SCRAP Reading Group, Week 27: Quality of Life

Well, after two months of summer break, we were back at our biweekly reading group on Thursday. This week’s reading was a study about Quality of Life in the ancient community of Altar de Sacrificios. The article was chosen by the newly PhD’d Dr. Adrian Chase, and involved a lot of discussion about the use (and abuse…) of the Gini index in archaeology, as well as more philosophical musings about what it meant to live a good life in ancient Maya times. We also welcomed a new reading group member, Mr. Myron Medina, who is a Belizean mathematician and is finishing up his PhD in Education from the University of British Columbia. See below for a summary of this week’s article and some of the topics for discussion.

Munson, Jessica and Jonathan Scholnick. 2021 Wealth and Well-being in an Ancient Maya Community. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Munson and Scholnick provide a modern overview of inequality analyses using burial data from Altar de Sacrificios to showcase archaeological use of the Gini index within a Quality of Life framework. The Gini provides a single measurement of inequality (where a value of zero indicates full equality and a value of one indicates complete inequality), and it has often been used with residential size (or materials) as an indicator of residential or household wealth. However, the authors use multiple metrics and measures of wealth and disparity for a multi-faceted perspective.

Some topics for Discussion:

  • How does the quality of life (QOL) approach – focused on well-being around individual needs and how society meets them – synergize with existing archaeological investigations of “wealth” that tend to use metrics like house-size?
  • How well do the three categories of material wealth, social well-being, and embodied well-being encompass the full range of archaeological investigation of disparity/inequality in the past? Are there other types of “wealth” that we should investigate, and do these three categories capture a complete QOL inquiry into the past?
  • In what ways does the use of “disparity” (in text used to differentiate social and embodied well-being from material wealth) enhance discussions of potential inequalities? Since disparity implies only a difference in a given distribution, what are some linking arguments that a measured disparity translated into perceived inequality?
  • What are the archaeological units by which we measure inequality/disparity? How often do we analyze individuals and their quality of life versus multi-generational household assemblages? How well do these units line up with larger research interests in inequality and its change over time given the partial nature of archaeological samples?
  • What issues are there in representing a complex idea like inequality or quality of life with a single number? Table 3 provides a wealth of data, but it is not as easily digestible as a single three-digit Gini index. Given its simplicity, how can the Gini index be used or misused, and what essential information does it leave out?
  • How can we account for categorical identities in discussions of inequality and QOL? For example, how should practices like dental modification be considered and measured – as material, relational, or embodied wealth? Others (Tiesler 2020: 114) suggest other factors at play; “That said, no technique or dental silhouette was exclusive to any biological sex or social class, making dental practices look more like personal or family choices than social requirements.”

SCRAP Reading Group Week 26: Pottery Taskscapes

For our last meet-up before our summer break, Jill chose a couple chapters from Dean Arnold’s recent pottery book. These chapters focused on the idea of pottery taskscapes. Tim Ingold (1993) describes a taskscape as “just as the landscape is an array of related features, so – by analogy – the taskscape is an array of related activities.” See below for summary of readings and discussion questions. Thanks to everyone who has joined us so far in 2021 and we look forward to seeing you back in August.

Arnold, Dean E. (2018). Maya Potters’ Indigenous Knowledge: Cognition, Engagement, and Practice. University of Colorado Press, Boulder.


Chapter 8. Data from the previous chapters (ethnoecology, ethnomineralogy, feedback/paste recipes, vessel forming, drying and firing) are considered together as Arnold discusses the environment around Ticul as a “distilled landscape” or a “taskscape” with reference to the potters’ sense of place and religious beliefs, and the town as a community of practice. The resources used by Ticul potters, and their names for these resources, differ from those used by potters in neighboring potting communities in the Yucatan. Prior to the introduction of the tourist market, the vessel shapes produced by Ticul potters were unique.

Chapter 9. Arnold summarizes the data and emphasizes the importance of feedback for understanding ceramic production. He concludes with what he considers important implications for methodology and his final thoughts. He states, “As this work shows, however, potters do not just use a mental template in making their pots. So, to work out the culturally unique and relative aspects of pottery production (of which there are many), one must first understand the material agency of the environment, raw materials, and the intersecting cultural patterns that affect pottery production (229).

Discussion Questions.

  1. I like the taskscape concept because thinking about activities in relation to one another and to the landscape makes pottery production a part of people’s lives as opposed to a distinct activity. How can we use the concept to better understand the lives of the Maya? What analytical techniques should we use?
  2. Can we use the analytical technique du jour, Lidar, to get at landscape use with respect to pottery production? Or are there issues of scale?
  3. What is missing from our studies of landscape?
  4. Everybody think I hate type-variety (I do not!). How can we use decorative and formal attributes to understand learning and indigenous knowledge?
  5. How can we responsibly use ethnographic data in our studies of the past? What can and cannot be addressed?
  6. Our colleagues in Stann Creek are migrants to the region. Archaeologists tend to focus on what we cannot be projected onto the past from the present. For example, the Mopan Maya migrated to Toledo and therefore do not produce pottery in the same way as the ancient Maya. How can we apply the experience of modern migrants to our archeological work? What questions should we be asking? What questions can we actually answer? And how?

SCRAP Reading Group Week #25: Archaeogaming

Thanks to Dave Blaine for choosing last week’s reading, all about archaeogaming. See below for summary and discussion questions.

Reinhard, Andrew. (2017). Video Games as Archaeological Sites: Treating digital entertainment as built environments. In The Interactive Past: Archaeology, Heritage, and Video Games (pp. 99–112). Sidestone Press.

Andrew Reinhard puts forth a concept which he calls archaeogaming, which is far broader in scope than digital media studies concerned with the representation of archaeology and archaeologists in digital interactive media. In Reinhard’s view video games in particular may be approached as cultural artifacts – in the case of video game cartridges, discs, or other hard-copy. This was certainly the case with the 2014 excavation of a cache of discarded Atari 2600 games from the Almogordo landfill in New Mexico. I recommend watching Zak Penn’s documentary Atari: Game Over.

The reason the cartridges were dumped has become a matter of urban legend. A shame-faced Atari was obliged to discard (some say) millions of unsold or returned E.T. the Extraterrestrial game cartridges because the game play was so legendarily awful. Turns out the reality, as it so often turns out, was much more mundane. A dying Atari Corporation, awash in a shallow sea it itself saturated with consoles and game titles found that dumping about 800,000 cartridges of various titles was the most cost-effective means of discarding its e-waste – and this in my own lifetime. It should never surprise any of us how easily legends are born.

Certainly physical video games can be artifacts in the archaeological sense. But Reinhard argues, convincingly that games are also sites in the archaeological sense. Sites are after all constructs of human manufacture. Within their boundaries they contain evidence of past activities and interactions, art, iconography, documents… narratives that can be reconstructed from other material evidence were played out within sites.

Reinhard’s own project, The No Man’s Sky Archaeological Survey, completed in 2019, was an entirely serious treatment of a remarkably sophisticated digital universe in which players from all over the world interact; which contains in-game worlds numbering in the quintillions; on which are preserved the digital relics of previous iterations of the game space from each time it underwent an update. The simulated universe of No Man’s Sky is a virtual game-space of truly mind-boggling scale.

Ultimately, the crux of Reinhard’s thesis is that archaeologists can interrogate a digital site or landscape in virtually – pun intended – the same way as they would a physical site, asking of it the same questions, and generally grappling with the same challenges. It is a most compelling notion, and more importantly – with the increasing sophistication of modern video games – it plays out.

Discussion Questions

  1. To my mind the main takeaway of not only this paper, but most of Reinhard’s works on the subject of archaeogaming, is that he forces us to rethink what we know about/recognize as material culture, and how we go about studying it. Thoughts?
  2. As digital culture expands and thrives, what implications do born-digital cultural materials have for the future of archaeology? How shall we interact with it, work to preserve it?
    Imagine, for example, at some future time a sufficiently socially impacting virtual world being officially recognized with a formal heritage designation. The UNESCO No Man’s Sky World Heritage Server…
    I guess what I’m asking is, how real does it have to be, to be real culture?
  3. Are there parallels can we draw from the stories that surround and meanings that emerge from physical game-spaces, such as ball courts, and those derived from virtual game-spaces?
  4. Where do we see elements of the game-space – physical or virtual – cropping up elsewhere in society? Signs of sports fandom are obvious enough. Consider instead your helpful Windows assistant Cortana: originally created as the AI character supporting Master Chief in his adventures in the Halo series.
    Do we see this kind of popular culture spillover in the archaeological record?
  5. While “gamification” has, as yet, played only a minor role in SCRAP’s digital presence, our digital footprint–official and unofficial; online and off; interactive and static–constitutes a significant portion of the archaeological record for SCRAP and Alabama. In what ways might we interrogate this presence? What does it say about the audiences we engage with (or imagine we engage with), those we don’t, and the communities we create? What might be left for future archaeologists to interrogate? Putting ourselves in the frame of this hypothetical future archaeologist of “us,” what elements of our practice might we want to change or consider more critically?

SCRAP Reading Group Week 24: Soundscapes & Sweatbaths

Last week’s reading group focused on the issue of soundscapes–and, in particular, those of sweatbaths in the Maya world. Thank you to all who participated, and welcome back to Alson Ovando who has been away from our group due to his busy schedule. Alson has completed his undergraduate degree at University of Belize and is currently undertaking an internship with the Institute of Archaeology in Belize, stationed at the Serpon Sugar Mill Site in Stann Creek District. If you are ever in Belize, make sure to take the trip to Serpon–you won’t be sorry!

Below you will find a summary of this week’s article plus discussion questions, written by Meaghan.

Sheets, P., & Mahoney, R. (2021). THE SOUNDSCAPE IN THE REPLICA OF THE CERÉN TEMAZCAL. Ancient Mesoamerica, 1-15. doi:10.1017/S0956536120000383

I chose this article because I have long been interested in soundscapes (and smellscapes) in archaeology, mainly since working at a small house group far downhill from the acropolis at Minanhá and noticing that I could easily hear the activity and laughter occurring ‘up top.’ Like so many others, I’m also fascinated with the amazing archaeological record of Cerén. Also, as a Finnish-Canadian, I’m obsessed with saunas. So, this article seemed to have it all!

Sheets and Mahoney present results of an acoustic study of the temazcal (sweatbath) replica at the village site of Cerén in El Salvador. They provide a brief review of sweatbath studies in the Maya world, along with some key archaeoacoustic studies (though, amazingly managed to avoid using the word “phenomenology” at any point). Following their study, they conclude(?) that the unique domed ceiling and highly reflective surfaces of the temazcal were likely intentional constructions related to the alteration/enhancement of voices, in particular those of “mature males.” From this they suggest discussions of temazcals should expand from solely focusing on the connection of such location with women/females (primarily linked to birthing), to consider the role of males/men.

Discussion Questions

  1. What other archaeoacoustic studies are you familiar with in the Maya world (or beyond)? How have they helped to shape your understanding of ancient life? What of other studies that focus on the other senses (e.g., smell, taste, sight)?
  2. Would the speaking of different languages cause different acoustic results (e.g., tonal differences)?
  3. Could the possible ‘hushing’ (for lack of better word) of women’s voices in the temazcal be of benefit to them (vs. just benefits to men)? For example, hushed voices to have sensitive conversations? Reminds me of the mother-daughter temazcal scenes in the film Ixcanul.
  4. How are soundscapes experienced at Alabama and how could they be studied?
  5. How are Maya sweatbaths similar to/different from various sweatlodges of North America or saunas of Nordic regions? Consider construction, pheonomenological elements, activities, etc.
  6. Has anyone examined the temazcal as a great equalizer and political venue? That is, everyone together, naked, discussing important matters (at a community level or higher). If disrobing a royal prisoner/captive is part of their social death, what if multiple rulers strip down together? Could this be a way of creating a neutral power setting for political talks? Check out this news article about “sauna diplomacy” in Finland.
  7. To what degree have puritanical colonial ideals shaped the construction or use of sweatbaths as recorded in the ethnographic record? Does this article decolonize our understanding of sweatbaths in any way? Does it recolonize?
  8. In this article, the authors propose a model for reconsidering the social use of the temazcal at Joya de Cerén, based on a single but all-encompassing assumption: that the acoustic properties of the structure have any bearing on its use. What responsibility does the researcher have when proposing such models? What best practices should we adhere to as producers, in order to make sure that our musings do not become defacto truths in the great tide of academic literature?
  9. Is there a balance that we should be seeking between “just-so stories” of local relevance and broader synthetic works? Are individual scholars responsible for maintaining this balance, or does it all just work out in the wash?

SCRAP new, open-access article about pottery

SCRAP has a new, open-access journal article available in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, titled “It’s What’s Inside that Counts: Developing a paste group typology in Belize.” The study was co-produced by archaeologists Jillian Jordan (USA) and Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown (Canada), local potters Aurora Saqui (Maya Centre, Belize) and Frank Tzib (San Antonio, Belize), and traditional ecological knowledge specialist Sylvestro Chiac (Maya Mopan, Belize). The following is an easy-to-read summary of what the article investigates and concludes, along with the future directions of our pottery studies.

Clockwise from top left: Frank Tzib, Sylvestro Chiac, Jill Jordan, Aurora Saqui, Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown

Ceramics are the most typical artifact recovered from ancient Maya archaeological sites. They tell us important information about when people occupied places, what activities they were involved with, and how people living in different regions interacted. Most ceramic analysis in the Maya region depends almost entirely on describing the outward appearance of a vessel. The pottery pieces that we find at the ancient town of Alabama in East-Central Belize (today, the Stann Creek District) are primarily body sherds without any features that can tell us the form of the vessel (e.g., a jar or a bowl) or decoration to provide clues about where people produced them. So, what do we do? We cannot proceed with our typical analyses, but we cannot just ignore an abundant and informative artifact type because it presents a problem.

Typical, highly eroded Alabama potsherds.

We decided to analyze paste characteristics (clay + rock) because we can study these attributes even on poorly preserved sherds. We used a portable microscope called a Dino-Lite in our field laboratory in Maya Centre, combined with thin section petrography in our lab back in the United States. You can check out the SCRAP YouTube page for more information on thin-section petrography and how archaeologists use the technique.

Clockwise from top left: Using the Dino-Lite in the field lab; firing experimental pots and briquettes in the kitchen hearth; making pottery out of local clays; making clay test briquettes for thin sectioning; washing potsherds; a pottery thin section under the petrographic microscope.

We also analyzed clay and rock samples to compare to the pottery. We do this to understand where ancient peoples were gathering materials and determine which kinds of pottery they were producing locally at Alabama. We identified and named six ceramic paste groups using the names that members of the public in Belize, Canada, the USA, and beyond voted on last year via our Survey Monkey poll. These paste groups tell us how people made the pottery and where. Ancient peoples produced two of the groups at Alabama, while they produced another group somewhere else in the Stann Creek District, and they made two more outside of East-Central Belize. Analyzing paste characteristics on thousands of sherds was time-consuming and frustrating, but it provided important information on provenance, which form and decoration alone cannot tell us. Since we analyzed 100% of sherds collected from the surface of over 100 house mounds in 2015, our future studies about how people distributed the pottery throughout the site will be much more accurate than if we only analyzed diagnostic sherds.

2015 survey & surface collection team

Jill and Meaghan approach the study of pottery production from an archaeological perspective, but are not potters, and their familiarity with the landscape around Alabama is limited. Ms. Aurora Saqui is an accomplished artisan, author, and traditional healer. She provided her considerable knowledge about pottery production and the clays and rocks in the Stann Creek District. Mr. Frank Tzib is also a potter and has recently gained significant social media fame decorating and selling custom painted ceramic vessels with Maya hieroglyphs. He also helped analyze the sherds that we discuss in the paper. Mr. Sylvestro Chiac spent many hours guiding the team around the Alabama area, looking for different clays and discussing the landscape in relations to different soils, rocks, etc. Conversations with him have been some of the most important for understanding how potters may have interacted with the landscape in the ancient past. This paper presents the methods we used as the groundwork for our team’s future analyses. Now we can focus on the act of pottery production at Alabama. With Meaghan and Jill contributing their archaeology and materials science knowledge and Ms. Aurora, Frank, and Sylvestro approaching the research from the standpoint of traditional and contemporary practice and Indigenous science in the region, we have a much better understanding of the Alabama pottery than any of us could have achieved on our own. We hope the results of our research are useful not only to archaeologists, but also to local potters in the region who are looking to the past for inspiration.

Week 23 SCRAP Reading Group: Inalienable possessions

Last Friday we once again met over Zoom. This time, Adrian Chase chose our article, focused on inalienable possessions: “objects made to be kept (not exchanged), have symbolic and economic power that cannot be transferred, and are often used to authenticate the ritual authority of corporate groups.” Check out the article summary and discussion questions below.

Mills, Barbara J. 2004. The Establishment and Defeat of Hierarchy: Inalienable Possessions and the History of Collective Prestige Structures in the Pueblo Southwest. American Anthropologist 106(2):238-251. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.2004.106.2.238

Summary:

What social relationships and material patterns coexist with market exchange, and what role does equifinality play in our ability as archaeologists to sort between these different patterns? In this article, Barbara Mills focuses on ethnographic and archaeological data to describe specialized materials related to prestige and ritual that were not prestige goods as traditionally defined. Instead, “inalienable possessions are objects made to be kept (not exchanged), have symbolic and economic power that cannot be transferred, and are often used to authenticate the ritual authority of corporate groups.” This idea originally comes from Annette Weiner’s ethnographic work in the Pacific on a specific class of ritual items that circulated outside of market exchange. While Mills states that this model works for nonstate societies, what other models and ideas does this inspire for understanding any efforts at “defeating hierarchy” within ancient Maya society?

Context:

Matt Peeples recommended this article as a synergistic reference to the pan-Caracol pattern of eastern shrines. At Caracol, most plazuela residential groups have an eastern shrine (between 70 to 80%) which contains tombs, burials, and caches that exhibit similar material culture (Chase and Chase 2007; 2009; 2017:213-217). This is regardless of residential size – even the summit of Caana exhibits similar patterns to average residents, albeit with more material. This pattern appears to be part of a citywide categorical identity, but it also suggests some social mechanism(s) to create residential wealth and reduces differential wealth displayed between average residences and elite residences.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do the social processes outlined by Mills both establish and defeat hierarchy? Are these good examples of social leveling and how else have archaeologists investigated “social leveling mechanisms”? How do more egalitarian interpretations for the US southwest affect this?
  2. What are some of the issues in comparisons between the US Southwest and the Maya area? How do different perspectives of state versus non-state social organization alter this research?
  3. How do material selection, production, and use change the nature of “inalienable goods” from “prestige goods”? Mills contrasts prestige goods exchange with inalienable goods possession as two potential patterns in the archaeological record. How do inalienable goods interact with market exchange? Would market exchange patterns alter this process or subsume it?
  4. How operationalizable is this concept, and how would these interpretations change without the ethnographic record (see page 132 and the Bunzel 1932b reference)? In what ways would this material be equifinal with other depositional patterns?
  5. One aspect of Mills’s work in general is an attempt to build up from social relationships into larger social patterns. How do these micro-scale social models differ from more macro-scale social models? Given sampling, does a micro-scale approach more closely match our datasets?

Upcoming SCRAP/BREA presentation, Canadian Archaeological Association

The Canadian Latin American Archaeology Society is hosting the “Recent Research in Latin American Archaeology” session at the upcoming 53rd Annual Meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association (May 5th – 8th , 2021 – Many Voices, Multiple Pasts). The session is co-sponsored by CLAAS and the “Mummies as Microcosms” project (Dr. Andrew Nelson, Western University). The session is scheduled for 𝗧𝗵𝘂𝗿𝘀𝗱𝗮𝘆, 𝗠𝗮𝘆 𝟲 𝗮𝘁 𝟯 𝗣𝗠 (𝗘𝗦𝗧). (https://canadianarchaeology.com/…/recent-research-latin…).

SCRAP directors Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown and Dr. Shawn Morton will be presenting along with Dr. Marieka Brouwer Burg of the BREA project. Our presentation is titled “Away from ‘The Field’: Pivoting Archaeological Investigations during Pandemic Times.” If you would like to watch the pre-recorded presentations and participate in the live Zoom discussion, you can attend our session by registering for the conference (https://canadianarchaeology.com/…/annual…/registration). Registration is by donation and the registration link will remain active throughout the conference. Everyone is welcome!

Abstract for our talk: The past year has brought about a new reality for archaeologists, especially those working outside their home countries or as part of diverse multinational collaborations. As many of us grapple with the possibility of missing or radically modifying yet another field season this summer, we ask whether there is a silver lining to our new normal? Across our discipline, researchers/academics, government officials, rights holders, stakeholders, and interested publics are marshaling to keep the conversation going and developing new ways of interacting. At a time when “physical distancing” is a near-universal public health strategy, we have–with the aid of new and developing digital platforms–never been more connected. We are hopeful that this spirit of connection will continue, with long-term positive consequences for truly collaborative projects. In this presentation, we outline remote research strategies inspired by the new normal and pursued by our two field programs in Belize, which stand to push science forward and generate more meaningful community collaboration beyond COVID-19. We discuss key considerations that should structure future decisions regarding field-based research in Belize and beyond. Finally, we wish to solicit feedback from our colleagues, both travelers and hosts, in order to improve our practice.

Week 22 SCRAP Reading Group: Gender and Crafting

Last week’s reading was selected by Kathryn Reese-Taylor and focused on gender and multicrafting. Thank you to all who participated in this fruitful discussion. See below for summary and questions.

Traci Ardren, Alejandra Alonso, and T. Kam Manahan (2016). The Artisans of Terminal Classic Xuenkal, Yucatan, Mexico: Gender and Craft During a Period of Economic Change. In Gender Labor in Specialized Economies: Archaeological Perspectives on Male and Female Work, edited by S. Kelly & T. Ardren, pp. 91-115. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.

Summary:

This chapter, by Ardren, Alonso, and Manahan, focuses on Terminal Classic multi-crafting in a large elite household at the site of Xuenkal, strategically located 45 km north of Chichén Itzá, mid-way along the most direct route between the urban center and it’s port site. The authors propose that Xuenkal weathered the political and economic instability that resulted in the abandonment of many centers in northern Yucatán by adopting practices that resulted its rapid integration into the political economy of Chichén Itzá. To address this hypothesis, the authors examine the household economy of FN-129, rectangular basal platform with the remains of various superstructures built during the Terminal Classic period. They present the evidence for various types of crafting activities in the FN 129 household, including shell bead production, textile production, and lithic production. In addition, the spatial distribution of various categories of artifacts is discussed, with some overlap being noted.

To address the issue of gendered production, the authors use the theory of complementarity as applied to gendered concepts of space to undergird a discussion of activities within domestic space, an area long recognized to be under female supervision. They conclude that the integration of these activities into the household implies the women, as well as children and the elderly, played essential roles in the production of goods for exchange, at least in the FN 129 household. Perhaps more interesting was the comparison made with ancient economies undergoing intensification in other parts of the Americas. In the two cases presented (Inka and Zuni), the economic intensification involved a need for increased labour and resulted in a concomitant restructuring/loosening of gender roles.

Discussion questions:

  1. The argument for the inclusion of women in crafting activities is predicated on theories of complementarity that drive a gendered analysis of space, i. e. women are “in charge”of the domestic sphere , while men had responsibilities in agriculture and provisioning. However, given the roles of women depicted in other contexts, such as the Calakmul murals and the elite women as ambassadors and warriors in public art, should theories of complementarity as the basis for our understanding of gender among the prehispanic Maya be reconsidered?
  2. Given that most crafting in the Maya region was conducted in households, does the evidence at Xuenkal imply a change in gendered roles regarding production during the Terminal Classic in the Chichén Itzá region?
  3. Does an intensification of production that includes an increase in the labour pool inherently result in a loosening or restructuring of gendered roles of production?
  4. What types of evidence is needed to conclusively argue for gendered production?
  5. As the economy of Terminal Classic Chichén Itzá expanded and intensified, why was multi-crafting, a practice with some degree of longevity in Maya economies, used by local regional economies, such as that at Xuenkal, to integrate themselves into the Chichén network (as opposed to increased specialization or mass production)?
  6. The authors suggest shell bead production, textile weaving, and lithic production were major economic activities within the FN 129 household and imply that these were used for tribute or exchange within the Chichén Itzá economic network. However, is the evidence for production beyond the needs of the household present in all instances?

Week 21 SCRAP Reading Group: Obsidian

Thank you to Dr. Elizabeth Paris for joining us for this week’s discussion about obsidian. The article (selected this week by Lorraine), was an oldie but a goodie that led to 3 hours of conversation! Thanks to all who took part. See below for Lorraine’s summary and questions.

Article:

Awe, Jamie and Healy, Paul. “Flakes to Blades? Middle Formative Development of Obsidian Artifacts in the Upper Belize River Valley”. Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 193-205.

Summary:

In this article, the authors concentrate on obsidian technological development at the Cahal Pech site in the Upper Belize River Valley of the Maya Lowlands. The first half of the early Middle Formative Period (1000 – 850 B.C.) consisted only of flakes at this site.  The late Middle Formative (650 – 450 B.C.) is when the prismatic blades and blade-cores first occur. The prismatic blade and blade-core continued to dominate during the Late Formative and Classic Periods. The comparison with studies at other sites in the Central Maya Lowlands, such as Pacbitun, Barton Ramie, Copan, Seibel, Altar de Sacrificios, Central Peten Lakes region, showed similar trends of contextual distribution. Cuello and Colha sites though had discrepancies, which Awe and Healy determined made any correlation difficult. It is also noted by Awe and Healy that this sequence has been recorded from the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, Maya Highlands, and northern Mesoamerica.

The authors conclude that this flake-to-bladelet sequence would be attributed to areas where a minimum level of socio-political complexity needed to be reached in order for this specialization to occur. The late Middle Formative is seen as fitting this model as was a time of major increases in population, pronounced construction activity, more marked differentiation in social ranking, and more complex trade networks incorporating long distance contact and exchange.

Questions:

(1) Thoughts on the authors “Why does the contextual distribution of the Cahal Pech obsidian artifacts reflect a developmental sequence similar to that observed in the highlands, Pacific Coast of Guatemala, Maya Highlands, and northern Mesoamerica?

(2) Do you see this trend in your area?

(3) Do changes in form reflect changes in how obsidian was used?

(4) How does this further the understanding of mobility/trade patterns?

(5) How does this development coincide with trends of other artifacts, such as pottery?

(6) Let’s talk about obsidian sources …

(7) Are your alcohol bottles adding up? Some experimental archaeology? Flint knapping anyone!?!