April 23, 2008

David Goldstein captures dissertation award

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Bits of 1,000-year-old charred wood from the kilns and furnaces of long-ago potters and metal smiths tell the story of how the inhabitants of a forest in South America once managed their environment.

The examination of the relationship between those ancient people, their environment and resource management earned this year's Richard and Donna Falvo Outstanding Dissertation Award for a doctoral student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

David L. Goldstein, who has since completed his doctorate in archaeology, won the award for his dissertation titled, "Forests and Fires: A Paleoethnobotanical Assessment of the Impact of Middle Sicán Pyrotechnology on the Dry Tropical Forests of the La Leche River Valley, Lambayeque, Peru." Izumi Shimada, professor of anthropology in SIUC's College of Liberal Arts, directed Goldstein's dissertation.

The award carries a $1,000 prize.

Goldstein is the spouse of Robin Coleman Goldstein, of Upperco, Md., and the son of Dr. Sidney and Phebe Goldstein of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Working with a team of researchers, Goldstein collected data in 1999 and 2000 by examining the charcoal remains of excavated kilns, metal furnaces and domestic hearths from 10th century settlements in Peru and Bolivia. Goldstein sought to test his theory that, because gold and copper alloys held a higher social and symbolic place in the Middle Sicán society, metalsmiths would receive a larger amount of limited hardwood to fire their kilns than potters.

Goldstein looked at fuel gathering, consumption and charcoal-making methods as well as chemical physical analysis of the remains. He also conducted experiments in replicas of the pottery kilns and metal furnaces for comparison.

Instead of the expected favoritism, he instead found evidence that potters and smiths worked together in negotiated alliances that maximized the fuel. Charcoal for metalworking furnaces appeared to come from pottery kilns, where potters first used it in reduction firing of ceramics.

Goldstein's research shows local metalworkers and potters worked together and made choices on how to use precious fuels, negotiating for mutually beneficial and efficient apportionment.

"Goldstein, in essence, shows that what may be of little value for one group of artisans may be a valuable resource for another group of artisans working nearby," Shimada said. "His approach is groundbreaking in showing how much can be learned about cultural strategies for procuring and managing renewable forest resources from systematically sampled charred plant remains…"

Shimada said other researchers might key off of Goldstein's research in the areas of archaeology, paleoethnobotany and many others, including energy sustainability.

"David's research represents an excellent opportunity to document changing perceptions of what constitutes acceptable fuel and the dynamic and creative relationship between the ecology — such as local dry forests — and the cultural use of wood and other fuels," Shimada said.

Goldstein currently works as a National Science Foundation visiting professor in archaeobotany in Lima, Peru. His two-year fellowship is aimed at developing resources and students who can conduct similar research.

Goldstein said he was surprised to win the award for outstanding dissertation and credited Shimada and former SIUC associate scientist Lee Ann Newsom with guiding his research.

"The dissertation was a long time in coming. There are very few people who have had the opportunity to work with the kinds of data that I developed with their help, and even fewer who have been able to produce viable research," he said. "To have the research acknowledged by this award is really quite significant in that it indicates a future for archaeological research to contribute to developing models of sustainable resource use in the present."

Goldstein said SIUC's departments of anthropology, agribusiness economics, plant biology and forestry all contributed to his education as an anthropologist and archaeologist.

"Drawing from all of these disciplines, exposure to transdisciplinary science offers me the perspective necessary to be a full participant in the classroom with students and with my colleagues," he said. "SIUC provided me an open and free intellectual environment, critical to the development of my current research goals. Additionally, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the financial support, several years of teaching assistantships and research funding and two graduate fellowships, that SIUC provided me, even with funding becoming scarce in recent years. That support allowed me to develop as a professional within the context of the University.

"Without that support, it will be difficult for SIUC and the anthropology department, as well as others, to continue to graduate quality students in the future," he said.

Goldstein said anthropologists rely on comparing data across space and time to understand the human condition. Plant remains are excellent resources of hard data that help describe how past and modern cultures manage natural resources.

"My goal is to bring this reality to the attention of the international community to develop local solutions to environmental problems," he said. "I hope, together with my colleagues, to show that we can learn from the past, both from its errors and accomplishments, and live responsibly as a species that has the capacity to learn and change."

Runner-up winners for this year's Outstanding Dissertation award were:

• Elias Getahun Bekele, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, for "Integrated Modeling System for Multi-Objective Management of Ecosystem Services in a Watershed." John W. Nicklow, associate dean of the College of Engineering, directed Bekele's dissertation.

• Kurt Joel Regester, Department of Zoology, for "Ecosystem Significance of Ambystomatid Salamanders: Energy Flow, Habitat Subsidies, and Trophic Interactions Associated with their Complex Life Cycles." Karen R. Lips, associated professor of zoology, directed Regester's dissertation.

The award is named for Richard E. and Donna T. Falvo, both retired SIUC faculty members and sponsors of the 20-year-old annual competition.