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Unpacking the Discard Equation: Simulating the Accumulation of Artifacts in the Archaeological Record

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Mark D. Varien
Affiliation:
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Cortez, CO 81321
James M. Potter
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287–2402

Abstract

Quantifying discard to accurately estimate the duration of site occupation is critical middle-range research necessary for understanding assemblage diversity, the nature of settlement systems and mobility strategies, and population size, and for testing any anthropological theory that depends on the accurate measurement of these variables. We address this middle-range research by employing a computer simulation to explore assumptions inherent in the discard equation and to determine the accuracy with which cooking pot refuse measures the length of site occupation. The accumulation of discarded cooking pot sherds is simulated using a strong archaeological case: the Duckfoot site, a Pueblo I residential site located in the Mesa Verde region of southwestern Colorado. We argue that estimating the length of site occupation using data from a strong archaeological case is superior to using the discard equation and ethnographic data, but that the discard equation and ethnographic data-used judiciously-can provide reasonable estimates if a strong archaeological case is not available. Results indicate that the most variable and least accurate results are generated by short-term occupations of sites by small numbers of households. We further conclude that quantifying the accumulation of discarded cooking pot sherds has considerable promise as a means of estimating the length of site occupation.

La cuantificación del desecho es una investigación de rango medio crucial para estimar correctamente la duración de осupación de un sitio, comprender la diversidad del conjunto arqueológico, la naturaleza del sistema de asentamiento y estrate gias de mobilidad, y el tamaño de la población, así como también para poner a prueba cualquier teoría antropológica que resta en la correcta medida de estas variables. Conducimos esta investigación de rango medio con una simulación computarizada para explorar presupuestos inherentes en la ecuación de desecho y para determinar si el desecho de allas de cocina provee una medida correcta de la duratión de ocupación de un sitio. Se simula la acumulación de tiestos de allas de cocina descartados usando un caso arqueológico sólido: el sitio Duckfoot, un sitio habitacional del periodo Pueblo I localizado en la región de Mesa Verde en el suroeste de Colorado. Argóimos que el cálcule de la duration de ocupación de un sitio usando un caso arqueológico sólido es superior a aquél obtenido usando una ecuación de desecho о datos etnográficos. Sin embargo, estos Ultimos, si se usan juiciosamente, pueden proveer estimados razonables en ausencia de un case arqueológico sólido. Los resultados indican que los sitios ocupados por pocas familias y por poco tiempo rinden los resul tados menas correctes y más variables. Concluimos además que la cuantificación del desecho de ollas de cocina es consid erablemente prometedora como un medio para estimar la duration de ocupación de un sito arqueológico.

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Reports
Copyright
Copyright © The Society for American Archaeology 1997

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