Successful Defense for Microbotanical Starch Grain Analysis

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Far Western’s Justin Wisely, one of our staff archaeologists, has successfully defended his Master’s thesis on microbotanical starch grain analysis of bedrock mortars, prehistoric features found throughout California.

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Wisely extracts starch grain residue samples from a bedrock mortar.

Starch grain analysis is a growing field in California archaeology, as a supplement to archaeobotanical research, which helps reconstruct past lifeways. Wisely’s research efforts concentrated on extracting starch grain residues from bedrock mortar features found in the Sierra Nevada, within the tribal area of the Mi-Wuk and Washoe Native Americans, along the State Highway 4 and the Mokelumne River watershed. Using a non-destructive field process with distilled water and a sonic cleansing technique, Wisely extracted samples to analyze in the lab under a microscope.  Identification was made based on an ethnographically informed reference collection.

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Quercus starch grain viewed with cross-polarized light under a microscope.

Contrary to common assumptions that the features were used broadly to process acorn, Justin’s research indicates that the bedrock mortars examined in the Mokelumne River watershed study area were used for processing small grass seeds. Acorn residues were less prevalent than expected.

Congratulations to Justin on his Master’s thesis entitled “Starch Grain Analysis of Bedrock Mortars in the Sierra Nevada Mountains: Experimental Studies to Determine their Function” presented to California State University, Chico!

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Laura B. Harold in American Antiquity

“When archaeologists find isolated crania or headless burials in situ…two potential behaviors are typically considered…trophy-taking and ancestor worship…(t)he former implicates violent scenarios…the latter has a non-violent interpretation, suggesting emotional attachments to deceased individuals from the community [Eerkens et al. 2016].

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Laura Brink Harold, M.A., in the Stable Isotope Analysis Lab

Our Lab Director, Laura Brink Harold, M.A., and her co-authors argue the latter for Early-period societies in Central California in the January 2016 edition of American Antiquity in the article “Trophy Heads or Ancestor Veneration? A Stable Isotope Perspective on Disassociated and Modified Crania in Precontact Central California” citing contextual site information, stable isotope analyses, and research of regional sites.

Following discussions with the Most Likely Descendant, co-author Ramona Garibay, the team employed stable isotope analyses to determine if isolated crania associated with site CA-CCO-548 derived from local residents or non-local individuals. Samples of bone, tooth, and calculus from approximately 200 individuals began the process of reconstructing life histories for those interred at the site. Comparable isotopic results from isolated crania and headless burials support the hypothesis of ancestor veneration.

Read the abstract below or visit American Antiquity or ResearchGate.net for the full article.

Abstract: Few items in the archaeological record capture the imagination more than human heads separated from their bodies. Such items are sometimes assumed to indicate warfare practices, where “trophy heads” display power and fighting prowess. Other times, they are interpreted as representing ancestor veneration. Isolated crania are not uncommon in the Early period (ca. 4500–2500 B.P.) in Central California. Some anthropologists interpret them as trophy heads, but isotopic analyses at CA-CCO-548 suggest an alternative interpretation. Strontium isotope analyses on one modified cranium produced values consistent with local individuals, and both headless burials and people buried with extra skulls overlap in carbon and nitrogen isotopes. Further, teeth from two individuals who were buried with extra skulls suggest both were weaned at early ages (before age 2), much earlier than other individuals at the site. Together with contextual information, we argue that the isotopic data are more consistent with the hypothesis that extra skulls and headless burials represent ancestor veneration rather than trophies, shedding new light on Early-period societies in Central California.

Eerkens, Jelmer W., Eric J. Bartelink, Laura Brink, Richard T. Fitzgerald, Ramona Garibay, Gina A. Jorgenson, and Randy S. Wiberg

2016

Trophy Heads or Ancestor Veneration? A Stable Isotope Perspective on Disassociated and Modified Crania in Pre-Contact Central California. American Antiquity 81(1):114-131.

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Far Westerner Gets Grant from National Science Foundation

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Lucas Martindale Johnson, Senior Archaeologist at Far Western and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida, received a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation.

Congratulations to Lucas Martindale Johnson for receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation for his research on ancient Maya flaked tool artifacts!

Find out more about Lucas’ upcoming research at the National Science Foundation website and his past research and scientific illustrations at Academia.edu.

Read the research abstract below!

Dissertation Research on Ancient Maya Obsidian Artifacts from Caracol, Belize

Social scientists continue to explore the processes by which raw materials and crafted objects move about in complex webs of political economic exchange. The evolution of exchange networks underscores the need to know how people construct their identity through consumption. Therefore, there is an increasing interest within archaeology to explore the presence of pre-capitalist market exchange in ancient states, and to question how these institutions structured material value, consumer communities, cities, and states. Situated within this broader context, the project will investigate the processes of how regional trade, state exchange, and household identity changed with the advent of marketplaces within a pre-Columbian urban cityscape in Belize, Central America. Through analyses of obsidian (volcanic glass) artifacts – a durable and economically vital stone material – this research will (1) reconstruct and trace their movement from distant raw material sources into the exchange network of a major urban center; (2) determine how obsidian was distributed to the population through regulated or unregulated political controls; and (3) explore how the crafting and exchange of obsidian helped to construct and concretize a shared local identity that endured for centuries. As crafted materials circulate, they expose political/economic/social mechanisms that provision consumers (e.g., market and/or gift exchange). Archaeology has a unique historicized perspective to study the cultural and socioeconomic value of certain objects and materials within different cultural groups as they were exchanged over vast distances. The data generated will enable the emergence of a comprehensive picture in which a study of materials exposes different societal dynamics. The research also encourages an increased collaboration whereby archaeologists as material analysts can expand technical student training through the open sharing of research methods and data.
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Under the guidance of Dr. Steven Brandt (University of Florida), Dr. Diane Chase, and Dr. Arlen Chase (University of Central Florida), Lucas Martindale Johnson will investigate ancient Maya regional obsidian exchange, craft production, ritual and daily events, and the communities that carried out such actions at the ancient Maya site of Caracol, Belize. Research at this ancient Maya city-state provides an ideal setting to demonstrate how a study of obsidian explores regional connections to distant obsidian-rich locations in the highlands of modern day Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras and the economic mechanisms by which the general population were provisioned. By sourcing obsidian to chemically unique geological locations, the project will discover the distance and the different social and physical pathways materials traveled before arriving at a craft production site. By conducting a sourcing analysis in which elemental composition is ascertained through the use of a portable X-ray fluorescence machine, this project will determine trade routes and regional connections. At a later date within the city of Caracol, local household consumers obtained obsidian crafts to for use as casual tools and/or ritualized materials. Caracol’s crafting and internal exchange mechanisms will be studied by mapping artifact distributions at more than 200 ancient Maya households spread over nearly 170 square kilometers (65 square miles). Through mapping artifact distributions, this research will explore how crafting and craft exchange may or may not have been controlled by the politically and economically powerful, as well as investigate how identities are produced through the production and use of obsidian artifacts.

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Far Western’s Byerly and Roberson in North American Archaeologist

Image2Bison Under the auspices of the Northern Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society, and supported by the Colorado State Historic Fund, Far Western Principal Investigator Ryan Byerly and Senior Archaeologist Joanna Roberson, along with Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology and Paleoanthropology Charles Egeland of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, report on recent survey and test excavation at the well-known Coffin Bison Kill.

The Coffin Bison Kill in Jackson County, Colorado, occupies a topographic gateway between the basin and range country of Wyoming and North Park in the Rocky Mountains. Located in a valley at the headwaters of the North Platte River, which is known as “buffalo pass” to some Native groups, the site is an important point in the cultural landscape of the indigenous people who inhabited Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming during the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric periods. It was also a landmark for eighteenth-century Euro-American explorers and trappers.

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Their work at Coffin Bison Kill revealed separate activity areas including a kill area, utilizing a local rock outcrop as a drive or blind, and nearby camp and/or retooling areas. The site’s artifact assemblage included hunting weaponry and processing tools along with a wide variety of projectile points, “Shoshone knives,” and ceramics. At least three bison kill and processing events are evident. These span the late fifteenth to nineteenth centuries and imply that one of the last kill events in the region occurred around the time that Euro-American explorers entered North Park.

These findings demonstrated that the Coffin Bison Kill has the potential to contribute significant information about local subsistence economies and social interaction during a tumultuous period of Euro-American infiltration.

Read the full article in North American Archaeologist 36(4):266–288.
or on ResearchGate.net.

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Far Western at Geological Society of America

Image courtesy of Dr. Kathleen Nicoll.

Image courtesy of Dr. Kathleen Nicoll, Department of Geography, University of Utah.

 

Laura Murphy, Ph.D., represented Far Western’s Geoarchaeology department at the Geological Society of America Conference held in Baltimore, Maryland. Laura co-chaired, along with Justin Holcomb, Ph.D. candidate, a session titled: “Frontiers in Geoarchaeology,” combining 14 paper and 12 poster presentations on a variety of new field, laboratory, quantitative, and technological approaches for better understanding the archaeological record. Moreover, the session explored understudied environments, confronted issues of scale, and discussed how geoarchaeologists are building new models and paradigms to address the human and environmental past. Dr. Murphy presented a paper titled: “Toward a quantitative landscape geoarchaeology: Implications for hunter-gatherer land-use intensification and populations.” Invited keynote speakers included Dr. Rolfe Mandel, University of Kansas, Dr. Carlos Cordova, Oklahoma State University, and Dr. Kathleen Nicoll, University of Utah.

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A complete list of presentations and posters can be found here:
GSA Presentations and GSA Posters

 

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Far Western Speaker Series Presents: Mike Lenzi, MA

Far Western Anthropological Research Group
Occasional Speaker Series Presents
Mike Lenzi, M.A., RPA
Staff Archaeologist, Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc.
Speaking on:
The Utility of Experimental Archaeology for Addressing Research Questions:
A Case Study of Crescents from the Western United States.

Thursday, September 10th, 2015 – 5:00 pm
Far Western Lab
2727 Del Rio Place, Davis, CA 95618

replicaExperimental archaeology is used to understand how artifacts were manufactured, used, and discarded. This study used replicated crescents to evaluate common hypotheses for their function and demystify their role in the prehistoric toolkit. Models from human behavioral ecology were applied to evaluate the efficiency of crescents to cut leather, scrape willow, and tip projectiles. Breaks accrued from use of the replicated crescents were compared to archaeological patterns. The hypothesis that the primary function of crescents is for cutting and slicing tasks and scraping plants is not supported; however, use as transverse projectile points is well-supported.

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A Least-cost GIS Approach to Modeling Foraging Ranges, Spatial Organization of Southern Levant

Brian Byrd, Andrew N. Garrard, and Paul Brandy recently published their article “Modeling Foraging Ranges and Spatial Organization of Late Pleistocene Hunter-gatherers in the Southern Levant—A Least-cost GIS Approach” in Quaternary International.

Read the full article at Quaternary International, Academia.edu, or Researchgate.net.
For an introduction, watch the narrated slide show below.


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FW Geoarchaeologists Help Map San Francisco Bay Area Prehistory

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Cores in the Far Western Geoarchaeology Lab.

Cores upon cores fill the shelves of the Far Western Geoarchaeology Lab in Davis. These long tubes of “dirt” tell us a lot about prehistoric landscape evolution, and thus can help determine whether or not a location might have potential for archaeological findings. In most situations, backhoe trenching is the most effective way to identify sites. When backhoe trenching is not possible, in urban areas for example, or when the potential depth for a site exceeds the range of mechanical excavation, we conduct hydraulic continuous-core sampling to identify sites.

Coring in San Francisco.

Coring in San Francisco.

 

 

When archaeologists dig through the layers of earth carefully, the different soils and buried surfaces can be visually seen. Cores do the same thing, like inserting a straw into a layer cake, sometimes reaching 65 feet below surface. Each four-foot section of the core is pulled up in two-inch-diameter plastic liners, brought to the lab, sliced down the center, and splayed open to reveal the stratigraphic layers.

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OSL samples from cores.

Dating the layers can be done in a couple of ways. Most often, radiocarbon dating is used to get close estimates of how old plant, bone, or shell is in a certain layer, or when now buried surfaces were exposed at the surface. Other times, however, there is not enough organic matter to be sampled. In those cases, Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating can be used. OSL samples must be removed from their original location in complete darkness, and kept in the dark until tested to provide accurate dates. The dates for each layer let geoarchaeologists map similar types of strata throughout a particular location. This helps archaeologists figure out where sites might be buried.

Schematic Cross Section of Study Area in San Francisco.

Schematic Cross Section of Study Area in San Francisco.

 

Recently opened core exposing artificial fill at the surface (~1.5–2.4 meters below surface), underlain by recent alluvium (~2.5–3.5 meters below surface), and followed in turn by a dense prehistoric shell midden (~3.5–5.5 meters below surface) formed on a Pleistocene-age sand dune (starting ~5.5 meters below surface).

Recently opened core exposing artificial fill at the surface (~1.5–2.4 meters below surface), underlain by recent alluvium (~2.5–3.5 meters below surface), and followed in turn by a dense prehistoric shell midden (~3.5–5.5 meters below surface) formed on a Pleistocene-age sand dune (starting ~5.5 meters below surface).

 

 

 

Once buried land surfaces are identified in the cores, they can be sampled to not only determine their age and whether they contain archaeological materials, but also tested to see what types of small seeds, pollen, or other diagnostic material. This can be used to reconstruct the type of landscape that was present when that layer was at or near the surface.

Currently, Far Western Geoarchaeologists are using cores to map the potential for intact buried land surfaces below the historic-era extent of the San Francisco Bay. As ocean levels have risen, they have covered up landforms where people once lived. Recent findings indicate that we may be able to quite accurately map where some people lived for long periods of time, and perhaps returned over and over again generations later.

For interested archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike, we suggest reading: Waters, Michael R.,1992, Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North American Perspective. The University of Arizona Press.

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Creating Vya: The Dream of Dry Farming

Creating Vya: The Dream of Dry Farming in Long Valley, Nevada describes the rise and fall of the community of Vya with additional information on Northern Paiute lifeways, early explorers, cattle ranching, and the failed Long Valley Water Project. The book includes numerous photographs by John L. Henry.

Flip through the interactive booklet below, or view this booklet and others on our Public Outreach Projects page!

By Erich Obermayr Historic Insight with Sharon A. Waechter Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc.

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