Society for American Archaeology Meeting 2010

Sadly, I am once again not attending the SAAs this year.  I have been trying to limit my conference participation (partially on the advice of my beloved advisor) and honestly, the SAAs just haven’t been quite as compelling in recent years as TAG and some of the other conferences.  That said, I did look through the conference panels (side note–what on EARTH happened to the SAA webpage?!  Horrible, horrible design and functionality!) and found a few that I’m really sad to be missing out on:


UNWAVERING: CULTURAL RESOURCE INVESTIGATIONS ALONG THE U.S. – MEXICO BORDER On April 1, 2008, the Secretary of Homeland Security waived over 30 environmental laws and regulations allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to construct tactical infrastructure along the U.S. – Mexico border without the constraints of cultural resource legislation. However, CBP and the Secretary were committed to cultural resource stewardship. Assisted by consulting professionals and U.S. Army Corps, CBP developed an internal cultural resource compliance process and completed surveys and mitigation studies from San Diego, California to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. Papers in this symposium present results from some of the investigations

I’ve been interested in the archaeology on the Texas/Mexico borderlands for quite some time, though I’m a little sad that not much in this session sounds very political, especially as Randy McGuire is the discussant.

SAA was founded 75 years ago during the Great Depression. That same year the newly created WPA—the major New Deal work relief program—funded the first of many significant excavations. Today, the US again faces major economic turmoil, and it is time to reconsider the legacy of New Deal archaeology. New Deal excavations continue to shape our understanding of the past as we invoke new technologies and new theoretical approaches to old collections. Archaeologists have also turned to excavating material remains of the New Deal itself. Join our exploration of the past, present, and future of New Deal archaeology.

I have a special place in my heart for WPA/New Deal aesthetics and history and would probably show up for a few papers in this session.  Some of them seem a bit particular and site-specific, but perhaps the case studies will be illuminating.

THE LIFE OF A PROJECT: NEGOTIATING THE PRACTICALITIES AND ETHICS OF COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH (SPONSORED BY INDIGENOUS POPULATIONS INTEREST GROUP) Our professional training as archaeologists rarely addresses the nuts-and-bolts of how one builds collaborative relationships with communities or deals with the ethical dilemmas that are unique to community-based research. This forum draws upon the experience of participants to discuss the basic strategies used to negotiate access, build community partnerships, and deal with the unanticipated challenges of collaboration. Particular attention will be given to the ethics of collaboration and how researchers navigate issues such as reconciling archaeological narratives with community narratives, and balance their professional integrity with their responsibility to the members of a community.

Sara and I chatted about this session way back during the WAC in Dublin and I’m really happy that she ran with it.



The role of perspective in constructing culture goes beyond the panopticon, but is suggested by it. Even before Foucault’s work and the widespread use of aerial and satellite remote sensing and GIS, archaeologists acknowledged the importance of surveillance in determining location, movement, and changing condition of resources, knowledge could be used to harvest, nurture, or defend these assets. Today, models of archaeological landscapes at many places in the world suggest that such benefits can be enhanced or undercut by relationships among people that are shaped by where, when, and how they can see and be seen.


CRITIQUING MICHAEL B. SCHIFFER AND HIS BEHAVIORAL ARCHAEOLOGY Over three decades ago (Schiffer 1972), Behavioral Archaeology was proposed to address the deficiencies of Processual Archaeology and thus complete the Kuhn-like paradigm shift in archaeology. Such a shift to Behavioral Archaeology, or any type of archaeology, never transpired as planned. Instead, Behavioral Archaeology has become but one of a number of players in an ever expanding theoretical landscape. What then has been the contribution of Behavioral Archaeology? A group of distinguished scholars, none of them self-identified Behavioral Archaeologists, have been assembled to assess the role of Michael B. Schiffer and his Behavioral Archaeology in the history of archaeological theory.

Everyone loves a good fight.


Three dimensional site/artifact modeling draws much attention in the field of archaeology. Advances in technology are opening this field up in new and exciting ways. The benefits of these models for presentation to a general audience are apparent, however, how these new and evolving technologies are being used to enhance academic research is less so? Moving beyond aesthetic modeling this session looks at how 3D models are creating testable interfaces. Papers will present various uses of three dimensional models to answer research questions; as well as comment on the methodological and theoretical developments that come with these developing analytical techniques.

There are also a few odd papers that I’d try to pick up on, like Kris Hirst’s God’s Truth and Public Archaeology: Would You Like Syrup with that Waffle? and another paper in that session, Blogs, Videos, and Volunteers: Some Lessons We Have Learned. I really need to organize that archaeology bloggers session for the SAAs in Sacramento next year.  Anyone interested?

Spring Break at Fort Ross

Fort Ross was built by Russian traders and Alaskan Natives in the early 1800s in what is now Northern California, about 2.5 hours north of the Bay Area.  My friend and fellow UC Grad Sara Gonzalez has been working there for her dissertation and invited me up for a few days over Spring Break to help find a few old datums for repatriating artifacts. Sara practices what she calls “catch and release” archaeology–as per the stated wishes of the Kashaya Pomo Native Californians she works alongside, she plots all of the artifacts as they are excavated and then reburies the artifacts after analysis.  For more on this methodology, see “Archaeology for the Seventh Generation” – an article that Sara has authored alongside other UC Berkeley Grads.

I didn’t help in the actual reburial, but I was able to finally check out the site after seeing numerous presentations on it over the years.  I was surprised at the elaborate reconstruction of the Fort and was delighted at the relatively unrestricted access the public has to the site.  I hate being confined to small interpretive paths; I loved being able to climb down the cliffs to the sea.  The park is extremely well maintained and was completely lovely to visit on a spring day.

We were also able to walk along an old section of Highway 1, the highway was moved to reconstructed the Fort in the 1970s.

The survey was a nice break from my usual excavation-intensive archaeological experience. Sara and I are in Ruth’s class together and she will be presenting a small project integrating the GIS/photo/video we took over Spring Break next Tuesday.  I’m excited to see the results!

A brief illustration of lighting in artifact photography


These are the same sherd.

Sorry about the scales–it was what was laying around the lab and they’ll be replaced digitally anyway.

zzzzzz, time to bicycle home, sleep, then ride back to campus and do it all again.

Flannery vs. the Skeptical Graduate Student

Our third assignment for Ruth’s class is to make something multimedia and funny.  This is a first attempt, using the SGS text from Flannery’s classic The Early Mesoamerican Village. I’m not sure it translates.

Assessing the Future Landscape of Archaeological Communication

Put your meta-mega education nerd hats on! A couple of months ago the Center for Studies in Higher Education here at UC Berkeley (with help from the Mellon foundation) conducted an intensive survey about digital media in education. It’s titled: Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines and is freely available to browse or download. The seven disciplines that the survey incorporated were Astrophysics, Biology, Economics, History, Music, Politics, and Archaeology!

I will out myself as saying that I was one of the 160 anonymous interviewees–perhaps skewing the Archaeology sample as I have a fairly deep investment in digital media.  There is a lot of frank talk regarding scholarly success, publication, and collaboration within our field, including publication in online-only journals.

One of the most interesting bits of the assessment is the finding that younger scholars tend to be more conservative than older colleagues in digital publication.  This is attributed to concerns about jobs, tenure, and stolen work, whereas older, established archaeologists have more room to “play.”  There is the concern that “younger colleagues do not necessarily seem to be attracted to new initiatives and digital technologies, for fear that they do not constitute part of their ‘legitimate archaeological training.'” I have found this to be true in part, but some of the grad students seem to actively hide their knowledge and interest so that they will not be appearing to waste their time in front of their advisors. I sometimes de-emphasize this aspect of my research because I am very much a field archaeologist and do not want to be stuck behind a computer out in the field.  Finding a happy medium between these two aspects of my research is a question very central to my dissertation.

Anyway, a lot of great information in the study, certainly something I wish I’d read before I entered grad school!

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