SCRAP Reading Group, Week 31: Science Storytelling

For our reading group meet-up last week, Dave Blaine decided we would try something a bit different. Instead of our usual assigned readings, he suggested a viewing instead. His aim was for us to discuss storytelling in archaeology and all the baggage that comes with it. The video consisted of a debate all about science storytelling from the USA Origins Project.

ASU Origins Project. (2013). The Storytelling of Science. Black Chalk Productions. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J4QPz52Sfo

Summary:

Physicist Lawrence Krauss founded the Origins Project at Arizona State University in 2009. The project’s purpose was to help bridge the gap between some of the greatest scientific minds in the world and the general public. The 2013 seminar focused on the science of storytelling and the storytelling of science. Boasting noteworthy panellists Tracy Day (Producer, CEO and Founder of the World Science Festival), Brian Greene (Theoretical Physicist and Mathematician), Ira Flatow (Radio and Television Journalist, Host of Science Friday), Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist, Planetary Scientist, Co-host of StarTalk Radio), Richard Dawkins (Evolutionary Biologist), Bill Nye (Mechanical Engineer, Television Presenter, CEO of The Planetary Society), and Neal Stephenson (Hugo Award-winning Speculative Fiction Writer).


In the first part of the seminar, each panellist presented a short anecdote about their research interests or the origins of their fascination with scientific inquiry. And during the intermission, audience members were able to submit questions for the panellists, driving lively discussions. Ultimately the presentation served as a showcase in which each of the panellists demonstrated in a personal way how they conveyed the excitement of science and the importance of helping promote a public understanding of science.

This is all well and good, but what does any of this have to do with archaeology?

Discussion Questions:

  1. First off, in the light of the many stories presented, the vastly, even wildly different personalities and styles, if you watched all the stories in the seminar, which was your favourite? If instead you picked and chose, what informed your choice? Was it personality, celebrity, subject matter?
  2. I’d love to know what your experiences have been of storytelling – effective or otherwise – in your fields of archaeological study? What made them effective… or otherwise? And was it a story that got into this field in the first place?
  3. In Tyson’s story he talks about accuracy, and the tools available to him and his colleagues to capture accurate data. What he asks from the artist is whatever it was that the discoveries from that data felt like. I tend to agree with this position. It seems to me that while there is certainly a place for good journalistic and scientific reportage, these efforts are not necessarily storytelling because storytelling is a more personal and subjective thing. Thoughts?
  4. Archaeological research frequently brings us into contact and interaction with other peoples and cultures in other places. It isn’t lost on me that any story I may tell is inescapably going to be my own. How do we consider the implications of that to both storyteller and subject? I’ve considered this from the perspective of a photographer. What about you as professional scholars?

SCRAP Reading Group, Week 30: Migration

Yesterday’s Reading Group topic was chosen by Jill. We discussed the tricky issue of migration as visible in the archaeological record, and the idea of coalescent communities defined as “the coming together of groups from different cultural backgrounds due to various push and pull factors, and the inclusive ideologies and regional economies that develop in the aftermath.” (see reference below). Thanks to all who joined us from Belize, Canada, and the US.

Image source: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23030680-700-the-truth-about-migration-how-it-will-reshape-our-world/

Clark, J.J, J. A. Birch, M. Hegmon, B. J. Mills, D. M. Glowacki, S. G. Ortman, J. S. Dean, R. Gauthier, P. D. Lyons, M. A. Peeples, L. Borck, J. A. Ware. 2019. Resolving the migrant paradox: Two pathways to coalescence in the late precontact U.S. Southwest. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 53: 262-287.

Summary. Clark and colleagues discuss the “migrant paradox” in which migrants are viewed as both detrimental and beneficial to the host population. Using two case studies from the American Southwest, they explore how multicultural societies develop and under what conditions. Kayenta and Mesa Verde case studies are compared in terms of four fundamental dimensions: (1) demographic scale, (2) pre-migration socioeconomic context in the homeland, (3) organization of and distance travelled by migrants, and (4) pre-migration socioeconomic context in destination areas. The Kayenta migration can be characterized as small groups migrating over time into different regions with large existing populations. Social distance and maintenance of Kayenta identity led to segregation initially but this was followed by the Salado coalescence as second-generation migrants and locals formed a new, inclusive ideology. Migration out of the Mesa Verde region was rapid and involved considerably more migrants into a relatively unpopulated region. Coalescence occurred more rapidly due to minimal social distance between migrants and locals, rejection of homeland practices and identities, and non-hierarchical organization in the local northern Rio Grande population. This ultimately resulted in Tewa ethnogenesis. The authors argue that coalescence occurred in both cases but took different paths and strategies for integration. The Kayenta migration created an overarching meta-identity (Salado) while the Mesa Verde migration integrated migrant and local practices so completely it is difficult to identify them in the archaeological record.

Questions/Topics for Discussion.

  1. The authors discuss describe coalescent communities as “the coming together of groups from different cultural backgrounds due to various push and pull factors, and the inclusive ideologies and regional economies that develop in the aftermath.” Is coalescent community an appropriate term for the Maya region? In an earlier reading group, we discussed the importance of recognizing “the Mayas” as opposed to “the Maya.” Can different groups of Mayas be considered a coalescent community? Is there a better/different term that is more appropriate?
  2. Can new forms of architecture/government (e.g. council houses) be considered the result of coalescence? Are they already? Other more appropriate examples?
  3. If the history of collapse/migration was viewed from the perspective of the migrants from the southern to northern lowlands, would our understanding of the Mayas change?
  4. Are there specific time periods or regions where coalescence is more likely to have occurred?
  5. Can we use some of the ideas/archaeological correlates to evaluate migration in the Maya region? What would need to change?

SCRAP Reading Group, Week 29: How Do People Get Big Things Done?

Thanks to Matt Longstaffe for choosing last week’s reading, and to all who joined us to discuss “How Do People Get Big Things Done?” A great question focused on the idea of “institutions” as “organizations of people who carry out objectives using regularized practices and norms, labor, and resources.” See below for a summary of the article and our discussion questions.

Kowalewski, Stephen A., and Jennifer Birch. 2020. How Do People Get Big Things Done? In The Evolution of Social Institutions, edited by Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Stephen A. Kowalewski, and David B. Small, pp. 29-50. World-Systems Evolution and Global Futures. Springer, Cham, Switzerland. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-51437-2

Kowalewski and Birch introduce a methodological framework wherein the attributes of institutions, defined as “organizations of people who carry out objectives using regularized practices and norms, labor, and resources”, can be identified and compared. These institutional attributes, many of which can be identified using material correlates, may include, but are not limited to: scale, durability, membership, objectives and outcomes, internal organization, resources, labor, and stocks of knowledge. They advocate for this approach because it moves away from a reliance on artificially imposed categories towards a more relational understanding of past social phenomenon. Importantly, it highlights variation, allowing comparative analysis of institutions both between spatially and temporally separate societies (e.g., Aztec vs. Holy Roman Empire), as well as (and most importantly, in my opinion) within coeval culture groups (e.g., East-Central Belize Maya vs. Central Peten Maya). Underpinning this approach is the idea that institutions link individuals to other persons with similar goals and objectives, and that it is the various constellations of institutions that structure and rationalize the workings of human societies and give each of these their unique characters.

General Topics/Questions for Discussion:

  • The authors note institutions have long been a topic of study in the broader social sciences, but that archaeologists have had limited interest in the subject. Do we agree with this statement? Do the approaches archaeologists take to studying institutions significantly differentiate us from other disciplines in the social sciences? If so, is this to the peril of archaeology as a discipline?
  • In the Maya area, what institutions are best suited to the type of analysis advocated for in the article – identifying attributes and building an understanding of institutions from the bottom up? Do institutions have to be “durable” (i.e., long-lasting enough to leave material signatures reflective of repeated behaviours) or have “resources” in the form of a formal built space to be identified? Given our relative lack of texts and other historical data, are there more ephemeral institutions that have an outsized impact on the overall social organization of societies that can be identified through proxies or other sources of information?
  • Societies across the lowlands share many similarities that allow us to “lump” them together as “Maya”. Yet, we know that the particular histories of settlements, their social, political, economic, and ideological dynamics, and environmental/ecological contexts render each of them unique. Does documenting variability in institutions – underpinned by a theoretical framework that “the interplay of evolving institutions explains the non-linear, alternative-pathways character of social evolution” – sufficiently address the problem of documenting cultural variability within the ancient Maya world?
  • What explains the differences in relative importance of specific institutions in cities across the Maya lowlands? Can we answer this question using archaeological data alone? 
  • One benefit of the institutional approach is that it can be conducted using existing data. However, the data must be restructured, re-coded, and reanalyzed to fit this methodological approach. How plausible is this? How do we go about this seemingly insurmountable task?
  • The authors stress relationality – institutions are people, coming together with shared purpose, objectives, and intentionality to solve specific problems. Can we use current (and emerging) relational approaches (e.g., social network analysis, communities of practice) to conduct an institutional analysis?
  • The authors bring up “coalescent societies” – people coming together and organizing into larger, more internally cohesive, and potentially more powerful social groups, usually in response to a major crisis. How does the list of institutional attributes of coalescent societies (bottom of page 41 and top of page 42) line up with the character of hybrid settlements such as Alabama?

SCRAP Reading Group, Week 28: Truth & Reconciliation

Yesterday, the SCRAP Reading group met online for the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation here in Canada (formerly known as Orange Shirt Day). In honour of the day, we decided to discuss an article that focuses on Truth & Reconciliation and archaeological instruction/pedagogy/andragogy. This was an important discussion–not only for archaeology in Canada, but around the world–and was not directed by any particular pre-determined questions. All participants brought their honest and truthful selves to the conversation and we let it carry us forward in any direction. Thank you very much to those who participated from Canada, USA, and Belize. Below is the article and three additional relevant resources.

Article:

Supernant, Kisha. 2020. GRAND CHALLENGE No. 1: TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION Archaeological Pedagogy, Indigenous Histories, and Reconciliation in Canada. Journal of Archaeology and Education 4
Available at: https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/jae/vol4/iss3/2/

Other Resources:

Canadian Archaeological Association Statement on UNDRIP and the TRC Calls to Action. Available at: https://canadianarchaeology.com/caa/about/ethics/statement-undrip-and-trc-calls-action

Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action. Available at: https://ehprnh2mwo3.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Available at: https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

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.