Coupling, Linking, and Bridging


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       Bundled field research provides the capability to deal with a more meaningful set of interactions and decreases the need for overly simplistic reductionist data collection and modeling.

A major problem with models such as that of landscape taphonomy, which clearly an over-simplification of ecosystem dynamics,  is that while capable of illustrate big-picture interactions, they do not really provide obvious clues as to how to proceed to investigate the circles, boxes and arrows.  The basic landscape taphonomy model  is long on concept, short on method. The problem of operationalzing archaeological landscape research at multiple spatial and temporal scales can be further modeled as having four active components: 1) tightly coupled process research, 2) clearly linked paleoecological datasets, 3) bridging data sets, and 4) bundled research strategies.   Figure 1  illustrates this coupling, linking, bridging, bundling framework, each of which are described below.    Effective research has to simultaneously cycle through top-down (conceptual, theoretical, and analytical) and bottom-up (methodological, operational, and documentary) investigatory practice.  The GRSLE project is an attempt at putting this iterative research perspective into practice.  We start with a conceptual framework of landscape taphonomy, then propose a methodological framework for exploring the concept (Figure 1), and eventually turn to concerns for how to integrate the conceptual and methodological perspectives into a multi-scalar field research project.

Coupling.  In order understand the operation of prehistoric systems, a basic understanding of coupled interactions within dynamic, contemporary systems is an appropriate starting point.  It makes little sense to accept uncertainty derived from application of global scale process studies to the development of fine-grained local situations.  Research in this observational domain puts interpretations of past systems states on a much firmer empirical base, and also has the potential of developing inferential insights, and research questions that are not intuitively obvious.  Coupled systems studies are the common mode of investigation in ecological research.

 Linking.  As both a conceptual and pragmatic distinction, we adopt a position that although coupled systems can be observed, documented, and modeled in contemporary setting, the complexity of such coupled processes make them somewhat inaccessible in paleoecological studies.  Therefore, we refer to the search for diachronic patterning as seeking linked proxy measures that are in turn used to make inferences about past systems.  Linked pattern studies are a common mode of investigation in paleoecological and archaeological research. 

Bridging.  The conceptual unpacking of coupled systems research from linked pattern studies has the potential for creating two methodologically disjunctive bodies of information, and contributing nothing to the broader, cross-disciplinary issues of understanding pattern in terms of process.  In order to mitigate this possibility, we propose to employ a number of empirical bridges to span the temporal gap between the complexity of the present and the opacity of the past.  While a number of bridging data sets can eventually be brought on on-line (e.g., pollen profiles, spleotherm series, or  paloesol studies), we have selected dendroecology and geomorphology as providing appropriate first planks to allow us to address issues of multi-generational scales of landscape along the Greybull river corridor.  We envision the methodological and conceptual development of bridging research to be one of the potential intellectual, and broader impacts of this project. 





Figure 1. Coupling, Linking, and Bridging (click on thumbnail for larger image).


Bundling.  Unless we choose to restrict the multiplicity of coupled processes and linked patterns such as those in Figure 3 to an extremely small subset, the potential costs of large-scale multi- disciplinary investigations can easily reach astronomical levels.   Although such a reduction in scope is one oft-applied tactic, we feel that the resulting reductionist models may be much too simplistic to be of utility in either describing the present, interpreting the past, or providing adequate data  for planning for future conditions.   We propose to alleviate the difficulties of compromising between comprehensiveness and cost  by grouping, or bundling, a number of dataset collection protocols within a single sampling framework. Specifically, the Modified-Whitaker sampling units are initially more costly in terms of field time to set up and document.  However, once a plot is established, the “cost” of documenting and field sampling the plants, the archaeology, the herbivore pellets, the predator scat, the soils, and the plot specific locational and weather attributes do not add appreciable amounts to the field costs (Figure 2).  Bundled sampling increase data output while containing overall project costs.   One the other hand, if each of these studies were to be implemented using different sampling strategies, different field teams, and a variety of spatial scales, the costs would continue to escalate geometrically.  We also assert that when a variety of data sets are documented across a number of spatial scales, the overall information return for understanding coupled processes will, in fact, be greater than that which could be achieved with an equal or even greater number of more autonomous data collection protocols.  The ability to examine changing properties of multiple spatial scales opens the door to asking questions about the web of complexity shown in Figure 1.  Bundled field research provides the capability to deal with a more meaningful set of interactions and decreases the need for overly simplistic reductionist data collection and modeling.

An aspect of this project that merits mention is the experimental approach we are taking to better integrate multi-scalar and trans-disciplinary approaches into archaeological investigation.  As such, we are, in part, working at concept development and field evaluation as part of a program to develop a substantive body of information about an area for which we currently have minimal archaeological data.


Figure 2. Relationship between data accumulation and costs for bundled versus additive research (click on thumbnail for larger image).