Archaeologists 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.
Tag: anthropological theory
Scientists, 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?
The Weekly Ponder is on vacation. Now is a good time to think about seasonal patterns in the lives of people living in what is now Georgia in the recent and long-ago past. Did they have a sense of time comparable to our weeks, months, seasons, years? Why do you think so?
A 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.
How 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).
Nicholas Wade, in his 2009 book, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures, argues that behaviors we describe as religious conferred a survival advantage on early humans, and thus were adaptive and favored by natural selection. The benefits he ascribes to religious beliefs and practices include emotions like trust and loyalty, which support cooperation and empathy, improve group cohesion, and improve the survival rate of groups.
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.
The 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).
Archaeologists 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).
Humans 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.
Archaeologists 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?
Archaeology 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….
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?
Do 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.
What 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?
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.
Frontiers in the Soil is a classic in archaeological literature that should be useful to everyone. Using easy-to-read text by Roy S. Dickens, Jr., and creative color cartoon illustrations by James L. McKinley, Frontiers interprets Georgia’s past with humor in over 100-pages of delightful reading. Click here to download the order form for Frontiers in the Soil.
Archaeologists seek to understand past ways of life. The science of archaeology is about far more than objects (aka artifacts, including arrowheads, pottery, metal scraps, and the like)—and it’s definitely not about finding treasure. Read more about the goals of archaeologists in the full story.
Ethnohistorian 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.
Archaeologists 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.
CW Ceram’s Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology is a famous but dated book on archaeology, that for years was one of the few serious books on the subject that many people had read. Ceram thought that the practice of archaeology was both romantic and scholarly. In fact he wrote, “Yet in truth no science is more adventurous than archaeology…”. Contemplate this and more that Ceram wrote….
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.
The long version of this story introduces a multipage online presentation by the Smithsonian Institution called “Decoding the Past: The Work of Archaeologists” (with lesson plans). This raises issues of how to envision the past so that you can reveal patterns, rhythms, and cycles that it encompasses. French historian Fernand Braudel’s tri-partite division of the rhythms of the past are introduced.
Archaeology 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”?
In 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.
Read 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.
Archaeologists 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.
Humans 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.
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.
Lately, the Society for American Archaeology has included an Electronic Symposium as part of its annual meeting. This year’s Electronic Symposium is “The Canvas of Space: Method and Theory of Spatial Investigations in the 21st Century.” Eleven papers are posted online, which means that anyone who can get online can download and read them.
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….
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.
Historical archaeologists can use data from archival records, which are unavailable to archaeologists working with prehistoric data. How does that make a difference? This issue is examined using notes made by French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 in a letter to his mother, which has only recently been published in English translation.
Published in spring 2009, Richard Wrangham’s book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic Books) argues that the ability to use fire for cooking foodstuffs allowed the changes that have made humans a distinct species. What do you think of this argument? Read more about the book and Wrangham’s hypothesis in the full story.
Archaeologists, like specialists of all persuasions, employ jargon, or a specialized vocabulary. Sometimes the jargon clarifies matters, and sometimes it conveys a particular bias. Those not familiar with the jargon may not recognize the implied meaning inherent in certain terms. This story examines the phrase “Old Europe,” recently used to title an exhibit at New York University. [Photo by Marius Amarie and published by the New York Times here. Figure is referred to as 'Thinker' and came from Hamangia, Cernavodă, and dates to 5000-4600 B.C. Its curation number is 15906 at the National History Museum of Romania in Bucharest.]
SGA 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.
Examination of the regions of the world shows that not all are similarly easy to traverse on foot or via waterways—and coastlines—as ancient peoples would. Yet, people exchanged goods and information via networks that spanned great distances. Compare the European and Southeastern North American regions with these concepts in mind.
Even a cursory examination of cross-cultural data indicates that around the globe, in many societies, peoples with many belief systems have built structures important to them on high places. In addition, the structures are often unusually tall when compared to residential buildings. Indeed, important buildings are often tall, large, or both. Why?
In Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story (Counterpoint, 1997) ethnobotanist and essayist Gary Paul Nabhan argues that modern peoples tend not to have opportunities for discovery in the natural world, and that this distance from our environment means we don’t grasp the complexity of the world and of ecology. Do you agree?
Quick: where in the world is the largest concentration of Bronze Age graves?
Can’t you just guess that they might be threatened by development?
Researchers have new geomagnetic dates for Achulean-style hand axes from two sites in Spain that indicate earlier use of those tools in Europe than previously known. Earlier dates were known for Africa and Asia, until this report. The question, then, is: did the tool-makers arrive from the south (from Africa directly) or from the east (following around the Mediterranean Sea).
A crew of students lead by Diana Greenlee of the Department of Geosciences at University of Louisiana at Monroe tested buried circles in the plaza area of the famous Poverty Point site in northeast Louisiana this summer and was able to date the features they tested. This important civic-ceremonial site dates to the Terminal Archaic and is open to the public.
The July 2009 issue of the Smithsonian magazine has an article by Barbara Krieger that details the research lead by Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University at the hilltop fortress palace that the Biblical King Herod built to eventually house his mausoleum. The exact location of his burial place, however, become lost to history, and remained an archaeological mystery until 2007.
The Society for American Archaeology has 7000-plus members, and is “an international organization dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas.” PDFs of back issues of the Society’s magazine The SAA Archaeological Record are available for free, except for the latest issue. You may enjoy perusing them. In particular, the November 2008 issue is recommended; it has a series of articles on our current understanding of the Archaic period in North America.
Blueberries are a tasty wild food native to North America. Prehistoric Native Americans enjoyed blueberries, including in a dried meat mixture called pemmican. This leads the Ponderer to consider about how people stored foodstuff “in the old days.”
Humans are humans; we tend to like some of the same places on the landscape no matter who we are and when we are alive. This means that some of the same places were occupied over and over. What makes a location more—or less—attractive to human visitors or inhabitants?
In 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).
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 [...]
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 [...]
Period Time Subsistence Pattern Settlement Pattern Diagnostic Features Post war, global economy, information age AD 1945 to Present Corporate agriculture, international trade, service industry, and civil service Suburban-urbanization, second homes, rural abandonment Public works, transistors, interstate highways, disposable products, railroad abandonment, Teflon, computers Depression, recovery and war AD 1929 to AD 1945 Manufacturing, farming, retailing, [...]
Many of the archeological phase names currently used for northwest Georgia are directly attributable to the work of Joseph Caldwell in Allatoona Reservoir more than fifty years ago (Caldwell 1950, 1957). While terminology has changed over the years, most of the designations used by Caldwell remain in use today. For instance, the old term “Kellogg [...]
In September 2006, Leake Site Principal Investigators Scot Keith and Dean Wood took a trip to Indiana in order to conduct research into the Mann site, a Middle Woodland Hopewell site located in southwestern Indiana. This site is notable due to the presence (and abundance) of Swift Creek complicated stamped pottery, as well as sand [...]
Archaeologists seeking to reconstruct past lifeways rely for their interpretations on the timeworn remains of ancient cultures for guidance; here in our humid Georgia climate, we are further disadvantaged since often only the inorganic residues of prehistoric culture remain. The study of stone tools, sherds of pottery, and the scant remnants of organic items and [...]