Recreating Place in Archaeology

Many archaeological interpretations are based on inference and metaphor, especially when dealing with intangible data sources. This biggest issue of interpretation is that the landscape and climate may have change considerably through thousands of years, and may have sounded considerably different. Another issue is the modeling of a dynamic experience into static statistical figures. These figures are not a full representation of the sound and space experience. Archaeologists can attempt to overcome such issues by utilizing additional data sources to reconstruct space, for instance environmental reconstruction methods such as pollen analysis, dendrochronology, and ethnobotany. Archaeological pollen analysis can give an idea of surrounding vegetation, climate, and geographic landform. Because there is variation across cultures and regions, each area should be reconstructed in its own site context regardless of presumed regional affiliations. When using Static figures and diagrams, researchers should keep in mind the goal of modeling experience over data, and use these in conjunction with other forms of qualitative analysis.

Archaeologists have long recognized the dating potential of desert varnish for dating sites through rock art. This desert varnish is a result of accumulations of clay minerals, manganese and iron oxide. The surface contrast created by removal of these accumulation layers provides a relative comparison, based on the degree of difference in coloration between imagery and the host rock surface. The introduction of mass spectrometer analysis allowed for a preliminary study into more absolute chronometric methods, however it is not common to be able to transport a panel feature into a lab. Typically, analysis has been completed only on samples which have become fragmented due to natural weathering or vandalism (Chaffee, et al., 1994). The introduction of portable X-Ray Fluorescent technology (XRF) allows the researcher to engage in a non-destructive analysis in the field. XRF technology is being applied to the American Southwest to create a comparable database including data from rock art sites, as well as dated geomorphic depositional surfaces for reference. The amount of accuracy is approximately ± 30%, and is expected to improve as the database expands. Thus far, there has been a positive response as to the accuracy of this method (Lytle, et al. 2008).

Archaeoacoustic Researchers use a wide array of sound types and recording equipment to document the acoustic properties of archaeological space. Recordings focus on measurable qualities such as Echo and Amplification, and Ambient Sound is not filtered, as this could be integral to experience (Scarre, et al. 2006).

Although environmental conditions may not necessarily reflect the ancient experience, modern researchers sometimes use personal experiences to influence methods and interpretation. For example, Daniel Cutrone’s experience in Spirit Bird Cave in southeastern Utah influenced the theoretical direction on its interpretation as a sacred place. Cutrone had been researching the cave for its rock art panel, one with elements common to shamanic interpretations. One day, Cutrone had taken refuge in the cave during a storm, and while inside experienced the sounds of wind howling through the built windows and crevices of the cave. Due to the trance inducing quality of the wind, Cutrone began to propose that the wind may have been deliberately channeled through the cave by architectural modifications (Cutrone, 2002). Such personal experiences are difficult to quantify or verify, but may be integral to understanding the meaning of a place.

Chaffee, S. D.; Hyman, M.; and Rowe, M. W.
1994    Vandalism of Rock Art for Enhanced Photography. Studies in Conservation, 39:3, 161-168.
Cutrone, Daniel
2002    Personal Field Notes on Spirit Bird Cave.
Lytle, Farrel, and Manetta Lytle, Alexander Rogers, Alan Garfinkel, Caroline Maddock, William Wight, Clint Cole
2008    An Experimental Technique for Measuring Age of Petroglyph Production: Results on Coso Petroglyphs. Paper Presented at the Great Basin Anthropological Conference, October 2008.
Scarre, Chris and Graeme Lawson
2006    Archaeoacoustics (ed). McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University. Oxbow Books, Cambridge

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