Research Spotlight: Site-trampling study gives a new look at old digs

student research

Research Spotlight: Site-trampling study gives a new look at old digs

Metin Eren's site-trampling research - water buffalo in Jurreru Valley, IndiaArchaeologists who interpret Stone Age culture from discoveries of ancient tools and artifacts may need to reanalyze some of their conclusions.

That’s the finding suggested by a new study that for the first time looked at the impact of water buffalo and goats trampling artifacts into mud.

In seeking to understand how much artifacts can be disturbed, the new study documented how animal trampling in a water-saturated area can result in an alarming amount of disturbance, says archaeologist Metin Eren, an SMU graduate student and one of eight researchers on the study.

In a startling finding, the animals’ hooves pushed artifacts as much as 21 centimeters into the ground – a variation that could equate to a difference of thousands of years for a scientist interpreting a site, said Eren.

The findings suggest archaeologists should reanalyze some previous discoveries, he said. “Given that during the Lower and most of the Middle Pleistocene, hominids stayed close to water sources, we cannot help but wonder how prevalent saturated substrate trampling might be, and how it has affected the context, and resulting interpretation, of Paleolithic sites throughout the Old World,” conclude the authors in a scientific paper detailing their experiment and its findings.

“Experimental Examination of Animal Trampling Effects on Artifact Movement in Dry and Water Saturated Substrates: A Test Case from South India” has been published online by the Journal of Archaeological Science. For images, additional information and a link to the article, see www.smuresearch.com. The research was recognized as best student poster at the 2010 annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

The idea that animal trampling may reorient artifacts is not new. “Believe it or not, there have been dozens of trampling experiments in archaeology to see how artifacts may be affected by animals walking over them. These have involved human trampling and the trampling of all sorts of animals, including elephants, in dry sediments,” Eren said. “Our trampling experiments in dry sediments, for the most part, mimicked the results of previous experiments.”

But this latest study added a new variable to the mix – the trampling of artifacts embedded in ground saturated with water, Eren said.

Researchers from the United States, Britain, Australia and India were inspired to perform the unique experiment while doing archaeological survey work in the Jurreru River Valley in Southern India.

They noticed that peppering the valley floor were hardened hoof prints left from the previous monsoon season, as well as fresh prints along the stream banks. Seeing that the tracks sunk quite deeply into the ground, the researchers began to suspect that stone artifacts scattered on the edges of water bodies could be displaced significantly from their original location by animal trampling.

“Prehistoric humans often camped near water sources or in areas that receive lots of seasonal rain. When we saw those deep footprints left over from the previous monsoon season, it occurred to us that animal trampling in muddy, saturated sediments might distort artifacts in a different way than dry sediments,” Eren said. “Given the importance of artifact context in the interpretation of archaeological sites and age, it seems like an obvious thing to test for, but to our surprise it never had been.”

Eren and seven other researchers tested their theory by scattering replicated stone tools over both dry and saturated areas of the valley. They then had water buffalo and goats trample the “sites.” Once sufficient trampling occurred, the archaeologists proceeded to excavate the tools, taking careful measurements of where the tools were located and their inclination in the ground.

The researchers found that tools salted on ground saturated with water and trampled by buffalo moved up to 21 centimeters vertically, or a little more than 8 inches. Tools trampled by goats moved up to 16 centimeters vertically, or just over 6 inches.

“A vertical displacement of 21 centimeters in some cases might equal thousands of years when we try to figure out the age of an artifact,” Eren said. “This amount of disturbance is more than any previously documented experiment – and certainly more than we anticipated.”

Given that artifacts embedded in the ground at vertical angles appear to be a diagnostic marker of trampling disturbance, the researchers concluded that sites with water-saturated sediments should be identified and reanalyzed.

Written by Margaret Allen

(Above, water buffalo do their part in a site-trampling research project in India’s Jurreru River Valley. SMU graduate student Metin Eren was one of 8 researchers on the study.)

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

September 29, 2010|Research|

Research Spotlight: How children respond to family violence

Stock photo of paper dolls with broken heartsIf children feel threatened by even very low levels of violence between their parents, they may be at increased risk for developing trauma symptoms, new research suggests.

A study by psychologists at SMU found that children who witness violence between their mother and her intimate partner report fewer trauma symptoms if they don’t perceive the violence as threatening.

The research highlights the importance of assessing how threatened a child feels when his or her parents are violent toward one another, and how that sense of threat may be linked to symptoms of trauma.

“Our results indicated a relation between children’s perception of threat and their trauma symptoms in a community sample reporting relatively low levels of violence,” said Deborah Corbitt-Shindler, a doctoral candidate in the SMU Psychology Department. “The results of the study suggest that even very low levels of violence, if interpreted as threatening by children, can influence the development of trauma symptoms in children.”

The researchers presented their findings Feb. 24, 2010, at the “National Summit on Interpersonal Violence and Abuse Across the Lifespan: Forging a Shared Agenda” in Dallas. The scientific conference was sponsored by the National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence Across the Lifespan.

Family violence experts estimate that more than half of children exposed to intimate partner violence experience trauma symptoms, such as bad dreams, nightmares and trying to forget about the fights.

In the study, mothers were asked to describe any violent arguments they’d had with their intimate partners, and they were asked about trauma symptoms they may have experienced because of the violence.

Similarly, the children in the study, age 7 to 10 years old, were asked to appraise how threatened they felt by the violence they witnessed, and about trauma symptoms they may have experienced because of the violence. The researchers defined “threat” as the extent to which children are concerned that a family member might be harmed, the stability of the family is threatened, or a parent won’t be able to care for them.

To assess trauma, children were asked questions such as if they’ve had bad dreams or nightmares about their mom’s and dad’s arguments or fights; if thoughts of the arguments or fights ever just pop into their mind; if they ever try to forget all about the arguments and fights; and if they ever wish they could turn off feelings that remind them of the arguments and fights.

The researchers found that even when mothers reported an episode of intimate partner violence, their children reported fewer trauma symptoms when they didn’t view the episode as threatening. Although a mother’s emotions sometimes affect their children’s emotions, in this study the mothers’ trauma symptoms were unrelated to the children’s traumatic responses to the violence.

Corbitt-Shindler conducted the study in conjunction with her faculty advisers – Renee McDonald, associate professor, and Ernest Jouriles, professor and chair of the SMU Psychology Department. Additional co-authors of the study were SMU clinical psychology doctoral candidates Erica Rosentraub and Laura Minze; and Rachel Walker, SMU Psychology Department research assistant.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more at the SMU Research blog

March 30, 2010|Research|

Calendar Highlights: Feb. 16, 2010

Showing their work: SMU graduate students will present their research in engineering and the natural and social sciences – and get valuable experience working with the formats they will use as professionals – during the University’s 2010 Research Day Feb. 16 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom. Poster presentations take place 2-4:30 p.m., and oral presentations from 12:30-4 p.m. An award of $250 will be given to the best presentation from each department with more than three presenters in attendance. Sponsored by Dean James Quick, Office of Research and Graduate Studies. For more information, contact Phyllis Payne, 214-768-4336.

Ash Wednesday service: The 2010 Lenten season begins with SMU’s ecumenical Ash Wednesday service beginning at 12:05 p.m. Feb. 17 in Perkins Chapel. University Chaplain Stephen Rankin will deliver the day’s message, “Testing Our Treasure.” The service is open to the entire SMU community. For more information, visit the Chaplain’s Office website.

Test your metal: SMU’s Meadows Wind Ensemble kicks off its spring performance schedule with “Heavy Metal,” an evening of works written for metal instruments. The program includes music by Gunther Schuller, Augusta Read Thomas, John Cage, Johann Hummel and SMU Professor Martin Sweidel – with a possible encore featuring the music of Metallica. The show begins at 8 p.m. Feb. 19 in Caruth Auditorium, Owen Arts Center. Tickets are $7 each for SMU faculty, staff and students. Buy tickets online or contact the Meadows Ticket Office, 214-768-2787 (214-SMU-ARTS).

Clements Center 2010 Symposium poster artClements Center Public Symposium: The family histories of the American West will be the focus of the 2009-10 Annual Public Symposium presented by SMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies. “On the Borders of Love and Power: Families and Kinship in the Intercultural American West” is cosponsored by the Center for the Southwest at the University of New Mexico, the Institute for the Study of the American West at the Autry National Center and the Clements Center. It will take place 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. Register online or contact the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, 214-768-3684.

February 16, 2010|Calendar Highlights|

Research Spotlight: Jurassic climate, from treeless to tropical

An ancient soil crack, or clastic dike, produced by alternating wet and dry cyclesThe Congo Basin – with its massive, lush tropical rain forest – was far different 150 million to 200 million years ago.

At that time Africa and South America were part of the single continent Gondwana. The Congo Basin was arid, with a small amount of seasonal rainfall, and few bushes or trees populated the landscape, according to a new geochemical analysis of rare ancient soils.

The geochemical analysis provides new data for the Jurassic period, when very little is known about central Africa’s paleoclimate, says Timothy Myers, a paleontology doctoral student in SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College.

There aren’t a whole lot of terrestrial deposits from that time period preserved in Central Africa,” Myers says. “Scientists have been looking at Africa’s paleoclimate for some time, but data from this time period is unique.”

There are several reasons for the scarcity of deposits: Ongoing armed conflict makes it difficult and challenging to retrieve them; and the thick vegetation, a humid climate and continual erosion prevent the preservation of ancient deposits, which would safeguard clues to Africa’s paleoclimate.

Myers’ research is based on a core sample drilled by a syndicate interested in the oil and mineral deposits in the Congo Basin. Myers accessed the sample – drilled from a depth of more than 2 kilometers – from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, where it is housed. With the permission of the museum, he analyzed pieces of the core at the SMU Huffington Department of Earth Science’s Isotope Laboratory.

“I would love to look at an outcrop in the Congo,” Myers says, “but I was happy to be able to do this.” (Above, an ancient soil crack, called a clastic dike, produced by alternate wetting and drying cycles from seasonal rainfall.)

Read more from the SMU Research blog

November 10, 2009|Research|

Have blog, will travel

Kelsey in front of the SphinxThroughout the 2008-09 academic year, students and faculty have shared news of their research and travels around the world and at SMU on the Student Adventures blog. Highlights this spring included:

• SMU’s Model United Nations team, which was invited to represent the Vatican in the World Model U.N. 2009 Conference in The Hague, Netherlands.

Alternative Spring Break bloggers, including the students, staff and faculty who volunteered in Appalachia, Tennessee, and New York City.

Shelby and Kelsey in the new Education Abroad program SMU-in-Cairo. They have climbed Mount Sinai and explored pyramids, in addition to studying at the American University in Cairo.

If you know students or faculty whom you consider Adventurers – whether they’re researching, traveling volunteering, leading or interning this summer – contact Sarah Hanan in SMU News and Communications, 214-768-7622.

Meet the bloggers at SMU Student Adventures

May 20, 2009|News|
Load More Posts