The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Value of Little-Looked At Spots

So, as noted in a previous post, one of the papers that I have written will be in an upcoming issue of the journal California Archaeology. The subject of the paper is the interaction between the people of the Santa Barbara Channel Coast and the people of the Santa Ynez Valley during the Late Period (roughly 1,100 A.D. to 1780 A.D.). The Santa Barbara Channel area is very intensively studied, largely because the people of this region, the Chumash, had developed a very advanced degree of social organization, and seemed to be on the verge of developing money as we would understand it today. This has, understandably, attracted a butt-load of interest from researchers. But research has been primarily relegated to the coast and the Channel Islands, with very little attention paid to the inland valleys or the interior. The problem is that, if the research models that we are using are even vaguely correct, the largely ignored inland and interior areas were extremely important to the development of social complexity - so the fact that these areas are being ignored means that the models for the development of complexity have never really been thoroughly tested...and yet many a researcher continues to carry on as if they are well-established.

This is a problem common to the archaeology of many regions - areas that are easier to access or more appealing are often examined to the exclusion of other, likely equally important areas. On the one hand, it can create opportunities - I have been told that my MA thesis, on which this paper was partially based - has been used by people working on dissertations and theses of their own simply because I am one of the few people to write about the Santa Ynez Valley - the merits of my thesis become almost moot in the face of the fact that there is very little else available. What's more, I was invited to write and present the papers that have become the one to be published because of the fact that I am one of the few people who has written So, I have benefited from this personally.

On the other hand, it has the potential to undermine the point of archaeological research. It's a given that researchers are going to work only with the information that they have on hand, what else can be done? But when, as tends to happen, there are known large blind spots in the archaeological record, and these blind spots are ignored or essentially pretended not to exist, this will distort the reconstruction of the past that we are trying to create.

I don't think this would get under my skin except that I have too often seen my colleagues essentially state "well, our model indicates that in Region X, we should see Material Record Y" without ever bothering to check up on these assumptions. It's sloppy thinking, and it just kinda' bugs me.

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