by Robin Skeates (CfAS Board of Directors member for the EAA, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Because the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) is committed to sharing and using archaeological data to advance science and benefit contemporary society, it has become a Partner of the Coalition of Archaeological Synthesis (CfAS), with a place on its Board of Directors. EAA members might find it helpful to learn more about the background to CfAS, its ongoing projects, and how to get involved in its work.
Established in 2017, CfAS follows the influential, interdisciplinary, scientific model of research pioneered by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) (https://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/). More broadly, CfAS is informed by the rapidly growing fields of data science (also known as ‘data mining’ and ‘big data’), team science (or ‘collaborative research’) and open science (or ‘open access’).
CfAS promotes and funds innovative, collaborative, synthetic research that can rapidly advance our scientific understanding of the past in ways that can aid in the formulation of solutions to contemporary global challenges that are of benefit to society, and which can consequently be used to influence public policy (http://archsynth.org/). (For additional background information, see: Kintigh 2006; Kintigh et al. 2014; Altschul et al. 2017; Altschul et al. 2018.)
Such research involves the analysis and synthesis of existing archaeological and related data and knowledge, from multiple sources and cultural contexts, on multiple spatial and temporal scales. These include the often vast and under-utilized datasets produced by development-led/cultural resource management projects and academic research. Informatics, as an applied form of information science, has particular relevance here in enabling both data integration and networked scientific collaboration. Nevertheless, the challenges presented by seeking to combine different datasets into a single database in which the observations are sufficiently comparable that they may be analysed together is not underestimated. Nor are the challenges posed by integrating knowledge about the dynamics of fundamentally different cultural contexts. But progress is being made, for example, by Open Context (https://opencontext.org/), tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record) (https://www.tdar.org/about/), and ADS (Archaeology Data Service) (https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/), international and national repositories for the digital records of archaeological investigations, whose data integration tools focus squarely on the problem of compiling and comparing data from multiple projects. CfAS seeks to build on such developments, particularly through targeted investment.
In 2018, CfAS funded its first two collaborative synthetic projects. ‘The ArchaeoEcology Project’, organised by Stefani Crabtree of Pennsylvania State University, combines the deep-time perspective of archaeology with data from the allied disciplines of ethnography, ecology, climate science, and geology, to answer the question, ‘How do human interactions with biodiversity shape socio-ecological dynamics and sustainability’. This question lies at the heart of the ongoing public debate about how our actions are affecting biodiversity and transforming our relationships with ecosystems across the planet. Using data from the American Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, the South Pacific, the North Atlantic, northern Europe, and western Australia, this project is documenting the many ways that humans interact with other species, and will synthesize the various datasets into models termed ‘human-centred interaction networks’ that will be used to better understand the role of culture, ecology and environment in the long-term evolution of socio-ecological systems. ‘People, Fire and Pines in the Border Lakes Region of North America’, organised by Evan Larson of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, brings together a team of archaeologists, First Nation community members, land managers, scientists and those with traditional environmental knowledge to synthesize existing archaeological, ethnographic and tree-ring data in the context of traditional histories in order to understand the long-term relationships among people, landscape and fire in the Border Lakes Region of Canada and the United States. It is expected that the results of this synthesis will help redefine “wilderness” in both countries and directly inform revision of fire management plans of wilderness areas.
In 2019, CfAS, in collaboration with the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and the EAA, has moved on to sponsor a workshop for about 15 archaeologists (drawn from diverse academic backgrounds, including a significant number from Europe) to design one or more collaborative synthetic project proposals on human migration, which will then be submitted to funding agencies. It almost goes without saying that migration from the Middle East, particularly from Syria, as well as North Africa is greatly affecting European countries; migration from Latin America to North America, principally to the United States, is equally a subject of intense debate. The hope is that these projects will develop long-term, comparative and synthetic understandings of the factors stimulating human migration, the conditions and processes implicated in the success of the incorporation of immigrant groups at their destination, and how these new understandings might inform contemporary policy.
CfAS is organised around a Board of Directors, composed of CfAS Partners. Partners are organizations that support the objective of CfAS of fostering synthesis in archaeology to advance science and benefit society. Currently, there are 38 Partners ranging from professional societies (including the EAA), academic departments, museums, CRM consultancies and NGOs. Additionally, CfAS has 200 Associates, who are individuals that support CfAS’ mission. Whereas Partner organizations pay a small annual fee, there is no fee for Associates. All Partners and Associates receive the CfAS newsletter, notifications of research opportunities, research results, and public policy white papers and statements. CfAS is administered by the SRI Foundation.
We encourage all EAA members to become familiar with CfAS. More information can be found at http://archsynth.org. To become a CfAS Associate, simply fill out the online form at http://archsynth.org/become-a-coalition-associate.html. Information on becoming a CfAS Partner can be found at http://www.archsynth.org/become-a-coalition-partner.html.
Altschul, J.H., K.W. Kintigh, T.H. Klein, W.H. Doelle, K.A. Hays-Gilpin, S.A. Herr, T.A. Kohler, B.J. Mills, L.M. Montgomery, M.C. Nelson, S.G. Ortman, J.N. Parker, M.A. Peeples, and J.A. Sabloff, 2017. Fostering synthesis in archaeology to advance science and benefit society. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(42): 10999-11002. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1715950114
- Altschul, J.H., K.W. Kintigh, T.H. Klein, W.H. Doelle, K.A. Hays-Gilpin, S.A. Herr, T.A. Kohler, B.J. Mills, L.M. Montgomery, M.C. Nelson, S.G. Ortman, J.N. Parker, M.A. Peeples, and J.A. Sabloff, 2018. Fostering collaborative synthetic research in archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice, 6(1): 19-29. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/aap.2017.31
- Kintigh, K.W., 2006. The promise and challenge of archaeological data integration. American Antiquity, 71: 567–578. DOI: 10.2307/40035365
- Kintigh, K.W., J.H. Altschul, M.C. Beaudry, R.D. Drennan, A.P. Kinzig, T.A. Kohler, W.F. Limp, H.D.G Maschner, W.K. Michener, T.R. Pauketat, P. Peregrine, J.A. Sabloff, T.J. Wilkinson, H.T. Wright, and M.A. Zeder, 2014. Grand challenges for archaeology. American Antiquity, 79: 5–24. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7183/0002-73184.108.40.206
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