2014 Exploration grant winners

The ECWG Board of Directors awarded these 2014 Exploration Grants as recommend by the ECWG Grants Committee:

Rebecca Biermann, M.A, George Washington University, Anthropology,

Study title: New Approaches to Understanding Human Behavioral Evolution from Stone Artifacts: Applying Photogrammetry at Olorgesailie, Kenya.

Description: Stone tools constitute the majority of archaeological remains from the Pleistocene and can provide insights into the evolution of humans and their behavior. The goal of much analysis of lithic artifacts is to understand the extent to which both the production of stone tools and their resulting forms were standardized.

Depending on degree of complexity, standardization can indicate social learning, complex imitation and the transmission of social knowledge. Although humans with modern cognitive abilities consistently produce standardized tools in many contexts, the degree of standardization prior to the emergence of Homo sapienshas been questioned, particularly with respect to tools known as scrapers for their relatively steeply-angled smooth edges.

Although standardization is difficult to quantify, new digital and statistical methods for analyzing three-dimensional shape are being developed by this investigator and others. The proposed research will model scrapers from Olorgesailie, Kenya, dating to more than 200,000 years ago, using photogrammetric three-dimensional methodology, and will subsequently analyze them using Fourier analysis, a statistical shape analysis. These techniques will allow us to quantify and analyze shape in a three-dimensional space, and will provide improved insights into the cognitive abilities of our pre-Homo sapiens ancestors.

Lee Bloch, PhD, University of Virginia, Anthropology

The North Florida Mounds Oral History Project: Muskogee (Creek) Perspectives on Ancestral Landscapes

Mound building in North Florida represents an ancient Native American tradition, reaching its greatest material intensity at the Mississippian period Lake Jackson site (1100-1500 CE). Members of a descendant Muskogee (Creek) community local to the area regularly visit and even follow archaeological research on these ancestral places, which are an important part of their heritage.

Over the summer of 2014, I will document and analyze the community’s oral histories about these mound landscapes. This study is a step in my doctoral research, which applies collaborative archaeological and ethnographic methods to the investigation of Muskogee relationships to and interpretations of ancestral material culture and landscapes.

In addition to documentation, my summer research will identify underlying structures embedded in Muskogee oral histories such as generic and symbolic conventions, social contexts, and notions of temporality. Studying these elements on their own terms will enable me to integrate Indigenous knowledge and archaeological research without reducing the cultural differences between these two ways of knowing the past. This research refines archaeological models of ancient Native peoples and contributes to the emergent fields of collaborative archaeologies that rethink archaeological theory and practice by involving Native communities, cultural knowledge, and oral traditions.

Huan Cui, PhD, University of Maryland, Geology, $3500

Searching for Early Animal Skeletons and Reconstructing the Biogeochemical Fuse to the Cambrian Explosion from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation, South China

The sudden diversification of animal life in the Cambrian Explosion around 530 million years ago is arguably one of the most important biological watersheds in Earth’s long history. The driving mechanisms that lead to the evolutionary big bang, however, are still incompletely understood. One thrust of my research in Geobiology is in understanding the fossil record and possible environmental drivers for this biological revolution.

The field site I want to investigate is a rock unit called Dengying Formation in Three Gorges Area of South China. Previous study reveals that this rock unit was deposited between 551 and 541 million years ago, in the dawn of the animal life Cambrian Explosion. Numerous fossils have been discovered in this rock unit, representing the earliest group of animals with skeletons evolved in Earth history.

With the goal of a better understanding of early animal evolution, I plan to conduct field investigation with my advisor and colleagues. During the field trip, I will systematically collect rock samples in high resolution for further paleontological and geochemical analysis in University of Maryland and Virginia Tech.

Scott Martin, MS, Towson University, Biology

Response of an Ecosystem Engineer to large-scale Dune Construction: Implication for Coastal Wildlife

Due to climate change an increase in the intensity of coastal storms and sea level rise puts both human developments and coastal habitat at risk. In areas where coastal retreat threatens human developments sea walls are commonly used as a mitigation method. High rates of coastal erosion in front of these structures are noted.  The loss of sandy beaches is a major management problem; alternative techniques may protect human interests and biodiversity. One method is construction of dunes to prevent over wash of coastal habitat, but the effects of these dunes on coastal wildlife needs more research.

Following Hurricane Sandy, NASA began constructing a large dune to protect the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). KSC is a biodiversity hotspot in the United States and has large colonies of gopher tortoises, a state threatened species, in coastal habitat. Gopher tortoises are ecosystem engineers; their burrows are used by over 300 commensal species. My study proposes to monitor the recolonization of the constructed dune and an older pilot dune to see how tortoises use the dunes. If colonization is rapid, and gopher tortoises form resident colonies, such methods may protect human interests and biodiversity along coastlines in the American Southeast.

Christopher Shephard, PhD, College of William and Mary, Anthropology

The Materiality of Politics: Tracking Movement, Meaning, and Mollusks in the Algonquian Southern Middle Atlantic (A.D. 900-1680)

Recent scholarship on the pre-Columbian exchange of “wealth” objects in the Middle Atlantic has emphasized the role of copper (and its circulation) in producing the Native chiefly political economies that mark Late Woodland and Contact Periods (A.D. 900 – 1680). Much less, however, has been written about shell beads that are not only more abundant in the region’s archaeological record, but are often found in association with copper in various ceremonial contexts. The exchange of these objects as gifts at public events created social obligations and bound individuals and societies into repetitive cycles of exchange. Through the use of Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), this study seeks to: 1) identify potential shell bead production zones throughout the Chesapeake region, and 2) assess evidence of trade between coastal societies and those who resided in western portions of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. A relatively new technique, ICP-MS offers a means of analyzing the elemental constitution of shell objects and potentially linking them to the unique watershed within which they originated. The overall goal of the study is to expose a previously unknown craft industry within the region and assess the exchange networks that were created as a result.

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