ARCH 331: Regional Archaeology Special Topic: Archaeology of the American Southwest

Throughout the term, you will be exploring major ecological and cultural characteristics of three main areas:

  • Colorado Plateau
  • Sonora Desert
  • Chihuahua Desert

Part of your focus will be interpreting archaeological indications of adaptations, exploitations and transformations as responses to environmental, economic and sociological factors. In other words, what changed and why? You'll also be looking at how and why different methods were used to reconstruct ancient lifeways and what impact this may have on living communities. So where to start...?

Background Information:

Archaeology of Prehistoric Native America: An Encyclopedia (Bennett Reference: E 77.9 A72 1998) is extremely useful for providing a topical overview of both geographic regions as well as cultural entities. Have a look at "Figure 10. Southwest sites and areas" for a good indication of which cultural areas are included in the Southwest along with a list of major sites. Use this in combination with a rather nice geographical map made available through the Wikimedia Commons to get a feel for the areas you'll be investigating.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Bennett Reference: E 77 G15 1998) and the Atlas of the North American Indian (Bennett Reference E 77 W28) provide a brief outline on contemporary and historic Native peoples. Information includes location, current and historic populations, languages, brief history as well as references for further reading.

More detailed are Volumes 9 and 10 of the Handbook of North American Indians (Bennett Reference E 76.2 H36). More a collection of articles than encyclopedic entries, the Handbook offers detailed information on North American prehistory and archaeological research as well as on specific cultural groups. Note that these books were originally published in 1979 so you should verify information to ensure it's still up-to-date.

Oxford Reference Online (ORO)is available to SFU researchers and contains both The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology and The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Both of these titles are found under the Subject Reference section for History and can be searched simply by clicking on the title.

TRY IT!:  Search in Oxford Reference Online using the keyword "chihuahua"

  • How many results did you get ? Were any relevant to your topic or were they about Paris Hilton's favourite accessory?
  • Try limiting your search to The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Find it under the Subject and Books tab. Did you get better results? What are some of the terms you might be able to use?

ORO also provides a list of references for further reading and supplies you with the citation for the article you're reading. All you have to do is copy the citation into your reference list and modify it according the the Style Guide you're using.

Identifying Terms:

Start with your course readings and your syllabus. Terms relevant to your research can be cultural, geographical, technical--what ever you can think of that might bring you closer to finding information on your topic. Start with one or two and think of other, related items. Using the "chihuahua" example above, what other terms did you identify that you can use?

Main Term
Related Term
Related Term
Chihuahua (desert)
Casas Grandes

Try it using "Colorado Plateau"

Main Term
Related Term
Related Term
Colorado Plateau

So what next? I'm glad you asked...

Structuring your search

Looking for information is a process. After you've identified terms relevant to your area of research, the next step is to use them either individually or in combination with each other until you locate information relevant to your research.

Too many or too few results? Go Boolean. Boolean is library speak for using AND, OR, NOT for linking search terms together. Use them to narrow or broaden your search.

AND: use to narrow your search when you must find one or more terms in combination with each other: "archaeology and agriculture and development" would require that each of these words be present somewhere in the document or record in order to result in a successful search

OR: use to widen your search—especially when you're using related terms: "agriculture or cultivation or pastoralism" would retrieve documents with ANY of these words.

NOT: use sparingly (if at all) as it will exclude any words you add after it.

Combining Terms: You can combine your Boolean searches to get better results. The following search in Academic Search Premier will retrieve results that include 'archaeology' in combination with ANY of 'agriculture' or 'cultivation' or 'farming'.

Need more? Try a little truncation. Truncation is a shortcut, expressed by a symbol, to help you search for variations and multiple endings for your search terms. Common truncation symbols are: $, ?, ! but the most popular is the *.

For example, archaeol* will retrieve archaeology, archaeologist, archaeologists, archaeological, etc. Note that there are variations on 'archaeology/archeology' so try both for best results.

Modify your search terms as you search the databases and become aware of new terms to describe your topic.

After you've found some worthwhile results, look at them and scan them for Subject Headings or Descriptors. Subject headings and descriptors are terms that have been assigned to each article and are extremely useful for locating books or articles on the same subject. Each descriptor or subject is hyperlinked so if you want to explore, more information is just a mouse click away. The SFU Library Catalogue and most, but not all, electronic databases use these.

Be careful of spelling - including alternate spellings. Most databases use American spelling - but you should try both versions (e.g. labour, labor).

Be prepared to find information that is not completely on topic, but may still be useful and relevant.