ARCH 365: Ecological Archaeology

Where to start

Start with what you know and identify what's missing:

  • If you're completely new to the topic at hand, do some preliminary reading. Review your course readings and have a look at the bibliographies cited in the articles or text books.
  • Try an encyclopaedia:
    • Handbook of Middle American Indians. Bennett Reference F 1434 H3
    • Handbook of North American Indians. 16 vols. Bennett Reference & Library F 1434 H3
    • Handbook of South American Indians. 7 vols. Bennett Library E 51 U6 v.143
    • Encyclopedia of World Cultures: This reference set lists and describes more than 1,500 global cultures. Based on research of social scientists, it is the source for historical, social, political, economic, linguistic, religious, and other information on virtually every existing culture.
    • Encyclopedia of World Cultures - supplement: This volume, with one hundred new articles, supplements the award-winning 10-volume Encyclopedia of World Cultures
  • Or how about a dictionary:
    • Oxford Reference Online contains both The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology and The Oxford Companion to Archaeology
  • Identify the gaps—identify what you already know about your topic (and where to find information to flesh this out) and what you don't know about your topic. And, think about where you can find information to fill in these gaps.
  • Know that help is available but don't wait until the last minute to ask for it.

Research Process

Before you start searching for sources, think about what you're looking for. Identify key words, terms or concepts. Are there other ways of describing these? Try grouping like concepts together.

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
isotop* [analysis] diet* paleo*
bone  [chemistry] food* prehistor*
skeletal remains nutrition archaeolog*
coprolites subsistence antiquities
zooarchaeology gatherers  ancient
faunal remains hunters  

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. There are two tools at hand which will help you. These are 'Boolean Operators' and 'Truncation'.

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:
    • isotope and diet and human" 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:
    • "paleo or ancient or prehistoric" 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. Remember to group like operators together within parentheses: "(assiniboine or northern plains) and cultivation and development" will retrieve documents with either of the first two words and both the following two words.

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 *: ecol* will retrieve ecology, ecologies, ecological, etc.

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

Watch out for variations in spelling: labor vs. labour; Shoshone vs. Shoshoni.

Books and reports

The SFU Library will be your main source for books and reports.


  • For works on a topic, search first by KEYWORD. Here are some sample keyword searches:
    • inka and agriculture
    • prehistor* and "latin america" and (agricultur* or pastoral* or cultivat*)
    • s:indians of south america and agricultur* [this search looks for versions of the word "agriculture" in the authorized subject heading field "indians of south america]
  • Look at the authorized or standard SUBJECT HEADINGS used in the records. Subject headings and descriptors are terms that have been assigned to each article to help group articles that are similar together, even if the author uses different terminology. Use them to find other, relevant articles.
  • Use the bibliography or reference list as guides for further reading.
  • The SFU Library Catalogue Search Guide will give you a step-by-step guide to searching for books here at SFU. 

Journal articles

See Archaeology: SFU Library Databases for a list of databases subscribed to by the SFU Library which contain journal articles.

Searching for articles on your topic isn't much different than searching for books—you just have more options available. And, as with searching for books in our catalogue, search most of these indexes first by KEYWORD, then by SUBJECT. Specialized databases like the Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) are an exception. The following databases are relevant to Archaeology but you may also want to look at the databases under Anthropology or Biological Sciences or Geography

Have a known citation, try our "Where can I get this?" utility.


Ethnographies are not easy to find and, in a weird way, that should make you feel better. In order to find an ethnography, you have to know what it is and the definition shifts according to the discipline and what time frame and/or school of thought you're looking at.

There are many definitions of ethnography, but we'll use the following:

Ethnography is an approach to learning about social and cultural life of communities, institutions, and other settings that:

  • Is scientific
  • Is investigative
  • Uses the researcher as the primary tool of data collection
  • Uses rigorous research methods and data collection techniques to avoid bias and ensure accuracy of data
  • Emphasizes and builds on the perspectives of the people in the research setting
  • Is inductive, building local theories for testing and adapting them for use both locally and elsewhere

From LeCompte, M. & Schensul, J. (1999). Designing and conducting ethnographic research. Thousand Oaks, Calif. : AltaMira Press. (page 1)w11.

It is important to remember that ethnography is not ethnography unless it incorporates participant-observation in which the researcher both observes the culture/group/milieu and participates in it to learn more.

Finding an ethnography

There are several approaches to finding ethnography; each depending on your knowledge or comfort level with the course material.

1) The "Just Starting Out" method starts with using background information to look up a particular culture. The benefits of this method is that the various encyclopedias, handbooks or guides provide an overview of a specific culture or examine the people who conduct ethnography. And, they almost always point to additional readings including ethnographies.

  • Routledge Dictionary of Anthropologists. Bennett Reference GN 20 G3513 2004. Not sure what culture to research? Have a look at this book to find out who has conducted ethnography and what school of thought they belonged to. Because ethnographic field work depends on participant observation, it is impossible to separate the "self" from the research. This book helps situate the anthropologist within their school of thought and helps inform researchers why these scientists came to the conclusions they did based on their education, their influences and their perspectives.
  • Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 2002; arranged by culture, subject and geography, this encyclopedia is a good place to start
  • Handbook of North American Indians. Bennett Reference E 76.2 H36; this hand book series is divided geographically so you can locate First Nations people by area like the Subarctic, Southwest, Great Basin and so on.
  • Look for geographic based encyclopedias of ethnography like the Encyclopedia of the South-East Asian Ethnography. Bennett Reference DS 523.E53.
  • Other good sources of information on subject bibliographies like The Shawnee Indians an Annotated Bibliography. Bennett Library E 99 S35 Z958.

2) The "I know what I want, just give me the goods" method assumes you've done some background reading and have a feel for the culture or group you're interested in researching further.

  • Search the library's catalogue using keywords. Try your luck with ethnography (using truncation if you like) in combination with the name of the people you're researching or the geographic region in which they live.
    • Example #1: ethnograph* and blackfoot
    • Example #2: ethnograph* and "great basin"
  • Not getting a lot of results? Change ethnography to ethnology—the catalogue likes that word better!
    • TIP: "Ethnology is actually a subject in the library's catalogue. To search only within this subject, input into the search box S:ethnology and keyword (name or geographic area) and see what you get.
  • Search databases like eHRAF World Cultures which contains primarily older ethnographic material or try Anthropology Plus but this time, DO use ethnography and NOT ethnology.

Confused? You might well be. How do you know what you find is actually an ethnography? You won't until you look at it. Keep in mind the definition at the top of this section or ASK for help if you need it. Here are some good examples of ethnographies and sources for ethnography in the Bennett Library:

  • Argonauts of the Western Pacific / Bronislaw Malinowski. Bennett Library GN 671 N5 M3
  • Maps and Dreams / Hugh Brody. Bennett Library E 99 T75 B76
  • The !Kung San : Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society / Richard Lee. Bennett Library DT 797 L43
  • eHRAF World Cultures
  • Journal of Contemporary Ethnography

Popular vs Scholarly Sources

When you start researching your ARCH 365 assignments, you should recognize the difference between popular and scholarly publishing. The following points will give you a brief overview of what to look out for. If in doubt, ask.

  • Goals are to entertain and inform, and also to sell advertising space and/or copies of the publication by choosing interesting or controversial subjects.
  • Authors are usually professional writers not subject experts and content may be opinion or anecdotal rather than factual
  • Articles are not peer-reviewed and rarely have bibliographies
  • Popular journals usually have colourful covers or interfaces and contain many pictures and advertisements
  • Examples: Archaeology, Discover or Time

Scholarly sources

  • Goals are scholarly communication and to provide a platform where scholars and researchers share their findings with one another and the public.
  • Articles general describe new research and include background information, methodology, research results and significance
  • Articles almost always have references in the form of bibliographies or footnotes
  • Often require specialized knowledge or vocabulary to be understood
  • Scholarly journals usually have plain covers or interfaces and normally contain more charts and graphs than photographs
  • Scholarly journals often have the word "journal" in the title and are often are published by a scholarly association and usually contain few or no advertisements
  • Articles submitted to scholarly journals are peer-reviewed. An editorial board asks experts to examine articles for the excellence, novelty and significance of the research and request that the article be revised before publication or reject the submission entirely
  • Examples: Journal of Organizational Behavior, International journal of comparative sociology, Sociological Quarterly

Use the checklists itemized above to evaluate your findings before citing them in your assignments. For the ARCH 365 assignments you should use only scholarly monographs and journals. The SFU Library collection includes research monographs as well as biographies, memoirs and travelogues. We also subscribe to the standard academic journals and the major trade magazines and journals. Be sure to critically evaluate your research sources before including them in your bibliographies.

Keep Track and Cite Right

Keeping a detailed record of source information while researching your assignments will make it easier for you when it comes time to do your bibliography. Many of the databases you'll be using give you the option to e-mail, download or print your citations. Or, try exporting directly to a citation management tool.

Citation management tools collect your journal article, book, or other document citations together in one place, and help you create properly formatted bibliographies in almost any style — in seconds.  Citation management tools help you keep track of your sources while you work and store your references for future use and reuse. 

Remember, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) style guide requires you to note the title of article, book or document, journal title (if article), author or editor, publisher (if book), date of publication, place of publication (if book), volume and issue number (if journal), pagination (if article or document). These guidelines are fairly general so be sure to refer to the SAA guide for citing specific sources.

Learning how to properly credit others when you use their ideas is a difficult, but important part of research. Start with the SFU Library's interactive tutorial "Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism" to test yourself and to learn more about plagiarism. Also read the SFU Library Guide on Plagiarism for further discussion of this critical topic and for links to other plagiarism guides.

Getting Help

For help with research, citing or copyright issues, ask Jenna Walsh by email or phone, or set up a consultation: | 778-782-9378 (voicemail). If you need help right away, you can get help (in person, by phone, via instant message) through the Ask A Librarian page.