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13.2: Activity 1 - Studying Patterns in Human Cultural Behavior

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    J.S. Noble Eisenlauer, Pierce College

    Archaeologists are like detectives studying a murder scene. Physical evidence is present, but the victim is deceased and the perpetrator is absent. Prehistoric cultures leave behind buildings, implements, burials, food remains, and other evidence, but the people themselves are long gone. Because there is no surviving member of the culture to consult, archaeologists seek to determine the original form and function of such objects based on their location and physical features alone, and the ultimate objective is to reconstruct and understand prehistoric behavior. If you think about it, nearly all of the things left behind by previous cultures are products of their behavior. So, as archaeologists, we study the tangible remains of a culture to understand the behavior of its people.

    This activity is designed to teach some basic analytical skills used by archaeologists while introducing the hypothetico-deductive scientific method of investigation. You will formulate a scientific hypothesis regarding some aspect of cultural behavior and then design a methodology for testing your hypothesis using field observation only. Next, you will analyze your data (field observations) and present the results of your analysis graphically. Finally, you will compare your findings to your hypothesis. At that point, you should be able to make some general statements, supported by your data, that explain your observations. The goal of your study is to identify a potential behavioral pattern, identify variables to quantify, outline a methodology for quantifying the variables, collect and analyze the data, and describe and critique your results.

    Please carefully read the following information about this activity before beginning. A detailed example of the process is provided after the instructions.

    Setting the stage: Imagine for a moment that some calamity has removed all living creatures from the environment except you (the archaeologist). All you have to work with are the structures and objects left behind by others. Thus, the freeways, street lights, high-rises, fast food restaurants, and used car lots, everything you see around you on a daily basis, are components of the archaeological site you are studying. The obvious caveat is that you cannot observe people doing things because there are no people left.

    While conducting your study, you can access supporting information (e.g., age of a neighborhood, relative income levels of residents of a city) via the internet but will collect your primary data by making actual observations of your environment.

    Topic selection: You are not observing people. Instead, you are observing the distribution of objects in a given environment to learn something about the behaviors of the people who left those objects behind. For example, what does the distribution of shopping carts and liquor bottles in a neighborhood say about shopping and drinking behavior? Do you observe different types of liquor bottles in various areas of the neighborhood? How can you explain this?

    Note that two things (variables) are being compared here: liquor bottle types and relative locations. When you select your topic, you must compare two or more “variables” so that you can look for patterns of co-variation.

    You must clear the topic you have chosen with the instructor before collecting data.

    Hypothesis formulation: A hypothesis is simply a predictive statement describing how you expect things to be given the conditions you specify. Your hypothesis must be both testable through simple field observations and falsifiable (not an already established fact). Do not consider hypotheses that cannot be tested by simple observation and do not suggest a hypothesis based on something you already know is true.

    You will formulate, by means of a hypothetical statement, a proposed relationship between two or more variables and then gather your own observational data (such as the number of shopping carts and number and type of liquor bottles in various areas) to quantify and analyze. As an example, consider the hypothesis that relative income varies by neighborhood location. Do wealthier neighborhoods tend to be located on higher ground? Does the location of a household mailbox say anything about the age of the house? Older houses might tend to have mailboxes on posts at the head of the driveway while newer houses might more often have mail slots on or near the garage or have communal mailbox centers. Does the content of billboards tell you about the ethnic composition or income level of a neighborhood? They could advertise a new Mercedes dealership or a local junkyard. Are ads for bail bondsmen and pawn shops more or less common? Good comparisons often can be made between clearly opposite categories—old versus new, wealthy versus poor, etc.

    Keep in mind that it is irrelevant to the instructor whether your hypothesis ends up being validated or invalidated. Scientists often propose and test many hypotheses before identifying the correct one. It is the process rather than the outcome that is important. You are doing science if you follow the hypothetico-deductive process, and you cannot expect every hypothesis you propose to be proven correct, particularly when dealing with the spotty archaeological record of human behavior.

    Field methodology: Your hypothesis will suggest the types of observations you need to make. For example, if you hypothesize that messages on billboards can provide information on the socio-economic structure of the neighborhood in which they are located, you need to go to at least two areas and record the locations of billboards there and the messages found on them.

    Note that you are doing a comparative analysis (billboard messages vs. billboard locations). The comparison is necessary to test your hypothesis.

    Design your study so that you can get all the information you need solely through observation. Do not interview anyone and do not obtain data from any sources other than your own inspection and analysis of the evidence.”

    Data analysis: Your observations must be quantified in some way to generate statistics that support or disprove your hypothesis. You will use your statistical data to construct a spreadsheet (further direction and a sample will be provided by your instructor). Then, you will take the figures from the table and produce at least one chart or graph (e.g., a histogram or pie chart).

    Paper: Your final task is to write a report of your study describing what you did and what you found. The following topics must be addressed and can be used as section headings to organize your paper.

    Introduction: why this topic, your unique qualifications.

    Hypothesis: the predictive statement you tested and an explanation of its significance.

    Operational definitions: definitions of the terms used in your hypothesis.

    Methodology: a description of the procedure you employed to test your hypothesis, which must include a site map showing the locations at which you collected data.

    Data analysis: a discussion of your findings that includes your spreadsheet and graphs/charts.

    Conclusion: general summary comments about your observations that include self-reflection (how you could have improved this study) and suggestions for future research (how someone else might expand on your work in the future).

    You also must attach your field notes: all of the observations you recorded on paper. Do not retype those notes. If you recorded your observations on napkins from Carl’s Jr., those napkins need to be attached (stapled) at the end of the paper.

    Tips for success:

    • Start working on the assignment early
    • Organize your report using the suggested headings
    • Proofread your paper for typographical mistakes and errors before handing it in
    • Properly label all charts, graphs, maps, and tables

    Example Study

    Perhaps you have noticed that bus stops seem to be more elaborate and better equipped in wealthier areas. Based on that observation, you might ask whether there is a relationship between the relative wealth of a neighborhood and bus stop designs.

    To formulate a hypothesis, you can rephrase the question as a statement: There is a relationship between bus stop design and the wealth (or lack thereof) of a community. This is a viable hypothesis as it is both testable and falsifiable.

    Now that you have a working hypothesis, you can do a trial run to see if your assumption appears to hold up after closer scrutiny. You can take a long bus ride that passes through several neighborhoods that vary in terms of how affluent their residents are and observe the features of each bus stop on the route to determine whether the bus stops seem to vary based on the nature of the neighborhoods in which they are located.

    If your trial run (a general survey) supports your hypothesis, meaning that you recognized some degree of covariation in the two variables (neighborhood wealth and bus stop design), the next step is determining how to test this hypothesis in a more scientific manner. You first must define two geographic areas (cities, towns, or neighborhoods) that clearly differ in apparent wealth and have bus routes. The contrast in this case is between “wealthy” and “poor” communities, and you need to define what you mean by those terms (operational definitions). For example, you could use your computer to find statistics on the per capita income of each community and define a “wealthy” community as one that has a per capita income of $500,000 or more and a “poor” community as one that has a per capita income of $20,000 or less. You should obtain maps of each community. Obviously, both communities must have established bus service, and you need to obtain maps showing the locations of the bus stops studied for the paper you will write at the end of this activity.

    The next step is to either ride the bus or walk to every bus stop on the selected routes and note the specific features of each. The variations you noted in your test run can guide you in drawing up a checklist of features, which will make it easier to record multiple observations. The checklist would include things like the presence or absence of a bench seat, a roof, windbreaks, and lighting since the original hypothesis suggests that stops in the higher-income neighborhood will have more of those features.

    Along with recording your observations, you would take several photographs of each bus stop and include some photos of “wealthy” and “poor” stops in your written report so readers can see the differences in features.

    Once your observations are complete, you then count the number of bus stops and their discrete features to generate your raw data. The number of observations (bus stops) is the sample size, and the needed sample size varies with the subject of the study. In general, the larger the sample size, the better. For a study of bus stops, the minimum sample needed would be about 50 stops in each type of neighborhood.

    The next step is to analyze the data. Say you observed that 13 of the 50 bus stops in the poor neighborhood and 47 of the 50 bus stops in the wealthy neighborhood had a roof. You also noted that the bus stops in the wealthier neighborhood were better maintained and better lit. By reviewing the data, you are identifying PATTERNS of bus stop design to determine if the kind and qualify of the bus stops is related to the community’s level of affluence.

    You then transfer your data to a simple table with the numbers generated for each category (bench seat, roof, windbreaks, lighting, and maintenance) from the poor neighborhood in one column and the numbers from the wealthy neighborhood in another column. This contingency table will be used to create graphs and charts for the written analysis.