Sunday, March 23, 2008

Swedish Landscape Archaeology: Proposal Comments

In the blog "aardvarchaeology," Martin Rundkvist shared with his readers a recent grand proposal he is sending out to the Swedish Research Council. This is a cool part about the current state of the internet: sharing of information of all kinds. In the old days, proposal were all paper and basically inaccessible to anyone since they ended up at grant agencies and few folks were willing to "publish" them in any traditional format. Now, we can read and provide feedback on research ideas in real time. Cool.

You can read his research proposal here.

While I appreciate the general ambition of the work, the proposal characterizes many of problems that plague research in the cultural phenomena: common sense thinking. Here, Rundkvist, an avid advocate for science based research, succumbs to the blind spot most have when trying to explain human behavior: the illusion that we can make observations that are not simply about ourselves. Lacking any theory for his units (e.g., sacrificial sites), he basically is going to end up demonstrating that there is stuff out there and will construct some kind of plausible story to make it all seem explained. But it will simply be a good ripping tale, not science. In the same way that the Flying Spagetti Monster is also a good ripping tale. Or that old dude that supposedly wrote that book. Or whatever.

Here are my comments from the Rundvist blog. Although perhaps unintelligible or a major wet blanket, I really do mean these things in the best possible critical sense.

One concern I would have about this proposal if I were reviewing it is whether or not you are going to get "results" regarding spatial distributions regardless of what you do. In other words, I would be shocked if you didn't falsify the notion that the features you are looking for are randomly distributed about the environment. Why would they be? Falsifying the random distribution hypothesis only falsifies statements from probability theory, not archaeological theory. If not random, then what? Who knows? -- especially since the observations have no necessary links to each other and have no necessary connection to the way in which you propose to describe the landscape.

Ironically, the criticism of ad hoc descriptions is one that often gets forward for non-science arguments such as intelligent design. In these cases, the world is interpreted through a filter of "intelligence" that based on an a priori assertion. Scientists and philosophers alike have raised this point countless times. The ironic part is that when it comes to cultural phenomena, the same kind of assertive logic is used. Traditional (i.e., common sense) descriptions are used to assert intelligence through the recognition of "obvious" patterns. Of course, these patterns are a construction of description. In the case of science, the descriptions are theory formed. In the case of studies of cultural phenomena like archaeology, they come from simple common sense (i.e., "sacraficial site"). In your case, your intent is good but the nouns used throughout the proposal are just english words with no particular meaning except for the assumed one taken by the writer and reader (which are not necessarily the same).

Thus, sad to say, your empirical study is effectively a version of an interpretive intelligence design argument where the creator is a simply reflection of ourselves (often the "rationale human") or some abstract version there of (think about Paley's watch - how do we know its not "natural"? because it's made by an intelligent design -- who? europeans). This is, of course, the post-modern critique. However, the solution isn't to throw one's hands up and say its all relative, but to construct explicit units with explicit relations that can be integrated into explicit explanations. We must make our biases and our meanings explicit rather than cryptic. This is the role of theory. Indeed, it is evolutionary theory that makes units of observation (species, genes, clades, etc) meaningful and capable of generating cumulative knowledge.

There are folks who will argue that it doesn't hurt to collect information without having meaningful observation units: but this is often not the case in archaeology where the phenomenon is destroyed during the process of observation (i.e., excavation) or when the resource is under threat of construction. My point is that we shouldn't take such easy potshots at intelligent design advocates and then permit such sloppy thinking in our own discipline. Science is not just quantification but qualification THEN quantification. Numbers, GIS, maps, spatial patterns, and surveys don't matter without units.

Of course, your proposal largely follows the standard archaeological tradition of "let's do a survey" and see what we find and perhaps that is what your funding agency expects. However, from the point of view of an advocate of science I expect more

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The 2008 Society for American Archaeology Meetings - Vancouver 2008

The SAA will be holding its 73rd Annual Meeting in Vancouver, BC Canada on March 26 - March 30, 2008. We are, once again, probably over represented at the meetings relative to our program size. But hey, who said we can't be ambitious? Below below are the times, locations, and dates of the CSULB faculty and students presenting at the meeting.

THURSDAY: March 27. 2008

Poster Session: New Approaches to Old Problems

Exhibit Hall (CC) Time: 8:00 AM–12:00 PM
Organizer: Carl Lipo

Veronica Harper, Jessica Jaynes, Carl Lipo and Robert Dunnell Beveled Projectile Points and Ballistics Technology

Jimmy Daniels and Carl LipoDigital Image Processing of Shell Temper Variability in Late Prehistoric Ceramics

Kristin Safi, Chris Watkins, Carl Lipo and Hector NeffLuminescence dating of prehistoric Hohokam irrigation canals using IRSL and SAR analyses

Brooke Hundtoft, Roberta Thomas and Carl LipoStylistic Analyses of Stemmed Obsidian Chipped Stone Tools on Easter Island

Madsen, Carl Lipo and Alex BentleySeriation Methods for
Inferring Social Network Structure From Archaeological Data

Will Gilstrap, Carl Lipo and Hector Neff—The Chronology and Variability of Etruscan Architectural Terracotta

Tony Quach and Hector Neff—Use Wear and Elemental Analysis of Lithic Microdrills from San Pedro, California

Symposium Interdisciplinary Studies of Archaeological Objects: Archaelogoy, Material Science and Conservation

19 (CC) Time: 2:00 PM–5:15 PM

Hector NeffDiscussant

Poster Session: Archaeometry and Artifact Studies in Mesoamerica and Middle America

Exhibit Hall (CC) Time: 6:00 PM–9:00 PM
Karl Holland, Janine Gasco, Hector Neff and Michael Glascock Instrumental Neutron Activation Elemental Analysis of Postclassic and Historic Period Pottery from the Soconusco Region, Chiapas, Mexico

FRIDIAY: March 28, 2008

Poster Session: Artifacts, Settlement, and Social Identity in the Southwest U.S.

Exhibit Hall (CC) Time: 8:00 AM–12:00 PM
Amy Tupa, Hector Neff and Myles MillerEl Paso Brownware Temper Sourcing

Symposium (Re)Constructuring Identity: The Archaeology of the Pacific Coast and Highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala

18 (CC) Time: 9:45 AM–12:30 PM

David CheethamCantón Corralito: An Early Olmec Colony in Global Perspective

10:30 Hector NeffWhat a Waste: Identity Construction in the Archaeological Record of Southern Mesoamerica

SATURDAY: March 29, 2008

Symposium the Formative Period in Mesoamerica: Views of Olman

11 (CC) Time: 8:00 AM–11:00 AM

Jeffrey Blomster and David CheethamSix Degrees of Olmec: Comparisons of Interaction with Olman in Oaxaca and Soconusco

Symposium Changing Polities, Economies, and Identities in Classic and Postclassic Central Mexico: Perspectives and Cerro Portezuelo

2 (CC) Time: 2:00 PM–5:00 PM

Christopher Garraty, Deborah Nichols and Hector NeffPostclassic and EarlyColonial Pottery Exchange in Cerro Portezuelo, Mexico

4:30 Deborah Nichols, Hector Neff and Destiny CriderCerro Portezuelo and the Development of Postclassic City-States in the Eastern Basin of Mexico

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Image Processing Software

One area of technical interest of mine is exploiting image analysis software as a means of standardizing and automating the characterization of archaeological materials. Over the years, a variety of applications has been developed that enable users to take photos of sherd sections or collections of micro artifacts and extract metrics and morphological information from them. These systems allow researchers to characterize thousands of objects at a time - virtually impossible using manual approaches.

An example of how this might impact archaeological research can be seen in the work of Stoltman et al(2005: Petrographic evidence shows that pottery exchange between the Olmec and their neighbors was two-way. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA Petrographic evidence shows that pottery exchange between the Olmec and their neighbors was two-way. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA) where the entire conclusion is based petrographic (shape, minerals) consisting of a sample of ca. *20* sherds. In addition to the assertive nature of their empiricist claims, the entire endeavor is weakened because it takes so long to do what Stoltman does by hand. What would happen if he had a sample of 1000 sherds? Of course, given the strongly essentialist nature of the analysis (i.e., there is *an* answer to the question so regardless of the theoretical meaning of the measurements and size of sample studied The Answer will be produced), they would argue that they falsified other claims (largely framed the same way, so the argument is mostly counter pounding). Of course its all nonsense and an issue that will never be settled by arguments by authority (for which the Stoltman/Marcus/Flannery folks are famous).

But back to image analysis — if we had ways of doing analyses like these in an automated way we could potentially generate studies that characterize the variability of materials across statistically relevant sample sizes. Image analysis software, fortunately, makes this possible. I have been some of this work with a CSULB student, Jimmy Daniels as a way of characterizing temper morphology in Mississippian sherds. The procedure we follow is shown below (and the results of which will be presented at the the 2008 Society for American Archaeology meetings in Vancouver, B.C.


The old standard of image analysis is NIH Image— a free package developed for the Mac back in the early 90s. This has been replaced by ImageJ a platform independent java platform with loads of add-ons and modules that expand the analytic capabilities. Scion Image is a version of NIH Image for that works for Windows and Mac. It has less support from developers, I think.

I just came across this application Lispix - an image analysis program for the Windows and Macintosh platforms. It is written in Lisp (as one can tell by the name) and seems to have a lot of particle morphology aspects). JMicroVision is another choice that works on multiple platforms. It seems to have a good set of tools and statistics for characterizing particles.

I haven’t tried these: OsiriX - Is an image processing software dedicated to DICOM images. ImageTool - Is a free image processing and analysis program for Windows 95/NT from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. OSIRIS: a free medical image display and analysis package from the University Hospital of Geneva that is available for Macintosh, UNIX and Windows.

Scion Image - A version of NIH Image for Windows and Mac.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Beveled Bifaces and Computational Fluid Dynamic Tests

I spent the week futzing with running simulations of my simulated beveled biface through a "virtual wind tunnel" with wind velocities parallel to the long axis that varied from 5 meters/second to 60 meters/second. These speeds effectively encompass the range velocities of thrown spears, atlatl darts and bow strung arrows. These simulations used SolidWorks' FloWorks module. I have previously posted some of the graphics of what these simulations look like. In this case, I did a batch run where I changed the velocity from 5-60 m/s in 5 m/s increments. What I am looking for is predicted values that we can use to compare with our actual wind tunnel results. Ideally, I want to be able to measure the amount of force placed on the bevels that result in predicted spin. Here is what I got as a result of all of these runs. The values on the y-axis reflect the amount of force (N) normal to the bevel planes in the y-axis direction of the simulation (i.e., up-down).


Clearly one can see (as would be expected) that the amount of force normal to the beveled faces increases as a function of wind speed (i.e., the x-axis). One can also see that the forces on each face are opposite each other -- thus resulting in spin along the long axis. Whoohoo. It does so, interestingly in a slightly non-linear fashion which indicates that "spinning" probably results, if the shaft has some mass, at speeds higher than ca. 35 m/s -- the inflection point of this growth curve. That means that the beveling is going to have the most effect at the higher end of speeds of darts. This is what I would have expected.

Here is the curve for the x-axis.


The x-axis is left-right (if one is looking straight at the point of the biface). The difference here, I think is that there are irregularities on each face that result in more force in the x direction than the other. Since the model I used was created on the basis of measurements of a prehistoric biface, this isnt suprising (and since percussion isnt going to create perfectly equal surfaces). This would mean that the biface would probably have a tendency to "pull" to one side... except that the rotation motion should eliminate that!

Below I have plots of the total force and the torque as measured on each face (i.e., all the vectors integrated together). Again, the 35 m/s inflection is likely important.



Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I have been looking for a good spatial data analysis package for a while now. Most statistic package offer some spatial dimensions but they are relatively limited. ArcGIS has a wide array of spatial statistics but it is often too obtuse to be useful in any particular case. Other packages cost serious coin (e.g., SpaceStat) and make it difficult to be made available for students.

GeoDa from UIUC, however, seems to solve these problems as it is focused in purpose, laden with features and free. Importantly (for me), it does quantile and standard deviation mapping something that can't easily be done with Golden Software's Surfer. It only runs on a Wintel machine (drat), but using the free Q and an XP license, one would be up and running fairly quickly with modest cost on a Mac.

[From GeoDa - An Introduction to Spatial Data Analysis — GeoDa ]

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cultaptation: social learning tournament

I'm not sure why I never came across this web site before but Deb pointed it out to me yesterday. Despite the silly name ("Cultaptation" -- it is supposed, I think, invoke change in culture, but its really mostly unspeakable), the site announces a tournament that consists of competing rule sets that govern learned behavior (exploit, in their terms), innovating, and copying. in the tradition of the Axelrod game theory competitions, participants submit their brew of the rule set in code and pseudocode and those submissions battle it out over a series of tests. The "winner" -- which I take to be the rule set that outcompetes every other variant -- gets 10,000 pounds sterling which is, in recent sad American dollars, a pile of cash.
Mark Madsen and I plan to submit an entry with help from Alex Bentley though we have no exact ideas as to what that will consist of. Ideally, we will work to incorporate our TransmissionLab project into the conceptual framework. One of the concerns I have is the notion that behavior is a "choice" from the 3 available options. We know in fact that replicated behavior is never perfect, thus innovation is inherent due to cognitive limitations and physical constraints. So everything is always "innovation" to some/more/less degree. The question, then is performance values and detection rather than the behavior in and of itself. Consequently, I don't know how realistic (or meaningful) this competition framework really is. But it should be interesting.
[From Cultaptation: social learning tournament ]

Green Gabbro : Repost: The Comic Potential of Two Axes

Today's blog entry from Maria Brumm sums up a lot of empricist stuff one sees in anthropology and archaeology these days: when data are displayed the relationships are assumed to be real and thus explanatory. The notion of meaningful description is entirely lost. Thus we have descriptions of "site size" and "house size" (i.e., the bigger the site, the bigger the houses can be (e.g., Cameron 1998) or "fancy burial stuff" and "chiefs" (e.g., Jackson 2000). Her post has a "random scatterplot generator" that produces two axis graphs. These graphs are useful for many satirical occasions.

[From Green Gabbro : Repost: The Comic Potential of Two Axes]