Lecture 1 - Introduction and Out of the Past: Chapter 1

Welcome to Anthropology 11 - Introduction to North American Archaeology...my name is Greg Bondar...I'm a 6th-year Ph. D. student in Anthropology. Today, we'll start off by having you get out a sheet of paper and telling me about yourselves:

your name

phone number

e-mail address...if you don't know your access account or e-mail address or
don't know how to use them, let me know. I also work as a consultant
for the Center for Academic Computing...I wouldn't mind teaching you
the basics on how to use your accounts.

your major

why you're taking this course

previous archaeological experiences (classes, tv, books, movies, digs, other
avocational experiences)

and "What do you hope to get out of this course?" If you just say "An 'A'", that doesn't help me too much...describe what you would like to learn about now that you are in this class.

Now, let's go over the syllabus:

This class will meet every day of the week from 11 am - 1 pm in this room, 111 Chambers Building.

Consultation Times: Immediately following class, from 1-2 pm                   
Office: Department of Anthropology, 419 Carpenter Bldg.
E-mail Address: @psu.edu (best way to reach me outside of class
Phone Number: 865-1231
Mail Box: 403 Carpenter Building

My office hours will be immediately following class each day from 1 - 2 pm in my office, 419 Carpenter Building. If that is inconvenient, or if you wish to have a more private or extended conversation with me, e-mail would probably be the best way to get in touch with me. I strongly encourage all of you to discuss things with me outside of class. If you are having any problems understanding the concepts covered in class, or if you just want to discuss a documentary you saw on the Learning Channel, I will be more that happy to listen and bounce some ideas around.

The next section is a brief description of the course:

The purpose of this course is to introduce you to the ideas and concepts that form the basis of the fascinating and exciting field of archaeology. In general, we will examine the role of archaeology as a source of data about prehistoric systems of behavior.

Basically, once you guys understand the basics of archaeology, we will apply these methods and concepts to several major culture areas in North America and Mesoamerica.

Next is my educational philosophy or goals section:

My expectations are that none of you have any prior course experience in archaeology or anthropology. However, just because this is an introductory class does not mean that I'll only expect you to simply memorize "facts" and then regurgitate them back at me. Instead, I want to strongly encourage critical thinking as the key to understanding the concepts that I will cover in this course. Anybody can memorize and repeat a barrage of "facts" from the Discovery Channel.. I want you to understand why archaeologists believe certain things and how certain processes operate. To get the most out of this class, constantly ask yourself "why is that so?" or "how does this work?". To do well in this class, you will need to be able to explain concepts in this amount of detail. This kind of reasoning is applicable in every other subject that you will study. If nothing else, even if your mind is completely devoid of archaeological thoughts as you hand in your final exams, I hope that you will continue to question and seek to understand both the "facts" of others, and your own experiences.

I've never seen the point in rote memorization...my personal experience has been that my brain would be just as empty when I handed in my final exam as it was before I took the course. I hope to instill in every one of you the importance of an orderly, but questioning, mode of thought...a thought mode that will hopefully make you wonder when you hear the word "fact" just how they can be so sure. I will try to explain the concepts in this class in such a way so that you can understand the causative mechanisms that are responsible.

Required Texts:

1.) Webster, David L., Susan Toby Evans, and William T. Sanders

1991 Out of the Past: An Introduction to Archaeology. Mayfield Publishers, New York.

Optional Texts:

2.) Evans, Susan Toby, Webster, David L., and Nancy Gonlin

1991 Out of the Past: The Study Guide. Mayfield Publishers, New York.

3.) Wenke, Robert

1991 Patterns in Prehistory, 3rd. Edition. Oxford University Press, New York.

Additional materials and information are available on the World Wide Web at:http://www.personal.psu.edu/ghb1/courses.html

The textbook for this class is called Out of the Past and is required. Almost every lecture will be based on its chapters. The associated study-guide should be very useful for the course, but is optional. Are they bundled together in the bookstore? If so, the combined cost should be only a buck or two more than the cost of just the new textbook. These books were written by several of Penn State's faculty members and presents a very thorough treatment of archaeology. You might recognize the title from the accompanying video series that has been broadcast on Public Television as well as on "Archaeology" on the Learning Channel. I will be using this series to supplement and illustrate the concepts that I will be covering in the lectures. I hope to have copies of the textbook and videos on reserve in the library on campus. We may use the Wenke textbook later in the course, but I recommend holding off buying it until then. In addition, I will post a copy of this syllabus and maybe my lectures notes on my world wide web page at:


If you are unfamiliar with the world wide web, please let me know so that I can organize an instructional session on its use.

Course Assignments:

Your final grade in this course will be based on three different criteria:

Your grade will be based on 5 quizzes (80 pts) & three exams (120 pts) for a course total of 200 pts. Each quiz is worth 10 points. While all quizzes are cumulative, emphasis will be placed on current class content.


A 180--200

A- 175--179

B+ 170--174

B 160- 169

B- 155--159

C+ 150--154

C 130--149

D 100--129

F >100

Extra Credit: up to 5 pts for contributing to class discussions, and extra credit work as assigned.

SHORT ANSWER QUIZZES (~10 ques.) & EXAMS (~50 ques.)

The short answer quizzes & exams consist of fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice questions, and regional geographic maps based

on material covered in the reading assignments, films, and class discussions.

The best way to do well in this class is to come to class every session and to keep up on the reading assignments. Whether you do the reading before or after the lecture is up to you...different people learn in different ways...I understand readings better if I have a lecture to relate to them. Others find the opposite...use whatever procedure is comfortable. However, reading before class should make it easier to contribute to in-class discussions. I do expect feedback, questions, and answers during class...this allows me to gauge how well you guys are learning, but also shows me who is keeping up with the work.

Your grade will be based on 5 quizzes, given every 2-3 chapters, and 3 exams, given at the end of the major units, as listed on the schedule portion of the syllabus. I find that essays, although a lot of work to grade, are the fairest way of evaluating a student's grasp of course material. As a result, part of each quiz will be a short essay. The other part will be short answer or multiple choice. The exams will be a similar format, although longer.

From the schedule, you see that we have 19 class sessions. Each class will be a lecture, quiz, or video presentation. Please come to every class and exam...make-ups will only be given if you give me a signed excuse from a physician. Any questions regarding the schedule? If not, we'll dive right in!

Out of the Past - Chapter 1

What is "Archaeology"? What do archaeologists do ? (Make a list on the board) Archaeology (or Archaeology) is one of the sub-disciplines within Anthropology, the study of human physical and behavioral diversity: (transparency)

Often, people find this confusing .... I'll mention that I'm an Archaeologist, but that I'm working on a degree in the Anthropology Department.

Cultural or Behavioral Anthropology: is the study of the behavior of existing or recently-extinct groups of people.

Physical or Biological Anthropology: is the study of anatomical and genetic variation in human populations.

Archaeology: is the study of past societies based on their material remains.

However, these anthropological sub-divisions are not rigid specialties...there is significant overlap between them. Many archaeologists prefer to think of themselves as "cultural anthropologists of prehistory". Similarly, physical anthropologists may focus on examining prehistoric bones.

Also, anthropology is inherently multi-disciplinary...it is possible to do many combinations of disciplines in the guise of being an anthropologist. For example, I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. I am applying my engineering skills to archaeological work by specializing in methods of materials analysis...except instead of examining a fuel-tank of the space shuttle, I'm analyzing archaeological materials such as the rock from which arrowheads were made. Similarly, other archaeologists focus on geology or the natural environment. Or, as in our department, the physical anthropologists have a state of the art genetics lab so they can examine mitochondrial DNA.

Ok, if archaeology is the study of past societies based on their material remains, what does this mean? First, we need to understand the concept of "culture". Cultureis human behavior that is patterned, learned, and shared among members of a society. In fact, a society that has distinctive cultural behavior is often called a culture. Which behaviors are cultural and which are not?

Notice that cultural behavior is patterned. Often, the debris deposited as a result of this patterned cultural behavior is, like-wise, patterned. This means that some aspects of cultural behavior are predictable from the material deposits, or material culture, that they produce. Archaeologists, who more often than not are limited only to elements of the material culture, try to reconstruct the cultural behaviors that are responsible for the material deposits that we uncover.

Let's examine this issue more closely...What do archaeologists uncover? Just what do we find in the ground that yields so much information? When archaeologists dig, we can find three kinds of objects: an artifact, ecofact, or a feature.

Artifact: we'll simplify the book's definition by defining an artifact as any
portable object modified by human activity.
(projectile point, pot-
sherds, net-sinkers, worked bones, etc.)

Ecofact: An ecofact, then, is portable material not modified by human
(unworked bones, pollen, seeds, etc.)

Feature: A feature is a non-portable object modified by human activity.

(firepits or hearths, trash-pits or middens, post-molds , burials, etc.)

What are some examples of each of these?

OK....so we've dug, and we've found some artifacts....is that it? Indiana Jones would have us think so! What differentiates archaeologists from site-robbers is that archaeologists are interested in more than just the artifacts, themselves...it is the relationships between the artifacts, features, and ecofacts... the context .... that tells us the most about prehistoric cultures.

Why is this so important? Why isn't just finding these cool things in the ground good enough? Well, remember...what's the basic assumption about human behavior that archaeologists make? Right! Human behavior is patterned, therefore the material debris that humans leave behind must also be patterned. Does an individual artifact show us a pattern? No. Only when two or more artifacts are compared can a pattern of behavior begin to emerge.

Individual artifacts can yield a lot of information about themselves...things like use-wear on a piece of rock or cutmarks on a bone or the amount of C-14 in the artifact. However, if you think about it, all this information is fairly superficial...it doesn't tell us much about what the artifact was used for, the behavior of the people that created and used the artifact, or about general trends in human behavior.

For example: here's a couple of artifacts that are out of context...examine them, and write a few sentences about what you think they are and why you think that.

Think about the things you have in your pockets on a typical day. If you found one of these objects, but had no idea what this was, what could you learn about it if it were not related to anything else? If it were a coin, you might be able to read the date off of it, but otherwise, not too much. Put them together and what do you get...still just a bunch of stuff. Put them with a body and what do you get? A burial offering of some kind, perhaps?

Alright...now that we have some artifacts related to others in the ground, what does this tell us? What kinds of context are there?

Spatial Context: this is an artifact's physical relationship to another artifact. Is above, below, 2 meters to right, etc. of the other artifact or feature?

For example: If we find a human burial, the spatial context of the bones with each other should tell us if it is a single, complete individual carefully interred whole, or a jumble of unrelated bones that decomposed on the surface until they were covered, or a body that was intentionally allowed to decompose on the surface before being gathered up, bundled in a basket, and buried.

Temporal context: this is the chronological relationship between two artifacts. This can be further subdivided into:

Relative date: (what they do in West Virginia) this is evidence that tells us that an artifact is older or younger than another artifact. The most common way of doing this uses stratigraphy and the Law of Superposition. Stratigraphy is the phenomenon where an occupational deposit forms a distinct layer. Therefore, a series of occupations on the same site will look like a cake with several visible layers. The Law of Superposition simply means that the oldest deposits are on the bottom and the newest ones are on top. However, this alone doesn't tell us exactly how old an artifact is.

Absolute dating: determines the age of an artifact from a calendar. For example, radiocarbon or C-14 dating (which is archaeology's only Nobel Prize), and dendrochronology or counting tree rings.

However, both of these dating methods and kinds of context can be used together...once an absolute date has been determined, artifacts that are associated with it in the same layer are roughly the same age. Similarly, those artifacts in the layers above must be younger and those below, older.

However, while both the temporal and spatial contexts are very important, they are both very fragile and easily destroyed. These contexts are what archaeologists are trying very carefully to preserve when they are excavating a site. This is also the main reason why one should not try to do any archaeological excavation without proper training or supervision. An archaeological site is destroyed when it is excavated. If it is excavated properly, however, it can be reconstructed from the field notes that should recorded any contextual information.

The book mentions a third kind of context, formal context. This is the functional catagory that we use to classify artifacts...such as projectile point, pot sherd, etc. This type is context is much more difficult to destroy because it is the result of research done over time and in many different areas.