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TO STONES AND BONES, ADD GENES AND ISOTOPES, LIFE HISTORIES AND LANDSCAPES: ACCUMULATING ISSUES FOR THE TEACHING OF PALAEOLITHIC ARCHAEOLOGY

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The study of the Palaeolithic is not usually thought of as being as being at the forefront of theoretical, or practical developments, but in the last 30 years our theoretical understanding of the lives of ancient gatherers and hunters has been transformed through practical engagement with the material record, almost always undertaken through university- based, student-powered, field projects. This paper will look at three different forms of field project that have sought to integrate theoretical developments with practical fieldwork in Upper Palaeolithic archaeology: the economic landscape studies at Klithi in northern Greece, the delicate excavations at Pincevent and neighbouring Paris Basin sites, and landscape survey at Makapansgat in South Africa. In particular, I shall look at the disjunction between the timescales of field projects from inception through to write up and consider what problems might exist for students in attempting to learn within the normal time period that they spend on a site about the big questions of scale from the moment through to the passing of species, from the sitting of a group around a hearth to the movement of bands around a vast landscape, that so preoccupy Palaeolithic archaeologists.
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RAE Journal Volume 1, Issue 2
57
TO STONES AND BONES, ADD GENES AND ISOTOPES,
LIFE HISTORIES AND LANDSCAPES:
ACCUMULATING ISSUES FOR THE TEACHING OF
PALAEOLITHIC ARCHAEOLOGY
Anthony Sinclair
School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool,
Liverpool, L69 3GS, UK
Email: a.g.m.sinclair@liverpool.ac.uk
Abstract
The study of the Palaeolithic is not usually thought of as being as being
at the forefront of theoretical, or practical developments, but in the last
30 years our theoretical understanding of the lives of ancient gatherers
and hunters has been transformed through practical engagement with
the material record, almost always undertaken through university-
based, student-powered, field projects. This paper will look at three
different forms of field project that have sought to integrate theoretical
developments with practical fieldwork in Upper Palaeolithic
archaeology: the economic landscape studies at Klithi in northern
Greece, the delicate excavations at Pincevent and neighbouring Paris
Basin sites, and landscape survey at Makapansgat in South Africa. In
particular, I shall look at the disjunction between the timescales of field
projects from inception through to write up and consider what problems
might exist for students in attempting to learn within the normal time
period that they spend on a site about the big questions of scale from
the moment through to the passing of species, from the sitting of a
group around a hearth to the movement of bands around a vast
landscape, that so preoccupy Palaeolithic archaeologists.
Keywords
Grand Narrative; Palaeolithic archaeology; undergraduate; research skills
In 1973 David Clarke remarked that archaeology as a discipline had expanded its
consciousness and lost its innocence. Archaeologists were no longer satisfied with
simple explanations that identified groups of artefacts based on material similarity
and interpreted these as the activities and developments of human cultural groups
(Clarke 1973). Our eyes had been awakened by developments in science and
theory that could both expand the information that might be made available to
archaeologists from past materials, and yet at the same time remind us of the
sampling process that lay behind the deposition, survival, recovery and analysis of
the archaeological record and the inevitable loss of information. Whilst Clarke
himself admitted that the New Archaeology, which had shattered our innocence, had
left us more with a set of questions more than a set of answers (Clarke 1973), he
retained a clear sense of optimism that with a more worldy-wise sense of what
archaeologists as practitioners should understand, there lay a productive future
ahead of us: the general theory of archaeology. Understanding archaeology was a
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matter of understanding the Russian Doll of samples that progressively thinned out
the original body of material remains used by a society to the data set analysed by
the archaeologist (Clarke 1973:16-17).
I first read Clarke’s ‘Loss of Innocence’ paper as a somewhat naïve second
year undergraduate specialising in the Palaeolithic. At that time I was exposed as a
student to the Processual rigour of the archaeology of the Palaeolithic period on the
one hand, and to the developing Post-processual ideas of Ian Hodder on the other
hand, explored in studies of later Prehistory and contemporary societies. Clarke’s
article engendered a sense of intellectual enthusiasm and hopefulness about the
changes that were happening in archaeology. I thought myself lucky to be a student
at such a time of intellectual change with the opportunities to develop a sound
knowledge of the Palaeolithic archaeological record hand in hand with an
understanding of the theoretical tensions that lay behind the Culture History
approach, Processual Archaeology and the interpretive freedom opened up by their
criticism by Post-processual thinkers. This sense of optimism continued until the
completion of my PhD a few years later. Since beginning to teach students of my
own, and most especially in the last couple of years when my teaching portfolio has
returned to teaching groups of second and third year students about the archaeology
of the Upper Palaeolithic period (from a previous portfolio that was more ‘naturally’
partitioned into issues), my confidence about what can be learned as an
undergraduate student has diminished, and this leaves me frustrated.
Reading Clarke once more throws light upon why I was enthused by his work,
and the problem that it raises for our teaching today. Archaeology’s loss of
innocence was not simply the product of the arrival of a general theory of
archaeological reasoning and practical endeavour, it also came about through an
understanding of the theoretical tensions between new methodologies, new
observations and the theories of information, concepts and reasoning (Sinclair 1998).
My own sense of optimism arose from feeling that I was beginning to understand this
set of interwoven elements, and that it would be possible for me to develop my own
approach as a practising Palaeolithic archaeologist that was different to what I was
taught. For Clarke also, engaging with students, and the intellectual challenge - the
awkward questions - they gave back to their teachers was key to the growth of
archaeology, because:
“The needs of teaching emerge as one of the main disciplinary propellants
into the space of expanding consciousness student and amateur provide
the fuel, research sparks ignition and the disciplinary elders monitor and
direct in a series of contradictory instructions” (Clarke 1973:7).
For Clarke, therefore, the development of archaeology would come about as
much through the expanding consciousness of one’s students as challenging
learners (‘archaeologists-to-be’ perhaps?), as through the research endeavours of
established practitioners. Essential to an expansion of consciousness was an
understanding of the complex interplay that created archaeology as a form of
practice, reasoning and knowledge. Clarke took it as read that students would
understand this complex interplay to a sufficiently deep degree such that they could
engage with their teachers in constructive discussions about how both general and
particular problems might be investigated, and that this mutual activity of discussion
and problem-solving was what characterised an effective learning environment.
When considered in this way, my frustration as a teacher arises from
recognising that the creation and long-term maintenance of such a community of
practice is not easy to bring about. This article is a reflection on the changes in
teaching, but most especially in the nature of Palaeolithic archaeology as an
academic practice, to explain this frustration and reflect on ways of countering it. I
would like my students to be as enthused by Palaeolithic archaeology as I was as an
undergraduate, but, in simple terms, I have real worries that the solution to this
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problem is not simply a development of teaching practice. We certainly need to
recognise how institutional changes in teaching practices and the social context of
learning has affected the manner in which teaching and learning takes place.
However, we also need to consider how Palaeolithic archaeology (
1
) has developed
as a mode of practice and the effect that this might have on the nature of what is now
to be taught that makes it much more difficult to create a ‘community of practice’ at
the deep level of understanding described by Clarke.
Skills and content: a selective dilemma
Commentaries on higher education have rightly emphasised those changes that
have altered the context of teaching and learning; larger class sizes, external
demands on student and staff time, and the modularisation of subjects are regularly
cited (Beard & Hartley 1984; Ramsden 2003). There are also discussion of issues
related to generic skills such as theories of teaching and student learning (Fox 1983;
Heikkila & Lonka 2006; Hallden 1986). What is usually missing from these
discussions is an exploration of the role of specific content in challenging teaching
and learning (
2
). Higher education teachers teach their subject and the nature of
their subject affects the nature of the learning and teaching task. And whilst the
impact of research assessments, such as the Research Assessment Exercise in the
United Kingdom, is noted for the impact it has upon the time and importance that
academics will give to their teaching versus their research, we also need an
appreciation and exploration of how specific academic disciplines, such as
archaeology, situate themselves within a higher education context and develop as
disciplines in their own particular way. Each discipline combines a particular
combination of analytical approaches (tied to shifting understandings of ‘appropriate
data’), has a particular rhythm and manner for publication, research and teaching.
And these factors interact differently with the broader context of change in higher
education to generate discipline and perhaps sub-disciplinary problems for learning
and teaching.
Archaeology is a discipline tied into other disciplines and modes of enquiry
that now impinge considerably more extensively upon our questions and subject
matter than before. It is also a subject taught in higher education to students who for
the most part have little idea of the nature of the discipline, or the methods by which
it is studied. Furthermore, whilst many students will know a little about the classical
or historical worlds which will provide some basic background knowledge for
classical or historical archaeology, few if any will bring previous knowledge of the
prehistoric world, let alone the deep time of the Palaeolithic. It is in this context that
the successful teaching and learning of Palaeolithic archaeology in the Anglo-
American tradition has become significantly more difficult with time (
3
).
1
Whilst I shall concentrate on Palaeolithic archaeology in this article, I recognise that many of the same dilemmas
also exist for teaching and learning the archaeology of other periods, although, if pressed, I would probably argue
that these dilemmas are significantly greater for teaching periods rather than methods.
2
For a rare exception see the discussion of the manner and problems of teaching the American History Survey
Course to first year students in the United States (Kornblith and Lasser 2001), in which the issues of chronology
and theme, size, form and content of reading lists is insightfully discussed.
3
This paper concentrates on the learning and teaching of Palaeolithic archaeology in the Anglo-American
tradition, and recognises that others may try to teach as Palaeolithic archaeology in quite a different way. I was
made aware of this particular disciplinary (national?) manner of approach by a comment offered by a European
archaeological colleague. At the original session of the annual conference of the European Association of
Archaeologists at Krakow, when many of the papers in this volume were presented, an attendee from Denmark
noted that outside of the Anglo-American archaeological community, archaeologists in Europe did not seek to
create grand syntheses of the archaeological past but concentrated on the record of (their) local areas, and as a
result some of our concerns about the teaching of grand synthesis were local- and not discipline-wide problems.
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Whilst Palaeolithic archaeology has remained largely a discipline devoted to
a general understanding of past human species in their broader environmental
context, its particular development has followed a course that has refined and
introduced a considerable range of new concepts, new methodologies and new
observations with which one must now be familiar. This development has made
Palaeolithic archaeology an endlessly fascinating and challenging area of
archaeological research with the opportunity to ask questions of the archaeological
record that might never have been thought possible just a few years ago. It has also
made it much more difficult for undergraduate students to engage critically and
knowledgeably with the theory and primary archaeological data of the period and for
teachers to select and emphasise ‘essential concepts and knowledge’ from the great
range available.
In the sections that follow I shall set out some of the ways in which
Palaeolithic archaeology has broadened as an academic study, and some of the
resultant problems and tensions that I now think make it difficult to convey this
breadth to students. Many of these observations are related to expansion of ways of
interpreting the evidence of the past, and the sheer accumulation of evidence, would
also hold true for the teaching of other periods of prehistory, though perhaps not in
the same way. I shall stress the importance of research contexts, as well as the
problems of timescales for learning that make integrating theory and practice in
Palaeolithic teaching such a challenge. The observations that I make are of course
personal: they come out of my own context of learning and teaching in the United
Kingdom, a context in which the study of Palaeolithic archaeology is a generalising
discipline seeking to explore ‘grand narratives’ and generalising concepts over time
and space (Gamble 1986, 1999; Dennell 1983).
Standing in the background of any discussion of teaching and learning in
archaeology is that, in the United Kingdom, archaeology is primarily a form of higher
education. Most students will embark on their university studies without any formal
education in the discipline of archaeology. By the end of their degree students are
expected to have acquired a practical knowledge of the methods and concepts of the
discipline and a knowledge of the significant ‘events’ or developments of any period
that they may choose to study as well as the current critical research problems of this
period. I take it as axiomatic that the learning and teaching of an historical discipline,
such as archaeology, at the level of higher education has as its basic purpose the
development of skills both to criticise and synthesise primary data and theory, and to
communicate the results of this dialogue. For archaeology, these skills may be
largely general skills, but they are learned through the specific. Without an
engagement with the primary materials and concepts, the learning of archaeology
can be little more than an extended memory test relying upon the structures and
critical comments of others without having to develop the same skills for oneself.
It is in this critical process of getting to know and understand the primary data
that the most significant problem lies for an historical discipline like archaeology.
Both the knowledge and the concepts that form the primary evidence seem to
accumulate endlessly; yet the opportunity and the time with which to learn this
evidence within the higher education context does not. For the teacher, a process of
selection, of leaving out is important; but how much can left out without jeapordising
a real understanding of what remains? And since the undergraduates of today are
the researchers of tomorrow, to what extent will our selections narrow diminish their
research potential for the future?
The Accumulation of Knowledge
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It is not only in terms of time that the study of the Palaeolithic sits at one end of
archaeology; the particular combination of extreme time depth and the associated
changes of climate, physical geography and species (plant, animal and human) that
have occurred within this time frame means that much for what counts as
Palaeolithic archaeology is a form of evolutionary biology than social science. In this
context, Palaeolithic archaeology has witnessed not so much a transformation of
thinking as might be argued for aspects of later prehistory (Thomas 1991) but a
dramatic process of accumulation of new and ever more detailed ways of describing
and structuring the evidence of the archaeological record of the Palaeolithic.
As a first example of accumulation, we might consider the knowledge and
know-how themes of analysis, key concepts (including their associated methods of
analysis), and dependent conceptual knowledge that facilitates the collection of, and
enable the interpretation of primary data, that characterises the practice of
Palaeolithic archaeology; these have developed considerably in their scope and their
complexity over the last 20 years (Tables 1 and 2). This accumulation of new
concepts has led to an expansion of our ways of looking at both the traditional
concerns of the Palaeolithic archaeologist (lithic technology, faunal remains, dating
and climate change) as well as completely new fields of enquiry and their associated
concepts (evolutionary psychology, genetic analysis).
Table 1 Core Knowledge for Palaeolithic Archaeology 1985
Theme of Analysis
Concepts
Dependent Conceptual
Knowledge
Technology
Classification
Retouched tool typologies
Palaeolithic „Cultures‟
Manufacture
Lithic mechanics
Flake to Prepared-flake to Blade
Tool function
Use-wear studies
Diet & Subsistence
Subsistence economy
Hunter-gathering
subsistence
Species identification
Element identification
Number of Individual Specimens
Minimum Number of Individuals
Chronology
Association
Stratigraphy
Dating
Indirect dating techniques
Absolute dating techniques
Radioactive half-lives
Radiocarbon years (compared to
calendar years)
Hominid Anatomy
Adaptation
Climatic adaptation
Functional adaptation
Locomotion
Forms of locomotion / brachiation
Species Change
Evolution
Species change
„Australopithecine to Homo‟
Palaeoenvironments
Characterisation
Basic environmental types
Taiga, Steppe, etc.
Floral and faunal associations
Climate change
Glacial / interglacial cycles
Stadials & Interstadials
Oxygen Isotopes and sea / snow
levels
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Lifestyle / Society
Band Societies
Egalitarianism
Aggregation - Dispersion
Foraging - Collecting
Site Function
Habitation (domestic)
Special purpose sites
Table 2 Core Knowledge for Palaeolithic Archaeology 2007
Theme of Analysis
Concepts
Dependent Conceptual Knowledge
Technology
Classification
Retouched tool typologies
Palaeolithic „Cultures‟
Manufacture
Lithic mechanics
Flake to Prepared-flake to
Blade
Socialised manufacture
Chaîne-Opératoire
„Savoir-Faire‟ concrete
knowledge
„Connaisance‟ – „know-how‟
skill/competence in
manufacture
Tool function
Use-wear studies
Diet & Subsistence
Subsistence economy
Hunter-gathering
subsistence
Species identification
Element identification
Element analysis
Number of Individual
Specimens
Minimum Number of
Individuals
Diet Breadth
Species evenness
Diet and Dietary Change
Skeletal chemistry
Stable isotopes
Isotopic signatures
Recognition of isotopic
signatures
Chronology
Association
Stratigraphy
Dating
Indirect dating techniques
Absolute dating techniques
Radioactive half-lives
Radiocarbon years (compared
to calendar years)
Radiocarbon calibration
Reliability of dates
Hominid Lives
Adaptation
Climatic adaptation
Functional adaptation
Locomotion
Forms of locomotion / brachiation
Trauma
Forms of skeletal trauma
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Life-History
Rates of maturation
Mortality rate and form
Species Change
Evolution
Species change
„Australopithecine to Homo‟
Interspecies competition
DNA seriation
MtDNA, Nuclear, Y
Chromosome
Palaeoenvironments
Characterisation
Basic environmental types
Taiga, Steppe, etc.
Non-analogue environmments
Floral and faunal associations
Climate change
Glacial Climates
Glacial / interglacial cycles
Stadials & Interstadials
Oxygen Isotopes and sea /
snow levels
Events Dansgard-Oeschler,
Heinrich
Lifestyle / Society
Band Societies
Egalitarianism
Aggregation - Dispersion
Foraging - Collecting
Site Function
Habitation (domestic)
Special purpose sites
Social Relations
Gender and age based social
relations
Material culture and identity
Social Stratification
Horizontal and vertical ranking
Population movement
DNA variation and seriation
Hominid Cognition
Cognitive Evolution
Forms of intelligence
Modular
Generalised
Models of Intelligence
Piagetian models
Memory models
Social Brain
Brain characteristics and social group
size
For example, the core knowledge of an undergraduate student studying the
Palaeolithic 20 years ago would have included the following: an understanding of the
mechanics of lithic technology and retouched tool classification (with a view to
understanding the basic changes in technology from core to blade technologies), the
composition of stone tool assemblages from different periods and different ‘cultural
groups’, some knowledge of the methodology of use-wear analysis and its results,
some knowledge of the basic subsistence and social structures of hunter-gatherer
societies, some knowledge of faunal analysis, some knowledge of climate change
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and the basic sources of palaeoclimatic interpretation. A student today should
ideally also understand the concept of the chaîne opératoire, and the distinction
between ‘know-how’ a practical knowledge rooted in the cumulative experience of
the body, and ‘knowledge’ the discursive knowledge of recipes for technological
action (Schlanger 2004), and ideally be able to integrate this knowledge into broader
discussions of personal identity and material expression (Dobres 1995, 2000;
Sinclair 2000). In the understanding of faunal assemblages, a student should also
now understand human diet in terms of diet breadth, patch time, the effects of
transportation on bone assemblages, etc (Mithen 1990; Grayson & Delpeche 1998;
Grayson 1989). In addition, an understanding of the use and limitations of stable
isotopes to infer diet is currently highly beneficial (Richards et al. 2001; Drucker &
Bocherens 2004), and will soon will be essential. For understanding the climate of
the Pleistocene, it used to be enough to recognise climatic fluctuation in terms of
glacial and interglacial cycles, the oxygen isotope stages (OIS) with intermediate
fluctuations in terms of interstadials, and some understanding of the nature of
vegetational character and change. Recent observations from the Greenland ice
cores have fleshed out the detail of this scheme to include Greenland core based
interstadials (GIS) in addition to the marine core based variations (MOIS), and also
fundamentally changed our understanding of the timing and scale of environmental
change. So for example to the once steady procession of glacial and interglacial
cycles, must now be added the highly significant minutiae of Dansgaard-Oeschler
fluctuations and Heinrich events that vary on a time scale that may have made them
recognisable even to contemporary human societies (van Andel 2003; Barron et al.
2003). The simple schemes of vegetational recession and subsequent recolonisation
are now known to be much more complex both temporally and spatially with a need
for students to break out of a simple understanding of basic vegetational types such
as taiga, steppe and tundra to recognise that there may have been associations of
plant and animal species that both have no modern analogues, and were perhaps
also specific to small regions and time periods (Huntley & Allen 2003). Finally, in a
traditional archaeological area such as dating, modern students should be now be
aware of thermoluminescence dating, optically-stimulated luminescence dating,
palaeomagnetic dating, as well as recent developments in developing a calibration
curve for radiocarbon dating back to approximately 50,000 years before present
(Bronk-Ramsay et al. 2006), and concerns about the reliability of age estimates from
radiocarbon dates (Pettitt et al. 2003).
Whilst those developments listed above can be said to extend previous
knowledge and concepts, an empowered student in 2007 would ideally also have a
working knowledge of, and an appreciation for, a range of other concepts and
methodologies that have impacted upon the study of the distant human past more
recently, and significantly expanded the nature of Palaeolithic archaeology. For
example, she would now need to have some knowledge of evolutionary psychology
(Dunbar 1996), the concept of mind and mental modularity (Mithen 1996); and since
1987, she would also need to understand the concepts and ideally the methods of
genetic seriation, with particular reference to Mitochondria and other forms of DNA,
and Y-chromosomes, and their application to extensive DNA studies from modern
populations (Pereira et al. 2005; Forster 2004), as well as an increasing number of
studies of ancient DNA (Krings et al. 1997). For the study of hominid fossil
populations, the number of species now recognised has increased enormously, and
whilst there was some awareness of the contemporaneity of different species twenty
years ago, with the exception of the last twenty-five thousand years, we should now
assume a complex mixture of contemporary hominid species and populations, and
investigate their biological and behavioural interrelationships if possible. At the level
of the individual and of the individual species, new studies have introduced concepts
of trauma and life history cycles (including both the mortality rates and maturation
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rates) for specific hominin species (Trinkaus 1995), recognising that population age
profiles and the rate of maturation of hominins will have affected the nature of human
society greatly. This list also currently ignores a knowledge of the historical
development of archaeology, and of Palaeolithic archaeology in particular. It is
important to stress clearly that as a teacher of Palaeolithic archaeology I am not
expecting my students to be experts in these other areas of analysis, but I do hope
that they should understand the basic strengths and weaknesses of such
approaches to the evidence (ideally with key examples to illustrate), and the
appropriateness of their findings to problems of understanding human development
during the time period of the Palaeolithic.
Whilst concepts frame our way of making sense of the archaeological record,
there is still the matter of learning the primary data of the archaeological record itself.
For the learning and teaching of the Palaeolithic in Europe this would usually include
the classic areas of East Africa, Western and Eastern Europe and Russia. In recent
years, the end of the Cold War has brought about greater co-operation between
archaeologists from either side of the once Iron Curtain resulting in a considerable
increase in fieldwork and publication of previous work in English. In addition to this
traditional stomping ground for Palaeolithic archaeology can we overlook the
abundance of excellent primary data in North America, Southern Africa, Australia
and Japan? And new fieldwork is revealing yet more information from East Asia,
Central and South America and so forth.
Learning Resources
The other key aspect to the way in which an academic discipline develops is in the
learning resources that it offers to students. Two primary forms of learning resources
can be considered: published sources, and teachers themselves. Forms and extent
of access to both have changed markedly in the last 20 years. There has been a
movement away from the publication of syntheses towards that of journal articles
such that it is increasingly difficult for teachers, let alone an enthusiastic student, to
keep on top of the bigger picture. Whilst the loss of time spent with tutors has
removed yet another valuable mechanism for appreciating the bigger context of a
subject, and for growing into the position of practising members of an archaeological
community.
Whilst, there are some good syntheses, the breadth, speed and nature of
current academic publication has meant that students need to go to the primary
journals if they are to keep up to date with both data and issues. And whilst English
has effectively become the primary language of communication for Palaeolithic
scholars, there is still a considerable volume of essential primary publication in
French, Spanish, German and other languages, in the form of syntheses and
especially journal articles.
As a simple introduction to these problems, let us consider the publication of
academic research on the Upper Palaeolithic archaeology of Europe, a period that
spans in round numbers approximately forty thousand years from 50,000 years to
10,000 years before present. For those not familiar with this period, it is a time that
sees the arrival of modern humans into Europe, the appearance of the first
representational art, evidence for what some scholars believe to be the first
specialised subsistence economies, and a dramatic growth in evidence for regional-
scale movement and personal social communication. This period also sees the
extinction of the Neanderthals, likely contractions and expansions of modern
populations, and last but not least the last glacial episodes and the attendant
associated changes in European floral and faunal communities. It is a period that is
(and has been) included in most undergraduate curricula since it provides an ideal
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‘issue-based’ framework with which students can be engaged in discussion about the
nature of modern humanity.
In terms of synthesis, students are reasonably well-served by some excellent
publications for learning key methodologies for interpreting the archaeological
materials of the period: for example, faunal analysis (Grayson 1996, Klein & Cruz-
Uribe 1984), lithic analysis (Andrefsky 2001; Inizian et al. 1988). There are also
excellent syntheses for the study of palaeoclimatology reconstructing quaternary
environments, and understanding glacial landforms (Bradley 1999; Lowe & Walker
1997).
Synthethic monographs of the archaeological evidence, however, are less
common. I have a small number of reasonably recent volumes on my book shelves
that cover aspects of, or the whole of the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe at a level I
would consider appropriately for a second or third year undergraduate student
(Gamble 1986; Bahn & Vertut 1988; Bosinski 1990; Gamble 1999; Klein 1999; Soffer
& Gamble 1989; Straus 1992; Svoboda, Lozek & Vlcek 1996; White 2003), as well
as a couple that I would consider good introductions for a first year student (Gowlett
1992; Scarre 2005). Of these volumes, a number are classic syntheses with an
attempt to progress through the whole of Europe by cultural chronology (Otte 1999)
or the whole of Europe by region and period (Gamble 1986) or a much more limited
region (Soffer 1985; Straus 1992; Svoboda et al. 1996). Finally, it is interesting to
note that the most recent synthethic monographs either explore themes (White 2003)
or present a particular approach to the nature of human social change and then
explore this through selected examples (Gamble 1999). The small number of
synthethic monographs means that it is essential for students to read publications in
academic journals to engage with the most recent short synthetic articles (for
example: The Upper Palaeolithic of Cantabrian Spain (Straus 2005; Straus et al.
2002; Trinkaus 2005), and of course the primary data and analyses.
Between 1985 and 2006, both the number of journals and the number of
issues published has increased dramatically to cater for the pressures of the
accountability (to both funding and personal promotion bodies) of academic research
by publication (Table 3). As an undergraduate student in 1985, I could be
reasonably well-read if I managed to keep an eye on the output of approximately ten
to fifteen academic journals, each of which might have published between 4 and 6
issues per year. In 2006, as a teacher I could ask my students to look at primary
publications in as many as forty journals; and each of these journals might appear at
least 6 times per annum, with many now publish monthly (
4
). Whilst internet-based,
academic search engines (such as the ‘Web of Knowledge’ or, perhaps, Google
Scholar) coupled with the development of electronic versions of journals may now
help considerably both our knowledge of, as well as our physical access to, these
resources (and perhaps also, like a double-edged sword, the expectation that
publications in less-frequently cited journals should now be found and read), there
can be little doubt that ‘browsing the journals’ has become a thing of the past for
archaeological students (
5
). Finally, whilst I might hope that my students would
appreciate the need to read publications not in English, and some certainly do,
unfortunately the vast majority simply no longer possess the language skills to do so.
In addition to syntheses and journals, there are of course site monographs,
the publications of PhDs, and conference publications (sometimes devoted to a
4
It is interesting to note that it is the journals (publishers?) that cater to Anglo-American academia that have seen
this doubling of publication output; journals based in France or Spain, for instance, publish the same number of
issues in 2006 as they did in 1985.
5
Confirmed by an unsystematic survey of 10 students in one class who, to a series of questions about how they
engaged with journals, returned consistently the same answer: they did not browse through journals, but rather
sought specific articles as set out on a reading list. Their favourite manner of doing so was primarily through an
electronic connection.
RAE Journal Volume 1, Issue 2
57
period, and at other times devoted to a theme) and edited volumes of papers. A
small and selective example might include the following publications: site
monographs - (Pigeot 2004, 1987); published PhDs - (Boyle 1990; Gordon 1988;
Burke 1995; Pike-Tay 1991); conference proceedings - Bar-Yosef & Zilhao 2002;
(Soffer 1987; Soffer & Gamble 1989; Soffer and Praslov 1993); edited volumes -
(Conkey et al. 1997). For site monographs and some edited books, the need to read
more than English remains as great as it ever was.
Table 3 Principal venues for peer-reviewed publication of Upper Palaeolthic research
1985
Journal Title
Issues per
annum
Journal Title
Issues per
annum
L‟Anthropologie
Antiquity
American Anthropologist
American Antiquity
Annual Review of Anthropology
Archaeometry
Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique
Française
Current Anthropology
Gallia Préhistoire
Journal of Anthropological
Archaeology
Journal of Anthropological Research
Journal of Archaeological Science
Journal of Human Evolution
Man
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Quaternary Research
Quaternary Science Reviews
Science
Trabajos de Prehistoria
World Archaeology
4
4
4
4
1
2
8
5
2
3
4
6
6
4
1
3
4
50
2
3
L‟Anthropologie
Antiquity
American Anthropologist
American Antiquity
American Journal of Human Genetics
Annual Review of Anthropology
Archaeometry
Before Farming
Behavioural and Brain Sciences
Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique
Française
Cambridge Archaeological Journal
Current Anthropology
Evolutionary Anthropology
Gallia Préhistoire
Geoarchaeology
International Journal of
Osteoarchaeology
Journal of Anthropological
Archaeology
Journal of Anthropological Research
Journal of Archaeological Science
Journal of Human Evolution
Journal of Molecular Evolution
Journal of the Royal Anthropological
Institute
Journal of World Prehistory
Nature
PLOS Biology
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Quaternary Research
Quaternary Science Reviews
Rock Art Research
Science
Trabajos de Prehistoria
World Archaeology
5
4
4
4
6
1
4
4
6
8
3
6
6
1
5
6
4
4
12
12
12
5
4
51
12
1
3
24
2
50
2
4
TOTALS
121
278
RAE Journal Volume 1, Issue 2
57
The other key learning resources available to students are their teachers. The
contexts in which students can make use of their teachers have changed in
significant ways. Many commentaries on higher education will note that contact time
between teachers and students has decreased, and this is no different for
archaeology students. But a bigger change, not noted, relates to potential contact
time off campus. As an undergraduate I spent much of my summer vacation
participating in excavation and research projects directed by my own teachers and
those in other universities in the UK and abroad. By the end of the summer after
graduation I had accumulated 6 months full time experience of work on
archaeological sites,. The length of time that I spent was not exceptional in
comparison with my contemporaries; a number had more experience. In 2007, my
students will often graduate with just 4 weeks experience (and sometimes less) in
total on a project. The projects on which to gain experience are fewer certainly
with respect to the number of students and students now have commitments to
seeking paid work to help pay for their studies.
These long periods of ‘extra’ time that I spent excavating or surveying gave
me a whole range of opportunities to ‘learn’ my subject. At a simple level, long
periods of time on excavations gave me great thinking time; the opportunity to reflect
upon what I had learned in the previous year(s), to practice methodologies and to
appreciate problems and variability in the archaeological evidence in real research
contexts. For example, on one project I was able to observe at first hand the
respective merits of typological analysis versus use-wear and technological
approaches to lithic assemblages and the different sampling strategies and
information that would result from such different ways of looking at the same
evidence. On another, it was the value of three-dimensional recording of evidence,
and on another, I learned about the tension between the desire for detailed spatial
analysis, the time demands of three-dimensional recording, and the need to
excavate a sufficient quantity of material for meaningful analysis, and growing out of
these tensions, the ramifications associated with changing methodologies to deal
with such tensions. Successful fieldwork is responsive to a site’s potential – good or
poor and methods employed and research questions asked change appropriately.
Time spent on archaeological project(s) is needed to become aware of this
responsiveness, whilst such awareness can be essential to an informed reading of
primary sources.
Just as importantly as the time available to understand the project, was the
opportunity to spend time with, talk to, and to get to know one’s own teachers and
other academics, in a context that is very different from the formal tutorial or seminar
that takes place within university buildings. Much of my own understanding of the
broader context of Palaeolithic archaeology came from such conversations on
excavations over meals or around the camp fire when I learned about the intellectual
journeys of my teachers from undergraduate to research student and on to the
direction of research projects, the problems and approaches they inherited from their
teachers and the ways they reacted to and developed their inheritance in research
projects of their own. It provided a broad and human context in which to translate
one’s knowledge of the historical development of Palaeolithic archaeology into an
understanding of activity and change during the period. This is the broader context
of knowledge creation and management that is only sometimes written about (yet
which is essential to making sense of many primary sources (
6
)).
Another way to look at the time I spent on archaeological projects is as a form
of apprenticeship into a community of practising archaeologists. Recent studies of
6
By their very nature primary published articles in peer-reviewed journals are not candid, self-reflective
publications that admit to the responsiveness of most archaeological research.
RAE Journal Volume 1, Issue 2
57
pedagogy in higher education have indicated that not only is the best education
achieved through learning in an active and supportive environment as might be the
case, for example, with problem-based learning in real-world contexts (Harland
2003), but that learning in its ideal form might be best seen as the activity of a
‘community of practise’, in the sense set out by Lave and Wenger (Lave & Wenger
1991, Wenger 1998), in which an individual learns through active participation and
through engagement in problem solving and knowledge creation equally from both a
‘master’ and from the ‘journeymen’ (to continue with the language of apprenticeship -
those individuals who have not yet finished learning themselves and span the higher
levels above the student). In turn, the student herself assists in the learning of her
peers and her juniors. The excavation projects that I took part in were my
apprenticeship into the community of practising Palaeolithic archaeologists, although
I am reasonably sure that, with one possible exception, they were not designed with
the aim of creating such a community as their primary purpose. This is, however,
they worked, and in fact the social ties and commitments I made then still bind me in
my work today. In consequence, when I have myself conducted research in the field,
this creation of a community of people engaged at all levels in learning is one that I
have tried to follow, although I am sure that I would have described these projects as
‘like the ones I took part in as a student’ rather than with the language of a
community of practice. I know that colleagues have done the same. It has had
success both in leading some on to further research degrees, and later, academic
positions.
I should note that the developments described above are not new to
Palaeolithic archaeology (or archaeology in general) since 1985. There has been an
interdisciplinary side to our discipline since at least the 1950s and the development
of Grahame Clarke’s ‘economic archaeology’ (Clark 1952); and since the 1960s, at
least, communities of practice in Palaeolithic archaeology have included practitioners
from disciplines besides archaeology for the analysis of faunal remains, sediments
and dating samples, and the statistical analysis of data. But it is worth noting,
however, that whilst the good undergraduate of the mid 1980s might not have been
expected to be an expert in these allied disciplines, she was expected to understand
what they were trying to do, and the strengths and weaknesses of these other
disciplinary approaches when applied to archaeological data (see, for example,
discussions in Moore & Keene 1983). The difference now as I see it is the increased
rate of appropriation of new disciplinary approaches outlined above, the considerable
build up of quantities of data related to environmental history, and, finally, the
changed learning environment in higher education in the current Anglo-American
academic context that encourages frequent journal contributions and frequently
published debate in journals as the primary evidence to feed the process of research
accountability and professional progress (a process in which textbooks and synthetic
texts are not necessarily regarded as good evidence of international research
standing). The problems of teaching and learning archaeology in the twenty-first
century are considerably greater, and makes me wonder whether we have we
reached a state that we shall pass through with new methods / understandings of
teaching or a dead end for the undergraduate degree aimed at a synthetic
understanding of Palaeolithic archaeology brought about by information overload?
Threshold or Abyss?
When David Clarke described the theoretical challenges of the New Archaeology of
the 1960s and 1970s, as a consciousness-liberating, loss of innocence in which the
demands of teaching upon both students and teachers could push forward the
developments of archaeology, he was writing at a time when a number of
RAE Journal Volume 1, Issue 2
57
archaeologists considered archaeology to be an essentially scientific discipline
developing in similar ways to those described in 1970 by Thomas Kuhn in his classic
“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (Kuhn 1970). Kuhn described a disciplinary
world in which scientific disciplines and their communities were usually characterised
by predominant modes of enquiry and understanding (paradigms). These modes of
enquiry remained constant for some years, but might then be rapidly and radically
changed - hence his use of the term revolution though the interaction of new
observations, theories and new scholars; after which the process would begin again.
In Kuhn’s disciplinary world, students and teachers were engaged in the mutual
building and testing of models of the world, the paradigms of understanding that
comprised the major ways of bringing ideas and evidence together in any discipline.
In the 1970s, when some archaeologists turned to Kuhn to provide a paradigm for
how archaeology had changed (Fritz & Plog 1970), the overt comparison they drew
between Kuhn’s conception of disciplinary change and theoretical developments in
archaeology served to give credence to the revolutionary impact of new
Archaeological thinking upon the concepts that had previously characterised
archaeology. In making this argument, though, they also effectively characterised
archaeology as a discipline largely scientific in nature a discipline concerned with
understanding how human societies worked from a temporal perspective.
Such a vision of archaeology as a science of human and social nature takes
not enough notice of the endless accumulation of evidence in archaeology, and of
the need for chronicle through time and space that characterises much of the
explanatory ‘work’ of a discipline that is more historical than experimental (
7
). It also
misses the nature of a discipline in which the collection of new primary data is highly
valued, as well as the maintenance of knowledge of primary data collected long ago.
Of course, this problem of the endless accumulation of data is not unique to
archaeology: it is a feature of all historical disciplines. In archaeology this is
compounded by the constant appropriation of new forms of data and analysis (such
as ancient DNA) that we add into the mixture for our explanatory recipes. This
incorporation of new themes for the analysis of traditional archaeological materials,
the steady incorporation of new types of analysis of materials that are new to
archaeology, and the extension of already established geographical areas of
archaeological enquiry challenge the activity of learning and teaching to an
extraordinary degree. They test not only the memory, they also demand that
teachers and students can communicate and understand fundamentally new modes
of enquiry and analysis many of which they must learn from the beginning in higher
education.
I would not claim at this point to have the answer to this situation. The
changes that I have seen have taken place at a number of levels and an effective
response will be needed at these levels: the ways in which we can bring students
into active participation within our research communities, our ‘packaging’ of essential
skills and knowledge, both in timetabling and modular forms(
8
) and perhaps a
7
This is beautifully illustrated by a comparison of Gordon Childe’s own assessment of his life’s contribution to
archaeology (Childe 1958) and the external perspective offered of Childe’s achievements by Stuart Piggott (1958).
Childe emphasises his attempts to understand human society and the creation of knowledge, whilst Piggott
stressed Childe’s role in creating the time-space framework the map of archaeological cultures that made sense
of the local archaeological material record.
8
Some structural aspects of teaching have already changed for the better. It is no longer necessary to assume
that an undergraduate degree should equip a student with all the necessary knowledge and skills with which to
start a PhD. There is some more time for reflection during a Masters qualification, as well as further opportunity
to develop a community of practice that works so well in the field-based setting. Though it needs to be
remembered that this necessary Masters stage was introduced with the aim of developing specific knowledge and
analytical skills in preparation for future research rather than facilitating extra time for study.
RAE Journal Volume 1, Issue 2
57
questioning as to whether the synthetic tradition of Anglo-American archaeology is
the desired-for end product or perhaps a hang-over from earlier, more imperial times.
At first sight, a simple means of tackling the accumulation of data might be to
pare down our areas of geographical interest and become more locally focussed. We
could move away from the Anglo-American tradition of grand or world synthesis
towards a more Europe-centred perspective, as is the case in teaching archaeology
in other European countries (see footnote 3). In some respects this is already the
case; teaching of the earliest Palaeolithic archaeology (from approximately 2.5
million to 1 million years ago) invariably includes the archaeological record of Africa,
Europe and Asia as key data sets, and as we come forwards in time, so the focus
has usually moved more towards Europe, in its widest geographical sense (including
western Siberia). We could, however, be more radical still. Do students really need
to know about the Palaeolithic archaeology of the Americas? What about South and
South-East Asia, Australasia, Siberia and even Eastern Europe? Leaving these
areas out would certainly trim the data set, but might well lose the broad overview
approach that characterises the Palaeolithic perspective on world history (see, for
example, Gamble 1993).
A second route, perhaps, is to step back from our module-centred approach
to teaching, to consider the whole from a curricular perspective. In my own
institution, individuals have become responsible for modules related to their own
period or analytical interests or methodological skills. Degree curricula then come
together as combinations of appropriate modules, and whilst there will be discussion
and some co-ordination between teachers what is lacking is the starting point of an
understanding of the finished ‘scholar’, of the Palaeolithic or prehistory and so forth.
It is the module then as the basic block that is most closely designed and scrutinised.
But standing back, we might focus more clearly on the necessary knowledge and
understanding that needs to be acquired(
9
). We might then identify which concepts
standout as ‘threshold concepts’ (in the sense indicated by Meyer and Land (2003,
2005) in which the learning of a threshold concept such as modularity of mind,
perhaps, would radically alter the perspective that a student brings to their future
understanding of human change. In this way not only might we have a clearer idea
ourselves as to what is required, but so to would students, and they would also
understand where they are in this journey of learning, and also where their peers are
as people who might assist them in their learning, and in so doing begin to generate
communities of practice beyond the boundaries of discrete archaeological field
projects.
Acknowledgements
I thank Alan Booth, a former colleague at the Subject Centre for History, Classics
and Archaeology for advice on the publication of commentaries on the problems of
accumulating content in the teaching of history in higher education, and the
comments of an anonymous reviewer to the first draft of this paper.
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... Hominin and other fossils must be recovered, as well as comparative archaeological and geological sources of evidence for hominin behavior and the environments in which our ancestors evolved. Much of this fieldwork occurs in remote and climatically inhospitable regions, a characteristic shared with other field-based disciplines and subdisciplines, such as Palaeolithic archaeology (Sinclair 2008). However, what makes palaeoanthropology unique is what researchers are looking for: extremely rare hominin remains. ...
... • Archaeology as a discipline has expanded enormously in its range of interpretive tools (appropriated from across the arts and social sciences) and in its methods (appropriated from an expanding range of sciences), its time-depth of study, and its geographic scope. The conceptual knowledge of the archaeologist has therefore increased considerably decade upon decade (for an example of this in relation to Palaeolithic archaeology see Sinclair 2009Sinclair , 2012. The investigative methods available to address current questions have also increased considerably. ...
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Regional approaches to past human adaptations have generated much new knowledge and understanding. Researchers working on problems of adaptations in the Holocene, from those of simple hunter-gatherers to those of complex sociopolitical entities like the state, have found this approach suitable for comprehension of both ecological and social aspects of human behavior. This research focus has, however, until recently left virtually un­ touched a major spatial and temporaI segment of prehistory-the Old World during the Pleistocene. Extant literature on this period, by and large, presents either detailed site­ speeific accounts or offers continental or even global syntheses that tend to compile site­ speeific information but do not integrate it into whole c~nstructs of funetioning so­ ciocuhural entities. This volume presents our current state of knowledge about a variety of regional adaptations that charaeterized prehistoric groups in the Old World before 10,000 B. P. The authors of the chapters consider the behavior of humans rather than that of objects or features and present data and models for variaus aspects of past cultures and for culture change. These presentations integrate findings and understandings derived from a number of related disciplines actively involved in researching the past. Data and interpretations are offered on a range of Old \yorld regions during the PaIeolithic, induding Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe, and chronological coverage spans from the Early to Late PIeisto­ cene.
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It is now three decades since Waterbolk introduced evaluation criteria to 14C chronology. Despite this, and other subsequent attempts to introduce quality control in the use of 14C data, no systematic procedure has been adopted by the archaeological community. As a result, our databases may be significantly weakened by questionable dates and/or questionable associations between dated samples and the archaeological phenomena they are intended to represent. As the use of chronometric data in general becomes more ambitious, we must pause and assess how reliable these data are. Here, we forward a set of evaluation criteria which take into account archaeological (e.g. associational, stratigraphic) and chronometric (e.g. pre-treatment and measurement) criteria. We intend to use such criteria to evaluate a large 14C dataset we have assembled to investigate Late Glacial settlement in Europe, the Near East and North Africa, supported by the Leverhulme Trust. We suggest that the procedure presented here may at least form the basis of the development of more rigorous, scientific use of 14C dates.
Article
A YEAR before the first number of ANTIQUITY appeared, its founder reviewed a new publication for the Antiquaries Journal . ‘This book,’ he began, ‘is the most important of its kind that has hitherto been published…. Never before has the whole field of European origins been surveyed by a specialist who can also generalize, who writes clearly and intelligibly, and who is apparently familiar with all European languages. Its publication brings us appreciably nearer to the ultimate goal of our study.’ Crawford saw that Gordon Childe’s The Dawn of European Civilization , in its first edition of 1925, marked the beginning of a new era in archaeological studies in this country. I suspect that he was one of the very few British prehistorians at that time who realized the fact and appreciated the implications. More than thirty years later a revised sixth edition has been published, appearing almost simultaneously with the tragic news of the author’s death in his native Australia. For a full generation The Dawn , as we have all affectionately called it, has been with us, the indispensable reference-book for student, teacher and interested layman, our Ariadne-clue in the labyrinth of Neolithic and earlier Bronze Age Europe.
Article
This paper arises from ongoing research undertaken by the Economics team of the ESRC/ TLRP Project 'Enhancing Teaching and Learning Environments' (ETL) 1 . This forms part of the large scale ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme Phase 2. ETL is seeking to identify factors leading to high quality learning environments within five disciplinary contexts across a range of HE institutions. Meyer's notion of a threshold concept was introduced into project discussions on learning outcomes as a particular basis for differentiating between core learning outcomes that represent 'seeing things in a new way' and those that do not. A threshold concept is thus seen as something distinct within what university teachers would typically describe as 'core concepts'. Furthermore, threshold concepts may represent, or lead to, what Perkins (1999) describes as 'troublesome knowledge' — knowledge that is conceptually difficult, counter-intuitive or 'alien'. The paper attempts to define characteristics of threshold concepts and, in the light of Perkins' work, to indicate correspondences between the notion of threshold concepts and that of 'troublesome knowledge.'