Wednesday, April 25, 2007

SAAs 2007

I'm sitting in the Phoenix "Sky Harbor" airport waiting for my now-delayed flight to Austin. Bored, I decided to thumb through the SAA schedule of presentations to see what I am going to be seeing over the next few days. It is certainly a mixed back of stuff. While there are some interesting titles (such as the papers int shell temper symposium organized by Evan Peacock and Jim Feathers) as well as those in my own symposia (of course!), I have to say there are far too many presentations that just make me shake my head. A couple of examples: Miguel Aguilera—Maya Skeletal Semen: Emerging from the White-Bone Snake Richard Hingley—Ancestors and Spirits in Later Prehistoric Britain Linda Brown—The Agency of Stones and Bones: Hunting Shrines around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Perhaps there is more to these papers than the titles indicate. I guess I shouldn't judge. But, come on - semen and spirits?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Society for American Archaeology Meetings - Austin, TX 2007

I'm very pleased to note that a number of CSULB graduate students will be presenting at this year's SAA meetings in Austin, TX. This is the "world series" of archaeology meetings and it is quite rewarding to know that our students are up to (and, surpass!) the professional standards of the discipline. Here are the CSULB papers/posters for 2007 (student names in bold):
  • Veronica Harper, Hector Neff and Carl Lipo—Basalt Artifact Sourcing on Easter Island
  • Kristin Safi, Carl Lipo, Terry Hunt and Sergio Rapu—Geophysical Explorations and Sequences of Monumental Architecture at the Anakena Dune of Easter Island
  • Roberta Thomas, Hector Neff and Carl Lipo—The Sourcing of Stemmed Obsidian Bifaces on Easter Island
  • Ian Fraser-Shapiro and Will Gilstrap—Obsidian Microdebitage Analysis By LAICP- MS
I am also pleased to be part of other papers with colleagues.
  • John Terrell, Ethan Cochrane and Carl Lipo—Branching vs. Blending is Not the Question
  • Jelmer Eerkens and Carl Lipo—Technological Change and Brownware Pottery Technologies in the Western Great Basin of North America
  • Matthew Bell, Carl Lipo and Terry Hunt—Aerial Photography of Surface Features on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Finally, I'm helping to organize the poster session on Easter Island (with Terry Hunt) and a symposium on evolutionary archaeology with Jose Luis Lanata. This latter event (APPROACHING DARWIN'S BICENTENNIAL: THE STATE OF THE ART IN EVOLUTIONARY ARCHAEOLOGY) has a great line up of archaeologists working on evolutionary applications. One aspect of the symposium we pushed was to get folks involved who were not the "standard names" of the discipline. Thus, we have a conspicuous lack of folks like Mike O'Brien, Lee Lyman, R.C. Dunnell and others who have carried the banner of evolution for the past few years. Here is the full lineup (Saturday Morning 8-11:30AM):
  • 8:00 P. Jeffrey Brantingham—Style, Function and Archaeological Site Frmation Processes
  • 8:15 Mike Cannon—Modeling the Tradeoff between Foraging and Farming
  • 8:30 Todd VanPool—Sex and Labor: An Evolutionary Model of the Division of Labor
  • 8:45 Jillian Galle—Conspicuous Consumption and Gendered Social Strategies among Slaves in the 18th Century
  • 9:00 Sarah B. McClure and Douglas J. Kennett—Cultural Transmission and the Generation of Variation in Spanish Neolithic Pottery
  • 9:15 Jonathan Scholnick—Cultural Transmission and Spatial Patterning in Historic New England Gravestones
  • 9:30 Aimee Plourde—Contributions to the Study of Sociopolitical Hierarchy from a Theory of the Evolved Capacity for Prestige
  • 9:45 John Darwent—Phylogenies of Thule Period Harpoon Components from the North American Arctic
  • 10:00 Karen Y. Smith—Correspondence Analysis: A Method for Monitoring Branching and Convergence in the Archaeological Record
  • 10:15 John Terrell, Ethan Cochrane and Carl Lipo—Branching vs. Blending is Not the Question
  • 10:30 Jose Luis Lanata and Arleen Garcia -Herbst—Exploring the Tempo and Mode of America’s Human Dispersal
  • 10:45 Mark Collard and Briggs Buchanan—A Matrix Correlation Test of Early Paleoindian Migration Route Hypotheses
  • 11:00 Briggs Buchanan and Mark Collard—Investigating the Peopling of North America through Cladistic Analyses of Early Paleoindian Projectile Points
  • 11:15 Hector Neff—Discussant

The 24th O' April

Tis my birthday tomorrow (the 24th) - but more importantly, it is my buddy Eamon's birthday too. Eamon Nicholas Gaffney was born 30 years to the day after I was and is perhaps the "upgraded" model of myself (Lipo v.2.0). I remember the late night when Tom called me about the birth of Eamon - I was living in the Malloy, a crackerbox apartment behind the elevator where I could turn the stove on while lying in bed. It was very late, as I recall, and his voice was very excited. It was a great moment, really, when I realized (blearily and slowly) that Eamon was making his entrance exactly 30 years after my own.
I remember arguing with Syd and Tom that Eamon should have been called "Nick" - if only to do justice to the black shalayle that Tom has ("Crazy ol' Nick Gaffney and his damn shalayle!").
At any rate, tomorrow is that day again. Hopefully, I'll get to surf - someday I hope to be better than that black labrador in the photo above.

Colonization of Easter Island - and implications.

I have posted the poster that Terry Hunt and I plan to present at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Austin, TX this week. You can download a pdf of the poster here. This poster presents an extended argument about the timing of the colonization of Easter Island (Rapa Nui). We suggest that the island was not occupied until about AD 1200, about 500 years after the "traditional" date of AD 700-900. While it might seem like a small point, this change in the chronology has rippling significance to the standard "collapse" story told by Flenley, Bahn, Diamond and others. What the date means is that there is only about 500 years for the entire prehistory of Easter Island - prior to Easter Sunday in AD 1722 when Roggeveen arrives on the island. 500 years for occupation, "climax," "collapse," and then rebound - if one is to accept the traditional story. One might think that this alone should present questions about the chronology as we present it. "If collapse occurred, then the short chronology can't be right." In fact, this is what a number of colleagues appear to believe and are arguing in print (Bahn and Flenley are publishing such a statement in the upcoming issue of Rapa Nui Journal). As it turns out, it appears that many researchers have worked backwards - while we have concrete evidence (as argued in the poster) for the "short" chronology, we don't have evidence for a "collapse" - at least pre-European arrival. This might seem odd to many as many assume that the story of collapse is one that is "obvious" or "certain." It's not. The problem here is a mixing of evidence and belief. This has resulted in what we term "belief based" archaeology for Easter Island. Researchers have made many claims about the prehistory of the islands but a remarkably large number of them are based on inferences derived from the story itself (i.e., circular reasoning). We do know without any reasonable doubt that there were large numbers of palm trees on the island prior to humans arriving. We also know at some point all of the trees went extinct. What we don’t know is the chronological and functional relations between humans and plants that resulted in the loss of trees. Lacking much of the basic evidence, a set of beliefs have been established and perpetuated that rationalize the story. For example: What is the connection between trees and people? Belief: Trees were used to move statues around (this is stated primarily because its assumed that this is why the trees went away) Evidence: We don’t know. We don’t even have evidence that the extinct palms were capable of moving statues around given that many of the related taxa have big mushy interiors. How did statues get moved? Belief: Trees used as levers or rollers Evidence: We don’t know but evidence points more towards the fact that they were “walked” rather than rolled. How many people were on the island in prehistory (at maximum)? Belief: 10-20,000 people because that’s the number assumed that were required for organizational structures to manipulate the movement of statues. Evidence: We don’t know though the number at contact is reported at 3-4,000 and the settlement patterns are largely dispersed rather than nucleated. When did people arrive on the island? Belief: 700-900AD because that is the amount of time it would take to get to 10-20,000 people Evidence: Looking critically at dates we can accept based on standard practices, we find that evidence points to 1200AD. This means that only 500 years passes before Europeans arrive (AD1722). When did the “collapse” occur? Belief: some several hundred years prior to European contact in AD1722. This gap is thought to occur to account for the well-fed and robust nature of the population in 1722 (i.e., post collapse) . Evidence: There is no evidence of prehistoric collapse. People were healthy in 1722, prior to that we simply don’t know but nothing exists to suggest cannibalism, warfare, catastrophe. Collapse certain did occur after 1722 – we have records of that (and was caused by disease and other dramatic population changes). How did people fight with one another? Belief: Obsidian bifaces called “mataa” are found all over the place. These were weapons. Evidence: The shape of the mataa are such that they would make terrible weapons. While there are few that are pointy, the vast majority are oddly shaped and have no pointed end. Their shape and usewear is consistent with cutting (if it were for stabbing one would expect significant impact damage on the tips – but that is not the case). Skeletal evidence also shows little evidence for traumatic injuries – skeletons exhibit non-lethal trauma.- How did people destroy their landscape? Belief: By cutting down the trees, the people “began a downward spiral” to cultural catastrophe – erosion and carrying capacity vanished. Evidence: Given known archaeological rat populations (we find them in all of the early layers) palm trees may not have been useful subsistence source – and may have harbored millions of rats. Polynesians who arrived on the island were cultivators – farmers – who relied on plants like the sweet potato, sugar cane, bananas. Thus its not clear there was a necessary relation between people and palm trees (other than the negative aspect of having them filled with rats eating the palm nuts). As for erosion – we know it occurred – but given the fact that the archaeological record is largely surficial over all (you can find mataa, obisidian flakes, groundstone every where) it doesn’t seem to have been prehistoric. Indeed, much of the major erosion seems to be a function of the 100 years of sheep ranching and other historic activities (most by Europeans). There are many more examples of a belief structure that focuses on "collapse" and "environmental overshoot" guiding what people perceive the evidence to be on Easter Island. All of these need to be carefully examined so that we can distinguish aspects of the archaeological record from the stories being spun about it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More from RCD

New videos posted from Dunnell's 497 class. I'm slowly getting through these and posting them. I also have higher resolution DVD versions if anyone is interested (though that will take more time). Enjoy!

Sunday, April 15, 2007


So one might wonder when does the surfin' happening? Well, finally after a couple of months of sloth, I got out to seal beach this weekend for some morning surf on saturday and sunday. Regulars Neff and Dudgeon were far too weak to manage the spring conditions, but I did get JimmyD out on the long board. Michael and crew from M&M Surf were there as usual. While the water was a bit chilly, the surfing was fun.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Rapa Nui Database - New Website

In preparation for the publication of the moai database, I created a new website to host the information that describes what we are doing, etc. This is now hosted via Google Apps which means we can use other features of that setup (widgets, apps, calendars, email, etc). I registered the domain: for the site. You can see what I have done at: I also created a simple widget to randomly display a photo of a moai. If you use google as your home page, or as your 'sidebar' you can add a random moai photo by pointing to:

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Announcing: The Journal of Evolutionary and Historical Science

Using the new PLoS ONE model of open-access with community-based reviews as a basis, I am happy to announce the creation of the Journal of Evolutionary and Historical Science (JEHS). JEHS is a journal that is meant to bring together researchers interested in studying the evolution of ourselves. By researchers, I mean archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, historians, evolutionary biologists, geographers, and many others. Through an open community based review system in which everyone gets to participate in commenting on articles, we hope to foster interdisciplinary discussion on the application of evolutionary theory in the study of historical phenomena. I strongly believe that many disciplines, particularly those moribund through 'traditional' thinking, trapped by the 'haves' who work hard to keep change comfortable for themselves, and those in which change is twittering on the edge of discovery, need to have venues that allow for more rapid innovation and more global and immediate feedback of ideas. As the EHB article demonstrated the engine of change is really innovation rate - and its become clear that in disciplines like archaeology innovation is often stifled, in place of rewordings of the same old kinds of approaches. Community-based publications permit us to present our ideas to the world and let researchers and scientists provide the feedback as to whether they are useful or not. Why let the old-white-men-and-women determine what is "appropriate" or not in secrecy? Free the ideas! Publications in JEHS will initially focus on getting great papers that have no chance of seeing the light of day. Papers that might go into obscure edited volumes that no one will own or read. The edited volume phenomenon is particular detrimental to non-US researchers who may not be able to afford the cost of the books. Through an open-access policy, everyone everywhere can read the material for free. In this way, it will be possible to create a larger international group of scientists than is possible with traditional forms of publications. We will also accept great conference papers or other kinds of submissions that are professionally done but could use feedback from the great minds that exist out in the world. We all have these kinds of papers - and all-too-often the idea of polishing it up to send to a traditional journal (with the attendant and obligatory "correct" citations of individuals, correct "framing" of wording to appease the Old-Men/Women, tricky wording to fool those who might be easily offended, and other huge time sinks) is too horrible to really consider. We want those papers - the world needs those papers. Organizationally, I would like to encourage as many editors (section editors, each with different kinds of expertise) as possible. These individuals (who can serve on multiple sections as desired) simply work to encourage submissions and to do the technical reviews on articles as they come in. The latter task requires making sure that the papers meet technical standards and that spelling and other basic requirements are met. Thus the burden should be fairly light and the turn around on paper submissions should be fast. The more people who can participate as section editors, the better - since it will mean more papers, and faster throughput. If anyone out there wants to become a section editor, simply send me an email ( Our aim is to get the journal indexed and crawled like a regular journal. Who needs paper anyways these days? We have applied for an ISSN number and will work with the open-access community to integrate JEHS into existing frameworks for citation analysis, indexing, etc. The advantage of all of this is that the cost of running the entire journal is zero (other than our own efforts) with no print costs. This means we can accept innovative articles, long pieces, color figures, huge data sets, etc. It's a new day in the academic publication world. JEHS is hosted on an open-source database back end platform from Simon Fraser called Open Journal Systems. The OJS software is remarkably complete - and comes standard with roles, email feedback, automated submission system, etc. Very impressive. Ultimately, I'd like to migrate the journal to TOPAZ that PLoS ONE uses - once the software (which is also open-source) is released (which is supposed to happen soon).

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Random Copying II

Reuters did an interview with me yesterday on the Random Copying article. The Reuters story just came out this morning: