Relative Dating and Ceramic Typologies

I have been asked a number of times how we archaeologists date our finds and sites. There are a number of ways researchers can accurately date an artifact; but many times more than not, objects cannot be absolutely dated and must be placed within a timeframe. We create typologies (classifications of objects based on characteristics) of ceramics and other artifacts to keep track of archaeological data on a large scale. In doing so, archaeologists can corroborate a site’s age by narrowing the window of time that an artifact found at the site would have been in use.  By cataloguing the distribution, frequency, and approximate ages of a site’s artifacts, one can determine how old the site is. Obviously this is an oversimplified explanation, but you get the point.

Currently I am working at a site that is dated to 1611 here in Virginia. It is one of those rare times when we actually have written documentation that proves the site’s age. However, elements of the site include later occupations and uses of the same land, which we would like to date. This is where relative dating and typologies can come in handy. While excavating a palisade wall ditch (which we know was originally dug-out in 1611 and re-dug some time later) I uncovered a piece of pottery in a portion of the ditch which we know had been constructed much later than 1611. We had already found a few other artifacts in the more recent portion of the ditch that gave us clues to the ditch’s age but this find gave us a much better idea.

bartmann jug - jamestown

Bartmann jug piece (photo by author)

The Bartmann jug (also referred to as Bellarmine jug) is a stoneware vessel used to store or transport food or drink. They originate in Western Germany and were manufactured for use and export during the 16th and 17th centuries. The jugs come in numerous forms and styles, but all have one defining feature: a bearded face mask icon, usually on the neck of the vessel. Luckily the potsherd I found contained the beard portion of the icon (see above). Bartmann (‘bearded man’ in German) masks tended to be very realistic and detailed in early versions of the jugs from Europe (Fig. 1), while later versions were very rudimentary and less lifelike (Fig. 2).

Figure 1

Figure 1 – Early Bartmann (photo: David Jackson, Creative Commons)

Figure 2

Figure 2 – Late Bartmann (photo: Creative Commons)

The beard featured on the piece I found is very basic and linear. This lets us know that the jug was made during the latter periods of Bartmann manufacturing. When we couple this knowledge with the other finds from the later ditch, we can get a much smaller window of time that the ditch construction occurred within. It’s all part of the fun of reconstructing the past based on scant material evidence!

Anthropology Blogs 2013 List

In the interest of fostering a more connected anthropology network I thought I would post the Anthropology Blogs 2013 list compiled by Jason Antrosio over at Anthropology Report. He has done an excellent job of building on others’ databases and lists to create this great resource for those interested in researching anthropology online. This is the second straight year that the list has been generated. Share and enjoy!

anthro report

America’s Heritage is Not for Sale

I wanted to create a post in order to draw more attention to two American television shows that are currently promoting the looting and destruction of archaeological and historical sites around the country. There is a growing movement among archaeologists, history buffs, and academics who are sickened by what they have seen and read.

The first show, airing on the Spike TV network, called “American Diggers” follows a former pro-wrestler turned relic-hunter as he and his crew pay-off landowners to hunt for treasure on their property. The goal of the show is to sell whatever artifacts the unsystematic digs turn up for a profit. As a trained archaeologist with two degrees in Anthropology, it hurts me to see our collective heritage defiled by none other than mercenaries. I first heard of this television series through Professor Lynne Goldstein (@LynneGoldstein on Twitter) of MSU who tweeted about it. A few dozen retweets and mentions later, Kristina Wyckoff (@kcelwyckoff) created a petition at Change.org called Stop SpikeTV From Looting Our Collective Past! which collected over 12,000 signatures in the first four days of its existence. Please consider adding your signature and/or writing to the producers of the show.

The second, which airs on [gasp] the National Geographic Channel (@NatGeoChannel), simply called “Diggers”, feels like a personal betrayal due to the Society’s departure from their normally ethical practices as stewards of American heritage. Promoting a show which encourages amateur looting of archaeological sites (very similar to the “American Digger” show) is a very reckless and irresponsible move by the National Geographic Society. This program was brought to my attention by archaeologist Sarah Miller (@semiller88); I have since witnessed a large number of professionals and archaeologists who have boycotted the show and are speaking out. A petition against the show (Stop Airing the Television Show Diggers!) was created by Jeffrey Baker and is quickly gathering signatures. If you feel as strongly as I do about this subject, please let National Geographic and the producers of the show know that you do not approve.

While the permits, grants, approvals, and bureaucratic red tape involved in processual archaeology may be a huge pain in the butt, these things are here for a reason. Once archaeological sites are dug-up, artifacts are removed, and natural provenience is destroyed, they are gone forever.

See also: The Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) statement on The Ethics of Historical Archaeology and the show “American Diggers”

Anthropology Under Attack

So the Governor of your state just publicly attacked your college major and declared it useless; what do you do?  Well, if you are an anthropologist from the state of Florida, you fight back.

Last week, Florida Governor (and Tea Party member) Rick Scott went on a popular right-wing talk radio show to discuss his state’s need for more college graduates from the so-called STEM subjects.  He then proceeded to use Anthropology as an example of a worthless liberal arts degree and stated: “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here”. Governor Scott claims that science, technology, engineering, and math degrees are in high demand and students should focus on “those types of degrees, so when they get out of school they can get a job”.

Florida anthropologists quickly fired back at the Governor.  Anthropology students, professors, and graduates from Florida’s universities sounded off in numerous letters and statements addressed to the ill-informed Governor.  The anthropology department chairs of the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, and Florida State University all issued statements condemning the Governor’s comments.  The heads of these universities and four others have decided to compile an anthropology “education packet” to inform the Governor what it is that anthropologists actually do.

The American Anthropological Association issued a response stating: “It is very unfortunate that [the Governor] would characterize our discipline in such a short-sighted way.” The AAA statement went on to address the Governor’s ignorance on the subject: “Perhaps you are unaware that anthropologists are leaders in our nation’s top science fields, making groundbreaking discoveries in areas as varied as public health, human genetics, legal history, bilingualism, African American heritage, and infant learning.” The AAA has also put together an online petition to have Scott meet with representatives from the humanities community so that he can be educated about their contributions to the state’s well-being.

Other responses varied from anger to disbelief that a public servant of such stature would speak out about something he has no knowledge of.  The Florida Public Archaeology Network issued a statement against the Governor’s characterization of anthropology, as did the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.  University of South Florida anthropology student Charlotte Noble put together a great online resource, This is Anthropology, showing the contributions of various USF anthropologists to the state of Florida.

In separate interviews Governor Scott has indicated that he wants to cut funding to liberal arts and social science programs in the state’s public universities.  Republican attacks on liberal arts funding are nothing new, but why single out anthropology?  Perhaps, as the AAA has asserted, it has something to do with the Governor’s lack of knowledge of the field of anthropology. Maybe Governor Scott is clinging to an outdated public-view of anthropologists as tree-hugging, touchy-feely types.  Or, more feasibly, he has a personal vendetta against the subject itself.  Why is this more feasible, you may ask?  Scott’s daughter has a degree in anthropology.

Just one day after the Governor’s comments, the Associated Press and numerous other sources revealed that his daughter, Jordan Kandah, obtained an anthropology degree from the College of William & Mary.

The fact that Scott’s daughter did not pursue a career in anthropology and is currently back in school working towards a degree in another subject may have something to do with the Governor’s recent attack on the subject.  This is not only a scary revelation (that the Governor would let his personal biases affect the policies of an entire state’s public education system), but it should serve as a warning sign to other states. Don’t let the outdated or uninformed opinions of politicians limit the potential of your education.

Related: US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Anthropology Job Growth “Much Faster Than the Average” at Neuroanthropology

This was originally posted at SocialScienceSpace.com

MSU Anthropology Department Visit

As many of the readers may know, I am currently researching and visiting universities around the country.  I plan on applying to a handful of Anthropology PhD programs that seem like a good match for my research interests in the near future.  My goal is to find a program strong in Pre-historic North American Archaeology and Digital Humanities Research.  Since I already have a general M.A. in Anthropology, I wanted to find a school with the resources and opportunities available that would allow me to research my specific topics of interest; not just sign onto someone else’s.

As part of this quest, I recently visited the Michigan State University Anthropology Department to speak with some of the faculty and tour the facilities.  First off, let me say that I really liked the MSU campus.  The university is among the largest in the country and boasts the facilities one would expect with such a sprawling city-campus.

I had the privilege of meeting with Lynne Goldstein (Director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program, Professor of Anthropology, Adjunct Curator of Anthropology at MSU Museum) and Ethan Watrall (Associate Director of MSU MATRIX, Director of MSU Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative, Associate Professor of Anthropology) on campus at the Consortium for Archaeological Research in McDonel Hall (sorry no pic, it was raining for most of the day) to discuss the program and my research interests.  It was good of them to take time out of their busy schedules to meet with me and show me around.

After having lunch with some of the faculty at the Consortium, I got to tour the archaeology labs, repository, and a few of the classrooms that were also housed in McDonel Hall with William Lovis (Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Anthropology at MSU Museum).  The department has a ton of space compared to either of my last two schools, so I was very impressed with the scope of everything.  I really liked the collaborative community-feel at the Consortium; it was great meeting everyone.

The department of Anthropology is actually housed in Baker Hall, just on the other side of the Red Cedar River (which splits the campus) from McDonel Hall.  It was here that I got the chance to speak with Jodie O’Gorman, the Interim Chair of the Anthropology Department.  Again, very gracious of her to sit down with me and discuss my intentions.

I was also lucky enough to get a tour of the MSU MATRIX Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online from Ethan.  The center is housed in the Natural Sciences Building, not far from Baker Hall.

Natural Sciences Building, Home of MATRIX

 MATRIX is doing exciting things in the realm of computing and digitization of social science research information and media.  The center participates in collaborative (there’s that word again!) efforts with other universities, institutions, and databases to create and house digital archives of art and humanities research.  MATRIX has its own servers and a spacious computing facility which houses their researchers, coders, and fellows.  I personally believe that this realm will become increasingly important in the future of humanities research and I love the fact that MSU is embracing progress in this area.

In all, I was very impressed with the department and all of the folks I met with.  The MSU campus and facilities are top-notch and it seems like a place where one could find their niche no matter what their interests entail.

Unfortunately it was raining most of the day I spent on campus, but I did manage to snap off a few shots in between raindrops (above: Nat Science Bldng, below: MSU Spartan Stadium).

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

I wanted to start the new blog off with a topic that hits close to home for many academics, writers, and teachers: plagiarism. I first thought of doing a piece on stealing intellectual property when I started noticing my words being used without credit in others’ articles and blogs months back. I understand that when information seeps in to one’s mind and becomes knowledge, it is sometimes impossible to trace the origin of an idea or thought. But when I see large chunks of my sentences literally copied and spliced into another’s work I know that it was no accident. This can be both maddening and deflating to writers and academics who make their living off of their thoughts and words.

I have some experience dealing with my academic work being stolen during my undergraduate career as well. It was at the end of my senior year at UNC Wilmington that I first became a victim of plagiarism. A few classmates and I finished our Human Osteology final exams early and left them in stacks on the professor’s desk along with our final course assignments while the rest of the class finished their exams. After I left the building, one of the students was allowed to head down to the computer lab to print out the remainder of his materials for the class. Fortunately for me, two of my osteology lab partners entered the computer lab and found this student furiously copying all of my measurements and answers from my papers onto his. He had taken all of my course materials off of the desk when he turned in his exam and took them to the lab to plagiarize my lab results and conclusions. My lab partners confronted the student and got my materials back to the professor. Who knows, he probably would have thrown away my papers and turned his in, leaving me with an incomplete one week before graduation.

I finally decided to write about this issue when, last week, I inadvertantly caught and called out two students (one of whom being an officer in her college’s Anthropology Club) who were posting a public conversation about cheating on a college cultural anthropology class’ coursework on Twitter. I wanted to let the aforementioned parties know that hashtagging (making searchable) a request for anthropologists to contact you if they “want to make some money” for doing your coursework probably isn’t the smartest way to go about cheating in college. Not only can anyone (future employers, other students, your professors!) see everything you put out on the internet, but we all judge your character by what we see. 

It wasn’t my intention to ruin anyone’s name or academic career when I posted this:
 “@Anthroprobably: Not Too Smart: Using the #anthropology hashtag on Twitter to find someone to do your college anthro assignments for money. Cc: @JDagger18″ May 4, 2011 2:20PM
But I did want the involved parties to know that someone was watching and disapproved of the honor code violations. There were a number of tweets back and forth between @JDagger18 and @BeatrixKiddo27 discussing the logistics and monetary compensation of the latter student doing the former’s cultural anthropology assignments/exams. Well, my Twitter followers (an awesome group indeed) took this and ran with it! I had a number of people retweet (re-post) the message and this generated a lot of comments about the event. 

Another Twitter colleague took it a step further. Megan McCullen (@GLEthnohistory on Twitter) took screen captures of the conversations before @BeatrixKiddo27 deleted her account and changed her webpage address once she realized she had been called out. From the information in the student’s web bio, Megan was able to find and contact the professor of the girl who was debating doing @JDagger18′s work for money. Megan, being an educator, said that if this were her student she would want to talk to her about the incident. I agree; this was the right thing to do. The worst part about the whole situation is that the female student in question was apparently an officer in her school’s Anthropology Club (hopefully no longer). 

So, let this be a warning to all young or ignorant academics out there: people are watching everything you post on the internet and social media sites. Cheating and plagiarizing are serious offenses and have no place in academia. Not only does copying someone else’s work take away from the authenticity of your credentials, it hurts the integrity of the field you work in. Make good choices, do your own work, and call out plagiarism when you see it!

Related Links:
Tweeting Indigenism by Megan McCullen

Fighting Plagiarism and Defending Academic Integrity featured in Guardian Higher Education Network

Anthropology Community Mourns Loss of Father of Modern Archaeology

The archaeological world is still reeling from the recent loss of the eminent American archaeologist, Lewis R. Binford. The highly influential anthropologist was born in 1931 and leaves behind a legacy few can match in terms of breadth of work.

The larger-than-life man many consider to be the “Father of Modern Archaeology” began his academic pursuits in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. Binford graduated from Maury High School (also my father’s alma mater) in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk before attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute. After a stint in the military, he returned to school at the University of North Carolina in 1954 to pursue his new-found interest in anthropology.  

Soon after attaining his B.A. at UNC, Binford moved to Ann Arbor to undertake his graduate studies at the University of Michigan. It was here that Lewis Binford found his niche and blossomed as an archaeologist. Under the direction of Leslie White, Binford was free from the shackles of the outdated culture-history view of archaeology he associated with UNC.  

Lewis Binford further developed his ideas of what archaeology should and shouldn’t be at the University of Chicago as an assistant professor. It was here, in 1962, that Binford published his first major article, Archaeology as Anthropology. The paper argued for the anthropologification of the field of archaeology. He claimed that by connecting artifacts to human behavior we could get a much better understanding of the associated culture than by simply collecting and cataloging. This call to arms for archaeologists set off a ripple effect which gathered momentum quickly. The movement’s followers were dubbed the “New Archaeologists” by outsiders.

Binford spent the late 1960′s shuffling around Anthropology departments: from Chicago, to UC Santa Barbara, to UCLA, before ending up at the University of New Mexico in 1969. It was during this time that Binford pioneered the methods of ethnoarchaeology. This approach involves the ethnographic study of modern-day hunter-gatherers to form assumptions about prehistoric H-G behaviors which may have shaped material remains. Binford lived among the Nunamiut of Alaska to get an idea of how Middle Paleolithic peoples may have shaped (and were shaped by) their environment.  

Much of Binford’s body of work was produced in the late 1970′s and 1980′s. He produced dozens of publications during these decades and cemented his position as the preeminent American archaeologist. Binford took on his opponents and critics with lively debates, most notably the post-processualists.  

In 1991 Binford began teaching as a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and continued to serve as the pater familias of American archaeology until his retirement.  

Binford was a paradigm shifter; a pioneer in the realms of processual archaeology and ethnoarchaeology. His emphasis on utilizing the scientific method and “striking a balance between theoretical and practical concerns” helped the field of archaeology become what it is today. Lewis Binford leaves behind a pair of shoes too large to fill.

[This article was originally posted on Examiner.com]