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  • Final Report Summary - TROPICMICROARCH (Tropical Micro-Archaeology:An interdisciplinary project aiming to study site formation processes in tropical environment related to hunter-gatherers' use of space)

Final Report Summary - TROPICMICROARCH (Tropical Micro-Archaeology:An interdisciplinary project aiming to study site formation processes in tropical environment related to hunter-gatherers' use of space)

Tropical-MicroArchaeology: An interdisciplinary project aiming to study site formation processes in tropical environment related to hunter-gatherers' use of space

Project aim:
TropicMicroArch aimed to study how hunter-gatherers' ways of living are reflected in their use of space and how it affects the depositional processes of microscopic materials in tropical forests. Although hunter-gatherers' use of space has previously been studied through ethnoarchaeology, this project studied it from a new micro- and sub-microscopic perspective with special attention given to post-depositional processes. This project focused on the development of new methods for sediments sampling and mapping and methods of laboratory analyses of micro- and sub-microscopic remains which will aid archaeological research aiming to better integrate the different scales of the archaeological record in relation to prehistoric hunter-gatherers, and to understand and observe formation processes in tropical sites. Dr. David Friesem, as a Marie Curie fellow was hosted by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in the University of Cambridge, where the integration of humanities, social sciences and earth sciences is possible. Due to its multidisciplinary properties, this study involved several host scientists and mentors from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at Cambridge University, in addition to collaboration with researchers from other departments and institutes from Europe and Asia. Studying hunter-gatherers was achieved by ethnographic work coupled with fieldwork which involved excavations and sediment sampling in the tropical forests of South India. Laboratory work was carried out mainly in the McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology at the University of Cambridge where the fellow also acquired geoarchaeological training.
Specific objectives were threefold:
1) To study how forest dwelling hunter-gatherer ways of living are reflected in use of space and how it affects the depositional processes of microscopic materials.
2) To study the post-depositional processes acting on microscopic archaeological materials in tropical forests and how they will form and appear as archaeological features in the future.
3) To provide new methodological framework for integrated macro- and microscopic archaeological study in general and in particular for studying hunter-gatherers and site formation processes in tropical forests.

The work performed during the project:
An ethnographic study of forest dwellers hunter-gatherers has been carried out by Noa Lavi (University of Haifa), together with D. Friesem (the Marie Curie fellow, University of Cambridge) in the forests of the Nilgiri district in Tamil-Nadu, South India since 2010. During 2015 field excavations took place in several sites located deep in the tropical forest and abandoned by the same group of people. During excavation, directed by the fellow, two open-air sites and one rock-shelter were unearthed and sediments were sampled for further analysis in the laboratory. The fellow had analysed the samples at the laboratories of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. Preparation of thin sections and micromorphological analysis was carried out at the Charles McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology. Phytolith analysis was performed at the George Pitt-Rivers Laboratory for Bioarchaeology. Infrared spectroscopy was conducted by the fellow at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and samples for geochemical analysis were sent to ALS Global, Seville, Spain. The results were then synthesis by applying a spatial analysis using GIS. The fellow has been trained at Cambridge to use GIS and applied it on the results from his field excavation and laboratory analysis to form models of material deposition. The final synthesis resulted in two models: (1) how hunter-gatherers ways of living is reflected by spatial deposition patterns of microscopic remains; (2) The archaeological post-deposition site formation processes in tropical environments. The results were presented by the fellow in a number of international conferences (EAA Glasgow 2015, EAA Vilnius 2016; Pantropica MPI Jena 2016), departmental seminars (University of Cambridge and University of Oxford) and in public talks (Cambridge’s ‘Festival of Ideas’ 2015, 2016). The fellow published the project’s results and synthesis in two high-ranked peer-review journals (Friesem and Lavi 2016 Quaternary International; Friesem et al. 2016 PLOS ONE). A third paper is expected to be submitted for publication by May 2017. In addition, the fellow organised a workshop on cutting-edge geoarchaeology which also initiated a network of geoarchaeological laboratories between Cambridge, Tübingen (Germany) and La Laguna (Spain). A project conference was hosted by the McDonald Institute in Cambridge about the anthropology and archaeology study of hunter-gatherers in the past and present in which 75 participants from all over the world discuss on how we can advance the research of hunter-gatherers sociality in contemporary and archaeological context.

Main results:
The results of the ethnographic fieldwork link between intangible social aspects of hunter-gatherers (e.g., immediacy and being-together) to their daily practices and use of space (e.g., sharing, mobility and activity areas). In addition, the ethnographic fieldwork provides a new model for hunter-gatherers’ use of space which archaeologically can be studied by identifying a dynamic material deposition pattern (see Friesem and Lavi 2016 Quaternary International). This new model possess important implications for allowing better insights into hunter-gatherers social behaviour in archaeological sites by applying analysis of microscopic materials coupled with spatial analysis.
Through microscopic and chemical analysis residues associated with hunter-gatherers activity could be traced, which otherwise could not be identified by the naked eye and traditional excavation methods. Together with spatial analysis the data obtained from the excavation and laboratory analysis of this project provide a pioneering framework for studying hunter-gatherers behaviour by combining macro- and microscopic study as well as spatial analysis of the archaeological record (see Friesem et al. 2016 PLOS ONE).
The laboratory analyses provided for the first time a holistic model for the post-depositional processes which alter and form the archaeological record in tropical environment. Mainly due to acidic conditions the preservation of certain archaeological materials is challenged and only by considering the taphonomic processes in tropical environments can one understand and reconstruct the archaeological site formation processes in such environment (see Friesem et al. 2016 PLOS ONE and Friesem submitted to Ethnoarchaeology).
The project as a whole helped to form new models to study archaeological sites in tropical environments and in particular how we can approach intangible social aspects of past hunter-gatherers by studying the micro-archaeological record. The project advanced the inter-disciplinary and integration between anthropology and archaeology of hunting and gathering societies.

Reported by

United Kingdom
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