I'm guessing that most people that read my blog are not professional archaeologists and have never been the SAA's. These are the annual meetings of the largest professional archaeological organization in the country. I don't have any numbers on annual attendance, but for archaeologists these meetings are a chance to meet new people, learn new things, talk about ideas and data, and re-connect with others in our social networks. The array of presentations and posters that one can go to over the course of several days is large (here's the program for this year's meeting). So you have to make choices about how you're going to spend your time. I just wanted to pass on a few interesting things that I've seen, heard, or thought about over the last couple of days.
Margaret (Pegi) Jodry gave a really interesting presentation on an 11,100-year-old (ca. 9,100 BC) double burial (a male and a female) from Horn Shelter No. 2 in Texas (you can find the 2014 paper that discusses the burial here). Human remains from the Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene are extremely rare in North America. The male burial is particularly interesting because it appears, based mostly on the analysis of the contents of the grave, to be the internment of a shaman. The burial includes tools probably used for making pigment (antler pestles and turtle shell bowls), a tool for applying pigment to the skin, and a scarification tool. The burial also included animal remains that probably had symbolic significance: hawk claws and badger claws were found in the vicinity of the head and neck, presumably placed there as part of the burial ceremony. Jodry speculated that the hawk and badger may have symbolized travel to the "upper world" (sky) and "lower world" (underground), respectively.
I found Jodry's discussion of this burial to be really interesting after recently hearing my SCIAA colleague Adam King talk about Mississippian (ca. AD 1000) iconography and cosmology. I wondered how far back in time we might be able to trace the basic cosmological elements that we can discern (with the help of linguistic data) as important to the Mississippian world. The Hon Shelter burial seems to provide a tantalizing glimpse of the symbolic representation of a tripartite "above" "earth" and "below" cosmos in the Early Holocene, associated with a a projectile point technology (San Patrice) that is related to the Dalton points that are the most common markers of the Late Paleoindian period in the Southeast. Very interesting.
"The location and orientation of the keel marks suggests icebergs were entrained a southwestward flowing coastal current, most likely during the last glaciation. This may be the first evidence of iceberg transport to subtropical latitudes in the north Atlantic."
Apparently these marks were just discovered in 2006/2007. If I understood Dunbar's paper correctly, there is still no firm answer on exactly when these marks were created. I think (and I'm really not sure, because I was still trying to wrap my head around the image of icebergs drifting by Charleston) Dunbar was suggested this may have been occurring rather late in the Pleistocene, perhaps even associated with the Younger Dryas (about 12,900 to 11,700 years ago) and the environmental changes associated with it.
I'm not sure what the decision-making process was for choosing a Disney resort as a conference location. Although I'm only offering my own opinion here, I can tell you that many people here agree with me. It's too expensive. I paid $16 for a pre-made chicken sandwich and a coke for lunch today. A pint of beer at the hotel bar is like $8 or so. The hotel rooms are over $200/night. It's impossible to go elsewhere to eat lunch, because we're on a Disney campus. Everything is Disney and everything is expensive unless you want to get in your car and drive somewhere for lunch, in which case you won't make it back in time to make the beginnings of paper sessions in the afternoon. You could argue that this is a "family friendly" location for a conference, but the SAA elected not to provide any childcare services this year. Maybe this is a great place to vacation, but my opinion is that it is a poor choice for a working conference where many of the attendees are here with limited funding and/or on their own dime.
I'm going to cut if off for now and get back to the business of the conference. I saw a good session this morning that was organized by Erick Robinson, Joe Gingerich, and Shane Miller ("Human Adaptations to Lateglacial and Early Holocene Climate and Environmental Changes"), but I'm hoping to talk to some of the participants more later. It was good stuff.