The Curse of the MA thesis

October 23, 2009

Hello to those few readers that still care to stop by my measly little blog, I thank you. The extreme lack of posting has been in large part due to my cursed MA thesis that is now officially done, graded, and formally accepted. The only thing left is the actual convocation which I am told is a formality, one of those necessary human ritual things that through a public display formalize things (we sure are a weird species).

So, now that I am deshackled from my thesis I have moved on head first into a PhD at McGill, and over the next little while there are some exciting things happening that will appear up here on the blog. I have switched gears for my PhD, embracing the geoarchaeological work I have done in Jordan and has been mentioned a few times on the blog. Nothing against the archaeology on the Northwest Coast, definitely still an interest of mine, but I really enjoy the geoarchaeology and working with the people I met in Jordan, a great crew! This switch means I need to brush up on some geography, geology and soil science and as a result am auditing a class on Soils and the Environment this term, which is going great. It is through Geography, meaning I get to play the fun game of trying to relate pedogenesis and nutrient cycling for temperate environment agriculture to 300,000 year old buried soils in the basalt desert of eastern Jordan. That being said the course is incredibly informative and I would recommend a contemporary soils class to anyone doing field archaeology.

That course is great but the thing I am most  excited about this term is the course I have signed up for with Prof. Rich Macphail at the Institute of Archaeology at UCL. In a couple weeks I am heading over to London for an intense workshop/course on Archaeological Soil Micromorphology. While I am over there I will keep you all up to date on what the course is like and the trials and tribulations of learning micromorphology.

Have to run. Time to head out to the Parc Safari cemetery to finish digging up and mapping the remains of an enormous male watusi…yes I am going to leave that hanging at the end of the post…don’t worry I will fill you in shortly.



Huge Weight off the Shoulders!

May 15, 2009

I’m still in Jordan but I finally got that pesky thesis finished and into the multiple revision process. I’ll have to say I am fairly happy how it turned out. There were a few times when I wasn’t too sure if it was going to come together. Now, I don’t mean get it finished on time because the submission deadline isn’t actually until June 15th. I was worried about how to effectively portray all the variables I needed on one graph. However, thanks to the great help of a friend in my lab, the Computational Archaeology Lab at McGill, I was able to figure it out.

Since it’s been a while, before I tell you about the graph I better review the thesis. The whole point is to test current descriptions of the prehistoric transition from chipped stone to ground stone technology on the southwest coast of British Columbia, Canada. Specifically, I am looking at whether or not the concept of phase (prehistoric periods of time for which all sites get grouped together) has an impact on interpreting archaeological change. So, I analyzed the above mentioned transition using prehistoric periods and then again without them, using strictly carbon-14 dates, to see if there was a difference in the temporal and spatial pattern of change. The tricky graph I mentioned was the final one, placing all the assemblages (75 of them) on one graph that had time and space (coordinates) represented as continuous axes as well as including the proportion of chipped stone, ground stone, and faunal tools for each assemblage. That makes 6 variables for one graph…and voila….kind of

composite_plot _2

What we came up with is this graph. It is a basic scatterplot with the Y-axis being time, the X-axis being space, and the assemblages coloured using an RGB composite where Red = ground stone proportions, Green = faunal tool proportion, and Blue = chipped stone proportion. This gives every assemblage a unique colour based on the combination of the three colour proportions. There were two tricky parts. First, the spatial axes is actually two variables, the latitude and longitude. Luckily our sites are positioned on a fairly east/west axis so we reclassified them as the distance from the mouth of the River. Zero kilometers is the river mouth and everything East is inland up the river while everything to the West is in the delta or coast islands. You can see the division between deltaic sites and coastal island sites clearly on the graph between 30 and 50km W. The other tricky part was the legend but thanks to some helpful colleagues we got it figured out properly. What the graph shows is a pattern that goes against the current descriptions of the transition and suggests that continuous axes of time and space are more appropriate than archaeological phases for understanding change through time. I’m sure more info is needed but that will have to come later.

For now, enough technical mumbo jumbo. I’ll get you up to speed on the work here in Jordan very soon!

Triangular Confusion

March 8, 2009

What a week! I am fully enjoying a very slow Sunday after an insanely frantic week. Thankfully the payoff was well worth every minute of stress.

Yesterday was the final day of the first (and hopefully annual) McGill Anthrograd Conference. Myself and two other friends put together a two day event at McGill that brought together the wide range of research that the grad students are conducting. It was a phenomenal success thanks to the many hours of hard work from all of the volunteers. We even had the local archaeology lab band Megalith end the evening last night with an hour and a half show. With so many wonderful volunteers the conference organization was only minimally responsible for the ferocity of this week on my nervous system. Most of the suffering was induced by me also presenting my MA thesis in the first session on Friday evening. But I managed to get my primary analysis done and the results proved to be much more thought provoking than I expected. The project is examining the transition from predominantly chipped stone tool technology to ground and polished antler, bone, and stone tool technology on southwest coast of British Columbia over roughly the past 9000 years. Now the end points of this transition are well established and my initial question was why did this transition happen. But before I could as why did things change I needed to understand the nature of this change through time and space. What I stumbled upon is that very little detailed work had been done on the broader temporal and spatial patterns of the transition and most people conclude/assume that there was a gradual or incremental increase in ground stone technology at the expense of chipped stone technology through time. The result of this observation is my thesis: Is the temporal and spatial distribution of the observed technological change on the southwest coast of British Columbia over the past 9000 years gradual and spatially uniform? Here’s my answer to the temporal component:

Ternary Plot

What you see here is a ternary  plot on which each point is an assemblage and its position represents the proportions of chipped, ground, and faunal tools. If the change through time is gradual or incremental we would expect the gray-scale (which represents the age of an assemblage) to get gradually lighter as it extends out from the bottom left corner. Clearly this is not the case. Once you get more than 10% ground stone there is no discernible pattern through time or by phase. I think we need to reconsider the dynamics between the two endpoints of this transition.

Time to stop procrastinating…wait a minute!

February 22, 2009

I have been slowly setting up this blog for at least the past 4 months. I’ve been waiting for that one perfect topic for my first post and now I have a folder full of random thoughts that range from the concept of race in national food guides to the current problem with the relationship between academic archaeology, consulting archaeology, and museums. But today I am not going to write about any of these topics. I’ve decided to stop waiting for what I deemed the “perfect” first blog post (i.e. procrastinating) because I realized that nobody is likely to read this first post. Funny thing is this realization came about while searching for a justifiable means of procrastinating from my MA thesis  – I am presenting it on March 6th at McGill…yes that is only 12 days away!

What is this thesis you ask? Right now it feels like a side project. I’m in the cross-over period where I will be starting my PhD next fall (location yet to be determined) and finishing up my MA. The tricky part is that these two projects, although they do overlap thematically, are very different. My MA focuses on the technological transition from chipped stone tools to ground and polished stone, bone, and antler on the southwest coast of British Columbia. The PhD is a geoarchaeological reconstruction of a deeply stratified site in Jordan that goes back to the late Acheulian and is capped by the Epi-palaeolithic, with pretty much everything in between. Seeing as I am really excited about this PhD I went ahead and started it. I spent last summer in Jordan and am going back in May, plus I am presenting on the geomorphology of the site at the Association of American Geographer’s annual meeting at the end of March and at the Prehistoric Archaeology conference in Amman at the end of May. The tricky thing is my MA thesis is due on June 15th…hmmm….

Don’t get the wrong impression I love my thesis topic and it is really coming together. I’ve got a database of approximately 40 sites with well-dated assemblages, each assemblage having a designation to one of the phases/culture types in the local cultural historical sequence. From this data, over the next few days, I am going to be making the bulk of the figures for my thesis. I am testing the often cited fact that the transition I mentioned above is gradual and uniform across the region, specifically I am looking at if/how the concept of archaeological phase or culture type influences the interpretation of archaeological change through time. I’ll keep updating my progress on here and maybe post a few teasers as I finish some figures and graphs (for any of my projects that is).

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