Posted by Gabriela Perez-Dietz
One of the most important jobs archaeologists do is put the past into perspective. One way they are able to get a better understanding of human history, is by spending time looking at material culture and bones from our past. The past still affects the present and the ways in which we understand those who came before us. About 10,000 years ago, during a period known as the Pre Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) of the Southern Levant (present-day Jordan, Palestine/Israel), humans were transitioning from nomadic living to living in one place year-round. With this move came a slow transition from hunting to herding as the main way that people got animal resources. In my project I looked at goat bones from the PPNB site of al-Khayran in Jordan, in order to understand how the people who lived there acquired animal resources. Most zooarchaeologists who study animal bones from the PPNB have focused on herding, because it is the first time anywhere in the world that people reared animals within their communities. However, the development of herding was a slow process and we know that people were also hunting at this time. So which was being done at al-Khayran?
I hypothesized that people at al-Khayran were hunting animals, rather than herding them. In order to predict what the archaeological record at al-Khayran would look like if people were hunting animals, I examined zooarchaeological research at other sites from this time period and utilized a body of ecological theories known as Optimal Foraging Theory. I then developed and tested the hypothesis that people at al-Khayran were attempting to meet their basic nutritional requirements, while minimizing the amount of time they were devoting to hunting. By taking a number of measurements on the bones from al-Khayran and comparing these measurements to the expectations derived from my hypothesis, I found this not to be true. While a small sample size created challenges for producing significant results for a number of tests, those that were found to be significant did disprove time minimization behavior in animal procurement practices. What this tells us is that the inhabitants of al-Khayran were not desperately pressed for resources. Instead, there were some other reasons why people were hunting at al-Khayran. As a number of authors, most notably John Speth, have argued that hunting is frequently less about meeting basic needs than it is about showing off social status, having fun, bonding with others, and/or acquiring meat because of its taste, rather than its nutritional value.
Posted by Priscilla Montalto '15
For my project, I focused on the methods used to recover artifacts at the Sucker Brook Site, located in Saratoga Springs New York. My project was inspired by how some professional archaeologists view amateurs and collectors as looters that cause more harm than good when recovering materials from a site. With this project, I wanted to look at what kinds of different information about a site could be obtained when different methods of recovery are used.
I chose Sucker Brook to study because both Skidmore College and an amateur archaeologist named Louis Follet did work at the site. Follet conducted a surface collection during the 1960s. Surface collections can range from farmers simply picking up exposed artifacts in their fields, to trained archaeologists walking in a grid formation and flagging and mapping any artifacts that they find. Follet’s method of surface collection was less systematic, as he did not keep track of where exactly he found artifacts. In contrast, students from Skidmore College’s 2007 and 2009 archaeological field methods course conducted not only a more systematic surface collection, but dug test pits and an excavation unit. Test pits are usually 30x30 cm (approximately one foot by one foot) and are used to quickly get an idea of the basic elements of the site, in order to figure out where to excavate more extensively. Excavation units are typically larger than test pits, and provide more detail about a site.
I compared the artifacts recovered by Follet to the artifacts Skidmore by testing the hypothesis that Sucker Brook was a seasonally occupied Late Archaic fishing camp. I developed a set of 17 predictions based on a literature review of what the archaeological record might show for a Late Archaic seasonally occupied fishing camp. In my results section, I attempted to analyze the two groups of artifacts using the 17 different tests.
Although I could not fully test this hypothesis, the results of this study showed how Follet’s surface collection generated different information about Sucker Brook in comparison to Skidmore’s surface collections, shovel test pits, and excavation unit. Follet’s surface collection resulted in an understanding of the time period that Sucker Brook was occupied and whether or not fishing had taken place. In contrast, Skidmore’s methods of recovery had the potential to contribute information human behavior occurring at the site. I found that one method of recovery is not more valuable than another, rather these different methods provide different kinds of information. Just because a collector or amateur recovers artifacts through surface collection, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t contribute to the knowledge about a site.
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