Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Elsevier Manuscript Submission System

So, I recently had to use the Elsevier Manuscript Submission System to change the corresponding author on an article that one of my former graduate students and I had submitted. What a nightmare! The system seems like it was designed by Nazi psychologists who got frustrated when the waterboarding took too long to work.

Even though I had previously filled out all their forms, and then consolidated my various journal profiles--a complex and confusing set of tasks--the system would not let me get to the dashboard or do anything until I had filled out several more screens full of additional information.

I was tempted to write to the editor and withdraw the submission, and I might have if doing so would not have caused problems for my colleague.

Am I the only one who hates it when people use their power to force you to do things you don't want to do? Might there be something just a tad unethical about doing that?

The information they were requiring had something to do with my research foci--I wasn't paying close attention because I was so annoyed. I don't remember what I filled out, but I do recall that I didn't do it carefully.

If they start asking me to peer-review articles on the sex lives of dung beetles, I guess that will be an indication of what I put down.

Do you find their system frustrating, or am I being oversensitive?

Rubén Darío ceramics

Posted for a friend...Click on photographs for larger images. More to come...

Exterior, body sherd, striation and roughening zoned with broad grooves.

Exterior, shoulder of jar, roughened with zoned excised geometric designs.

Exterior, shoulder of jar, detail of excised geometric design on previous sherd

Exterior, shoulder of jar, detail of excised geometric design on previous sherd

Exterior, body sherd, zoned striation

Example of paste

Example of paste

Example of paste

Exterior, body sherd, zoned striation in quatrefoil (?) cartouche

Exterior, body sherd, daub of red paint on polished surface

Example of paste

Polished black body sherds, exterior

Polished red body sherds, exterior

Exterior, body sherd, zoned roughened below; polished, white slipped and incised above. Zigzag resembles rocker stamping

Body sherd, exterior, pinched and impressed ridge in brushed or roughened band; no applique?

Exterior, modeled body sherds, eye? (left), nose and mouth (?), right

Red painted tecomate rim, exterior

Red painted tecomate rim, interior
Profile of tecomate rim
Body sherd exterior, polished above, roughened (scraped) below

Body sherd, exterior, polished above pinched-impressed band, roughened below, with excised geometric design

Body sherd, exterior, detail of roughened zone showing excised geometric design

Low, sharply everted, jar rim, neither burnished nor polished
Profile view of previous rim
Example of brown paste

Body sherd, exterior, polished above, excised below

More on the lahar

The "lahar" has been mapped as a lava flow, but it's so unconsolidated that I wonder whether it might not be pyroclastic, or at least of low viscosity. See Figure 1 in

Hazlett, Richard W. (1987). Geology of the San Cristobal Volcanic Complex, Nicaragua. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 33: 223-230.

I have heard rumors of an archaeological site on the south side of San Cristobal that has mounds partly buried under a lava flow. The edge of this flow would presumably be the best place to look for it. So, we went back to drive up the east side of the flow last Sunday. We saw some interesting stratigraphy in stream cuts, but no sites.

Oh, well. Maybe next time. I'm convinced that if you look around enough, and know what you're looking for, you'll eventually discover something interesting.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Crew and the Cosmapa Lahar

Here’s the problem.

The Cosmapa site is buried. In Shovel Test 8, the northeasternmost shovel test, the buried surface is particularly clear (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Sharp Contact between the sterile superposed volcanic sand and the underlying buried soil rich in artifacts in Shovel Test 8, Cosmapa
The buried soil appears at about 100 cm. The first sherd appeared at 102 cm. The contact between the overlying ash or sand and the clayier buried soil is particularly sharp. Last year, while writing the informe, I noticed on Google Earth that there was what looked like a large lava flow that came down the southern flank of San Cristóbal straight toward Cosmapa and stopped just south of the Highway, about 1000 m north of the site (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Lava Flow or lahar? In Yellow. Site is in blue.

A couple of days ago, I was looking at it again in Google Earth, and I came down to ground level and "flew" toward San Cristóbal, and I saw that the “lava flow” looked like a gigantic lahar that came straight from a fissure in the cone of San Cristóbal, where the collapse looked quite sharp and fresh (Figures 3-6).

Figure 3. At the summit, it looks like a lahar. Notice the sharp fissure where part of the cone has given way and a giant avalanche has cascaded downward.

Figure 4. The collapse feature is clearer from an angle in this Google Earth image. See how fresh it looks.

Figure 5. Here you can see the relation between the flow and the lahar above. They are almost, but not quite, aligned.
Figure 6. Same as the previous map, but zoomed in a little.

So, was it a lahar or a lava flow? We drove out to look. It’s only 7.2 km from the rotunda at the entrance to Chinandega. We parked at the north entrance to the Cosmapa road. From there, you can see that the road is humped up where it crosses over the flow, whatever it is. We walked along the highway and looked at the section visible in the drainage ditch. We got to a bridge and went down into the dry streambed. There we could see what looked like a lahar deposit in the lowest stratum with ash deposits sitting unconformably atop it. The lahar deposit had lots of sharp stones (not rounded river stones) all mixed in it and lightly cemented, but I could pry bits off with my trowel. We went back to the car and drove east to a dirt road that runs north just shy of the stream. Then we drove north along the road, which follows the eastern edge of the flow. The flow is pitted with big quarries, which makes sense: the volcanoes must be the only places to get stone in the coastal plain. And this recent flow, whatever it is, is clearly recent—there’s only stunted vegetation growing on it, as you can see on Google Earth—so the stone must be easily accessible. In the quarries and road cuts along this track, we could see that the flow is composed of a jumbled mix of totally unsorted, rough, angular, volcanic stone. The particle size varies from silt to house-sized rock, all tumbled together in piles and ridges (Figure 7).  Although there is some scoria mixed in, it looks to me like a lahar. I drove up the Posoltega lahar in 2000, only two years after it happened, and I have seen ancient, consolidated lahar deposits at Cusirisna in Boaco. They pretty much look like this one on San Cristobal (Figure 8), allowing for differences in parent material and age.

Figure 7. Lahar deposits in a quarry face
Figure 8. Ancient lahar deposit from the Las Lajas Crater near Cusirisna, Boaco, Nicaragua.

So, I think it is a lahar. It doesn’t look a lava flow. It’s largely unconsolidated.

If it's a lahar, it's huge. Look at it at the same scale as the Posoltega lahar, which killed a couple of thousand people in few minutes during Hurricane Mitch in 1998 (Figures 9 and 10). The two images are at the same scale.

Figure 9. Posoltega Lahar, from 1998
Figure 10. San Cristobal Lahar at the Same Scale as the Posoltega Lahar

Here's the crew. They're great (Figure 11).
Figure 11. Kelsey, Grazia, and Ashley, with Agateyte smoking pacifically in the background

Sunday, May 24, 2015

You may have been in the field too long if...

1) you've been listening to the BBC on the short wave for so long that you recognize the voices of all the news readers and can tell if they have a cold;

2) you stopped taking your malaria meds so long ago you can't remember the dosage;

3) you file your nails with the same bastard file you use to sharpen your trowel and your machete;

4) Sunscreen? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, cough, snort. Oh, that? That's just a mole;

5) You intuitively recognize whether the GPS coordinates are correct in DMS, decimal degrees, and UTMs;

6) You can spot a sherd on the side of a dirt road while driving by at 50 kph;

7)  You're on a first-name basis with every farmer and hunter in the district/state/department/canton/province;

8) Your athletic socks have evolved to the point that they could pass a Turing test;

9) trenchfoot is a frequent topic of casual discussion;

10) you don't even think about TV any more; and, drum roll please,

11) you've forgotten what it's like not to have diarrhea.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Kelsey Willis, Undergraduate Researcher Guest Blogger

Reporting from Chinandega, Nicaragua:

I am here with my advisor, Dr. Clifford Brown, and one of his graduate students, Ashley Gravlin, to analyze archaeological ceramics. The ceramics are from over 20 sites that Dr. Brown found in his previous fieldwork. We want to analyze the collected ceramics so we can define the people who created them. For our goal, we believe the best way to come to such a conclusion is to classify the ceramics into types, varieties and groups. To classify the ceramics we will be observing the finishes, decorations, colors and forms of the pottery; recording the coarseness by examining the temper particle size, shape and type; and measuring the colors of the ceramic’s paste, slip or paint (if included).

One of the first things I thought would be really amazing to see is where some of the ceramic material came from, so a few days ago, we headed out to some sites. We went to the sites known as Cosmapa Oriental, Santa Cristina, and Rio Chiquito in that order. At Cosmapa Oriental, which is a large peanut field, we walked in our own straight lines and found sherds just lying on the surface. A few of the sherds we found resembled a ceramic type known as Las Vegas polychrome (Figure 1) and we photographed them. We also came across a biface stone tool fragment that was made of chert (Figure 2).

Figure 1. Potsherd of Las Vegas Polychrome from the Cosmapa Oriental Site
Figure 2. Chert biface fragment from the Cosmapa Oriental Site

At Santa Cristina we did not find as much, but we did come across a large painted ceramic support. After spending a little more time there, we headed to Rio Chiquito. In this area, the ground was covered in grass and weeds. It took my eyes a while to adjust to finding geometric shapes on the ground, but once they did I saw sherds every five steps. We even found some obsidian shatter and one obsidian flake.

We didn't collect any artifacts, but it was really exciting and an awesome experience to visit actual archaeological sites!

Friday, May 22, 2015

More Dinosours, Dammit!

Have I mentioned recently that this blog is entitled "No Dinosours!" because I am tired of people confusing archaeology with paleontology?

Apparently not. It's been over a year since my previous rant.

To add injury to insult, someone redid the Anthropology Department's website and put a photograph of what appears to be a dinosaur skeleton as a banner across the top of the page.

As such, it even appears across the top of my own Departmental page.

I even complained about this at a College Faculty Assembly meeting, but that had no effect.

Please don't visit my Departmental page. It has virtually no useful information and also contains errors, such as my rank and title.

Disclaimer: Paleontology is very cool, but it is a branch of geology, not Anthropology. Archaeologists look for people, not dinosaurs. It's amazing how many educated people do not seem to know this.

Ancient DNA from a recent descendent of a Neandertal-Homo sapiens coupling

Interesting article by Ann Gibbons in today's Science magazine. The article reports on a talk by Qiaomei Fu who sequenced ancient DNA from a young male mandible from a cave site in Romania. The mandible is said to be suspiciously robust, and it turned out to have a lot of Neanderthal nuclear DNA, including long segments that had not yet been disordered by cross-overs. The conclusion is that the individual was only a few generations away from a mating between a human and a Neanderthal. Both the date (42-37 kya) and the location (Europe) are curious for the interbreeding event. The scientific article is supposed to be in review. Can't wait!

Gibbons, Ann (2015). Ancient DNA Pinpoints Paleolithic Liaison in Europe. Science Vol. 348, Issue 6237, p. 847.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Best students ever!

To all my previous students:

I'm truly sorry but you have been downgraded by two levels in the student quality hierarchy by my current students, Ashley and Kelsey, because they baked me a cake here in Nicaragua. To understand why this is significant, you should know that it is the end of the dry season here in Chinandega, the hottest part of the year in the hottest part of Nicaragua. So, turning on the oven feels almost exactly like jumping into the smoking volcano that is visible through the kitchen window.

 Kudos to Ashley and Kelsey. They've raised the bar. It might take brandy and cigars to surpass them. I feel sorry for their successors. Good luck to them, the poor bastards.



Saturday, May 16, 2015

Flying Pigs and the New Season in Nicaragua

We are starting our new season of research in Nicaragua. (Of course, the "season" never really ends for me because by the time I finish my report from last season, I have to start preparing my permit request for the next year.) This year we hope to complete a fuller, more detailed ceramic analysis of the pottery we previously excavated in the Department of Chinandega. We hope that redefining some types and varieties and describing them more fully will allow us to produce a chronological sequence. And maybe, maybe, some indication of ethnic differences.

I've brought with me two excellent students, Ashley Gravlin Beman, who is working on her Master's thesis research in our Department, and Kelsey Willis, an undergraduate who is planning to write a senior thesis on a subset of these materials. I am also looking forward to working with a couple of young Nicaraguan archaeologists who will be joining us.

We had a great flight in on American Airlines. We rented the SUV without problems, got cell phones, pulled out the parking lot, and just sat in traffic. The traffic lights, which are mostly new, had apparently all gone out, and that caused a bunch of accidents, and it was a Friday afternoon, and the traffic was at a total standstill. It took us over an hour and a half to get to our hotel downtown. We missed our meeting at Patrimonio. I'm really annoyed that I missed such an important meeting, especially since I'm obsessively punctual.

A Nicaraguan friend recently wrote to me saying something like, "but pigs fly surprisingly often in Nicaragua," meaning, I guess, expect the unexpected, or the improbable is more likely than you think in Nicaragua. So, the pigs are soaring here; big flocks of them are on the horizon.

Got to hit the road for Chinandega now.

Next time: photos.