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.
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.
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.
A complete list of presentations and posters can be found here:
GSA Presentations and GSA Posters
Charred Plant Remains Identification
Far Western employs a team of archaeobotanists who specialize in the recovery and identification of charred plant remains from archaeological sites. Archaeobotanical findings are integrated into Far Western excavation reports to address project-specific and regional research issues. In conjunction with remains of terrestrial animals and birds, fish, and shellfish, plant remains can help investigate prehistoric and historic-era use of food resources, changes in use of native foods across time and space, and reconstructing past environments and their changing patterns as landscapes evolved. Far Western also studies variability in fuel use through wood charcoal identification, working with Paleoscapes Archaeobotanical Services Team of Bailey, Colorado.
Far Western’s archaeobotany lab features flotation equipment and personnel capable of processing hundreds of archaeological sediment samples. Archaeological plant remains are identified with the aid of a reference collection of more than 500 seed, fruit, root, and wood samples from California and Nevada. Far Western has three binocular microscopes with capacity ranging from 7–70 magnifications, including digital image capture capability, and a digital scale with resolution to 0.1 milligram for weighing wood charcoal, nutshell, and berry pit fragments. Archaeobotanical data are entered into a relational database with quantitative and qualitative data on more than 2,400 flotation samples from cismontane California and hundreds of samples from the Great Basin and Mojave Desert.
Far Western’s archaeobotanists have worked with plant remains in California and Nevada since 1981. Archaeobotany lab director Dr. Eric Wohlgemuth has more than 30 years of experience in the field, and has written more than 100 reports on the subject, including several peer-reviewed publications on California plant remains. His research interests in California archaeobotany involve the evolution of and geographical variation in hunter-gatherer intensive plant use in California. Assistant Archaeobotanist Angela Arpaia, BA, also has many years of experience in identifying plant remains from California and Nevada, and she has presented scholarly papers on ancient California plant use.
Starch Grain Analysis
Starch grain analysis is an archaeobotanical research method long-used internationally, but still growing as a method used in California archaeology. Far Western’s Justin Wisely specializes in extracting starch grain residue using a non-destructive process with distilled water and a sonic cleansing technique, that can be used both in the lab and in the field. Wisely extracts samples to analyze under a microscope, working within a magnification range of 100x-1000x, and identifications are made based on Far Western’s ethnographically informed reference collection. Starch grain investigations can be conducted on a variety of artifacts and features, such as portable ground stone, flaked-stone, or bedrock milling features.