Forum: Funding opportunities and the prospect of archaeological sciences around the world

The Forum is a new initiative of the bulletin, in which we will discuss some of the hot topics that have been going on in archaeological science. To kick this new initiative off, we are investigating the funding opportunities and the prospect of archaeological science around the world. In this first round, we have contributions from Professor Aubrey Cannon (Professor, McMaster University) and Dr Andrew Roddick (Associate Professor, McMaster University) and Dr Siran Liu (Research Associate, University of Science and Technology Beijing) to tell us more about the situations in Canada and China respectively. 

Infrastructure and Innovation in Canadian Archaeological Science 

Aubrey Cannon and Andrew P. Roddick
A number of pioneering developments in archaeological science began in Canada, several with far-reaching implications. For example, Erle Nelson (2010), a graduate of McMaster University’s Physics department, developed AMS radiocarbon dating at the McMaster Nuclear Reactor in 1977. The reactor, which first became operational in 1959, continues to be used in the chemical characterization of archaeologically recovered materials (see for instance, MacDonald et al. 2011 and Michelaki et al. 2012). Henry Schwarcz(Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University), was also instrumental in sustaining the growth and development of archaeological science. His work, which focused on uranium series and electron spin resonance dating and later the stable isotope analysis of biological tissues (summaries in Schwarcz 1997 and Schwarcz and Schoeninger 2011 respectively), has helped establish a national baseline for archaeological science in Canada.

The prospects for archaeological science in Canada changed significantly in 1997, with the development of the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which resulted in less direct dependency on the labs and faculty of science departments. The Canadian government created CFI to enable researchers to develop and equip state-of-the-art research facilities, and to support initiatives that break new ground or apply existing instruments in new ways. CFI’s first Chair, Dr. David Strangway (previously at the University of British Columbia) insisted its resources would go beyond Science, Medicine, and Engineering departments, and also be made available to researchers in the humanities and social sciences. In its first 20 years, between 1998 and 2017, a total of 43 CFI grants were awarded across 15 Canadian universities in support of specialized archaeological science lab facilities and equipment for ceramic, lithic, zooarchaeological, paeleoethnobotanical, osteological, isotopic and ancient DNA analyses (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Number of Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grants for archaeological science across Canada from 1998 through 2017. 
The CFI program has generated new research questions, particularly since researchers, their instruments, and the pasts they bring to light are inseparable (Barad 2007). At their best, these laboratories are “scenes of disciplined seeing” (sensu Dennis 1989: 342), where analytical tools and techniques, including those of modern ceramic analysis and paeleoethnobotany can produce radically new ways of observing, representing, and knowing the past for both established scientists, but also undergraduate and graduate students. Indeed, the financial support of CFI is contingent on an accounting of thenumber of highly trained personnel directly attributable to the infrastructure. A parallel initiative, also sponsored by the Canadian federal government, has also provided funding to support the hiring and retention of leading researchers in archaeological science. The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP) was designed in 2000 to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising researchers, including archaeologists (see for instance, Dr. Michael Richards, a Tier 1 CRC in archaeological science at Simon Fraser University). CFI and CRCP are highly competitive, and have primarily supported scholars in Health, Science and Engineering; archaeology has received only the tiniest fraction of the $6.6 billion allocated by CFI in its first 20 years. Nevertheless, Canadian archaeologists are becoming more adept at developingapplications, tailoring their requests to fit the priorities of these programs, resulting in a significant growth in Canadian archaeological science. 

The sometimes-lengthy dialogue between physical scientists and anthropological archaeologists continues across Canadian university campuses and the private sector. Physical scientists listen to anthropological archaeologists and grapple with their objectives. Anthropological archaeologists work with physical scientists to craft anthropologically based questions that work within the limits of current methods and facilities. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the main federal government funding body for social science research, has developed programs explicitly designed for such dialogues. SSHRC encourages interdisciplinary communication and cooperation and the development of new research capacities with Research Development Initiatives grants and Connection grants. SSHRC is also the primary source of broader archaeological funding in Canada, and researchers often develop these grants in tandem. For instance, it is common to incorporate infrastructure facilities and highly trained personnel developed through CFI-funding, and to transform initial interdisciplinary collaborations from Connection grants into larger-scale SSHRC projects. Archaeological science is also flourishing outside the academic arena, where collaborations are developing with private-sector cultural resource managements firms. This is bringing new, added value to the space where most archaeology happens in Canada (Martindale et al. 2019, Pfeiffer et al. 2014). 

All these initiatives have helped foster a culture of science-based archaeological research, methodological innovation and inter-disciplinary collaboration across the country. Although there is some concern about SSHRC funding initiatives and programs as public and government priorities change, support for innovative collaborations remains. The CFI and CRC programs have been especially successful and resilient to changing government priorities. Although archaeology’s access to these programs remains modest in comparison to their overall scale and scope, they continue to expand and create new opportunities. At this time, the future of archaeological science in Canada continues to look very bright.

References cited
Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.
Dennis, M. A., 1989. Graphic Understanding: Instruments and Interpretation in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. Science in Context 3(2), 309-64.
MacDonald, B. L., R.G.V. Hancock, A. Cannon, and A. Pidruczny, 2011. Geochemical Characterization of Ochre from Central Coastal British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(12), 3620-30.
Martindale, A., G.T. Cook, I. McKechnie, K. Edinborough, I. Hutchinson, M. Eldridge, K. Supernant, and K.M. Ames, 2018. Estimating Marine Reservoir Effects in Archaeological Chronologies: Comparing ΔR Calculations in Prince Rupert Harbour, British Columbia, Canada. American Antiquity 83, 659–680.
Michelaki, K., R.G.V. Hancock, and G.V. Braun, 2012. Using Provenance Data to Assess Archaeological Landscapes: An Example from Calabria, Italy. Journal of Archaeological Science 39(2), 234-46.
Nelson, E., 2010. Personal Recollections of a Good Experiment. Radiocarbon 52(02), 219-27.
Pfeiffer, S., R.F. Williamson, J.C. Sealy, D.G. Smith, and M.H. Snow, 2014. Stable Dietary Isotopes and mtDNA From Woodland Period Southern Ontario People: Results from a Tooth Sampling Protocol. Journal of Archaeological Science 42, 334-345.
Schwarcz, H.P., 1997. Uranium Series Dating. In Taylor R.E., Aitken M.J. (eds), Chronometric Dating in ArchaeologyAdvances in Archaeological and Museum Science, vol 2. Springer, Boston, MA., pp. 159-82. 
Schwarcz, H.P. and M.J. Schoeninger, 2011. Stable Isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen as Tracers for Paleo-Diet Reconstruction, in: M. Baskaran (ed) Handbook of Environmental Isotope Geochemistry. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany, pp. 725–743.

The future of archaeological sciences in China

Siran Liu

There are a number of funding opportunities for archaeological scientists working in China. Previously, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage provides the most important and stable funding for archaeological science in China. Unfortunately, it had stopped and now focuses only archaeological excavation and conservation. The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) is currently the most essential one. It supports scientific research projects from eight divisions (Mathematics/Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science, Engineering and Material Science, Information science, Management science and Medical Science). Archaeological scientists can find various relevant topics within these divisions from the study of human evolution to the development of cutting-edge scientific tools for analyzing ancient artefacts. The competition is however quite severe and only a very small proportion of applications will finally be granted. The National Social Science Foundation of China is another choice. It has funds dedicated for archaeological research projects but only increased the support for archaeological science in recent years. The Ministry of Education and provincial governments also have their own funds for natural and social science research, and archaeological scientists can try their luck there. The Ministry of Science has funded several major projects of archaeology in the last two decades such as the “The Origin of Chinese Civilization Project” and “The Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project”, and archaeological scientists were deeply involved and benefited from these projects. There also several other funding sources for archaeological scientists such China Postdoc Science Foundation and research funds from universities and academic institutes. Crosswise projects are usually smaller than the aforementioned ones but play an increasingly important role for archaeological scientists. The PIs of archaeological projects and museum curators can channel part of their funds to labs for dating, artefacts characterization, in-situ analysis as well as technical supports in field. However, it is still not a very common practice since previously most archaeological scientists managed to find funding by themselves (mostly from government projects). In addition, many of these collaborations are not well designed in advance and sometimes archaeological scientists are just providing services without actively engaged in the project. In contrary to US and UK, non-governmental organizations provided little support in archaeological research. In general, the archaeological science is relatively well funded and most researchers have enough funding to run their analyses. But in my opinion much more resources should have been invested on developing the discipline itself to create new analytical methods and raise new research questions, rather than repeatedly analyzing the same type of materials. In order to do this, the government-operated foundations (e.g. NSFC) should provide funding dedicated for archaeological science research, encouraging scholars to explore new possibilities. Meanwhile, the evaluation of funding applications should be conducted by experts from this field rather than randomly selected scientists working on totally irrelevant topics.