An Experimentation in Collaboration: A Dual Approach to Traditional Ecological Knowledge


Inspired by Koster et al.’s (2016) research in Current Anthropology we have chosen to discuss a topic which intersects our disciplinary interests of natural and social science. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is a body of knowledge that is site specific and is developed through generation of cultural transmission (Drew 2006). This knowledge concerns relationships between Indigenous persons, other organisms, and the living environment. Various disciplines have incorporated TEK in their research programs, and here we focus on its presence in anthropology. In this collaborative blog, we explore this issue from archaeological and sociocultural perspectives. These intersections concern the historical and ecological perspectives, management practices, and cautions of TEK.

Historical/Ecological Perspectives

Archaeological evidence give us an idea of the ecological knowledge and technologies past societies possessed, and their relationships with the environment. The earliest Pacific islanders were characterized as being skilled ‘seafarers’ and having an intimate relationship with both their terrestrial and marine environments (Kirch 2000). Their ability to exploit the full breadth of marine ecozones, as well as transporting a number of plant foods to new locales demonstrates a portion of their adaptable strategies. In some sites, material culture and marine animal remains can only provide so much data, often archaeologists use ethnographic data as a second line of evidence to support patterns from archaeological materials. With access to TEK,  archaeologists may gain a better understanding  of prehistoric subsistence practices. Through this interdisciplinary approach, archaeologists have measured small-scale societies’ hunting and fishing abilities over great time periods.

For cultural anthropologists, Indigenous ecological knowledge provides insight into the taxonomic classification of local fauna and flora, and their use. Drew argues that contrary to Linnaean classification, premised on speciation, folk taxonomy provides insights into the priorities of the local culture with their classification practices (2005:1288). The more important the organism is, the more diverse its names and classifications. Aswani and Hamilton (2004) analyzed some of this diversity among Solomon Islanders’ folk taxonomy of Bolbometopon muricatum, bumphead parrotfish. The general species name is known as topa and variations in size are denoted as: topa kakara, big fish; kitakita, small fish; and lendeke, very small fish (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:71). According to the authors, fish size was specifically differentiated to identify which fish should be hunted – there was an aversion to hunting small fish because they were typically female and hindered reproductive capability (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:70, 78). This taxonomy, accentuates size as a key factor determining taxonomic variation. Knowledge of taxonomic classification, and species use, can supplement archaeological insights into past fishing and hunting practices, and species’ use in material culture.

Resource Management

Archaeology’s use of TEK can provide more than knowledge of historic practices or paleoenvironment reconstruction. The pressure on archaeologists, and zooarchaeologists specialists, to apply their historical data to contemporary conservation and management agendas has been increasing lately. Growing global concerns such as climate change and overfishing have led to more projects incorporating archaeologists, as opposed to only natural scientists. Their historical datasets can provide  the cultural significance of marine and terrestrial resources over time and between groups (Lambrides and Weisler 2016). For instance, Virginia Butler (2004) had used her ethnoarchaeological evidence to not only reconstruct past subsistence models of small-scale societies, but also to analyze historic ecological knowledge in relation to archaeological cases of sustainable fisheries. Through this research she was able to suggest potential actions small and large-scale societies could undertake to maintain both local and global salmon numbers. Thus, archaeologists should be encouraged to engage with local communities, in addition to biologists and resource managers, to frame initial research objectives. In this situation, research projects can benefit more people than solely the academics, establishing strong partnerships with local communities becomes essential.

Aswani and Hamilton’s (2004) analysis of bumphead parrotfish in the Solomon Islands addresses the contentious issues of indigenous resource management. In interviews with elders on the island, historical ecological information of population growth and decline of bumphead parrotfish supplements known scientific information with regionally specific information. Prior to the 1970s, bumphead parrotfish were common, but there was a significant decline because of advances in technology which allowed indiscriminate hunting of fish, changing from spear hunting at night with lanterns to mechanically propelled spears with flashlights and scuba-diving equipment, fishing five times the general limit (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:70). In the 2000s, to combat this, stricter guidelines were enforced through mandatory size requirements of throwing back fish less than 650mm, female fish are smaller than this size; and local communication between sea estate owners in the area, sea estate owners who are away from estate are less likely to enforce or advocate for specific management practices (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:78-79). This locally specific management regime offers insight into managing the fish population, and contextualized examples of solutions.


Archaeologists have been encouraged to establish academic and community partnerships which could benefit traditional land use and occupancy studies, community-based interest in regional heritage, and cultural tourism planning (Robinson 1996:126). Robinson defines this sort of practice as participatory action research which, in Canada, has seen more partnerships with other disciplines such as social anthropology, law, political science, and environmental science (Robinson, 1996).  Participatory action research developed in the 1950s and 60s from numerous central American and Indian sub-continent communities which argued against the western science model and its analytic reasoning and habit to discredit any value of such things as mythology, intuitive wisdom, and TEK (Robinson 1996:127). Indigenous communities’ distaste for ‘being studied’ also stems from  the unequal relationship between communities and academics. After reviewing literature from Canada and Russia, Robinson noted how various researchers were met with displeasure because generations of academics (mainly social scientists) prior to them had benefited from such relationships yet “left nothing tangible in return” (1996:126). He argued that with archaeology, as with any other discipline, the obligations and benefits of such partnerships should be reciprocal, not solely for the academic party.

Drew (2006) similarly cautions the use of Indigenous ecological knowledge, despite an apparent benefit in supplementing universal scientific knowledge on specific flora and fauna. The most important issue pertains to problems arising from intellectual property and the right to disseminate this information. Drew highlights that not all communities may want their secret practices of hunting and foraging publicized, fearing scrutiny from the international community for defying the trope of the noble ecological savage, or divulging culturally sensitive private information (2005:1291). Indigenous ecological knowledge must be appropriately communicated and divulged with the community’s permission to enable symmetrical power relations and dialogues with those outside it.


Researchers, for years have recognized the value of  TEK, and have sought to acquire it for various research interests. Acknowledgement and incorporation of TEK has provided more holistic perspectives in understanding the archaeological record of past hunting practices, and communities taxonomic classifications. Additionally, TEK usage is emerging in ecological management projects focused on conservation. However, accessing TEK requires mutually respectful relationships with indigenous communities, and negotiating resources. Given these trajectories of TEK, its benefits and possible harms, we are interested in seeing how TEK will become more relevant in an increasingly globalized world affected by climate change, and devaluation of natural environments through pollution and resource extraction.

By Chris and Roxanne


Aswani, S., & Hamilton, R. J. (2004). Integrating indigenous ecological knowledge and customary sea tenure with marine and social science for conservation of bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) in the Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands. Environmental conservation, 31(01), 69-83.

Butler, V. L. & Campbell, S. K. (2004). Resource intensification and resource depression in the Pacific Northwest of North America: A zooarchaeological review. Journal of World Prehistory, 18(4): 327-405.

Drew, J. A. (2005). Use of traditional ecological knowledge in marine conservation. Conservation biology, 19(4), 1286-1293.

Kirch, P. V. (2000). On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands before European Contact. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Koster, J., Bruno, O., & Burns, J.L. (2016). Wisdom of elders? Ethnobiological knowledge across the lifespan. Current Anthropology, 57: 113-121.

Lambrides, A. B. J., & Weisler, M. I. (2016). Pacific Islands ichthyoarchaeology: Implications for the development of prehistoric fishing studies and global sustainability. Journal of Archaeological Research, 24(3): 275-324.

Robinson, M. P. (1996). Shampoo archaeology: Towards a participatory action research approach in civil society. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 16(1): 125-138.

An Example of a Good Presentation

For this blog post I watched a talk from Virginia Butler, she is a zooarchaeologist who has worked with archaeological fish bones from South and North Pacific regions. I have read a number of her articles these past couple months so I was rather excited when I found this talk on Youtube. The presentation focused on one of her research projects in the Pacific Northwest, however the concepts and issues which are discussed could actually be applied globally. Much of her work deals with conservation biology and zooarchaeology, resource intensification and depression, prehistoric fishing practices, and resource sustainability. In my fourth blog I analyzed a couple journal articles which discussed anthropogenic impact on the environment as well as archaeological applications to global change issues. I was interested in knowing how the ancient past could provide lessons for contemporary issues, and Butler’s work attempts to explore this notion.


She began her talk by establishing her study in context of modern concerns with global fisheries and their sustainability. She provided some compelling statistics to ignite the audience’s feelings and understandings of this important issue. However, she explicitly stated that talking about declining global catches is ‘preaching to the choir’, and her intentions were not to focus on worrying problems but on potential solutions.  Her argument was that contemporary solutions are difficult to create and implementing sustainable strategies are questionable. Basically, how can we be confident that something will continue to be sustainable in the future? Butler suggests looking to the past for answers so that we may gain some time perspective on cases of sustainability. I admired her overall premise for this talk: suggesting alternative ways to looking at a problem and at the same time bridging the gaps between different fields.


The structure of the talk was incredibly clear (including a slide outlining her trajectory) and organized. She did not include any personal anecdotes in the speech and instead had a direct approach to present problems and solutions. She used comprehensible language but did not want to dumb it down, so she defined certain concepts which she utilized frequently throughout the talk. This made it easy for the audience and also for Butler since she did not have to do a complete code switch.  She then provided some physical context to the site ,as well as historical background outlining various transitions in lifestyles which occurred over a ~10,000 year time scale. When discussing her actual research project her motives were made very clear. She had two questions: to measure if salmon use increase along with human population growth, and whether the indigenous people were sustainable.

There was a portion of time in the middle of the presentation where some people may have lost slight interest and that was with the delivery of the data. Butler discussed the patterns in fish abundance using different charts and graphs. I do not imagine this sort of data would interest many people in general, however the inclusion of such information was necessary for the following discussion of her interpretations of the socio-ecological systems. Thinking about it now, I do not know how Butler could have presented this information differently. She utilized image representations of the data which was ideal, and she did not dwell too long on specific patterns. Her pace was quick allowing her to transition swiftly to discussions on the significance of such patterns and relations to sociocultural behaviours and practices. I think the switch between zooarchaeological ‘numbers’ to sociocultural evidence progressed the talk nicely and avoided getting stuck on the technical part.

What was effective?

Clarity of goals and motives, and the organization of the talk made it easy to follow. For instance, she was clear in stating that she took a sociocultural theoretical approach. I think this clarification of objectives was important to establish to the audience that she was not just going to discuss fish. For an audience that is not familiar with zooarchaeology, it may be necessary for the researcher to clarify that their research views the relationships between animals and people, and not solely animals.

Due to the position of the camera I was unable to watch Butler’s physical movements, but I could hear her voice clearly. Her tone remained upbeat and engaging throughout the entire talk, which kept me awake while I watched around midnight.

Although her main evidence was archaeological and ethnographic, she discussed the significance of the main issues through a series of perspectives from different fields. The research she had conducted, and the future actions and strategies made by contemporary fisheries, would have both biological and social significance. So towards the end of the presentation she did not appear to only be an archaeologist, she advocated for change through different disciplines and her position turned into one of an environmentalist. I admired this multidisciplinary aspect of the presentation because it highlighted that her work had relevance to larger issues and it was not just a display of data.

I also liked her final comment at the end which asked whether we should continue eating fish or not. I feel like she was already anticipating that question and wanted to address the audience on their own personal concerns. After reading or listening to issues such as global resource sustainability I personally would like to know how the problems and solutions relate to my own life. I think this engagement with the general public is important when these types of topics are discussed, especially in a public setting.

What was ineffective?

I would have to say my biggest criticism for this talk was the pace of her speech. Do not get me wrong, it was engaging, upbeat, and definitely not monotone. Yet I found myself thinking: “thank goodness I can pause this”. Her pace was rather quick and a lot of her data was flown over so it was difficult for the listener to grasp everything she was saying. It appeared as if she had a lot to say in the given time and perhaps this was a reason why no anecdotes were included in her talk.

Final comments:

I found it to be a straightforward lecture; a problem, argument for a solution, research field and site context, data, interpretation, and relation to large issues. I did not have to guess or dig deep to figure out what her arguments or significance were, I appreciated this clarity of her presentation. There was nothing completely unconventional about the framework of the lecture, specifically there were no creative anecdotes or narrative. Was it still good? Of course! Just because it was simply structured does not mean it was a bad talk. I enjoyed Butler’s presentation because she discussed an issue which is of global concern. What made her content unique were the suggestions for unconventional ideas, approaches, and insights to a problem which contemporary scientists continue to struggle with. These points were made clear, and I believe her intentions to address a wider audience were apparent as well.


“Virginia Butler – The 10,000 year record of sustainable fisheries in the Pacific Northwest,”  BevanSeries, retrieved from

The Good, the Bad, and the Fishy

The Good:

Allen, Melinda S. 1992. “Temporal variation in Polynesian fishing strategies: The Southern Cook Islands in regional perspective”. Asian Perspectives 31(2): 183-204.

I found this week’s task to be challenging, not only with choosing a good anthropological article but also with choosing a bad one. For a good article I thought of a couple which I have recently read and enjoyed greatly. The difficulty in choosing one resided in their differences in strengths; style and content to be specific. While one thrived in a certain aspect, the other impressed me in a different manner. I have chosen an article by Melinda Allen on the temporal variation of Polynesian fishing strategies. I remember reading this article last term and thinking it was incredibly well-written, as well as informative.

Summary of article:

This article provides a detailed analysis of the temporal patterns and variation in prehistoric fishing methods of Eastern Polynesian sites, which are then compared to trends in Western Polynesia. Archaeological evidence for prehistoric fishing strategies consists mainly of fish hooks, which is thus the focus of Allen’s study. The article is structured to first provide the reader with background knowledge to research approaches and theoretical perspectives. Then the broad-scale patterns of fishing technology are described and related to two primary raw materials which vary by region. This pattern is applied to her case study in the Southern Cook Islands where she thoroughly analyses the archaeological evidence, as well as the relationships with ethnographic patterns and fish ecology. The patterns and results from the case study are then applied to the broad patterns in Polynesia. I thought this particular structure was well organized and effectively applied, especially with such an abundance of interpretations on a large geographical scale.

Content, theoretical approach, and overall style:

Although there is much discussion on archaeological evidence of Polynesian fishing practices, regional variability, and the incorporation of a case study, this article successfully avoids becoming a descriptive site report. The data is present, but so are detailed interpretations and theoretical arguments. It is not a simple “here is my data and that is that” piece, Allen does not just lay out her evidence. And as she discusses approaches and arguments of other researchers, she avoids creating a synthetic article with no firm position. She is clear about her theoretical approach and the selected concepts (derived from Darwinian evolution) which she applies to her analysis and interpretations.

Her study applies a regional perspective and her specific case study came from the Southern Cook Islands, which is relatively close to my area of study Tonga. She uses a comparative analysis which I think is incredibly important when looking at temporal variation across a large geographic region. By adopting this method she is able to pick out similarities and differences, and reveal patterns which lurked under the variation. As a result, relationships are identified between developments in technologies with sociopolitical and other subsistence activities.

There are a number of articles which I admire for their content, such as the relevance to my interests and especially if the volume of useful knowledge is substantial. This is exactly what I received from Allen’s article: historical, physical, theoretical context, variability in archaeological evidence, and variability in hypotheses of patterns in data. Perhaps the greatest strength of this article is Allen’s style of writing. It is eloquent and comprehensible, something which is important for a student (like myself at the time) who is first reading about this specific type of research. I found that even with an abundance of variable data and regional patterns, she was able to effectively connect everything, creating an overall fluid piece of writing.

The Bad:

Colley, Sarah M. 1987.Fishing for facts: Can we reconstruct fishing methods from archaeological evidence?”. Australian Archaeology 24: 16-26

Summary of article:

I had some difficulty selecting an article which I considered bad. At first I tried to remember those which were too descriptive and made little-to-no arguments, but most of what I have read somehow made worthy claims and supported them with evidence. Instead I have picked an article which may work to a certain extent, but its style and structure failed in a certain way. Colley’s article discusses how archaeologists can reconstruct fishing practices from archeological evidence and the limitations that exist from this method. Her argument is that fish bone analysis holds the greatest potential for reconstructing prehistoric fishing practices. Now while I agree with her argument and the types of evidence she presents, it is her presentation (or lack of) that I find to be the weak point of this article.

Style, structure, and lack of certain content:

I have to admit this entire article is not ‘bad’, there were parts of it which I found useful but that was because I was very selective of what I needed from it. Yet after reviewing this article again I thought of how her overall style and structure were not entirely impressive. Colley’s writing style is incredibly concise and because of this it was lacking of substance in numerous areas. I would have appreciated further contextualization of the main issue and a writing style which was a bit more engaging. Her tone was rather objective and the structure consisted of numerous small paragraphs which, to me, seemed like they lacked fluidity.

Since it was published in Australian Archaeology, I assumed it was tailored for South Pacific regions, especially since the case study she provides is from Tasmania. Unfortunately, Colley does not make any clarification of regional specificity in her article and provides no discussion on whether these analytical connections may be universal. Perhaps a brief mention of similar or different patterns in other places around the globe would have sufficed. Otherwise the reader is left to wonder if fishing strategies are the same in other areas, or whether bone morphology and depositional effects on tropical fish are similar to those in completely different environments.

The title itself appears to be universal as well, suggesting her arguments and evidence, everything from fishing gear to types of prey, are applicable anywhere around the world. The question: “can we reconstruct fishing methods from archaeological evidence?” should warrant decently lengthy discussions in my opinion. Yet her analysis is minimal and the general feeling is that more could have been said. I would have appreciated something more along the lines of a synthetic piece, or an in-depth review of similar archaeological studies. Colley’s piece is short and slightly underwhelming, for this reason I would have suggested that she narrowed down her title so that it is made clear it applies to a specific region in the world and some information may not be covered.

I would also like to note that the article consists of numerous figures and tables. If separated from text I would estimate these figures comprised half of the paper. While some are useful to her discussion, others appear to be used to fill up space as Colley only makes a brief yet unnecessary mention of them (Figure 1 for example). In summary, I think Colley’s intentions were to be concise and simply provide ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘maybe’ answers to her questions, as well as a case study example to support her argument. Yet I was left wondering why she would write in such a brief manner for an issue which could have developed a substantial discussion. In comparison to Allen’s piece which touches on similar themes, I see a clear distinction in style, structure, and substance. Nevertheless, Colley’s article likely works for some people, I believe she wrote this article for a specific yet small audience. As I said, I still found it useful for the brief facts, but I was left fishing for more.


Environment and Archaeology in 3 Journal Articles

I tried to find three articles which touched on a similar theme. Since my research will be looking at anthropogenic impact on local marine environments, specifically resource depression, I read one article that discussed contemporary archaeological perspectives on historical ecology and two articles which focused on the relations between archaeological fields and studies in global change.

Article 1: Anderson, A. (2009). Epilogue: Changing Archaeological Perspectives upon Historical Ecology in the Pacific Islands. Pacific Science, 63(4), 747-757.

Confession: this article is not from an anthropological journal however it explicitly discusses archaeological perspectives, it was published in the Pacific Science journal because it relates to multidisciplinary research. Anderson’s main argument is that the current perspectives and understandings in regards to anthropogenic impact on the Pacific environments are changing from the main viewpoints of the late twentieth century. Specifically, research focus was on the historical significance of humans shaping the island ecosystems, and now Anderson suggests the emphasis is shifting to other new topics. He describes how recent research approaches to historical ecology have become more complex because certain topics and issues which were grazed lightly before are being closely investigated now. Anderson makes this point clear in his discussion on the emerging interest in past natural disasters:

Today, however, as environmental catastrophism gnaws at the foundations of philosophical uniformitarianism and confidence wanes in the efficacy of technological, not to mention financial, instruments for the alleviation of environmental disaster, the time is ripe for serious consideration of these.” (Anderson, 2009: 750).

Although not explicitly stated, I believe a number of other issues are gaining interest for researchers as a result of contemporary environmental concerns such as sea level rise, climate change, or overexploitation of resources. The three new thematic emphases in the Pacific are: biological invasions, landscape history, and behavioural ecology. The skeleton of the article was thus shaped around these emerging topics of interest and Anderson appeared to be speaking directly to archaeologists and researchers of related fields. Throughout the article Anderson mentioned recent findings which have contrasted past generalized notions or flat out rejected specific hypotheses. By highlighting these instances, he acknowledged a rise of divergence and disagreements aimed at established and widespread generalizations.

I found this article to be informative and useful for my current and future work. Since my research focus is on resource depression and anthropogenic impact on the environment, it is beneficial for me to understand how archaeological perspectives have changed in recent years. I would like to know where research emphasis is situated in the field and how it may influence the placement of my own work. While knowing that archaeological perspectives have recently changed was valuable, it was also a relief to be reassured that earlier emphases still remain important. I was worried that Anderson was going to suggest that certain topical areas I plan to touch on are no longer of interest or significance. Basically he argued that the nature of archaeological perspectives and approaches of contemporary researchers will provide us with a richer and more complex understanding of historical ecology in the Pacific. Yet on a final note, I would have preferred some further discussion or personal input from Anderson on any relations between current research emphases in historical ecology and concerns of modern anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic impact on island and coastal environments. Fortunately in the next two articles I get what I asked for.

Article 2: Hardesty, D. L. (2007). Perspectives on Global‐Change Archaeology. American Anthropologist, 109(1), 1-7.

I would like to begin this part by stating that I was excited to find this article because I have had trouble trying to explain to others, and conceptualize to myself, how my research in historical ecology and resource depression can specifically relate or apply historical knowledge to contemporary issues. In a number of case studies and syntheses I have read lately I often come across brief statements like: “archaeological/zooarchaeological research can provide us with historical knowledge that may be applied to contemporary environmental problems”. However this is mainly where that discussion ends, there is no explanation of how these connections can be made or any detailed examples given. I am left to just believe the authors or look elsewhere for the answers. This is why this article (and the third article) caught my eye, because its entirety focused on this notion.

What is “global-change archaeology”? After a quick google scholar check I realized Hardesty may be the only researcher combining these two terms, nevertheless the concept is pretty self explanatory. The emerging field does exactly what I have mentioned earlier, it “appl[ies] historical knowledge of past human–environmental interactions to the understanding of contemporary environmental problems and management and planning for future sustainability” (Hardesty, 2007: 1). Although Hardesty incorporated his interpretations of various theoretical influences, he did not provide his own arguments. The main argument I could pull out of the article was for the importance of global-change archaeology which was explicitly stated by being given its own heading: “Why Global-Change Archaeology?”. However this argument did not resonate throughout the other parts of the article and was simply confined to its own small section. Even at the end of  the article when Hardesty could have reminded the reader once again of the importance of the field, he chose to discuss the field’s directions instead.

There was little to no fluidity among the various headings, information was sectioned and placed under such topical divisions without smooth transitioning. On the other hand, the information was situated strategically so that the reader first understands what ‘global-change archaeology’ is, what it contributes, and where it stands in relation to other fields such as environmental archaeology and political ecology. Then there was a brief discussion on methodology and its interdisciplinary nature, and finally a discussion on the theoretical relations focusing on agency and history. There was no personal engagement in the article and the author’s voice was rather objective. I believe the reason for this was because of the location of the article in the journal. It was the first article of the issue and thus acted as an introduction for the subsequent papers. Hardesty drew upon examples from case studies in the same issue to support and form his piece. I thought this strategy was effective to encourage the reader to continue reading about global-change archaeology or related research.

After reading through the first couple of pages I realized that the narrative style was incredibly descriptive, and the majority of the article was dry. Do not get me wrong, it was informative and I did learn a lot. Because this piece was rather descriptive I believe Hardesty wanted to take a neutral position to gain as large of an audience as possible. Especially since the issues are global and the field is interdisciplinary, Hardesty’s intentions were first and foremost to educate. For this reason I enjoyed the article, its strength was its content. However for someone who has no interest or use for the goals of global-change archaeology, the structure and narrative style would likely have bored them.

Article 3: Amorosi, T., Woollett, J., Perdikaris, S., & McGovern, T. (1996). Regional zooarchaeology and global change: Problems and potentials. World Archaeology, 28(1), 126-157.

This article discussed the research approach of applying data from regional zooarchaeology to global change investigations. It focused on the problems zooarchaeologists face in multiple stages of the research process and whether their data can be of productive use to researchers involved in global change programs. My first thoughts were that this article was going to be structured as such: the status of zooarchaeology, issues in research that may limit the adequacy of zooarchaeological data for global change investigations, possible solutions to problems and a silver lining. However I was interested to see that the introduction was relatively brief and the remainder of the article’s discussions intertwined problems and solutions together while being separated by specific topics such as sample size or quantification issues. The negative aspect of this article was in fact the negative aspect of the structure, specifically the headings. To clarify, the headings signified ‘problems’ and not one stated something like ‘solutions’ or ‘potentials’. So if someone were to lightly skim this article they may think the authors were criticizing zooarchaeological contributions to global change research. ‘Potentials’ is in the title so I think one of the concluding sections should have had a more optimistic heading.

The authors incorporated selected examples from two geographical regions into their article, yet instead of placing them under their own isolated headings, they were integrated into the topical discussions which I found refreshing. Normally when an author states: “we will discuss these issues then present some case studies or examples”, I am accustomed to reading the descriptions of said case studies one at a time then learning of their significance either at the end of each narration or in the discussion section of the article. In that situation I often skip much of the descriptive background of the case studies and skim for the significance. However the authors of this article selected and presented the importance of these examples throughout their discussions and with minimum background noise. I found that this structure helped their argument and the fluidity of their narrative.

The narrative style was partly subjective, the authors belong to a research group which is affiliated with the North Atlantic Biocultural Organization so they took a hopeful position for the incorporation of zooarchaeological data into regional perspectives on environmental change. They also included numerous personal opinions and judgements throughout the article, such as arguments for better approaches and methods. Like mentioned in the Hardesty article, the field of research in global change is multidisciplinary, so although this article is primarily intended for zooarchaeologists it can speak to researchers of related fields focusing on the same questions. The authors wanted to advocate for the incorporation of zooarchaeological data so they took an honest approach and described in detail the current problems but also the potential usefulness of the field.

I found this article incredibly valuable not only for my research but on a personal level as well. As I have stated earlier, I am interested in how historical knowledge in my field can assist with contemporary issues, therefore while Hardesty article spoke about global change and archaeology, this paper went a step further specifically to zooarchaeology and showed me exactly where my research interests can go.

Review of an annual review

A review of the annual review “Peopling of the Pacific: A Holistic Anthropological Perspective” by Patrick V. Kirch

For this week’s blog I went specifically to the regional area of my studies, and I was between two reviews of interest. One is called “Archaeology in Oceania”, written in 1978 by Jeffrey Clark and John Terrell. The second is “Peopling of the Pacific: A Holistic Anthropological Perspective” written by Patrick V. Kirch in 2010. I selected this second review not only because it is more recent, but also because I am a big fan of Kirch.

From the title of the review you can recognize that Kirch supports a holistic approach and the integration of various research methods from multiple subdisciplines in anthropology. This review summarizes the recent (the last 30 years before 2010) advances in archaeology, bioanthropology, and historical linguistics which have analyzed migrations, colonization, and interactions in Oceania. Oceania can be divided into three distinctive cultural subregions: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. However these divisions were subjected to racist prejudices in the 19th century so scholars have suggested alternative categories of Near Oceania (Western Oceania, closer to Australia and Southeast Asia) and Remote Oceania (Eastern Oceania, the remote islands as far out as Hawaii and Rapa Nui). Remote Oceania/Polynesia has been the focus of Kirch’s own work where he has written numerous publications from ethnographic field studies to historical syntheses of the earliest known Polynesian ancestors, the Lapita peoples.

Kirch begins his review by discussing the earliest (and still present) problem of Pacific anthropological research: origins. Historical questions were initially investigated by ethnologists yet over time the interest shifted to archaeology, linguistics, and eventually bioanthropology. The structure of Kirch’s review is then sectioned by subdisciplines where he discusses their earliest approaches, research developments since that initial period which have answered numerous questions of the chronology of origins and colonization, and the recent advancements in methodology. In this part of the review Kirch highlights the correlations between evidence of different subdisciplines, indicating that when applied together the two subfields can strengthen each other’s theories and arguments.

The evidence is complex and at first glance it seems like an overload of information. I would not recommend someone who knows nothing about Pacific anthropological history to start their literature review with this article. Perhaps one of Kirch’s other works instead such as On the Road of the Winds (which is an excellent historical narrative) where he eases into each field of research instead of cramming the major points into a 10+ page review. Nevertheless, Kirch performs well at structuring his synthesis so that initially the reader feels up-to-date with the recent advancements in each subfield, then all of the evidence is collectively applied to the grand narrative, the movements and settlements of Pacific peoples. This second half of the review is broken down into the differing Oceanic regions, and the sequences of narrative are overall chronological, starting from the Pleistocene epoch to the period of contact with the Americas.

Kirch supports the creation of homologous histories in the Pacific yet at the same time does not ignore the regional, cultural, linguistic, and genetic complexity. His other synthetic publications have utilized broad perspectives to narrate long-term histories by also incorporating smaller-scale regional variability to contribute to his comparative analyses. Broad and wide-spread knowledge is exactly what the reader receives in this review and at times it is easy to forget that these histories range over numerous islands separated by ocean and go back as far as the Pleistocene epoch. I was truly impressed how Kirch could summarize into eleven pages these major events in migration and settlement, as well as how he synthesized the significant developments from three subfields. I myself found it incredibly challenging last term when I wrote a 20 page literature review on Pacific archaeological history and my geographic and temporal frameworks were much smaller!

Another reason I admire Kirch is his narrative, because if you stop to think, the colonization of the Pacific Islands consisted of impressive seafaring journeys and what a better way to describe such journeys than with creative narratives. Kirch is remarkable at situating the reader in the Pacific Islands and producing vivid imagery. He himself grew up admiring the islands (born in Hawaii), and his lifetime experience and appreciation for the places and peoples emerges through his narratives. He is a great storyteller and unfortunately the reader does not get to experience it much in this article. It is one thing I dislike about this review, the lack of his creative voice. I understand that someone writing an annual review, especially one that encompasses such a large time span and region, would run into the problem of limited space and would need to reduce their description and detail. Yet although this review is rather descriptive, it still does tell interesting stories of human career and paints a ‘picture’ (Kirch’s imagery, see annotations) of Pacific history.

I admire this review because Kirch not only uses this opportunity to exhibit the numerous contributions to the ‘origins question’ from recent years but also effectively argues for the multidisciplinary approach by presenting and connecting findings from all three fields. I have not read many annual reviews of anthropology so I am unsure whether authors are encouraged to make arguments or simply synthesize past research. Since 2010, there have been a number of studies in the Pacific which have applied multidisciplinary approaches to investigate large questions, not necessarily of origins since it has been a debatable topic for some time, but of mobility, subsistence, and social stratification. Kirch himself has collaborated with other researchers from varying fields (ethnographers, linguists, zooarchaeologists, geologists to name a few) to address the deep time problems of Pacific human history. So as Kirch sums up towards the end of his review, a number of research questions have been answered about Pacific island history, but many more remain.

So to summarize, what works for this review is such:

  • His perspective, broad yet diverse, holistic and integrative
  • His confidence in recent advancements and paths of future research
  • His argument for a multidisciplinary approach as a methodology for historical reconstruction and answering the big questions

And this is what may not work so well:

  • A lot of summarizing and a lot of information to absorb (may not work for some readers, although it supports his argument on multidisciplinary research)
  • Lack of creative narrative (which is more of a personal critique because I am so accustomed to Kirch’s other publications)



Kirch, Patrick V. 2010. “Peopling of the Pacific: A holistic anthropological perspective”. Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 131-148.


Buckley, Hallie R., Rebecca Kinaston, Siân E. Halcrow, Aimee Foster, Matthew Spriggs, and Stuart Bedford. 2014. “Scurvy in a tropical paradise? Evaluating the possibility of infant and adult vitamin C deficiency in the Lapita skeletal sample of Teouma, Vanuatu, Pacific islands.” International Journal of Paleopathology 5: 72-85

My plan for writing this term

Currently I am between two possible writing projects for this course: a thesis chapter or a paper for publication. My research involves reconstructing environment and subsistence through the analysis of archaeological fish remains from various islands in the Kingdom of Tonga.  I have been working with my supervisor to sort and identify ~10 000-15 000 skeletal elements. It has been a long yet enjoyable experience (even when most of my friends have told me that fish bone identification is something they would never want to do), however this past December my analysis has come to a temporary halt. At end of this week I have a meeting planned with my supervisor to go through the data extensively and identify patterns of taxonomic variability within and between sites. After this meeting I will have a better understanding of the path my research can take and the types of major questions I can actively explore in this project as well as my thesis.

At some point this year I would like to write an article suitable for publication. My goals are to provide a detailed report of the data collected thus far and discuss the various taxonomic patterns using an ecology-based approach. The current uncertainties are whether I have collected enough data to accurately discuss any patterns at all, and if I do I must be careful my report will not imitate or overlap too much with the article my supervisor is planning to write in the near future. Once again, these questions will (hopefully) be answered this Friday. With a copious amount of fish bone data at hand, I believe this writing option is feasible, and my intentions for this class are to produce this article.

On the other hand, I would be just as happy to compose a chapter of my thesis. Last semester I took two reading courses to research the historical background of my target region, and the various methodologies in zooarchaeology. The focus for my chapter would be on a description of the site context and a discussion of past regional studies. Dr. Roddick mentioned how writing or reading a background chapter can be a slightly unpleasant experience, but not if it is written effectively. The content can be presented in an engaging and appealing manner, as opposed to a simple descriptive outline. I will admit, I did not consider this approach as an option before now. If this is the project I choose to write, I plan to start my writing process by asking this question: “What story should this chapter tell?”.  I hope this class can assist me with writing an effective narrative and encouraging myself to be actively interested in the reader.

I plan to complete 30 minutes (at times it may become 60 minutes)of free writing 5-6 days a week on this project and I have set some strict rules for myself. The process will involve 30 timed minutes to write on a specific section of my paper, and I will turn off my Wi-Fi and refuse to stop and search through my references. However, once time has progressed and I am closer to completing my first draft, I will have to be more flexible and cut that time period in half so that the first part is assigned to free writing and the remaining 15 minutes will allow for referencing and fine-tuning. Considering writer’s block affects me throughout the editing phase as well, I plan to conduct my editing process in the same manner with timed writing periods. This is so I can mimic that feeling of ‘crunch time’ and as soon as the timer stops, I must finish and wait until the next opportunity to finish my thoughts. By completing certain sections every day, I might avoid those dreaded days of endless hours trying to produce ideas yet failing to go anywhere. I am optimistic every 30 minute period will guide me a step further to accomplishing my goal, and I must maintain this positive outlook throughout the entire process.

My outline for writing is such:

5-6 Days a week: 30 minutes of free writing (no internet, no fact checking, no opportunities to pause/stop)

Up until January 20th: Brainstorm major ideas for thesis chapter and article

January 20th: Meeting with supervisor

January 27th: Create outline for paper

February 3rd: Read through references, conduct further research, create reference list

February 10th: Compose really rough first draft from daily writing sessions

February 19th- 25th: Reading week, give draft to a family member or friend (a non-academic) to comment on clarity

March 9th: Bring in first draft to class

March 23rd: Bring in second draft to class

March 24th- April 1st: Edit, edit, EDIT! And utilizing the help of a peer editor (or two)

March 30th: Create presentation of paper

April 6th: Presentation of final paper

After April 6th/end of term: Give paper to supervisor for comments and further editing

I believe I have provided myself with reasonable tasks and time to complete them. As with any other writing assignments, starting is the first battle, yet I will try my best not to grow weary during this time. My hope is that the implementation of 30 minutes of free writing each day will minimize the occurrences of writer’s block while simultaneously enhancing the fluidity of my writing. In addition, I am looking forward to the peer editing process which will be taking place later in the course. My goals are to commit to sharing all of my future work with at least one peer editor so that I may be more easily guided in the right direction.

My love/hate relationship with writing – mostly hate

Let me start off by saying I always enjoyed one style of writing, creative and freestyle writing. Therefore I actually enjoyed creating this first blog post and saying whatever came to mind. Yet after years of producing countless structured papers in university, I have somewhat lost the creative spark I developed from my creative writing class in grade 11. Even writing this blog post I was unsure of how creative and humorous I should be. I suppose after having my work judged and evaluated by some of the smartest individuals in Canada, I have resorted to writing seriously and just sticking to the point. I remember my grade 12 english teacher giving me my final mark and advising me that I “probably should not take an english writing course in university”, then forcing out an awkward laugh. However, I ignored her advice and took a couple english courses in my first two years of undergrad and finished with grades of A. I knew then to trust myself and my work habits, yet always seek help when it is needed. I am aware that I am not the greatest writer, and though I have good ideas and arguments, I often struggle to express them. And let me tell you, the struggle is real.

When I write for a class assignment, mainly an end of term paper, I try to start it as soon as possible. While this does not always happen, when it actually does I feel a little more confident that I will create something extraordinary because I will have the time to fix what I see as unfit. However, on countless occasions I spend the last 24 hours before the due date rereading my paragraphs, rereading my sources, rereading my numerous scribbled notes, and just wishing the whole ordeal would end. As I write this introductory paragraph I am wondering to myself, why does this always happen? And is there a better way to write? I know there is, and I truly hope I find it.

I wish to give my writing process the therapy that it deserves, so therefore to try to treat my writing troubles I must first identify them as they appear in my writing process. I have already mentioned the first step, starting early, which is then followed by scribbling down a brief bullet-point outline. This outline helps to map out my main thoughts, arguments, and supporting evidence. I then build on these thoughts and attempt to write my first draft. Sometimes I will start writing from the beginning and work my way to the conclusion, while other times I will build it piece by piece in no particular order. I have found that both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Writing random sections allows me to focus on my favourite arguments first and the more dreaded points later. On the other hand, writing from introduction to conclusion creates a better flow since I am connecting my points as I go, instead of attempting to piece parts together at the end. Plus, finishing my least favourite sections early gives me a real sense of accomplishment and takes weight off of my shoulders.

Writer’s block hits me hard at the start, this is when I sit down and start typing. “Okay, I have an outline and an idea for my argument…now what?”. And I sit there thinking and thinking, writing one line here and another there, hoping they will meet up at some point. I also become stuck when I approach the conclusion, my biggest challenge is summarizing everything I have said without sounding redundant and instead writing something that sounds….well profound and smart. Going out with a bang.

This issue of ‘sounding smart’ plagues me greatly throughout the writing and editing processes. One of my habits involves highlighting words or phrases which I consider to be poor or unclear. Most of the time these are words which do not say exactly what I am thinking or I simply believe I can choose a better or smarter word. However, my initial poor choice of word discourages me from searching for a new one at that moment, therefore instead of fixing it immediately, I highlight and save that task for later. My reason for this is that I prefer to write very roughly at first and edit later, not doing two jobs at once and tiring myself out. Writing and editing are scheduled on separate days because I believe in having a fresh mind when starting a new task.

Having a fresh mind definitely helps when I approach the issue of ‘infinite references’. With access to numerous journals from the library and articles from google scholar, the number of sources that may support my arguments is overwhelming. I cannot count the number of times I have sat at my computer for 2-3 hours just going through my sources and their references, and their partners’ work, and their references, and not writing a word in my paper.  A majority of the academics I research discuss the same topic and make the same arguments, but I always think that if I look in depth at their work I may find something unique which I can use.  Therefore, one of the hurdles which slows down my writing process is searching through endless streams of ideas and never knowing when to stop reading.

Eventually when I do say enough, I stop reading and take a moment to breath. I confess, I say ‘stop’ to myself quite a bit during my entire writing process. Brainstorming, writing, referencing, and editing can only be done for so long with my easily distracted mind. But if I do accomplish a sufficient amount of work in one sitting, I like to reward myself. Sometimes with a snack or tea, a chat with a friend, a little Netflixing (often ‘little’ turns into 3 hour movie), or a trip to the gym (in this situation I think the gym is a reward, that is how much I dislike writing at times). Now, the trouble for me is that these distractions are available all the time and they are so very tempting when I am hitting my head against the wall trying to think of something to type. They are both a blessing (reward for working hard) and a curse (reward when I am trying to work hard). I am easily distracted by almost everything when I sit down to read an article/book or write a paper. One method I use is bargaining with myself: I could write for three hours straight, or I could write for two hours then procrastinate and relax for an hour, and then finish up that last hour of writing after. “I will have time” is something I always say to myself, yet I never do have enough time. If I choose to relax halfway through my day then I always lose precious working time later. Eventually everything I planned to finish gets pushed back until it gets closer to the deadline. This is where the real stress comes in.

I have to admit, some of my best writing has occurred during ‘crunch times’ or at the late hours of the night. It is as if the stress has given me the adrenaline to break through my writer’s block.  If I go slow the blocks can easily be placed in front of me and it can be hours until I figure a way around them, but if I go fast I can get past them before they even appear. The last writing block appears when I have run out of things to edit or perfect. It is difficult for me to decide when something I have created is not only complete, but also valuable. This is when having that second party becomes incredibly helpful. Having a friend or two read and pick out flaws I never considered helps me get through many of the challenges I have outlined in this blog post. But on the day before the deadline, likely my editing partner is finishing up work of their own, so this is when I undergo countless cycles of reading and rereading my myself. I edit and reread until my head hurts, and finally when I cannot find any more ways to improve my arguments, I create my title page and print that paper.

You would think after years of writing I would have found the best methods which limited the amount of times writer’s block appeared…sadly I have not.  Establishing a good writing process for myself has actually become an ongoing process on its own. I continue to try new tactics to encourage good writing habits (e.g. rewarding myself with a tasty snack every time I finish a page), or enhancing my focus (e.g. trying new types of tea which are advertised to enhance awareness and focus). Once I get my writing groove back, I truly feel better about the length, style, strength, and overall quality of my finished product. And this feeling always comes back for everything I write. The struggle to get it back, however, is something I hope to overcome in the near future. Especially when I have that future thesis of mine making its way nearer every day.