I'm not sure how far I should get into this topic knowing in advance that no matter what I say, I will cause offense to someone. But that sort of common sense has seldom stopped me from pursuing interesting and potentially controversial topics. As you'll see, the point I want to make is not about the archaeology per se, but on the publication process and how we need to begin to look for new solutions to old problems.
The motivation for my commentary stems from the increasingly bitter debate surrounding the Monte Verde site, located in south-central Chile, which has been offered by Tom Dillehay and his many scientific collaborators as a clear and unambiguous example of a Pleistocene age occupation of the New World. The clarity of that claim has been called into question by a number of authors, most prominently Stuart Fiedel, who has made an exhaustive examination of the second Monte Verde volume (1997, Monte Verde: A Late Pleistocene Settlement in Chile, Vol. 2: The Archaeological Context and Interpretation, T. Dillehay, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.), and contends to have discovered numerous errors, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the reporting of proveniences, artifact descriptions, and other aspects of the excavation process and description of the site contents. To Fiedel and his associates, these errors are of sufficient gravity to call into question Dillehay's original claim. Fiedel's critique was published in the November/December 1999 issue of Discovering Archaeology as a special report entitled "Monte Verde Revisited." The report included a rejoinder by Dillehay and others as well as a Current Anthropology-style treatment of the whole package by other experts in the field of Paleoindian studies.
I, and indirectly, the Bulletin, have been drawn into this debate in a tangential manner through a paragraph in our News and Notes section [SAA Bulletin, 2000, 18 (1); 31] At Dillehay's request, I published a notice that a Web page that responds to Fiedel's criticisms was now available. Soon after the publication of that Bulletin, I received an email from Fiedel asking if I would be interested in seeing his as yet unpublished response to the material posted on Dillehay's Web page.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a professional interest in this debate since I am one of the few North American archaeologists working in the early periods of South American and Andean prehistory. I have wrestled with the evidence from Monte Verde since I teach classes on early South American archaeology, and over time have become convinced that the site is very likely of Pleistocene age. However, as I replied to Fiedel, many of his criticisms of the volume are important, and deserve further scrutiny.
Beyond the criticisms, which are really not the point of this column, I told Fiedel that what concerned me more was the venue of publication of the special report. Here is my only slightly edited email reply to him:
Fiedel responded (again only slightly edited):
Undoubtedly, some will see my essay as implicit criticism of both Discovering Archaeology and American Antiquity. It is not; both serve their audiences well. But Fiedel's complaint is real: We have very few venues in archaeology today that allow for very rapid and timely publication of current debates within a suitably professional and peer-reviewed framework.
The venue where this can happen is the Internet and the vehicle is the peer-reviewed, online journal. In archaeology, there is one current success story, Internet Archaeology. It is fully peer reviewed, and follows a traditional volume-and-number format. One only needs access to the Web to read any current or archived paper. Responses to articles, in some cases planned and in others unsolicited, become part of the volume, and debate is thus fostered.
This is only one possible format, and there are others that can be conceived. One needn't follow the volume/issue model, but could instead choose to create "volumes" based on topics, such as the Monte Verde debate. An editorial structure could be created that would ensure peer reviewing much like that in a print journal. Thus, instead of having dueling Web pages or large, circulating files of response and critique sent to a handful of adherents or detractors, one could air debates online in a timely, public forum, with all of the inherent advantages of professional oversight.
I can hear the critics already: What about archiving, longevity, and the hallowed place of paper? Times are changing and we should be thinking about how to change with them. I, along with many others in our field, have been concerned with these issues for some time (1999, M. Aldenderfer, Digital Ephermera, and Dead Media: Digital Publishing and Archaeological Practice, Internet Archaeology 6. intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue6/aldenderfer_toc.html ). SAA has been an innovator in digital publishing; the SAA Bulletin is an example. I know that the Publications Committee, under the direction of Chris Chippindale, has been looking into timelines and formats for the right model for online publishing that fits the needs of SAA. We need to press ahead with these plans. Online publishing won't resolve Monte Verde's status, but the creative development of the online forum will give us the chance to air our differences in the most public of all arenas.
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