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Research Domains

In preparing for the 2007 archaeological investigations at Zatopec, CAS outlined some important issues that could be addressed through additional excavations at the site and subsequent analyses. As Zatopec had previously been investigated, CAS had the benefit of focusing in on four specific research topics, research domains.

Reserach Domain 1: Site Formation and Landform Accretion

This somewhat "jargony" term addresses the physical "integrity," or condition, of the landform within which the Zatopec site is situated. If you imagine such landforms to be dynamic and subject to natural processes such as weathering, erosion, or disturbance by animals, the condition of an archaeological site changes through time. Each of these processes can disturb and mix sediments from different layers, or may result in artifacts from multiple time periods being found together in the same layer. Understanding the condition of a site, or the degree to which a site has been disturbed (virtually all sites have been disturbed since the artifacts were left behind) is crucial to interpreting artifacts and features. The spatial distribution of artifacts across any site is the result of (1) where humans left them and (2) what natural processes acted on them. Deciphering how these factors worked together to produce the record that archaeologists encounter and work to document is an important aspect of investigations.

This research domain was addressed primarily by a professional geoarchaeologist using techniques borrowed from geology, soil science, chemistry, and other Earth Science-based disciplines.

Research Domain 2: The Character of Residential Sites

Research Domain 2 builds upon the work performed by Dr. James Garber during the Southwest Texas State University fieldschools. From the outset, Zatopec was identified as a residential camp site. These kinds of sites represent the localities of stay-overs by groups of people for periods of time ranging from one or two nights to several weeks and possibly months. As there is quite a bit of flexibility in the definition (i.e., varying sizes and durations), residential sites are quite variable. This research domain aims to find out how occupations of Zatopec fit into this framework.

Research Domain 3: Prey-Choice and Resource Exploitation

The goal of this research domain is not simply to reconstruct an inventory for animals found at Zatopec, but rather to recognize how certain resources (food) were used. Were some basic foods shared equally among all the occupants of the site? Were some people more directly involved in procuring certain resources than other people were? Did acquiring these resources take certain types of tools? How did resource-use change through time? These are some questions addressed in Research Domain 3.

Research Domain 4: Organization of Hunter-Gatherer Technologies

Understanding Research Domain 4 requires a certain amount of imagination and abstract thinking. Rather than thinking of Zatopec simply as an archaeological site, imagine it instead a place filled with living people. You might not be surprised to see a number of individuals performing different tasks according to their age, their sex, their expertise, and so on. Would all of these tasks require the same tools? Would all of these people be equally talented or have expertise in all activities? Maybe not. Through Research Domain 4, archaeologists work at identifying individuals from "the group" by examining variety in the artifacts left behind.

Left image: George Catlin, 1832, "Buffalo Chase over Prairie Bluffs," Smithsonian Institute
Right image: Burned rock midden painting by Charles Shaw, Texas Beyond History

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