Monday, December 15, 2008

Time to Breathe, Time to Visit Paris

The semester is over. What a relief! I submitted my term paper on Thursday night about 11:15pm. No more drives to Tucson, I can now take a little time to breathe.

Not too long, however... this Wednesday, my wife and I are leaving for Europe! We'll be spending 8 days in Paris. I've created a separate blog to document our adventures... I'm treating it like a notebook for my ethnographic observations of Parisians. I'll do my best to keep it up to date nightly and post as many interesting photos as I can.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cheap Anthropology Books

as a part of my research project, I needed a chapter from the book Lowland Maya Settlement Patterns. The copies at both ASU and U of A were checked out, so I headed to

Delightfully, there were seven or eight used copies available, ranging in price from $10 to $54. I snapped up the $10 copy, and it arrived just four days later. I wouldn't do this for every source I might need, but this looks like a book I would own, so I went for it.

In Amazon's Marketplace (books sold by Amazon customers), one can find numerous out-of-print archaeology and anthropology books and reports, often for very reasonable prices. There are a surprising number of excavation reports available (e.g. Archaeological investigations at the Arroyo Hondo site: Third field report, 1972).

You can even browse Anthropology or Archaeology books by subtopic. Take a look at these starting points, and use the subtopics in the left-hand nav:

Archaeology Books at Amazon

Anthropology Books at Amazon

You can sort the results by price, customer rating, etc. I've also found several of my textbooks over the last few years on Amazon, usually paying significantly less than the used prices at the university bookstore.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why don't I want to do this?

I have three weekends left to finish my research paper for ANTH 553 (Mesoamerican Archaeology). Why can't I make myself get it done? The task seems daunting, so I guess I'm avoiding it.

25-40 pages, including bibliography. I have most of the sources, but I've read only a fraction of them. A little advice: Don't do it like this! I began collecting possible sources back in late September, thinking I had a great start. But now, my back is against the wall, and I may not be entirely successful.

I think the #1 thing getting in my way is one big fact: My original idea for the research paper isn't going to work. I had hoped to find sufficient data on the Late Preclassic Maya Lowlands that would allow me to identify the way that neighborhoods were organized. Unfortunately, that information is buried several meters below Classic and Postclassic construction phases.

So the big challenge is to read about the Late Preclassic sites and try to identify some other indication of changes in social organization, since floorplans of the communities will not be available.

I wrote this hoping that admitting my anxiety and avoidance might help get me back on track. We'll see!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not too early to think about Field School

Most summer field schools begin accepting applications after the first of the year, and that is right around the corner. I'm starting my search now.

Another student in the seminar I'm taking at the University of Arizona worked at Baking Pot last year, a large Classic capital in Belize. The Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance (BVAR) project is entering its 20th year, and there is still a lot of work to do there. I'm putting this one at the top of my list for several reasons:

  1. It's in Belize, where the official language is English;
  2. Instead of living in tents, you get to stay in a modest hotel;
  3. The amount of time you stay is flexible (minumum of 2 weeks).

I also see that academic credit may be obtained for the course through Galen University/University of Indianapolis (But the additional costs for the classes are significant).

If you are interested in attending a field school in the Maya area, this might be a good choice. As I continue my search, I'll compile a list of field schools and create a permanent link to a post which can just keep growing.

Anthropology and WoW

I've recently begun playing World of Warcraft (I have four different characters hovering between level 15 and 20), and I've wondered about studying it as a culture.

I'm not the first to think this way-- Anthropologist Alex Golub from the University of Hawai'i is doing just that. He has an op ed piece up at Inside Higher Ed where he compares guild raiding parties to classrooms, and believes that the good leadership traits which lead to success in WoW would also help achieve success in teaching.

Take a look at Fear and Humiliation as Legitimate Teaching Methods.

Dr. Golub isn't alone either. Bonnie Nardi from UC Irvine has received a NSF $100,000 grant to study why Chinese players (numbering over 5 million) take a different approach to the game than their American counterparts. Here's more on her work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More ethnographic work: Dog Show

I went back into the field again last weekend, spending three days among members of the AKC (American Kennel Club). My wife has gotten pretty deeply involved in showing our 9-month old Dalmatian Charlie, and this time I went along.

As with most special interest groups, they are a quirky bunch who take what they are doing very seriously. I've seen similar patterns in a taekwondo community, a Star Trek fan club, an astronomy club, and an amateur archaeology club.

Some observations:

As in any culture, there are unique shared ideas and values. These are most readily identified by the special terms they use when speaking to one another. There are the official terms and phrases (e.g. major, best of opposite, reserve), and those that have evolved informally (e.g. stack, bait).

There are standards and rules, but it all comes down to the various judge's highly subjective decisions. It is clear that participants believe that winners are not chosen solely on the basis of the dogs' characteristics, but that the reputation of the breeder or the handler (or whether the judge knows them personally) plays a significant part. It is also believed that judges from different regions of the country have significantly different standards by which they judge the dogs. Something besides the documented standards is certainly at work here... in each day of the three-day event there was a different judge, and there were different winners each day. A specific example: On the final day, a judge declared that she would award NO winner among the winners of the previous round since none of them were worthy... and one of these dogs had won a "major" only the day before with a different judge.

There is a high level of segmentation within the dog show culture. The divisions are naturally drawn along breed lines-- I saw very little interaction across breed groups. There are several coexisting hierarchies:

  1. The official stratification of the show itself. This is structured with the show officials at the top, then the judges, and the breeders and handlers at the bottom.
  2. I thought I also observed an informal hierarchy or pecking order, with dog owners (who do NOT show their own dogs) at the top. They are followed by the professional handlers (hired by these owners), breeders who show their own, and dog owners who show their own dogs at the bottom.
Unlike other groups I've observed, the dog show culture's competitive nature results in a broad range of emotions and strained relations between the members. There are, by definition, a lot more losers than winners, and the highly subjective manner in which the winners are chosen leads to continual controversy. In general, I saw a lot of unhappy people. I spoke with more than one individual who questioned whether they wanted to continue their participation.

Note: The photo above shows four pups from the same litter. Charlie is the dog on the far left, and that's Teri (my wife) handling him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Out of town... lots of posts to make up!

I've been out of town since last Thursday-- I spent four days in Tucson at an AKC-sponsored dog show (Charlie came home without earning any points toward being a Champion...), and this is now my last night of a three-day trip to Minneapolis on business.

I've had little or no time on the internet, and very little to blog about. No excuses, though! I still need to create 30 posts by the 30th, and this one counts.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Studying Human Origins

The Spring 2009 semester is quickly approaching, and I just registered for my final undergraduate Anthropology course: Human Origins. The really great news (beyond the obvious fact that I'm nearly finished with my B.A.) is that this course is taught by Donald Johanson.

Yep, the famous paleoanthropologist who discovered Lucy teaches an undergraduate course on the subject every other semester right here at ASU (the home of his Institute of Human Origins).

Even though I'm planning to specialize in archaeology, I've always been fascinated by the mysteries involving the human family tree. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Understand University Procedures

I found myself in a bit of a predicament when I went to register for Spring classes.

I'm taking a graduate seminar at the University of Arizona in Tucson this semester, so I am not currently enrolled at ASU. Before I did this I checked with my department, and I was told that I could take one semester off from ASU without any problems, but that if I took two or more off consecutively, I would need to re-apply and get admitted all over again.

It turns out that the person in the anthropology department was misinformed, and when I chose not to enroll this semester, I was dropped from the university. When I called to find out why I could not register, I was told that:

  1. I would need to fill out an all-new application to the university ("Better start it right now, sir."). This includes listing my high school, all colleges I attended...
  2. Because of a high volume of applications, I should not expect an answer (i.e., am I accepted) for at least three weeks...
  3. I would have to move to the latest catalog (i.e., my degree requirements might change)
  4. I should have filed a Leave of Absence form to avoid the whole mess.
The lesson here: Ask the right questions, at the right time, of the right people. Know the process at your university!

I have worked it all out, and I will be able to register. All is well, but it was a wild ride.

Us and Them

I attended Monday Night Football in person Monday night, and experienced life in the upper deck of a sold-out pro football stadium.

It was an interesting experience from several angles. Television has spoiled me... I miss having the TV announcers and decent replays, and I frown at paying $6 for a cold, chewy order of french fries. Being in the upper deck meant the field was a good distance away, but the game was entirely watchable from there.

The most interesting part was the crowd around us. I've been to quite a few professional baseball games (I'm a fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks), and I can tell you this was NOTHING like that. Here are a few quick observations, in no particular order:

  1. Nearly everyone was wearing a football jersey (myself excluded).
  2. A majority of the people around me consumed multiple large cups of beer during the game.
  3. A lot of the people around me yelled at each other as much as they did at the teams or the referees.
  4. It appeared that a disproportionate number of people in the crowd were significantly overweight.

When I titled this post, I was not referring to myself or "my group." I wanted to draw attention to the way people so easily form into two factions (from their point of view): "Us" and "Them." Even when so many of these people clearly have a lot in common, the fact that some were fans of the Cardinals and others were San Francisco supporters meant it was okay to draw the line. People who did not know each other had no trouble yelling unkind things back and forth over a short distance, and did so for most of the night.

I can understand this kind of thing if you are contending for limited resources (e.g. food, water), but this was conflict for the sake of conflict. Is this the remnant of a survival adaptation? I doubt it is a genetic adaptation to hate people who are different, but I suspect it might be a social adaptation passed on through societal beliefs and behaviors (culture).

More thoughts on this later.


Okay, I participated in National Novel Writing Month a few years ago (I only managed 16,000 words), and Now I'm 10 days late to the beginning of National Blog Posting Month. It sounds gimmicky, and clearly favors quantity over quality, but maybe committing to a post a day might just get me in the habit.

A few unanswered questions:

  1. Does this count as one day's worth of posts?
  2. Do I need to make up for lost time and still post 30 times before December 1?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Taking the GRE General Test

I've been putting the GRE off for years... so I finally scheduled myself to take it (and paid the $$$), hoping that the pressure of the deadline would motivate me to study.

That's not exactly how it worked out. I ended up only studying the night before the test, using the ETS Test Prep CD that I received from ETS after registering for the GRE. Even so, I managed a 660 on the Verbal portion, and an 800 on the Quantitative.

The good thing about the prep software is that the interface looks just like the real one on the computer-based test, so you should definitely take all of the practice tests that are included on the CD.


Stuff you should know about taking the computer-based test:
  1. You must answer every question as it appears-- you cannot skip questions and come back later. This significantly alters your test strategy, if you have taken previous standardized tests on paper.
  2. WATCH THE CLOCK during your essay portion. I was still re-typing a sentence in my conclusion paragraph when the screen went blank and then told me my time was up.
  3. Bring an energy bar (I prefer BALANCE Bars) and leave it in your locker for a snack during your 10-minute break.

Stuff to know for the Verbal portion:
  1. How to comprehend what you read.
  2. Lots of vocabulary. The analogies are the hardest part, since you need to understand all the possible nuanced meanings of the words.
Basically, either you know this stuff or you don't. If you don't, then you need to set aside several months to improve your reading comprehension and your vocab.

Stuff you should learn, understand, and memorize before the test:
  1. The Pythagorean Theorem. Several of the quantitative questions ask you to solve problems which involve right triangles.
  2. The formulas for both the area and the circumference of a circle.
  3. Remember that the ratio of a square's side to its diagonal is 1 to the square root of 2 (1.414).
  4. The area of a right triangle is its base times its height, DIVIDED BY TWO.
  5. Be able to solve a system of linear or quadratic equations.

General strategies:
  1. DO PRACTICE TESTS. These help you assess your current state, and get you accustomed to the format.
  2. GO TO BED EARLY. In the final 24 hours prior to the test, a good night's sleep is worth way more than any more studying.
  3. DON'T FREAK OUT. If you know basic mathematics and some properties, you can probably figure out most of the answers. I solved one problem where they wanted me to compute a value in a series the right way, but I just did it by hand, working out each term individually. I got it right.

Good luck. and remember-- you can always take it again.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My First Publication

It's not in a journal, and it is not a paper, but it is cite-able. The Anthropology Review Database, hosted at the University of Buffalo, has published my book review of A Space Syntax Analysis of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico: Community Formation in the Northern Rio Grande.

I read this book as part of my research into neighborhood formation in pre-state settlements last semester. Another grad student in the seminar I was taking brought the ARD to our attention as a great source of Anthropological book reviews, and I discovered that they were looking for a review of this book (they have a large list of books and films for which they desire a review).

Here's the abstract of my review to give you an idea of what the book is about:

Using the large body of research collected from Arroyo Hondo pueblo during the 1970s, Jason Shapiro employs space syntax analysis, a method initially developed with modern architecture in mind, to analyze the settlement and subsequent resettlement of this 14th century community in the Rio Grande valley.

Take a look, it's short (but good).


Shapiro, Jason S.
2005 A Space Syntax Analysis of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico: Community Formation in the Northern Rio Grande. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press.

Wren, Paul
2008 Review of A Space Syntax Analysis of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico: Community Formation in the Northern Rio Grande. Anthropology Review Database. September 01. Electronic document,, accessed October 5, 2008.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September: Commuting to Tucson

I still haven't recovered from the summer.

Taking two semesters of Spanish in only 10 weeks (with an Urban Politics course thrown in for good measure) meant I missed the whole thing!

I succeeded, I suppose, given that received a grade of "A" in each of the three courses. Did I learn much Spanish? Not really.

It is already the third week of the Fall semester, and I am behind, behind, BEHIND. Spanish 201 is much harder than I thought it would be, and I have yet to finish the weekly reading in Dr. Inomata's Mesoamerican Archaeology course at the U of A.

Here's a tip on learning Spanish: DRILL. Make flashcards of nouns, verbs, and specific conjugations. Do them over and over and over. It's a little like multiplication tables: You just need to memorize a bunch of stuff to be successful later on.

Commuting to Tucson is no big deal. I leave the Phoenix area around lunchtime, arrive on campus early enough to sit down and review my reading (translation: DO my reading), and go to class. Afterward, I get dinner at one of the eateries near campus and begin the drive home around 6:30 pm. I'm home before 8:30, and take the rest of the day off from school worries.

The drive is a bit boring, but I have a Sirius satellite radio (150 stations and nothing much to listen to), and I also listen to a few of the Coffee Break Spanish podcasts. I really recommend these! They're useful, fun, and free.

I'll post some info on the Pre-Classic period in the Maya Lowlands when I get a chance.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Photos of Chacchoben are up!

19 Temple 2
Originally uploaded by kactuswren
I have finally uploaded photographs of my visit to Chacchoben to my Flickr account.

Chacchoben is a Mayan ceremonial center in the Yucatan about which very little is known. Only one scholarly work has been published, and it is written in Spanish (I've requested it through inter-library loan, and I'm gonna try to decipher it!).

Visitors are allowed to see the large Temple (Temple 24), and two others nearby which are on top of a large platform (you can see the large stairway that leads to the top of the platform in my set). There is another unexcavated group of temples a short distance away that is part of the same complex.

I'm working on a personal project to pull materials together and get a better overall picture of Chacchoben, and I'll be post it it here when I do.

A Crazy Summer, followed by an Important Fall


I'm two weeks into summer school: Spanish 101 every night of the week, and an internet course on Urban Politics. It seems that all I do is get up, go to work, go to class, go home, go to bed.

I'm taking Spanish 102 in the second 5-week session, so I will complete 11 total credit hours before the beginning of the Fall semester.

FALL 2008

Once the Fall comes, I'll be busier than ever:
It is only nine miles shorter to drive to Tucson from my house (as opposed to Flagstaff), but my wife has convinced me that the more friendly year-round weather will make it a better choice. I have already been accepted to Arizona as an unclassified Graduate student, and I've already registered.

I'm going to be taking a Mesoamerican Archaeology course from Dr. Takeshi Inomata. He is a Mayanist (he's currently doing fieldwork in Guatemala), and I think I would enjoy working with him.

Before the Fall semester is over, I will need to submit all application materials to the various graduate schools in which I'm interested. I plan to apply to the following (presented in alphabetical order, NOT the order of preference):


I still need to finish up my B.A., and I'll need to take the following courses to make this happen:
  • Spanish 202 (at ASU)
  • One more Physical Anthropology course
I only hope that Dr. Johansen is teaching ASM 246, Human Origins! Otherwise, I will end up taking a lab course such as Fossil Hominids or Primatology (takes LOTs of time), or maybe something easire such as Peopling of the World.

The big mystery, of course, is where will I be in the Fall of 2009?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Iron Man? I loved it.

Funny, but it took an anthropologist to write the best review of Iron Man I've read yet.

Robert Downey, Jr. was born to be Tony Stark, no doubt.

Friday, April 18, 2008

That was one busy semester

Two days ago, I turned in the term paper for Dr. Smith's grad course, Archaeology of Ancient Built Environments. I don't have an exact count, but I suspect I spent over 100 hours on the research and the writing. It's not as good as I would like it to be-- if I decide to clean it up and really finish it, I already know many of the changes I would make.

My paper, entitled "Neighborhoods in Non-urban Settlements: A Cross-cultural Comparison," used criteria originally developed to demonstrate sub-settlement groups in the Anatolian Neolithic (in Turkey) in an attempt to find neighborhoods in Native American pueblos right here in the Southwest. This will be the topic of a longer post as soon as I get the chance. I'm creating a Powerpoint slide show that may be worth posting, for those of you who are interested.

I still have another research project in the works with Dr. Martin, and I'll be finishing my data analysis very soon. More on this later.

I'm just glad I can finally get a few full nights of sleep.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Four Stone Hearth #38 is up

Read a great collection of blog posts from anthropologists around the web at the 38th edition of the Four Stone Hearth. This week's edition scan be found at A Very Remote Period Indeed, the blog of Julien Riel-Salvatore. Julien was a graduate student in paleoarchaeology at ASU (my current school), and is now a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University in Motreal.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Looking for Cultural Universals

Unfortunately, I may have found one.

It's funny how one can make cross-cultural connections sometimes. A friend of mine is from Ghana (in West Africa), where he spent a good deal of his childhood. We were talking about the problems Ghana was having with a special kind of litter: Clear plastic bags used primarily for drinking water, known as "pure water sachets."

Solving One Problem Creates Another

In Ghana (and many parts of Africa), the public water system provides water that is safe for washing clothes, etc., but is not so great for drinking. The solution? Make clean drinking water readily available in convenient plastic bags. So for years now, nearly everyone has been able to get clean, pure water to drink. I know you see the downside coming: The discarded plastic bags are everywhere. Pure water sachets fill the sidewalks, the gutters, the streets. They clog drains, canals, and lakes.

At the root: Common Behavior

The problem is exacerbated by a cultural norm in Ghana: People drop their trash wherever they are (this is very similar to the way my teenage children take off their shoes, jackets, and clothes... they drop wherever they happen to be, and quickly form a think layer covering their bedroom floors). It is commonplace to just drop the wrappers from food, paper, unfinished food itself, and of course plastic, right on the sidewalk or street.

Government efforts have been underway in western Africa for years now to deal with the problem, but have been mostly ineffectual. NGOs have gotten involved, and private groups are attempting to apply free market approaches (such as making tote bags out of collected sachets). recently, the Association of Table Water Producers in Nigeria staged a self-imposed, one-week stoppage in the production of pure water sachets, with limited results.

The Random Connection

I've been pretty obsessed with learning more about Cambodia lately, and I stumbled onto a delightful podcast by an American currently living in Siem Reap: Tasty Dog in the Kingdom (you'll need to listen to her podcast #1 to learn the meaning behind the name). during podcast #12, Delilah Marie (a pseudonym) described the trash system in Cambodia: People throw trash on the ground anywhere and everywhere, and it is almost never picked up. She also addresses the ubiquitous plastic bag, used to carry and drink fresh water (sound familiar?), coffee, and a variety of food items. These bags clog irrigation canals, and are piled along every road and path.

So it seems that the people of Siem Reap, 11,537 kilometers away from Ghana, have nearly identical behaviors when it comes to dealing with trash. Questionable water from the public system has also resulted in the distribution of drinking water in plastic sachets, just as in western Africa. I was even more surprised to dig a little on Google and discover that entrepreneurs in Cambodia are also converting the plastic bags into fashion as a way to deal with the problem.


Well, there is no conclusion, really. I have barely begun to scratch the surface on this issue, and it is clear that I (and many of us) have been ignorant of the scope of the trash control problems around the world. I found a website dedicated to abandoned and orphaned children which relates anecdotal examples of families and orphaned children living in garbage dumps around the world. I plan to post more on this topic soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Impressive Angkor

We've all seen photographs of Angkor Wat, the spectacular 12th century Khmer Temple in Cambodia. I was surprised to learn that Angkor Wat is just the tip of the iceberg-- that it was the center of an enormous, low-density urban complex whose size (1000 square km) rivaled large modern day cities.

Right before Spring Break, I attended a presentation by Roland Fletcher, an archaeologist from the University of Sydney who is leading up the Greater Angkor Project. This 10-year study is bringing new technologies to bear on the large questions surrounding the city of Angkor.

Using airborne side-looking radar (and other imaging from space), amazing features were revealed. From the presentation summary:
So far the project has mapped the extent of the water management system, has located key water management structures and has identified the dispersed pattern of occupation along canals and roads and on house-mounds. The demise of the urban complex now has to be reappraised because it was apparently functioning into the 16th century, later than the generally assumed sack in the early 15th century CE.
The scope of Angkor is startling. If you take a look at the feats of engineering the Khmer accomplished, one can't help but be amazed. The second photo in this post (click it for a larger view) is a satellite view of the temple of Angkor Wat, its grounds, and the large, square moat which surrounds it. You can see that the temple is dwarfed by the moat, and Dr. Fletcher tossed up a slide that showed the area inside the moat is larger than any Mayan city.

Not stopping there, you need to see the map of the entire Angkor complex (the 3rd image). The very center square on the map is Angkor Thom, the royal forest. Just below it, a tiny blue square represents the moat at Angkor Wat.

The long, rectangular blue features are man-made water reservoirs which supported the irrigation of the entire area. The West and East Baray (the two largest) are 8 kilometers in length. The NASA Earth Observatory has a large AIRSAR image of the Angkor region, plus an accompanying GIS map of all the archaeological features and sites.

What have they determined so far? It looks like the earlier theory (by Bernard-Philippe Groslier) that the large reservoirs were primarily for irrigation are correct. The radar imagery show the remnants of rice fields covering the entire region from the lake to the mountain foothills. A river was diverted to fill the reservoirs, and to irrigate the landscape. Excavations of old water channels has revealed evidence of heavy flooding (including substantial deposition of sand), which likely overwhelmed their system. It is possible that the deforestation of the area for conversion to agriculture, combined with the re-routed natural water channels, may have led to a large-scale ecological disaster.

One of the principal investigators (Damian Evans) was the lead author on a paper last year that reported on their comprehensive mapping (see below).

Additional resources:

1. Wikipedia has a nice overview of Angkor's history.

2. Evans, D., Pottier, C., Fletcher, R., Hensley, S., Tapley, I., Milne, A. and Barbetti, M. 2007. A comprehensive archaeological map of the world’s largest pre-industrial settlement complex at Angkor, Cambodia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol. 104 no. 36, pp. 14277-14282

3. The American Museum of Natural History has a nice animated overview of the current findings at Angkor.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Now I know that NAU's Anthropology Program is Selective

Here's what I have:
  • forty-two credit hours in Anthropology coursework, GPA: 3.97
  • A certificate that says I won the Undergraduate Research Assistantship award at ASU
  • 4 weeks of archaeological field school experience
  • 2 years of research work with a professor
  • Glowing recommendations from two professors
Here's what I don't have:
  • Acceptance in the graduate Anthropology program at Northern Arizona University.
I returned from a college-hunting trip (for my daughter) in Colorado to find two letters from NAU. The one from the Anthropology Department was somewhat friendly, stating that either my application was not competitive enough or that my research interests did not line up well with those of the professors in the department. The letter from the NAU Graduate College was much more blunt: "Your application was not competitive."

I've already asked the graduate coordinator to please explain to me the aspects of my application which failed to meet their standards, and hopefully this will be a productive thing. Right now, I'm still pretty depressed about the whole thing-- and I keep wondering which is true: 1. They just don't know me, or 2. I'm not good enough.

There are some good things I can take from this:
  1. NAU's program really is pretty competitive! If I'd been accepted, I would not have know for sure.
  2. You can always do a better job on your application. I've identified about twenty things I would do differently if I could (and I will do them for the next one).
  3. I can finish my B.A. in Anthropology. Having the B.A. is a good thing-- it means I'll finish my foreign language work, and have a minimum credential for moving on to graduate studies. Who knows-- this may have worked against me at NAU.
  4. I have plenty of time to finish my research with Dr. Martin. By May of next year, I'll have my B.A. and two publications.
  5. I can still choose something other than Archaeology. I've been having doubts about choosing Archaeology as my subdiscipline, so now I have time to reconsider.
  6. I have another year to pay off debt and save. If I'm planning to go part time at work, I better be as financially secure as I can be.
As depressing as this has been, I have to remember that I'm in the middle of a very demanding graduate seminar. Now I REALLY need to do well in this.

I couldn't help myself: I already registered for next semester at ASU. I'm taking the two remaining courses I need for my Anthro degree, except for the foreign language component. For Spanish, I'll take two summer sessions starting in June, and I'll have completed my four courses total by May of 2009. Yep, I should be able to graduate.

As for graduate school, I'll need to see what happens. I might still try the Online Masters in Applie dAnthropology at UNT, or I might commute to the U of A in Tucson. But for the next 15 months, I know I'll be right here at ASU.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Good Practice for Grad School

This has been an exciting semester so far, and an immensely busy one. I'm taking ASB 591 Archaeology of Ancient Built Environments, I'm still working on a paper with Dr. Martin, I still have quite a bit of data entry to do for Dr. Smith, and I'm sitting in on Dr. Martin's graduate seminar entitled Biology and Society.

This seems like pretty good practice for graduate school-- since I'm doing all of the reading for two seminars and working on a major research project. If I am lucky enough to get accepted into the Master's program at NAU, it can't be much worse (except for the drive).

In Dr. Smith's Built Environment class, we're reading up on how the many ways that archaeologists propose for inferring culture from architecture. We've had some really stimulating conversations (there are five us us unrolled in the class), and kicked around many things I had never considered.

We've covered new broad topics each week:
  • The Meaning of the Built Environment - reading mostly works by Amos Rapoport, who proposes that the environment can possess lower-level meaning (cues for what we are supposed to do), middle level meaning (e.g. identity, status, power), or high level meaning (e.g. world view, spiritual meaning). Intriguing urban design/social engineering controversy: Urban planner Robert Moses designed expressway systems in New York City, and supposedly designed the expressway bridges with such low clearance that public transportation (buses) could not go under them. This discriminated against the poor communities (few had automobiles) preventing them from visiting parks, baseball, etc. He is even credited by some with driving the Brooklyn Dodgers out of New York. read more at Wikipedia.
  • Settings for Activities - Dana Anderson, Susan Kent, and more Rapoport. We covered the definition of "activity" and "activity areas", discussed the types of activities (daily, subsistence, ritualistic, production, consumption), the types of activity areas (shared or dedicated), and Rapoport's concept that activities cannot be viewed alone, but as part of a larger activity system. He believes that settings are also part of larger setting systems.
  • Habitus and Home - Looking at domestic structures, Richard Blanton, Kent Lightfoot, and others looked at methods for identifying meaning. Most of these authors make it clear that to gain a full picture, one must combine data from archaeology, ethnohistory, and even oral histories.
  • Housing and Communication - House construction and design is to a large extent a consumer decision... how much to spend, etc. Blanton looks at how the decoration and design of a house communicates on multiple levels: What group the owners are in, their status in the community, etc.
  • Roland Fletcher - His model for settlement growth is pretty interesting (although I'm not sure what it can be used for if you are an archaeologist). It grows out of his belief that interpersonal interaction and limits on communication increase as settlements get larger, ultimately limiting the size of growth until the interactions are curbed or new facilitating communication technologies emerge. See The Limits of Settlement Growth.
We have 8 more weeks of topics, usually reading 6 papers per week. I need to read a related book and write a publishable review, and I also need to produce an original research paper, some kind of cross-cultural comparative study using existing data.

If I can survive this semester, I should be able to handle the real thing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Springtime: Getting Serious

Okay, I know it's been a long time since I posted. For the two of you who still check occasionally, I apologize.

I'm going to try to post more often, especially since things have been getting more interesting for me as a student.

Some highlights:

  • Dr. Martin and I are close to submitting a paper on an important discovery we've made regarding the social effects on the sex ratio at birth in Africa. More details once it's on its way.
  • I managed to get all of my application materials submitted on time for the Anthropology Masters at NAU. Now I just have to wait... I should hear in the next few weeks.
  • I'm taking a graduate seminar from Dr. Michael Smith: Archaeology of Ancient Built Environments. Tons of reading, tons of excellent discussion, and tons of stress are making it a novel experience.
I'll be posting separately in more detail on each of these topics real soon now.