Friday, 20 January 2012

Health of archaeobotany: looking good

How does one keep tabs on the health of a discipline? Having just discovered google's NGRAMs tool, an obvious game to play to to plug in ones favorite words, or words for what we do, and see how they may as a percentage of published words (or the words in the massive google books archive) over time. How does archaeobotany do? Although flotation started in the 1960s, a recurrent name for the specialization of studying them lagged behind be almost 2 decades. Interesting use of the phrases "carbonized seeds" took off from the mid-1960s, presumably as a result of the flotation revolution. ). A name for the specialization does become common until almost 2 decades later in the 1980s when paleoethnobotany (American spelling), palaeoethnobotany (UK spelling), and archaeobotany take off. Their take off also correlates with the rise of phytolith research (see below). This graph, although it ends in 2000 also suggests that there may be a move towards a preference of archaeobotany to paleoethnobotany? The decline of carbonized seeds may well track the shift to use of the term "macroremains" which takes off from about 1980 [see below]. The rise of use of the term "phytolith" may start regularly in the 1970s and really takes off in the 1980s. Of course this is only in books and not journal articles, but still...

In a far more nuanced and useful approach to disciplinary health, Naomi Miller circulated a questionnaire on archaeobotany, and has summarized the results in a recent issue of the SAA Archaeobotanical record (Sept. 2011), available as a PDF here. This summary looks at field and lab practice, publication and employment. The complete results are on her website at Penn: PDF. There is some useful insights into variation in practices across Europe, the UK and the US, in the commercial versus university academic context, and as an appendix a list of websites that people of reported.

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