At what point do I throw in the trowel and get a degree in computer science?

December 5, 2008

For those of you keeping track, I am still working on my thesis.  I recently finished cataloguing (almost) all of the material from the Fort Hill site.  “Almost” because there are several pieces that do not seem to have catalog numbers written on them.  Thankfully this is a relatively small percentage of the overall collection.  I am currently in the process of running some basic statistics on these data to evaluate my hypothesis about functional attributes (i.e., how the pots were used). 

A big part of the thesis is actually just describing the assemblage that is there.  Although the site was originally studied as part of someone’s Ph.D. dissertation many moons ago, they devoted only a few pages (out of 700+) to the ceramic assemblage.  I don’t mean to disparage their work–it remains perhaps THE best study in existence of Contact Period archaeology in northern New England–but it does illustrate the need for a good description of the material that was recovered. 

One of the problems with describing the assemblage is that there are virtually no published studies of Contact Period pottery from northern New England (Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine).  And, those that do exist are pretty much removed from my research area.  Some have referred to the northern Connecticut River Valley as an “unresolved region” as far as pottery goes; whereas, others, when asked what Contact Period pottery from the area should look like, state that it will look very “Owasco” like.

What I’m finding is that the pottery is quite similar, visually, to pottery recovered over a broad region.  There are some pieces that are visually similar to pottery from the Guida Farm site in southern Massachusetts.  Others are similar to styles in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys of New York.  Still others are just plain wierd, and do not seem to have published analogues.

One method of sorting through this jumbled mess of pottery (some 2000 sherds, most of which are no bigger than a quarter), is to sort them based on rims.  That is, the lip of the pot.  Why is this?  Well, I can’t really tell you that.  It’s just one of those things that archaeologists have always done. 

So, what do the rims look like at Fort Hill? 

A selection of rim-sherd profiles from Fort Hill, NH

A selection of rim-sherd profiles from Fort Hill, NH


As you can see, there’s a lot of variety in here.  Even more when you consider that this is about half of the total rims from the site.  What’s particularly interesting to me is the presence of complexly curved shapes, straight-collared shapes, lipped shapes, and simple straight-walled pieces. Such forms are sometimes, and I would say unjustifiably, associated with specific ethnic groups.  My perspective is that whereas these forms may have some associations with different ethnicities, such a proposition cannot be evaluated archaeologically.  I propose, instead, that these be viewed as functional varieties.  Think of the variety of pots or other containers that you have in your kitchen cabinets.  Each kind is designed for a specific purpose.  True, if you’re like me you probably don’t always use them for their intended purposes (ever had soup out of a cup?), but the point stands that each container is designed to be used in a certain way.  What are those purposes?  Well, if you can answer that, you’ve got me beat.

All of this is horribly dull, even for a dedicated archaeo-freak like myself.  But, seeing as I’m stuck in the Natural Resources Building on campus waiting to get permission to download some soil data, I figured I’d spend the time typing all about it.


2 Responses to “At what point do I throw in the trowel and get a degree in computer science?”

  1. Julie Woods said

    Hey Matt –

    Great rim drawings. I can’t believe the variety. I’m still working on my thesis too. I did a little more analysis on vessel width before the AAA’s – both sites in Deerfield show a different distribution than you’re seeing at Fort Hill. There are definite clusters but not quite the bell curve you’re seeing. I’ll send along the info by email.

    Ciao –

    • Julie:

      Sounds great, I’d love to see some of the things you’re coming up with. I’ll have some photographs posted fairly soon, as well as (hopefully) a draft summary of the preliminary results for you.

      Hope all’s well in Amherst!


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