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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Monitoring

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Cultural Resources Monitoring

Far Western provides two types of monitoring—construction and site assessment. Construction monitoring consists of an archaeologist—often together with a Native American representative—observing the construction phase of a project to ensure that cultural resources are not inadvertently damaged or destroyed. We have monitored everything from small local building projects to major power and gas line installations, usually in consultation with Native tribes and government agencies. Some of our clients have included Kinder Morgan, Nevada Energy, Liberty Utilities, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service. Big or small, these projects can have tight schedules, and Far Western works closely with construction personnel to keep things on track.

For site assessment monitoring, our archaeologists visit known cultural sites, often over a period of several years, to assess their physical condition and document any new or ongoing impacts that need to be addressed. Such monitoring is often a requirement for federal permits or funding. As an example, we have been hired by Pacific Gas & Electric Company to conduct multi-year monitoring for three different hydroelectric projects in support of their relicensing efforts.

Public Outreach and Interpretation

Public Outreach

Public Outreach and Interpretation

One of our particular talents is the design and production of broadcast-quality films, interpretive signs, brochures, training manuals, and other educational and outreach products. These often serve as mitigation for projects where adverse effects to significant archaeological or historical resources are unavoidable. Our highly skilled team will research and write content; supply original paintings, illustrations, photographs, and maps; and track down archival images, to make our educational and outreach products truly compelling.

To learn more, visit some of our key public outreach projects below:

In the Time when Animals were PeopleIn the Time when Animals were People is a collection of traditional Yokut and Western Mono stories gathered by anthropologists from tribal Elders who could still remember the old times. Those times are gone, but the people and the stories remain.

Creating VyaCreating 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.

Life on the RiverThe book Life on the River – The Archaeology of an Early Native American Culture explains archaeological techniques and discoveries at a Shasta County site, located on the Upper Sacramento River. It documents Wintu lifeways just before and during the arrival of Europeans into the area.

People of the TulesThe Long Road Traveled is a public-oriented document about the Cuyama Valley. The full digital document is available in online-magazine form here. See the 3D Visualization Gallery here.

People of the TulesPeople of the Tules: Archaeology and Prehistory of California’s Great Central Valley presents information about excavations that revealed evidence of environmental and cultural changes. An audio version is available for the visually impaired.

Written on the Land: 10,000 Years of Human History along Marsh CreekWritten on the Land: 10,000 Years of Human History along Marsh Creek. For thousands of years before the Spanish, the Mexicans, or the Americans entered the East Bay/Delta region of California, Native people lived in this beautiful place.

Mountain Harvest: The Use of Pinyon Nuts by the Paiute and Their Ancestors Near Sherwin Summit, California.Mountain Harvest: The Use of Pinyon Nuts by the Paiute and Their Ancestors Near Sherwin Summit, California.

 

Stealing the Sun Stealing the Sun presents an overview of the prehistory of the central Sierra Nevada foothills by combining archaeology and traditional Me-Wuk stories.

 

Pieces of the Puzzle: Archaeologists work along SR 49Looking for Pieces of the Puzzle is a seven-minute video of archaeologists at work along State Route 49, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of western Tuolumne County, California.

Step Back in Time! Archaeology and Prehistory in Sierra Valley Step Back in Time! Archaeology and Prehistory in Sierra Valley highlights work with the Washoe tribe to preserve one of the most important archaeological sites ever found in northern California.

Many Cultures, One LandMany Cultures, One Land, covers the prehistory and historical events that forever changed the lives of the Native peoples in the area.

 

China Lake Rock ArtView spectacular rock art found at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California.

 

GIS and Cartography

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Our highly skilled team uses standardized data collection techniques to maximize data quality, reliability, and usability.

Data Collection

  • We use standardized data collection techniques to maximize data quality, reliability, and usability.
  • We have a variety of mapping-grade GPS units and dedicated field computers to support Far Western field crews.

Mapping

  • We use our collected data to prepare site-specific maps.
  • We integrate a variety of client and public-sourced information for mapping purposes.

Analysis

  • We have expert-level analysts to explore spatial and temporal relationships with GIS data.

Data Management

  • We create usable and manageable database solutions.

Information Presentation and Dissemination

  • We are experienced in a variety of methods for simplifying and delivering complex or unwieldy datasets.

Geoarchaeology


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Understanding archaeological sites and their settings

Our outstanding team of geoarchaeologists plays an integral role in nearly every one of our projects. They have been honored for their innovative studies by the Society for California Archaeology and the California Preservation Foundation.

Regulatory agencies and researchers need to identify buried archaeological sites, or the potential for such sites, early in the environmental compliance process to prevent costly construction delays. Geological work can also be applied to regional sensitivity studies for buried sites, paleoenvironment, site structure and formation, and assessments of integrity.

What we have accomplished:

  • Regional geoarchaeological overviews examine the effects of landform evolution on the visibility of the archaeological record to establish the potential for buried sites. We have mapped about 40% of California, and we’re still mapping!
  • We conduct project-specific, three-dimensional buried site sensitivity assessments by reviewing relevant geologic, soil, geotechnical, and archaeological data to establish a range for buried sites potential (from none to very high).
  • We frequently document site structure to assess site integrity and to identify undisturbed or intact archaeological deposits to be targeted by excavation crews.
  • We can provide a comprehensive site history through identification of both natural and cultural site formation processes.
  • We conduct paleoenvironmental research which has contributed to a growing body of knowledge of climate change and landscape evolution during human occupation.

How we search for and manage buried sites:

  • Within highly sensitive areas, we conduct subsurface geoarchaeological investigations in advance of ground-disturbing activities.
  • In most situations, backhoe trenching is the most effective way to identify sites.
  • In situations where backhoe trenching is not possible (e.g., in urban areas), or the site depth exceeds the range of mechanical excavation, we conduct hydraulic continuous core sampling to identify sites.
  • If a site is identified prior to construction and cannot be avoided, it can be mitigated without impacting critical-path schedules.

Sensitivity and Constraints

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Pre-project planning leads to project success

Giving planners an edge in designing efficient, cost-effective projects, Sensitivity & Constraints studies can be crucial in the early stages of project planning. We use information about known resources in the project vicinity, combined with predictive models based on environmental variables and historical data, to assess or identify project alternatives and their potential to encounter archaeological resources. Far Western relies on a critical team of geoarchaeologists and GIS-based cartographers to develop models suitable in a wide variety of settings. Although not a regulatory requirement, these studies can often identify alternative routes to project success.

Effects Mitigation

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Creative solutions—from data recovery to public outreach

If adverse effects to significant cultural resources cannot be avoided through project design or other means, they must be mitigated in some way. Typically, in consultation with the permitting agency, there are many options including, but not limited to, data recovery through archaeological excavation, development of public interpretation or education programs, or allowing mechanisms for access to traditional resources or values. At Far Western, we pride ourselves on our creative approaches to mitigation. We have carried out literally hundreds of data recovery excavations and developed dozens of interpretive programs, including trail-side exhibits, educational curricula, children’s books, interpretive guides, and more.

Evaluation and Testing


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Assessing the significance of prehistoric, historic, and traditional cultural resources

Not every archaeological site is significant—only those with special cultural, scientific, and/or educational values. Significant sites can represent important events or people, provide examples of great artistic or engineering works, or add to our understanding of life in the past. They also retain good physical integrity and have not been heavily damaged or destroyed. Evaluation of significance involves careful documentation, dating, consideration of research potential, and often consultation with Native Americans and other interested parties. Historic-era sites may also require special archival research. Far Western’s permanent staff includes some of the most respected and experienced researchers in the field, which means that our evaluation recommendations are readily accepted by reviewing agencies.