Anthropology 130 Project
Archaeological and Systemic Context Paper Assignment
(Adopted/adapted, with permission, from Dr. David Pokotylo)
Artifacts and sites have complex life histories that involve both a systemic context (i.e., a role within an active cultural system) and an archaeological context (after discard or abandonment, once they are no longer part of a functioning cultural system). The relationship between these two contexts is not always straightforward, yet understanding it is a critical step in the interpretation of the archaeological record. In this project you will explore the challenges of interpreting the systemic function of a site based on materials that may be expected to survive in the archaeological record.
The research question you will be addressing in this project is this: If Mount Baker, an active volcano south of Vancouver, erupted and buried your residence in ash, how accurately would future archaeologists be able to infer the function(s) of various rooms from the artifacts that would remain after 1,000 years? To evaluate this research problem, you will conduct an archaeological ‘field survey’ of rooms in your residence. For this purpose, you will:
a) Select two different rooms in your home and consider their various functions in detail.
b) Prepare an inventory of the objects found in the room before the eruption as well as of the artifacts the archaeologist would find in each of these two rooms. For this purpose you can assume all non-organic materials (e.g., plastics, ceramics, glass, metal, stone) will be preserved, but organic materials (e.g., wood, paper, textiles, food) will not.
c) Classify the artifacts into types, by the names commonly used to describe their form and function.
d) Prepare a general map of the rooms and of the artifacts, showing their spatial context and associations (precise coordinates are not needed)
Assume that you have full understanding of all the systemic context functions of the rooms and artifacts preserved, and answer the following question: Does the artifact inventory and spatial context (i.e., archaeological context) reflect the function(s) of the rooms (i.e., systemic context)? If so, state why; if not, state why not. For example, most people would classify the kitchen as a food preparation area. However, many artifacts found in kitchens are not related to food preparation but to food consumption, which may take place in another room. Also, cleaning supplies for the entire dwelling may be stored under the kitchen sink. Use the data collected in your survey to support your answer.
Your survey should record data from two rooms only. Your analysis will be easier if you follow the methodology below.
• Make a table that lists all artifacts that would be preserved in each room, and note the function(s) of each. You should also note the frequency occurrence of each artifact category, as you may be able to determine if a relationship exists between the number of items related to a room function and the relative importance of that function. (A Word table or an Excel spreadsheet may prove helpful here.) A plan map showing the spatial distribution of artifacts may also be useful to identify activity areas.
• Make a table that lists all the functions of each room, in order of importance. This may include economics, subsistence, and/or social organization of the people that inhabited the room.
• The data collected in the steps above form the database to conduct your analysis of the relationship (or lack thereof!) of artifacts and room function. Use this information to support your interpretation. Do not simply describe the archaeological and systemic contexts, rather discuss the degree to which the systemic room function(s) can be inferred from the artifact evidence in archaeological context.
Report your findings in a short paper (i.e., 5-7 pages double-spaced text, plus supporting tables and figures). The paper, worth 20% of the final course grade, is due on November 28th, 2022. Please consult the syllabus for policies regarding late submission.