Thursday, February 19, 2015

Changes Ahead

Hi All!

Sorry for the recent silence, but I'm working on migrating to a new format that condense the various bits of myself that have been scattered around the web. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Return to Dos Mangas Pt. 2: Archaeology

The third and final post about my trip to Ecuador.

A trip back to Dos Mangas would not have been complete without a tour of some of the key archaeological sites that I identified a few years back, with an eye to future research. We went back out to Buen Suceso, and while the field with the Valdivia site has been plowed twice in the intervening years it hasn't been planted, which has minimized some of the damage to the site. This time we were also able to do some informal survey in the fields on the other side of the dirt road that bisects the former boarding school lands. Much to my joy we found some pretty interesting evidence of a Manteño occupation, including several low platforms where houses were likely located. 
Ask and ye shall receive. Large chert flake, olla rim sherd, and Manteño mascarone found in the field. Quarter for scale.

The community is talking about turning this area into a protected archaeological zone. Considering that artifacts from the entire prehispanic cultural sequence are present in these few fields, that seems like a worthy goal. These fields also lie alongside one of the existing ecotourism paths that the community has developed. If the community moves ahead as planned then we will have the opportunity to integrate archaeological information alongside the existing tourism economy.
Before and after my little tour. The joys of working in a tropical environment.

Back in the village proper, the state of archaeology wasn't as positive. If you remember my last post, you'll recall that USAid has contributed extensively to Dos Mangas, including sponsoring a remodel of the casa comunal. The final project looks great, but there's one downside. The materials from my excavations were stored there, and when they did the remodel, they moved the bags and boxes. Into a disused house. That's missing half its roof. If you're having trouble imaging the condition of my excavated collection, well, I have a picture for you.

The community members who were the most involved in the project weren't aware that the collection had been moved, or its current state. I left behind some funds and detailed instructions about how prevent further damage to the site, and it will be moved to a better storage location within the community tourism interpretation center.
The collection will have a new home on this side of the village. There's also some available land to build a small museum....

The last big achievement that we managed during my visit was to sign a convenio between myself and the community. This document outlines our mutual benefits and obligations as we move forward with future archaeological work and the integration of these projects with community tourism and development goals. I can't wait to get back to work!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Return to Dos Mangas pt. 1: Community

Note: this post may be most interesting for friends and family who visited me during fieldwork, or for people who read the early posts on the blog.

What a homecoming!

Simply put, my arrival in Dos Mangas was more than I had hoped for. The garua was really heavy, so the road was wet and muddy and the night was colder than I had anticipated. After a long-ish bus ride from Portoviejo (with a change over in Xipixapa) I arrived in Manglaralto at the combi stand to Dos Mangas. I recognized some of the drivers but the feeling wasn’t necessarily mutual, but after answering some of their questions about what I was up to, and responding that I had lived there for a year, the light bulb went off.

I rode into town in the back of a covered pickup truck, the normal mode of transportation, seated with several comuneros and preoccupied with the feeling of being a stranger to people I had once felt a sense of belonging (though I’m not sure if I belonged with them or to them at the time). I paid my fifty cents for the ride (fifteen more than four years ago) and got off at the casa comunal. All the doors were closed, including to the second floor hostel, but someone came by pretty quickly and waved over the lady with the keys to let me in. The hostel had been fairly close to completion when I left four years ago, but it was clear that they had made some improvements in the mean time, with the help of USAid, whose sticker is emblazoned on everything. The hostel can host about 12-15 people at any time, and has a kitchen, dining room, and common space. It would be an awesome base for a field school if I’m ever in a position to lead one.
The casa comunal renovations, sponsored by USAid.
One of the renovated room, with a private bath!
After dropping my stuff and changing into long pants and my boots, I went off to say hello to some of my nearest and dearest from my time in Dos Mangas four years ago. My first stop was to see Luis, who has been my assistant from the time I began investigations in Dos Mangas in 2006, and who has been keeping an eye on things since I left. His face lit up when he saw me, and I was glad to see him looking so well. Then we made the circuit to visit various friends. I received so many enthusiastic embraces, and a few tears, and everyone wanted to feed me.
Ever-enthusiastic Efrain.
Fanny, Chico and their kids.

Luis and Vicente.

On Saturday, my only full day to visit, I was able to wander around the village and I was struck by how much had changed, and how much was still the same. The road into town actually has a bridge over the river now, meaning it doesn’t turn into an island during the rainy season. There’s also a new high school, so children don’t have to travel to continue with their education, an investment that can be a barrier for many. The church has been redone, the casa comunal has been remodeled, and it's clear that the community has benefitted from the support of USAid. But it's the same two roads, the same people, and the same excitement to get back to work!
The new colegio, located next to the primary schools.
Remodeled church, with room for parking out front!
This is where I used to live. Now a hostel.

A lot of our chatting during that visit was retelling stories about my daughter, known on the blog as Little Miss, who was two and a half when we left. One young woman who used to care for her recounted that she was always asking for “co-co”, comida in her own little language. Many people were sad that she didn’t join me on this trip. I started missing her from my arrival at the taxi stand into Dos Mangas – she was an ever-present part of my time here, and much of my day was organized around taking care of her, whether that was dropping off and picking her up from the village day care, or spending the good part of the day at the local clinic to treat one of her many sinus infections or other ailments. It’s not often that I go a week without seeing her, so this was the double whammy. I got a cute little video of some of her friends, and hopefully she can come back into the field with me soon!

Stay tuned for my next installment, a look at the archaeology after four years!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Presenting Archaeology and Communities in Ecuador

The main purpose of my trip to Ecuador was to present a four-day workshop titled "Archaeology as a Community Resource" to community representatives at the regional office of the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) in Portoviejo. Most of the participants have some sort of community-based tourism project in their town. Some traveled 6-8 hour roundtrip every day to participate in the six hours of seminar each day. If I hadn't already felt a responsibility to make the workshop as useful as possible, knowing that people traveled that long in order to hear me talk certainly did the trick! Representatives from the local INPC office and nearby archaeological site also joined us for portions of the seminar.

Museo Portoviejo, where the workshop was held.

The historic building of the INPC Region 4 offices.

The first day focused on archaeology as a field of study, as a scientific and interpretive endeavor. We talked about stratigraphy and, overall, the importance of context to archaeological interpretation. We did a series of activities related to stratigraphy, chronology, and context drawn from outreach activities on the AIA website and Intrigue of the Past, an online curriculum for school teachers developed by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The goal was not only for the participants to understand these concepts, but to have materials and activities that they could take back to their communities and use in their own educational efforts.

The second day we discussed the archaeological cultures of coastal Ecuador. I had two main goals for this module. The first is that participants become familiar with the archaeological cultures on the coast, spanning from the Archaic period until Spanish conquest, material that isn't covered in schools. This included being introduced to some of the characteristic pieces of material culture from each period to help them associate these cultures with what they find in their communities. The second goal was to move beyond "the cult of the object", away from an artifact as a museum piece or one that might be worth money on the black market (a fine distinction at times), and towards a greater appreciation of what an artifact can tell us about past societies, particularly when found within its original context. We used some objects from the INPC bodega to help with this discussion, and participants brought photos of some of the objects recovered in their communities. The need and desire for discussion of past societies within primary school curriculum was highlighted by participants. 

On Day Three we discussed community rights and responsibilities according to the national patrimony laws. This was the most interesting and difficult of the days for me. While the constitution states that everyone has an obligation to protect national patrimony, and laws outline the penalties involved for those who damage, deface, or loot (see resources here), there seems to be a gap between what is expected and the skills and resources of various governing bodies. The scenario presented by representatives from one community is not uncommon: archaeological remains are eroding out of a nearby river bank. The next time the river crests it will wash those objects away. If the community rescues them now, to put on dispay in their community center, they will be looting. If they wait until the river floods it will be too late, and they will lose this resource they are trying to develop. The INPC doesn't have the staff or funds to carry out a full rescue project. What can the community do?

We were fortunate to have the director of the INPC office join us on this day. The discussion wasn't easy, and no satisfying agreement was reached. A key point in the community's favor seemed to be the fact that they wanted to gather these objects to display them within their community. This fulfilled the public accessibility and dissemination mandates of the patrimony law. We spoke about ways in which they can document the current state of the materials (photographs with scale, showing the landscape context, etc) in order to document as much about the archaeological context as possible. Of course, no one was willing to say "yes, once you've documented it you can remove it" and not just because of the patrimony law but also because we know that once you remove one object you'll find another, and another, and another (the archaeology version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie).
Workshop participants on Day 2.

Over the course of these three days we also spoke about ways that communities can integrate archaeology into their community development projects. The culmination on the fourth day consisted of brief presentations by each community of their plans of action to this end. Some focused on education of children to build an interest in protecting the past, while others targeted adults as role models to begin this work. Some plans tied the presentation of archaeological remains to current artisan practices in communities. Others discussed the need for protection committees to mitigate damage to sites from land use practices and development.

To close the workshop we were very lucky to receive a tour of the site of Cerro Jaboncillo. This was a Manteño site, one that has been famous for awhile but that only recently been excavated, so from an archaeology nerd standpoint I was very excited for the visit. The Ciudad Civico Eloy Alfaro in nearby Monticristi has developed interpretive material for the site, and the visit was a good opportunity to for workshop participants to see excavations in progress and how this information was presented to a general public. The representatives from Ciudad Alfaro were extremely generous and helped provide a nice capstone to the workshop.
Workshop participants at Cerro Jaboncillo.

This workshop is just the first step in a changing relationship between archaeologists and communities in Ecuador, and if I get the chance to present it again I'm sure I'd do some things differently. I'd love to be able to visit each community and provide a more customized approach, but given the distance people traveled in order to come to Portoviejo that may not be feasible. Regardless, I hope that people stay in touch and I look forward to seeing how they implement things in their communities!

Press from the workshop:
Sept 22 Day 1
Sept 23 Day 2
Sept 25 Day 4
Sept 25 Visit to Cerro Jaboncillo
Sept 25 El Diario (short piece, mostly correct)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Returning to Ecuador!

Tomorrow I will travel to Ecuador for the first time since I completed my dissertation research in 2010. I have been invited by the Region 4 office of the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) to present a 4-day workshop entitled "Arqueología como un Recurso Comunitario" in Portoviejo. Participants in this workshop are community guides and university students from the region. 

The workshop will begin with a discussion of the goals and methods of archaeology as a discipline, and general information about the prehispanic cultures on the coast. The meat of the workshop will be participant-driven, as we discuss Ecuadorian patrimony laws, the value of protecting archaeological materials within communities, and develop plans that can be deployed within each community to continue these discussion and help think about archaeology among the other resources that communities have, like land, water, and artistic talent. While the community guides come from places that have some degree of tourist infrastructure, the emphasis of this workshop is not necessarily tourism. We will discuss the potential of archaeology for economic development more broadly, but also discuss other uses of archaeology, including but not limited to community identity and history.

This is the first time that I'm leading a workshop of this nature, so I am both very excited and very nervous. I'm building on educational material and formats that I've used in my job, but expanding on them and adapting them to the Ecuadorian context. I just hope the participants are up for some knowledge co-creation!

The trip won't just be the workshop, though. I'm taking advantage of the opportunity of being in the country to visit with a dear friend, check out an archaeological site that's been recently opened to the public, visit a fellow archaeologist's lab to rummage through more ceramics, and speak with the master's program in neotropical archaeology at ESPOL in Guayaquil.

Competing with the workshop for the feature of the trip will be my return to Dos Mangas. I'm looking forward to presenting the final analysis from my dissertation project, seeing old friends, and beginning discussions for a new, collaborative research program with the community.

Dos Mangas, one of the first photos I took back in 2006. I can only imagine what it will look like today!

To say I'm excited doesn't quite cover it. I'll try to update on my Ecuadorian adventures along the way, so check back. Hopefully this marks the start of a significant re-engagement with Ecuador, and none-too-soon!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My Future in Blogging Archaeology: Blogging Carnival Month 5

Looking at the date on my last post, I've been MIA for about two and a half months. That was a flurry of work and dissertation writing in which every spare moment (and just about every vacation and sick day) was used to get a new draft out to my committee. I'm happy to report that I managed that milestone last week, and while I'm not done done, it's out of my hands, at least for a little while. I've been enjoying a brief respite while I reorient myself and figure out where to dive in next.

Word cloud from my theory chapter. I'm one of "those" archaeologists. And by that I either mean one whose theory is dominated by words like "practice" or one who procrastinates by putting their theory chapter into a word cloud.

So, I'm going to try to squeeze in this post just under the wire. I managed to respond to the first month's question for 
the Blogging Archaeology Carnival (#blogarch) back in November, and that was it before I got pulled into a vortex of family holidays, international travel, and dissertating. The last query for #blogarch in the lead-up to #SAA2014 asks us to discuss our goals for blogging and where we hope it takes us and archaeology.

My first goal has to be to write more, to actually use this platform on a regular basis. So many of the conversations that prompt blog posts are incident-specific, and if you're not writing the conversation passes you by. So, for example, there is no official response on here against the National Geographic Channel's "Nazi War Digger" series (though I join with many others in condemning the show), and I have a draft post from back in February that I never finished that responded to a twitter conversation about the stand that archaeologists have to take to prevent looting (it's funny how those two points seem to go together in retrospect). I'm hoping that now that I have a little mental space freed from the dissertation that I can be more responsive to issues that arise and use this platform to address them.

My second goal would be to use the blog to share my research as I think through issues related to methodology and research content. That's an admittedly frightening prospect, to open myself and my research up to the comments of anyone with an internet connection. It's important, though, particularly in the context of the work I do - if I'm really committed to collaboration and outreach then I have to make this stuff available. I'm sure this is something that will require some tweaking as I go forward - while my work is my work, the work I do as an employee is not entirely mine, and some of the projects I work on have community privacy concerns, etc.

Only two goals, but fairly major goals. I think the first will be a bit easier (and less scary) to achieve than the second one, but I'm excited by both. Particularly for those who put their research out there, how do you balance competing concerns of public and private knowledge, and how do you overcome the nervousness factor?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

25 Grand Challenges for Archaeology - But for Which Archaeologists?

story started to circulate late this week heralding a the release of survey results outlining "25 Grand Challenges for Archaeology". The initiative, led by senior researchers in both academia and CRM, was published in the most recent issues of American Antiquity and PNAS (Peter Peregrine, one of the authors, was also kind enough to post pdfs on his page, allowing even those without institutional affiliation to read the study). My commentary is built primarily from the AA article.

Some very useful discussion is already happening on other blogs (here and here) and got me to read the study a bit more closely and think about the themes the authors identified. I posted Michael E. Smith's blog response (the second link above) to my Facebook page along with the commentary that the list left me feeling a little "ho-hum". What followed was a lively discussion that helped me tease out my lack-luster response to the study, which I present here.
The items set out in the list are "big" themes, and while I think that it is very useful to set out these grand challenges, I didn't feel very excited after reading it. While my level of enthusiasm doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, I do think that if broad sectors of archaeologists don't get fired up by these suggestions, then neither will the general public, who we need on our side. My critique of the study centers around two themes (participation and content) that I am hopeful will be addressed by the authors in greater detail, perhaps in later publications.

First, the authors of the study were quite concerned about the overrepresentation of older participants in the survey (or the lack of young and student archaeologist, as they describe it). It concerns me as well. An informal survey of my networks (which are primarily populated with early-career and student archaeologists) left a lot of us scratching our heads about how the survey was distributed, because we don't remember ever receiving notice of it. In my case, I was also starting a full-time job around the time that it went out, which may explain some amnesia, but it is worrisome that so many people in the under-represented age demographic don't remember receiving the survey.

The authors don't go into great detail concerning their research methods in the AA article, but I think it's important to look at who led the study and the report in this regard. The demographic that responded in greatest numbers seem to me to be similar to the authors themselves, suggesting that informal networks may have played a big role in getting people to respond. That makes it problematic, then, that 11 out of 14 authors are male, that they are all senior in their fields, and they are all white. As anyone who has attended a professional meeting in the last few years can tell you, the face of archaeology (in the US at least) is changing. Women are taking over, and people of color are more numerous, though still underrepresented. Finally, though Canadian, European, and UK societies were included in the survey, the respondents were overwhelmingly from the US. What languages were the survey distributed in, and was there any effort to include the international members of North American professional societies, or societies located in the Global South?

Second, the authors "explicitly excluded responses to the survey that addressed 'disciplinary challenges with respect to the practice of archaeology, such as changes in financial and legal frameworks'" (Kintigh et al. 2014:6-7). I think this is a missed opportunity. As my colleagues indicated during informal discussions, the decreasing excitement for archaeology in the face of "Ancient Aliens", "Diggers", or lawmakers' outright hostility to archaeology, is a real issue that needs to be addressed. The types of "big" questions proposed in the article come off as dry and unexciting to most people not directly engaged in that research. While I think there are ways to successfully convey what people do under each of those headings for a general audience, they were framed in such a way as to not promote much conversation outside of archaeology. 

Ultimately, the topics heralded in the report seem likely to further the insularism of so much of archaeology these days by emphasizing what archaeologists can discover about the past, without really emphasizing they ways in which we can contribute to current debates outside of the discipline (though there are some exceptions to this). Given the work I do, I was surprised to see how little attention was given to the valid research questions that accompany the politics and social context of archaeological inquiry (nothing about working with contemporary people, or our contributions to discourses surrounding heritage, or the political sphere that our work often enters). I realize that the authors had limitations and certain goals, but the themes they emphasize serve to obscure the excitement that we feel for our discipline and that we so desperately need to convey to other people.

So, what next? I think we need to encourage informal and formal discussion of these topics among the demographics that were underrepresented in the original study, and then move that to a more formalized response.
 There's momentum building for an ad hoc meeting in Austin to be held Friday night over a few beers, in typical archaeological fashion. If you're interested, drop me a line, or check back here as we get closer to the meetings.

The "25 Grand Challenges for Archaeology" may not result in more research on those topics, but it will at least get us all thinking more critically and publicly about where we see the discipline going, and that's a useful result in and of itself.

UPDATE (1/27/14): The study authors published the raw data from the responses, including the survey they used and the 40% of responses that addressed the "excluded" topics, on The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR). You need to set up an account to download it, but it's free. The responses are quite interesting (some made me chuckle), and it gives you an idea of the kind of synthesis work that was required.