A Review of a Presentation

Continuing in the spirit of reviews, this week’s challenge was to review a presentation. I considered those I had seen the past, such as guest-lectures at universities and presentations at conferences, but settled on a YouTube link primarily for accessibility. This allowed me to revisit the presentation on my own time and pick out details that may have been missed during the live performance. I contemplated reviewing a presentation by Jared Diamond considering our classes recurring discussion on his controversial, yet undeniably effective, methods of reaching the public. However, I decided it would be more beneficial to review a presentation that more closely paralleled my specific research objectives and, quite frankly, didn’t annoy me as much. I sifted through a few examples by highly esteemed authors in my field (i.e. Mark Aldenderfer, Tom Dillehay) and settled on a presentation by Anna Roosevelt called New Light on the Peopling of South America, presented at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s Archaeology Lecture Series in 2012. I chose Roosevelts presentation because it is situated nicely in the context of my research. The primary focus is on current models of the peopling of the South America and many of the examples discussed overlap with the local spatio-temporal context of my project (i.e. Quebrada Jaguay, Quebrada Tacahuay, Guitarrero Cave and other Pleistocene and Early Holocene dated sites in the south-central Andes).

Similarly to my previous reviews posted here, my review involves a summary of key points, an assessment of the content, style/voice, and structure, and a short discussion regarding the value of the presentation to my specific research.

THE REVIEW

Background

Anna Curtenius Roosevelt is an American born archaeologist who specializes in the study of human ecology and evolution. She is primarily known for her work over the past twenty-five years on Paleoindian archaeology in Brazil’s Amazon Basin for which she is credited with the discovery of Monte Alegre, the oldest known Paleoindian site in the Amazon Basin (~10,000 – 11,000 c. B.P.) (Roosevelt et al., 2002). Recently Roosevelt has expanded her research to preceramic sites in the Congo Basin of the southwestern Central African Republic.

In case you were wondering, yes, she is related to former president Theodore Roosevelt. She is his great granddaughter.

Summary

The main purpose of Roosevelt’s presentation was to discuss models of the peopling of the Americas in light of new archaeological evidence. These hypothesize the timing and route/s of entry by people into the most recent geographical expansion of our species. Roosevelt shows that many long held assumptions regarding the canonical ice-free-corridor and ‘Clovis first’ models have recently been overturned by new archaeological evidence and advances in methods. Some of the key points include: Paleoindians were not exclusively highly-mobile big-game hunters and were likely not responsible for the extinction of megafauna in the Americas, there are now many examples of Paleoindians living sedentary or semi-sedentary lifestyles and practicing broad-spectrum subsistence strategies in diverse environments, many early dates are less secure than previously thought, and there is no concrete evidence of a ‘pre-Clovis’ culture. Regarding the timing and routes of entry, it is currently commonly accepted that people first entered North America via Beringia, the now drowned landmass that connected modern day Siberia to Alaska, after which they dispersed throughout the continents through a combination of the coastal migration and ice-free corridor models by at least 12,000-13,000 c. B.P.

Content

Roosevelt did an excellent job referencing up-to-date material and presenting both mainstream and alternative theories on the topic. I am always leery when an author/s avoids competing arguments but Roosevelt was indiscriminate in her discussion. I chose this presentation partly because I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable on the subject matter and could do some personal fact-checking throughout. That being said, I noticed a few hiccups. For example, when discussing ‘pre-Clovis’ alternatives Roosevelt commented “So, were going to take a look at South America and I promise you will see no fluted points and there will be no Clovis points and I’m not hiding anything from you” (0:29:51). This is simply not true, Klink and Aldenderfer (2005) reported the discovery of fluted fish-tail points throughout the Andes several years before her presentation. In addition, after discussing Kennewick Man and problems with interpretations based on skeletal morphology she argues, based on skeletal morphology, that skeletal remains from Palli Aike in Patagonia were “definitely Amerindian” (1:29:40). Regardless, according to my knowledge the majority of her examples appeared accurate.

There was perhaps a slight over-emphasis of the importance of her own work in the Amazon Basin. This is understandable as she has a somewhat implicit obligation for the self-promotion of our own research. That being said her research undoubtedly provides important evidence informing contemporary models but perhaps not to the degree she suggested.

Style/Voice

Roosevelt presented well for an academic audience. She was professional, well-spoken, and provided slides that complemented her narration nicely. I personally dislike it when slides contain an overwhelming amount of text and generally prefer supplemental figures and images that contextualize the content. To be honest, this is also an opportunity to inject some eye candy. She lightened the mood on the odd occasion with a joke or personal account and kept the audience on their toes with a chance question. Additionally, in the subsequent discussion Roosevelt addressed a very nitpicky question in a very professional manner, it was an instructive demonstration.

However, probably due to her extensive knowledge on the subject Roosevelt went down a few rabbit holes and ran short on time. I feel a more formal conclusion that summarized key points and provided direction for future research would have improved her presentation. This also meant there was not adequate time for discussion yet the audience unfortunately did not appear very engaged anyway. Roosevelt’s lack of experimentation with alternative presentation styles earned her no creativity points but she nonetheless executed a fairly standard long-form lecture presentation.

Structure

Unsurprisingly, Roosevelt’s entry point was to discuss the current debate regarding where and when people first arrived in the Americas. Although her presentation was primarily focused on the colonization of South America, the generally accepted origin point of all Americans is Beringia. As such, this is a common point of entry for all discussions regarding the peopling of the Americas regardless of the geographic context (i.e. South, North, or Central America).

The general flow of ideas followed a geographic North to South gradient starting at Beringia and ending at Patagonia. As she moved through regions she discussed key evidence and assumptions contributing to the development of colonization models. Although she adhered primarily to a North to South geographic gradient, for the most part she presented her evidence chronologically and historically. Her slides acted as headers for her discussion topics and provided a smooth means of transition from one idea to the next. Although the kept to her itinerary quite closely at times, as I pointed out earlier she also diverged from the subject matter and elaborated on sometimes distantly related personal experiences throughout.

Discussion

I found this presentation valuable to my project for a number of reasons. First, because the subject matter closely paralleled my research interests I was able identify how my work is situated in and contributes to literature and debate. For example, I know my research is critical for studying Paleoindian subsistence which closely parallels the central theme throughout the presentation that Paleoindians were not solely specialized big-game hunters but also practiced broad-spectrum subsistence strategies. My paleoethnobotanical research at the Cuncaicha Rockshelter in southern Peru has the potential to contribute valuable information to this debate. In addition, she discussed sites important to the local spatio-temporal context of my research (i.e. Quebrada Jaguay, Quebrada Tacahuay, and Guitarrero Cave) that were both entertaining and informative.

Second, there was much to learn from Roosevelt’s presentation style and behavior. As I discussed earlier, she did a good job of incorporating personal experiences and jokes into her discussion that lightened the mood. In addition, she occasionally directed a question towards the audience to keep them engaged. However, I think this is perhaps more appropriate in a lecture compared to a conference format.

REFERENCES CITED

Klink, Cynthia, and Mark Aldenderfer
2005  A Projectile Point Chronology for the South-Central Andean Highlands. Advances in Titicaca Basin Archaeology 1: 25–54.

Museum of Natural and Cultural History
2013  New Light on the People of South America. Electronic document, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl-uoAWywOE, accessed March 6, 2017.

Roosevelt, A. C., J. Douglas, and L. Brown
2002  The Migrations and Adaptations of the First Americans: Clovis and pre-Clovis viewed From South America. The First Americans: The Pleistocene Colonization of the New World 27: 159–236.

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