Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Archaeodigms Part 2.5: A Mustached Sidenote

You know who I forgot to talk about in the last post? Sir Mortimer Wheeler! m-m-m-mustache!

This is the mustache that every Archaeologist dreams of sporting on their upper-lip. (Image from

Ok, enough about awesome mustaches. Sir Mortimer Wheeler was part of the culture history generation and was British, which, unless I am totally off, which is possible, because I've never read any of his work, indicated that this legendary mustached man was a culture historian. Sir Wheeler worked in South Asia and excavated the Mohenjodaro Indus Valley Civilization site but his most notable contribution to Archaeology is the box grid method of excavation. You know the one, you've probably used it on a site before (I know I have). It's when you excavate using a bunch of separate square units (usually about 90 cm squared) with 10 cm baulks between them. It's also often called the ice cube tray method. Anyway, so this was definitely a major methodological contribution to Archaeology (as it is still being used today, mostly on sites which don't have access to new fangled mapping TOTAL stations), and I'm going to argue it was positive and born out of the culture historical approach. Thus I'm going to add it to the pro side of the culture history list. So let's recap the new culture history pro/con list:

- Introduction of Seriation
- The standardization of a whole slew of new excavation techniques (including an emphasis on stratigraphy and trenching entire mounds to get at said important stratigraphies)
- Love it or hate it, typology (which could also be put in the cons section, but the entire discipline currently still relies quite heavily on typology, so let's not get too hasty yet...)
- Chronologies, chronologies, chronologies....and master chronologies
- Relative dating using type finds (remember, culture history was the standard in a time before radio carbon dating)
- Sir Mortimer "m-m-m-mustache" Wheeler's box grid (ice cube tray) excavation technique (which fits in with the whole slew of new standardized excavation techniques, but I feel deserves it's own point!)

- Chronologies and typologies became the purpose of Archaeology, the past human behaviours that were supposed to be getting investigated weren't actually getting studied
- An assumption that tends to tie in with culture historical explanations, that change can be explained by migrations and invasions of people and that different types/styles reflect different ethnicities or races (ie. a migrationist definition of change)

Alright there's the updated list. Again I'm going to encourage you all to contribute by posting some comments with your opinions/criticisms/additional points! One last point, I'm pretty sure that the Monty Python skits about Archaeology are poking fun at Sir Morty (I think John Cleese's character in particular). Archaeodigms Part 3: Processual Archaeology, will be up in a while. Until then (or until I come across something else to add the culture history pro/con list), in true Sir Mortimer style, keep digging (ok, I know the book is called "Still digging: Adventures in Archaeology", but there's no way I can make a sentence where the phrase 'still digging' encourges you all to keep plugging away at your respective endeavors).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Archaeodigms Part 2: Culture History

Sorry for the delay on getting this post up, I've been pretty busy. Before I get going into culture history I just want to point out that there have been some interesting and fantastic posts on theory in Archaeology and Anthropology going on both at Chris Ames' blog (The Unsavoury Pipe) and at Steve Chrisomalis' blog (Glossographia). Chris' post discussed the current divide in Anthropology and Archaeology and the pitfalls of the traditional four fields approach, while Steve's last post thoroughly reviewed the classic Golden Marshalltown article by Kent Flannery, and examined the relationship between Archaeology and Anthropology. Anyway, check out their posts and their blogs, they make for some good reading!

Alright. Culture history. GO! Let's start in true Trigger style with discussing Scandinavian Archaeology. First we've got Thompsen who introduced the three age system (Stone Age ---> Bronze Age ---> Iron Age) while sorting out Danish archaeological materials for museum displays. Next we've got Worsaae, who proved Thompsen's three age system through much field work throughout Scandinavia. Before we bring in Montelius (whom everyone loves, I mean who wouldn't with a name like Oscar Montelius?) I want to bring in Sven Nilsson really quick. While Tompsen's three age model was not really placed in a social evolutionary framework, Nilsson took it, refined it, and turned it into his own four stage system with a social evolutionary flavour (Hunting & Fishing ---> Pastoralism ---> Agriculture ---> Civilization). I just wanted to make this note about Nilsson because even though today we try to avoid such a unilineal approach we are all still pretty guilty of looking at prehistory through this lens. Anyway, back to Montelius, who really disseminated Thompsen's three age model by applying it to all of Europe, compared sequences from all over Europe, and thus sought to discover a "European" prehistory. It should also be noted that Montelius saw changes in technology viewed in the Archaeological record as the result of migrations of people. This perception of change permeates most of the culture historical approach at it's inception and becomes one of it's most fundamental flaws, as we will see by moving on to the legendary (and...strangendary?) British Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie.

So what can I say about Petrie that people don't know? I can't really answer that question, but maybe I'll highlight something new that a few of you don't know yet, so let's start with the good, and then we can move onto the interesting...and bad. Petrie essentially professionalized Archaeology. He wrote the first textbook (quite a colourful book actually, especially the chapters on the different types of workers you can hire and how to spy on them from afar using a telescope to make sure they are working) on Archaeology. He also introduced seriation (the idea that changes in frequency of types/styles of artifacts change over time and represent changes in use/popularity of a certain artifact) into Archaeology (though he really only used contextual seriation, based on presence absence, instead of frequency seriation). His biggest contribution however was standardizing the idea of crossdating styles/types of artifacts across wide geographical ranges to come up with master chronologies. The Scandinavians started this, but Petrie standardized it. So those are Petrie's positives, but here come the negatives. Petrie strongly believed in Eugenics and had even offered Francis Galton (Darwin's cousin and the father of Eugenics) his head upon his death as he felt it represented the head of a fine gentleman (and genius, according to the ever modest Petrie) of the English race. This ties into Petrie's idea of change (similar to Montelius') that different types of material culture represent different ethnic groups or races, and that change in the Archaeological record was caused by migrations and invasions of different races. Again, you can see that the migrationist definition of change is fundamental to many applications of the culture history approach. What's really crazy is that Petrie's master chronologies of Egypt and Palestine are still in use today and the fact that they were based on his racist beliefs is not really questioned (I don't think so anyway, and not like it would necessarily invalidate the chronology, but his beliefs should be taken into account when we re-examine and use his master chronologies).

So how does this seemingly European culture historical approach get introduced into Americanist Archaeology? Well, influences by German and British Archaeologists and Egyptlogists who were already well versed in the culture historical approach. The first thing I need to say about Americanist Archaeology is that it lagged a little bit behind Europe on the culture historical train, mostly because of it's ties with American Anthropology and being influenced by Boasian Anthropology. Though we all think Boas' contributions to Anthropology are the bees knees (and at the time they definitely were) it wasn't all good for Archaeology. The extreme emphasis on cultural relativism and Americanist Archaeology's ties with Anthropology (as opposed to Archaeology's ties with History in Europe), essentially removed time depth from the equation, which resulted in a certain cultural geographical flatness being applied to the Americas, and thus the imagining of Native North American cultures as static and unchanging. Now that we know the "climate" or Archaeology at the time, we can discuss some people who contributed to changing it. I'm going to limit this to two people, as this post is already way too long. First let's talk about Max Uhle. He was a German Archaeologist working in South America who formulated a master chronology of ceramic typology of a 3000 year period during his excavations at Pachacamac in Peru. He also excavated the Emeryville shellmound in California. His work was suppressed by Kroeber (who was uber Boasian), but eventually good ol' Uhle got recognition for the monumental task he completed. Next on our whirlwind tour, is Alfred Kidder, who was a big American Southwest Archaeologist who formed a master chronology of ceramic typologies of the Southwest through his excavations at Pecos pueblo in New Mexico. Kidder was in contact with some prominent Egyptologists of the time (like George Reisner), which is a likely influence for his direct applications of the culture historical approach. Anyway, those are some examples of North American Archaeology's culture historians. Time to move on to the fall of culture history...and take a quick breath for air if you need it, I realize this is a lot of info crammed into one post.

The easiest person to discuss when talking about the fall of culture history is Walter that's exactly what I'm going to do. In 1948 Walter Taylor angered a large number of big wig Archaeologists by criticizing the Archaeology they were doing. What he did was point out the fact that the chronologies and typologies of culture history had become the reason to do Archaeology, and that no questions regarding human behaviour were actually being answered. Now it took a few years for people to actually listen to Taylor and the resulting few decades saw the application of Marxism and Durkheimian Structural Functionalism to Archaeology, as well as the birth of the neo-evolutionary school of thought (Julian Steward's cultural ecology and multilineal evolution, as well as Leslie White's focus on the evolution of energy harnessing capabilities). These all tie in more with the birth of Processual Archaeology, which will be the topic of the next part in the Archaeodigms series.

Alright so finally, after a very haphazard attempt to discuss and highlight some prominent historical people and aspects of the culture historical approach, what we've all been waiting for...(drumroll please)...a recap of the pros and cons of the culture historical approach to Archaeology:

- Introduction of Seriation
- The standardization of a whole slew of excavation techniques (including an emphasis on stratigraphy and trenching entire mounds to get at said important stratigraphies)
- Love it or hate it, typology (which could also be put in the cons section, but the entire discipline currently still relies quite heavily on typology, so let's not get too hasty yet...)
- Chronologies, chronologies, chronologies....and master chronologies
- Relative dating using type finds (remember, culture history was the standard in a time before radio carbon dating)

- Chronologies and typologies became the purpose of Archaeology, the past human behaviours that were supposed to be getting investigated weren't actually getting studied
- An assumption that tends to tie in with culture historical explanations, that change can be explained by migrations and invasions of people and that different types/styles reflect different ethnicities or races (ie. a migrationist definition of change)

Ok, now before you get on my case about leaving stuff out, I know. I've left out some prominent names (Pitt Rivers, Nils Nilsson, Kossina, and early V. Gordon Childe...just to name a few), but hey, this is a humble blog and I do not claim to be the master of the entire history of Archaeology. This was just a little reminder outline to get you all thinking about it so you can leave comments that I can add to the pro/con list of culture history, as I am pretty sure I must have overlooked at least a few points! So please, let me know what you think, important points I may have missed, major grievances, contributions to the list, etc. Post them!

That's all for today. Twas a substantial endeavor, so Archaeodigms Part 3: Processual Archaeology, won't be up for at least another week or so ('tis a busy time of year after all). That should give you all some time to digest that slew of seemingly random information and think up some good ideas to contribute to the culture history pro/con list. Until next time!

References for this post:

Kent V. Flannery. 1982. The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 265-278.

Alfred V. Kidder. 1924. An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology with a Preliminary Account of the Excavations at Pecos. Phillips Academy, Andover, MA. New Haven: Yale University Press.

W.M. Flinders Petrie. 1906. Methods and Aims in Archaeology. Benjamin Blom, Inc, New York.

Waltor Taylor. 1948. A Study of Archaeology. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.

Bruce Trigger. 2006. A History of Archaeological Thought. 2nd Ed. Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Megalith Videos (Part 2 - Sabbath Time)

Ok so here are the next two Megalith Videos from our show on March 7th, and yes, they are both Black Sabbath Covers. The first one is Paranoid, a last minute addition to the set, but definitely a good decision. Most of the band was sick and you can hear the 'rasp' of the cold in our keyboardist's voice as she's singing this one, which actually makes the song sound great! The second video is Warpigs, which was what you could call our 'opus' last year (meaning it was the only song the entire band could play up until about a week before our first show!). As you can see, I think we've got Warpigs in the bag. At the beginning of the video you hear a lot of screeching feedback, which was caused by the misbehaving amp of one of our musical guests for the evening, who was playing the electric saw! yes you've read me right, the electric saw, and no this is not a band saw or table saw or anything of the power tool variety, it's your standard hand held wood saw, with a pick up duct taped to one end to amplify it (ie. AWESOME.), and played with a bow (a la cello..sort of). I think the feed back at the beginning of the song is actually quite cool and suits the feel of Warpigs in general. Anyway, enough talk, enjoy the videos, the next Archaeodigms post (Part 2: Culture History) should be up in the first half of the coming week, and stay tuned for more Megalith videos, it was a good show!

One more thing, use good speakers or headphones for the best sound quality, twas a hand held video camera after all!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Megalith Videos (Part 1)

The first two videos from our show last Saturday (March 7th, 2009, at the McGill Anthrograd Conference) are up so as I promised, here they are! The first video is us covering Whipping Post by the Allman Brothers, and the second video is us doing an acoustic cover of Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I'll post more Megalith videos when they are ready.

Also, the sound quality isn't the greatest, though it is MUCH better than the videos we had last year, so if your going to watch the videos use some good speakers or some headphones for the best sound!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Archaeodigms Part 1: Reiterating the Point

This past weekend (March 6th and 7th, 2009) was the first (and hopefully annual) McGill Anthrograd conference. At this conference many Graduate, PhD, and even some Undergrad students presented papers on their research in several sessions, which were chaired by McGill University Anthropology Faculty members. Overall I think the conference went extremely well, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I commend the Graduate students who put so much work into organizing it. Now before I get into what the conference got me thinking about and where I'm going with this whole 'Archaeodigms' thing, I want to also tell you that the McGill Archaeology lab band - Megalith - in which I play the bass (plus some vocals and guitar on select songs), played their second ever show to close the conference. We got the whole show on a video camera and will be posting a few of the songs on youtube, so when they are ready I will definitely post them here.

Ok, so back to the conference. One theme I noticed was a general disconnect between Anthropologists and Archaeologists. I don't want to get too much into this but I just want to say that this is kind of problematic. Archaeology is considered to be a branch of Anthropology here in North America, but too often us Archaeologists seem to to get relegated to a 'little naive brother' status within North American Anthropology on the whole, and our work seems to get generally ignored by most Anthropologists. Ok, sure, maybe they don't find it interesting, but it's our approach that they should be taking into account, such as something as simple as time depth, which I find is sometimes lacking in Anthropological studies, and can add whole new perspectives. To be a little bit 'Hodder-ish', and also a little over-simplistic, I feel like the relationship between Anthropology and Archaeology should be this:

Anthropology <----> Archaeology

instead of what it seems to be currently:

Anthropology ------> Archaeology

Anyway, let me know what you think of this, I'm not sure how clear I've made it, but maybe that's because it's still kind of fuzzy in my head.

Now this got me thinking about theory in general, and particularly where we stand theoretically as Archaeologists today. Does the one-way relationship between Anthropology and Archaeology exist because we are not theoretically sound enough yet to truly contribute and are still actually the little brother? Are we still playing 'theoretical catch-up'? Have we truly reached a theoretical middle ground between processualism and post-processualism? or are we still in a polemic debate between the two? To paraphrase one of my Professors here at McGill, maybe this theoretical diversity is what we need, because that way our odds of actually being right may be higher, but the answers to these questions are not clear to me yet. I want to try and hopefully answer some of these questions (clearly with your help) in something I'm going to call the 'Archaeodigms' series. This has also been inspired by my reading the Golden Marshalltown article by Flannery a little while ago and the fact that I'm taking a course entitled "The History of Archaeological Thought" right now, which is awesome by the way. We've gotten to post-processualism and I'm asking myself "Has there been a Marshalltown-esque article discussing the pitfalls and/or discontent with post-processualism by an actual post-processualist?"...maybe we will find out.

So hopefully through this five part series we will try to find out what constitutes a theoretical middle ground (and, feel free to challenge me, but I feel that a middle ground is the best place to be), and if this middle-ground is being applied today. In each part of this series I want to discuss the pros and cons of the three major theoretical and methodological paradigms in Archaeology (Culture History, Processualism, and Post-processualism). I also want your contribution to these pros/cons lists, so please comment after the posts! I hope that this way we can try to integrate the positives of all the paradigms and see what we get, and see if recent work has gotten to our formulated middle-ground theory, which will be what the fifth and final post will hopefully do!

Now I don't want this just to be me going through what I think of the paradigms, I want your contributions too, so I will reiterate what I said in the previous paragraph, post your comments/questions/problems/contributions after each post of the series! I want it to be almost like a forum for Archaeological theory....well that's the idea anyway.

I guess that's all for for now, stay tuned for 'Archaeodigms Part 2: Culture History' as well as Megalith videos!

References in this Post:

Ian Hodder. 1991 (1986). Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology 2nd Ed. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. (Ch 1, pp.1-18).

Kent V. Flannery. 1982. The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 265-278.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chimp Filler

Just a quick filler post to 'fill' the 'void' (and I'm sure 'void' is more than a significant overstatement) between real posts. I've got a new one in the works, but because of time constraints (ie. I have a midterm tomorrow that I really should studying for...right now) it probably won't be up until Wednesday.
I would like to direct you all to yet another interesting BBC article, this one on a particularly ornery chimp (and rightfully so, if I were a chimp, living in the Stockholm zoo would not be my ideal living situation) appears to be planning attacks on zoo visitors by hoarding piles of stones early in the morning before the zoo opening, and then throwing said stones at the visitors once they arrive. Anyway, the idea of planning for future emotional states in chimps is pretty interesting, but I don't really have the time now to get into it, so I guess that will have to be left to another post at a later date. That's all for now, enjoy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Golden Marshalltown, Thesis news, and more Grad School updates

I'm going to start today's post by directing you to an article that I have recently read in my History of Archaeological Thought class, which I can simply describe as awesome. It's an older article (published in 1982) but I feel like the message definitely still rings true today and we need to continually keep what is brought up in this article in mind when pursuing our respective Archaeological careers. The message (I think, anyway) that we can take away from it today is that we need to remember that we are both Archaeologists and Anthropologists (in the sense that our goal is to interpret the behaviour of past humans), and that even though we all have our specialties within the field, the only way we can come up with any sort of reasonable interpretation or anything remotely close to a "complete picture"(in quotations because I know we will never have a complete picture of prehistory) is by integrating and taking into consideration data and theory from all of the different sub-disciplines and theoretical approaches. Anyway, read the article, it's a nice and easy one that is very well written. The article is "The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s" by Kent Flannery....who is the way.

I've got two other tidbits of cool information for this post. The first is that I've pretty much completed my simulation from my undergraduate Honours Thesis (minus a few small kinks to work out, but I'm nearly there!). And it's pretty sweet, if I do say so myself. I'm modelling the coastal route migration hypothesis for the peopling of the Americas (in NetLogo) to look at what kind of archaeological record is left under different circumstances. Essentially there are 4 scenarios I've created where the environment is either uniform or modeled (with an extremely rich coastal strip and the rest being a randomized environment) and agents who either move randomly or by a randomized form of patch choice modeling (whereby agents stay on their patch until its nearly depleted before moving to a "better" patch). The goal of this model is to look at which circumstances affect the distribution of theoretical archaeological sites in an above sea level to below sea level comparison (as much of the theorized coastal route is now under water as the sea level has risen since the proposed "migration"). Anyway I don't want to get too much more into it in this post because I don't want to bore you all, but if you've got any questions or comments just comment on this post or shoot me an email. Also, I believe the idea is to possibly turn my simulation into a web applet that will be posted on the McGill Computational Archaeology lab website for people to play with at their own free will. So I'll post the link to the website and the web applet if and when this happens!

The second bit of info is that I found out monday that I've been accepted to the Anthropology PhD (Archaeology) program at the University of New Mexico to do my Masters and PhD work. This is pretty damn cool. Another big thank you to my reference letter writers. It's looks like I'm going to have a big decision to make, all the programs look fantastic!

References in this Post:

Kent V. Flannery. 1982. The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 265-278.

Monday, March 2, 2009

To all you foot lovers out there....

So today I'm just going to give you the link to yet another BBC news article. And don't just brush it off after reading the title of this post, it's not about foot fetishes or anything....but it is about feet...Homo Erectus feet!!! It discusses some recently excavated Homo Erectus footprints from northern Kenya, dated to about 1.5 mya. It appears that after analysis of these footprints they've determined that Homo Erectus had the same walking pattern as modern Humans today (ie. land heavy on the heel, roll through to the toe, repeat). Pretty cool. Anyway, read the article for a more detailed explanation.