Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Road Goes Ever On and On.

            I am a firm believer in perspective. Perspective is everything. It is a concept centered on critical thinking. I have always been in awe of our capacity for compassion and understanding… our humanity. We have such a unique way of thinking, where we can approach a problem from so many different angles that we can find out a better solution to everything. This is where perspective becomes a predominate player in the game of life. We’ve all heard the cliché glass half empty or glass half full that has been ingrained into our minds to the point of it being completely meaningless.
            This past week I visited Range Creek again, which of course is always an excellent idea. The healing power of that place is extraordinary. No cell service, no technology, the spiritual feeling of past human lives being lived and now gone, the quiet, and the brilliant starlight places a calming warmth on the soul. It is a place to pause from our chaotic lives and reconnect with something more important than the hustle and bustle of a modern first world life. A place to wake when the sun rises, and retire when the sun sets; it is so natural that one tends to forget all their worries. A certain haven for an anthropologist and more so an archaeologist. You can sit in the canyon and a plethora of questions infiltrate your mind and demand all the knowledge you’ve learned to be put on the front lines. A battle to reconstruct the past flows across your mind; with your mental resources becoming the fighting force in a world of innumerable variables. Who could resist such an overwhelming outreach to connect with people who have been gone for over a thousand years?
            My perspective on the canyon was a key player in what was to come on the last night of our stay. I say ‘our’ because I visited Range Creek with a few friends from the archaeological field school held over the summer. Two gentlemen and another lady were present in our group. I was scheduled to work an opening shift on the following morning, so my lady friend and I decided to part ways with the men and abandon the canyon around 5pm.  

In the words of Gimli – "I have taken my worst wound at this parting, having looked my last upon that which is fairest.Of course I didn’t want to leave, who would?

            I wanted nothing more than to call into work (if we had service of course), and say that Range Creek is much more fun than working, so I wont be coming in. But I had decided to be responsible and work like an adult, justified by my weekend of pure euphoria in the canyon. Having decided this, we were escorted by the gentlemen to the gate.
            They had unlocked the gate for us, and told us the combination to the second gate, which was about a ten second drive away. And like a good comedy film we couldn’t get the gate open. Worrying that the guys had already driven way, I sprinted back to the first gate yelling their names. Like an even better comedy film, they were gone. Let me emphasize again, we had no cell service. We’re still in the canyon. My friend and I tried many things, but could not get the gate to work. We decided to walk back to the ranch to get help and just stay the night. The ranch is 13 miles away.
            We stuffed our packs with our sleeping bags, headlamps, the water we had left, and the bag of peanuts we had left. My friend was irritated and grumpy almost the entire four hour walk back to the ranch, whereas I was quite chipper. I enjoyed the intimate experience with the canyon. Getting to know the canyon by foot, getting to partake of the incredible beauty, the smell of dirt and desert hung in the air, and the archaeological theories buzzing in and out of my mind, I can say I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Not to mention I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to work. I can say that the walk was breathtaking. I would do it again for sure. But the latter half of the walk was dark, and we had only one working headlamp at that time. A wee bit frustrating, sure, but still a gorgeous place!
            And then I fell in the creek… Slightly less amazing. I remember the last two miles being miserable. My hips were stiff, my feet were in pain (I only use barefoot shoes, which probably didn’t help with all the sharp rocks), and my knees were stiff. We were limping and dragging our feet, and we were both in sour moods. But my perspective had not been changed, even though my spirits were low. I was still so blown away by this canyon that I couldn’t help but LOVE the walk. When we finally entered the ranch I was back to laughing and being of good cheer. Why? I no longer was in pain! I didn’t have to continue to walk! My friend on the other hand was bitter and angry. The perspectives were simple- my glass was full of opportunity and cheer. Hers was a glass of resigned bitterness and inconvenience.
            I do not say this in disregard to her, because I adore her greatly. But just a simple perspective changed an attitude for four hours, and I believe my walk, although being the exact same as hers, was far more enjoyable.
            The task is simple: Life is full of adventure, beauty, and opportunity, but that does not mean it has to be dulled by adversity and trial.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Behavioral Ecology: Serious Time.

 Originally, evolutionary decisions were thought to have been made to benefit the species as a whole, and not the individual itself.  After a study of reproductive ecology by David Lack, it became apparent that there are distinguishing decisions made between individual and group interests concerning reproduction.
                  A study of the langurs has illustrated the individual reproductive decision making well. Langur males will commit infanticide on those infants who are not their own when taking over a brood. Once thought to be random acts of violence have now been concluded as a decision made by the male individual, not on behalf of the species, but on behalf of himself. Once the female’s unweaned offspring has been killed, the female will become sexually receptive sooner, thus the new male will have a higher chance at reproducing his own offspring. The violent manner in which this is executed also has to do with the short-lived reproductive life of the male. Males are only in control of their brood for a few years, thus if he can get his females to be sexually receptive sooner, the more offspring he will have and the higher chance his offspring have at surviving to reproductive age.

                  The female langur also makes a reproductive choice concerning her as an individual rather than for the good of the species. The female could fight off the male who is trying to kill her infant, but with sexual dimorphism and the male’s relentlessness stacked against her, she is not left many options. The female could wait to solicit a kinder male, but her offspring would be at a disadvantage against the more aggressive competition. Again, the decision is made in favor of the individual’s offspring surviving to reproductive age, and not the survival of the species as a whole.
                  Brian Bertram studied the reproductive behavior in lions and produced two observations. While the male lions behave as the male langurs, committing infanticide when they take over a pride, thus a reproductive decision based on the individual, the lionesses have made reproductive decisions that have enabled the cubs to more successfully mature. The lionesses will all have a synchronous oestrus, thus the adaptive advantage is having more cubs survive. Lionesses have communal suckling, and raise young together, thus when all females are lactating the synchronously born are cared for more easily. Male cubs are also evicted from the pride and survive better if they have a companion, yet to have a companion the cubs need to be the same age. These reproductive advantages are for the interest of the group, rather than the specific individual, such as from the male lion’s decisions.

                  There is a distinguishing importance when defining whether the observation is actually in the interest of the group or the interest of the individual. How one observes the study will depend on how it is recorded and understood. For instance, the female langurs could be considered as ‘bad’ mothers, or as Hrdy as stated, ‘less intelligent’ when it comes to making critical decisions for the group’s well being, but when viewed as making reproductive decisions from the interest of herself as an individual, the female langur is making the best reproductive choice.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I call you 'Sexy'.

After a whole summer of soaking up copious amounts of vitamin D, I must say that returning to life as I knew it is... well, difficult. It seems as if this summer has been to my life as the Easter Annals were to the calendar system, thus saying that my life is now measured in Pre Range Creek and Post Range Creek. But before I go careening off into my adventures in time and space, I feel like a touch of information is due.

Range Creek... An archaeological field school. This is a canyon located in east central Utah, near a more famous Nine Mile Canyon and Desolation Canyon. Range Creek Canyon is a hidden gem in the archaeological world. It's the last of the Time Lords, it's the Darcy among men, it's the Elder Wand to- well, you get it. It is portrayed as a large canyon that houses pristine archaeological sites - untouched by the crushing hand of development. While I cannot say that this is entirely true, it certainly is one of the most pristine sites on the planet. It was once inhabited by the people associated with the Fremont Culture, a Native American peoples. Now, keep in mind that 'Fremont' does not mean one tribe or even one nation, but rather a set of peoples with like characteristics. For example, 'Fremont' pottery is typically plain gray ware, thus where you find plain gray ware there can be an argument made that it is a 'Fremont' site.
In the canyon, the structures to be found are pit houses and granaries. Pit houses, well, the non brain dead can assume that they are indeed PIT - HOUSES. Literally a pit... with a house... around it...
Here's a picture. In case you're brain dead.

As for granaries, they are storage units. Usually storing corn, but other food stuffs can be stored within as well. Within Range Creek they are notoriously found perched precariously on cliff ledges and are difficult to access - unless you're Spiderman. But if you are Spiderman, there really is no need for you in Range Creek. Not a whole lot of crime in these parts. Seriously. Stay in the cities.

Anyway, granaries are found in many different conditions; bits of mortar are left, or even left completely intact - with 1000yr + old timber still in place.
1000yr old timber. On a cliff. Engineering at its finest.

Hold on, wait. I don't intend to give a large pre-history lesson - it cant be called history, there is no written record - because if a lesson is wanted, there are other places for that. Like school. Or internet. Just open a tab. Search. Easy.

My original purpose was to say how positively fantastic this field school was. Two months of sleeping in a tent, rising with the sun, hiking all day, excavating, holding precious artifacts from a time long past... More than enough to make me swoon and realize that archaeology is my one true love. Such a simple life that was led this summer. No bills to worry about, no car to gas, no worldly news, no social networking and internet to clog up the day... just simple living. Realizing that this is only the field season and not everyday life when I returned was and is frustrating. Drowning in an environment where the brain's cogs are constantly in motion, a never ending exciting adventure, connecting to a people long dead, learning what daily life could have been like where no written record exists... then to return to a city life? Sleeping in beds, paying bills, having the brain slow to what seems the speed of Jayne's while eyeing a companion is just quite rubbish.

In short, I think - to refresh the mind and calm the soul - a connection to a more evolutionary life is best, for me at least. I have never slept so well as I have in my tent, I have never awoken so easily and rested as I did with the sun bearing over the mountains, and I have never felt so fulfilled as I have with my brain being constantly challenged. I wish the bliss I felt this summer on everyone. I hope everyone finds their passion, their TARDIS, their escape from reality to a passion that they cannot consume enough of.

Keep Calm. Find Your Passion.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Towel Would Help

There are some instances when I have mentally checked out of a conversation. This is usually due to a reaction my brain is having that I believe can be counted as a survival mechanism, after all, being an anthropologist means this whole 'survival of the fittest' theory is an easy excuse. Then again, it might be because I am a terrible and conceited person and any topic that does not spike my interest is thereby deemed unimportant. Luckily this does not happen often.

Unfortunately, during these tiny expeditions my mind makes while someone else is droning on about- well I wouldn't know, would I? Anyway, this is moot, because I find that what goes on during these times are absolutely silly. For instance, while a customer cornered me at my ever so lovely job, said person proceeded to tell me the entire history of her cat's affection for bird watching and how it related to the economy (how it jumped from the former to the latter is an unknown variable). While this would have been interesting in a condensed sentence long enough to be Twitter-post acceptable, it was not however, an appropriate form of entertainment according to my brain.

My mind thus proceeded to take me on a marvelous journey, you know, the hero's tale. Although, because it was not an actual scripted film, it was not to be compared to such adventures as Frodo and Sam had, but more along the lines of The Phantom Menace, with more Jar-Jar.

My only concerns about these sudden fantastic trips that my brain decides to book willy nilly is that I have no idea how to recover from them and jump back into a normal conversation. I assume, like most, that you smile and nod.

Apparently there are too many flaws with my understanding of the awkward social interaction. Nonetheless, here's a pretty picture to make this post seem even more unremarkable.
Trees! Yay!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Coprolites, Middens, and Debitage

Ah, getting an education. Nothing really can puff some one's ego to the point of peacocking like learning. I know I love learning. I think learning is quite beautiful. The more I know about the world around me the more I want to know. The more questions I have. It's a sick cycle, like cocaine, but I get to keep my nose. Noses are great.

The problem, one that I see, is that once one starts to learn a dangerous thing happens: said pupil realizes that others they know do not know what has just been learned. Let the false flaunting begin!

Everyone knows someone who's like this, and everyone has been like this. For example, someone sees the new Avengers movie and suddenly is an expert on Thor and Loki's relationship, proudly flaunting that Thor and Loki are ACTUALLY from Norse mythology. As this person's victim you sit there, maybe smiling and nodding occasionally until their moment is over. They've mentally added another feather to their wonderful peacock plumage whist thinking they've taken one from yours. They KNOW about Thor and Loki, and you don't.

Although we all hate being in situations like these, with 'new' knowledge being forced down our throats, we are all so guilty. Tsk! Tsk! I don't enjoy these moments by any means, but I tolerate them because learning is pretty freaking awesome. Your mind, being the sponge it is, soaks it up and gets hammered on new information. The problem I have with it is that knowledge, or higher education, is behind closed doors. Sure, I am paying to get my degree from a good University, and I am thoroughly enjoying my time there; but as much as I hate to say it: I am paying for that darned slip of paper that says, 'Kristina knows stuff'.

Education should be available to anyone who wants it. That slip of paper that I am sure I will hang on my wall one day will only help me get a job. My 'confirmed' knowledge is no better than the student of independent study, pouring over books and getting the same amount of education outside of a university. In all, that independent student is probably better than me, because the good Lord knows I'll bum around on Facebook and Pinterest with my free time.

Anyway, my point being that those in higher education should really get off their cute little boxes and stop trying to impress people with their big words. Whether we're talking an undergrad to a high schooler, a grad student to an undergrad, it doesn't matter. Take the time to explain to your audience what you mean, let them learn. You're here to teach, not to impress. Let knowledge be freely given and give your ego a break.

Then again- coprolites, midden, and debitage sound so much cooler than poop, trash, and sharp-edged waste.
Richard Klein, I'm looking at you... Your book is a kick in the parietals.

Anthropology: Like 'Story Time', But With Tests

Archaeology: The touchy-feely part of history. Because everything is infinitely more interesting when you pull it up out of the dirt after decades, centuries, or a millennium of not being graced with a loving stroke from a human hand until YOU get to touch it. Touch. Feel. Connect. Mild stupor.
Although Archaeology will eventually turn from attracting this sort of scientist, one's who never listen to the 'don't touch' signs, it will at least last long enough in this phase for some more destructive digging. Cheers! Which is great, you know, because that's what I like. Get your hands dirty and take a look at our human past.
I stand by my opinion: Archaeology is ridiculously interesting.