Saturday, 3 March 2018

Archaeologists Getting Comfy with Site Eroders

Michael Shott, Department of Anthropology and Classical Studies, University of Akron (2017). Estimating the Magnitude of Private Collection of Points and Its Effects on Professional Survey Results. Advances in Archaeological Practice. 1-13. 10.1017/aap.2017.8.
Chipped-stone projectile points are used to mark the passage of time and cultures in the [archaeological] record. Archaeologists often recover points in surface survey, yet we do not know how many were found by private collectors before or after professional work. In a 1975–1977 Michigan probabilistic survey, professional archaeologists documented 30 private collections from 20 sample units. In those units, points found by private collectors outnumber professionally recovered ones by a factor of about 32. The survey region's point population estimated separately from the professional and private-collection samples differs by nearly an order of magnitude in favor of private collections, despite highly conservative assumptions about the latter. The number of points found in professional survey is inversely correlated with the number found in private collections, and the professional sample is more sparsely and randomly distributed. However, proportions of several common types are similar between professional and private collections. To the extent that large, reasonably complete samples of points are important for research and preservation, archaeologists must document private collections compiled in and near their survey areas.
This I read as yet another archaeologist promoting 'working with' collectors. But this is just nuts. What he's saying is that whole sites have been completely destroyed by collecting activity. The collectors take away the diagnostic stuff, leaving the 'common types' for the archaeologist to find, but even then, the distribution of material across the site and area cannot be interpreted because the collectors have left behind them a distorted pattern, the sample observed by professional archaeologists was left more sparsely and randomly distributed by the collectors picking over the sites. I really do not follow the logic of saying that one has to document private collections compiled in and near their survey areas for preservation of sites. The collection has destroyed the site and no matter how many photos Prof Shott takes of the loose bits, the site has been trashed, not preserved. Surely this is a question of professional ethics, are we to use the results of Dr Mengele's medical 'experiments'?

I my view  patting on the back collectors who have destroyed a site in one's study area is not any kind of 'advance' in archaeological practice, though I suppose it might save a lazy archaeologist the effort of getting off his backside and actually fieldwalking a site backwards and forwards in order to get his nice 'chipped' stone projectile points to win his academic brownie points by writing about them.


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