Cultural differences: archaeology and palaeoecology

Human modification of the landscape in the Andes (Peru)
Human modification of the landscape in the Andes (Peru)

Whilst working on intergrating palaeoecological and archaeological data for a recent publication (Gosling & Williams, 2013) I was struck by the range of sources I had to go to to obtain data from the two different disciplines. The paper focuses on the how societies in the high Andes have developed over the last 5000 years and the role, if any, that changes in natural resource (ecosystem service) avaliability might have played in pacing any societal changes. However, when I got the first set of review comments back I was left considering my (academic) resource base, how I accessed this, and how that influenced my ability to conduct research; especially when moving slightly outside the area of my specialism.

I am a palaeoecologist by specialism, but have a keen interest in archaeology and how people interact with their environment. Inspired by the “Using fossil records to map potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments for biodiversity and ecosystem services” (University of Oxford) I was therefore very excited to start to pull together this manuscript which looked at placing my research specialim in a wider archaeological context to address questions of resource use and environmental management. The the paper was essentially a literature review and data collation to provide a comparison between multiple study localities near Lake Titicaca.

My main tool for finding material for this review was my computer. Locating resources online using search engines (such as Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar) mainly supplied invisibly to my desktop by The Open University Library, and using digital repositories to access data sources (such as Neotoma). However, it became apparent that this resource was insufficient when trying to establish what is known about the archaeology of the region. The reason for this insufficiency was the difference in publishing culture and the antiquity of many of the publications.

A substantial portion of the archaeological literature is in the format of site reports and academic books. To find and navigate this literature requires experience and detailed knowledge of the specific field which is not comprehenisvely covered by online search engines. I am therefore indebted to the reviewers and collegues who took the time to point me in the right direction. Without that expert input it would have been difficult for me, as an academic linking to a parallel discipline, to access these valuable academic resources, and consequently impossible to collate such a comprehensive paper. In the age of online resource and communication this experience was a good reminder to me not to rely overly on what my search engines tell me, and make sure that I take the time to talk to the real experts in the field when working even slightly outside my own specialism.

Handbook of South American Indians
Steward ed. (1963) Handbook of South American Indians. Sentry Press, New York

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