Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Posing Questions for a Scientific Archaeology

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (well, it was Seattle) there were a group of students in an archaeology graduate program (at the University of Washington) who shared a particular kind of training offered by a curmudgeonly but deeply logical professor (Robert C. Dunnell). These students all spent significant amounts of time preparing proposals for conducting their doctoral research. The challenge they faced was dictated by their advisors: conduct archaeological research that will generate falsifiable answers to questions about the archaeological record. This task is harder than it seems since the first task, asking appropriate questions, has been a quagmire for archaeologists since the origins of the discipline. Yet, to finish their PhDs in this particular program, these students naively took on this challenge and spent years (in many cases) developing their proposals.

In the end, most of the students finished their PhDs by conducting the research that was proposed. The resulting tomes can be found in the UMI repository and in some cases as published volumes. One of the important contribution of their work, however, isn't entirely in the end product. In the end, the results of the research are all determined by the questions being asked and the proposals generated dictating the research design. These documents rarely see the light of day in a publication sense yet are the fundamental basis upon which data are generated and conclusions drawn. Indeed, not all of the students completed their research (largely due to the difficulties involved in actually making the required measurements) but even so, the proposals for the work stand alone as significant accomplishments. In science, asking the right questions is the 99% of the problem.

With Terry Hunt (University of Hawai'i) and Sarah Sterling (Portland State University), I put together an edited volume of these proposal. This book was published back in 2001 by Bergin and Garvey. You can still buy it new off of ( for an absurd amount of money ($119) or you can get it used for as little as $10.00. You can even preview the book at

The table of contents of Posing Questions.:


Chapter 1: Posing Questions for a Scientific Archaeology - Terry L. Hunt, Carl P. Lipo and Sarah L. Sterling

Chapter 2: Groundstone Wedge Tool Form and Function: Experimental Analyses in Northern South American “Axes” - Kimberly D. Kornbacher

Chapter 3: The Engineering and Evolution of Hawaiian Fishooks - Michael T. Pfeffer

Chapter 4: Projectile Point Variation in Evolutionary Perspective: An Example from the Central Mississippi River Valley - Kris H. Wilhelmsen

Chapter 5: Social Complexity in Ancient Egypt: Functional Differentiation Reflected in the Distribution of Standardized Ceramics - Sarah L. Sterling

Chapter 6: Community Structures in Late Mississippian Populations of the Central Mississippi Valley - Carl P. Lipo

Chapter 7: Dietary Variation and Village Settlement in the Ohio Valley, A.D. 400 - 1650 - Diana M. Greenlee

Chapter 8: Resource Intensification and Late Holocene Human Impacts on Pacific Coast Bird Populations: Evidence from the Emeryville Shellmound Avifauna - Jack Broughton

Chapter 9: Evolutionary Bet-Hedging and the Hopewell Cultural Climax - Mark E. Madsen



Given that Terry Hunt, Sarah Sterling and I hold the copyright, I'm going to link a PDF of this volume. I am releasing this under a Creatives Commons Licence. You can download the book here (about 17 megs).

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