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.

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