Monday, February 26, 2007

Prehistoric Fortified Villages in the Mississippi River Valley

One of the projects I have been working on consists of mapping known (and previously unknown) earth works (i.e., spatially structured deposits) in the Mississippi River valley. As it turns out, there are hundreds of deposits that are either poorly known or not known at all by professional archaeologists (usually these are features that are known to local folks, but have yet to be systematically described). Working with Robert Dunnell and online aerial photographs, I have been trying to create the beginnings of an LMV database that brings together known site records with as many photographic images as we can pull together. Ultimately, this will be the basis of a larger project to systematically evaluate the valley.
To the right is a false-color infrared USGS image of 3MS59, a deposit identified by the Arkansas Archeological Survey. In this image, one can clearly see the large rectangular shape of the deposit and even some detail about the internal structure. The parallel lines on the perimeter of the deposit may indicate multiple episodes of construction or functional differences. Incredibly cool.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

More from Guatemala

I've spent the last weekend working on the Guatemala GPR data with Dean Goodman's fantastic "GPR Slice" software ( There are aspects about the software that derive from its PowerBasic origin and "command line" type interface, but it the best thing around for generating 2D horizontal slices for multiple time-transect data. The results are stunning and the control one has over all of the steps of processing is spectacular. It takes a bit of training to use, but once mastered you have one of the ultimate tools for geophysical research in the archaeological record. One of the recent projects I've worked on is the re-analysis of the VA11 data from El Baul (from 2007 and 2006). You can see the results by clicking on the figure on the right (one annoying problem - the .jpg output always includes all possible grids to determine length when the set of slices might only be a few).
I've also processed a chunk of the VA11 data from 2006. This correspondences neatly with the 2007 data. One can see the sharp beginning of the causeway as it angles north. This image is also on the right (but you will need to click on it to really see anything).
One bonus aspect of working with Dean Goodman is that he is constantly updating his software and is always willing to entertain notions of new features, new tools, etc. As a result, the more one works with GPR Slice, the more useful it becomes.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Artifact Analyses

I am quite excited about the set of student projects that came together for this semester's ANTH 451/551 (Archaeological Artifact Analyses). There are 18 students enrolled in the class - a mix of undergraduates and graduate students. I decided this year to add a project to the class requirements. Although this presents a bit of a "chicken and egg" problem, the notion of a project seems to provide a bit more immediate application for the stuff we discuss in class (and practice in lab exercises). I created a series of groups for the projects (8) so that the 2-3 students are working on each set of artifacts. For the projects, I assembled artifacts assemblages from whereever I could find them - my own, stuff in storage, Dan's material, etc. I came up with these projects:
  • Decorated late prehistoric rim sherds from NE Arkansas (stylistic analysis of decoration and rim form variability across space and time)
  • Plain ceramics from late prehistoric deposits in NE Arkansas (analysis of temper variability [using digital image processing] relative to vessel form [thickness, size])
  • Decorated ceramics from Pottery Knoll, Utah (courtesy of Daniel Larson. This project will focus on relating ceramic decorative variability to pueblo room. I hope that we can expand this to include elemental analyses of paint composition using LA-ICP-MS).
  • Decorated ceramics from sites from Arizona (courtesy of Sachiko Sakai and Daniel Larson. This project will study ceramic decorative variability through space and time at sites in and around the Grand Canyon).
  • Lithics from the San Pedro Site (LAN-283). This collection was produced through excavations conducted in 1968 and stored in the depths of CSULB since that time. From what I can tell, it has a remarkable collection of gravers and drills as well as manufacturing debris. Since the deposit also contains faunal remains and shell, it will be interesting to look at wear patterns and technological variability of these tools.
  • Painted wooden statue carvings from the Sepik River in New Guinea. These were collected by someone at CSULB (then Long Beach State) in the late sixties (as far as I can tell) and have been stored since then. There are about 50 or so statues ranging from about 20 cm in length to 1.5 meters. All of the statues have elaborate painting and decoration. This project will focus on studying stylistic variability (lineages?) in the statues with respect to space and, potentially, language.
  • A collection of projectile points collected from locations across Texas. This projectile collection has a great deal of time depth and we will seek to do cladistic analyses on haft variability (and metric variability) ala John Darwent who did this kind of work on Missouri projectile points.
  • Stylistic and formal variability of obsidian bifaces ("mata'a") from Easter Island. This project will make use of a series of scaled photographs we have of obisidian bifaces we collected as part of the parcela surveys conducted at the Easter Island field school last summer (the obsidian bifaces remained on the island). We will compare the stylistic/formal variability with compositional analyses we have conducted to determine source of obsidian (there are at least 4 potential sources of obsidian on the island, depending on how you count them).
All in all, I don't expect the projects to be "done" in any sense but hopefully the students will be able to generate enough data to say something quantitative about the collections and to begin to do solid stylistic/formal/technological/functional measurements. This will be a very "hands-on" project that will give students a chance to really get new kinds of analyses going. Of course, the projects are going to keep me pretty busy with meetings with the groups (on top of teaching the lectures and the labs). The "product" of the projects will be a series of posters - one for each group - that they will present on the last day of class in a public poster session to be held outside of PH1. This will be an opportunity for students to show off the kind of work and research they can do here at The Beach.

technical changes and new road segment?

Thanks to the generosity of the IT staff at CSULB (particularly Steve La, Director of Network Services), the entire set of photos for the moai database is being hosted on the university servers (about 6 gigabytes of data). This will substantially increase the uptime of the entire affair and make sure that my desktop machine (the previous host) doesn't melt down into a slag of sad silicon. I hope to be adding photos of the moai roads soon as well as locations of ahu and other prehistoric features. I have most of the data available here and just need to spend time (or marshall a student to do this task) putting it all together. Hmm.... minions.... Playing around this morning, I found the track of what looks like another moai road. This extends the road a bit. Ill add the tracks to the big kmz file but for the time being it is linked individually here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Moai Roads!

I have updated the moai database file with the paths of the moai roads from Lipo and Hunt (2005). You can find the new file here. The paths are shown in green and represent secure locations of the moai roads on the basis of the analysis of satellite images and ground survey. There are likely more of these roads that are visible in the new color images (on Google Earth) and I will have to update the paths once we evaluate them. The network pattern of the roads is particularly interesting as it does not suggest a pattern of centralized control - but one of expedient routes to various parts of the island that are built over and over (particularly along the south coast). This is an important piece of information that tells us something about the scale of prehistoric functional organization. You can read more from this paper.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Initial GPR Results from El Baul

Oswaldo Chinchilla recently sent us this concatenation of the GPR grids we did this year (and on from last year). The results are remarkable. The slices clearly show the major causeway and a series of buildings in alignment with this structure. I am excited to complete the analyses (If I can get the multi-grid multi-time window issue resolved). More to come soon...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

3rd day of skiing...

Back to Park City Mountain today. Absolutely glorious weather despite the forecasts (rain mixed with snow). Instead: sunshine and warm air. It was a fantastic day to ski. We covered over 28 miles of terrain today - and I am exhausted. Time for the steam room! It looks like some precipitation is moving in tonight - damn - just when we have to leave. Ah well - I can't really complain: we had great conditions even with no new snow. The grooming at Park City Mountain, in particular, is absolutely excellent so the runs were fun to ride.

Evening in PC

Skiing ends when the lifts close at 4:00. The ski grows dim and the mobs from the slopes begin to make their way to be seen at the latest fashion food joint or ultra lounge. I've no idea what an ultra lounge is. What makes it "ultra" - spiced cups of fresh air? martinis the size of one's head? ultra-lly made up sour faced botox enhanced marmoset women wearing a dozen squirrels stapled together for a fur coat? Probably a little of all, with strong dash of entitlement. Tom and I had made reservations for Washo - a trendy asian fusion joint. We got there a bit early and tried to even approach the hostess. We were invisible. Soon a short tidy German guy with a real black turtleneck and his tag along boyfriend bullied their way to the counter. and then proceeded to make a real estate deal with the hostess for some mega piece of land that is "oh, only 7.4" all while we and about 12 other people crammed into a hall stood staring past each other. We left - went to Zona Nano - a mexi-sort-of place with margaritas, carnitas and not a bit of pretension. Much better. Above - the lights of Park City slopes at night. Below - Gaffney recklessly checking the weather forecasts for any chance of preciptation (as it turns out - none came).

Friday, February 9, 2007

Day 2

It's a remarkable occasion when one has the opportunity to ski more than a single day at a time. Today was day 2 of the 2007 utah trip and Tom and I made it to Deer Valley for a day of sunshine, reasonably serviceable snow and about 23 miles of downhill fun (of course measured with the wrist GPS - gotta be accurate). Having the second day means that one doesn't have to try to eek out every last once of goodness from the ski runs. We certainly got the goodness though - but knowing that we can ski tomorrow makes all so much sweeter. I am entirely exhausted though - a second day of tele skiing and my legs feel like rubbery chicken. But in a good way. Deer Valley was a good place to ski - no snowboarders. This made the surfaces more "fit" for skis. The place is big - really big. The presence of condos in and amongst many of the lifts, though, sort of ruined the effect. Tomorrow we are heading back to Park City for the 3rd day of shooshing. Tonight: steam bath, sauna and hot tub in the spa on the first level of the hotel. Maybe a nightime swim outside in heated pool. So many options. I think Deb would like this place - from the hotel there are cross country ski trails (groomed) that head out across the countryside. It is certainly comfortable digs with lots to d.

On the mountain...

Was able to sneak away to Utah and to head up to Park City for some ski relaxation with my friend Tom. There hasn't been a lot of recent snow but the skies are reasonably clear, the snow is plentiful and the area is gorgeous. I can see why Mike wanted to move back to this part of the country. Today we will be skiing at Deer Valley one of the 3 resorts here. There is a possibility of a little accumulation tonight so we are hopeful. The lack of fresh snow, however, is no damper on the fun.