MEMSAP at the Meetings

Society for American Archaeology and Paleoanthropology Societyby Andrew Zipkin (Doctoral Candidate, The George Washington University)

Last week several members of the MEMSAP team attended the Paleoanthropology Society Annual Meeting and the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting in Memphis, Tennessee.  The week started off with project PI Dr. Jessica Thompson delivering a presentation, “Reassessment of the formation and significance of the Mwanganda’s Village ‘elephant butchery site’, Karonga District, northern Malawi” on Wednesday, April 18th to the Paleoanthropology Society.  This presented for the first time to the public the results of two years of  MEMSAP field and lab work on the Mwanganda site.

Half an hour later, I presented an experimental archaeology project indirectly related to MEMSAP.  Over the last 18 months or so I have been studying the material properties of glues used to construct compound tools (like an arrowhead hafted to a wooden shaft).  Over the past several years, residue analysis studies of tools from Sibudu Cave, South Africa have indicated that plant resin and ochre were likely combined to make hafting adhesives during the Middle Stone Age.  My experimental work with similar adhesives indicates that adding ochre to Acacia senegal resin (better known as gum arabic, the stuff that you lick to seal an envelope) actually makes for a weaker adhesive than using the resin alone.  But the presence of ochre on previously hafted stone tools is uncontroversial; if not to strengthen the adhesive, was it added for decoration or other symbolic purposes?

Later in the week on Thursday, April 19th, I presented my poster “On the formation and distribution of ochreous minerals in northern Malawi” in the Geoarchaeology Session at the SAAs.  Using samples of ochre collected during the last field season, my poster  compared the effectiveness of three different geochemical techniques for determining the geological source of ochre artefacts.  Check out the details here:

Thursday evening, new PhD student (University of Queensland) and MEMSAP field school alum Emma James delivered her first conference talk; “What is a cut mark? Terminological obstacles to comparability between zooarchaeological datasets”.  Conference week wrapped up on Saturday afternoon with MEMSAP geoarchaeologist Prof. David Wright chairing the African Late Stone Age session and delivering his presentation “Changes in Holocene lake levels and human settlement patterns in southeast Turkana, Kenya”.

All in all, a very busy but exciting week for MEMSAP.  Keep an eye out over the coming months for the publication of papers derived from some of these posters and talks.


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