Prehistoric Human Ecology in Patagonia
This project explores interactions between prehistoric humans and their environments to better understand the degree to which ecological conditions constrain and influence culture. Research in Mendoza Province, Argentina, and Aysén Province, Chile, includes regional surface surveys, excavations, artifact morphometric analyses, obsidian hydration dating, and geochemical analyses. Many of these datasets can be usefully compared to the predictions of simple economic models as a first approximation of the relative importance of environmental and cultural factors in shaping behavioral and technological responses to ecological pressures such as climate change.
As part of a larger effort to characterize the region’s numerous obsidian (volcanic glass) sources, this project is geared toward developing reliable obsidian hydration rates for Mendoza Province, Argentina, which will improve our ability to track the use of particular sources through time and the distribution of source materials across space. Presently, this project incorporates various kinds of data including glass geochemistry (X-ray fluorescence, in collaboration with the Missouri University Research Reactor) and intrinsic water content (photoacoustic spectroscopy, in collaboration with Christopher Stevenson). A well-established obsidian hydration rate will help us to place in context prehistoric behaviors, including those related to subsistence and mobility, as well as adaptive decision-making in response to changes in resource availability.
Cultural Transmission and Artifact Variability
This collections-based project is designed to evaluate recently developed archaeological models of cultural transmission, or the transfer of information between people, typically studied for its effects on cultural evolution. More specifically, this project aims to identify within-group learning norms and to understand the importance of advertising group membership under particular circumstances. Undergraduate students from the University of Michigan have participated in this research through U-M’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.