located and described. Once found, some kind of filing and data retrieval system is needed to manage them properly. Here in our state we have the Georgia Archaeological Site File. For places with fewer options than we have in the US of A, the Getty Conservation Institute has spearheaded development of an electronic inventory system that includes locational data; the pilot project is based in Jordan, but probably will be expanded to other areas.


Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Many archaeological projects are only possible because of the hours and energy that volunteers contribute. The same is true for your SGA. Please think about what you can do to help the SGA.

Linguistics is archaeology’s cousin

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Love_in_English_CU.jpgArchaeology is a sub-field of anthropology. So is linguistics. Just what is linguistics and how does it relate to anthropology? Why is language so important to anthropologists? And just how is language important to our human species? Do you agree with Roy Rappaport that: “Flexibility is central to adaptive processes, and the enormous flexibility of the human species rests, of course, largely upon a property universal to and unique to humanity, namely language”?

North American megafaunal extinctions considered

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Firestone_2007_Fig_3_CU.jpgAre you familiar with the hypothesis that an extraterrestrial impact lead to the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna in North America? This hypothesis has been raised in opposition to hypotheses that posit that Paleoindians and/or climate did in the megafauna. This story introduces the basic ideas of these arguments, and includes links so you can read the paper that introduced the impact idea, and one which scientifically tested that model. Then, you can login and tell us your opinion!

New henge detected near Stonehenge

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

newhenge_reconstruction_image_CU.jpgIn summer 2010 archaeologists began the field research for a three-year study of the lands around Stonehenge, on the Salisbury plain west-southwest of London. Almost immediately they made a game-changing find—the remains of another henge-like construction a mere one-thousand yards from Stonehenge itself! The full story has an artist’s reconstruction and satellite images of the new find.

Examining the built environment

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

mandir_2010_feb_CU.jpgIn ancient times, humans lived their lives in the outdoors, although perhaps they spent some time in a cave or rockshelter. Now, the majority of people live in towns and cities. This process of urbanization has myriad implications for archaeologists. This Weekly Ponder considers the concept of the built environment.

Current SAA Archaeological Record thought-provoking

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

saa_logo_cuThe May 2010 issue of The SAA Archaeological Record, which is published by the Society for American Archaeology, includes several articles discussing how archaeologists deal with race. As the editors note, “The premise of this thematic volume is based on an ever-growing consensus in anthropology that the concept of race is best described as an expression of cultural ideology and not a biological reality” (page 3).

Maps and mapping: Georgia’s coast in 1562

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

1562_Gutierrez_map_Brit_Mus_stamp.jpgIn a simple operation, you can use Google Earth software (free!) to overlay historic maps with the modern landscape. Here we demonstrate how informative this operation can be using the British Library’s online copy of a 1562 historic map by Spanish cartographer Diego Gutiérrez. We just examine North America’s southern Atlantic coastline, including the Georgia bight.

Read the latest from scientists on the topic of human evolution

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Sackler_S_PNAS_colloquia.jpgRead summaries of the latest scientific studies and analysis of human evolution. Over a dozen papers are now available for free online from the December 2009 Arthur M. Sackler Colloquium titled In the Light of Evolution IV: The human condition. Topics range from genetics to language capacity to morality—and more. The papers are published in a supplementary issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, dated 11 May 2010.

Models in archaeology

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Google_Earth_Georgia_clip_CU.jpgArchaeologists use models in their work. These models are simplifications of reality—not well-dressed, beautiful people! Scientific models simplify reality, yet accomodate known data. Maps are models. Social scientists model human relationships and other behavioral situations. One well-known model is of cultural evolution sometimes called the band-tribe-chiefdom-state model. This model has four stages, and each stage is itself a model! Read the full story to explore this fascinating topic.

Tools of the trade

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

shovel_in_sun_CU.jpgThis story explores one particular hand tool that archaeologists frequently use: the shovel. Did you know that the field archaeologist in Georgia usually uses only two types of shovels? And that they are used for specific activities? And that they are usually sharpened so they cut the soil? Read all about it in the full story!

Casa Grande: the USA’s first archaeological reserve

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Casa_Grande_model_cutaway_CU.jpgThe archaeological remains near modern Coolidge, Arizona, now known as Casa Grande Ruins National Monument became the USA’s first archaeological reserve in 1892. The roof protecting the large three-story ruin known as Casa Grande was built in the 1930s. The ruin is constructed of locally available caliche. Read more about the architecture at this stunning site, and of the remains that spread beyond the limits of the preserved area.

1906 Antiquities Act provisions under discussion

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

The 1906 Antiquities Act offers the President of the United States of America the authority to set aside lands the government owns as national monuments. The Act was intended to allow the President to preserve “antiquities” including “historical and prehistoric structures.” These resources were to be preserved for scientific and educational research. Some people object that this Act has been used with the intent to preserve natural areas rather than merely “antiquities.” In April 2010, representatives of over sixty organizations, including the 7000-plus member Society for American Archaeology, sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing concern over attempts to limit this Act.

What’s in a name?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

retaining_wall_for_road_CU.jpgHumans habitually categorize things they think about. This includes time, which we divide into segments such as pre- and post-war, the Mississippian period, etc. Several geologists argue that we should refer to the Epoch we’re living in now as the Anthropocene, to highlight the changes the world is undergoing that are introduced and exacerbated by human behavior.

Casting a critical eye on historical research

Submitted by Sammy Smith (


Archaeologists do historical research. They don’t just dig in the soil, they dig into dusty book collections—and more! Read the full story and learn about primary and secondary document sources. Also learn about how to structure an archival research project.

Thinking roads

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

World-traveler Ted Conover argues in his new book that roads are our most extensive human artifact on earth. Travel routes can persist for centuries. Judging by historic footpaths, Georgia’s prehistoric peoples tended to follow ridges, avoiding swamps and stream crossings. We know from the asssortment of artifacts found that ancient peoples traveled to places far away or traded with people who came from far away (like the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, and deep in the continental interior). What do we know of those travel routes and footpaths? How, for example, did peoples of the Leake Site, in northwest Georgia, cross the terrain and interact with peoples of far-flung places where Swift Creek-style decorated ceramics have also been found?

Must-have book: Hudson’s Southeastern Indians

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Hudson_SE_Indians_cover_CU.jpgCharles Hudson’s book The Southeastern Indians, originally published in 1976, remains a must-have book for the library of anyone seriously interested in Georgia’s past. This book, with its maps and black-and-white photographic plates, is an excellent place to learn about the native peoples who lived in Georgia. It remains available in paperback at a reasonable cost.

Online symposium: “the hardest unsolved problems in social science”

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

On Saturday, April 10th 2010, Harvard University will host a symposium with three panels of experts discussing “what they believe to be the hardest unsolved problems in the social sciences.” Archaeologists rely on the social sciences, especially anthropology, for the theory that underpins their understanding of ancient societies. The symposium will be webcast live from 10AM to 5PM, and the webcast will be streaming after the symposium concludes so you can participate in post-symposium discussions online.

What is NAGPRA?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

NAGPRA stands for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA is a federal law. In March 2010, NAGPRA has been in the news three times….

Terminology: What do archaeologists mean by “symbol”?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has acquired a ubiquitous modern symbol: the @ symbol. Consider what makes a symbol a symbol and what symbols you are familiar with in the modern world, and what symbols you have seen in books or museum displays. Go to the full story for a lengthier discussion….

Blue jeans and radiocarbon dating

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Blue jeans, what do blue jeans have to do with radiocarbon dating? Click on the headline to go to the full story and discover the answer! In the process read about relative and absolute dating, calibration curves, and more! This wandering Ponder began with explaining the notation “cal BP,” which you may encounter in archaeological reporting.

Archaeogenetics summarized in Current Biology

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Global Genetic History of Homo sapiens is the title of a new special issue of Current Biology, with eight papers available free online. This topic is also called archaeogenetics. There’s an introductory and a summary article, which bracket six articles that focus on human migration in specific geographic areas, including the New World.

Artifacts and context

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

This Weekly Ponder considers artifacts and context, defining and discussing how archaeologists use these terms and what that means for interpretation of artifacts—and sites. The Ponder goes on to consider the context of the Shroud of Turin, which will be on display in spring 2010, in Turin, Italy.

New radiocarbon calibration curve: IntCal09

An international working group called INTCAL has announced an updated radiocarbon calibration curve based on cross-checking thousands of tree-ring samples with raw radiocarbon dates. The new curve is available online.

Building better climate change models

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Ranasinghe_art_title_CUSGA members are concerned about predictions of global increases in sea level because Georgia’s coast has many archaeological sites, including shell mounds and historic buildings, that are right at sea level or only a few feet above sea level. Therefore, changes in water levels will damage fragile archaeological resources. The full story examines some of the factors involved in generating a good model of the coming changes in sea level.

Considering taxonomies in the twenty-first century

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Deptford_Ch_St_UGA_CUArchaeologists use and develop taxonomies, or systems for classifying artifacts, etc. That fewer people are proficient in taxonomic classification these days is alleged in a recent article. Read more about classification systems in general, and generalized categories, e.g., for bushes, trees, and vines, that are common in multiple cultures.


Submitted by Sammy Smith (

piedmont_park_planter_cuArchaeologists conducting excavations are always trying to determine whether objects and features dated to the same period, or whether they were separated in time. Superposition is a big word that refers to locating one thing atop another thing. Archaeological researchers discover superpositioned objects all the time. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine just when the superpositioning occurred—whether the two objects were abandoned more or less simultaneously, or whether they were left during events hundreds of years apart.

Outliers and rare events

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

data_plot_example_b_swan_cuIn a data set, an outlier is a point or value that is far different from expectations. You don’t have to be a statistician to consider the impact of true outliers, especially in archaeological radiocarbon data sets, for example. This Weekly Ponder broaches the subject of outliers, as discussed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007, Random House).

How do you describe a color?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

munsell_chart_pageDo you have any idea what 10YR5/4 means? Read about it by clicking [More] below.

New experimental archaeology/primitive technology book

Submitted by Tom Gresham (

Long time SGA member and primitive technology researcher Scott Jones has just published a book that is a compilation of his articles from the past decade related to primitive technology and experimental archaeology. Scott has practiced primitive technology for two decades and now makes a living presenting the subject to the general public (always with […]

Archaeology for Dummies

Submitted by Nancy White (

Wiley Publishing has just issued Archaeology for Dummies ($21.95) by SGA member Nancy White. The book tells how archaeology is detective work and traces over 2 million years of prehistoric human cultures. It demonstrates how archaeology uncovers things about historic times that history can’t, and shows how archaeological knowledge is useful for modern issues like […]

Points, pottery, and hafting

Submitted by Scott Jones (

Major technological and cultural innovations have the potential to influence technology and culture beyond the immediate realm of the innovation itself. While the widespread adoption of fired clay ceramics in the terminal Archaic/Early Woodland era is directly relevant to food preparation, the transition from indirect heating (stone-boiling) to direct heating in pots represents a dynamic […]