The Eastern Woodlands, Household Archaeology, and the Internet

Town of Pomeiooc, Outer Banks, North Carolina. John White, 1585.

Town of Pomeiooc, Outer Banks, North Carolina. John White, 1585.

Public service announcement! Friend, colleague, and all-around rad dude Dr. Andy White has a gift for us. Today, his Eastern Woodlands Household Archaeological Data Project went live on the interwebs, and anyone interested in the social dynamics of indigenous southeastern/midwestern/northeastern societies should take notice. On this website, Andy has made available data on prehistoric residential structures that he originally assembled for a great paper* in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Much of this information comes from the deep, dark recesses of the grey literature; the point of the website is to make available these otherwise elusive datasets and thus allow researchers to ask and investigate a diversity of questions related to household archaeology.

This is what the internet is for, people!** Dissemination! Collaboration! All that good stuff. If household archaeology is your bag, I encourage you to check the site out, and contact Andy (aawhite@umich.edu) if you’ve got questions. Importantly, he is asking that interested folks submit relevant information, references, or datasets on prehistoric households as they make themselves known. Got a residential structure? Let him know!

In the meantime, what sorts of issues would you try and tackle with this database? As a Middle Woodland specialist, my knee jerk reaction is that datasets like this demand that we confront a longstanding research bias focused on mounds and earthworks and start exploring the everyday lives of the people who built them. This is not a revolutionary idea by a long shot, but as Darlene Applegate argued in a recent chapter on the Early-Middle Woodland domestic landscape of Kentucky, this line of inquiry has been hampered by the fact that many archaeologists don’t realize that there’s a decent domestic/residential archaeological record to work with. Well, be hampered no more, folks. The information is there, as long as Andy and future collaborators are willing and able to exhume it from the grey literature. Looking forward to seeing where this project goes…

 

*White, Andrew A.  2013.  Subsistence Economics, Family Size, and the Emergence of Social Complexity in Hunter-Gatherer Systems in Eastern North America.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32:133-163.

**Obviously, the internet is also for this.

The Ethics of Anzick

Landscape near Wilsall Montana, where Anzick-1 was buried 12,600 years ago.

Landscape of south-central Montana, where Anzick-1 was buried 12,600 years ago.

As Shane brought up yesterday, the sequencing of the genome of a toddler who died 12,600 years ago in Montana is big news not only for archaeologists, but also for Native communities. The results of the study of interest show genetic connections between Siberian, Clovis, and living indigenous North and South American peoples. This has major potential implications for assigning affiliations to ancient human remains, which has long been a cornerstone of NAGPRA. As far as I can tell based on the currently available coverage, the study also seems to demonstrate that archaeological research and respect for Native remains are not incompatible. Nature just posted a follow-up report on this topic — check it out and let us know what you think about it. I need to get back to dissertating/hitting my head against the wall, so for now, here are just a few quotes from the piece, in the order that they appear, that I thought were worth thinking about…

“Eske Willerslev, a palaeobiologist at the University of Copenhagen who led the latest study, attempted to involve Native American communities. And so he embarked on a tour of Montana’s Indian reservations last year, talking to community members to explain his work and seek their support. ‘I didn’t want a situation where the first time they heard about this study was when it’s published,’ he says.”

“[Several years before the present study], Sarah Anzick sought the advice of local tribes over the Clovis boy, but she could not reach a consensus with the tribes on what to do. She gave up on the idea, stored the bones in a safe location and got on with her other research.” [Side note: it’s not clear to me that consultation/consensus was re-sought for the present study. A subsequent passage [below] suggests maybe not… which seems problematic, even if it’s within the letter of the law re: remains found on private property.]

“Doyle and Willerslev then set off on a 1,500-kilometre road trip to meet representatives of four Montana tribes; Doyle later consulted another five. Many of the people they talked to had few problems with the research, Doyle says, but some would have preferred to have been consulted before the study started, and not years after.” 

“Willerslev says that researchers studying early American remains should assume that they are related to contemporary groups, and involve them as early as possible. But it is not always clear whom to contact, he adds, particularly when remains are related to groups spread across the Americas. ‘We have to engage with Native Americans, but how you deal with that question in practice is not an easy thing,’ he says.” [Side note 2: Really? I mean… it’s 2014… surely there is a name/email address/phone number to follow up with in these matters? I don’t mean to belittle the fact that consultation and collaboration can be a nebulous, circuitous undertaking, but still. Have other folks’ experiences highlighted any particular challenges or strategies in these matters?]

“Hank Greely, a legal scholar at Stanford University in California who is interested in the legal and ethical issues of human genetics, commends the approach of Willerslev’s team. But he says that there is no single solution to involving Native American communities in such research. ‘You’re looking to try to talk to the people who might be most invested in, or connected with, particular sets of remains,’ he advises.”

(All quoted material from “Ancient genome stirs ethics debate” by Ewan Calloway, Nature 506, 142–143 (13 February 2014) doi:10.1038/506142a. Photo from Lands of Montana.)

UPDATE:

While searching for a photo to accompany this post, I cam across this interview with Shane Doyle (the Doyle referenced above), and think it adds additional dimensions to this discussion. Check it!

Tribal healing: Anzick child genome changed my life

Why you should care about Anzick…

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, or just genuinely disinterested in Paleoindian archaeology, you probably know that Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley have argued that people may have first entered North America via the North Atlantic.

Understandably, this is a controversial idea.

This week a couple of articles have come out that undermine the validity of the Solutrean Hypothesis.

I would like to first direct everyone to a back and forth between Lohse et al. and Eren et al. in the latest issue of Lithic Technology. Eren et al. call into question one of the cornerstones of the Solutrean Hypothesis, which is the purported similarity between North American Clovis and Western European Solutrean lithic technology. (You can download all three articles plus Julie Morrow’s review of Stanford and Bradley’s book here).

Adding fuel to the fire is an article in Nature on the DNA sequence from the Clovis-age child burial at the Anzick Site in Montana. You can also find summaries here and here. (Nick Herrmann also sent me a link to the press conference here).

To quote our illustrious Vice President Joe Biden…

…for two reasons.

First, they just dealt mortal blows to the Solutrean Hypothesis. It makes me wonder at what point do we consider an academic debate to be over? Am I jumping the gun here, or can we stop talking about European Paleoindians?

Second, this has HUGE ramifications for NAGPRA, because it connects the proverbial dots between Paleoindians and living Native American groups. Will it open the flood gates for more repatriation claims (particularly Kennewick Man)? Will it prompt interest in more DNA studies on human remains and modern populations in the Americas? I can see both scenarios happening.

Regardless of how you feel about the questions I’ve posed above, I think it’s clear that we should all be interested in a little boy who was buried in Montana at the end of the Ice Age.