Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Fair Scientist

I'm quite happy to see that an ex-student of mine has absorbed a lot of what I teach in my archy method and theory classes - and is now using it to do all kinds of other things. Check out Juniper Shoemaker's blog at:   

Monday, April 27, 2009

SAAs Atlanta 2009

Well, the yearly SAA event is now over and I'm back at home in the SoCal sun. Now that the momentary deadline pressure is off, those waves are calling me out. This week will be a good one to sooth the brain while bobbing on a board.

All in all it was a good productive meeting. The CSULB students did a great job at their Guatemala symposium on Thursday as did the other CSULB folks who gave posters through the meeting.

Some highlights:

  • While it may have been poster that was printed closest to the presentation time in the history of poster sessions at SAA, I thought that Tim Hunt's work on the measurement of fracture surfaces was immensely cool. I'm sure Tim will have a poster online for everyone to view fairly soon (I'll bug him until it happens). He demonstrated a couple of great things. First, the surface of a fractured surface is a fossil record of the event of fracture and thus informs directly about material properties (particularly hardness, elasticity and "workability"). Using his Mahr PocketSurf (cost ca. $1800), Tim showed one can quickly, cheaply and nondestructively characterize materials such as lithics in terms of their hardness/toughness dimensions using precise measurement of surface roughness. This instrument makes measurements every 0.5 micron and accurately characterizes vertical roughness in the nanometers. After talking with Tim about this tool and method, its clearly THE way of addressing variability in lithic material quality in a theoretically sound and empirically robust way. Really cool stuff.
  • I saw a lot of great WSU posters at the meetings. I particularly enjoyed the poster that came out of Brian Kemp's lab on DNA extracted from ancient turkey poop from the southwest. As an added bonus to this technologically right-at-the-edge-of-innovation the study used poop collected by archaeologists long ago and stored (probably to some administrator's constant chagrin [we spending money to store WHAT??]. 2000 years of turkey poop and very cool conclusions for the late stuff that suggest at least one strain of turkeys were being kept by groups who did not share. This kind of work demonstrates the future of faunal analysis. While I didn't get a chance to say hi, I saw Brian running around the meeting like a madman: he seems like the busiest person in the world.
  • The excitement around portable XRF units was clearly visible with hordes of people caring brochures and surrounding the booths for XRF vendors. Bruker seemed to be the most popular one of the 3 vendors. I know this is a cool instrument - Hector Neff is acquiring one at IIRMES I think Jim Feathers at the UW luminescence lab is getting one as well (Mike Glasscock at MURR is already an owner, as is Herb Maschner at ISU). The ability to be able to nondestructively measure a range of elements in the field really poises to change the way lithic research is done. Why collect rocks into boxes from lithic scatters if one can photograph them, map them with GPS and do sourcing all at the same time (maybe take a micro sample for a voucher)? The amount of information we can potentially gain from the archaeological record with reduced storage costs (resulting from the lack of need for financing mountains of boxes in forgotten warehouses) stands ready to explode.

I suspect there were a number of interesting papers at the Evolutionary Lithics session run by Nathan Goodale and Bill Andrefsky. The room was insanely small - Did the symposium "STILL DIGGING: OUR FOURTH DECADE OF ARCHAEOLOGY ON ST. CATHERINES ISLAND (GEORGIA)" really warrant the giant Ballroom (no offense St. Catherine island archaeologists)? I saw the first two papers but had to step out to see a poster of one of my students (Andrea Bardsley) and when I returned people were stacked out the door about 10 deep peering in to see the slides. As a result, I was only able to barge through when it came to my talk and after than I couldn't find a seat to which to return. Gripe, gripe, gripe. Anyways, there looked to be some interesting papers but I'll have to see if I can get a hold of any of the manuscripts.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Setting up a molecular biology lab via ebay for less than $100

Ng and Cohen's blog "The World's Fair" has a great little article about creating a molecular biology laboratory via ebay purchases. It's recommended reading for anyone starting a lab. I certainly took this approach in the construction of the luminescence lab here at CSULB.

Evolutionary Dynamics of Cooperation

On another note, there is a symposium on saturday afternoon entitled "EVOLUTIONARY DYNAMICS OF COOPERATION" that is being organized by David Carballo. While the symposium includes my good friend and colleague Jelmer Eerkens, I have a hard time believing that the papers are really going to represent "evolutionary dynamics" in the sense that the rest of evolutionary biology means the term. I might be pleasantly surprised, but when one sees titles like "Cooperation, Ritual and the Emergence of Classic Maya Rulers" one can typically expect anthropological mumbo-jumbo that has no relationship to evolution (as a theory) and certainly not evolutionary dynamics in any meaningful (i.e., explanatory) sense (ala Nowak and other).

I'll certainly check it out, but my expectations are sadly pretty low.

Other papers not to be missed at the 2009 SAAs

There are a variety of other presentations that I think should be on the lists of "must sees" at this year's SAA meetings.

Long time friend and colleague, Tim Hunt is making his return to archaeological research with his long-in-the-wings study of surface characterization of lithics. Tim is presenting his poster "Fracture Surface Characterization of Heat-Treated Cherts" on Friday Morning. The poster should be presenting data Tim collected using a new profilometer and will include fractal analysis of surface structure. I'm fairly certain this is going to make the crappy junk science that people have done with heat treatment look (as it should) like 8th century AD alchemy (if it bleeds, it's a witch!).

I think the symposium (Thursday afternoon) being put on by Nathan Goodale (now TT at Hamilton College) and Bill Andrefsky (WSU) on "EVOLUTIONARY APPROACHES TO UNDERSTANDING STONE TECHNOLOGIES AS A BYPRODUCT OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR" will be a good one. While I wish this was a poster session and not a series of papers (so 1972), the titles of the papers look interesting and useful. With posters and other things going on, who can really sit for an entire afternoon to listen to all the papers?

1:00 Nathan Stevens—How Should Evolutionary Theory be Incorporated into Lithic Analysis?

1:15 Lee Lyman—Graphing Evolutionary Pattern in Stone Tools to Reveal Evolutionary Process (hmmm. sounds familiar)

1:30 Colin Quinn—Signals in Stone: Exploring the Role of Social Information Exchange, Conspicuous Consumption, and Costly Signaling Theory in Lithic


1:45 Robert Bettinger, Christopher Morgan and Loukas Barton—The North China Nanolithic

2:00 Loukas Barton, Christopher Morgan, Robert Bettinger and Dongju Zhang—The Economics of Stasis: Pleistocene-Holocene Quartz Industries on China’s

Western Loess Plateau

2:15 Charlotte Beck and George T. Jones—A Case of Extinction in Intermountain Paleoindian Lithic Technology

2:30 Jennifer Ferris—Central Place Foraging Theory and Toolstone Procurement Costs: Determining Source Distance from Lithic Debitage Reduction Techniques on Espíritu Santo Island, Baja California Sur

2:45 Carl Lipo, Brooke Hundtoft and Terry Hunt—Analyses of Stylistic Variability among Stemmed Obsidian Artifacts on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

3:00 Marcus Hamilton and Briggs Buchanan—Viewing cultural transmission as a diffusion process: Models, tests and implications

3:15 Nathan Goodale, William Andrefsky, Lara Cueni, Curtis Osterhoudt and Ian

Kuijt—Cultural Transmission and the Production of Material Goods: A Neolithic Case Study of the Neutral Model and Identity in Notched Points

3:30 Lisa Fontes, Nathan Goodale, Anna Prentiss and Curtis Osterhoudt—Tracing a Migration: A Study of Athapaskan Side Notched Points and Evolutionary Patterns

3:45 Anna Prentiss, Curtis Osterhoudt, Nathan Goodale and Nicole Crossland—

Cultural Transmission and the Organization of the Lithic Technology: The Slate Tool Industry from the Bridge River Site, British Columbia

4:00 Todd Van Pool, Michael O'Brien and R. Lee Lyman—Innovation and Natural Selection in Paleoindian Projectile Points

4:15 Michael Shott—Morphometric Approaches to the Study of Fluted Points

4:30 Ken Ames—Discussant

4:45 Jim Boone—Discussant

CSULB at the 2009 SAA Meetings

Despite science-fearing, anti-intellectual, short sighted, uniformed, and fear driven shenanigans, we have a good line up of papers and posters at the 2009 SAA Meetings in Atlanta. It is unclear what is going to happen next year, but we soldier on. Someone has to keep up the good fight.
The 2009 Line Up
On Thursday evening archaeology graduate student James (Jimmy) Daniels has organized a session entitled: "Innovative Analytical Techniques in Coastal Guatemalan Archaeology." Papers include:

** Kristin Safi, Hector Neff, Carl Lipo and Oswaldo Chinchilla—Measuring spatial
organization at El Baul, Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala 

** Tony Quach, John G. Jones and Hector Neff—Paleoenvironmental Investigations of the Tecojate Region of Coastal Guatemala and Implications for the Classic Maya Collapse
** Adrian Abella and Dr. Hector Neff—Innovative Analytical Techniques in Coastal Guatemalan Archaeology
** James Daniels—Using Distributional Archaeology and GIS to Determine Functionality of Subsurface Structures Detected with Geophysics at El Baul
** Brigitte Kovacevich, Rafael Castillo, Molly Morgan and Hector Neff—The Use of Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) on Obsidian Microdebitage: Case Studies from Chiquiuitan and El Baúl
** Maureen Lynch—The Effects of Moisture on Ground Penetrating Radar in La Blanca, Guatemala
** Victor Castillo, Hector Neff, Ronald Bishop and M. James Blackman—Mold made figurines from the South Coast of Guatemala: sources of raw material and proveniences
Other CSULB authored papers include:
** Josué Gómez, Douglas J. Kennett, Hector Neff, Michael D. Glascock and Barbara Voorhies—Early Formative Interactions between the Soconusco and the Gulf Coast Olmecs (Friday morning)
** Hector Neff—Twenty Years of Ceramic Provenance Research at MURR (Friday morning)
And Posters:
** Andrea Bardsley and Carl Lipo—Luminescence Dating and the California Desert (Thursday afternoon)
** Carl Lipo, Brooke Hundtoft and Terry Hunt—Analyses of Stylistic Variability among Stemmed Obsidian Artifacts on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) (Thursday afternoon)
** Andrew Page, Carl Lipo and Diana Greenlee—Variability in Thermal and Compositional Properties of Poverty Point Objects (Thursday afternoon)
** Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo—A cultural phylogeny of statues on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the implications for prehistoric social organization (Friday afternoon)