A Deep Time Archaeological Collaboratory and Cultural Resource Management Space at the Areté

What does your group want to come together for? What theme, issue, or subject is at the heart of collaboration? What kinds of questions do you want to explore?

The Traces Project: A Deep Time Archaeological Collaboratory and Cultural Resource Management Space at the Areté.

Traces is a creative laboratory for the microscopic analysis of archaeological artefacts (“traceology”) to identify their former function and the related human activities. Traceology is among the most innovative approaches in modern scientific archaeology with the capacity to identify and interpret early human behaviour and technologies. This method was developed by Sergei A. Semenov from the Leningrad Institute for the History of Material Culture, who proposed in his landmark study, ‘Prehistoric Technology’, the study of the technological evolution of humans based on microscopic traces of wear and tear, and since has been taken further by researchers worldwide. In recent years, the rise of modern digital technologies, particularly for image analysis and archiving, as well as laser-scanning and low-vacuum scanning electron microscopes coupled with X-ray microanalyzers has added many new features to this method, increased its efficiency and moved it to the forefront of archaeological science. Very few such facilities (and expertise) currently exist in the Asia-Pacific region.

Traces is interdisciplinary in nature and provides a collaborative environment where specialists from various fields contribute to the understanding of human behavioural evolution. Our laboratory will operate as an innovative research hub for interdisciplinary and multiregional studies. It welcomes colleagues, students and experts with related research interests from national and international institutions and hosts collaborative research on topics including but not limited to prehistoric technologies, human behaviour and adaptation, human-environment interaction and human responses to changing climates, environments and landscapes, and the dispersal of material culture and knowledge through time. Within its international collaborations, Traces can connect researchers to a worldwide network of research facilities and experts. It is built on successful previous and ongoing collaborations that have significantly contributed to the discipline and that have been supportive to researchers and students, for instance within the projects ‘Material Culture of Rizal, Kalinga’; ‘Cultural History of Paleo-Asia’; ‘Beyond the sea: Exploring prehistoric migrations in the Philippine Archipelago’; Closing the Gap: Chronology and Ecology of Early Islanders in the Philippines’; and other projects which were funded by national and international institutions. Situating the Traces initiative under the Sandbox Residency will sustain such academic exchanges and relationships.

As a new interdisciplinary initiative at the Ateneo de Manila University, Traces will serve as a facility for interactive instruction and research, providing new answers to imminent questions on human evolution and behaviour. It will add to the research portfolio of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology (DSA) in particular, as well as to the university’s growing relevance in research and international linkages. Traces will be a novel platform for knowledge dissemination in addition to instruction and research. It will reach out to extra-academic audiences and increase public understanding through public events, exhibitions, and performances.

Why this combination of minds, talents, and persuasions? What does each member bring to your group in terms of skills, processes, perspectives, and experience? What does each member of the group hope to take away from the collaboration?

An Archaeology-led International Interdisciplinary Collaborative Laboratory: Each member is a renowned scholar with specialist expertise. All are affiliated with leading institutions and ongoing research projects. Traces will be embedded in the DSA international network and support new academic connections and current engagements with Erasmus Mundus, Gerda Henkel Foundation, National Geographic Society, International Union of Pre-and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP), University of Tübingen, Tatarstan Academy of Sciences, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, National Museum of Natural History and Musée de l’homme, Paris, among others. Moreover, Traces is collaborating with leading international institutions and laboratories, for instance the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Musée de l’Homme in Paris, Australian National University Radiocarbon Laboratory and ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Institute of Archaeological Sciences of the University of Tübingen and the National Institute for Geological Sciences.

As an initiative of Ateneo de Manila University’s sociological and anthropological community, the Traces project will engage in national and international archaeological research, particularly on the deep history of humankind and the early migration and dispersal of early humans with strong linkages to ongoing and new field projects. For instance, current archaeological work in Mindoro and Sulawesi, yielded knowledge that illustrates not only the earliest evidence of modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Wallacea (Philippine and Central Indonesia faunal and floral region) c. 40,000 years ago, but also their adaptation to maritime and remote insular environments is manifested by the rise of new technologies, including open-sea fishing and long-distance sea-faring and navigation. Traces will also support ongoing research on human-environment interaction in relation to current issues such as green public spaces in South and Southeast Asian cities and the protection of needs towards sustainable well-being.

Traces needs a laboratory and a workspace to house its microscopes, collection holding, office and working/meeting space with interdisciplinary collaborators within the Ateneo de Manila University and beyond. Ideally, this would be a 50-60 sqm working area that be furnished with office and conference desks and chairs, storage cabinets for artefacts and lab accessories and bookshelves for a small research library. We intend to acquire storage cabinets with glass tops in which significant artifacts and finds can be displayed, so that our sandbox room can also serve as a small exhibition about the Early Human Journey. Since Traces will house high tech equipment and precision instruments, as well as unique artefacts, it will be ideally situated within the safe spaces of the Areté Sandbox. The analysis conducted at Traces is entirely optical and non-destructive, and no chemicals or other hazardous materials will be used or stored. Such a facility will benefit the research undertaken by the members of the group and strengthen our linkages and collaborative work.

Furthermore, we hope that we can establish new collaborations with existing Sandbox projects and across disciplines where we share mutual interests and can establish synergies. For instance, we have already initiated a potential collaboration with members of the Resident ‘Hearing Aid’ Group (Ms. Abigail Marie Favis and Ms. Maria Katrina Constantino) that will explore the past, present and future environment, biodiversity and ecosystems, particularly of the Loyola Heights Campus (“looking up and down approach”). In collaboration with the Sandbox Co-lab working on climate change (Coastal Cities at Risk, Dr. Emma Porio), our research can provide the historic dimension of climate change and our knowledge on changing environments and the human responses during periods of global glaciation and global warming over the past 2 million years.

What research interests are furthered in this collaboration? How are artistic processes and interventions involved? How will community engagements be incorporated?

Cutting-edge research projects are already ongoing to which this laboratory will directly contribute. For instance, ‘Material Culture of Rizal, Kalinga: Function and Significance of 700,000-year-old Stone Artefacts’, conducts the traceological analysis of the oldest man-made objects in the Philippines from the world-famous Rhinoceros site in Kalinga, supported by a Loyola Schools Faculty Grant; and ‘First Islanders - Exploring the peopling of the Philippine Archipelago’, a novel, innovative research on early human mobility and their socio-cultural and technological advancement in the Philippines since the Late Pleistocene with excavations of over 35,000 years old cave sites in Mindoro Island. The latter was supported by several national and international grants and has already produced over ten Scopus-indexed journal articles and several book chapters. The sites’ unique record on human presence and activities in changing environments did not only chronicle early human adaptation to island and coastal environments and their responses to changing climates but is also a significant contribution to transdisciplinary studies of the Anthropocene, the understanding of climate change and disaster resilience in the present.

Cultural Resource Management and Information Design Engagements - Traces cooperates with the National Museum and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology’s cultural heritage management initiative as an integral part of its Anthropological and Sociological Initiatives of Ateneo (ASIA) in order to make the created knowledge available to the public. Areté’s in- and outside spaces and facilities will be ideal for organizing exhibits, open lectures and talks. Our goals also include going beyond our own discipline and bringing archaeology, ethnography and the materials that illustrate our deep history closer to a wider community. Field trips and excursions to sites and monuments that chronicle our deep history can be arranged. In partnership with Crania Heritage Sciences and Traveling Museum PH, Inc., off-campus activities and exhibitions will allow us to share our history with a wider community, following the example of the successful launch of ‘The First Humans out of Africa’ exhibit at the Ateneo.

Traces intends to utilize the Sandbox space and grant to establish creative relations with information design practitioners and students in the university and elsewhere in producing computer models, digital rendering, and scalar reconstruction of archaeological survey findings. These design engagements should be able to contribute to archaeological science and in visualizing Traceology knowledge-productions in instruction and public understanding.

Especially in the "new normal", Traces can function as a link between the teaching laboratory and the student. A significant weakness of asynchronous online learning is that the link between practice and laboratory-based training and the students is largely disconnected. Sandbox is an ideal space to convey the practical components in online teaching. Its video studio facilities can be used to record user-oriented workshops and demonstrations of methods and techniques in artefact analysis in form of informative short and simplified science video productions that can be provided to students and researchers alike.

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