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Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 209–230 | Cite as

Sampling Design and Inferential Bias in Archaeological Soil Chemistry

  • E. Christian Wells
Article

Abstract

The ways and extent to which sampling design influences data collection and archaeological inference is a constant concern for archaeologists. Yet, spatial analyses based on anthrosol chemistry have been less willing to concede this problem and to explore potential solutions. This article reviews the recent literature on soil sampling for spatial studies and then uses an example from prehispanic Honduras to examine how both quantitative and qualitative interpretations of soil chemical patterns can shift when sampling design changes. The results of this study suggest that the principal challenges to selecting an appropriate sampling design are in determining the sample size and density, as well as recognizing and adequately dealing with variation in the soil properties being measured. These findings provide cautionary tales for spatial studies aimed at using soil chemical data to infer activity patterns in the archaeological record.

Keywords

Soil sampling Anthrosol chemistry Spatial analysis Activity patterns Honduras 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Sandra L. López Varela, Christopher D. Dore, and Manuel R. Palacios-Fest for inviting me to participate in the original symposium in which a preliminary draft of this paper was presented at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and for all their hard work on its subsequent expansion and publication. Research at El Coyote was conducted with the permission and assistance of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia. I am exceedingly grateful to Patricia A. Urban and Edward M. Schortman for allowing me to conduct this research and for their support throughout the project. Funding for my research was provided by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0108742) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (GR. 6810). Soil analysis was conducted with the support and advice of James H. Burton and T. Douglas Price at the Laboratory for Archaeological Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. López Varela, Dore, Karla L. Davis-Salazar, and three anonymous reviewers read drafts of this manuscript and provided very useful comments that helped improve the arguments in this paper.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA

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