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.
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