Monday, November 8, 2010
I can't say enough about the quality of their research. They are dedicated, adept, thoughtful, and cautious scientists. The best of the best.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Related news release with a nice video.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Here's Teotihuacan at dawn with no one else around.
Pyramid of the Sun again.
Pyramid of the Sun yet again.
More of the same.
And one final image:
Actually, there was a charming group of giggling high school students who had just emerged from the tunnel under the pyramid. They were hidden behind something, so I didn't see them until I got right up to the pyramid. They were having a great time and we had a fun chat.
Here's a nice one of the Pyramid of the Moon taken in the dawn light from atop the Pyramid of the Sun.
Feel free to use my photos for non-profit educational purposes provided you attribute them to me, the photographer.
The bus was a comfy modern contraption. The movie on the way back was great, although I didn't see the whole thing and didn't catch the title.
More photos to come, if I remember.
Friday, October 22, 2010
Her photostream on Flickr is impressive too: http://www.flickr.com/photos/colleenmorgan/
I particularly enjoyed this little video clip:
What do you think?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
She's a delightful colleague as well as an outstanding scholar, and so it is a particular pleasure to congratulate her.
Before writing this, I consulted her biography on that bastion of accuracy, the Wikipedia, and discovered two interesting facts, 1) she was born in New York, and 2) she is a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. As both women and foreigners are rarely elected, her selection is a remarkable achievement. Being born in New York is much easier, provided your mother is there too.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
It's easy to say that Barabasi writes well for a physicist, but that doesn't do him justice. In truth, he writes well for a novelist. More impressive, the book has a complex novelistic structure with multiple storylines interwoven in a way that successfully builds the tension to climax and denouement. He combines a fascinating historical narrative with excellent science journalism about the work he's been doing on the timing of human activity and patterns of human movement, especially Levy flights. And he doesn't just report on the social physics as a reviewer, he went and interviewed the other physicists and provides all manner of human interest stories about them. I was entranced by some of the background stories about people I know, like Gene Stanley.
This is some of the best science writing I've ever read. The only things that even come close are John McPhee's writings and the book 1491. And Barabasi has the advantage of actually being a distinguished physicist who was involved in the original research, so there's no question that he understands the technical details and the intellectual issues. To this we have to add the advantage that he is a Hungarian from Transylvania. Why would this matter? Well, he chose to interweave throughout the book a remarkable historical narrative about Hungary and Romania from the sixteenth century, and since he's from that region, he was able to use a wide variety of primary and secondary sources in the original languages. The historical episode he traces--a Crusade nominally against the Ottomans in eastern Europe--is fascinating, and I'm surprised I didn't know anything about it.
The other book I brought with me couldn't have offered a sharper contrast. The Best of the Best American Science Writing was a disappointment. The book is a compilation of the essays from previously published collections of essays from the annual series The Best American Science Writing 2006, 2007, etc. As I read this book, I couldn't help but think, "When did the term 'science writing' come to mean dumbed-down human-interest features journalism about science?" With the exception of a few essays, such as Ernst Mayr's, almost all the stories were mere pablum, and in my opinion some were not even well written while others were wrong or, sadly, even anti-scientific. The scientific content of most of the essays was almost nil, and I don't think I have a blinkered view of what constitutes science. Forgive me for being old fashioned or narrow-minded, but I still think of "science writing" as reports or commentaries by scientists about original research. The current belief that actual scientific discourse is unreadable and needs to translated into some other genre is both false and deleterious because it deprives society of direct access to critical information and ideas. It is false because many scientists can write well and exert great effort to communicate clearly and creatively. So there isn't any need for translators who dumb stuff down. The portrait of the scientist as illiterate is as false as any stereotype. The average scientist is probably an average writer, and since science is an international collaboration, many scientists who publish in English are writing in a second language, which doesn't make for great prose. In addition, good writing is not usually a key criterion for publication in science journals. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of original scientific articles are published each year, and in that thick forest there are many beautiful trees: well-written, interesting, and intellectually significant essays. Why no one publishes an anthology of those, I don't know. In support of my argument, I only need to point to Barabasi's book. He's a physicist, for heaven's sake, perhaps the most impenetrable of the sciences. English must not be his first language. It might be his third or fourth. His work is largely mathematical. How could he write a book of general interest about it? But he has. And the book makes intellectually important points that his peer-reviewed articles don't. Only in the book does he describe the broader significant of his research and reveal that it is an organized program of investigation. The individual articles only hint at these broader themes.
So, if any publisher out there wants to start a series of the best of real science writing, let me know. I'd be happy to edit the first volume or two. Click on the title of this post to go to the Amazon page for Barabasi's book.
PS. My admiraton for Barabasi's book has nothing to do with the fact that he cited my Levy flights article! I swear.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The next day we drove up to Comayagua to visit the museum there, where they also have type collections from Yarumela and from the El Cajon project. Both sets of collections were very helpful, providing excellent comparative material related to our stuff. Comayagua is a dream, a lovely Colonial town nestled in a deep mountain valley, surrounded by dramatic mountains. The museum is very nice. It's in a nice Colonial building near the plaza and it has historic and ethnographic exhibits as well as archaeological ones. Here we are in the plaza next to the museum.
We stayed at the Hotel Casagrande, just around the corner from the museum. Very pretty! Even huger rooms with great A/C. Here's the exterior:
And the interior:
We next went to Los Naranjos by Lago Yojoa. The museum there is small but pretty. The site is lovely, the mounds are big, and they probably merit more study. I believe this is Mound 4:
There's a remarkable Olmec statue at the site. It was dredged from the hydroelectric canal in the 1960s. I don't know whether anyone ever found the site from which the statue came.
We returned to Tegucigalpa and took the bus to San Salvador. We picked a hotel named the Villa Florencia right next to the National Museum in the zona rosa. Rooms were a little small, but everything else was very nice and the location was perfect, not just for the museum but for restaurants and shopping. San Salvador is supposed to be very dangerous, plagued with gangs, but we could have been in Peoria. The Museum is wonderful, and everyone, starting with the Director and his staff, were wonderfully helpful and welcoming. Again, we were able to study both whole vessels and archaeological collections of sherds.
We got back on Wednesday, and I spent a day and half at the museum. Yesterday, we went out to the Cave of Cusirisna. It was a heck of a walk. Then I drove from Boaco to Chinandega, which takes exactly four hours in case you were wondering.
That's all for now. Wish me luck getting my flotation samples through Customs!
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
1) The Museo de América in Madrid is lovely and interesting and worth a visit if you’re an Americanist archaeologist.
2) The Archive of the Indies in Seville is remarkably accessible, and the archivists seem very helpful, so don’t hesitate to plan research there. I’ve always wanted to study the documentary sources there, and I certainly have lots of important historical issues to work on (Mayapán, Otzmal, Chinandega, etc.).
3) We visited the Cueva de la Pileta near Ronda, Spain. It seems to be one of the few Paleolithic cave painting sites open to the public. Pretty interesting! Lovely cave, quite apart from the paintings. The guide said it had the full Upper Paleolithic sequence, from Aurignacian through Magdalenian. The Atapuerca team is supposed to be soliciting permission to excavate there in the future.
4) We also visited the Roman site Acinipo nearby. The road has washed out, and we had to park the car in the middle of nowhere and hike a distance to get in. Like the road, the ruins are not well-maintained. There’s virtually no explanatory signage, and the few monuments that have been consolidated or restored are starting to deteriorate.
5) The new anthropological museum in Paris, the Musée de Quai Branly, is fantastic! The design is incredibly innovative, the display and lighting remarkable. The Mesoamerican collection is surprisingly good, being particularly strong on the Huasteca.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
1. You take filthy objects out of the dirt and tap them against your teeth to see what they are.
2. You find yourself wondering what the sherds would look like if you smashed a piece of your wedding china.
3. You can’t get through a conversation without drawing a map on a napkin.
4. While someone is talking to you, you are imagining what their skull looks like.
5. Your idea of weekend fun is crawling through a muddy cave.
6. Your machete is sharper than your kitchen knives.
7. You know how to avoid diseases your friends haven’t heard of.
8. You’ve ever felt someone’s head at a party to see if they have a sagittal keel.
9. You spend more time picking a backpack than a car.
10. You own a closet full of backpacks that you use judiciously to accessorize for trips.
11. You organize the buttons in your button box in accordance with a typology.
12. You buy the topo quad maps for your holiday destination.
13. You’ve ever knocked yourself unconscious by walking into a low-hanging branch while surface collecting.
14. You know how to make cocktails with Pepto Bismol.
15. The older your spouse gets, the more interested in him or her you are.
(With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy and Agatha Christie)
Friday, June 11, 2010
Lawler, Andrew. (2010). Beyond Kon-Tiki: Did Polynesians Sail to South America? Science vol. 328, pp. 1344-1347.
Nice article! I've read the articles on the Polynesian chicken bones found in Chile, and I found them pretty persuasive.
Here's the reference to the actual article:
Ron Pinhasi, Boris Gasparian, Gregory Areshian, Diana Zardaryan, Alexia Smith, Guy Bar-Oz, and
Thomas Higham. (2010). First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the
Near Eastern Highlands. PLoS ONE vol. 5, No. 6. e10984.
In the article they mention earlier footwear excavated in Missouri from Arnold Research cave dating to 7420 BP, but they fail to reference even earlier sandals from the western U.S. For example, Geib (2000) describes a number of much older sandals from the Colorado Plateau, including some apparently dating to 7000-8000 cal B.C. Not being a southwestern archaeologist myself, I don't know whether there's some controversy about those specimens or whether the authors overlooked them.
Overall, I guess I feel that finding a shoe, albeit a nice one, hardly merits publication in a journal like PLoS ONE.
Geib, Phil. R. (2000). Sandal Types and Archaic Prehistory on the Colorado Plateau. American Antiquity vol. 65, No. 3, pp. 509-524.
Monday, June 7, 2010
If I excavate, even just for a few weeks during the summer, then I can't write any articles because I spend all my "free" time during the next academic year writing the excavation report. Some people have lower teaching loads and better financing than I do, but still....
Moving on, I noted with interest Smith's April 18, 2010 post about bad presentations at the SAA. I had a very similar experience at the meetings, and in frustration I wrote a little essay about it on the flight home. I didn't post it at the time because it seemed too cranky, sort of the equivalent of the old man sitting on his porch yelling, "Hey you kids, get out of my yard!" But Mike's post has encouraged me to add mine. Here it is:
What the heck are we doing? Papers should never be read. They have to be explained. If you can't stand up and explain your research, then you probably shouldn't be presenting a paper. On Friday morning, I fled from one talk so bad that it was "not even wrong," but when I went next door to another session I wanted to hear, a graduate student was reading in a low mumble something about percentages of broken rocks. I ditched that and crossed the hall to a session on eastern Europe, thinking "I'm part Hungarian. This will be interesting," only to stumble into a talk being read in a low mumble with a Slavic accent. Now exceedingly frustrated, I walked into the forum "Tips, Tactics, and Techniques: Facilitating Interactions between Archaeologists and the Media." Ironically, one of the themes of the discussion turned out to be how archaeologists can't communicate. I view this partly as an intellectual and substantive problem. I think we often hide behind jargon and passive constructions because we are insecure about our status as scientists; for the same reason, we often avoid the really interesting questions because we fear the inevitable controversy. How is it that so many of the most popular books about archaeology are written by non-archaeologists such as Jared Diamond and Charles Mann?
But here I don't want to focus on the substantive issue but rather the stylistic one: How can we present papers better? It's probably presumptuous of me to offer this advice because no one has ever given me reason to think I'm a great presenter myself, but most of the suggestions below seem pretty commonsensical to me. Moreover, you don't have to be Dave Letterman to recognize what's not funny. I should say in advance that I’ve violated all the suggestions I offer below, but I’ve also gotten better over the years. Practice certainly helps.
1) Speak audibly. If the audience can't hear you, what the heck are you doing there?
How: a) Project: many teachers have learned through practice to speak loudly without shouting. If you're not accustomed to doing this, you should...b) use the microphone. For the microphone to work, you have to speak directly into it. If you turn your head away to look at the slide precisely when you make your crucial point proving that Neanderthals subsisted on foie gras, no one will hear you. c) If you're not sure if people can hear you, by all means ask the audience if they can hear you in the back. If that seems awkward or unprofessional, believe me, it beats not being heard. The interaction with the audience also helps draw them in and makes them feel that you care.
2) Speak clearly. If people can hear you but still can't understand you, what have you accomplished?
How: a) Speak slowly, b) enunciate carefully, c) speak naturally, and d) don't read a formal text. Formal written language differs from natural spoken language in syntax and cadence. That's why it's almost impossible to read a paper so that it sounds natural and therefore is easy to understand. It's really rare to hear a paper read so that it's truly understandable.
3) Explain. Don't just say stuff. Explain it.
How: a) If you really want to communicate your ideas, you need to outline them in an orderly fashion so that the listener can understand the chain of logic and supporting evidence. I'm not saying you need to explain what debitage is. You are speaking to archaeologists after all. But you can easily lose the audience if they can't follow your train of thought. I'm sure you all know how to put thoughts in a logical order, but the decisions about what to explain can be tricky. I think that people often leave out vital explanations because they're rushing to fit too much into their talk, which brings me to my next point....
4) Focus. You only have 15 minutes, so how many points can you make clearly? Most papers try to pack in way too much information. Better to make one point clearly than 12 poorly because you tried to jam too much into the talk. When you try to fit too much in, chances are you will end up with a jumble of ideas that are poorly supported or inadequately developed.
How: a) Cut down your presentation ruthlessly to the bare essentials. Remove every idea and fact that is not essential. b) Simplify, simplify (Thoreau). c) Then ask yourself, "Does the audience absolutely need to know how much chromium is in my fine ware?" The answer may be "yes," but to be sure you must first ask yourself the question.
5) Eschew numbers. How many numbers can you hear before you lose track of them? You can only present a very few numbers and you must be very clear about what each one means or else you're just talking to yourself.
How: a) Say "We found a lot of this and a little of that, and the difference is statistically significant." Then point at the slide that shows the frequencies or proportions, the test statistic, and the p-value. b) Never read a formula. Show it on a slide and parse it or explain it verbally. Speaking of slides....
6) Use clear graphics. If the audience is trying to figure out an illegible map or confusing graph, they're not listening to you. Just clicking through slides pro forma without looking up is not good. If the pictures aren't important enough to require your attention, why should the audience pay attention to them?
How: a) Don't show slides with dense text. They're hard to read, and if the audience is reading, your voice will fade into the background. b) Explain what the pictures and graphs are. How many times have you seen a slide and asked yourself, "What the hell is that?" or "Wow! That's beautiful! What is it?" but the speaker doesn't explain. c) Take a look at a couple of the many books on this subject. I like Edward Tufte's famous books, such as The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, but there other good books as well.
7) Humanize it. We all have a story to tell, and stories feature people, not cyborgs or processes.
How: a) Who are the people you're citing? Where are they from? Are they American, Mexican, or Chinese? Were they Nazis? Communists? Postmodernists? b) Show a picture with people in it, and then tell us who they are. c) Tell an anecdote even if it's not central to your narrative. The audience will pay more attention to the story than to your paper and will remember it longer.
8) Personalize it. The audience will be much more engaged if they feel that they know who you are. Show your face. Drop a veil. Expose yourself a little and take a chance.
How: a) Speak in the active voice, not the passive. b) Unless the research was done by someone else, or by robots, use the first person. If you did it, say so. "I measured these bones and, guess what, they were bigger than the other bones." c) Say what you think, and take credit for your thoughts. It's okay to say, "I think this is cool", or "beautiful," or "interesting." Enthusiasm is contagious and engaging. What's the chance the audience will find your research exciting if you act like it's boring?
9) Use humor. Try to be entertaining, but without pratfalls or scatological allusions. Humor is much more difficult than it seems or else we'd all write like Kent Flannery. Nevertheless, most of us have the capacity to be witty or charming but we suppress it out of awe for the solemnity of the occasion.
How: Try a) starting with a joke, or b) ending with a joke, or c) telling a joke somewhere between the beginning and the ending.
So, come to the next meeting and give a paper. Stand up. Speak your mind. Tell us what you think.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
"The AAA has a long and rich history of supporting policies that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or sexual orientation," AAA Executive Board Member (and resolution author) Debra Martin said in a statement issued today. "Recent actions by the Arizona officials and law enforcement are not only discriminatory; they are also predatory and unconstitutional."
The AAA resolution also pledges that the association as a whole will refuse to hold a scholarly conference in Arizona until SB 1070 is either repealed or struck down as constitutionally invalid.
Here's the URL for the press release and the resolution:
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Michael Johnson's excavations at Cactus Hill appeared to be very meticulous. You can see the individual artifacts marked with film canisters.
Unfortunately, you can see in the photos that the stratigraphy is poorly defined. The site is buried in an ancient sand dune. The sand is pretty heavily leached, obscuring the definition of the strata.
When I was there, someone--not Johnson--had excavated long trenches across the site with a backhoe, destroying parts of the site. This was sad because even if the site is not pre-Clovis, it defintiely has a major Clovis occupation, making it significant by any definition.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
Here's what the back cover says:
A specialized presentation of fractal analysis oriented to the social sciences
This primer uses straightforward language to give the reader step-by-step instructions for identifying and analyzing fractal patterns and the social process that make them. By making fractals accessible to the social science students, this book has a significant impact on the understanding of human behavior and the patterns that people create.
- Detailed examples help readers learn and understand the analytical methods presented.
- Matlab codes for programs allow the user to implement some of the techniques described in the text on their own.
- Clear and logical explanations of fractals and their analysis enable the instructor to easily teach and student to learn about fractals.
I should add that we selected examples from many different fields of social science so that social researchers of all kinds could appreciate the relevance of fractal geometry to their work. We even managed to include a few examples from the obscure discipline of archaeology.
Click on the picture of the cover or the title of this post to go to the publisher's web site.