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2019 Adventure – South Africa

Wednesday: November 20, 2019

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Here is another post for my 2019 Adventure! Remember, I plan to keep these simple with a short introduction, then show the sites and the eats, along with a favorite memory or two. If you want more details, just ask in a comment or through here :)

On July 16th, we left Swaziland, popping back into South Africa. I only have Harrismith to talk about this week, but it was fruitful enough that it can have its own post. We stayed a couple nights here (not pronounced “Harris-mith” but instead “Harry-smith” – I dig the South African accent) and enjoyed Wimpy’s for the first time. Ironically, Wimpy’s is originally from my home state! I also found I love to eat “patty pans” and “baby marrow” :)

I was amazed at the geography of the continent once again – enormous tableaus rising from completely flat terrain (the farm we stayed at is in the first image below). I can’t say I know what the region normally looks like, but even in a major drought, it is beautiful. On that note, people from the tiniest villages to the largest cities that we visited all commented the same – global warming and climate change. We didn’t know it here in South Africa at the time, but the drought situation in southern Africa is becoming an epically huge deal – even though there has been periods of rain occasionally, some areas have been affected for upwards of a decade. I’ll bring this up again in a later posts.

We stayed on a working farm, home to export foods using a cool worm technology and disease-free “wild” animals such as water buffalo, sable, and roan antelopes. Our host, Graham, showed us around part of his farm so we got up close and personal with some of those beauties. He also showed us some ancient San rock art on his property and WOW. They have not been formally studied yet, and after seeing other examples, he is the steward of a notable site. While it may look like my hand is touching the art, rest assured that is only an illusion. I even discovered surface artifacts so I have implored him to contact a local San/rock shelter archaeologist to look into ways to protect the site and how to share it with the world. He offered it up to me – would if I could!

Graham spoke several languages and communicated with his employees in their home language rather than strictly using his own. I really appreciated that, both as an anthropologist but also because I don’t see that being the norm here in the States (I won’t get political here, but you can guess where I stand on the language issue). Most of his employees lived nearby, in what South Africans call “townships” – a euphemism to me for what could often be called a shanty-town (or worse). Townships are an effect of the apartheid policies (which only ended in 1994) and are home to black citizens. Some are as described already – teeny hodge-podge metal or wooden shacks piled on top of each other with garbage filling the alleys. Others, though, have nice but small homes with landscaping and clean streets. So we asked Graham some questions about racial issues in South Africa. For instance, beyond the dangers in cities like Johannesburg, you may have heard that white farmers are being murdered by black locals. That snippet doesn’t encapsulate the reality, at least how he described it to us. It is more about poor people stealing from rich people, and, like here, poor people often are not white, while rich people often are. Sometimes murders happens, true, but it isn’t seen as racially motivated like our news outlets often proclaim. Perspective matters.

The places (for all maps: Red = airport; Blue = overnight; Pink = short stop; Green = Day trip; Yellow = Border crossing; Brown = Train):

What we saw:

What I ate:

And most notable memory:

This little beast is named Maxwell. Graham’s sister rescued him off the street – a Russian Blue! – in Johannesburg, and he must have seen some warfare because he’s got issues! In fact, that is why Graham has him, because his bad attitude was too much for his sister. I didn’t get it at first. But then, I did. He would snuggle you like a lost childhood friend and then attack without provocation. And I don’t mean the type of cat that loves to be petted until his nervous system goes on overload and he wigs out at you. I mean: he is sitting on your bed, four feet away, napping in the sun while you quietly draw, and then he opens his eyes, large and possessed, and lunges at you with open claws. There were many instances of that. I really did like Maxwell overall, and I would consider him my little buddy, but I learned quickly to not trust him whatsoever. Cats!

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2019 Adventure – Swaziland

Thursday: October 31, 2019

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Here is another post for my 2019 Adventure! Remember, I plan to keep these simple with a short introduction, then show the sites and the eats, along with a favorite memory or two. If you want more details, just ask in a comment or through here :)

On July 13th, we entered Swaziland (which recently changed its name to Eswatini, but the locals we met still called it Swaziland and thought the change was silly). Out of any place I’ve ever been, Swaziland is the most rural in the agricultural kind of way – little self-sustaining farmsteads with crops or livestock (often both) were the norm and the roads were dirt farm trails bordering the farms. I will also never forget the roads – the dirt ones are near impossible to navigate without all-wheel drive and sometimes were too skinny not to scratch a car. The paved ones are abysmal – the pot holes we read about were in truth larger than we imagined, and multiplied to such an extent – potholes within potholes with no way to avoid them – that driving was incredibly slow and quite uncomfortable. I’m talking literally the size of bathtubs – or more! – and deep enough where a cow could sleep in one without you seeing it. One or two here and there wouldn’t necessitate a comment, but, oh Swaziland, your roads are nightmarish! The photo you’ll see is a pretty decent road, actually. We also almost got stuck crossing a stream. Some local kids helped add more stones while we were out and about to make navigating it again easier on our return.

Our first two nights were spent with a farmer who introduced me to the actual granadilla fruit I had been enjoying through drinkable yogurt – the fruit was super tart and I loved it! He invited a local late-teenage girl to tag along with us all one day to visit Phophonyane Falls and then have dinner at a nearby resort. Her English was quite good so we chatted a lot and I was surprised that her goal after graduation was to join the military. We dropped her off and I was struck by the complex cultural collision I witnessed; she reminded me of any other teenager: on her phone with selfies and texting, wearing skinny jeans and a graphic tee. But her “house” was a small one-room wood shack (maybe as large as a king-sized bed?), a smaller wooden shack nearby (perhaps storage for the kitchen?), a basic outdoor cookfire, no evidence of a bathroom (no evidence of plumbing at all, and definitely no wired electricity anywhere, though maybe a solar battery was hidden away), and a chicken coop. She lived there with her mother and several siblings (when she wasn’t away at school, which is normal in the African cultures we visited – to send children of all ages to boarding school). You can read about this stuff, but seeing it and meeting the people who live this way is both humbling and jarring – so similar and yet so different!

On our trip overall, we learned that it is not always easy to find a place to eat, and one of the things we had to sometimes look for are resorts (of the fancy expensive type). We stumbled upon the most beautiful one I’ve seen anywhere and had a wonderful meal. I must also add that Swaziland landscaping culture is gorgeous – I noticed it at all the places we visited. I am sure it helps to be inspired by all the natural beauty the countryside offers!

The places (for all maps: Red = airport; Blue = overnight; Pink = short stop; Green = Day trip; Yellow = Border crossing; Brown = Train):

What we saw:

What I ate:

And most notable memory:

The places we stayed at were both designed for tourism, though the second was still in development and was built strictly for that purpose. The first, though, was still on a working farm, so of course there were farm pups to enjoy (and wayward chickens and roosters)! The littlest (turned away from the camera) was a little too crazy and got in trouble a lot. The oldest (not pictured) was super big and scary looking (as all rottweilers look), but was sweet and had a major open wound on her leg from an abusive neighbor (though perhaps she was attacking some livestock so they did what they had to). And this golden girl was super friendly – at night, when I had to walk down to the bathroom hut in the dark, she always guided and guarded me. We didn’t stay long in Swaziland, and my memories of it were really just finding peace in nature, so no adrenaline-pumping stories to share!

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2019 Adventure – South Africa

Thursday: October 24, 2019

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Here is another post for my 2019 Adventure! Remember, I plan to keep these simple with a short introduction, then show the sites and the eats, along with a favorite memory or two. If you want more details, just ask in a comment or through here :)

I did add some photos I finally got from my brother to the two previous posts so check those out!

On July 9th, we bussed from Maputo, Mozambique to Nelspruit, South Africa and found a taxi to take us to the rental car office. From there, we drove straight to just outside one of the gates of Kruger National Park. For the next three nights, we stayed in rondavels (little round houses) at the Park’s camps. Do you remember the very first time you saw the original Jurassic Park? The beginning scenes, before it turned horrifying, that is. The goosebumps you got when the characters witnessed dinosaurs for the first time, emerging quietly from the jungle? Yep. That is what Kruger is like. I had mistakenly thought we would be lucky to see a few animals over the course of the entire time in Kruger. How amazed was I, when we saw almost everything before we even found the camp to sleep! I also mistakenly thought the roads would be crammed with tourists, but in fact we were solitary much of our journey (in Kruger and everywhere else!)! You can be greedy with your wishes here. Kruger, as I would find out for the rest of Africa, delivered.

When I saw the original Lion King way back, I remember thinking “that’s not what nature looks like” and took it to be artistic license. But, Africa really does look that way. I need to seriously invest some time in learning why the geography and topography is what it is – vast plains with enormous bald rock outcroppings. And the animals really do all mix together at waterholes or just when they are out and about. Of course, I’ve seen this in documentaries and whatnot, but it’s just different in real life. Too cool.

While we did a self-drive safari (as in, you drive in your own car wherever you want on the roads and stay for however long you want at each spot), we also booked three other kinds through our camps: a night drive, a morning drive, and a bush walk. As a self-drive, it is illegal to be outside of a camp after dark, yet a lot of animals aren’t active during the heat of the day. Plus, without a tour guide, you just don’t learn much! My favorite is, of course, the bush walk. At first I did have to pause and question my life choices when the reality struck me – I mean, I was just simply walking around out in the wild where dangerous and frightening animals hang out, afterall. Our two guides were very professional about safety measures though (stay quiet, stay in single file, and do exactly what they say even if they come off as incredibly rude yelling at us and treating us like a baby – if they say climb a tree, climb the effing tree!), and they taught us a lot about different plants (it is cooler than it sounds, trust me!) and tracking animals. In fact, though no one in Kruger will tell you how many rhinos there are because of heavy poaching problems, I can say there are at least two – That’s right! We walked up to a pair of rhinos! It was exhilarating (and when I say “walked up to”, I mean we were still quite far away as the image will attest).

Keep in mind that I mostly enjoyed being there, being present, rather than trying to document it for others to see. While I do have some of my brother’s photos, you should still check his stuff out for more/better images. And I’ll write more about South Africa in future posts – Kruger is just a lot all by itself!

The places (for all maps: Red = airport; Blue = overnight; Pink = short stop; Green = Day trip; Yellow = Border crossing; Brown = Train, or in this case, the car rental office):

What we saw:

What I ate:

And most notable memory:

I already said how awe-inspiring the safaris were. I could mention that neither my brother nor I knew what a Dom Pedro was, and decided to order it without asking (icecream + amarula liqueur). MmMmMMmmmm. Or, I could mention the one morning I was awoken before the sun rose to some loud vocalization out in the wild. I couldn’t sleep and it was driving me bonkers. I finally got up and stood on my stoop watching the sun rise, to finally find the source: two hippos in the river, fighting by yawning wide to show their teeth and yelling. They were at a standstill – the river was wide, and there was plenty of space to go around each other, but neither wanted to leave the skinny little path. Silly hippos. But instead I will talk about the driving.

I had expected driving anywhere in Africa to be this nightmare of aggressive drivers, packed pedestrians, roaming animals – loud and a definite sense of pure and utter chaos. I based this on my experience as a passenger in other countries and what I’ve seen in movies. As with much of my expectations for this trip, I was totally wrong. I felt more at ease driving there than almost anywhere back home (“there” being in South Africa, Swaziland/Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and Bostwana)! Let that sink in for a minute or two. African people (referring to those regions I visited, not the entire enormous continent, of course) have a gentle culture (well, in truth like a million cultures), without a sense of hurry or self-importance seen here in the States. So, driving was super easy.

What else I did not expect was the mental effort it took to drive on the opposite side of the road. We had a mantra to remind each other “stay on the left” to the tune of “Staying Alive”.  A major joke is that because the car is reversed, so are the knobs and buttons. You know how many times windshield wipers were used instead of turning signals? Countless! And the joke really is on me, because the intense concentration I endured for the month of driving upwards of 8 hours a day has slithered its way into my subconscious. Do I admit that in my very own car, though I have been driving now for over 20 years, the windshield wipers have been flipped whilst turning multiple times? Or, how when I am walking on the road, deserted at the time of cars, I cannot picture which side a pedestrian should be on, even though I’ve been home now for over a month? Who knew I would be left so confuddled! The best advice I found, which I discovered back when I was researching driving in foreign countries, was that the driver stays in the middle of the road, no matter what. That I need to remind myself of this just astounds me.

I am also glad we bought the extra insurance – before we left Kruger, we already had a hole in the tire from a thorn. Thank goodness our camp had a motor station! And by the time we returned the car, we had a cracked windshield from a rock along the high speed highways in Namibia. Oi.

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2019 Adventure – Mozambique

Wednesday: October 2, 2019

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Here is another post for my 2019 Adventure! Remember, I plan to keep these simple with a short introduction, then show the sites and the eats, along with a favorite memory or two. If you want more details, just ask in a comment or through here :)

Before I get into anything, I want to remind everyone that Mozambique recently suffered greatly from Cyclone Idai (along with Zimbabwe and Malawi). While there, we had been asked where we were from by a local. To our response of USA, he thanked us for our help in funding efforts to restore communities. It really does matter where you donate your money to, and the people really do appreciate it. Do your part, when you can, as we are all on Earth together.

On July 5th, we took an overnight flight on TAP to the capital city of Mozambique: Maputo. We had Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to explore. As our first foray to the African continent, we were unaware of a major cultural difference that really hindered our exploration – people stay home on weekends which means stores and activities are closed, too. We didn’t know this at the time, though, so we interpreted the dead capital city center as a dead city. It really cast a negative shadow on our perspective of the city and how safe we felt. One of the techniques I use when traveling around in the States is to look at the type of cars in the area I’m in – if they look alright, then my safety is probably alright; if they are junky cars, maybe I should be more on point in security-minded awareness. That doesn’t translate well, though, to an economy less fortunate where cars are luxuries, even the “junky” ones. My brother suggested one of the techniques he picked up on in his travels: look at the male-to-female ratio. In essence, if women are out and about, it’s probably fine (though I did also watch to see how closely guarded they kept their purses, another layer of understanding safety in strange environments I picked up). This really added to the shadow feeling, though, because we really only saw single young men or groups of young men. Some were clearly destitute (washing themselves in a plugged storm drain), and others seemed to glare at us. It felt very unwelcoming, even though our host assured us that we would be safe. Our apartment was literally adjacent to Mozambique’s presidential palace (their White House equivalent), but that only added to the matter as the area seemed quite run-down and the palace grounds blocked all easy walking routes to downtown (it provided a lot of wandering peacocks, though!). Looking back, it was all just a bit of culture shock and my brother and I agree that we need to give Maputo and Mozambique another go before we make any claims to our experiences there. But I mention all of this to explain why the only photos I have don’t involve the outdoors at all – we were naively too afraid to take out a camera and snap a photo. How unfortunate!

The places (for all maps: Red = airport; Blue = overnight; Pink = short stop; Green = Day trip; Yellow = Border crossing; Brown = Train):

What we saw:

What I ate:

Most notable memory:

I don’t have a photo for any favorite memory, but I included this one just to show that I tried something new on this trip, which did begin in Maputo. I usually keep a travel log of my activities (in the hopes that I’ll make a scrapbook someday), but this time I decided to try a visual log. This is the title page, and, if you are curious for more, it will be shown some on my other site (whenever I get around to that). As for memories, well, you read in the introduction that we didn’t have the most exciting time here. We planned several things, and mentioned them to our host, and I guess there was miscommunication all around because she didn’t explain that certain things were closed – we made the journeys to get where we needed to be, sometimes even arranged by her for a taxi, only to find the place closed each day. It was frustrating! So my favorite memory, I guess, happened the day we left Maputo. We were unsure our arranged taxi would be timely, based on a prior experience, so we scheduled it to be quite early. Of course, he wasn’t just on time – he was early, too! What luck. Because of timing, the office wasn’t open yet and we felt very conspicuous with all of our bags just hanging on an empty street in a place we felt (at the time) like we were surely targets of a crime about to take place at any moment. I mean, it was still pitch black. After a while, as the sun attempted to say hello, the employees came and let us in to sit for a while until the bus arrived, where we faced the desk rather than the window. Eventually, we loaded the bus and were finally able to see the street in the light of day. We were both happily shocked to see the city had become a bustling and vibrant place (with women!) and were sad we didn’t get to experience that part of it. It was just a fun surprise that turned our perspective back around (especially once we learned about the weekend culture of the region! Every country we visited was pretty much closed down for the weekends.).


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2019 Adventure – Portugal

Thursday: September 26, 2019

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Here is the first post for my 2019 Adventure! I want to keep it simple, because there is actually so much I could talk about, so I’ll just post a small introduction, a bunch of scenic photos and food photos (because everyone’s main question is always “yes, but what did you EAT?!”), and then add my favorite memories at the end. That way, if you have a question, you can simply ask in a comment or contact me here. And for higher quality images taken by my brother (because sometimes I wouldn’t take any at all since he’s the pro), check out here for now, or check back later here (he isn’t sure when he will have a chance to update it).

Before we begin with any of that that, though, I want to shoutout to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, which allowed me to get all the Lonely Planet travel guides for my trip without breaking bank (thanks to Boy again for the kindle!). I usually collect these books for the places I go, but I just couldn’t do it that way this time. Now that my trip is over, I cancelled my subscription and there was zero hassle involved.

People have also asked about my luggage, since we were backpacking with some long walks or cramped public transport possibly involved. I took my brother’s advice and got the same bag he has been using for the last five years (and all the abuse he’s put it through, it is still in great condition!). So, I bought the Osprey Porter 65, which let me pack for any occasion (as in, super overpacked) and prevented me from breaking my back (though I will never say that hauling it around while it weighed 40 pounds was easy, especially in Lisbon!). I have packing cubes also to keep it all organized. I love it!

And yes, I had to get vaccines. I found it ironic that I had all the ones I needed up-to-date, as my doctor and I decided I wouldn’t need the cholera one, but my tetanus (which I need here) was out-of-date. Whoops. I also got malaria pills, but luckily, mosquitoes weren’t a huge issue (of course, if one was in a ten mile radius of us, it bit me, but that happened few and far between).

Anyway, now the travel bits:

On June 30th, my friend and my brother and I left for Portugal flying on TAP Air Portugal. For the first time ever, beginning in June, TAP was running direct flights between Chicago and Lisbon so there was an amazing promotional deal. And, because the Portuguese have a colonial history in Mozambique, the flight between those two countries was also pretty stellar. The only reason I was able to do this trip was because of TAP – less than 500$ to get to Africa and we were allowed a five day stay-over in Portugal between! The flight was perfectly fine and enjoyable from what I can recall (we all dosed on melatonin to help with the time change so I slept most of the way), so if you have the opportunity to try TAP, take it. After all, they are one of the world’s safest airlines!

We spent two nights in Lisbon, a city of crammed stone alleys built into the side of massive hills along the coast of a bay. The time difference was 5 hours ahead, and it wasn’t too difficult to adjust to with the melatonin helping us sleep at night. On the third day, we took a train to Obidos, which is a castle city in amazing repair. The name sounded familiar, and once there I realized I had seen it on tv – it is the home of probably the world’s coolest renaissance fair, the Mercado Medieval do Obidos. And we just missed it by a day. I blame my brother for his lack of planning on that one! On that same day, we took the train farther, to Coimbra. We didn’t have much time here (see the end of this post about the train) but we did get to run through the University of Coimbra’s Botanical Garden. Then we finished the day by taking the train to Porto, a city built right onto the banks of the Douro River. Then we spent one more night back in Lisbon before saying bye to my friend who flew home, while we flew south to Mozambique.

Because of jetlag and rushed schedules, we didn’t interact with the locals much at all. Other than amazing historic architecture and fish being a big part of their diet, I can’t comment too much on the culture of the people. Anthropology fail! We also did not do a great job at keeping a cheap budget, as you might notice with our food options, but it wasn’t unexpected since it is Europe, afterall.

The places (for all maps: Red = airport; Blue = overnight; Pink = short stop; Green = Day trip; Yellow = Border crossing; Brown = Train):

What we saw:

What I thought I’d have to eat:

What I actually ate:

And most notable memory:

It doesn’t look like much, but let me set the scene. We left most of our luggage in Lisbon for our Porto trip. Lisbon has rentable lockers near the train station which we used after check-out before going to the airport our last day, but for our one night stay in Porto, we had our last night accomodation in Lisbon hold our bags for us early. That means that we had to carry our small bags for the whole part of the train ride (Obidos and Coimbra). It was hot (you may have heard that Paris was hitting highs of 112F this summer; we weren’t that unlucky but it wasn’t pleasant). We got off at the train station in this photo (the building in the distance) and then had to hike up the mountain to visit Obidos (along a steep road). Our party got separated and that ate up some time to find each other so that we could catch the train to Coimbra so we could catch the train to Porto. When we met up, we were at the other side of the castle and felt it might be faster to descend from that side rather than finding the way we came in. Well, it turns out that maybe wasn’t the best decision, so we literally were running to make it on time – because as my brother foretold, European trains run like clockwork. And the road wasn’t a simple down hill road; it was gravel and meandered a little and went upwards at places. We contemplated running through the grass straight down but thought better of it. Near the end, we were running as fast as possible, in a gleeful haven’t-done-this-since-childhood kind of way, dropped a notch only by the anxiety of what missing our train might mean. We arrive, completely breathless, guzzling water, drenched in sweat, to see one other person waiting. Phew, we hadn’t missed it!! … And then the train was late by over an hour, maybe even two, as we sat there doing absolutely nothing. That’s why we didn’t have much time in Coimbra, and why, yes, we practically ran through the botanical garden there, too. But, it was an adventure! :D

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Thursday: September 19, 2019

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I am returned, rested, and back to reality. My trip was great, of course! I started going through photos today so I imagine I’ll have some posts going at least by the end of the year. Wah wah! The finalized plan was this: Portugal – Mozambique – South Africa – Eswatini (Swaziland) – Lesotho – Namibia – Botswana – Zimbabwe – Zambia – Tanzania – with a long layover in Dubai. We spent one month driving (on the other side of the road!), and one month taking buses, trains, ferries, and planes. We saw a beautifully preserved castle, some archaeological sites, Victoria Falls, and the Ngorongoro Crater; met great people (diverse cultural groups and other travelers); and ate delicious food (phew!). We did several different kinds of safaris, including: self-drive, morning drive, night drive, bush walks, mokoro tour, and safari by boat. Also, “safari” by accident, simply because these are wild animals so they aren’t bound to park borders and just kind of appear wherever they please. Details to follow, someday!

In professional news, I’ve committed to assisting on a state-wide project and might also apply for a grant to complete it. The funding is only up in the air because the paperwork is due on the 25th and only now am I barely back to thinking without brain fog  – not a lot of time to write a worthy application! It’s just researching data already collected and writing so I can stay at home for a change. You see, a year or two ago, it occurred to me that I haven’t had a full summer home since the year of 2011. No wonder my garden doesn’t exist! Maybe 2020 will be the year, eh? … Don’t count on it;)

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Saturday: February 9, 2019

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Just a catch up on the latest news around these parts.

I submitted the final draft version for the historic iron furnace tour guide as part of the Daniel Boone National Forest project I mentioned earlier. Shutdown notwithstanding, I think it will be publicly available sometime soon.

I’ve helped edit a couple publications so those should be forthcoming in the next year or two, if not out already (a recent one just came out in the belated Indiana Archaeology).

My Africa trip is mostly planned, at least as far as general ideas. I haven’t purchased the return trip just yet, but it looks like I’ll be gone for two months, and flying out of Tanzania. Super excited, but I haven’t let it become a distraction just yet, though I have looked into learning a little Swahili to check that off my bucket list.

I do have some cat updates, so since it is a little science-y, I’ll share them here. Maya is often dehydrated due to her nasopharyngeal stenosis and increasing age (she’s almost 14). We are now trained with an at-home IV kit to give her fluids when needed. Meanwhile, Sasha has been acting unusual in many ways, but most notably in refusing to jump or even stretch up to greet me hello. She most likely has sacroiliac arthritis, poor thing (she’s 11 and a half). However, with the other unusual observations, the vet did a blood test which came back to show she has hyperthyroidism. This is not terrible news, and we caught it super early based on her other numbers, but it isn’t something to write off either. She either has to be given a pill twice a day for life, or turned into a radioactive cat for a one-time curative (expensive with hospitalization) treatment if her kidneys can handle it. She starts the meds today, and a recheck in a few weeks will tell us more. Just call me a cat nurse!

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My greatest journey

Saturday: December 8, 2018

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I am going to Africa on June 30th, 2019.

Planning is currently ongoing but it may look a little like this: Here to Portugal, to Mozambique, to Swaziland, to Lesotho, to South Africa, to Namibia, to Botswana, to Zimbabwe, to Zambia, to Tanzania. Ideally also to Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Morocco, but safety and time constraints apply so we’ve nixed those. In fact, I might not be able to get all the way to Tanzania but I am sure as heck trying to make that work!

Life goals possibly fitting into this trip are seeing: 1) amazing animals in the wild including the Big 5 and gorillas; 2) archaeology sites like Great Zimbabwe and human evolution sites like Sterkfontein, Kroomdrai, Rising Star, Laetoli, and Olduvai Gorge; 3) breathtaking nature like the Kalahari Desert, Victoria Falls, Serengeti Plain, and Mount Kilimanjaro; and 4) the numerous diverse and unique cultures from traditional tribes to Portuguese/Dutch/French/British colonial histories.

Thank you, dearly departed gramma and grampa, for always having National Geographics laying around!

Stay tuned.

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2018 Bioarch Project

Friday: December 7, 2018

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Wow! I never published this! My bad…

I’ve been living the dorm life for a while now. It is comical sometimes that I find myself here. At first, I was thinking “it won’t be too bad, my students weren’t terribly noticeably younger than me” but, see, that was them in My Classroom where they mostly acted with reservation. Now, I live in Their House. Quite a different matter – though everyone is super polite and all. I just feel quite out of place. My friend helped me pivot my thoughts, though, by pointing out a great ethnography that I am basically living: My Freshman Year – What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. I need to order that book and read it!

Sometimes I walk around campus after a work day. This is usually post 9pm, but it is still light outside. I love it! Some days have been terribly hot here, but there is a picnic table under an old tree’s shade and with a slight breeze; my lunch breaks have been quite pleasant. Since I work in a basement all day, I try to get outside as much as possible on my breaks.

My lab building, which is two buildings down from the dorm, is closed for major renovations. People working on the bioarch project are the only ones allowed in. The construction guys have mostly all been friendly; I had a run-in with an older cranky guy but every other one has been so nice. I traded bat stories with one – he found three dead bats. Well, I was nearly attacked by a live one, so I think I win!

Tonight I got in on some dorm activities – I missed Sundaes and Ghostbusters day, but tonight I was able to make a tie-dyed shirt. It will probably look ridiculous (I opted to not “tie” it but rather attempt an ombre effect) and I didn’t think it through, about how I am suppose to wash it in 24 hours, but it was fun. (I will not be going home this weekend, and I have no detergent here. The shower and shampoo will have to suffice.) [  Update: It turned out fabulous! :D  ]

As far as work goes, it has been a rollercoaster with a learning curve. I hadn’t worked on fragmentary bones covered in dirt since I graduated, so at first I was pretty overwhelmed and feeling crummy. I had to basically re-learn so much, but found a groove within a few days. Then we started getting a lot of babies, and I never had experience with their kind at all. Now I am really pretty confident in them – maybe more than any other age, ha! It has been great because I wanted to focus on subadults when I was a student, but we didn’t have access to enough for a thesis. I often think about the parents and siblings of the little ones. It must have been heartbreaking and I do my best, with all the burials, to remember that fact rather than treat them as boney objects. Often the preservation is poor, so an untrained person might not even recognize the individual. But at other times, a little baby nose is there, and it’s quite breathtaking.

I was happy to see my skull pillows I donated a while back were a hit! This isn’t a real skull, but you get the idea now of them in action. #superproud

Here is a little philosophical digression that isn’t well thought out but I felt it time to jot down a basic thesis. When people find out what I am doing, I get mixed reactions, so I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Some think its “soooooooo cool!” and others are hesitant to express clearly how they feel opposed to the idea, afraid I may be offended or whatever I guess. I wouldn’t be – I don’t think anyone needs to go around purposefully digging up graves (looking at you, historic “anthropologists” and modern day looters). However, accidental discoveries of burials happens all the time, because the earth has seen enough humans to basically have burials everywhere. Anytime you dig, you risk finding a grave if the preservation is well enough. The matter is, was the individual preserved enough for you to know? Well, if there aren’t any bones left, life goes on as you please. Find a bone though, and a whole process begins, first with the coroner, and then with the appropriate authorities – either the police and forensic teams for a possible homicide, or with anthropologists and bioarchaeologists for a pre/historic burial. Also, sometimes people legally can move cemeteries – I can’t comment on how that comes about, but it happens.

It would be nice to leave graves alone, sure. But the reality is that modern development will always continue, and space is getting more and more limited, and there needs to be people trained to handle the remains as appropriately as possible. I came to terms with this line of work, obviously, when I went to get a masters in it, but to put it plainly for those who think I do macabre or gruesome work, I don’t. I believe in any culture, the most important part of humanity is existing in your loved ones memories, to be a part of the social fabric, and so to live on in others. Many (all?) of the people in my current project and past experiences have truthfully been forgotten as individuals and sometimes as entire social groups. By analyzing the remains, I can tell as much of their story as possible with today’s methods, and bring their memory back into the world. You can disagree with me, and I’ll still share a cup of tea with you, but I believe this is the most respectful thing we can do as a society for graves that have become uncovered. The alternative is that construction will still happen, graves will still be disturbed, and then bones will just be dumped somewhere else in a jumbled mess as if they are trash. I much prefer reburials, don’t you? And if you aren’t trained with skeletal remains, how would you recognize bones apart from other material, to be sure you are reburying every last bit of an individual that is left? That’s where people like me come in and why we perform analysis before reburying. So, if you want to point a finger of shame at someone, don’t point it at those of us working with skeletal remains. Point it at the looters and vandals, at the careless construction teams who break the law, at the politicians and lawmakers that don’t protect graves as strongly as you’d like. I’m looking at you, older cranky guy.

[  Update  ]

I had a fantastic time, I learned a ton, and hopefully contributed a great deal though I couldn’t stay on to finish up the project.

I don’t post much here, but that doesn’t mean I am not doing things.

I am rounding out my Daniel Boone National Forest project.

I helped edit a book chapter for dental microwear.

I was going to present at a conference but a lack of funding unfortunately had my colleague and I pull out.

And I am planning the most epic adventure of my life! (More next!)

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2017 AAPA New Orleans

Thursday: May 24, 2018

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Refreshing for my summer bioarchaeology project has reminded me that I’ve never posted about my AAPA conference last year! I did not present, but I wanted to go specifically for the Dental Anthropology Association workshop on tooth crown and root morphology. See me being studious?

I inadvertently sat next to Dr. Liversidge. Helen was my lunch companion during the DAA’s Let’s Do Lunch segment in 2013. It was nice seeing a friendly face again and we both remembered each other, yay! I also met Dan, who happens to live nearish to me and we stay in touch on Academia. And my old advisor was there so I got introduced to his students, and they all knew his reference to me as “Rebecca the White”. I had really impressed him as a student, so I was first dubbed “Rebecca the Grey” like Gandalf, and at graduation, he bestowed upon me a LOTR t-shirt and the new “White” moniker. I suffer from imposter syndrome so I prefer to remain known as “the Grey” instead, you see. But I digress!

That workshop was pretty awesome. Mostly because I love how geeky everyone there was about teeth (it almost matches my advisor’s passion;) but I learned more about morphology, too. I also love meeting the people behind the names, and adore how everyone is just a human like me! I am sure there are big egos who can be rude or stuck on themselves, but so far I have been fortunate to rub elbows with pleasant people. Or, at least they are pleasant to me since I am perhaps just a “nobody”? Doesn’t matter. Nothing beats meeting the mentors. So, you can imagine the fuzzy-feelings I got when I asked for the authors to sign this book:

Ok, so maybe you need the fun backstory: The publisher had a booth but the books hadn’t arrived and rather than a full shipment, there would be something like three. THREE for a conference filled with interested parties! I accidentally met up with some of the author’s students and got on their good side and so they let me know as soon as the books showed up so I could look at one. See, there were three of them to go along with the three books (or whatever that number was). As the fourth, I was assumed to be SOL. However, I am clever! I was the first person to ask the vendor if I could buy the otherwise reserved display copy – I guess no one had thought of it. So, the vendor took my name and slipped it inside the book. Every single person for the rest of the entire conference who looked at that book – and dare I say there were many! – saw my name in large capital letters. I thought that alone was hilarious. But especially when I would introduce myself to people, or they’d be chatting with me in a group and see my name tag and go “YOU’RE that person? How did you get that book reserved for you? Why are you so special?!” Haha. Oh, good times they were – even for one such as myself that doesn’t generally like attention. But the story doesn’t end here, obviously.

In fact, let’s take another step back. I had talked to the first author, Dr. Scott, briefly at the publisher’s booth before hand and we discussed my interest in getting a doctorate in dental anthropology. He said I should check out his program, but I was honest and said I wasn’t sure I’d get in since I assume there are better candidates (whether that is true or not I can’t say – I am not shy to say I’m a brilliant student, but I must acknowledge that I am one who also, as I said, suffers from imposter syndrome). Richard told me I might be surprised because since he has met me, he knows I love the field, and my honesty and “realness” gives me an advantage, and he’d remember my name. Sweet. That made me feel good all by itself, yea?

So, fast forward, after the DAA business meeting, I got up the nerve to ask politely if Dr. Scott could sign the book. I said his name would do just fine, I didn’t expect him to take the time to write some epitaph, and walked away a little so I wasn’t creepily looking over his shoulder. He took a moment, and then returned the book. “Rebecca, I love your passion for teeth. If you ever want a PhD give me a call. Best wishes – G Richard Scott”. I thought that was just so cool. I know it is probably near meaningless, but I had just learned my teaching contract wasn’t being renewed before the conference so having even a glimpse of a possible future in the field was absolutely delightful.

I had never spoken to the other author before and I couldn’t get a read on his personality but I finally bit the bullet and asked for a signature. At first, I felt like I truly was a bother, but once he read Richard’s, he took my book and exclaimed something like “oh great, how am I suppose to match this? Of course he would write that and of course he would take the entire page!” Haha! So, I said just his name would be fine, as I didn’t want to create drama, and politely stepped away for a bit. Dr. Irish kept the book for a bit longer, obviously pondering what to write. When Joel returned the book, I was too embarrassed to even look at it til I escaped the room. I laughed out loud when I read “Forget Richard, if you want a PhD – come see me! Best – Joel D Irish”. Oh, if only all those people who saw my book on display now knew what was written inside! Teeheehee!

Other fun bits from my New Orleans experience:

I attended a fascinating symposium on the bioarchaeology of children. That theme is something I’ve considered for a doctorate many a times. See me once again, being studious?

I met the Lucy cast. I saw her in real life once purely by happenstance in NYC, but she was in parts lying down. (And it was epic.) I’ve taught about her every semester as an instructor. But seeing her height in real life was super awesome for perspective. Isn’t it always the case? “It’s one thing to read about it, but to see it really matters!” Her shoulder had slipped, if you are curious, but I didn’t want to get in trouble for touching the mega-expensive cast.

My New Zealand friend came to town for the occasion and I was fortunate enough to hang out with friends each night after enjoying supper with my in-law family (see below). The night life was amazing for people watching.

My MIL and SIL came with me. They had recently won a trip to New Orleans a year or two before and fell in love so the chance to go back was high priority. Since Boy couldn’t come, they offered to hang out with me. We toured the French Quarter together in the evenings and they did their own things while I was at the conference. One night, we took a ghost tour. It was really more about the vampire “history”. Our tour guide was amazing! Of course, I googled just about everything she said later, and almost none of it could be backed up by actual facts (as I had, of course, suspected) but it was fun regardless; she made it worth it.

We also took a bayou tour to see the wildlife. It was super cool, culturally, to see these “off-grid” houses. And the wildlife was cool. Amazing trees. Lot’s of birds and turtles and even a snake or two. Here is a wild boar:

And we saw many, many alligators. In fact, the tour guides put hotdogs on the ends of sticks and teased the gators out of the water. I have many videos. They are smaller than I imagined while at the same time larger. I can’t explain it. On Sapelo, I’ve only ever seen their eyes quickly disappear under water. Here I saw full bodies of various builds. How they can come jutting out of the water is quite frightening as well! I’m not sure how I feel about feeding alligators hotdogs, and the future repercussions for them and for people, but I do have a new appreciation for them and doubt I will be so curious the next time I am at Sapelo, geez! Not that I was ever stupid about it, but I feel like I would now never go to the dock alone for phone service.


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2018 summer work

Wednesday: May 23, 2018

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I was asked if I could supervise the lab portion of a field project this year so of course I said “heck yea!” on the condition that housing would be settled for me. I don’t expect I will get paid enough to warrant paying for a place to sleep, and while I’ll be in Indy where many friends reside, I’d be an imposition to each of their living situations for various reasons, let alone for the lengthy time frame! (Of course, I could end up being paid quite well as the pay schedule is dependent upon how the project turns out.) The project was suppose to have begun at the beginning of May. Thankfully that was postponed (for reasons unknown to me) because I didn’t have housing figured out yet. Originally, it was arranged that I’d stay with a student but that fell through.

Last I heard, though, the extra time has supposedly secured a dorm room for me! Huzzah! Right on campus, where I will be working! I am also ecstatic about getting to live in a dorm because I thought that ship had permanently sailed. Just goes to show that you never know what life may bring, eh? I know, I know – all my dorm-experienced friends say I am absolutely crazy for thinking this will be fun, but can ya’ll even contemplate my past living conditions for field projects? This ranks among the most posh, for sure! The move in date still isn’t settled, and for all I know that will fall through, too, but I was told it was a firm bet by around the first of June, so I’ve been lining all my ducks up in a row.

The main thing is refreshing my bioarchaeology skills. It has been a full year since I taught last and had access to real bones (a full YEAR?! My, how time flies!). Even then, they were sparse and mostly intact. AKA not like most archaeological bits and pieces. I’ve pulled out all my favorite reading materials and began taking condensed summarized refresher notes (I remember best with recent note-taking). I dug out my plastic skeleton to revive muscle memory in my hands (it fails at offering much else guidance). And now instead of embroidery patterns in the clouds as I have seen of late (my other blog details these efforts), I see carpal bones and such. So, I think I’ll be good! I just had this horrible nightmare that the students, who are probably recently steeped in bioarchaeology training, will think I am a blubbering fool. I would die from embarrassment! Not Rebecca the Grey, I say!

What I love about this refreshment process is how much I do just know. I mean, it has been years since I really got to go to town with my degree, and it is pleasant to know I still remember so much of it. Sure, technical names escape me quite a bit currently, but the gist is there all the same. Further, since I built the foundation of my knowledge during grad school, my brain didn’t at the time have all the space necessary to retain everything as quickly as the information was coming at me. I bolstered much when I was teaching, but I didn’t gauge how far I had come. What was retained from all that has since crystallized, which means I can easily add to it with fresh material. Reading through the books and notes has shown me things that I must have read before (I was a good student and actually did read everything!) yet “I never heard that!” and this previously forgotten information quickly went into new freed-up brain storage. What I am saying is I feel even smarter now than when I was steeped in it. Curious. Hopefully, that’s how real life will turn out and I am not simply imagining this. Wouldn’t that be a shame!

This supervisory role will also put me that much closer to becoming a Private Investigator in my state (I think I may already be one by federal standards? I’d have to look into that again to be sure). I don’t know that I am actively pursuing that, but it is another notch in my belt all the same.

Anyway, no matter what happens with this gig’s housing (on which my role absolutely depends), I am so grateful that my mentors have such faith and respect to hire me for this position. I learned so much under their tutelage and the fact that they see me as a colleague on so many projects is a great honor. (I am not embarrassed to say that since I really doubt any of them follow this blog, ha!)

So, anyways, hopefully I will update from the comforts of my dorm room;)

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DBNF Update #1

Sunday: May 20, 2018

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Not much to say here, other than I created a public outreach flyer for the annual Mountain Mushroom Festival. It was simple, asking for local input about the project. I did get to render Fitchburg Furnace into an artsy little image though. See a blurry rendering here (I apologize for the blur; it isn’t meant to be seen this large and I am unsure how to overwrite my CSS “code”):

I hope to render all the furnaces involved in the project the same way. To what end, I am not sure, yet! I had hoped to go to the festival, too, but it wasn’t in the cards. If I was already going to be gone all summer, I didn’t want to skip out yet another weekend. Especially when I will be closer to DBNF during my summer project.

What’s that, you say? I haven’t mentioned my summer project yet? Stay tuned!

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Feline Nasopharyngeal Stenosis

Friday: February 16, 2018

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This is a more personal post rather than anthropological, but today I was reminded why I love my science education so much. Though it mainly dealt with bones and teeth (human skeletons) with very little focus on soft tissues (living or recently dead people), it gave me a wonderful understanding of anatomy in general and along the way, through interests I gained in my studies, I’ve picked up medical terminology here and there. And all tetrapods have the same basic body plans, and mammals are even more similar, so my knowledge of human anatomy aligns well with, say, cats.

So, when we picked up my Maya cat today from a teaching hospital where the doctors are heavily steeped in teaching science as their focus more so than dealing with the general public, I can say I understood 99% of their jargon (I didn’t see any attempt at all to speak in layman’s terms).

Maya’s always done maybe one or two “reverse sneezes” for years and within the last year she started to do it more often and added some snorty sounds here and there. Changing her position helped, it seemed. In the last couple months, though, she had developed further into pretty much non-stop wet and snorty, whistley, snoring sounds and nothing made the noise stop; she also couldn’t sleep well, purr well, or eat and drink well. We’ve taken her to several docs, and her treatment included steroids, antibiotics, and allergy pills. None of which really seemed to help and some of which had negative side effects (steroids particularly make her dehydrated and she’s always at a risk of that without the help!). Everyone agreed though: something was up with her nose and none of them had the tools to truly diagnose it.

Well, Maya had a scary episode over the weekend which seemed like hyperventilation (rapid fire “reverse sneezing”) followed by puking a lot so we took her to the ER vet (twice). The first time, she had of course stopped and everything checked out well so they sent us home to monitor her expecting it to have been a one time thing. Instead, it was non-stop after I got her home so they then gave her an anti-nausea shot to break the puking cycle, steroids to reduce possible inflammation, and 100ml of fluid to correct her dehydration.

To get a sense of what she was like, this is a less severe cat experiencing what looks to me like exactly the same thing (but without the puke aftermath and not nearly for as long): Cat Reverse Sneeze – skip to about the 40 second mark. I want to be clear though – we brought videos to the vet and they could not diagnose her without actually looking; many issues could cause this type of behavior so if your cat is doing this, don’t automatically assume it is caused by the same thing. Now, I would suggest skipping all the visits with steroids, antibiotics, and allergy medicines from an uncertain vet and go straight to a vet with scoping and imaging. It would have saved us a lot of money and also rectified her issue so much sooner.

Anyway, we dropped her off at the Purdue Small Animal Hospital Wednesday. Her preliminary work showed she has excellent kidneys (yay!) and everything else was a-ok except she doesn’t weigh as much as she should (we’ve noticed) and her globulin and one liver enzyme levels were mildly high, indicating perhaps inflammation. She was also still dehydrated so they gave her some fluids. Her initial x-rays showed her lungs being a little hyper-inflated, meaning she is straining to breathe and she had some gas in her stomach and small intestine (probably from swallowing post-nasal drip, we now think).

Thursday, they put her under and did a CT scan followed by a rhinoscopy to look inside her nose. This was in conjunction with the radiology/oncology department that fitted her in a special mask to be able to do measurements and whatnot should there be a tumor. Phew, there wasn’t!

They noticed her nose was filled up with mucus. She has never had nasal drainage so it must all be creating post-nasal drip. Here’s a before photo which shows the clear snot (with air bubbles) and a mucus booger plugging her airway (when you see her next photo, you’ll see how blatantly problematic that was!). So, they essentially gave her a neti pot cleanse, collecting the goo to ship off for lab work (testing for a bacterial or fungal infection). It is likely that her Saturday event was an attempt to get the booger outta the way (and her physical stress of attempting to do so upset her gag reflux). Her constant dehydration is likely a result from mouth-breathing. Though it is sometimes apparent, it seems she does it more than we assumed!

After the cleanse, she was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal stenosis. You can see that here plain as day. You’re looking at the hole that connects the airway in the nose to the throat (the nasopharynx). It should be “peanut” shaped and be maybe something like a third of the width of this image. All her soft tissue should also be a happy healthy pink, but hers is pale. This is the stenosis diagnosis. Like any tissue in the body, agitation prompts it either to grow or to recede. Her soft tissue had been agitated enough over the years that it began to grow, scarring over (the paleness). This means it is tougher than normal (not as soft and stretchy), and obviously now greatly obstructing the airway.

To compare, I could not find a photo of a healthy cat airway, but here is one for a dog from Vetfolio. The only difference really would be overall size but the proportions are about the same:

So what’s the solution? It isn’t as easy as a polyp which can simply be plucked out, but we are super grateful it isn’t complicated like a tumor crushing her bone. It is in the middle, where it is a chronic condition that will get worse over time. What we can do is have them perform a balloon dilation – they put her under again, wedge a balloon in the hole and stretch it out a bit, then remove it and wake her up. They were going to do that the same day but her body temperature started to fall so they chose instead to wake her up rather than risk anesthesia complications.

The prognosis is good, except for the crucial fact that many cats need to do that two or three times. A) She is an older cat so that worries me (being put under is always a risk, but the older the higher that is), and B) it isn’t a cheap procedure. Cost isn’t prohibitive with how much we love her, but the thing is, the procedures might have to be done literally one month apart. With a couple grand already spent and at a couple grand each for the ballooning, this is not something we can do tomorrow :/

I can report that except a diarrhea run in the middle of our lengthy ride home with a prompt bath when we got back, she’s napping so peacefully right now on her little heated pad with upside-down Sasha. Not a peep is coming out of her nose, and no air is puffing out of her cheeks. She was sneezing a bit and had some clear drainage coming out of her nose but we expect all that to be cleared up within 24 hours. And she now eats like a hauss:)

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Funds Granted!

Monday: January 15, 2018

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The Kentucky Historical Society had a nice ceremony for all awarded participants of the Kentucky Local History Trust Fund. I couldn’t attend, but you can find my partner-in-crime, the archaeologist hiding in the background. Check it out here!

I haven’t had a chance yet to organize the next phase of this project, but I’ll be visiting Kentucky again to finish this leg of it. More news to come as it progresses, I assure you.

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Red River Iron Industry

Thursday: October 19, 2017

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So you may recall that I had hinted on working with Matt on a project involving historic iron furnaces. He and I talked about the possibility of me applying for grants that could pay me to do work with the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) so that I could be paid more than what the volunteer program allows. Wayna, the forest archaeologist, was also part of this discussion and suggested we attempt something for the furnaces. We have a larger project in mind, but it starts with applying for the Local History Trust Fund through the Kentucky Historical Society.

Briefly, early entrepreneurs ventured into the Red River region of Kentucky before it was even a state. Some of these business ran into quite unhappy locals, and all of them were working in conditions without modern (at the time) amenities. Their purpose was to collect iron ore, melt it down in massive stone furnaces, cool it off into blocks of iron, send these away to forges to be transformed into products, and distribute the items widely.

Wayna took Rachel and I to see a few, and Matt showed me a couple more when I was back down for LAW. Their presence on the landscape is unmistakable. Not only does their size tower over you, but they are built intentionally into hillsides, not far from water sources. It is quite easy to imagine the larger complex of buildings. And I did find it fascinating that whole towns would spring up, called iron plantations, to support the venture – from barbershops for the employees to schools for their children.

The intention of this first smaller project is to send me on a journey, collecting information that is housed in places outside of the DBNF libraries such as at the Red River Museum in Clay City. After reading through all that’s available, I’d develop a driving tour pamphlet to help get the sites more widely recognized by the public. Once this first step is achieved, I can then work on the next step of the larger project.

The application was submitted Friday, so wish us luck!

I also found a few more photos that reminded me of some interesting tidbits. Like that time I got stung twice by a yellow jacket. Fun! Or having to watch out for copperheads every time we went over to take showers at Koomer Ridge Campground. Or when, in one of our STPs, my shovel did not damage this fine projectile point! I got skillz.

Matt took me on a small trip that included an old fire tower! (Did I mention on this blog that FireWatch is one of my favorite games? And that loving fire towers must run in my blood as I recently discovered my great-grampa was a watchmen once upon a time!) Some idiots lit a campfire inside it – on a wooden floor – so you can imagine the reason why only the metal frame stands today. But the view was serene!

And on the way back home, I decided to stop by where I grew up and walk across the Ohio River on this bridge. It was hot, but I needed a small break from driving so I thought I’d check out how the Louisville Waterfront Park was coming along. Plus, I had been listening to GRRM’s Fevre Dream during the long drives, and wouldn’t you know it? New Albany made an appearance, so it was kind of fun just to sit and think about how this area was such a big center for the early steamboat industry. I knew that, of course, from my Floyd County Archaeological Survey research – but having a great literary master mention my “hometown” was kinda killer, I gotta say!

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2017 LAW Volunteering

Tuesday: October 17, 2017

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With a host of partners and sponsors, the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) puts together an annual event called Living Archaeology Weekend. Since my previous volunteer experience left me on good terms with them, Matt asked if I was interested in coming back down to help him get that set up. Sure thang!

My living arrangements were different. Rachel had to return to school in Montana, so her cabin in the Gorge was unavailable. Matt set me up with a gal he knew in Lexington and though I barely got to hang out with Ellie due to my commute and exhaustion coupled with her work schedule, she provided me with a comfortable bed (I had a cot in the cabin), a kitty reminescent of my own Sasha, phone and internet access (neither option was available at Rachel’s), and full running water service. Driving twenty minutes out to Koomer Ridge to take a camp shower? Not anymore!

Much of the first week was spent getting supplies from point A to point B, with a flat tire mishap thrown in the mix. Oh, and getting a caffeine addiction that I am only now finally beating the withdrawal headaches (otherwise I never drink caffeine). But the Go Time gas station in Slade had THE BEST coffee I’ve ever tasted – butter pecan. (Sadly, they no longer carry it; I checked on a recent venture out there with Boy.)

The second part of week one made my year. First, we went out with some tree experts to cut down something like 150 saplings. After the others cut them with a chainsaw and brought them up to the road, I dragged them back to the trailer and chopped off the limbs. Over the next two days, I worked with experts in the field of primitive living (yes, that is a thing) and built two bent-pole structures, one domed and one rectangular. I am not quite sure why this enamored me so, other than I always thought it would be cool to have something like that in my yard, and now I know I can because it is not that hard! A humongous shoutout to Keith G., whom I worked with the most and pretty much lives off the grid which I always thought was a brilliant concept. Matt W. also brought some flare and skill to making them and had his adorable family in tow.

My task was to record notes and photograph the process, which now will be turned into some teaching material for other organizations. So, on the first day, in the gentle rain, that is pretty much all I did beside cut cordage with a stone tool Keith flaked for me. The second day was almost just me and Keith for most of it (or at least, it felt that way but maybe I missed my coffee that morning), so I took far less data until others were able to come help. Matt W. was able to pop in for a while (after he had just gotten married!!) and eventually, one or two other volunteers.

Then LAW happened, and while I had been informed that the first day is filled with busloads of school children, no one prepared me for the actuality of what 1200 kids feels like. Take that in for a moment. The first photo below is during LAW setup. The next photo is during a lull in LAW visitors. The third is a lull over at the historic side of things.

I was paired with Johnny, a retired archaeologist whose name was all over my rockshelter monitor reports. He’d recently badly hurt his hand so rather than demonstrate flintknapping, we were demonstrating how ancient people in the area may have processed acorns with stone mortars and wooden pestles. He had crafted some as an experimental study and it was neat to see the alterations by their use just across the two days the event went on.

Some students listened well, others didn’t listen at all (and why were their teachers not paying attention or even anywhere near them?!), but overall I think it was hugely successful. Kids had fun and took home at least a smidgen of knowledge about the past. The second day was open to the general public and while it was supposedly going to be much relaxed, I found it to be nearly as populated, though less all at once. I was able to stroll around, at least, and check out the other demonstrators. Johnny taught me a lot about food processing and was kind enough to sit down with me and explain how to make bark baskets. His granddaughter popped in for much of the day as well, and she’s the brightest 12 year old I have ever met! And the guys next to me were the flintknappers, so every now and then I chatted up with them to learn more about their craft, too.

I was flabergasted at how easy a pump drill is and made a small medallion for myself.

I got to take home some heritage seeds which I hope to plant in my garden next year (it doesn’t exist at the moment).

I made a cattail duck that floats on water.

I got to use a small loom and ask all kinds of questions about the craft (I’ve been considering buying one). I was particularly fascinated with this pulled-thread look.

Matt’s office neighbor is one of the fire guys, and he ran a blacksmithing forge at the event so I talked to him for Boy’s sake.

And we were served a nice treat of cornbread and beans. Plus, Alyson (Matt’s wife, whom I’ve known since Hardin Village also) gave me the best homemade pecan pie I have ever tasted!

And I ran into people I had met before but didn’t even think I’d see them here: Dr. Jefferies from Sapelo, Katie (a friend of a friend; we met to discuss writing an article together last time I had been in town), and the people from the Fort Ancient site I got to volunteer on for a day (whom I now realize are part of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, duh!). Oops, I may have forgotten to sneak that in during my last set of posts. But there you go, I got to work in a real unit also this summer (in the midst of a cornfield, of course), huzzah!

LAW offers so much stuff – I didn’t list nearly even half of it!. It was great to be a part of it as well as experience it. I told Boy that we are both going down there next year, even if I don’t volunteer. I’d love to introduce him to all the great minds. It was very educational, the demonstrators are amazing and passionate and almost always hands-on for visitors, and it was just a superb time. Top of the list for sure!

To recap my overall volunteering, Wayna had provided me and Rachel with some DBNF loot during my last visit to thank us. She also took us out to Sky Bridge Station to thank us for our help (I’ve actually been there several times now – you wouldn’t think a restaurant with only hotdogs and quesadillas would be amazing, but it is!). Other places we went were: Fort Boonesborough, Waterfront Grille, Miguel’s Pizza, Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Hemlock Lodge (restaurant and pool!), and of course sites and trails throughout Red River Gorge. Matt even gifted us a stellar book, Grit-Tempered (documenting the lives of undervalued women archaeologists).

At the end of LAW, the volunteers and demonstrators are invited to gather at Lil’ Abner Motel and Cottages for a pizza party and fun evening of camaraderie. I was to share Cabin 41 with some other ladies, but they weren’t able to use the room the first night (and I wasn’t able to the second), so I had the whole place to myself! Mega! We were gifted a cool LAW T-shirt and big thank you’s went out to everyone involved. Matt even made sure to embarrass me a little by calling me specifically out for my own efforts.

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DBNF Volunteering part 3

Monday: October 16, 2017

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This is the end of the mini-series (read part 1 and part 2) about my first time with Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) this summer.

Since we were down there, Rachel and I also got to attend some talks about archaeology of the region and schmooze with some of the staff involved in various projects around the Forest. The networking opportunity potential was great, though I am not a very out-going person. I did get to ask a couple of people about their particular jobs, which is fascinating. For a brief while, I had considered being a backcountry ranger, for instance, or a firetower person (though none exist anywhere near me). I got to ask about their knowledge of trees and mushrooms and other plants – all of which bolstered what I learned in the Master Naturalist courses I took. It was refreshing to be around so many smart people willing to share knowledge again, let’s just put it that way!

One of the various projects I worked on was to help repair part of Fitchburg Furnace. It was not glamorous work, as our job was to carry gravel from the pile up the slight but long hill to inside the furnace where two engineers were correcting some blocks of stone, but it was meaningful.

I took the photo below from inside the furnace, where the gravel needs to be carted. You can see the pile of gravel passed Rachel, between the fence and the work vehicle. And though I loathe hard work at home, hard work in the field just always feels good.

And while I am not keen on historic archaeology, there was an opportunity to perhaps do something with all the iron furnaces around the Red River area, so I took Matt up on that and got a grant submitted that would pay me a real wage to do some work if it got accepted. More on that later!

As far as the other type of work I did while down there, one of the things was that Matt took us out to an area where some timber sales had been done. He and Rachel had been working there earlier in the summer before I showed up. We put in a few STPs but came up short of nothing except a nice turtle skeleton found on our hike near a little pond.

Our other big project was over at Lockegee Rock. It is used a lot by visitors, especially Morehead State University students. The level of vandalism and litter is disgusting. It is something seen in the worst urban city alley; not something one should see at such a gorgeous place in nature. But interesting areas for people today were also interesting areas of people in the past – people are people, no matter where or when you go! One day, all their garbage and graffiti will be of interest to future archaeologists, so I can only shake my head.

It was here that an enormous arachnid fell out of the sky and nearly landed on me. Instead, it splatted on the rock by my feet – and somehow survived for at least quite a while as we continued to survey the area. I swear, had it splatted on my shoulder, I would have certainly fell right off the cliffside! Unfortunately, I do not have a scale in the photo, but it was the largest spider I have seen in person – and, mind you, I did have two tarantulas growing up!

At the end, Rachel and I also worked on copying some reports from the archives at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. My friend Anna is getting her PhD there so we were able to meet up and hang out for a bit.

One of the things I love most about archaeology is getting to do meaningful work via hiking around in nature. I can’t stress enough that getting paid to do that (in any form, including just sharpening skills) is amazing. A bad day in the field beats the best day in the office, no kidding. To give you a sense of that, the average number of flights of stairs I climbed during the rockshelter monitoring was 30 (though the app on my iPhone really ought to count going downhill, as that can be just as bad or worse than the goings up, I promise!!). That is a lot on its own, but sometimes that was done with less than 4,000 steps – think about how steep that is!

Another thing that is great about it is meeting passionate like-minded people. Rachel turned out to be pretty awesome and we had some deep conversations about gender, millennials, archaeology and looting, relationships of all types, and religion (specifically Judaism since I knew next to nothing and she is a Jewish person). We even played board games, a made-up see-if-you-can-draw-the-US-from-scratch game (which is tremendously hard!) and hiked around one day when her brother and neph-dog were in for a visit. Heck, I even taught her some surface embroidery! We survived bears in the wild together and did I mention giant hoards of wolf spiders (big enough to hear as they scamper across the floor, no less!!) and rampant mice, both inside the cabin? Oh, and that the cabin lacked running water? And central air? And had a compost toilet outside in a little shack with no electricity for lights? That sounds like a horrible experience, I know, but I loved that little cabin!

I enjoyed my time down there so much – it was incredibly therapeutic, actually – that I later signed up to go back down for two more weeks. The next post(s) will be about the annual Living Archaeology Weekend!

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DBNF Volunteering part 2

Sunday: October 15, 2017

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This is the second part about volunteering down at the Daniel Boone National Forest with my friend Matt, who is the Cumberland District archaeologist. You can start at the beginning of the story here.

After we had reported our bear incident, we had to go through bear spray training and were issued bells and spray. “Get outta here bear!” became our motto.

The last time Rachel and I went to monitor rockshelters was amazing. We faced our fears, though they were intense. So intense, in fact, that I sometimes felt claustrophobic between the dense underbrush and tree falls – or, at least, I think that must have been what I was feeling. So intense, that we began to question our sanity. Three hours in, hiking a slow trek up a hill through some awful tree falls and thick undergrowth, having reached the base of the last bit before the shelter, we stopped to ask ourselves, are we stupid?

Is it stupid to go up into this creepy looking shelter that is so vegetated there is no escape? Is it stupid to trek out in the woods when we know there are bears? Or, is it stupid to presume that we would run into another bear? Maybe we were being too cautious? Which was it?

As supervisor, I knew it was my call. It wasn’t just about my own fear – I honestly had to look out for the well-being of the person in my charge. So we played a game: hold one hand up, hiding the other. With the other, hold out one finger to go up, and two fingers to return to the truck. On the count of three! One – two – three! … We both opted to return to the truck! How shameful. We laughed. But, I knew we could do it, we just needed encouragement, to be sure we weren’t being stupid by going back in.

Rachel opted to phone-a-friend and called her dad. Unfortunately, he did not answer. I gave up any hope trying to figure this one out on my own, so I, too, opted to phone-a-friend and called Boy. He’d be the most angry one anyway if I wound up dead by a bear and I knew better, right? He had a client in the office so he couldn’t talk but I think he could sense my urgency when I sort of ignored that and plodded on with my question. “Are we stupid for going up, or are we stupid for going back?” His answer? “You gotta face your fears. Go in!” And so we did.

And we found the largest rockshelter I had yet seen. This thing was massive. We were still a wee bit frightened, here and there, and especially when it was time to go back into the thick of the forest. But intermittently, we shouted “Get outta here bear!” or “You don’t scare me!” and things of that nature. Being that we were in the shelter, I am sure our voices carried far and curious visitors rolled their eyes at our disturbance of peaceful nature. But we remained alive and bear free, so ner!

And on our way back, we wanted to find an easier route. Three hours through brush was not ideal, and we needed to get back to the station at a particular time before they closed just in case an emergency did pop up. We went all the way down to the creek from the shelter then followed it back to the truck – in fact, there was a trail there. In fact, it was beautiful and serene and mystically gorgeous. In fact, it took a piddly thirty minutes to get back to the truck. WHAT?! So, that information certainly went into our notes. Had we known about that way, we could have monitored the second shelter before returning. Matt said that is just how these things go sometimes. Oh well!

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DBNF Volunteering part 1

Saturday: October 14, 2017

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One of the first things I did when I found out my contract at the university wasn’t being extended was reach out to a former “boss” of mine. Matt co-ran my graduate field school at Hardin Village and I was curious what he was up to. He is now the Cumberland District archaeologist down at the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) in Kentucky so I volunteered myself to help him out and he took me up on the offer! And because he’s awesome, he made sure I’d be paid through their volunteer program which does allow some travel and (what they say is “not”) per-diem rates.

[So, just to be clear here in regards to the previous post: I do not think it is ironic that I would rather work without being paid in another state than work as an adjunct in the next city over. I think, rather, that my choice underscores the seriousness of the flaws in academia. I will have more opportunity and future promise through volunteering – for free even! – than working as an adjunct. (And can I also just say how grateful I am to Boy that I can make that “choice”?!)]

Coincidentally, Matt had another person reach out to him about working over the summer. Rachel is an undergraduate, and her family has a historic cabin in the Red River Gorge section of the forest. She had plans to work two months with him already and agreed that I could stay with her for the few weeks I could spend down there. Matt set me up as her supervisor so I could score some more hours in that role as I work toward the Principal Investigator status for archaeological work. I think we may have both been initially a wee bit nervous to be living and working together 24/7 for a few weeks with an unmet stranger, but we befriended each other easily enough!

With my first venture to DBNF, I spent a couple of weeks down there through June and July (yes, during the heat wave!). Our main purpose was to monitor rockshelters. Matt took us out to show us the whats and hows about that process, and we were able to go out with a backcountry ranger and some DBNF interns from other departments to get to some more remote sections. Then Rachel and I were turned loose.

Our first day was disappointing: we spent hours arguing with the GPS who assured us we were in the right spot, but the paperwork begged to differ. We came home without having monitored anything which was very frustrating and I felt quite guilty. The hike was gorgeous and wonderful (and a lot of work!), though. The second day, we tried a different shelter and found it straight away after about an hour’s hike. (These hikes were almost always 100% uphill through dense forest off-trail with only a GPS, compass, and old paperwork to guide us.)

While we sat on a boulder at the dripline catching our breath, I reflected on how rockshelter monitoring is a dream. No shoveling means we weren’t carrying shovels and screens with us (uphill and through the woods, mind you – on top of our packs which already weigh in at nearly 25 pounds), nor were we spending energy digging shovel test probes with poor results (both of these things happened during my Floyd County archaeological survey). The task set upon us was to find a particular shelter among the hundreds scattered around, check for vandalism, search for new information (petroglyphs or disturbed artifacts), and record better data (notes on how best to find it, photos with newer-than-40-year-old-photography, laser measurements, and the like). Seriously, our task was to hike around in the woods and take photos! :D

So, there we were, chillaxing as they say these days, when we heard some very disturbing noises not far off – about 30 feet we estimate. Just on the other side of a plant that is no longer my friend: rhododendron. Lots of brush was being moved around between some THUMP THUMP THUMP noises of something big and unhappy. My first instinct was “oh gosh, it’s a bear!” because let’s be real about this – when I found out there were bears at DBNF, I almost called off the whole thing. Matt assured me that in the three years he has been there, he and anyone he asked had never actually seen a bear (bear signs, yes, absolutely) so we wouldn’t have an issue. Thus, I signed up, but that first day was tense. Every noise as we hiked through had me looking around like a scared rabbit. My imagination can certainly get the best of me in wild ways. But then I realized that was not a sustainable mentality and I put the whole bear business behind me.

We had been going back and forth between her “hush, I want to listen” to my “BUT IF IT IS A BEAR WE ARE SUPPOSE TO BE LOUD” retorts. Rachel, a Montanan more familiar with bears, assured me it was not a bear. But as the sounds grew more agitated, I assured her I no longer cared what it was; I was getting the hell out of there.

I told her I would be walking away from the noise, following the shelter wall, rather than going down where we came up, because I wanted to be far from that thing, whatever it was. I took off, barely able to walk due to wobbly legs. I was legitly scared, folks. I do not give up tasks easily. My senses were very on edge and my only thought was to book it. Rachel lagged behind, probably laughing at me. So I bended a curve and then heard her run at me….with a louder running thumping noise behind her. I hopped behind a tree and turned around just in time to catch her wrist and tell her calmly, “Don’t run,” as I had read that is the very last thing you should try if it is a bear. She said afterward that my eyes were as big as saucers – well, so were hers! While she caught her breath, I heard a distinct vocalization of what I had thought was some scared forest dwelling creature spooked by this giant bear (because in my mind it was giant, of course), and that sound clearly ran down the hill and away. But was the bear that scared it still out there?

We heard no further noises, and my mind was circling around “What do you do when you see that bear charging around the corner? Think dammit!” After a while, I said we will keep walking away, fast but calm. The vegetation was growing so dense, we could barely push through. And then I came to the realization that we were being penned in on a cliff top and had to turn back – we had to turn back to go toward the sound, heaven help us! I regrouped my nerves, restated we should talk loudly so we awkwardly talked about how she had been planning a bridal shower for her friend. Once we reached an area with a little less vegetation (to where we could actually stand side by side), I told her we should probably radio it in just to be on the safe side. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely unzip her backpack to pull out the radio we had been issued. I understood how to use it, but I had no idea the protocols of what people say on there so I simply started with “Hello?”

No one answered and after another failed hello, while I was imagining this giant beast running up from behind me at any moment, I laid into it with our names, what we were doing, and the possibility that there was a bear nearby. That got someone’s attention, though it did not at all sound like he believed me. We were advised to go back to our vehicle calmly and return to the station. How we made our legs continue to move at first is a miracle. Rachel and I tried to talk loudly but our brains weren’t working well. She had a brilliant plan to blast music on her phone and we tried to sing along. We got to the truck just when it started to rain. We radioed back to let the guy know we made it safe. Great! When we get back to the station, we will just play it off like we quit because of the weather. No one need know our crazy experience.

Except that gossip goes fast, especially when everyone is using the same radio frequency, duh! “So, you may have seen a bear, huh?” was the first question anyone asked us. So much for hiding our fears! We showed them on the map where we were and detailed what we experienced. A couple people thought it might have been a buck, but honestly I had been around a very scary large buck in rut in the woods, alone, when I was younger and this was definitely not that. I felt like no one truly believed us, but that isn’t my problem.

As soon as my phone had service, I googled bear noises. I knew I would never find that noise I heard (which I had by then determined was the actual creature who had been making the agitated thump noises) because there is no way I was that close to a bear. Right? And yet, here it is, found rather instantaneously, for you to experience: Click on the first noise, under High Emotion, that reads:

This is a distress sound made by a fearful cub. This sound is commonly made when a cub is separated from its mother. This recording was made while a researcher examined a cub out in the field. The cub was soon released back to the mother.

Identical in almost every single way. I sighed with relief! A silly bear cub. And here we were so afraid of it. I had met a bear cub before (at a bear sanctuary), and it was adorable!

But, when we reported at a different office later that day, we were told we had to report it to the forest biologist, Sandra. She let us know that if it was a bear cub (and she didn’t have a reason to believe it wasn’t, except for the even more remote possibility that it was a wild hog – but I disagree with that option based on what I experienced), we were actually in a very, very dangerous scenario. This is because bear cubs are born in the first two months of the year, and are still with mama bear mid-summer. And this actually jives with the other noises we heard – my wild imagination hadn’t dreamed up the nightmare that there could be more than one scary creature, but now I can picture the noises being made by more than a single animal. So what we all eventually determined to have happened was this:

Rachel and I usually chat a lot but this particular shelter was just above a particularly steep section of a hill so we stopped chatting and going was quite slow since we were tired by this point. When we got to the shelter itself, we barely talked until we drank some water and caught our breath. Then we started chatting and laughing and our voices probably got distorted in the rockshelter, which would have spooked nearby animals. You know, like a mama bear and her cubs. Once we began talking loudly on purpose, I think this further frightened the bears, so at the same time I was telling Rachel that I was getting the hell out of there, Mama Bear was doing the same with her cubs. Rachel and I did not know that the only way down was directly below us (hence we walked around the shelter’s edge), but Mama Bear did and that is why she ran towards us – not to chase Rachel, but just to escape. Little Cub Bear got scared and screamed while chasing Mama downhill. Had we not moved away due to my fear, we would have been squarely in scared Mama Bear’s path of escape, which would likely have been quite devastating for me and Rachel. Thank you, weak stomach, for getting us outta there! Though, I do wonder if my imagination is so powerful that I actually conjured this ordeal up myself! Hmmm…

Matt put us on other work for most of the rest of the time we were there, but we were sent out once more, alone, to see if we could bear it (get it?;). More on all that in another post!

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Thoughts from Teaching

Thursday: October 12, 2017

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This post is about what I learned through my short 5-year career teaching anthropology at the university level. Take it or leave it. I regret none of the hard work and built relationships, though for now, in no way am I upset to be out of it, either! These are in no particular order:


Students have such a disadvantage today than they did even when I was a non-traditional student only about a decade ago. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote this nice summary about it, and if you don’t have access, you can google the title and find it published elsewhere. Essentially, not only does one bad apple ruin the bunch (a student using an electronic device distracts those around him/her), but students today are so enveloped in a digital world that their brain is chemically addicted to the pleasure responses it gives when a new message pops up. That excitement, which becomes literally addictive, becomes intrusive thoughts. Remember when people laughed at the idea one could be addicted to video games like World of Warcraft (W.o.W.aholics)? Fast forward to today, and it’s not so funny. Even when students are “good” and keep their phones out of sight, the brain will sometimes spontaneously wonder if anything new is happening in the world outside the classroom. This is true for many people, of course, not just students. I know sometimes the news gets me. Woe the day news broadcasts became 24/7 with minute by minute updates. Research shows people can’t help it. In fact, I had a girl during an exam decide to text someone mid-test. Who does that?! I gave her a zero. She was sincerely flabbergasted – “it was just a text! it had nothing to do with the test!” I think she may have even gotten sick about it all. I felt evil, but explained that I had no idea if she asked for help on the exam or not and she understood. My rules were very clear!

So what to do? Until I had found that article, I alternated between being apathetic (it’s their loss, not mine!) and being a technology police officer (if they are caught, they are considered absent for that day – and attendance was weighted enough to where that mattered). I couldn’t decide which was best – I know it pissed me off to see students messing around on phones or laptops, but at the same time, this is our society and I wanted to find a way to make it all groove together.

But then I read the article, and it was able to put into words what was niggling at my brain. Henceforth, I maintained the Absolutely No Technology rule. I was happier. Students were less likely to embarrass themselves by having a video play sound loudly from one of those surprise obnoxious commercials, or giggle out loud at something their friend said. I do feel that all students benefitted from it – “good” students were not distracted, and those who would have been playing around on the internet were actually forced to focus more often in class. Yet, I hated calling people out, and felt really persnickety about using the attendance rule. That said, if I kept teaching, I would definitely maintain it. Shrug.


At first, I did not want to weigh in on the “millennial” discussions because every new generation looks poor in the eyes of the previous ones, is it not true? But there is a stark reality between me and my kindred and those I was teaching. In some circles, I am considered by birth year to be a millennial, and I don’t doubt that I do share some traits with them, but what I’ve decided is that sorry, but no. I align with the concept of a between generation – I am also like Gen Xers in important ways. Thus, a goofy term Xennial probably fits me personally best – and I believe “generations” in a meaningful sense will become shorter and shorter because of how quickly our culture is changing with globalization and technology. But that’s not what this is about – this is about the annoying side of my students which I blame largely on their generational culture. Could it be parenting? Could it be changes in the larger society? Could it be different kinds of war? Could it be 24/7 access to information and entertainment in your pocket? The everyone-gets-a-blue-ribbon mentality? Sure, yes, all combined, and more.

I don’t know the why, I just know the reality: too many of my students were entitled. They would sit through class sleeping or texting (if they came at all), participate none, do subpar work on assignments, barely pass tests, and then have the nerve to make an office appointment and not even ask for but to demand an A. I even had a mother write a note about it! How I never looked them squarely in the eyes and simply said WTF, I don’t know. I asked my older colleagues (who had me as a student!) if I am only now seeing the dark side of teaching or if they feel like things have changed. Resoundingly, student attitudes have changed. I saw very little respect for professors coming from these students. Professors were treated as discourteously as I’ve seen some gas station attendants.


Sort of tied to that last thought, how are students suppose to respect professors when the academic system does not? I adjuncted for 3 years, getting paid less than minimum wage when all things were calculated, and making well below the poverty line year after year for my efforts. One semester, my entire course load was cancelled the day before classes started. This is not a sustainable living. As a visiting lecturer for two years, I felt compensated. I felt finally welcomed into the academic setting, welcomed to meetings and committees, a part of the whole rather than the used and abused echelon. I felt like my ideas for the program in general would be heard and that I was being paid to implement them finally instead of just dream about them. And then quick as a whistle, the institute dropped a tenure-track anthropologist, and then dropped the visiting line, leaving only one stable adjunct (with a PhD!) and another adjunct that many took issue with. They replaced the tenure line and the visiting line with two contingent fellowship lines. My predecessor, who retired just before I was hired, built a “four field” program that was really mostly physical, with almost equal cultural, and a tiny bit archaeological, with a single linguistic course tossed in. When I came into the mix, we had several students interested in archaeology so I planned to bump that up a bit once I got the basic courses under way. Today, the institution offers a four year bachelor degree in anthropology with zero full-time faculty strictly devoted to the students’ wellfare, with zero archaeological instructors and zero physical instructors. But you’ve heard this before in a previous post.

So additionally, now that I had access to faculty meetings, I can say the institution of academia perplexes me. They often sounded self-congratulatory about how amazing the teachers are with their unique students (the students, like me when I was one, often have major real-life requirements that I don’t think many professors who went from highschool to bachelor to master to PhD without needing a real job or having real family issues to deal with could ever possibly hope to understand; Ivory Tower, indeed!). It would be like a doctor taking all the credit for delivering a baby when the mother is the one who did all the work! The zenith of my disappointment with a large majority of the faculty was at a meeting when they discovered, lo, that graduates six years later were still making less than 40k a year. The majority in the room sounded dumbstruck! And here I was, in a contingent position after just adjuncting for them for two years barely making a dime, with more than a bachelor’s degree. What did they expect? How clueless and far removed are they from the real world? Plus, 35k a year (I think that was the number given) is not a death sentence. That’s a pretty good gig for most people in my part of the world who don’t have major problems medically or likewise.

There was also big noise about convincing (coercing, I call it) students to graduate in four years (they made 4 classes cost the same as 5, a flat rate). The school gets money from the larger institution based on this four-year rate. Nevermind that being a non-traditional student (like many there were), and/or having real life responsibilities (like paying medical bills for themselves or their close loved ones, yes even at the ripe old age of 17) makes it near impossible to take 5 classes a semester. I mean, heck, a lot of these students could never do five classes simply because they can’t afford a car so they are stuck on someone else’s time and their homelife is not conducive to studying. If the university actually cared about the students instead of pretending they did at every meeting, then I think there would be a better discussion to the bigger budget system than trying to spin it like it is in the students’ best interest to develop panic disorders or drop out if they can’t handle the school load.

Input = Output

Most of my teachers in college and in my master’s program complimented me about how “good” of a student I was. Surely, I was no better than the majority. I barely studied, though I did do my homework (usually). I wrote all papers the night before (or morning of, as the case may be). I did pay attention, and attend, class. Took notes, even – but never looked at them again. I’d call this all midlevel participation, wouldn’t you?

But then I became a teacher and that very first semester, when I was a fish out of water at all the wild things I was experiencing, I knew I really was a “good” student. And it wasn’t my actions that made me one, it was my values. A) I wanted to do well and B) I did not want to disappoint my teacher, even if I disliked them. But this, too, was not enough to be a “good” student.

After reading Teaching Unprepared Students, I realized the other key factor: learning styles. My learning style was being freely given to me in the class format itself. According to VARK, I am multi-modal, which means I learn from all kinds of styles, but my best chance is with auditory and reading. Well, hello! Attend a lecture and read the homework! But for some students, these methods are almost meaningless. In all my classes, I made them take the VARK questionnaire on day one, and then reminded them of their responses and suggestions if they were struggling later in class. They began to see they aren’t objectively “bad” students – they just learn differently than “naturally good” ones. Their self-esteemed improved, and they were able to be successful in classes beyond our anthropology ones. Bingo!


Boy calls me an “empath” because I feel deeply the emotions of others (even if it is a bug, and I am making it up in my head). This was harmful in the beginning of my career because it overwhelmed me. No one told me students would cry in my office – and not about bad grades but about dying family members, utter depression, facing homelessness, or the like. I was a teacher, not a psychiatrist! As empathic as I am, all their issues weighed heavily on me. I doubt students realized it, and for many I was one of the few who “got” it. These were real people, regardless of our teacher-student relationship. I couldn’t be cold and cut them off. I couldn’t push them out of my office because I was too busy. I couldn’t end office hours because I had “more important” things to do. That’s what some faculty did, but I did the opposite. I encouraged students to meet with me – one semester I had over 50 meetings! (That was when I was an adjunct not even being paid for my time!!)

It did get in the way a lot, but I know for certain, some students were better off by having my ear. Or, by the “wisdom” I could impart about how to do school or whatever. I don’t think a teacher is suppose to be so single-minded to only deliver information. I think a teacher is meant to mentor a person into a better person; the education part is the given, while the other values and skills are part and parcel. You cannot teach someone the specifics of a field without their first having a foundation to stand on. And if their parents or highschool or other college professors have let them down, then, yes, I think teachers should pick up the slack. Remember those faculty meetings that rubbed me the wrong way? There is a big divide with that thought. Most professors appeared to feel that if a student couldn’t cut it because they had a poor educational background, then the student should drop out. I’m sorry, but where will that student get the foundation then to get educated? You want them to stay ignorant, with low self-esteem, making bad decisions their whole life because they weren’t born with privilege? Uhm, no. What’s that phrase? It’s misquoted terribly these days, but “be the change you want to see in the world.” Teachers, in my humble opinion, are mentors first. Get rid of the ego.

I think that is why, semester after semester, I would have more than one praise for being the “favorite” or “best” or “most compassionate” teacher on campus. And I never made my classes easy. Some parts were easy, some classes were by default easier than others, but I always attempted to challenge even the brightest in the class. So when I read “best” next to “hardest” from the same anonymous individuals, year after year, I knew I succeeded.

And that mentoring part of teaching is what I miss most. The students lost a great teacher when my contract was not extended, and universities are losing great teachers left and right as they choose to hire contingent faculty rather than open lines with benefits. Contingent faculty cannot sustainably remain awesome. They do not get paid or respected enough to warrant their hard work year after year. Contingency in academia is a big mistake. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing the other way soon and students will actually get what they pay for: an education that makes them better people in society guided by their mentors. This is not all on the universities; this is a societal problem. We need to value education so much more than as “a piece of paper”. Good luck to you all.

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Wednesday: September 27, 2017

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Just popping in to say that my city might have gotten a wee bit cooler with a new art installation (see below) and that my delay in posting is two-fold and almost over! First, it was difficult to manage my photos after Apple stopped supporting Aperture and I rallied against Boy’s solution of Lightroom (I am now demo-ing Capture One and think it will be worth the purchase). Second, I’ve been doing some archaeological work so that’s kept me away for much of the summer.

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Royal Cornwall bird ID

Wednesday: June 7, 2017

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I do intend on writing about my teaching experiences in more detail, such as what worked or didn’t and how I really feel like I mostly conducted ethnographic research during my short 5 year career (being a participating observer more than anything else), but today I want to share something entirely different.

Last fall, I signed up for a Master Naturalist course. While I am still collecting my service hours to become a “master”, I have been putting my identification skills to the test periodically. Today, I will show you birds using something my grandmother gifted me when I was young. Considering it has been in storage for maybe 20 or more years (and moved around, and owned by a younger me), I am impressed not a scratch was discovered on these guys. They are branded “1982 RC” which translates into Royal Cornwall. You can find them on ebay if you so desire, but I cannot really find any information about their production other than they are bisque porcelain and were hand-painted (designed by Christopher Schultz) for the Calhoun’s Garden Bird Miniature Collection.

Some of these birds appeared in a painting I recently finished (it is Reeve’s “Railbirds” paint-by-numbers, though I did not “paint by numbers), so I could easily identify them since I had looked them up once already.

Others were new to me, so I turned to The Cornell Lab’s Merlin Bird ID app and the internet image search. Disclaimer, though: I could be wrong on any one of these, but here goes!

First up, an Eastern Bluebird:

A Bobolink (funny name for a bird!):

I think I may have seen this in Mexico – a Painted Bunting:

Baltimore Oriole is this next one:

A woodpecker named properly as the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker:

A Least Flycatcher:

Easily identifiable Blue Jay:

This one is a Black-Capped Chickadee:

A Golden-Crowned Kinglet:

A Red-Breasted Nuthatch (which isn’t really red anywhere!):

A Cedar Waxwing:

And finally, a Belted Kingfisher:

How does this relate to anthropology, you may be wondering? Well, I can think readily of two ways. First, if you are interested in the cultural anthropology of your own culture, you may enjoy looking into the world of birdwatchers. These are serious folk who travel great distances (even around the world!) to catch a glimpse of particular species. There are birding classes and festivals all around, especially recently here in my area for migration season. Lots of money is invested into birding by people of all types, and this has lead to bird research being coalesced largely from citizen science. That’s pretty darn cool.

The other way it fits is that many cultures appreciate birds, not just people with binoculars. Birds are important parts of diet for some, of course, or as familial pets, or even hold significance in spiritual ways. Feathers, for instance, are proud and powerful symbols of religion (I am thinking Bald Eagle feathers) or beauty (Bird-of-Paradise). Wild birds have formed symbiotic relationships with humans in very cool ways (such as the Honeyguide). So, really, birds are part of what makes us “us” (as much as anything else on our Earth!) if you just look hard enough.

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Spring 2017 & then…

Wednesday: May 10, 2017

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This semester just ended! I had two intro to physical anthropology classes that ran nary a hitch. I also had an upper level bioanthropology course with an accompanying bioanthropology and forensics lab. It was another new course for me, and the book I had to blindly select once again ran a little too close to the information in the intro book I use, though it did go more in depth.

For my intro book, I use Kilgore et al.’s Essentials of Physical Anthropology. For my upper level, I chose Larsen’s Our Origins. What I was able to do, though, is run through all the stuff I cover in intro quickly as a refresher (and included all the new more in-depth stuff) and then slow down with the brand new material. I did add material here and there as well. For the lab, I used Walker-Pacheco’s Exploring Physical Anthropology lab manual, though at times I made my own labs. And for the forensics component, I added Nafte’s Flesh and Bone. It made for a great little reader; since the focus of the course isn’t on forensic anthropology, it was just enough.

Other than a few hang-ups with how long each lab took (I never quite got them to fit within the preferred time frame), the class went well.

So overall, the semester was nice. In fact, one Friday afternoon I was in our lab organizing things and I decided to go all in for teaching. Why not? I am the only full-time anthropologist on campus, and the only physical anthropologist. We have one cultural adjunct who has been steady for years, and another that is hit and miss. Though my Visiting position was limited to a two-year term, my department expected me to be extended to three years, and they were pushing to have the Visiting part of my title dropped so that I would be sticking around much longer. I had been contemplating turning it all down, but with the realization that teaching doesn’t have to suck the life out of you if you are actually given time to prep and classes you are experienced in to teach, and the fact that I would be getting a new Chair who was able to stay on top of things, I decided I should in fact just suck it up and act like a more permanent feature of the department. I did in my actions, but it was time to do so in my head.

So off to the faculty organization meeting I went, thinking about the perspective shift I would need to do in my mind. Afterward I checked my email and lo, my Dean had sent me a note earlier that morning reminding me that my contract was ending. He asked if I would like to stay on as an adjunct in the fall.

I confirmed this news with my colleague (who would be Chair). A huge disappointment all around. I notified our students because quite frankly, I was personally pissed. Not that I was losing my job – in fact, it was amazing I even got the opportunity with only a Master’s (though this is part and parcel to some of the issues I discovered there: the path of least resistance and how I just happened to be there at the right time) and I was aware that it had a 2 year limit when I signed on. Instead, I was angry because as a former student, as a mentor to these students, and as a sane professional, how could the University offer a bachelor’s program without any full time staff? This is the type of stuff I found in the news on and off during my searches about how crappy adjuncting is. Here is an article at the AAA’s Ethics Blog that pretty much summarizes the issue: Fighting Academia’s Contingency Crisis Together. Of course I was professional when I discussed it with them – I asked them not to panic and simply explained how it may affect them (lack of mentorship, lack of letters of recommendation, lack of consistency in courses offered, possible lack of quality of courses because of the trials adjuncts experience to survive in our economy, etc). The students opted to write letters, as did my department. None of it was about me keeping my job – I made it very clear that my contract was over and it was completely fair on the University’s part (even if it didn’t make sense under the circumstances).

I have yet to hear what the University’s plans are (and may never), but it is difficult to remain positive for the program. I declined adjuncting – I would still be expected to carry the load of the physical courses (some outside of my area, and developing new courses) and I would not feel right asking our sociologists whom we share the department with to take over as advisor to the anthropology club or lab and whatnot, so I knew that if I stayed on, I would just enable the current situation further and be paid even less than pennies for a job well done. No thanks.

They notified me mid-semester and it did indeed take the wind out of my sails. Why was I making a brand new class? It was hard to convince myself to stay a good educator, but I think I succeeded overall. It wasn’t the fault of my students and they did not deserve what the University was doing (basically not supporting their major, yet taking their money).

I shifted my perspective – it was nice they told me so early so that I could begin a job search. What happened at the University was no longer my problem.

At the end of the semester, though, they asked if I wanted my contract extended throughout the summer. Curious they didn’t realize they needed me until the last moment, but I was not surprised if I am being honest. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was a science class online (I totally oppose that), and that I would have to develop it since I had never taught it online (besides I hate online classes – as a former student of them and as a teacher of them), and that it started in just a few weeks, I may have considered it more seriously. Instead I politely turned down the offer. I mean, I have been looking for opportunities since they notified me, and it is more important I pursue what I like than throw the towel in for another few months with a company that can’t get it together in my opinion.

It is a bittersweet ending because although teaching is a humongous cosmic joke for me, I excelled at it – I am not ashamed to say that (real funny, Fate!). It is disappointing that I finally came around to the idea to then have the rug pulled from under my feet. It is sad that I can no longer help our region’s students learn how to learn and build the confidence in themselves that they apparently weren’t given within their own support networks. It’s terrible I can’t share my love of anthropology daily with people who have no choice but to listen (ha!). It’s frustrating that the University doesn’t support a major that is more vital today than possibly ever under our new administration and the increasing globalization of our world.

But… though I am nervous about the unknown future, a smile keeps appearing on my face. I am free of the mess of academia (I am not searching for another teaching position). Since the very beginning, I have been confused by how it operates. “Ivory Tower”, indeed – the whole system doesn’t make sense to me, a person who has been “in the real world” as I like to say, at a corporation that mostly made sense in their doings. I am free of the particulars I discovered with this specific University (some which had not been changed since I was a student). I find it humorous that I have been assigned an office in the new building for the fall, by the way. I wonder if I have a name plaque?

So my future plans are this: I have not been job searching. Boy and I had some serious discussions about it and he needs help at his office more regularly than I was giving him while teaching. But it is only part time. My mother-in-law runs a candy store, so I can once again help her out here and there when needed. Again, part-time. The plan for now is to see how bored I get. There is a ton of things to do around the house that was post-poned when I began teaching and me doing it will be cheaper than hiring people. I joined an embroidery guild and will possibly delve deeper with the EGA, learning about the history of stitches and what-not through their education programs. I will focus on my arts & crafts side.

And then I will get bored. So in the back of my mind I have another list: I am free now to actually be a legit volunteer at the Field Museum; I found a community development center that focuses on adult education and English as a second language so I might work there; I can seriously look into archaeological CRM work, or perhaps join DNR at the Dunes (once the current administration realizes the importance of DNR anyway); I can get a second Master’s degree or jump in to a PhD (Boy’s least favorite, of course). Essentially, I’ll be looking casually for experiences until I become bored or money becomes an issue.

What I won’t be doing is looking back at my teaching experience and regretting anything (even the Year From Hell last year). In fact, I can now claim that I made the University pay me back all the money I spent on it and then some, ha!

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Fall 2016

Monday: April 24, 2017

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Phew! I had only intro courses (cultural and physical), and I rocked it. There were ups and downs as always, but I was able to finally get a sense of what teaching looks like down the road: when you aren’t swamped by preparing for new classes at every turn but instead free to hone the courses you’ve already taught.

I updated all my lectures, but also modified them a little to include some teaching philosophy changes. For instance, at the end of every lecture I had a slide with “Before moving forward, be able to:” and a list of items like “compare and contrast gracile vs. robust australopiths” or “summarize the development of anthropological thought” – basically, the main theme for that day’s work.

I incorporated two-minute quizzes for pretty much each class day. This was a single question drawn from the previous day’s reading that was not covered in lecture (and they knew that). It forced them to read, and overall the student evaluations (and scores!) suggested it was a good idea. Students always appreciate “easy points” and some admitted they needed that incentive to do the homework.

In my cultural course, I included discussions regularly. I was a wee bit nervous at first, but I intentionally paired them together with someone different from themselves. I started it with the discussion on race, so before we went into that whole bit, I had everyone self-identify. While they watched a short video, I made a list to pair different races and did my best to also pair opposite sexes (though that is difficult at my university since almost all my students are female) as well as separate people who clearly knew each other. They kept this pairing for the rest of the semester, and if time allowed, I had them group up into larger groups after a short time in just pairs. The student evals spoke volumes on this: it was by far their favorite activity because they learned so much, and it became a reason many listed my course as their favorite. I know from walking around and checking in with each pair that their eyes were definitely getting opened to other people’s experiences and perspectives. To think I was nervous about that, ha!

In my human origins course, I went back to teaching like I did when I was a supplemental instruction leader as an undergrad: I focused on helping them learn how to learn rather than what to learn (that was given in lecture and reading materials, so my performance is what got shifted). I told them personal stories about how I learned (or failed to learn) as an undergrad in the same course, and hounded them about confirmation bias. In almost every lecture, I was able to tie in how confirmation bias is a nasty and devious little thing, and how it is constantly working against them. I pointed out the mishaps students have made in my experience over the last few years. I gave them rhyming and acronym tips, I gave them drawings of charts, I gave them silly jokes – all the things that I had used when I was taking the class, or that other students have shared with me. Again, my evals rolled in and students loved it – in just doing that, I really feel that I was able to add aid to the growing issues of critical thinking and media literacy (as in #fake_news and #alternative_facts).

Overall, I was no longer overwhelmed, and I decided that I could probably pursue the teaching thing. Remember, I never wanted to be a teacher, and I do still find it to be a cosmic joke – especially since I appear to be quite good at it. I was not sold on the idea (administrative issues, as well as super lame things like people who clearly plagiarize and then are quite upset that I fail them, et cetera), but I was no longer fighting against it. [That said, there will be more about my future in teaching coming up.]

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Spring 2016

Sunday: August 21, 2016

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This last semester, several changes were in place to help protect me from the trials of the previous semester “from hell”.

One, the university I taught online for accidentally didn’t list my class in the appropriate section so it was cancelled. While my chair was very apologetic, I practically threw a party over the good news. One less thing to worry about. I’ve since spoken with him about not teaching again any time soon (I hate online classes, both as a former student of them, and now as a teacher). No problemo.

Second, since I was excited for my line-up (two intro physical courses again, archaeology, and ancient burials), I actually got quite a lot completed over winter break. Everything was pretty much set up until spring break. The plan was to work diligently throughout those first few weeks, then really work hard during the break to make it last until the end of the semester.

Unfortunately, the plan was not followed through. The first excuse is that I was still coping with being overly burnt out. During those first few weeks, I just vegged out, but at least it included having fun again and actually spending time with my husband and cats. The second excuse is that I left for spring break for an archaeological project. I know, right? Stupid. Boy said as much, but I needed to get away somehow. And idiotically, I convinced myself that since I was reading and making lectures on the fly all last semester with classes I didn’t care about, so that doing so after spring break with classes that I did enjoy wouldn’t be that troublesome. “You’ll see!” I said.

Of course, the problem of being burnt out was never gone. It only got worse. I had to make decisions. I decided that on Thursdays, after class, there would be zero work. These would be days that Boy would come home early and we would go out to eat. That was very helpful. Another decision, one that I was forced to make, was to let one of my classes take a back seat. Since I had already taught archaeology before, it won that place.

This was very unfortunate, as the first time I taught the class, I was new and not very confident in archaeology (this was before I had had much field experience and earned my qualified professional status). The lectures were super-dull and sometimes did not match the new (and amazingly better) textbook I selected. Oh well. Students didn’t need to know that I could have been awesome; that was a goal I strived for but if they didn’t know I wasn’t giving my all, what was the trouble? (But, did they know? Surely!)

See, I had begun losing my worth ethic. Little did I know how far gone it could go.

But we still did fun things: a lab or two was worth it, we met outside of class for a pedestrian survey, and my colleague came up to add a change of pace with digging STPs on campus. And at the end, we had an ethics discussion that I think all those who attended (only half of the ten enrolled) really enjoyed. I had the club invite a native speaker to talk about NAGPRA and I invited someone from DNR to talk about the legal side of archaeology.

My other class, ancient burials, included half anthro majors and half other kids. It was tough, because I had high expectations. It was evident almost no one was doing the readings (which is funny because my lectures were not from the readings, but the readings were required for their final papers; fools?). I feel like that class went way better than I expected, even if the students were disappointing me left and right. From missing assignments, to failed quizzes, to fully and completely plagiarized papers, I was upset. But, their grades not mine, right?

I had a guest speaker talk about her work in Sicily, and the students had a cemetery project to complete where we all met at a local one, they collected gravestone data, and compared it to a cemetery of their choice. I was impressed with that aspect of their work. One, they all actually came to the cemetery, and two, most of them did a pretty thorough job when they went to go collect their own data. Although it did not play out like I had hoped, overall, I think that class was a success and I would teach it again after some heavy tweaking.

My evaluations rolled in and my into classes remained high. My other classes were mediocre. One student comment made me pretty irate and scoff at how “they don’t deserve me as a teacher”. I’m sorry, but my expectations for the length and quality of a paper is not too high for a 300 level course. I made that class practically impossible to do poorly in to save my own sanity. How dare they:P

On a side note, one of my students was struggling and missing class a lot and finally admitted he got into some legal trouble by hanging around the wrong group of new friends. A real shame that I saw his face plastered across news sites over the summer once some serious charges were pressed. No one explained to me that teaching would be bad for my empathy. That seems to be a lesson I learn over and over again.

All summer I debated on whether or not I would renew my contract, given the chance. I oscillated back and forth so many times I got dizzy. I always knew I would say yes, of course, but there was some deep inner searching happening, for sure. When my boss approved my easier schedule for this coming year, I accepted the position when offered. Fall 2016 should be much easier on me personally. We’ll see – it begins Monday.

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Chert connections

Thursday: July 14, 2016

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I read an article recently about my generation, and how we don’t necessarily match up with Generation X, and I’ll burn anyone who claims we are Millennial (no offense – it’s not your all’s fault). Rather, I am a Generation Y-er and one of our defining characteristics is that we grew up with the internet. Not that we grew up with the internet the way that Americans now grow up with TV, but rather, we were growing during the internet’s own growth. We were just shy of being adults when it went mainstream, and we took to it like ducks to water. It was new, and therefore shrouded in magical mystery. Yet, at the same time, a lot of mistrust was cast over it and everyone you met online was automatically a creep (even though you yourself were online, ha!). I am eternally grateful to have been born in this era because it allows for awesome things like connecting to people far across the globe.

On that, I was contacted today by Dr. Crandell about an old post I had written in which I mentioned an article of his. I’ve since updated it, so if you are interested in geoarchaeology and chert identification, please check it out! I’ve linked to his more thorough paper on the topic, all in English. (The form I originally linked to had been translated into Romanian for that article.) Thank you, Dr. Crandell!

Now this reminds me that I’ve got a student wishing to do an independent study with me from a site where we found a lot of chert flakes (did I mention here that I took my archaeology class to do a pedestrian survey at a farm and definitely found a prehistoric site? More on that, some day). If the landowner does not get back to me before the semester begins to let us continue our investigation, this article would be a good substitute should I need to shift the study into a lab methods course rather than field methods. [And lastly, today I renewed my contract for another year as visiting lecturer, for better or for worse… More on that later, also.]

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Skull pillow

Saturday: June 11, 2016

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I’ve returned from Mexico and have many things I’d like to share, but first I wanted to show something I made yesterday that would be of use for fellow bioarchaeologists: a human skull pillow! Details are at my other blog.


We use them to protect the skull from rolling around on the hard table surface. Skulls can be quite fragile, yet they can provide the best information when analyzing human remains. Under the right conditions, from the skull alone you can determine age at death, sex, ancestry, and possibly even the individual (particularly if you are working under forensic circumstances). Now, of course, we never want just the skull alone, particularly for sexing a skeleton or other special cases, and truthfully we must always be mindful to be population-specific, but either way – we need to protect the remains as best as possible while we have the responsibility of handling them.

I decided to do this since I’ve been asked to help analyze remains next week (yep, I just got back and yet I am leaving town once again – and after that I’ve been invited to an archaeological project near Cahokia!). There never seemed to be enough pillows at the lab there, so I’m donating these.


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Mexico City to Oaxaca City

Thursday: May 19, 2016

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My brother is still traveling the world, and since I have had a “Year of Hell” to quote an episode title of ST: Voyager (a series I’ve been watching lately), I decided to award myself a trip to visit him.

On Monday, I fly into Mexico City for a few nights as we see some archaeological sites around town, then we backpack south to Oaxaca City where I fly back on June 5th. On the way, more sites and cool villages will be visited. It is a speedy two-week journey and I wish there was more time to stay a while longer but alas, my summer is short and I have so much I wanted to do before a possible “Year of Hell, Part 2” occurs (I don’t think Round 2 will be that bad, but still, one never knows!).

I am also concerned about the Zika virus issue. I’m taking precautions to not be bit – permethrin and mosquito net is on order – but then to also try not to be bit for three weeks here upon my return to protect people in my local area? Here? In mosquito haven? I’ll do what I can, including asking the landscapers to spray, which I am normally opposed to. (Disclaimer: the landscapers are my brother-in-law’s company; I am not that fancy. And, Sidebar: I don’t like chemicals that can affect wildlife like bees and other pollinators so I usually am strongly against spraying).

Aside from the seriousness of Zika, my second most unappealing thought for the trip is: What will I eat? I don’t process spice well and my brother tells me “Good luck!”. Hmmm.

[Ha! “Process”? I guess 7 of 9’s vocabulary has assimilated my own…]

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Fall 2015

Saturday: April 30, 2016

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It was a mistake.

I taught two intro physical courses which were fine. I shine best there – I am excited about sharing the class that converted me with others, and I’ve taught it several times to have worked out a lot of the kinks. The students were overall a good group and participated; really, it was a dream. My reviews, as always for that class, were very high.

I taught an intro cultural course online; that just bogged me down too much and I experienced many technical errors that drove my students and I crazy. I even got low reviews from that course, though I am not sure why as the evaluations have not been sent to me. I imagine it is my stance on technical issues – they are the responsibility of the student (I was, of course, directly working with the IT department to try to sort them out, but it was on the student to prove they weren’t just lying; I made it very clear to take screen shots as evidence and I can’t help it if students do not pay attention).

But then I also taught two other courses, neither of which I probably had any business doing, but that is just a symptom of how dysfunctional my department is at the moment. I looked at it like a challenge – I love learning, and this would teach me something I didn’t already know. But it was an overall awful experience because coming off of my 8-week fieldwork and jumping into 5 classes did not allow me to prep in advance. And day after day, I was barely reading ahead, and pulling together lectures. Talk about missing sleep, which really doesn’t help a person cope. But, on its own, that might have been manageable. Might.

But I quickly found out that I did not have the foundation necessary to even teach one of the classes: human biological variation. I knew so little that I spent most of my hours teaching myself. Further, the book I selected was almost only about blood groups. How do you make 7 weeks work of lecture about blood groups? They are different; you find them in different geographical regions; they might protect against different things; I get all that – so? I was so bored, and so lost, that it was a bad combination on top of being so overwhelmed. And the class had all of 5 students, none of them anthropology students, and sometimes up to three wouldn’t show. I couldn’t get them to talk or even be excited on lab days (once we even extracted our own DNA and no one cared at all). It was terrible. Hate is actually the appropriate word I could use. That was my 200 level course. The reviews were meh.

My 400 level course was better – I was in familiar territory with human evolution, but it isn’t my focus. I had I think 7 students, all anthropology majors, and it was better. I struggled with it often, but I liked the material, and the students were much more engaged. I am not sure why, truly, but my reviews were high, with comments such as “the department needs to stop messing around and hire her permanently”, or that “she should get a raise”. Literally, I have no idea where that stuff came from, but it at least helped balance out how I felt with the other class.

I did not have time for anything outside of work. I watched maybe an hour of TV a week to unwind. My brother stayed with us for a month and witnessed my slow demise. I at least used him as an excuse to escape work for a few minutes at a time, but generally my husband and he kept each other company. Boy was not happy about my job, but at least working in an industry often requiring long hours (and being the business owner and sole employee currently), he gets it.

I knew I would never do that again. Yet, I had another semester to get through with my contract, didn’t I? I contemplated quitting so many times – so what if I broke my contract? Academia was not for me. A lot of gloomy google searches took place, and I feel for all the people out there who did have to quit mid-semester.

I spent winter break trying to prep ahead for this semester’s courses – I was excited about them all, but being burnt out is a real mental wall. I did what I could, and knew that right around spring break, I would be right back to where I was in the fall of 2015. More on that later.

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Visiting Lectureship

Saturday: October 10, 2015

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Oi. Yep, that pretty much sums it up. I thought grad school was tough. I thought co-directing field school this summer was hard. Little did I know what awaited me…

I have 4 classes in person, and then I am also teaching an online class at another university since I had already committed before I knew I was hired for this full-time position. Two of the classes are outside of my expertise, which sounded like a great challenge when I agreed to teach them, but this might be me “shooting the goose”. In addition, I have departmental concerns to think of (namely, what is going on with the anthropology program?), the anthropology club (which is being ran by a wonderful group of students who are self-starters and don’t require my approval at every turn, but I must admit my guilt for not being more available), and the resource lab to deal with. Additionally, though it hasn’t begun yet, I am on a committee for the university as well as part of the requirements being full-time.

Is it a mistake that I said yes? I’ll find out once the student evaluations roll in.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t always get to eat. And when I miss a meal, my mind is foggy. It leads to mistakes in lectures and the inability to think on the fly when questions are asked or when I need to randomly find an example. I feel it makes me look ill-prepared or like I have no idea what I am doing, but this is not the case, though they don’t know it. It is only a matter of low blood sugar and way too much on my mind. I’v never been so scatter-brained in my life, and I am not handling that aspect well either.

I can say I don’t hate it, and the benefits are good, and my future self will certainly look back and approve of the challenge I am enduring, and the learning (slash personal growth) that is taking place. But I will have to think very critically if I want to pursue teaching full-time in the future (if the option is opened up to me ever again, considering I do not have those three magic letters at the end of my name). I do like the teaching part, mostly, but the academia side…. Well, I am still having a hard time feeling like I fit in. It is tragically different than the corporate world.

This semester is tough for me because I had no time to prepare for all the classes, of course. Nor did I get to select the classes and make them things I am interested in. Next semester will be different. I’ll have the same two introductory physical anthropology classes, but also archaeology (which I will revamp from last time) and one I made up about ancient burials. When I will have time to prepare for either of those, I have no idea. But, if I do find myself in the same situation that I am in now, where I am literally just a few hours ahead of the students week after stressful week, at least the material will be mostly pleasant (a big portion of the semester thus far was about blood, and I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t get my goat if you know what I mean).

My Chair has heard good things about me, and I know at least some of my department has my back (even if I also heard the opposite), and a student has nominated me as part of a teacher appreciation event, so the good vibes are there, at least for now. But I haven’t had a day off since before field school, so I am overly burnt out, and only half-way through the semester. Which I will correct, to stay optimistic: I am half-way there. Yay!


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“Getting a Grip”

Tuesday: August 11, 2015

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I am reading like mad to get ready for this upcoming semester. For Human Paleontology, one of the books I have chosen is hopefully a light read overall, but educational in the sense that it will teach the bigger evolutionary story of human evolution: Neil Shubin‘s Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body.

I have paused in my reading of Chapter 2, titled “Getting a Grip” because his experience so exactly mirrored my own during the Human Cadaver Prosection program last summer and I wanted to share:

“The moment when we removed the sheet and saw the body for the first time wasn’t nearly as stressful as I’d expected. We were to dissect the chest, so we exposed it while leaving the head, arms, and legs wrapped in preservative-drenched gauze. The tissues did not look very human. Having been treated with a number of preservatives, the body didn’t bleed when cut, and the skin and internal organs had the consistency of rubber…It was all very mechanical, detached, and scientific.

This comfortable illusion was rudely shattered when I uncovered the hand. As I unwrapped the gauze from the fingers – as I saw the joints, fingertips, and fingernails for the first time – I uncovered emotions that had been concealed during the previous few weeks.”

(Vintage Publishing, 2009, p28-29)

I remember having a very strong reaction to my First Patients’ hands. I had found it so odd that the knuckles and fingernails would be such a trigger, of all things. I was happy to have felt a connection, too, even though the emotions startled me. While it worked in my favor, perhaps, to remain so detached in the lab, there were times I wondered what was wrong with me!

My respect and gratitude to all our First Patients, once again.

As an aside, I had to choose books somewhat blindly due to the limited time frame of me knowing what I would be teaching and the delay in shipping review books and the pressure for the bookstore to order things in a timely manner for the students to have on the first day of class. Oi.

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Wednesday: July 29, 2015

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Now I owe posts on Peru and on my HPF grant project! But let me tell you why I am too busy to post now. When my classes got cancelled at my local university this spring, I decided that I cannot do adjuncting anymore. I gave it about a year, which some of you may scoff at, but I’ve been in the real world (no offense meant, but academia is not a normal workplace), and I can get a real job elsewhere that has stability and benefits and a liveable wage. I got my education for myself; it does not define me and I am fully comfortable not working in anthropology as long as whatever work I find feels satisfying. And it feels really good to finally realize that.

Because, if adjuncting is it for me, no thanks. The reality of adjuncting? About 2500$ per class in my area for having an M.S. degree, capped at no more than two or three classes a semester, depending on the university. No benefits, even though you work full-time hours if you have the opportunity to teach 3+ classes (stretched out between multiple universities – which for some people means a lot of commuting). And, depending on the university, you could lose your job the weekend before the semester starts, which is what happened to me this spring. [The other university I teach at does things a little differently – rather than handing over an adjunct’s course load to a full-time professor whose classes got cancelled for low enrollment, they make up the differences in the following semester so you know a few months in advance. That gives you more time to prepare and look for another job to get you through the year.]

So this spring, I wrote a letter to my boss that I wanted to be considered for a full-time position, or I would have to start looking elsewhere. But I did not send it, because, well, I thought it might be a bit naive or something, and I had just found out that a friend didn’t make tenure and was being let go and I didn’t like the timing of it all. Instead, I went on an 8-week archaeological project.

During this time, I got my QP status, huzzah! I submitted my application and CV to the state’s DNR about a week or two into the project. A week later, I became an official Qualified Professional archaeologist for the United States and the state of Indiana (which has separate, higher standards), and I became a Principal Investigator as far as the federal government is concerned (but 21.6 months shy for Indiana). I decided instead, then, to contact the other local universities I had applied to when I first graduated with an updated CV laying out my grant award and new status.

Choices appeared! One school had an adjunct position open to teach a single class, online, in exactly the way they structured it. I decided not to apply – I already don’t prefer online teaching, and to basically be the voice of someone else’s work seemed even more disconnected to me. Another school told me the application steps, which I didn’t have time for. A week or two later, they contacted me back to let me know they had a lecture position upcoming if I was still interested. I was about ready to look into that when I received another email.

My retired advisor informed me that my university had a full-time position now available and I should apply. At this point, I just kind of said to myself, “what the hell!” and sent my letter and CV off to my boss. A couple of phone conversations later (some literally while I was hanging precariously to a cliffside), I got a visiting lecture position.

And so that is why I am busy now. I let the other university know I was taking this job instead and completed my archaeological field work. I could not focus on my teaching grant during that time, so I have to address that first now that I am home. Then, I have to prep for my upcoming courses, two of which are a bit daunting but I’ve come a long way and will trudge ahead at a sustainable speed (a year ago I would have said high speed, but things change). The classes are not my own choosing, but the previous lecturer’s, and they lie a little beyond my speciality but not entirely outside it, so I will manage. I also have to do some research writing for the field work. Ergo, between all that and my lovely ability to procrastinate in times of stress, my schedule is packed.

TL;DR? I have a full-time job beginning in the fall.

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Trowel holster

Sunday: June 7, 2015

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I wanted a holster for my trowel but the ones you can buy just seem so bulky to me. Since Boy had some leather and sinew laying around, I decided to try my hand at making my own. Something low profile that wouldn’t take up precious real estate in my pack, nor add weight. Tada!


The leather tong loosens up to pull the trowel out. Not shown in this image is the neat swirl Boy added to my handle with a wood burner to mark it as mine. I am sure a live-action photo will be taken at some point to showcase it!

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On another adventure!

Friday: June 5, 2015

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So, I owe some detailed posts about my Peru trip, but alas, those are delayed as the HPF grant I was applying for was awarded! I went into the field on May 26th and won’t return until July 18th, or possibly longer depending on how it goes. I had hoped I would have time to address some random items like this blog and my teaching grant in the evenings or weekends, but a project of this scale is new to me and I am busy all day every day! This girl needs a break.

I am learning a lot – about the so-called “red tape” of governmental funds (we weren’t notified until the weekend before field school started), about the technical processes of archaeology (such as sharpening my drawing skills), about organizing archaeological projects (and managing an array of contacts which keeps me glued to my phone and email, yuck), and about managing personnel of all personalities (some of which are more difficult than others). There have been plenty of stressful moments (like not having logistics worked out with the landowners prior to arriving), but nothing is as great as being in the field! (That said, this year I have already been gone a week to Sapelo and three to Peru, so this venture already has me a bit homesick to start. Pity.)

My favorite moments have been drawing site maps and being given the go-ahead to spend the time to make them awesome (though they turn out far from it, unfortunately) and climbing up and down the knobstone terrain looking for flat areas and rock shelters. Does anything in the world beat hiking all day in the woods with a scientific purpose? I think not.

2015_field_school (1)

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Going on an adventure

Friday: April 3, 2015

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I’m going on an adventure. Since I have not yet embarked on it, I will categorize it as an adventure of my dreams (for there does exist a slight resignation that it may end up quite the opposite…) :

  • Free!
  • Extended stay!
  • Foreign culture!
  • Adventure-y activities!

The way my brother sells it, it sure does sound amazing. In a set of unfortunate events, he needs some replacement gear and long story short, it honestly makes more sense to fly me down there pronto, gear in hand.

How could I say no, right?

This trip will include a short stay in a city I’ve already fallen in love with: Lima, Peru. Then we journey north to one of a few areas: Tarapoto, Yurimaguas, or Pucallpa. It will depend on the complete travel arrangements, because either by boat or by plane (since those are the only options), we will end in Iquitos.

Who doesn’t want to float across the river systems in the Amazon? Who doesn’t want to venture to a city inaccessible by road? Who wouldn’t want to stay deep in the heart of the jungle and tour it’s amazing ecosystem?

It is an anthropological dream.

So, next week, I leave for 20 days. Most of my old vaccines are still valid, but I need typhoid again (and for whatever reason the nurse failed to give me the third Hep A last time, so I still need that booster). My malaria pills were picked up today. Between my archaeology stuff and Boy’s survival gear, I have everything I need already.

Somehow, while I am gone, I will need to tackle teaching online and taking a teaching online class. Oi.

I will leave out all of my inhibitions until the next time I post about the excursion. No need to freak you out about the thieving; the tarantulas falling on your face; the boats being plugged with chicken feathers; the e. coli, salmonella, and malaria; or the backpacks being lost to the piranhas, electric eels, alligators, and anacondas that I’ve read about. No need at all…*cough*.

Seriously, though – could you have passed up this adventure? No matter what happens, I know it will be another experience of a lifetime. I mean, it’s nothing a hobbit couldn’t do. (And let me just take this moment to once again be positive about not having a set and stable job at the moment so as to allow me this chance!)

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Grant: Teaching Online

Wednesday: March 25, 2015

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I was contacted by our Center for Innovation and Scholarship in Teaching department at one of the universities I teach at, letting me know that they had a grant with my name on it if I would be interested in taking a course about how to teach online. Duh – of course!

I am not sure how I was nominated for the grant, or if everyone gets one as they take the course, but I am very excited and it couldn’t come at a better time with my current financial woes.

The class starts Monday, but I have already poked around. See, although I am teaching online already, this program interests me very much – beyond the financial carrot:

  • While I have taken an online course as a student, that was many, many years ago. I’ve forgotten what worked and didn’t for me as a student, and technology has changed dramatically since then. What do online courses even look like today? This course will teach me how to design an online class.
  • (What does teaching itself look like? This course might show me how not to feel like such a fraud! Oh, I still giggle at the cosmic joke that life has played on me!)
  • My university is transitioning to a new Learning Management System, and I haven’t had the motivation to look into it yet. I had decided that I would do it when it was essentially forced on me – but approaching it early and with training is a far better idea! This course will teach me how to use the new LMS.

By the way – that new LMS, Canvas? Golden in comparison. Gosh, why didn’t I look into it sooner?!

From what I gather, my classes are already set up pretty much exactly how they need to be, which is great news for me. Of course there are things to tweak and new ideas that I will learn, but the bulk of the course design is solid. One of my fears when I initially accepted the grant contract was that it would be very taxing to start over from scratch – especially now that I have it running fairly smoothly. Thankfully, though, the most work will simply be taking those ideas to the new LMS. Phew!

I am also looking forward to taking this class with other people. I only know one other enrolled, and just barely. He is another physical anthropologist, in a Lectureship position so he gets to participate a little more than I do in the department. Though I seem to have more teaching experience than him (at least when he was first hired), I am interested to see his ideas about teaching anthropology, and seeing the other “students”‘ comments on what works or doesn’t.

I have plenty of questions that I hope get addressed. How do you direct students to participate *meaningfully* in discussions? How do you objectively grade discussions? How do you handle the time-sap that internet communication brings? How to you keep the class fun and personable when they only know you through a screen? How do you keep from getting bored? And so on.

At the end of the course, to accomplish my grant requirements, I will be peer reviewed for the fall semester. Once I fully pass, I will be certified to teach others how to teach anthropology online. This is cool, but at my small university, unlikely to mean much (I was given the disclaimer as such). Clearly, minimum enrollment would just never be satisfied!

Unrelated side note: I am trying to find small ways to still be “active” in the science community so I nominated myself to be Vice Chair for the Anthropology Section for the Indiana Academy of Science. I could not attend due to car woes, but the current Chair let me know that someone present claimed the position, but no one took on Chair itself. Did I want to be the next Chair? I hemmed and hawed and decided to decline instead – how rude is it to take a title if I cannot commit to the responsibilities? I may wish I had taken the role, but there are always future votes when I can actually be present.

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Spring Break at Sapelo Island

Thursday: March 19, 2015

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I was invited to Sapelo to help a friend collect data for his thesis, so of course I had to go! This was one of those times I was happy my other university classes were cancelled since they are not on the same schedule as his (which is where my current online class is). See, there are benefits of being a lowly adjunct;)


I’ve only ever been to Sapelo in the thick of summer, so heading down in March was a dream. Of course, getting there always stinks – and this time more than usual: my engine is sitting in pieces, so I had to take a bus to Indy to then have a 15 hour car ride. (Another win for my classes being cancelled since I cannot drive anywhere! Positive thinking, right?)


The weather was gorgeous. The sky was blue. The only drawback was gnats. Gnats, of all things. Since when are gnats anything other than a mild nuisance? I tell you what – they are on my shitlist with mosquitos, and I have the look of chicken pox to prove it.



The location was equally amazing. Normally, we are in the thick of a Georgian jungle, spending days just machete-ing palmettos, vines, and small trees. This work was staged in a broad field, with giant loblolly (I think) pines looming over us, casting shadows that made the sunshine dabble-y and delicious.



Rather than standard shovel test probes (STPs), we did 50x50cm units. Slower, of course, but more rigorous data collection. And quite a great exercise for a rusty someone like me who missed a season of field work – lots of wall cutting and floor leveling to be done!


The people were awesome too. Our school met up with some UGA students – in fact Zach was tagging onto Brandon’s dissertation work, so Brandon was ultimately in charge. We enjoyed many discussions of Star Trek, video games, and anthropology. I couldn’t have asked for a better group! Plus, I was able to shadow Brandon for a short time to see what fires came up and how to best put them out or prevent them – things I will need to think about for this summer’s HPF granted survey if we are chosen. I also got more experience with the total station, and learned how to resect (rather than backsight)!


We played a few games – one of the traditional Sapelo games now being the “paper game” (some people call it Illustrations). Have you ever tried it? It is like a paper version of telephone mixed with pictionary. You start with a phrase, pass it to your left to someone who draws it, then it is passed again for someone to guess the phrase, passed again for a new drawing, and so on and so forth until it comes back to you. For instance, my phrase morphed into a stick figure with hairy armpits being attacked by weather. As you can guess, a lot of laughs are born with this game!


Aside from the excitement of the work itself, and the friendly chatter of the group, the most exciting thing was that several students found a small stingray trapped in a tidal pool and rescued it. I missed it, but I saw the photos. Pretty cool! And I guess last time, there were manatees swimming with everyone!


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More adjuncting notes!

Thursday: February 26, 2015

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Keith has been keeping a record of his new adjuncting trials (you can begin here), and I’d like to comment about some of his issues from this week’s post because I ran into very similar issues (and still do, actually). Read his current post first, then check back here.

Keith says:

“I had the next lecture ready, and the one after that as well. While I thought it would be helpful to be so far ahead, as I got ready for the class, I was confused about what I would be presenting. The two lectures got jumbled up in my head!”

Ahhh, I know this dilemma well! I learned to use my jumbled comments as segues into the next lecture with a simple “and we will learn more about that next time” or “so when you read about that, now you know how it ties into today’s topic”. In fact, my mistakes in this matter have led me to intentionally create segues, which helps the students see the threads I am weaving and follow them with less difficulty.

Keith came up with a brilliant activity to teach about subsistence strategies and get the students engaged. It’s very clever and I may have to borrow the idea! But, in his first implementation, he ran into some issues immediately and had to formulate a quick Plan B.

“I arrived at the campus early Friday morning to get set up. The classroom opens up into a nice quad area with some hilly lawn. When I started planting frilly toothpicks there, I came to a frightening realization: the toothpicks are nearly invisible in the grass! While having the resources be hard to find to a degree would be fine, but complete camoflage would have made the activity too time-consuming. Also, they could be a hazard for anyone with thin footwear. With fifteen minutes before class started, I needed a new plan, fast.”

Been there, done that as well. [I ignore the picture he paints in my head – most of my classrooms don’t even have windows, let alone an opening straight into a quad!!] This is why I learned to not seek perfection-through-well-preparation because until you have the experience of how it works in front of a classroom, with the constraints of the physical environment and complications of a mass of individuals, you just cannot be fully prepared, ever. Try to do your best, absolutely, but there is no sense in turning class projects into mini-theses with hours and hours and hours of thought behind them. If it falls flat, then you wasted a lot of time!

Make the classroom your fishbowl. Play around with it between semesters. Mold it to not only what works, but what works for you. Keith may tweak his activity until it runs smoothly for him. And if I copied it directly, it still may be a disaster for me, and that’s okay! I’ve read so many articles about teaching anthropology and found so many cool activities that veterans use consistently, but if they do not work for what I want to focus on and my own personality and the type of students I have, then it doesn’t work, period. That does not at all suggest I am a failure. Move on.

He also mentions how discussions with students trigger his own thoughts on the subjects. This is a fun part of teaching, for sure. Sometimes, I will stop lecture right then and there if I am reminded of a video or news article or internet meme (I try to use current events often!). I’ve noticed that this sudden break in routine wakes students up (me too! me too!), allows them to see how easy it is to find information on the internet – or how to critique the information pushed on them, and shows them exactly how I found the information in case they want to show a friend (which will increase their own interest in the subject). It’s a win-win in my eyes. I pause the lecture, search for a half a minute or so, and then BAM! And if I cannot find it, I just say “oh well, I will have this by next class” or sometimes I tell them to check their messages because I will send them the link. Just depends on the issue.

And for that reason, I try not to have lecture/activity prepared to fill up the entire meeting time – I’ve found to have about ten minutes to spare works great – it either gets eaten up during lecture for questions, or before/after for review questions. And if not, well, students are rarely anything but grateful for getting out early.

Of course, now that I’ve taught the same courses a few times, I know where more questions are asked, and where I need to ask more questions to check their understanding before continuing. I can say now that it is much more relaxing and fun to teach Cultural Anthropology and Human Origins. I have a ton of notes I want to fix for the next time I teach Archaeology, and I dread the thought of creating a brand new class (while at the same time dreaming of doing something new and exciting!). For now, my positions at the universities where I teach allow me to be comfortable with these three classes so I needn’t really concern myself of trying something entirely new all over again. (But I have been collecting ideas, for sure!)

In fact, I’ve just been offered a grant to develop an online course (which I am already teaching). Yes please – not only because grants are wicked cool, but because it really would be helpful to get some direction! My reviews thus far have been way, way better than I had expected, but still – always room for improvement!


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Learning to Adjunct

Monday: February 2, 2015

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I have two friends who have embarked on the adjuncting train this semester and I have shared some insights with them that I have learned along the way so I thought I would catalog these here. Remember, I have only been adjuncting since 2012 and in no way do I have things figured out – veterans of teaching will be able to expand much more (or laugh at) but as an early adjunct, I think it worthy to explore what I’ve discovered on my own (and what works for me personally, as these will certainly not work for everyone!).

1. There is so much out there on how to teach the subject I am teaching. I need to read and research everything to make the perfect course.

  • STOP. Your students will not know the difference between the perfect course and whatever course you create. Your students will not know that although you picked article A to go over, article B made better points. Your students will never know the effort you already have put into creating the class.
  • Going down that hole saps all of your time and increases your anxiety as you begin juggling ever-dwindling time with ever-more-creative ideas. You must stop collecting data and just analyze what you already have! Just. Stop.
  • Perfect courses do not exist. You will always be tweaking a class to keep it current. You will find what worked awesome in one semester flopped in another because the student base changed a little. You’ll get better over time. You’ll get bored and want to try new ideas. You must always be dynamic and you can look for new ideas each semester rather than all of them right here and now. Just STOP.

2. I can’t tell if my students are bored or if the material is over their heads. 

  • I pause in lecture and ask recap questions of what we just discussed, or present a question that would be answered with the next segment of lecture.
  • If they know the answers, they are likely bored and I can speed things up, skip over material, or add more complex examples on the fly.
  • If they have no clue, I backtrack to make the questions easier to find out where I lost them. Then I work very slowly over examples – or if time is an issue, I re-present the information differently during the next class with a warning that they need to study that part of their homework before we meet again.

3. My lectures are too short.

  • I drink a lot of tea during lecture – this helps me pause between segments, and the slowed speed lets their minds catch up. It also helps me not answer my own questions too quickly if no one has a response.
  • See above – I ask questions a lot. Just random things I think of on the fly. Or I throw out an example that was in the news recently, to bring it back to why it is important they learn this stuff.
  • Sometimes I have them work with a partner on a “minute” paper – come up with their own example, or answer a tough question together, or something like that and then we go around the room.
  • Depending on how short – is it bad to let them out early every now and then? I think not.

4. My lectures are too long.

  • This was often the case when I first started. I felt the need to cover everything in the text book, provide my own examples, and have a lot of prepared questions ready. What I’ve realized? I am not the textbook’s author and there is no reason I need to cover every detail.
  • Go through the lectures and chop out things that really don’t matter for the big picture. They will read the details in the book. Sometimes I cut huge sections out because it doesn’t jive with what I want to talk about nor have time for. That’s ok. Sometimes I still hold them accountable for it; sometimes, I don’t.
  • I’ve given up on prepared examples and questions for the most part. These easily come to me on the fly because I look for current events almost daily in the news or through internet memes, or whatever I think students might come across.
  • I use the learning management software to send messages out a lot – here I can add small bits of information we did not cover in depth in class, to make up for lost time.

5. One student always answers all my questions.

  • I learn my students’ names within the first week usually. This will obviously not be easy if you are teaching large classes, but I find that a few classes of 30 or less is easy for me.
  • Instead of posing questions to the class, I will start asking individual students. Usually, that one student gets the hint and I can go back to asking the larger group, but if not, at least everyone can have a chance throughout the semester.

6. How do I learn my student’s names?

  • I take formal attendance (as in, I call out their names) the first few days of the semester.
  • During break, or after class, I will jot their names down in the order that they sat in rather than just having an alphabetical list.
  • On day three or so, I will make it a game with them and go around the room trying to figure out their names. They do not seem to mind (and actually seem happy to see me struggle), and I start as soon as people walk in, so that I am not wasting class time. (I usually am a few minutes early.)

7. How do I get my students to talk?

  • Learn their names – and have them learn each other’s names. Not in any formal way, but by hearing you use names all the time, they will pick up on it. Instead of sitting by a stranger, they are sitting by an acquaintance. That is a step away from friends – you are building a camaraderie through names! It becomes a safe place.
  • First, even if I can present questions to the whole class rather than individuals (see point #4), I still call on specific students every now and then.
  • I start by calling on ones that I think will not mind speaking up (these are easy to spot – they answer your questions from day one, or had a lot to say about themselves if you do a quick intro of each other on the first day of class).
  • Then, a few weeks in the semester, everyone is fair game. I’ve noticed that it seems to help prevent the same student always saying they don’t know. Seeing classmates who – to them, at least – appear confident but trying to answer anyway seems to give them support to try themselves.
  • I do not tell a student when s/he is flat out wrong (at least, I have not had to). Instead, I always say something like “well, not really – can someone explain why?” or “sort of, but let’s think of a better way to explain that”. Softening the blow keeps their mind open – they are not as embarrassed and dwelling on those emotions right after you respond. Instead, they are open to hearing the correct explanations.
  • I always ask for others to help out if a student takes too long in answering or says they do not know. This way, they have each other’s back (see the first bullet – create a safe place!).
  • I have seen a student give a crazy answer or ask a silly question, and the class snickers. This is no good! But, it is always easy to stop – quickly, deliberately, but non-chalantly, I will say something like “Now, don’t laugh – it is very easy to understand what so and so is saying when you think about looking at it from this way. Remember, all of us started out in different places, the goal is to end up in the same place when the semester is over.”
  • (That theme, of starting out with different levels of skill/knowledge is something I harp on throughout the semester – and I celebrate it. Each student brings something unique to the table, and I allow them to see that and feel good about it.)
  • I put them in changing groups a lot. By mid-semester, there are no more strangers in the class. They feel fine speaking out.
  • I seem approachable. I get told that to my face, and in my reviews. I am not exactly sure what I do any differently than their other teachers, except I know I do not feel like a teacher (cosmic joke, and all that). Personality probably just plays a huge role here. Try relating to them. I tell them stories about how I sucked at learning this particular segment, but what helped me was studying this particular way. I tell them information and then relate it to their immediate culture – twitter, Harry Potter, ironic hipster memes, whatever. I show them news articles or youtubes that just get me. I think I look like a real person instead of an authority figure. I dunno – I haven’t figured this one out yet.

8. I have students who are failing. Is it me???

  • I thought so, at first. It was hard giving Fs out in the beginning at the end of the semester. But honestly, you have to earn that F the same way you earn an A. It’s not you – it’s them. No matter what sob story they are telling you, it is them.
  • I had a hard time getting over C’s being acceptable to these people. Wow. I mean, even D’s seem to be what some aim for.
  • You can easily separate students who do not try and those who do by seeing who talks to you. If they continually ask for help, and tell you they are trying the things you are suggesting (with proof, like flash cards or something), that is effort. And, they will not get an F. It is illogical that they can try and still fail that badly.

9. Several students dropped at the beginning of the semester. Is it me???

  • No. I use to think it was. But they don’t even know you yet. They signed up thinking they had a blow-off class and realized it isn’t. Or, they signed up to too many classes and had to cancel one. Or, they were on a waitlist for the class they really wanted, and finally got in. Etc, etc, etc.
  • In fact, I use to try to keep students in my class. My naivety assured me that if I could just help them, and they could just try, they can pass the class! Then I realized that some students know themselves better than I do. They know they will not do what it takes. Let them go.

10. What excuses are considered excused absences?

  • Personal choice. My opinions vary much differently than many of my own teachers. But I think this is because I was out in the so-called “real world” for a long long time, while most professors stay within Academia since they entered its doors as undergraduates. I went to a college where school was second to full-time jobs and family responsibilities. I get it – life happens whether it works with your semester schedule or not. For me, punishing students who have outside responsibilities pisses me off because I was one of those students. Instead, I believe these students – who are being responsible, mind you – need more support to get through college than someone who doesn’t have outside responsibilities. It is really easy to have perfect attendance when you do not have a job, a mortgage, or a family. Duh.
  • I write in the syllabus that it is only University approved matters, or things arranged with me prior to their absence. And these things, for me, must be something I would have missed class for. And, with proof. “I got called into work.” Ok – show me some sign of your time sheet. “I will need to take my sister to the airport.” Ok – show me a selfie with the terminal screen that has the day/time. “I was sick” – show me a note (I hate this one because I never went to the doctor myself, but this one is way too easy to fake otherwise). “I had a funeral to attend” – show me the memo card (I hate that! So uncouth to ask for proof of a dead loved one but what can you do?). “I had car troubles” – well those troubles better have resulted in a receipt (which I also hate, but again, too easy to fake).
  • Of course, I am more lenient on good students. Is that fair? I dunno, I guess it depends on how you determine what “good” is. I do not mean A+ students. I mean engaged students who are objectively putting effort into the class. It is a system that works for me.
  • Sometimes I ask students to do a small assignment to make up for it. Something simple, like finding a current news article and writing about how it pertains to class, or something. Be adaptive to whatever happens.

11. I was only going to have one class this semester which I spent all summer prepping. Then, the week before classes started, I was told I would have another type of class to teach, so I am freaking out trying to get it ready. Then, when the semester actually started, I only have one class.

  • Welcome to adjuncting.

I’ve also had to learn how to teach the same subject in a number of different ways: twice a week (1 hour 15 minute classes), three times a week (50 minute classes), once a week (2 hours and 30 minutes), twice a week in the summer (3 hours each), and online (random hours as needed). It’s a mind game, especially when trying to do two different kinds in one semester!

I’ve realized that I do not dislike teaching, but I do dislike adjuncting. Separating the two is a little confusing, I admit, and took me a while to figure out for myself (and is not the fault of any of the departments I work for). Some universities have a less wonky system than others, and some states have gone as far as having adjunct unions. A quick web search will show you that there is a nationwide problem that does not seem to be getting addressed. To summarize what I’ve read on the topic:

  • Enrollment seems to be low no matter where you are in the country, which greatly leads to last minute changes in scheduling.
  • Schools are allowing their full-time professors (with all the great benefits) to retire without replacing them with new full-timers.
  • They are hiring adjuncts (with zero benefits or job security) in their place.
  • These adjuncts now increasingly need to hold PhDs in order to compete.
  • (This prospect, of getting my PhD to only be an adjunct anyway, is one of the reasons the time and investment of a PhD is not on my plate right now.)
  • Without incentive of benefits or permanent positions, adjuncts move around a lot, not investing in any one university.
  • Without better pay or benefits, adjuncts often work second jobs outside of academia, or hold many positions across many campuses. Thus, they are not investing in the universities as much as they would probably like to anyway because their time is spent in other endeavors or commuting.
  • This is all bad news bears. Un-invested teachers lead to un-invested students and un-invested programs.
  • The internet talk urges for change, but no one has an answer. Universities continue to cut budgets (a problem for faculty). Tuition fees are being raised (a problem for students). (All the while, apparently, they are paying higher in administration salaries.) Times are tough, yeah?
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Ceramics Workshop 2014

Sunday: January 18, 2015

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I attended Indiana State Museum’s Conservation and Mending of Low-Fired Ceramics workshop a few months ago. It was great!

On the first day, following a brief lecture about the need for archaeologists to understand how to conserve and mend pottery (because not everyone can afford an actual conservator), we opened by breaking terra cotta pots.


We then learned the process of consolidation, which I knew nothing about. Essentially, ceramics can be very friable – especially low-fired ones such as that in prehistoric archaeological sites – so it is important to reinforce them structurally before gluing them together. That is where an acrylic resin solution (dissolved in acetone) called B-72 comes into play. We used several solutions: 3%, 6%, and 12% to consolidate and 50% to glue. By using B-72, if needed, you can break the mend with a simple acetone vapor bath (which I also learned how to do).

Slender strips of painters tape was used to piece it back together and label the order we would glue the them back together in. We were also asked to leave two pieces out – one from the rim and one from the body (mine included a bit of the base which was a little problematic later).


We then painted around our missing areas with cyclododecane – a type of wax that sublimates (disappears) in room temperature over time. I painted a smiley face to watch it change. The point of this part is so that when we poured plaster, we didn’t get little specks of it around the missing portion.


The next process was to use dental wax to work as a backing for the plaster. Since mine included a little of the bottom, I had to use a roll of clay along the edge as well (this is more evident in the photo below). We mixed some plaster up, poured it on, and let it set.


On the second day, we then learned how to sand the plaster using tiny sticks (these can be seen standing in the rice; we used 220, 400, and 600 grit sand paper). You can also see how my smiley face had started to disappear.


We also took a small scalpel to pop off any bubbles of B-72 that squeezed through from the previous day’s mending.

Then, we learned how to use varaform (a thermoplastic mesh that acts like cloth when briefly set in warm water, then dries hard). Using clingwrap for protection, we pressed the veraform against the pot to get the shape of the rim.


The next part was tough – cutting the varaform to fit inside the missing area. Don’t cut enough, and it will not fit flush. Cut too much, and you cannot glue it to the pot with B-72. Plus, it is thick and difficult to cut. Aside from sanding and filling in the veraform, this probably took me the longest.


Back it with some dental wax again, and the fun time of filling it in came. We used vinyl spackling this time, but the problem here is getting it to fill without air bubbles. It was tedious, but mine came out ok.


Last, in some pieces that will be showcased, like at a museum, the fill needs to be painted to avoid drawing the eye away from the overall piece. We were provided paint chips and small plaster turtles or frogs to try to match. I tried to just match the terra cotta color on my turtle. It was difficult, but I like to think I got pretty close. Part of this project was also to see how paint takes differently to consolidated and non-consolidated plaster (the lighter areas had B-72; the darker areas did not; the whiteish areas are where I wiped the pigment off).

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It was a little pricey for me with my uncertain job outlook and all that, but it was really informative and worth it – we got a handbook of all kinds of articles and supply lists. I am so glad I did not let the price deter me! Gaby and Michele did a great job keeping it fun but educational and answering all of our questions. I got to try out the Eiteljorg Museum Cafe, got some behind-the-scenes look at the Indiana State Museum, and Gaby showed me how to properly hang my crazy quilt which is currently just draped over a giant curtain rod.

Plus, I got to hang out with these fools, in a Schwitzer Wonderland, complete with plastic – uh, I mean ice – skating, so I won’t complain.



I also realized that I just must be a student for life. As Gaby was explaining what she does at the museum, it was like meshing my artsy side with my academic side and I said, “hey, maybe I’ll go back to school to be a museum conservator!”. So, that is on the table now, alongside zooarchaeology, still, and teaching human anatomy (which may be a thing here, local to where I live if Dr. T has his way!). Of course, if only I lived in Indy, where the opportunities seem to already abound…


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Summer in Review

Monday: November 10, 2014

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Well, this blog has sat silent for quite some time now, so let’s catch up.

First, I completed the International Human Cadaver Prosection Program. It was tough for me intellectually since as I mentioned, I know near nothing about soft tissues, but I learned a lot and met a lot of great people. The world of student doctors is different than what I am use to – I felt like an ethnographer, doing some participant-observation.

I was not daunted when it came time to practice our skills on our First Patients. I was in a position to float around and choose which table to work with, and ultimately I lingered around a particular group because I felt I could learn the most from a student doctor named Zach. We had chatted a few times over the course of the program and his bedside manner about my ignorance never made me feel stupid so I went with it. I could ask all the silly questions I needed to!

It was an incredible honor to learn from the First Patients and I am very humbled to have been accepted in the program. If it is something that may interest you, I suggest signing up!

Second, I taught my first summer section – a human origins course with around 13 students if I recall. It felt much too fast-paced, but I suppose that is the price you pay for a summer course. I was finally feeling in the groove of teaching it, too, but now I am not sure how often I will get to. My old advisor decided to retire, and due to the circumstances, the department was forced to hire a temporary Lecturer for now rather than a full-time replacement. Although several people suggested I should apply, without my PhD it wasn’t a likely scenario. And, because our program is small, there isn’t a huge enrollment need for two people teaching the intro course, so the new person gets it for now.

Third, I finally finished the big HPF grant I had been working on, and it was submitted in early October. A frightening experience, but I am glad to have done it just as much as I am glad it is over. I will not find out if we get the money until late spring, though. For now, we must wait.

The fall semester is wrapping up soon, and I am still learning a lot. I struggle with what kind of teacher I want to be (if any, to be honest, but we knew that already). I have fun on some days, and on other days I feel rather blah. Sometimes I feel inspired to help the students, and sometimes they drain all my energy. Of course, what teacher doesn’t feel these ways at times?

I have one in-person course once a week (another new challenge) and two online courses. Although it is the same course – cultural anthropology, this is actually very confusing for me. Two different universities, two different time zones, and essentially three different formats. I get dates messed up, which then I have to adjust because it isn’t their fault I say one thing but its written on paper for a different day.

Next semester, I will have anywhere from two to four classes. Another archaeology (which may fail to carry since it is part of a scheduling conflict with another required course), and up to three cultural anthropologies. And it may be another trying semester of learning how to pace courses if I do get all the culturals. One will be online (a certainty), one will be a normal twice-a-week class (possibly given to someone else), and one will be a three-times-a-week class (a quasi-certainty). I’ll be confused all over again, but on the upside, I will learn how to handle all kinds of scheduling for future semesters. And, none of them will be at 8:30am where I struggle to be alive like now…


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I held a human heart

Thursday: June 26, 2014

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Yesterday was our last lecture class for the IHCPP program. One of the components was a show and tell of various organs. As they were being unboxed and passed around, I was analyzing my feelings about how it would feel to hold them in my hands.

A heart. A brain. Kidney. Pancreas and spleen. And another heart that was cut in half so we could see its interior.

A few students also gave presentations. We had a great time learning to juggle (C gave a presentation on how his experience in Clown School will impact his role as a doctor). I cannot really comment on the other ones, as I must abide to the confidentiality laws.

Now that the lecture series is over, I thought I could take a moment to write my thoughts. First, I feel utterly out of place. Almost everyone has a medical background and certainly a medical interest. These words being tossed around are not completely foreign to them. I can’t even put together things with root words I know because they are just that far out of my vocabulary. It has been quite a while since the last time I felt I couldn’t bring anything at all to the table. A nice kick of humility is good every now and then, eh?

Now, to counter that, I feel great about my osteo knowledge. Even knowing I haven’t had much practice for almost two years now, I can still side and name things readily enough. The irony is that in this crash course of gross anatomy, it seems that more attention is given to the bones than the soft tissues to bring everyone (else) up to speed. Of course, that is more likely only because there is so much to learn, almost all of it 100% new to me that I can’t keep up, and then when we get to the bones, I have a moment to relax so it feels uneven.

Third, I really am approaching this experience through such a different context than probably anyone else in the class. As mentioned, I have no medical background and it is a challenge, but what I mean goes beyond that. In discussions, the type of questions I want to raise are vastly different than the type being asked and although I know (and feel that) I am completely welcome to ask them, they seem much too irrelevant for the rest of the class. No one other than me wants to know how to apply all this to fragmented skeletons in the archaeological record, not when there are living people suffering through diseases that they can help.

Lastly, I am grateful my first summer class did not carry. Dr. T. assigns homework after each lecture, and let me tell you, they can be quite the doozy! I haven’t been that crazed over finding answers in who knows how long. I was looking up words used in the question just to understand what was being asked. I had my notes and handouts from class, Gray’s Anatomy, Human Osteology, The Human Anatomy Coloring Book, and Anatomy and Physiology out on the table, in addition to things on Wikipedia and the greater internet. It was intense! But I am loving the challenge. It is really pushing me, and I just know the pay off will be immeasurable.

Our first patients arrive in two weeks, followed by our rides in ambulances to the local hospital to get them imaged with xrays, CTs, and MRIs. Then we will begin the prosection and hold a memorial to honor them. I’ll write about my experience again when it is over.

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Prehistoric Pottery Workshop

Wednesday: May 21, 2014

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Last year, I attended the Prehistoric Earth and Fire Pottery Workshop at the Taylor Center of Natural History (Strawtown Koteewi Park). I have been there on several occasions, and that is where the Indiana Archaeology Council meets (which I am now a part of). This time, they were hosting Erik Vosteen from the Great Lakes Lifeways Institute to run a prehistoric pottery workshop. I was late because they are in a different time zone 3 hours away, so it was difficult to wake up on time – and although I should have made it by just a hair, a major route I needed ended up being closed. Oi.


I missed the presenation, which bothered me but until time travel is an option, what can you do? To make the pots, we began with natural clay. We picked out some fibers, sticks, and big rocks, then we added grit.


I met up with my undergrad pals (it was a great reunion!) and none of us really thought to take pictures so this is all I have from the making of the pots.


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I had to make the trip again the following weekend to fire the pots, and Boy came because there was a public event. He, of course, took photos. The pots were ready to be baked, carefully placed by Erik.


The first thing we needed to do was make a big roaring fire. It was honestly the hottest fire I had ever been around (could be because I am normally only around fires in the fall, at night, when it is cold).

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Then we hung out a while (not long at all, it seemed) and he dug the pots out carefully to let them cool. It was really neat to see the clay turn glowing red hot.

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The public event included eating natural popcorn. This flavor is called strawberry corn, and I think you can see why.


We also got to practice using atlatls, which are one of the oldest weapons we know of archaeologically. They are spear-throwers – essentially extending the arm so that physics can do its thing and get a lot of force behind throwing a javelin. One person can throw a dart and kill a deer. There is increased interest in atlatls and you can watch plenty of youtube videos about them. (A lot of the “arrowheads” people find are actually atlatl points – much too big for a bow and arrow.) I expected throwing them to be difficult, but its a very fluid movement. I couldn’t aim very well but I could make the dart go much further than I would have expected!

prehistoric_pottery_workshop7I do not have a photo of my pot before I began using it as a humidifier with my wood stove. Our water, being well water and all, is gross. So it has a lot of minerals in it which created a white crusty coating on my pot and splattered all over the stove. It did seem to work though as a humidifier so I didn’t mind. After a while, however, it started disintegrating the rim. I don’t mind that either – it is neat to watch it change and sparks a lot of questions about ancient peoples and their pots.

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IHCPP 2014

Sunday: April 27, 2014

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I was sent this news article, regarding the International Human Cadaver Prosection Program (IHCPP): IUN Cadaver Study Program Draws Students from Across Nation, Globe.

I have begun reading the materials and I am very excited to be a part of this. I think it will be a life-changing event, not just for the educational skills, but also because I will be a part of something very special. Dr. T has also asked us to introduce ourselves to each other via email, and I am looking forward to meeting my fellow team members. Some have great experience already and all are very enthusiastic – lots of positive energy; I love it.

My semester is coming to an end – one more week then it’s finals. I will be revamping my syllabi according to the guidelines presenting in Teaching Unprepared Students and I will follow up my post about that soon.

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Human Cadaver Prosection

Saturday: April 19, 2014

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I have been accepted into the 2014 International Human Cadaver Prosection Program. I have almost applied pretty much every year since the early 2000’s but chickened out – not necessarily because of its topic alone, but because I never understood the schedule well enough to know how it would impact my job. This year, my job is much different, and there is more meaning behind the program for me now than just as a curiosity.

Now, as a trained bioarchaeologist, one of the things I lack in formal education is a true gross anatomy experience. This program offers a crash course in that, and then the ability to observe it in the real. In the program, prosectors will prepare the donors for IU medical students. There are also several workshops, including suturing and radiography.

I am excited to be able to add this to my education! Out of over 200 applicants, only 48 were accepted so it is an honor, as well. One of the items included in the application packet was a description of what the experience will mean to me. I had to think for quite some time on a response. In bioarchaeology, working with ancient skeletons easily removes the connection to an identity – it is too difficult to really understand what a person looked like in life, and the social relationships that were broken when they died. But with a donor, the identity of a face and body is clearly there, and one of the things I really appreciate about the program is that the donors’ families are involved in a memorial service. For the donor to have offered their body in death as an educational tool is such an openly intimate gift, and I struggled with answering the questions in the application in the short length requirements.

I don’t believe I will have any trouble with the training, either. As I may have mentioned before, I grew up with my grandparents offering butchering services for deer (and they butchered their own cows). I more recently witnessed an autopsy being performed. I was very uncertain how I would handle that – such a different context obviously than a deer for meat. I was awed, though I know I would not want to be the one to do that day after day after day. I’ve always been drawn to the dead and decaying – the process of how life returns to earth simply intrigues me, what can I say?

Just this past weekend, I found a scapula in my woodpile, a full pelvis (with sacrum) in the woods, and my neighbor gave me a chipmunk his cat had killed (it’s sitting out back waiting to decay). When I get a chance, I’ll clean the bones up and identify what species they are. One of the things I would seriously consider for returning to graduate school to get a doctorate is zooarchaeology. I really enjoy comparative osteology and the ability to find something out there and know what it was!

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Teaching Unprepared Students

Monday: April 7, 2014

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This post is a combination of my personal opinion from asking students questions during office visits, comparisons made between universities where I have taught the same class, and a book that may hold some answers. Part 1:

I am currently teaching at the university where I received my undergraduate degree. I have a good understanding of the students, which are quite different than the students I met at the university where I gained my graduate degree (and the ones I taught there my last year). These students live at home or have apartments and mortgages in the local area (there are no dorms). Therefore, most of them have part time jobs and many have full time jobs and almost all of them have long commute times (averaging probably 20 minutes to over 2 hours). Some have family members they must take care of, and a lot are parents themselves (even the freshman); there are many non-traditional students in the mix, too. Economic classes differ as well – a lot of low-middle to low income kids come through these doors. First generation college kids without a clue how these things work. And while some of the local high schools are perfectly normal or even rated high, some in the greater region from which these students are drawn from fall below the curve, so to speak. Overall, their mindset is probably different than the students found at most large campuses – if school was their single priority in life, they typically do not wind up at this university. Of course, some take it very seriously (like I did, toward the end), but many here look at school as a necessary requirement because their parents told them to, or they believe that “the piece of paper” will make their life better in some way. For several, school is not about the education one receives, but the hoops required to jump through to get a job.

I knew all this when I took the teaching job. However, I was blown away at just how much these characteristics play in each student’s attitude toward their time at university. So much so that during one pointedly low weekend, I decided I never wanted to teach again. (It’s been a rough winter, ok?) But the scientific side of me kept coming back to my Human Origins class – how could teaching the same material have such absurdly different results between two campuses? It couldn’t be that I just can’t teach – it was something about my interaction with the average type of student here. So, what was different?

I began really formulating some type of ephemeral pedagogy (gah, I have always hated that word!). I was brainstorming ideas, but unfortunately I found myself with too much on my plate to really implement them. I mean…would anything really work anyway? I had no idea how to teach – no one teaches college instructors on the hows of it! Yet, I got rated so highly at the other university – why weren’t my ideas working here?

Then one day in my email box, a book club was announced from the other university. “Teaching Unprepared Students: Strategies for Promoting Success and Retention in Higher Education” by Kathleen F. Gabriel. A book club, how dorky was that? Yes, that was my first reaction. But then came the “well, I’ve never done a book club before…I am not even sure what it entails and all that” so I was to avoid addressing it for all of a day. Because finally, I said, “this is a long shot, but it sounds exactly like what I need. I will go out on a limb and join it.” In fact, there was trouble with shipping me the book and I kept pressing them for a copy because I finally realized that I had to learn something about teaching if I was to make it through the semester.

The book came and I learned that my ideas, which had been cobbled together from my own experience with a vast amount of teachers and relations with other students, were exactly on point. That was a fire lit for my self-confidence, for one thing. But the trouble was that I didn’t go deep enough with my ideas. And, as mentioned, I had made some key mistakes which set the path for this clunky journey I’ve been on ever since.

This post will continue in part two, explaining what I learned. But it has given me the gumption to stick at it, to enjoy it again like I had my first year (which was a true surprise). I like my students, and I may not teach forever, or be given the opportunities to teach every semester, but that one low weekend of ill thoughts is behind me. What lies ahead are a lot of minor tweaks which will hopefully solve major problems.

It’s just exhausting being a new teacher, you know?

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In the game

Friday: March 14, 2014

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Sorry about that, there was an issue with search engine indexing that took a while to correct. I’ll be back in the action of posting somewhat regularly soon (whatever that means for this site, anyway). I did compile some notes about my experiences this semester so far while it was down. Here are a few points that I would like to share:

  • I am surprised at (and truly appreciate) how supportive of me personally the department seems to be. I guess I did not really feel that way at the bank, looking back (where I was for about 11 years). But then again, it wasn’t like there was room for improvement really unless I changed departments there. Being a new teacher – there is plenty of room!
  • The IU system had some kinks when they reissued my student ID number, which have finally all been corrected. The interlibrary loan system (ILL) was a real problem for me, and became very frustrating for my students as well, which may have set the tone for them to not read several assignments…
  • Over break I enjoyed “PJ days” 24/7, but sadly this has been moved to 24/5. I had trouble accepting that a real job could have so much flexibility, actually (the years at the bank brainwashed me). Not just in how I spend my time (I’m only required to be on campus 6 hours a week, though the amount of work it takes for preparing each class certainly makes it a full time job), but mostly in that I define my own goals and timelines for the courses. Duh, right? But it isn’t that easy – I am still adjusting my mindset on where to draw the line. There are no rules for teaching…
  • There are no rules for teaching! I learned this when I taught at UIndy, actually. No one ever taught me how to teach (indeed, I never ever wanted to be a teacher so I never ever really thought about how). No one taught me how to plan a semester. How to assess learning. How to manage time with students contacting me, scheduling appointments, grading papers, writing lectures, etc. How to deal with students who were unable to get their books for the first month of class. How to deal with students unprepared for college in general. How to deal with Polar Vortexes that have cancelled my classes 5 times. [When I originally jotted these notes down, there was also a recent college shooting – I am certainly not prepared to handle anything of that sort.] I am amazed (yet not surprised from my own past experiences as a student) that Universities don’t offer at least a workshop for new teachers. Maybe some do, I dunno.

But this is also what I have learned, halfway through the semester: I am incredibly right and I have made key mistakes. Yes, at the same time. In another post, I will address this comment.

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Class Design

Saturday: December 14, 2013

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Lately, I’ve felt like I am back in grad school, working on a grant application and reading a slew of books to prep for teaching. I’ve noted three main areas of stress for that:

1. Selecting a book:

2. Reading the materials in time:

    • I am aware that some time can be saved by just simply staying ahead of the students week by week but that is not my style, at least for now as a new teacher. Firstly, I need to read everything to even understand what I want to include overall in the course of the class. Secondly, I may decide to rearrange chapters or it may inspire me to hunt down a movie or other readings. And lastly, I want to be able to hint at future ideas and paint a big picture throughout the semester, not just at the end, looking backward.

3. Structuring the course schedule:

    • Once all the materials are read and gathered, I have to lay it out into a temporal form. This is the hardest part for me – not only because I am new at it all, but also because I am going from teaching 50 minute classes three days a week to 75 minute classes twice a week (and then in the summer, to 3 hour classes twice a week). With my very first class, Cultural Anthropology, I created a timeline without dates. In my opinion, that is not very hard to follow but apparently some students had issue with “not knowing when anything was due” (even though, as I likely expressed here already, I made it very clear each week verbally and through email). However, by my second semester, when I had figured out how many slides fit a lecture, I was able to easily abide by dates. That is sort of out the window now, though, with the difference in class schedule.

Once my books were committed, I felt relief – the bookstore could do their thing and students would be ready the first week of class. I was originally daunted at getting all the materials read on time, but I’ve cut back a bit helping at Boy’s office (though I have helped out at the Candy Store a bit) and slowed down on the grant application for a while. I just got the Ceren book today, and I have 20 pages left in the Biocultural book, the rest are read, so I am good to go there, holidays notwithstanding. I’ve mostly fleshed out a schedule for archaeology but I still need to get a grip on physical anthropology.

And then there are the lectures. I’ve never had trouble making power points (though I can get quite OCD with finding just the right picture and have ventured down many rabbit holes on the internet because of it, wasting a lot of time!). As long as I know what I want to cover, I do agree that these can be made on the fly throughout the semester, so I am not terribly worried that they may not all be ready to go in time. Will my future self hate me for it? Possibly. But I also want to try to not rely on powerpoints as much this round. They will certainly be central to my lectures (it is the way I was primarily taught, and I do think that it helps students organize idea segments into linear thoughts that are easier to recall) but I want to utilize the board and in-class exercises more. I started playing with the board by the end of my first semester and used it a lot more in my second, so that shan’t be too difficult either. I don’t want to talk at them, but rather to them. The ones who listen, anyway.

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Spring opportunity

Tuesday: October 29, 2013

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My alma mater contacted me today and offered me two classes this spring, which means I have a full load from them in both the spring and summer sessions. I will teach three sections of Human Origins and Prehistory (which, as mentioned before, is like the Monkeys, Apes, and Humans course I taught at UIndy), and an Introduction to Archaeology class. When I took that class as an undergrad, I found it completely boring. I’ll do my best to jazz it up, but I am not sure how many material goods I will have at hand in the lab for hands-on experience. I’ve conferred with Dr. M to choose a book and I can use the public archaeology event he hosts at Lew Wallace in my course too. At least that is something!

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One down…

Friday: October 25, 2013

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I have contacted several local schools (less than 45 minute drive) and unfortunately no one is hiring an anthropology adjunct at this time, though they have added me to their files for future reference. Some conversations were discouraging – for instance, only having a single anthropology class, so of course that is filled every semester; only having online classes (can you imagine taking cultural or archaeology online, without any hands-on components? How utterly boring! I would have certainly been turned off from anthropology!); not having offered an anthropology class in years…But other conversations were great. One university said they would hire me immediately but just didn’t have the funding for it, and the others seemed excited but couldn’t hire me for the same reason.

I have thus just expanded my search to include schools within an hour and a half drive. I do not like this concept as it means I may get a job on the north side of Chicago – not a bad place, but the fact I would be driving *through* the city to get there is not a selling point. So far, I have just contacted my two favorite universities. We will see if they bite, and if not, there are still plenty within that distance to contact.

My alma mater did get back to me, however, and though they do not have an opening in the spring, I have been given a class each summer session. The department is going through a lot of changes (a new chair, a possible retirement, posting for a full time professor, and so on) so I am not sure what lies ahead, but this is a start. I am a little nervous teaching over the summer, having barely any teaching experience as is, because the classes are longer and the weeks are shorter, but I am still very excited! I am somewhat bummed that I probably will be unable to go to Georgia, though, but perhaps they will schedule that so I could pop in for the week between semesters.

The class I will teach is Human Origins and Prehistory (almost identical to the Monkeys, Apes, and Humans class I taught this spring). When I took it, there was no lab component, but I believe that is important – it really makes science accessible to students who do not realize they can do science. And, of course, it makes learning about the species and objects so much more interesting being able to lay your hands on them. I will need to get into the lab and see how it has grown since my time there.

On a side note, I am probably going to be able to attend BARFAA, in Ohio, this November. It will be a cool experience, to attend without the stress of presenting!!

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“Chance for an adventurous…”

Tuesday: October 8, 2013

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My friend passed this twitter link to me, and it really sounds too good to be true. I have been wanting to go to Africa forever, but the airfare is ridiculous. And toss in the fact that I would be doing anthropology, and further – with Lee Berger’s crew? Seriously. I will not qualify compared to Ph.D.’s and the like, but no harm in applying right? Besides, I sat next to him at the AAPA’s and he’s just a normal dude, like any of my own teachers. Right?

Well, so, I may not be a professional group here, but here is the ad:

Dear Colleagues – I need the help of the whole community and for you to reach out to as many related professional groups as possible. We need perhaps three or four individuals with excellent archaeological/palaeontological and excavation skills for a short term project that may kick off as early as November 1st 2013 and last the month if all logistics go as planned. The catch is this – the person must be skinny and preferably small. They must not be claustrophobic, they must be fit, they should have some caving experience, climbing experience would be a bonus. They must be willing to work in cramped quarters, have a good attitude and be a team player. Given the highly specialized, and perhaps rare nature of what I am looking for, I would be willing to look at an experienced Ph.D. student or a very well trained Masters student, even though the more experience the better (PH.D.’s and senior scientists most welcome). No age limit here either. I do not think we will have much money available for pay – but we will cover flights, accommodation (though much will be field accom., food and of course there will be guaranteed collaboration further up the road). Anyone interested please contact me directly on copied to my assistant . My deadlines on this are extremely tight so as far as anyone can spread the word, among professional groups.
Many thanks

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Project change!

Friday: October 4, 2013

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My summer 2014 project is now a summer 2015 project. Not for any bad reason. On the contrary, the connections we’ve made in the county have been so awesome we can now make our grant proposal so much more cooler. This at first made me sad because I was really looking forward to it, but then I realized just how intense the delayed gratification will be. We have so much more time to put everything together, to continue getting support, to write the best proposal ever. It certainly is for the best, and I am more excited now, I think, than I was when we first tentatively started this thing.

Things on my plate:

  • Co-authoring an article
  • Sending out my CV to local schools to teach next semester
  • Learning HTML mumbo jumbo (for realz this time), to help Boy, to entertain myself
  • Organizing the Floyd County stuff as it continues to roll in, including scheduling meetings
  • Fix stuff around the house (painting, carpentry, yard work)
  • Planning for a conference in November

You know, when I found out I was not going to have an adjunct position this fall, I was terribly concerned how bored I would be. No problem there!

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Summer 2014 Project

Tuesday: September 24, 2013

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I have been working on a grant application through the DNR to conduct a county-wide archaeological survey next summer. It is due on October 4th, but it will take a few more months to find out if we won the money. To raise public awareness, we started a website. Check it out:

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Sapelo Island, Georgia 2012

Thursday: September 12, 2013

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Roughly every summer, UIndy teams up with the University of Kentucky to investigate Sapelo Island, Georgia, searching for the Spanish mission that was there. Sapelo is such a neat place – it is isolated from the mainland: only the few inhabitants (less than 50 according to this ESPN video, featuring Hog Hammock’s Allen Bailey of football fame), some DNR folk, and people with permission can be on the island.

When the Spanish lost the island, it became a plantation island and unfortunately was part of our slave history. The inhabitants on the island now, therefore, are almost exclusively descendants from the slaves that originally worked the fields. They have maintained aspects of their Gullah/Geechee culture and continue to experience oppression.

Recently, there has been a huge issue with virtually being taxed off the island, which is ridiculous considering there is no hospital, police, firehouse, only about one single paved road, a teensy weensy mart, small houses, some with swamps for yards, etc, etc. While we were there over the summer, actually, I asked a fellow ferry passenger if he was from Sapelo (good chances, considering the ferry isn’t public, and it was a special late night run – normally the ferry only runs twice a day). He informed me that the reason there was a late night ferry was to meet with lawyers to try to overturn the Georgian increase in taxes. That is still an on-going problem. There is a petition to be signed at MoveOn Petitions and and you can learn a little about the people from The Sapelo Project.

I feel so lucky to get to visit the island and enjoy the peaceful environment. Here are the adventures from my first visit. I will have a second post about 2013.


We were offered a free night’s stay on the mainland the night before the ferry at a house owned by the DNR. Looks lovely, right? Never judge a house by its facade: this place was absolutely crawling with roaches. None of us slept well (some chose to sleep in the vehicles, it was that bad!)


We had to cart all our gear on the 16 hour drive to Sapelo then get it loaded on the ferry. The ferry only runs twice a day and during our field hours, so we were basically stuck on the island until the first weekend. We needed groceries, bedding, and all.

Sapelo has several points of interest, and we eventually explored them all. I list them here in order of this sign.


Sapelo Island points of interest.


Only one or two roads are paved. Most look like this (even the ones in town). Actually, the ones on the north end of the island where we work is much more overgrown and the jungle is much denser.


The Reynolds Mansion. It has a sordid history of slavery but now stands as a beautiful pavilion for weddings.

We took a trip to the lighthouse, where Bean found a geocache site. It was pretty cool but we did not have a pen to leave a note in their book, nor did we have anything to trade. It was my first introduction to actual geocaching (I have been interested in it since the 90’s), and it is on my list of things to do when I join the new era of smart phones.


Sapelo Island Lighthouse.

There are two beaches on Sapelo (though technically Cabretta is on an island of its own, I guess). We joke about them being crowded when we see one other person. It is peacefully beautiful, and the residents are so lucky that, so far anyway, there has not been rampant development like that found on other islands (think Hilton Head).


Bean clearing the beach.


I rather enjoyed flipping all these horseshoe crabs over to look at their face-huggery-ness. They are quite large and creepy.

There is one town on the island – Hog Hammock. It was not always this way. Cornelia Walker Bailey outlines the history of the island and the reasons the other towns are no longer extant in her book God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man. I read it during my 2013 trip, and if you like hearing tales about family history, local myths, and the struggle that these islanders endured, you will enjoy it.


The sign may be a bit outdated as the ESPN video cited less than 50 residents now.


Sapelo’s public library. Dr. J. had a presentation here about our work for the public, which we attended. They have a great selection of books about the island and its people.


Behind the library is a basketball court, where we hung out with Marvin for a bit (someone Zach had met the year before). In front is this playground, where Zach ended up with a probable concussion after the swingset leg fell directly on his head. No joke.

I kept hearing about this Low Country Boil we were going to attend. It sounded expensive at the time, and I am quite a picky eater so I was afraid it would be a waste of my money. However, I really do want to be a visitor and not a tourist, and so doing anything that links me to the actual culture of where I am is very important to me.


Lula’s Kitchen – the site of the legendary low country boil.


We didn’t know it yet, but we were about to embark on a magical culinary journey into the evil world of OverEating. To say it was delicious and satisfying is not enough.

The island, as mentioned, has a slavery part. Cornelia wrote beautifully on how it made her family strong – to have survived the journeys across the sea, to survive the hardships of slavery itself, to endure the separate but equal era, and to be where she is now. It is easy as a visitor to look at sites like the Reynolds Mansion and not be aware of its part in the industry, and even to look upon the remains of the Chocolate Plantation, below, and not really see it for what it is. Ruins can be beautiful when the ugly past is forgotten, eh? At least, according to Cornelia’s family tradition, the slave owners on Sapelo were nicer than elsewhere.


Partially restored Chocolate Plantation buildings (no, cocoa was not grown here).


Another view of Chocolate.


The buildings were built with tabby construction – a mix of water, lime, and shell (mostly oyster) that creates a cement. Sometimes, other random bits like broken pottery would also get in the mix.

Sapelo features three major shell rings (you can read about them at the New Georgia Encyclopedia). No one knows for sure why they were created, but some hypotheses are floating around: intentional rings for ceremonial use or trash rings from circular villages. Basically, they are mounds in a circle shape build primarily with shell refuse.


The largest shell ring on Sapelo – once upon a time a trench was dug through it. You can see the size of the mound as Zach, a fairly tall dude, walks through the trench (though the total height is a bit obscured by the lovely Spanish moss – which, incidentally, did not come from Spain).

On the island, we stay within the R.J. Reynolds Wildlife Preserve – a place where only those with authorization can be. There is no internet, unless you walk down to one of the DNR homes (which I had to several times during the 2013 trip to get my thesis completed). No tv, though Matt came with a projection screen. Poor phone service (unless you have Verizon, yay!). It does have three showers, something like 20 bunk beds across 4 bedrooms, a full kitchen with dishes, and air conditioning! And the rundown shack next door has a laundry set-up. (When I say rundown, I mean it – the door just swings on its hinges, there is one lightbulb to speak up, there are holes through the floor you must avoid to get to the washer and dryer, and you never know what animals may be lurking inside.)


The ABAC Shack, our home during our stay.


Breakfast, lunch, and weekends were on us, but each evening we had a communal dinner. Thus, the table, where merry eats and cheery games commenced.

Also within the Preserve is where our site is. It begins a jungle, which we hack and chop at with machetes until we can see the ground – and be assured, we do wear snake protection gear. Every day we load the truck with our gear, all the students cram in the back with it, and ride for about 20 minutes to the site. It is physically unpleasant day in and day out, but we have a lot of fun.


Our site. You can see the tripods we made to hang our screens are built from pine trees. I had to chop one with a machete – not the easiest thing to do, never having wielded one before. I cut one down while Dr. M. and Zach cut down 5 others…


What an opened unit looks like. We did 2×2 meters in 20 cm increments There is a soil sample column there in the top right. That comes out at the end. All those white things? Shell. Might as well be freaking rock. Ugh.


We take what we dig out of the unit and sort it through screens. The problem with digging in a shell midden is that the shell doesn’t go through the screen…we have to hand pick it to find things that are cooler than shell.

Right around the corner from the ABAC Shack is a sand pit (which looks like a lake) and a dock. It is fun to go exploring, but you need to be watchful of things like wild pigs, wild cattle, snakes, alligators, and creepy spiders (like the banana spider).


The sand pit – where I heard but did not see an alligator slip into the water.


The DNR guy let us borrow his kayaks. It was my first time and I was utterly petrified of falling in the alligator infested waters (at least, that’s what I think of it as). It was a blast though.


Even when the waterways got small and constricted, and you could not see around the bend, and you lost site of each other, and there were weird popping noises and splashes and things moving about in the water – it was awesome. What an exploration!

We also stopped by Savannah, Georgia for a day trip over one weekend. Cities really aren’t my thing, especially when I have zero money to burn. But hanging with the gang was fun, and Anna and Rachel really loved the ability to have a tasty beer in public.


Public drinking in Savannah.

Sapelo is an amazing place, and I wish everyone could get a chance to experience it. But if that were true, it would not be amazing – development and the generic American culture would ruin what I treasure about it. For now, I will count my lucky stars that I get to visit it for archaeology!

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Call me Master

Friday: August 16, 2013

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It is finally official: I have graduated, huzzah!

So much to catch up on, but first, I must rest. Physically from 7 weeks in the field and mentally from my 2 years away from home. My adjunct position fell through this semester due to low enrollments (quite possibly linked to all the nay saying about student loans and such currently). That bums me out but honestly, I think I will rather enjoy having the next 4 months to myself (well, and to officially work part time at Boy’s office). Plus, there are some grants to apply for, a house to work on, a yard to tackle, and a plethora of crafting projects to attend to! I definitely will not be bored as I adjust to this new life of mine.

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Summer 2013

Thursday: June 13, 2013

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On Friday, I am training one of the newbs on the white light confocal profiler. She will be taking over my responsibilities for the DENTALWEAR Project. She’s the gal that allowed me to meet Milford Wolpoff at the AAPA’s. Have I mentioned that yet? If not, I will some day. She will also be subletting my apartment for a few weeks while I am away, which is fabulous.

On Sunday, I leave for a 4-week field school in Kentucky, along the Ohio River. The project is led by Matt, who is testing the site for his dissertation. The people who lived there were part of what is called the Fort Ancient culture. I know little about this, other than what I’ve learned from a presentation Matt gave. The area covers parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Essentially, at the time of contact, the French were north, in Canada, and came down west, along the Mississippi River. The English were in New England, but didn’t make it west enough to breach the cultural zone. The Spanish were in Florida, and de Soto traveled inland and west, but never came north enough. Ergo, we have a lot of historic documents about other cultures, but a gaping hole in knowledge for Fort Ancient around this time. I have several articles to read about the time period and culture, but with my thesis looming over my head, I haven’t been able to start those.

After the field school, I have a 1-week window to defend my thesis if I am still expecting to go to Sapelo. I may not get to – my advisor suggested I collect more data, but I had to come home instead of staying at school considering I will not have that option for the next 4 weeks. It is a bummer, but science is science and certain things just must be done. If I can’t go to Sapelo, I just keep telling myself that there is always next year. I am still in the process of editing too – obviously I do not have all my results yet since I am in the midst of collecting new data, but the majority of the paper is done, and I’ve been getting good feedback from my advisor and reader.

This is the last push til I officially graduate. After that, I should have an adjunct position at my undergrad alma mater (I checked in with them, considering I heard of a huge budget deficit, but all looks well). I will also begin the big cattle-call for getting people interested in the county-wide survey I’ve mentioned. I truly hope that once grad school business is all over, I have time to recap my experience as a grad student. I’ve done so much, it would be a shame not to share!


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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Friday: May 31, 2013

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This is a waaaay long overdue post I found in my drafts:

Week 11: Human Impact on the Landscape


We talked about the basics of stone tool analysis (mostly involving chert because that is the most common source). There is a lot of theory that can go into this, but most of the intpretations are framed within a life history approach. That is, how the stone was 1) procured, 2) manufactured into a tool, 3) tool use, 4) tool maintenance or recycling into other tools, and 5) discard.

We also had a lab to identify chert types. We were given examples that Dr. M had collected in Indiana. Part of the assignment was to use two different forms to catalogue the chert. Otis Crandell was one of the first to provide a way to standardize a catalogue system for chert, and his form is very thorough. Unfortunately, some confusion exists because of the translation (originally published in Romania, I believe). The other form we used came from Indiana University. Unlike Crandell’s, which came with an article to define how to record each variable, this form was singular. Some of it was easier to follow, but the layout was very crowded and I doubted that I was recording things properly since I did not have reference material. Of course, this likely is not a problem for someone who works with chert or other rock types regularly as the lingo would not be so foreign to them.


Class discussion over Chapter 9 and:

  • Formation Processes of the Archaeological Record (Chapter 6)
  • The Structure of Archaeological Theory
  • Geoarchaeology in Action
(See the Library for bibliographic information.)
Dr. Crandell graciously contacted me to point me to a more in-depth article on chert identification. I direct you here: Macroscopic and Microscopic Analysis of Chert – A Proposal for Standardization of Methodology and Terminology. Happy analyzing!
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Archaeological Survey

Thursday: May 9, 2013

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I have begun contacting people for a county-wide archaeological survey. The first step is to meet with people in public positions that would be willing to write letters of support in order to obtain a grant to fund the project. Tomorrow, we will meet with the county historian and one of the council members. Between meetings, I have also scheduled with a few landowners to give Dr. M an idea of the type of land forms we have down there. They mostly include friends and family, but there is also a 200 acre plot that I am excited to see because the owners know a little about its past.

I will leave you with a photo from the skyline of one of the areas we hope to investigate. I chose this photo for its perspective, because in others without something in the foreground, it is really hard to appreciate.

Boy and I after my friends' wedding, early 2000s.

Boy and I after my friends’ wedding, early 2000s.

That’s all I really have to add today. I am working on my thesis to get it finished before the required field school in Kentucky. It is at a village, which according to my prof, “is a gem. It is one of the most significant Fort Ancient sites in Kentucky and continues to provide a wealth of data pertaining to Fort Ancient peoples. It is an honor and a privilege to be permitted access to this amazing site!” I am excited! It is part of Matt’s dissertation research, and I met him last year at Sapelo. He works with ground penetrating radar (GPR), so we will be excavating some anomalies that have showed up in his previous studies. Although the village has a fairly large cemetery uncovered in earlier projects, that is not our focus – we are interested in the layout of the village itself.

I will have a week off after that, then I will hopefully go to Sapelo Island again. Right now, the only things that will stop me is if my thesis doesn’t get completed before mid-June, or if I am burnt out from Kentucky. If the latter is the case, I am not a very good archaeologist!

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The end is near

Saturday: May 4, 2013

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This is the last week of my last semester at UIndy. I have a field school over the summer (and afterward, I hope to go to Sapelo again), and to finish/defend my thesis, but the formal education part is over. When I walked across campus to my last class in Lilly, it was kind of sad. I know I will be around all summer, but still…

I am incredibly infuriated with myself too. I’ve been home all week yet I left some important books for my thesis at school. This is what I hate about living in two cities. I won’t miss that part at all! So instead, I’ve taken a breather (read that as help Boy with his office all week). I will be back on campus all of next week and intermittently over the summer, so I think a break is ok. It is nice to cuddle with the kitties for a change *and* play a video game! My goal, however, is to be finished with the thesis before mid-June when the field school begins.

Cursed Mountain, an anthropologically awesome video game

Cursed Mountain, an anthropologically awesome video game

So, about that video game. It is an older Wii game titled Cursed Mountain. It is pretty anthropologically awesome, actually. You play a mountaineer, searching for your lost idiot brother who climbed the Sacred Mountain to find a treasure item. This made the goddess angry, so she cursed the area. It is a horror type of game, with deserted villages and angry ghosts. It is slightly like a puzzle: reading letters to put together the story of what happened. What makes it so anthropological is that they do not skimp out on culture – they use non-English words to describe cultural items and dieties, the village looks like what you would expect for a mountainside village in the Himalayans. There is a lot of lore involved (influenced by Buddhist and Tibetan theology). So far, it does not seem to be the case of a Westerner going to save the people, but instead a commentary on how a Westerner ruined everything (which arguably could be anti-anthropological, but at least the story is being told through the local’s viewpoint rather than your character’s). Your brother doesn’t care about other cultures, and in his letters you see that pitted against your own character, who appreciates diversity and would have loved this village before it was abandoned. I am only about two hours in, so I cannot say much more, but I suggest picking it up if you like games.

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Cranial exercise

Monday: April 29, 2013

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One of the things I learned vicariously through my time here at UIndy is that I am not a distance runner in terms of projects. You know, some people can run super fast but only for a short amount of time, while others can pace themselves and run literally for hours on end? I think the same is true for research projects. Some people are great at writing a 5 page paper and dread the thought of a 10 pager while others can knock out 30 but have a hard time condensing it for an abstract. Still, others I would consider pole vaulters – they can say exactly the right thing and fit all the important information onto a poster. Each one is important, and kudos to those who have figured out how to be a tri-athlete.

I find myself to be the sprinter – the in-betweener. I think 10 pages is about my limit for comfort – after that I get lost in my own writing, and I had trouble shortening my text for the AAPA poster. I also have a tendency to work really hard for hours and when that chunk of time is over, I never want to touch it again. This is illustrated with my day so far: I woke up, I’ve been writing a paper and reading sources all day, and I have not procrastinated once until now to write this post (I have had to force myself to take a break long enough to make food, but I still ate at the computer). It is suppose to be a minimum of 10 pages, due Wednesday, and I have only about 7 pages. Yet, if I stop now, I will not want to look at it again tomorrow nor the next day. I know this about me, so I must keep on keeping on.

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In the pit, once again

Thursday: April 25, 2013

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This weekend is another public archaeology day at Lew Wallace. I looked up the information and once again, I found myself in a photograph – in the pit, of course. You can read about the event here.

Excavation at Lew Wallace Study and Museum, 2012.

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AAPA 2013 Poster Presentation

Wednesday: April 17, 2013

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I was in Knoxville, Tennessee last week for the AAPA 82nd Annual Meeting. I will make a post about the whole experience later when I have more time, but here I will focus on my own contribution to the meeting. I had a poster presentation on Saturday, which you can see below (or read the real thing here). I had no idea what to expect from a poster presentation. The way it was set up, I had to stand by my poster for a half hour at 10:30am and then again at 2:30pm and engage in conversations with interested parties. I was dreading it for many reasons (talking to strangers, possibility of being criticized, not knowing enough about my subject, etc). My first presentation was interesting, not a single person stopped by until the very end! I blame this on the layout – bulletin boards were set up like dominoes against a windowed wall. In order to read the posters, one must enter each nook. My particular position, lucky number 13, had a huge column just in front of it – we are talking maybe 4 feet in diameter. It was very uninviting, to say the least. But, honestly, not having anyone show was just my style! In addition, the boards were not the appropriate size, so my poster had to hang off the edge – I feared this would make it look like I didn’t follow the size guidelines, but what could I do?

Across from me was someone I had cited, Rocco de Gregory. Unfortunately, I could not locate his thesis title before getting the poster printed, so I took that as an opportunity to meet him. His poster, also on dental microwear texture analysis, had a much better visibility so he had more visitors to deal with, keeping our conversation short.

My 2013 AAPA poster on display in Knoxville.

Now, someone did show at the very end, and had I not just been out to lunch with him the day before (and about 20 other well-known people in the Dental Anthropology field), I wouldn’t have known who he was since he was not sporting a name tag. Unfortunately for me and my anxiety, I did recognize him: Richard Scott. Really? I didn’t get to practice on any normal person before one of the Big Names dropped by?

I must say I was almost perfectly relaxed in speaking with him for the ten or so minutes he gave me. I attribute that to his own laid back style mostly, but a little bit also because teaching has given me some speaking skills, and I really do understand what microwear is all about. In fact, I think I was more nervous to finally meet my coauthor Jaime, since the cultural and temporal period is what I know so little about. She’s very nice though, just as my other co-author Sue had described her to be. Phew!

My second presentation had more visitors, which I thought ironic, since a large majority of attendees had already begun leaving Knoxville. My first group were Loren and Scott, from the Dental Anthropology Association. They were judging my poster as I walked up (I had submitted it to win the Albert A. Dahlberg Prize, though I find it unlikely), so I asked if they needed anything. A run-down was kindly requested, so I went through my unrehearsed spiel hoping for the best. Again, I was consciously aware of how comfortable I was – even knowing I was being judged in all likelihood. We talked for maybe more than ten minutes and then they went on their way. Rocco and I resumed conversations, talking about the most rad panel discussion ever. I will cover my impression of it in a later post, but here is something one of the panelists posted: Talking about data access at the 2013 AAPAs.

I explained my poster to two others, and that was that! I had provided 30 copies of the poster in the hanging file, 20 of which were taken. A few of my business cards were taken also (which is cool, because they represent a web project I have been working on, so hopefully I will get some early interest in it! In fact, my web project seems to be coming in a time that is quite ready for it – that rad panel discussion pretty much convinced me of that, but high hopes, and alas, I digress…)

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Wednesday: March 13, 2013

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My life changes completely in the fall. I had thought my life changed completely when I quit the bank and started grad school far from home, and to an extent it had. However, I had been in school since time immemorial, so although I no longer work outside of school, it isn’t entirely new. Graduating this August means that I have officially changed careers. Not many people I know have experienced this – most people have gone to school and then gotten jobs in their new field, ie. they began their career, or changed positions but stayed within the same company. I had a pretty good thing going at the bank for an entire decade, and this new life will be utterly different.

I am leery to become a full-time teacher at the get-go. For so long, I was against teaching at all. Only through my Supplemental Instructor position as an undergrad, and now adjunct position at grad school have I come to enjoy opening minds (and realizing that I may be slightly decent at it maybe has helped, too). Therefore, I am not in a rush to get a PhD any longer. Limiting myself to an adjunct position by only having a master’s degree will leave me with free time that can be spent on other projects (or if necessary, I can fill up that time with adjunct positions at multiple universities). One of these will be officially helping my husband in his career for a time (self-employed computery mumbo jumbo that you wouldn’t want me to get into here). Other prospects, I hope, will be anthropological in nature.

The wires of the Interwebz at Boy’s office.

So where does this leave me? Well, I did have an interview at my alma mater and I do have a teaching position this fall, yay! It really wasn’t much of an interview, I admit. I stayed in contact with one of my professors and she let the Chair know I was interested in the position. My advisor also caught wind and all three were very excited. I brought my updated CV, and we chatted for quite some time but I was essentially hired immediately. They always felt I was a star student, and I excelled as an SI leader. In addition, they get a lot of adjuncts from bigger universities (with money and dorms). These adjuncts do not usually understand the student base; the school itself is in one of the most down-trodden areas of the state and most of the population commutes (as far away as 2 hours!). People have full-time jobs that take priority because they have to support themselves, and many students have families (whether or not they are traditional or non-traditional students). I get this entirely; in fact, I had a hard time adjusting to the students at UIndy where many have never worked a day in their life, everything is paid for by their families, and they live on campus. UIndy has many more dedicated students, but my alma mater has many more life-experienced students. It is interesting to me that academia can be so different, and a shame that not everyone can have both qualities.

To start, I will do intro classes to either cultural or physical anthropology, and in the future I may be able to teach 200 level courses like archaeology (I already have plenty of ideas for that!). The program has been changing since I graduated there (indeed, when I was there, there was no anthropology bachelor degree), and I am excited to aid in that change. Here’s another photo; I am with the Chair 5 years ago – you can read about it here.

I received many awards at the College of Arts and Science Honors Tea Ceremony over the years at my alma mater.

The faculty at UIndy seems sad to see me leave (side note: I’ve been known around the lab as Rebecca the Grey because Boy’s computer wizardry has worn off on me slightly and they believe I have magical powers with technology – but recently we had a get-together and I was elevated to White, whoo!). They have said that I can always count on them for support in the future and such. And, since they know I am dedicated to the field, I may be able to do summer archaeology projects around the state with them (starting with, perhaps, my home county in Southern Indiana). I will use my free time to write grant proposals and they will help mentor me with their experience in the field. I love this idea – it keeps me from being “just a teacher” and I do not mean that as if teaching isn’t a worthy occupation. I simply mean that I don’t want to be only a teacher; I want to be an active anthropologist.

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photographic legacy

Friday: March 1, 2013

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My image will now be public for probably years. Eep. Our anthropology homepage has just been updated, to include not one, but two photos of me! Apparently I signed a waiver, because no one asked. For shame. I am digging with Anne under Field Opportunities opposite of some of my undergrad buds, and I am with the WLCP opposite of Laura under Lab & Research Opportunities. I attended a retirement party today for my boss back at the bank (for 10 years – a good third of my life). That in itself, and speaking to a bunch of old colleagues about how my time at UIndy is just about over kind of made me melancholic. It’s been a good run, and I hope that the momentum keeps going forward, even if I cannot see the path just yet. I think having a photo legacy on UIndy’s anthro page is, therefore, somewhat cool.

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Friday: February 15, 2013

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My teacher evaluations from last semester came in today so I got to be reminded of the feelings of pure and utter judgement. I expected an average score, with possible complaints of:

  • No dates on the syllabus
  • No access to the “powerpoints” (I actually use Keynote, but I feel that “powerpoint” has become like bandaids and kleenix)
  • Not loud enough
  • Too many emails

My syllabus had everything in order, but without due dates, so I announced when things were due in class – typically giving them an entire week to do the assignments, and most of the time things were always due on Monday. They knew of all the assignments – everything was listed from the beginning. I did that because having never taught before, I had zero idea of how fast the pace would be. One chapter per week? Two? Sometimes a mix? I suspected this may be a source of complaint because some students constantly “did not know it was due today”. I find that statement hard to believe considering I always wrote it on the board, announced it verbally, reminded them over the course of several days, AND sent emails out. I believe that even though this actually was a source of complaint on the evaluations, I did well above my duty at a college level and feel no shame. It wasn’t something I liked doing, however, but now that I know how many slides I can get through in a day, I think I have the pace figured out enough to not have that be an issue in the future.

I did not upload my presentations for a few reasons. The primary reason was that they were not finished in time before class – I tweaked until the very last moment. It is an OCD problem of mine, I guess. Second, my power points did not say anything that literally wasn’t directly from the book. I did that on purpose, since, again, I had never taught before, I felt that I should stick to what the professionals were teaching for my first round. Third, while I do agree that a small few would greatly benefit from having access, I believe that it handicaps the majority by giving them the impression that it is ok to not pay attention because they have access to “all my notes” – whether this is true or not is of course debatable. In fact, one of my professors is testing this concept currently by providing access and will compare to past semester grades. This, of course, was a complaint on my evaluations.

No one said anything about my quiet voice (I do try to project but it just is not who I am). No one said anything about too many emails (although I did offer this question specifically on a survey I gave them, and a very few did feel I was spamming them). No one said anything about me not reprimanding the talkers enough (their grade suffered, sure enough, and I talked to them both during and after class, but they were definitely giving me problems). I know this isn’t listed above – but I was curious if anyone felt I didn’t have the classroom under control. Sometimes I wondered.

Overall, I probably learned more than any of my students, but also overall, I was rated pretty high. Interestingly, I taught two sections, on the same days with just an hour between, and received very different results. My first class – the class I expected to give me the lowest ratings since it was at 9am and I was barely alive, plus if I made mistakes or whatnot, I had time to fix them by the 11am class – rated me super duper high. My second class (with the troublemakers) rated me average – but on the low end. My chair says it is one of the things he hates about the evaluations, because I was the same teacher, teaching the same material, and yet I ended up with vastly different responses – what the heck? There is really no way to know considering it is confidential and I can’t seek students out to ask, but I suspect it may have been because my second class had mostly upper classmen – bored students who waited too long to take a 100 level class, who had “lives” outside of school, and the like. Whereas my first class, mostly freshmen, had no idea what to think about college yet, studied much more (’tis true – higher scores all around!) – actually did the reading assignments – and got a better experience out of the class.

How do you teach people that life is what they make it?

And with good timing, today I applied for my first job. I am not sure if there are any openings for the fall, but I sent the chair an email along with my updated CV. I told boy it was his valentine’s day gift – that I may have a job in the fall when I come home. I will need to adjunct at several locations but I want to see how just one goes for my first semester as a real teacher. If the school I applied to doesn’t take the bait, I have a few more in mind (but I admit, it would sadden me considering I would love to be a part of their growing program).

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Munsell humor

Thursday: February 7, 2013

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A friend passed this on to me:

Fifty shades of brown!

In archaeology, the Munsell Soil Color Book is used to determine the color of soils (among other things). This helps establish where features are present, in a way that can be written of so that readers familiar with the system can visualize what was observed at a site. Ergo, it is a systematic way of recording soil color – much better than simply saying “reddish brown” for instance. One person’s reddish brown may be another’s brownish red. Or red. Or brown. Or even yellow. (I have a color blind friend and these conversations are always fun.) Munsell turns the world of colors into choices such as 10YR5/3. While that may be like a foreign language to you, it simply means brown. This particular example has a hue 10, value 5, and chroma 3. You can read more about the system at the USDA National Resources Conservation Services page.

Albert Munsell, its developer, was a revolutionary for his time in regards to color classification. Pretty cool, in my opinion. My personal take on the Munsell color system, however, is two fold. First, I fully stand behind a way to standardize the recording of color. Second, I think that my detail-oriented vision makes it near impossible to ever feel truly confident that I am selecting the right color. Usually a few hue/value/chromas fall into the same color category so this is not an issue; but even so, I like to be confident of my choices. It is my main frustration with rock and mineral identification – the colors always throw me.

Delving into this topic a little, I came across this test from X-Rite to evaluate how well you see color. I scored an 8 (zero is optimal). I actually expected a perfect score; I shall blame my monitor.

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“Missing out”

Friday: January 18, 2013

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I got stopped in the food court area today by a former student. She mentioned that her friends were taking cultural anthropology and asked if they had me. Then she learned I wasn’t teaching it this semester, so she told them that they were “missing out on a great professor.”

It was just a little something to brighten my day, so I wanted to gloat about it;)

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The Last Semester

Tuesday: January 15, 2013

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Today I began my last semester at UIndy. I am enrolled in Mortuary Archaeology, Applied Statistics, and some Thesis Writing hours. I am also auditing Soil Morphology and teaching Monkeys, Apes, and Humans (an anthropology class cross-listed as a biology class). I have two teaching assistants to help with the labs and grading.

This will be a new teaching experience for me in several regards. First, the room is not optimal. It is very, very cramped, with a projector not a tv, and the layout is awkward. Second, I am to mirror my advisor’s class, so essentially I am using his power points (though I made them more visually appealing, in my opinion). At first, I thought this would be much easier than starting from scratch like I did with Cultural, but I failed to realize that I am a linear thinker, which maybe is not how anyone would describe him (at least, not myself). It will be interesting to see how I can work with the materials provided. Third, I have obviously never worked with teaching assistants before. I know them personally, so I know there shouldn’t be any issues, and just the idea that they can do the grading for me is exciting! Fourth, this class has a lab component. Essentially, this should not be all that different than from when I TA’d a year ago, except that more will be expected from me as I travel throughout the room. I am the teacher, I ought to know everything, right?

My husband has a bet that I should drop Soil Morphology. I have until the end of this week to decide for a full refund. I want to keep it (auditing Comparative was so awesome because I got to do my favorite thing – learn – but without the stress of turning in assignments or being assessed on a grading scale), but the reality is that I do not want to repeat what I did to myself last semester.

I am experiencing different thoughts this semester than in the past. I am not sure if it is from being burnt out last semester, being pushed to the edge but surviving and growing from last semester, or a wee bit of impatience to be done and get back to my life up north. Likely a combination of all and then some. But I am in a good place right now, and I hope this semester will not be as trying personally for me as last time.

It is my last semester though, which gives me a bit of melancholy. Now, I do still have a field school requirement to meet this summer and finish my thesis project, but essentially, I am almost done!

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AAPA 2013 Poster

Sunday: January 6, 2013

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Part of the grad school experience is attending and presenting at conferences. In the past, I have presented at both the Bioarchaeological and Forensic Anthropology Association (BARFAA) and the Indiana Academy of Science (IAS), but last year I did not get to attend the American Association of Physical Anthropology (AAPA) (I held down the fort in the Monkeys, Apes, and Humans class instead). This year, I submitted an abstract for a poster presentation (literally a giant poster), coauthored with my advisor, a former student, and two colleagues from other universities.

Due to some miscommunication, the abstract was submitted prior to my colleagues finding a glaring error that, while not changing the data, was important enough to seek correction. Once submitted, the AAPA policy is no further editing, so I was not sure what could be done and truth be told, as my blog intends to portray, this was a very stressful event for me. I will leave it at that else I raise my anxiety again.

Long stressful story short, the poster was accepted. Not for a couple of days more was it made known to me that the edit would also be granted due to the special circumstances (thank you so very much!).

I am not sure of everyone’s stance on the AAPA – which is the same organization that produces the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (AJPA), but I consider both (as one and the same) in high regard. Not in the way that I am special for getting a poster accepted (it is likely a fairly straightforward process), but in the way that this is where all the knowledge of bioanthropology collides. Students like me will be in attendance alongside professionals with huge names.

I will now be traveling to Tennessee in April, with the daunting task of answering questions about my topic during the presentation schedule, and hopefully meeting my colleagues to explain everything in person.

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End of 3rd Semester Update

Thursday: December 13, 2012

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Well, well, has it been another semester already?

I realize that this blog cannot have the priority I wish it could until my work at school is done. Which is ok, considering I am doing so much and it’s thrilling, but I feel like I have so much to say!

Over break, I will try to update some, but no promises. Here are some pics to hold you over:

Pirate me burning GRE study material.

My husband, housemate, and I throw an annual Halloween party. As hosts, the three of us dress similar, and this year we were pirates, arg. My friend Jaclyn and I burned her GRE study materials. It was therapeutic.

My undergrad gang, mascot included.

I think the photobomber was friends with the dude who took the pic, but I am not sure. My cohorter Anna calls these three my “posse” because we hang out a lot, but really I am more like their rescued and adopted stray animal because they are experts at UIndy stuff, and I am always asking them where to go, who to talk to, and what things mean. My husband teases me that I can get along so well with people literally 10 years younger than me, but I can just as easily get along with people 10 years older, so I don’t take offense. Maybe I am an ageless spirit.

Enjoying dinner and drinks at Shallow's.

Minus faculty, the bio department, and about 2 others, the above group is pretty much all the people I hang around with at school. It is a mix of grads and undergrads. It was to celebrate the end of our Theory of Archaeology class, though not everyone in the photo took it; some were there to celebrate Zach’s 21st birthday too. And Amy is graduating this semester. It was just a good time to finally get together and celebrate.

In the trench, cleaning up.

Those of us who have been involved with excavations at the Lew Wallace Study were invited to a private sushi dinner hosted by the new owners of Lew Wallace’s house. It was a pretty cool experience – not only to see his house, or to have a personal chef preparing food, but the owners were very friendly. The tornado that blew through and left us in a hail storm? I could have done without that. Anyway, when I got there, Anne told me people had mistaken my photograph for hers. I wasn’t sure what she meant until I saw it on the table: I was in the newspaper. Here is a link to the article: History Beneath Us Returns to Study.

Site survey in a field.

This photo was taken in northern Indiana. While there isn’t much to look at, it captures how unexciting some aspects of archaeology is. Dr. M is using the total station, sighting in the prism that is being held by someone at the copse of trees, far enough away you cannot see them. The purpose was to lock in on the backsight, so that the tripod could record points accurately on a grid created in previous work. We then walked the majority of this field, all the way back to the horizon line of the field, then returning to the street, then moving over a couple feet to return back to the horizon line. We flagged every significant item: broken ceramic pieces, unusual rocks (possible tools), historic brick pieces (there was a brick factory here once), and modern day trash (to do research on how garbage moves across the landscape). Then we went back to each and every flag with the prism, while someone sighted in the points. It was hot and unexciting except for the humor in company. Yet, I would always choose this type of work over my previous job (sorry chicas!).

I have much to share, but alas, I still have responsibilities. Tonight, I will be grading my students’ finals, reading some late submitted papers, and submitting final grades.

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Thursday: September 20, 2012

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Oi. This semester has been too trying. I did some cost-benefit analyses and weighed several options:

  • Quitting grad school
  • Leaving Comparative Osteology and the archaeology project with Dr. M
  • Getting piss-poor grades
  • Dropping Medical Anthropology

Quitting grad school: Just not an option. I like everything about it (well, mostly). Trouble is, I have too much of everything.

Leaving my volunteered positions: I find them practically useful and that would only free up six hours a week – not nearly enough to be a true benefit.

Poor grades: That was a joke – I am an all or nothing kind of girl. If this were possible for me, without the anxiety that it induces, I would have settled on this option.

Instead, I chose to have a difficult conversation with my advisor and Medical Anthropology professor about dropping the class. It is not required, and I will still have enough credits to graduate. The conversation was difficult on my end, for emotional reasons. The faculty recognized that I am human and supported my decision, even if it was not one they wished to see happen. Should I find the time, I can still sit in on the class, which is great. The only reason it came down to Medical is because it was the one thing that gave back the most time.

Now I can get back on track for my scanning job and my thesis work. Now I can have an hour or two during the week to chill out and reset my stress. Now I feel I can continue on, and not idly think of that first option listed.

Oh, and the exterminator came and thus far no roaches. Cross your fingers!

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Adjunct Professor

Thursday: September 6, 2012

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I haven’t posted because all summer I have been working diligently to design a course for Cultural Anthropology when not scanning teeth. When the opportunity came up to teach this semester, I did not take it lightly. I am still working as a Research Associate, and it is getting to be crunch time for my thesis. The addition of teaching (not one, but two classes!) on top of that is a heavy task.

This semester will prove to be the busiest yet. Aside from teaching and DENTALWEAR work, I am enrolled in Archaeological Theory and Medical Anthropology. But of course, my utter despise of free time (what?) has coerced me into auditing a Comparative Osteology class as well. Plus there is still that whole commute thing on the weekends to see my husband and cats.

Oh and I moved to my own apartment literally right next to campus – I can walk! However, there are roaches, and I may be forced to move again if the landlord doesn’t get it under control. Soon.

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Conferences and Classes

Thursday: May 3, 2012

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Anthropologists meet at several events annually, depending on area of study and travel expenses, of course. The American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) was held in Portland this year. I did not attend, but my advisor and cohort did. Instead, I ran two sections of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans alone, and then helped guide the undergraduate Dental class with the bio graduates. I don’t like talking in front of groups, so I was happy that all classes were lab exercises (not lecturing), but it is something I need to get over soon (I will get to that…)

The Society for American Anthropology (SAA) was held the following week in Memphis. My advisor was the only one of us who had a chance to go. My Peru field school assistant and now friend Keith presented on the sample I helped collect data from. If you click on the image, it will take you to his site and you can see a larger version.

Another Possible Complication for the use of Harris Lines as an Indicator of Growth Disruption by Keith Chan

I am bummed I did not make it to either since I missed out on meeting some mentors in the field, but there is always next time, right? Next year, I hear that the AAPA will be in Tennessee and the SAA in Hawaii. I am not sure if I can make it to either one, but it is satisfying to know that I picked a field of study that involves traveling :)

And I may not have gotten to go to the meetings, but I was approached by the department Chair and asked if I was interested in teaching Cultural Anthropology. At the time, I was not sure what he meant (I had thought he meant that night). Long story short, I am being given the opportunity to teach a class this fall. Cultural anthropology has not been my area of focus, but it is a 100 level class, and I have been given notes and presentations from others who have taught it. Jeremy has even offered to let me sit in his class over the summer for a refresher, which I haven’t decided on yet. I haven’t decided yet about actually accepting the opportunity either (although my inner voice is screaming “Yes you have! You are doing it!”). If I am going to teach, I do not want it to be a blunder – I want to be able to focus on it. If I am going to have another semester of grad studies, I do not want it to blunder, either – I have to be wary of my stress level and time management. Aside from those two large issues, there is nothing but positives: I get paid, which roughly will cancel out my school costs; I get the experience of teaching; I get something for my CV; I help the department out when they are in a pinch; etc etc.

I really shouldn’t kid myself – I am going to do it. How could I not? I enjoyed SI-ing during my undergrad life. And Boy put it to me like this: I get to spread the good word of anthropology to newbs. It freaks me out, to have to present 50 minutes two or three times a week, instead of 15 minutes three times a year at a conference, but I just need to get over that. While I had never defined myself as a person who wanted to teach, I think I have to agree with others that it may suit me. I might as well find that out now, so I can begin pursuing that career when I graduate, rather than guessing that is what I ought to be doing when I find myself without a job. Right?

Oh, but the most ridiculous awesome part is that I have academic freedom to design the class myself, down to picking out the very book the students will be using. To say I am shocked is an understatement. To say I am ready for that responsibility is slightly bending the truth. But I have good people to refer to and help me out, so it will work out in the end.

Seriously, though…Me? A teacher?  C R E E P Y .

Oh, and one of my teachers puts together a newsletter for the department. They are huge files so it may take some time to load, but you can catch up with Volume 1 Issue 1 (details the Sapelo Island field school), Volume 1 Issue 2 (Lew Wallace excavations and a little bit about the DENTALWEAR Project), and Volume 2 Issue 1 (where there is a blurb about my research associate job with DENTALWEAR – this one isn’t posted yet at UIndy so I uploaded it for you).

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Sketch: Mandible

Thursday: May 3, 2012

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This is my second sketch so far. It is a little distorted anteriorly-posteriorly, but good effort on my part. Bones are hard to draw! I also cringe at the thought when I will begin drawing teeth. Shadows are much easier for me to create than highlights, and the enamel can be quite reflective! Plus, there is calculus, staining, cavities, chips, wear, etc. – all of which will test my meager skill. Here, I just kind of sketched the outlines.

A sketch of a human mandible

The mandible is the bone of the lower jaw. In Homo sapiens, a mental eminence is present (fancy word for “chin”). The mandible articulates with the skull at the condyle, and chewing muscles attach at the coronoid process. The alveolar margin is the “gum” of the jaw bone – it is where you’ll find all the tooth sockets. The corner of a jaw is known as the gonial angle. This angle connects the main body of the jaw to the ascending ramus. The mental and mandibular foramina are there for nerves and such. Like I mentioned for the frontal bone, a lot more could be said, but I try to keep these sketch entries neat and tidy.

A sketch of a human mandible, with annotations

One of the things I did this semester was sit in on Molly’s Human Anatomy class during the muscle portion. It was a couple weeks long and really zapped my free time, but I came away with a much better understanding of the things I was taught in osteology. My program does not require a human anatomy class before taking osteology, but it sure would have been nice to have that under my belt. It may be something to consider, if you are planning on going into skeletal studies. Even just picking up a muscle book will greatly aid you (I bought An Illustrated Atlas of the Skeletal Muscles – check my library for reference).

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Tuesday: May 1, 2012

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Over the course of the school year, my cohort and I have met some professionals and was invited by my department members to have dinner with them. I believe the first person we went out to lunch with was forensic anthropologist Cheryl Johnston, from Western Carolina University. It was a while ago, so I do not remember many of the details, but we did talk about the ethics behind teaching with human skeletons, especially when students are not the most mature. Mexican chicken quesadillas, yum.

Jeremy Wilson from IUPUI was invited to give a presentation on Transition Analysis to my Human Osteology class, and later we had dinner with him. There was a lot of us that time, so I found myself too far away to be a part of the conversations. We were at a Thai restaurant, and it was delicious. I had fried bananas for the first time, and have since made them myself!

Food wasn’t involved, but we met with Ted Parks from the Indiana School of Dentistry. One of our cases is quite confounding, so we went to him to get x-rays to see if it would aid our research in understanding the problem. The technology he used totally wowed me – I was expecting the standard radiographs like the kind I get at the dentist; instead, they used something akin to a CT scan – it gave us a 3D x-ray rendition of our specimen that we can look at in slices. Pretty awesome.

This semester, I have had both lunch and dinner with Richard Jefferies of University of Kentucky. I will see him a lot more this summer, as I intend to volunteer at a site on Sapelo Island. The first time, we simply ate lunch at school and I sat by his wife chatting about about France and how awesome Sapelo Island is. The second time, we had a lot more students involved so again I found myself too far away for chatting. Instead, I enjoyed my cheesy ravioli thoroughly. The Sapelo Island gig, by the way, is a two week stint off the coast of Georgia. Dr. Jefferies has been conducting work there with one of my teachers for years. Some undergrads have already gone on a field school there and have reported that Sapelo Island is an adventure. There is only something like 80 people who live on the island, sandy beaches, and ocean breezes. I am pretty excited to go.

The last person I’ve been introduced to was Steve Inskeep of NPR fame. The Anthropology department hosted him for most of a day, allowing the students to meet and greet, then the faculty members, and then he had a public presentation. His book, Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi, was sold at the event and I picked one up for my mother-in-law. I was around him all day myself, because I was asked to take photos (not that I am great at it, but I happened to have had a camera with me). I practiced some networking skills, joining groups talking to him, and excusing myself, and maybe I learned something from that, but I still hate doing it. Later, we went to dinner with him, mostly faculty, and I had delicious homemade potato chips, all the while wondering if the building would be torn down by a tornado.

Students meet and greet NPR's Steve Inskeep.

The President and faculty meet and greet NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Public bookreading by NPR's Steve Inskeep.

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Cash in my pockets

Thursday: March 8, 2012

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Delightful trivia: I am still alive and well, in case you are wondering.

Also, I found out yesterday that my TA position is a paid position! So today I filled out all the paperwork and shall actually have an “income” again. Minimum wage at 7 hours a week, but hey, that’s just about enough to pay my weekly gas bill so I’ll take it!

My TA position involves grading stacks of papers. Stacks of papers without names or staples or legible handwriting or right answers or turned in on time or picked up on time. I have learned a lot from this: I really was an upstanding undergraduate. Who knew?

Stack of lab assignments to grade.

A lot has happened, is happening, and will happen. Sometimes I ask myself, “Who’s idea was this anyway?” and sometimes I wouldn’t do it any other way, and most of the time my brain is too overwhelmed to process anything but the direct task in front of me. I’ll share when free time comes ’round again.

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Sketch: Frontal Bone

Wednesday: February 8, 2012

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Busy as expected, I haven’t had time to summarize my class notes. Readers probably care less than I do about that – my notes here are just a drop in the ocean of knowledge that is being poured down my throat, so I doubt it holds much interest, but I like writing them because it aids in crystallizing my understanding of the material. Maybe not obvious was that last semester, I would dump notes just prior to a test. Maybe that will be the case this round as well.

However, I have decided to dedicate some time periodically to sketch bones, though not for artistic purposes (though I do hope that by the end of my stint in the program, they will be pleasing to the eye – a dual purpose perhaps as I hope it builds my drawing skill). Instead, my purpose is so that I can really get it in my head the features of bones to aid in identifying and siding them. I also find drawing to be mildly therapeutic and a nice stress-reliever so perhaps a tri-purpose?

I will begin this series with easily identifiable bones and then turn to other angles of the same bones, before gradually sketching more complicated and fragmented pieces as time goes on and I get skilled enough to represent them correctly. This is the plan anyways, who knows if I will be able to keep up with it. I bought a recycled sketch pad and some drawing pencils, but I warn you that my last drawing class was in the early 2000s. For now, don’t expect much!

A sketch of a nearly complete frontal bone.

The frontal bone is the bone of your forehead. In some people (and in all children) this bone is actually made up of two bones, a left and a right. The suture between the two is called a metopic suture, although this is completely or near-completely fused in most adults. In this example, you can see what is known as a trace metopic suture, just where the nose begins. A prominent point used for measurements both metrically and non-metrically known as glabella is also visible. Along the edge of the upper orbit, there could be a supraorbital foramen or a supraorbital notch (this particular example had a notch). Along the orbital surfaces, sometimes porosity or tiny spikes develop – a condition known as cribra orbitalia, associated with iron deficiency.

A sketch of a nearly complete frontal bone with highlighted features.

There are many more features, but these will get you started. If you find this interesting, I suggest grabbing a copy of a skeletal text book (The Human Bone Manual by White is a quick reference guide, or Human Osteology either by Bass or White will get you started). Of course, you could always start with a skeleton model. Boy started me with My First Skeleton, otherwise known as Tiny Tim a couple years ago for fun.

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Semester II

Monday: January 23, 2012

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After I get situated with all the new assignments, I will begin posting class notes again.

Aside from my cohort, I share classes with some undergrads I already know which is cool. We also share classes with some biology grad students (mostly focused in forensic anthropology). At first that seemed daunting: perhaps because their program is not new but well established, or perhaps because there are so many of them. I am not sure, but I felt like it would be hard to keep up, that they must be more advanced than me, something. Silly of course, because they wouldn’t be taking the same classes if that were the case! They all seem cool so I look forward to getting to know them.

I did get the TA position for undergrad Monkeys, Apes, & Humans (all three of us were fortunate for a position) – two classes back to back with two different teachers. I am also sitting in on the undergrad Human Evolution class to refresh myself and hear perhaps other perspectives as well as updated discoveries. I will be working on a project for the Indiana Academy of Science coming up in March, traveling to Portland for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in April, and writing up a report on my own research by the end of the semester for Archaeology of Eastern North America (with the possibility of publishing). I’ll also have had to decide what my thesis will be, write a paper in Molecular Anthropology, and do fun things with teeth in Dental Anthropology. My job as the Research Associate is going much smoother this semester too, I feel like I have the system down and will really get to make a dent in the project.

This semester will cut me deep to my core, though: I have a class at 8:30am. Since that aligns with a lot of businesses, I give myself about an hour for traffic, with an hour before to wake up and get ready, and with winter upon us, an extra half hour just in case. Meaning that I wake up at 6am. For the last half of my life, I have been on a night schedule, waking roughly by 1pm (last semester I averaged 9AM and that was rough). Going to sleep at 9pm makes me feel silly but hopefully I will get the hang of it quickly (why yes, I need 9 hours of sleep). You must keep in mind that as you scoff at my hardship, if most people wake up by say even 7am, imagine trying to wake up by midnight. Exactly. Add to that, my school is in another time zone, an hour ahead of what I am use to. Having a home and husband on Central Time prevents me from fully switching to Eastern so I feel caught oddly between. Oh, and need I even bother mentioning I am not a morning person?

Overall, I feel busier than ever. I’ve had one week and it really feels more like a whole month!

Here’s a quick sketch for a dental lab assignment. I do not have Aperture reloaded yet so forgive the crummy quality, I used the print-screen option to resize the image.

sketch of a mandible

Quick sketch of a mandible, highlighting key features.

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Technology Woes

Monday: January 16, 2012

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Over break, I had intended on catching up on all my class notes to start this semester off right. I had a bit of an issue with that though – my computer.

About mid-semester, I ran an update for the OS but silly me did not have it plugged into a power source and it shut down mid-update (Never. Ever. Do. That. ! ) While my computer worked well enough for homework assignments, bits of it were messy. My email client was all confused on sending and drafts and read items; my usb would charge my iPod but not recognize it; etc.

Boy suggested the best way to fix it would be to reinstall the OS fresh and start over, and so over break when I finally got around to it, I made a back up to my trusty time machine and formatted my hard drive. Everything was good, except that ten minutes later when I went to recover my back up, my external back up hard drive FAILED. My entire computer life history gone to the technological purgatory. I believe most normal people would freak out but I am married to Boy, super genius of computers! No problem too tough, no data loss too big! It was a close one, but all my data is back as it should be, yay! …

At least, that’s how I would like the story to go. He spent hours trying to recover my back up drive, then ditched that idea in favor of trying to recover my original drive. These things take humongous amounts of time and school starting soon meant that for now I got a fresh new drive as he still haxors away on the old stuff when he has time.

It is looking good though, so I will maintain my ever optimistic view that I did not lose the last 15 years of computer bits, photos, and whatnot to the evil gods of disk failures.

Before all that, I did manage to whip out some Human Osteology class notes, so I backlogged them all. If interested, check out the older posts.

And my second semester begins tomorrow. My class load includes: Dental Anthropology, Eastern North American Archaeology, and Molecular Anthropology. I will also be attending the undergraduate Monkeys, Apes, and Humans class since it is a possibility that I will have the opportunity to teach it before I graduate (it is also possible that I fill a TA position for it this semester, but I am not sure yet).

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Monday: January 9, 2012

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Week 15: Taphonomy


Since we covered taph the week before, this week was actually centered on case studies and final review. The case studies came directly out of our textbook Human Osteology, so I won’t go into detail here (see the Library page for more information). What we got out of the individual cases was that taphonomy was highly important in a forensic case involving burned bones. The key to bioarchaeology is understanding issues like osteoarthritis at a population level. Only and entire suite of patterns can indicate cannibalism. The oldest known cemetery likely belonged to Homo heidelbergensis, 200,000 years ago (and man oh man, what a crazy complex dig that must be! Google Sima de los Huesos, you shan’t be sorry.)


Dr. S set up more stations, mostly involving paleopathology and taphonomy again. I spent a good portion of class (and later much of the entire day) with the bones I failed the most on: frags of the sphenoid, metatarsals and metacarpals, and long bone shafts.


Our skeletal reports were due, and my ex situ commingled stuff was just nearly finished (which was ok since I had already completed the baby). I spent much of the entire day again studying. I was grateful this week that so many undergrads were in the lab. They kept me alive by feeding me with their swipes and entertaining my brain before I got burnt out. Was I ready for the final? No way. Lefts and rights. Rights and lefts. Siding was not my friend, but what more could I do?

Since this post is delayed, I do happen to know my score. It was not what I wanted. It was a high B. What kind of osteologist am I to become?? I was pretty down and out about it. (As my advisor well knows, I think of an A as passing, a B as barely worth it, and a C as failure – this is grad school, yo!) But as all my scores came in, between the tests, quizzes, and skelly projects, I rounded out with an A after all. Phew.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Sunday: January 8, 2012

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Week 14: Case Studies


Fall break was not scheduled into the syllabus so we got an extra week to really go over some bioarchaeological issues. On Tuesday, we learned a new inventorying program that was installed in the lab, called Osteoware. Its purpose is to standardize inventorying so that skeletal databases can work in kind. I do not have much experience with it yet, but I see its potentional. I will be interested to see updates come out though because some segments are a little clunky right now. However, considering they offered it for free and I understand through my husband what it takes to program, I have faith that it really can become *the* database of choice. I am always terrible excited when his field mixes with mine for some reason.

We also covered taphonomy. Taphonomy references the changes which occur after death, including all factors from the biological breakdown to the cultural mortuary practices to the geological processes which affect individuals after death. The importance of understanding taphonomy is so that a researcher can distinguish between natural environmental processes and cultural treatments. Taphonomy is also useful in distinguishing either of these from pathology that the individual may have suffered.

Biological agents include animals (namely rodents and carnivores, but any animal can take part in trampling) and plants. Animal evidence is seen through crushing to access marrow, canine punctures, scalloped gnawing, and breaks by trampling. Plants are attracted to mineral rich soil, and decaying organisms provide this environment. Their evidence is seen through root etching and staining, breaking or obliterating bones, and algae, lichen, moss or fungi growth directly on the bones.

Cultural practices can include the preservation of burial or the thermal alteration of cremation, but also other factors. Burial in coffins can lead to coffin staining and coffin wear. Some cultures cleaned flesh from the skeleton prior to internment and this can be noted with cut marks. Further evidence of cut marks, pot polish, and crushing for marrow can be interpreted as cannibalism. Modern machines can disturb grave sites intensely. There are many other ways that people themselves can partake in the processes of taphonomy, these are but a few.

Non-biological agents are varied. Water can leach bone of minerals, weather the cortex, stain bone dark brown, and transport it. The sun can bleach bone to extremes, cracking and splitting it in diagnostic ways. The pH level of soil can either aid or hinder preservation (bone is best preserved in alkaline soil, while soft tissue is best preserved in acidic bogs). Wind can cause transport, aid in drying bone, or wear with sand grains. Gravity is a great transporter as well.


Taphonomy itself has high inter-observer error – maybe not necessarily in observation rates, but in descriptive remarks. It is also difficult at times to declare whether or not something affected the bone just prior to or just after death. Think of scalping, for instance. It is known that people survived being scalped (healed wounds as evidence), so scalping would occur prior to death, but in some instances scalps were taken after death. Only the latter is considered taphonomic, however.

Another point is that all things aside, two individuals will not preserve the same. Children and the elderly often are the first to return to Mother Earth because their bones are smaller and frailer. Therefore, in a population where much of the individuals are middle adult age, it is important to understand whether this is true due to taphonomic processes, is the population did not reach elderly age and the children were buried elsewhere, or if children and elderly both were buried elsewhere.


We held a lab on paleopathology and taphonomy. Dr. S set up many stations so we could practice identification and distinguishing between the two.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Saturday: January 7, 2012

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Week 13: Fall Break


Another lab day since we missed ours from the week before.

Thursday & Friday:

Closed for Thanksgiving!

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Friday: January 6, 2012

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Week 12: More Paleopathology


We checked out a bunch of examples from the Fun Box of Paleopatholgy. This included osteomyelitis, misaligned healed fractures, periosteal reactions, osteophytosis, eburnation, enthesopathy, spondylolisis, osteoarthritis, myositis ossificans, cut marks, ankylosis, and ankylosing spondylosis. Yep, it was one of those days that I wondered why I signed up for a field with such huge words to take notes on.


We had a simple lab day to work on our skeletal projects. I don’t recall where I last left off with my posting on this. Originally, I was assigned an infant skelly. Once I finished the baby, I moved on to some commingled remains from our BARFAA project.


Friday was a special class because Dr. Wilson from IUPUI came to give us a Transition Analysis lecture/lab. It was the same as the one I sat in during BARFAA but with my class being smaller and more intimate, I felt like I learned more – of course, that may simply be because this was the second time hearing it. Basically, this new method is advocated to be more reliable, replicable, and quantifiable than past methods of scoring data. If I felt qualified enough to delve into detail, I would. Instead, I will cover just the very basic concepts used.

The traditional methods of scoring the auricular surface and pubic symphysis are sometimes called Suchey-Brooks or the Lovejoy methods. Cranial sutures are also scored for aging. Research has shown, however, that these methods tend to provide results which mimic the original reference sample – making the life tables for all kinds of populations look oddly familiar. These methods utilized phases of bone formation and degeneration. Transition analysis introduces using stages instead. Rather than trying to lump all the evidence given by the feature being studied, it measures each variable independently and provides probability statistics based accordingly, unlike the pigeon-hole phenomenon with a phase-based system. The stage system allows for more variability in the measurements because more possible combinations can be recorded (instead of scoring a single general phase for the development of the apex, ventral rampart, surface porosity and whatnot, it allows individual scores for each of these).

Functionally, transition analysis software lets you input each of these individuals independently, then scores the total age range for the given parts in a bell curve for each feature. The program calculated the P value and gives you the most likely age at death. Its best advantage is omitting that 50+ category. The old idea that people in the past didn’t live as long as we do today is not nearly as accurate as the stories tell. It is simply that most of the methods available for calculating age are unable to distinguish ages among older people. Transition analysis, however, can give you much more precise ages, and the P value still allows a check on accuracy. If you ever get a chance to attend a program on transition analysis, I urge you to check it out.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Thursday: January 5, 2012

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Week 11: Paleopathology


The study of ancient skeletal alterations due to processes that are deleterious to health is known as paleopathology. Paleopathologists use differential diagnoses; that is, they list all the possible causes for what is observed on the skeleton, then rule out cases and narrow in on the likely cause. Unlike medical practitioners who rightly treat the individual rather than observing the bigger picture, bioarchaeologists examine the pathological evidence within the scope of the entire population and track the history of diseases. Therefore, the study is epidemiological and correlates human action with disease. That is, do certain cultural traits promote or hinder pathological conditions? The study is limited however: there is no communication between the affected and the examiner as in the medical field; there is no evidence of soft tissue involvement (unless in the rare cases of mummies); and chronic diseases are better understand rather than acute ones, which would have killed the afflicted before the skeleton had time to react in the diagnostic ways.

There are several classifications of paleopathology that can be recorded in a skeleton. These are: arthritic changes; trauma; infections; tumors/neoplasms; and congenital, metabolic, endocrine, and circulatory disorders.

A readily observable pathology is that of arthritis, otherwise known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. In fact, it is the most common condition found in ancient bones and results from activity-related breakdown of the synovial joints. As the cartilage protecting the joint wears down and disintegrates, the end of one bone will contact the end of another. Bone, being a living tissue, will react first with resorption (seen as pitting), then the bone will expand the joint to disperse the stress (seen as lipping, or extra growth of bone), and followed by eburnation (when the bones physically polish each other to a shiny sheen). Furthermore, some lipping can become extreme and fuse the joint together (ankylosing, or stiffened joint) – a trait seen in toes commonly, I’m told. Typically, this type of reaction is from secondary arthritis, or that cause from a traumatic event. Lipping of the spine has a special classification and is known as osteophytosis (osteoarthritis is a term used strictly for synovial joints; therefore a vertebra may have osteoathritis on the zygopothesis and osteophytosis on the body). Generally, arthritis is age related and the pattern shown on a skeleton can give evidence of activities. For instance, a population with a high percentage of arthritis showing its effect on left shoulder + right knee may mean that percentage of people were doing a similar activity – other clues found through archaeology or history can aid in interpretation. So it has been documented then that agricultural populations tend to show less arthritis than pre-agricultural groups (though not always) and that Eskimos show the highest levels of arthritic changes proving the intensity of their labor in such a harsh environment.

Trauma is the second most common pathology recorded. Patterns found in the fractures of bone indicate terrain topography, occupation activities, violence, and disease. Colle’s fractures (distal end of the radius) are associated with falling (when you throw your arm down to stop yourself) – high percentages likely related to the type of terrain. On the other hand, parry fractures (found on the unla) are associated with self-defense (when you throw your arm up to block something from hitting your head). In that same vein, depressed fractures of the skull often are interpreted for violence but these can also be caused by falling. Pseudoarthritis is also found in the archaeological record – a pathology resulting from a broken bone which never heals together but rather heals apart, creating a false joint. Collapsed vertebrae and vertebral psuedoarthritis are other forms of trauma that is related to disease and will be covered later.The rates of healing and correct versus incorrect alignment are taken into account to interpret medical skill/knowledge/technology of past populations as well.

Speaking of medical knowledge, some populations extensively used trepination and it is thought that they understood this would relieve endocranial pressure. Trepination is when a part of the skull is removed – either through drilling, cutting, or scraping. Fascinatingly, 90% of known trepination cases shows healing which means that the individuals were surviving this type of surgery without modern tools, medicine, or even anesthesia!


Some pathology can share resemblance with osteoathritis. The first is Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, or DISH for short. It’s cause is still unknown and tends to occur in older male adults (those beyond 50 years). It involved fusion of four or more consecutive vertebral bodies, but does not affect the zygopotheses or the cortovertebral joints, nor does it affect the sacroilliac joint. It also preserves the intervertebral space (between each vertebral body). DISH involve excessive bone growth along the anterior longitudinal ligament – so much boney growth that it has been likened to a melted candle stick.

Ankylosing spondylitis is similar but note the differences. It affects almost only males who are young (under 40 and as early as childhood). It effects all parts of the vertebrae and can create fusion with the sacroilliac joint. The annulus fibrous between each vertabrae ossifies, syndesmophytes grow (similar to osteophytes) and complications can make this disease fatal.

Sometimes confused with gout, rheumatoid arthritis is different than osteoarthritis because instead of being related to age and activity, it is an autoimmune disease. Found mostly in females, it affects the hands and knees most commonly. Because it is inflammatory in nature, it causes osteoporosity and cyst formation. It can also lead to ankylosing of a joint.

Gout, on the other hand, is caused by the buildup of uric acid and typically is found in people over 40 years old. Sodium urate crystals can inflame the bone and cartilage. Because it also affects the hands (and commonly the feet), it can be mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis. However, the pitting created by gout can be huge – up to an entire centimeter whereas rheumatoid arthritic pitting is typically only a few millimeters in diameter.

Infection conditions are caused by an external pathogen, which is almost always microbial (parasitic infections from worms is another form). Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all infect an individual, wreaking havoc on the body and leaving scars on the skeleton. The most easily recognized infections are caused by bacteria though. Periostitis and osteitis are terms used for when there has been evident periosteal reaction to something, but that something is too vague to diagnose (in fact, it may not have been caused by an infection at all).

One of the most prevalent bacterial infections recorded in bioarchaeology is that of tuberculosis. TB has been impacting human lives for thousands of years – dating back 2000 in India, 5000 in Egypt, and up to 9000 in Europe. Contrary to popular belief, it did exist in the Americas before “contact”, although it was rare. Caused by Mycrobacterium tuberculosis, this pulmonary disease (involving the soft tissue of the lungs) will eventually spread to the inside surface of the ribcage and the spine in chronic conditions. Thoracic vertebrae can show smooth walled pitting, which leads to collapse. If TB progresses this far and the verts show this characteristic wedging, it is known as Pott’s disease. TB often causes changes within the midface as well, resorbing the bones around the nasal aperture and sinuses; it can also affect the knees and hips. TB proves an important case for considering the osteological paradox: for TB to be seen on the skeleton, the individual must have lived a long time with the illness in a chronic state. Therefore, when the skeleton is studied, how should that individual’s health be considered? Surely being able to survive the disease long enough to have skeletal changes means your body was more robust against it than the person who died quickly before these changes occurred, leaving a healthy looking skeleton. But alas, there is no way to know if that healthy looking skeleton belonged to an individual who even ever had TB to begin, so perhaps that person may have indeed been healthier. Or perhaps they did both have it, but they suffered from different strains of M. tuberculosis with different virulences. At this point, with DNA studies few and far between due to preservation and resources, who can say. The osteological paradox just needs to keep a researcher on their toes and not leap to interpretations.

Moving on, another common infection found in the bioarchaeological record is that of osteomyelitis.It is a favorite for researchers because the bacteria acts upon the human body today just as it did in the past so it is easily diagnosed in skeletons. It is cause by Staphylococcus aureus bacterium – aka the well known Staph infection. In fact, in recent times there has been a renewed interest in public media due to its drug-resistant form, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant or multidrug-resistant S. aureus). The bacteria on the skin spreads to the bone in the local area of infection due to a build up of pus formation. This can cause a resorptive reaction of the bone, creating lytic lesions. In fact, the bone often reacts so intensely that it literally tries to cut out the infection. Bone resorbs around the infection, boring a hole (termed cloaca) through to the medullary cavity, thus leaving an island of affected bone in the center (the sequestra) . The healthy bone reacts by building up around the hole, forming what is known as an involucrum.

Yikes, right?


Another infectious disease common to the archaeological record is  treponemal disease. It has two forms: syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease) and congenital (mother-child at birth). This too has been rumored to not have existed until the time of “contact” but archaeology has proven this not to be the case. Because the illness is slow, it is a chronic condition which leaves evidence on the body in the same manner as TB. Tibias will show a pronounced apposition of bones along the anterior crest, giving the saber shin appearance. This differs from that of rickets- the bones do not bend, but merely appear so. A skull will show lytic lesions in a diagnostic stellate shape, which sometimes progresses into pitting with bump formations, known as caries sicca. If a child contracts the disease during gestation or at birth, it can affect tooth formation. This results in characteristic Hutchinson’s incisors (notched edge) and mulberry molars (where the cusps are poorly developed).

Metabolic diseases are also recognized in past populations. For instance, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets in children, or osteomalacia if extended into adulthood. A lack of vitamin D disrupts the roles of calcium and phosphorus in the body, which means that the rigidity of bone is lessened. Particularly in weight bearing long bones, this causes bones to bend, giving the characteristic bowed leg effect. It is common in people with terribly poor diets, and also in areas with low sunlight, as the sun triggers skin to produce the vitamin. Interestingly, low sunlight is not just an effect of where you are in the world (less light further from the equator, and the problem is exaggerated with darker skin colors), but also the culture. Industrializing cities with long days spent in factories, or religious communities that prefer clothing that covers much of the skin can both be causal factors for rickets and osteomalacia.

Porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia are two other commonly found metabolic diseases, involving what is thought to be a response to low iron levels. PH affects the outer table of the crania, resorbing until the diploe is exposed, giving a “hair-on-end” appearance. CO, on the other hand, affects the orbital roof, sometimes growing spicules.Both are non-specific; that is the cause is unknown. Are the iron levels low due to a poor diet, a parasitic infection, a congenital susceptibility, a protection from worse symptoms, all or none of these? What is known, however, is that they are diseases of childhood. This is because the role of bone in blood production lessons with age and therefore both PH and CO are typically scored as healing/healed in adults.

Briefly covered were some congenital disorders. Pituitary gigantism results from a tumor of the pituitary gland. Because it begins in children prior to fusion of all the epishyses, the body will grow porpotionatly. Also affected is the shape of the sella turcica, or the boney saddle that the gland sits in, which will be enlarged and diagnosable. In addition, gigantism is hard to miss – in the archaeological record, people have been found to have grown 8 feet tall. A more common form of gigantism is that of acromegaly. Because of its later onset, fusion has already been taking place. This leads to only some bones allowed the extra growth: the mandible, clavicle, ribs, etc. You can recognize this form on “smaller giants”, with big chins, wide shoulders, and heavy brows. The opposite of these is achondroplastic dwarfism. It occurs when the growth plates do not form correctly, causing early fusion. It only affects endochondral bones, which is why people affected with this disorder will have a normal size torso and head, but shortened limbs.

And to round things out, a few mischellaneous bits. Myostitis ossificans is a mineralization of tendons at the muscle attachment point. It can form as a result of trauma, which need not be particularly detrimental, or it can from as a result of a congenital disorder which can be more severe, limiting movement and such. A button osteoma is a benign bone tumor. It is fairly common – you may know someone who has one. It is simply a small button-like growth on the skull. Feel around your own head, maybe you even have one yourself!


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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Wednesday: January 4, 2012

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Week 10: Review & Exam


Although this week was meant to be used for review and an exam, we instead covered more class notes. In bioarchaeology, there are three main classifications of ancestry. It is critical that you understand what is meant by “ancestry”. Anthropology has come a long way since its inception yet unfortunately many people still believe we speak about differing “races”. Ancestry removes the cultural construct of the concept of race (since physically race does not exist), thereby limiting its definition to the physical form. In bioarchaeological terms, ancestry relates to the geographic location of someone’s ancestors – and until worldwide travel became so efficient, there were three basic groups: those from Africa, from Asia, and from Europe. It also is important to note that there is no “norm” because variation is the norm. As such, those between the two centers of ancestry will show overlapping traits. I will list some traits commonly used for identification, but it is crucial that a suite of traits is used for identification rather than any single marker and it must be understood that most traits lie on a scale rather than a simply being present/not present. Also understand there are a lot more traits to use but I kept the list brief for a simple overview and comparison.

African ancestry: Wider nasal aperture with rounded nasal bones and a guttered margin; alveolar prognathism and a midline diastema common; hyperbolic dental arcade; large molars with cusps 5, 6, and 7; blunt chin and straight mandible edge.

Asian ancestry: Tented nasal bones with a broken gutter nasal sill; prominent zygomatic (cheek) bones giving face a broad appearance; wide angled dental arcade with incisal shoveling common; broad and projecting chin and rocker mandible

European ancestry: Steepled nasal bones with a deep nasal root and a sharp nasal sill; overjet and overbite common; small molars and Carabelli’s cusp common; v-shaped dental arcade; bilobate chin and undulating mandible


 We were allowed lab time to study for our exam. Nothing too exciting to write about.


Exam numero 2! It was only a practical (no written part) and the class as a whole did not meet expectations. I was among them myself with a crummy grade. In fact, this was when I first realized that I wasn’t getting it, but I did not understand why and therefore did not know what to do. I met with my teacher and he was surprised (not having known my grade yet since the assistant was the one to go over the test with us and apparently I was one of the better students). He felt his advice was weak since it wasn’t like I was fubbing up on any particular type of problem (my mistakes were all over the board: lefts & rights; identification; sexing; aging; ancestry), but truly it made since: If you think you know what a fragment is, think about everything else that will give evidence to support your hypothesis. I worked hard with this for the rest of the semester.

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First Semester Complete!

Wednesday: December 21, 2011

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I am very proud to say my first semester as a graduate student has been a success! But there is sadness there too – only three more to go… Once there was a time I hated school and all the boredom that came with it. And then I discovered anthropology. I’ve been waiting hardcore for my grades to get posted because one of my classes had me on edge and I wasn’t sure which way it would swing. Rest assured, I have successfully secured all three A’s this round, whoo!

I want to chat a bit here about the semester as a whole, and in total honesty. My two and a half year break was very good for me and in no way do I regret it, but I did struggle getting back into my groove. Much of that may simply be the caliber of this program versus my undergraduate one. Commuter schools, even if associated with larger universities, are just no comparison to research orientated institutions, at least in my experience. I expected this of course, but did not know how to prepare for it (nor do I have any advice). Also, I am not as young as I once was. True story. I may have rocked out with 50-60+ total hours a week semester after semester (class, campus jobs, work, volunteering), but I have tasted the slow life while on break and decided there is worth in that.

So moving on, geoarchaeology was my toughest course. I had no prior experience with the subject, I was not good at standard geology, and the class demanded a lot of time reading articles and writing weekly essays. Furthermore, some reading assignments were uber boring for me, so simply getting through them was rough. Top it off with a teacher who expects high quality essays (as opposed to some teachers who water-down their expectations), and you can probably understand why I found it challenging. My course of action was to slip a bit on my other two classes that I was doing well in to really focus on this one. It worked, and I got good scores.

Not until it was almost too late did I realize that the slip in my other classes was catching up with me. But around this same time, I had to come to terms with balancing my life with school. Thus, my husband and I decided that on weekends, when I made it home (which was not always), school wasn’t allowed. For both our sakes. (Of course, my cats couldn’t care less if I were sitting playing a video game or sitting reading homework, as long as my lap was available).

This was a bit stressful though, because I was not about to let my graduate program take a second seat. I signed up for it and so I needed to rock it. I set a new plan in action, scheduling slots all week to get various projects and assignments done. And of course at this time I also realized that my job in the lab had indeed been taking a second seat which was not fair since I had already been paid for it through tuition. I squeezed it in my schedule and will be working over winter break to make up for it. The upside to all this was that I really got efficient with my time. The downside was that trying to cram so much stuff within basically a 4 day period (Monday night to Friday afternoon) led to unanticipated burnout. I may have hung out with the undergrads a little more than I should have a time or three, but it helped me keep my sanity and, hey, I got free food;)

What I’ve come away with is this:

 Grad school is about balancing time almost as much as grasping the material. I have the class assignments to read, essays to write, and presentations to prepare. I also have side projects like BARFAA and other skeletal projects. I have the lab job which includes casting, scanning, and cleaning. Cohort meetings with my advisor, and random lunch meetings with professionals in the field. I additionally have issues because of my long commutes to school, long commutes to home over the weekend, and a husband to hang out with during the weekends. Grad school, therefore, hones your time management skills.

The most difficult classes will be the most awesome for their challenges. Geoarchaeology was hard for me, mostly stemming from how boring I originally found it. It is hard to be invested in something you aren’t interested in, plus falling asleep while reading gets you nowhere. But then boredom changed to determination to get the grade, which then lead to understanding, which ultimately made it neat.

The internet will give you humorous relief and tips to deal with grad school. Googling random thoughts I had during the semester (try “grad school is” and have a peek at what it autofills with) has taken me to many sites offering tips. There are caveats though. While it may be true that you can get away with not reading everything assigned for every class (I am a bit ashamed to admit I tested this), you’ll need to be careful of crossing the line and cheating yourself. You are in grad school for a reason so “just getting the grade” is no longer appropriate.

I have trouble with visual learning, and I never knew this. My trouble with osteology is in line with my trouble of identification of rocks and minerals in geology. It is a weakness that surprises me, being artsy and having such a visual memory with my notes. Alas, visual memory is not the same as visual learning. I did not identify this problem until the day of the final, unfortunately (someone mentioned his own trouble with it and the thought clicked for me). It is likely this issue went unnoticed all this time because visual learning is not used in many subject areas, and if it were used, it was only for a small segment that did not affect my grade (as in the case of geology). I’ve put some thought into how to correct it (see, although I scored an A, my self assessment finds my skill lacking). I plan on drawing all the bones. This should pen them into my memory like any other note, right?

All that said, my first semester of grad school has challenged me on numerous levels and I am getting more out of it that I expected to. One semester down, and I still love it. Now that I am on break, I intend to catch up on some overdue posts, so look for those. Meanwhile, here is a random colorful pic from campus.

Hydrant on campus

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Funny Story

Wednesday: November 9, 2011

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It is apparent that I am a non-traditional student. 30 year olds can only pass for just-out-of-high-school college kids in bad movies. I am ok with that: I bring a lot of life wisdom and experience with me but it is certainly awesome when I surprise people with my age. Several of my undergrads were (are?) in denial.

The other older grad student, Andy, called me out on it. Being non-traditional himself, he had to know my age. He guessed first and filled me with cheer at the ripe young age of 26. [Most of the undergrads put me at 25 or less.]

That being said, my geoarchaeology teacher is young, and I had determined he was young enough to be my brother. One day, while having class outside working with the total station, I heard Andy refer to our teacher’s birth year. Imagine my surprise when it was made known to me that we were born in the same year.

I only let a few minutes pass before I had the nerve to ask. I mean, egads, what if I was OLDER than my teacher, right? Right?! I had to know.

“So, when is your birthday anyway?” I asked nonchalantly.

“August 11” came the reply.

Needless to say I was stunned and calmy replied “Really? That’s mine…”

So, ok, I may not be older than my teacher (dare I ask if he was born in the morning or evening??), but it has been something, I tell you, getting my head to wrap around the idea that I am as old as my teacher. I am totally use to people with grey or greying hair, or at the very least, born in a different decade for Pete’s sake.

Brightside: He is the first person I’ve ever met who shares my birthday. In celebration, here is a sketch I whipped out for osteo class way back when I still felt young.

Sketch of a skull

Human skull sketch for a Human Osteology lab worksheet identifying synapsids.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Wednesday: November 2, 2011

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Week 9: Age, Ancestry & Sex


For class purposes, we have defined Young Adult to be 18-35, Middle Adult to be 35-50, and Old Adult to be over 50. For sub-adults, dental formation is key to aging, but for adults all teeth have been erupted so other methods are needed. Aging adults in bioarchaeology is really more about serial relationships among the population than true chronological age of individuals. One of the ways a skeleton can be aged at time of death is by examining the pubic symphysis. As mentioned in an earlier post, this area will experience a break down over time. The 1920’s model by Todd was the first, with 10 stages denoted by qualitative descriptions. In 1990, Suchey and Brooks developed another method similar to Todd’s but with only 6 stages and that also divides between males and females.

A second method of scoring skeletal age at death is through Lovejoy’s examination of the auricular surface. This is the ear-shaped surface created by the joint between the sacrum and the ilium.

A third method is identifying suture closure status of the cranium. Looking at standard points along the suture lines and scoring between open through obliterated can help identify age.


We used the above methods for our skeletal projects. Then we discussed how to sex a skeleton. Obviously without the fleshy bits, this is easier said than done. However, our species like most does incorporate a certain amount of sexual dimorphism in general. Not always true, men tend to be about 5-10% larger than females in both length and robusticity. This includes metric and non-metric traits alike. The best place to find sex indicators is the pelvis, although the skull can also have good evidence.


We went into further detail over sexing a skeleton. Males tend to have a larger malar region and larger canines. Their jaws tend to be more vertical and have a wider ramus, while also showing a wider and larger chin. Females tend to have a gonial inversion of their mandibles. In the pelvic area, several indicators are present. These include the symphysis shape, pubic length, shape of obturator, ventral arc, medial aspect ridge, subpubic angle, greater sciatic notch, preauricular sulcus, elevated auricular surface, ischial tuberosity, shape of auricular surface, subpubic concavity, sacrum curl, and size of alae.

It is important to note that these features are not accurate 100% of the time. The dichotomy of sex must be understood as two bell curves with an overlap between them. Indeed, there are effeminate men and masculine women in all cultures and through all time. Young men also will have more slender characteristics than their older counterparts. Older women, after menopause, will start to show masculine traits of their skeleton. Therefore, many different variables need to be scored together to identify sex, and this is often why sometimes you will see “indeterminate sex” because it is a toss up between male and female indicators or not enough indicators were preserved for a confident classification.


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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Wednesday: November 2, 2011

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Week 9: Diet II & Chemistry (Stable Isotopes and Trace Elements)


Teeth are the only hard tissues in the body that directly interact with the environment. As such, they are of great use for bioarchaeological research. Dental macrowear is scored commonly on Scott’s ordinal scale. Teeth wear over time, and in ancient populations the wear was so great that almost nothing of the tooth would be left, and indeed sometimes the body would purge the tooth altogether. Macrowear studies this pattern, which can have different sequencing depending on diet and subsistence.

Dental topography was developed within the last decade, applying geological mountain mapping software to dental crowns.  This turns what is visually seen in Scott’s scale to quantitative data. [At school, it is part of my job as the research associate to use the 3D plotter machine to profile each tooth from Dr. S’s project to create a virtual catalogue.]

Dental microwear studies a tooth’s microscopic texture, including pitting and scratching. A scanning electron microscope (SEM) is a common method in doing so. Teeth are coated with a very fine layer of metal, then an electron gun shoots the specimen inside a vacuum chamber. The electrons will bounce off the object and the software is able to transform a 3D object into a 2D representation using a horizontal scan. Newer technology does exist to create a 3D model, but this is not yet typical.

A 3D method that is gaining speed, however, is that of the while light confocal microscopy profiler (WLCP). [The major part of my duties in the department.] It is similar to a compound microscope, except a beam of light is shot through the lens and bounces back. This distance is measured to created a vertical scan of the specimen. It uses scale sensitive fractal geometry to calculate variables like complexity of the occlusal surface, anisotropy and heterogeneity of features, and texture fill volume.

As usual, we discussed several case studies to wrap class up.


Class was almost entirely discussion from the texts. I admit that I still need to read these chapters, so this bit may not be the clearest. Stable isotopes and trace elements can provide evidence for the type of diet an individual ate. We discussed measuring carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen with a mass spectrometer. This breaks a sample down to its elemental parts, weighing each element separately. For instance, when measured, the delta of  13C can indicate a marine versus a terrestrial diet. Marine foods will show a delta closer to zero, while terrestrial foods will be closer to -7. Another benefit is that plants discriminate differentially to 13C in their photosynthesis, so C3 plants can be differentiated from C4 plants in the archaeological record. The benefit here is that maize is a C4 plant so the adoption of maize can be noted in archaeological remains. Nitrogen likewise proves a valuable factor of understanding diet, giving a trophic accumulation of 15N. Legumes will provide a base level of 15N, herbivores who eat these legumes will have a slightly higher value, and carnivores who eat the herbivores who eat the legumes will likewise have an even higher value. 15N therefore needs to be understood within the environmental context, because comparisons between environments like coastal versus inland, or arid versus humid will give the incorrect impressions. Oxygen analysis of both bone and teeth (18O), as well as strontium, can show migration patterns because it is linked to the available water source.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Wednesday: November 2, 2011

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Week 9: Aeolian Environments


Remember that open note, open book, open internet test I mentioned? That was on the docket for Monday. Obviously this post is behind, but he has not finished grading them yet. I did hear from him that he has checked out 2 of 5 answers from my test and so far I have an A. Woot!


 Normal class discussion. Chapter 6 and these three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Eolian Environments: Sediment Erosion, Transport, and Deposition / Sand Dunes / Loess and Dust / Stone Pavements / Eolian Erosion / Volcanic Ash (Tephra)
  • Sand Dune Morphodynamics and Prehistoric Human Occupation in NW Ireland
  • Geoarchaeology of Dissected Loess Uplands in Western Illinois

One day, if I get more free time, I shall discuss what the big picture from the groups of articles actually is. For now, I settle with a simple inventory.

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Geophysics at Lew Wallace

Wednesday: November 2, 2011

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I was able to attend another digging weekend at Lew Wallace (bonus – it doubled as extra-credit!). This time, Dr. M worked with a team from IPFW (Dr. McCullough and Colin Graham) to collect geophysical data. I mostly sifted dirt with undergrad Kylie or helped clean up the trench with archaeologist Anne M in preparation for next season. Anna, another grad student, worked with Dr. M taking measurements with a total station. The other undergrads worked with the IPFW team for most of the day.

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

The epic study of Lew Wallace. Note the colored flags - they were used to delineate survey areas.

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

Dirt sifted through a screen. Ooooo.

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

Anne and I in the "reflecting pool" that is unexpectedly deep.

Later, Kylie and I helped Colin take magnetometry readings by creating the path for him to walk along. First, he calibrated the machine above the earth’s surface for a base measurement to be used as a comparison. Then he walked the path as we moved it across the area to be scanned, taking overlapping parallel recordings. Once that was finished, he imported the data to a computer and checked out the preliminary results which I got to see. I tell you, it is much cooler seeing geophysics in action than reading long and dense articles on the subject!

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

Colin calibrating the magnetometer.

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

Kylie and I setting the path for Colin's next recording. (The excavation unit is seen next to me.)

I was also lucky enough to check out their ground penetrating radar device. It was not at all what I expected – kind of like a stroller with a monitor on it that gives you instant feedback. The feedback takes a little skill for interpretation but Dr. McCullough was super friendly and showed me how to read it.

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

Archaeologists at work - excavating and total station.

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

Anna holds the stadia rod with the prism on top so that Dr. M in the background can take the measurements with the total station.

Archaeology at Lew Wallace

This is what a total station looks like. You may have seen it along a highway during road construction.

Dr. McCullough also brought out the resistivity machine to show me, which was not used due to all the trees. Unfortunately, moisture in the ground will interfere with the resistivity technique and Lew Wallace’s property had many beautiful old trees that ultimately would hold water at their roots.

I’d like to go into more detail about what each technique does, but I must take the small bits of time I have to post when I receive them. If you would like to learn more, check out the articles in my Library (particulary Kvamme’s Archaeogeophysics article) or do a quick web search – there is a lot of information out there to be had.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 8: Skeletal Project


Fall break, woot!


We discussed morphometrics, which is the relationship between measurements and shape. We also covered the biological profile of age and sex. Age shows a growth threshold, involving both intrinsic developmental factors and extrinsic degeneration factors. Developmental aging includes tooth formation, epiphyseal fusion, bone length, and suture closures. Degenerative aging includes joint morphology, auricular surface appearance, and pubic symphysis break down.


Osteometrics lab and more inventorying. I finished the little one and began an adult with some interesting pathology but my focus was asked to be shifted back to the BARFAA group now that my assignment had been finished (the adult would have been just as extra).


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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 8: Diet I,Teeth, & 3D Analysis


Fall break, woot woot!


Incredibly detailed discussed about biomechanical analysis and bone geometry continued. Visual aids would be helpful but I currently don’t have the time to whip them out for you. Just imagine that thinner cortexes may mean the force applied is more torsional, since the cortex is being positioned away from the centroid. Imagine a bone cross-section to have a small medullary cavity, which would indicate compressive forces. Bending forces would show both, as the bone builds a rigid frame to buffer against the directional forces.

After we cleaned up that slightly denser topic, we started on diet. Diet is the food that is actually eaten, and subsistence includes the behavior and resources associated with getting the diet. Indicators of subsistence include:

  • Tools and landscape modification (irrigation canals, for instance)
  • Hearths and middens (evidence of plants and animals)
  • Settlement patterns and architecture (temporary nomadic foragers or sedentary agriculturalists)
There are also indicators of diet itself:
  • Coprolites
  • Stable isotopes and trace elements
  • Dental macrowear (hard or soft diet), microwear (abrasive or smooth diet), and pathology (cariogenic diet or not). This will also help interpreting how food was processed (subsistence).
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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 8: Hydrological Systems


Fall break, woot!


Class discussion resumed as usual. We talked about chapters 4 and 5 then I presented on these three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Electromagnetic Conductivity Mapping for Site Prediction in Meandering River Floodplains
  • Geoarchaeology in Alluvial Landscapes
  • Archaeological Sediments in Dryland Alluvial Environments

I suppose I ought to clarify here – it is easier for me to state that I present on all three articles but really it is only two of the three. I just do not have my notes handy usually when I have time to post here and I do not recall which articles I presented versus the undergrad. I read them all each week and write an essay critiquing each one, so they kind of blur together. Just sayin.

We also looked at some stratigraphic photos and used what we learned to identify what was going on in the image. Soil horizons and episodes of deposition and so on. Then we covered what would be expected on our upcoming test. It is never a good sign when the test is essay questions, with a time limit, and open book and notes. Oh, and open internet. Say what?! It put the fear in us.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 7: Osteometrics & Craniometrics


We ran through some siding techniques for the small carpals and tarsals. Laura added with her “laurisms” and Amber had one of her own too. I’ve also made a few of mine. Here is a breakdown:


Scaphoid: Look at the side that resembles a snail (the convext suface). It crawls to the side its from.

Lunate: Hold it with your thumb in the groove and the box-like projection is on the side its from.

Triquetral: Hold the pinchy facet (the facet that wraps around the corner) and the circle facet at the top will be on the side its from.

Trapezium: Hold it like a cross and the groove will be on the side its from.

Trapezoid: Look at the zippered boot, and the toe points to the side it is from.

Capitate: Look at the flat side and imagine it to be a bust. The flowing hair hangs down on the side its from.

Hamate: Look directly at the pinchy facet and the hammer will be on the side its from.

Pisiform: This bone is not typically worth siding, and techniques do not always work correctly.


Calcaneous: Hold like a wii remote, and the comfortable hand is the side its from.

Talus: Hold with the ball in your palm and your thumb in the concave facet. The comfortable hand is the side its from.

Navicular: Hold with your thumb in the concave facet and the point under your index finger. It will point to the side its from.

Cuboid: Look at the dinosaur head, and it wants to eat the side its from.

1st Cuneiform: Hold with your thumb on the kidney bean facet, with the L-shaped facet facing you. It is on the side its from.

2nd Cuneiform: Look at the flat non-articular surface as if it is a house. The slanted roof points to the side its from.

3rd Cuneiform: Look at the concave facet with its point down. The more dipped side is on the side its from.

Class discussion then went over how to measure bones using sliding calipers, spreading calipers, an osteometric board, and a measuring tape. Then we began measuring our skeletal projects.


We walked through Fordisc, a discriminant function analysis program which calculates ancestry relationships using a suite of metric data. Today was another lab day for our skeletal project.


Quiz and more lab, as usual. No organized discussion, just a lot of inventorying and measuring.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 7: Activity Patterns & Bone Geometry


 A skeleton shows evidence of childhood health in two major ways. The first is an individual’s height. To determine the individual’s growth rate, long bones are measured metrically then compared on a scale to the individual’s tooth eruption sequence. The sequence of tooth eruption is fairly set but bone length will vary. While this has some genetic factors to consider, extrinsic influences also play a major role. However, does a lower growth rate mean the child was less healthy? Not always. While it is true that a person with a sickly childhood will be shorter, it is also true that a shorter person is more adapted to a lower intake of calories, or even cooler climates.

The second childhood health indicator is the teeth themselves. Teeth create a permanent record of stress affecting an individuals during tooth formation. This means that evidence of disease may be recorded during the whole first 18 years of life, to remain there until the teeth are lost. A common one found is linear enamel hypoplasia, or horizontal grooves typically found in the anterior teeth. I presented a chapter to go into this further.

We discussed what types of questions can be answered by looking at children, and these include:

  • Diseases present in childhood
  • Age and size at menarchy, puberty
  • Growth rates
  • Sexual dimorphism prior to adolescence
  • Weaning


 In brief, Wolff’s Law states that there is a biomechanical skeletal response to demand: bone is laid where it is needed and removed where it is not. (An “you use it or lose it” phenomenon.) By applying an engineering model to biology, understanding bones as an I-beam or a cylinder, extrinsic forces can be interpreted via specific bone morphology. Bone is best at displacing compressive forces, but tensile, bending, shearing, and torsional (which can also all be combined) are common stresses. Applying Wolff’s Law, these forces are what gives bones unique characteristics. Our readings and discussions went into great detail, from case studies to polar moments of inertia.

I also borrowed a book from Dr. S to start thinking about my 10 page paper I need to present on for class, The Bioarchaeology of Children: Perspectives from Biological and Forensic Anthropology (see the Library for bibliographic information). I may do something with juveniles, to keep in line with what I am learning in Human Osteology. I may also look into skeletal deformation as another option. Intentional and unintentional. Cranial and Post-cranial. Before and after death even. The possibilities there are great. What I do not understand is why some books are so pricely (Ahem, Cambridge University Press…) while other larger books from the same company are less than half. I have several on my Amazon wishlist that I just may never purchase simply for the price. Costs of healthcare and education should both be brought back down a notch or 6000.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 7: Intergrating and Interpreting Data


Monday’s lecture has been moved to later in the semester. Instead, we walked through how to turn our data collected with the total station into a contour map using Surfer 9. Then we had class discussion over the readings – chapter 17 from the book and I presented with others on three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Darwin Would Be Proud: Bioturbation, Dynamic Denudation, and the Power of Theory in Science
  • Geoarchaeology and the Mid-Holocene Landscape History of the Greater Southeast
  • A Geomorphological Approach to Reconstructing Archaeological Settlement Patterns Based on Surficial Artifact Distribution: Replacing Humans on the Landscape


Wednesday was a lab day, which was optional if you could find time outside of class to create the contour map, which I most certainly did. Check it:

I made it in pretty orange colors, and chose the Kriging option. The green dots represent all the points where we held the stadia rod. The Smith Mall would be below this image, the library would be above it The rectangular pattern traces the sidewalk edge of the landscaping. Esch Hall is to the left and Martin Hall is at the bottom right. [Basically, in the photos from last week’s post, I was standing just about where it is labeled 102 on the bottom right, just next to 107, looking toward the bottom left corner.]

UIndy contour map

University of Indianapolis campus contour map generated from data collected by a total station and processed in Surfer 9.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 6: Hands and Feet


Since we had already covered this week’s topic, we moved ahead to receive our assigned skeleton. We discussed the procedure for inventory and the different paperwork that is used by the lab. As I had mentioned, I requested a juvenile to push my limits and the baby was very tiny. I was able to correct classification the archeologists had made, and find one of the tiniest human bones: an ear ossicle (the malleus to be precise).


I do not recall exactly, but due to my lack of notes for this day I imagine we had lab time during class to work on our skeletal inventories.


My cohort and I worked on our BARFAA presentation during class time with Dr. S while the undergrads had lab with Laura. We put the final touches on a keynote presentation and walked through it a few times before practicing in front of the class. I had this annoying habit of saying “Upper” Woodland (instead of “Late” Woodland) because my undergrad focus was mostly human evolution and therefore “Upper” Paleolithic and such. This might seem a small detail, but I assure you it is not a mistake I would want to make in front of an anthropologically educated audience!

Cute shoes

Grad school feet in grad school grass.

This was a rough week for me, having BARFAA coming up and the other graduate duties and classwork. I won’t lie, I was pretty stressed and have basically been behind in coursework since. I think the experience was great so no regrets there, but trying to balance it with school work and a weekend husband was not the easiest thing at the beginning of my first semester after a 2.5 year break. Lucky for me, my grades do not reflect the hardship. I hope that stays true for the rest of the semester!

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 6: Kids


Week 6 was suppose to cover kids, but trauma is so much fun. We had more class discussions from the text but also learned about case studies that Dr. S has been a part of. A particular one of interest to me has been published so I am free to discuss it. I even purchased the book, Human Variation in the Americas (see full bibliography information at the Library page). Near my home town in Floyd County, a male individual was discovered with a cache of forelimbs possibly representing five different people. To give you some idea of the range of questions a bioarchaeologist may ask, here are a few we tossed around in class: Were these war trophies? Magic vessels for a shaman? Familial keepsakes? We may never know, but we must always keep our minds open.


Case studies discussing the adoption of agriculture were presented followed by a quick chat about why bioarchaeology cannot have one single answer to all there is to discover in history. This is because there are way too many variable factors to consider. Each case must be examined with a full understanding of the site’s context, geographically, temporally, and culturally. And of course always in the back of a bioarchaeologists mind is the Osteological Paradox.

Our discussion then turned towards children and how they are often overlooked in archaeology. Problems begin with differential burial: some populations would bury their children in separate cemeteries, along paths, in house floors, or at other unique places so they rest undiscovered compared to the extent of adults in cemeteries which modern construction breaks in to. Another main problem is that of preservation: children’s bones are tinier and more fragile than adult bones so are far less likely to be preserved. The archaeologists excavating children remains also may not be trained to identify the tiny bones and fragments (an adult has 206 bones on average, while at birth a child has over 300). In addition, children are shadowed in bioarchaeology because so much of the research is dependent on comparisons, including that of male versus female. In children, these differences are almost (if not totally) non-exisitent in skeletal remains, which means that most research is biased towards adults. Another dilemma is that in published research, there is no standardization of identifying “children”. Terms such as fetal, neonate, newborn, infant, child, kid, juvenile, adolescent, and subadult mean very little because an age range was not provided, or the range varies between researchers so that comparisons cannot be drawn.

Kids also invoke, once again, the Osteological Paradox. Do more children in a cemetery mean the population is unhealthy? Are more children dying because of the diseases being spread? Or perhaps the population is quite healthy: are more children simply being born? If the percentage of living babies to those buried were known, these questions could be answered.

Also of note is how once grave goods entered our past, children seem to be over-adorned in many places all over the world. Did the children discovered have a socioeconomic status by birth? Were children more important to the population than adults? Were adults providing children goods in consideration of their short lives? Was the community sharing support in a family’s loss?

We then had class discussion over the texts and I presented three chapters.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 6: Lab Methods & Stone Sourcing Techniques


On Monday, we went outside to use a total station in order to collect data for a contour map. We chose a corner by the library, then pushed a pencil into the grass to mark our Datum 1 and told the computer it was at coordinate 1000, 1000, 100. I was chosen to set up the tripod and level it since most others had, or were introduced to it the prior week. The steps are easy but I didn’t weigh enough to push it into the ground, and leveling a triangle takes skill so it took me a while. Then we set Datum 2 and each student had to take 50 points and hold the stadia rod for 50 points so that we had a total of 400 measurements. By the time class was over, we only had 250 points taken.


We went outside to finish taking the measurements, and I took some photos of campus while this was being done, so I will share those with you. (Boy had just given me a new camera he purchased off my brother: a Canon PowerShot S95 which I know nothing about because he got it in Hong Kong and it did not come with an English booklet.) I did not take any photos of the total station but I do have some from another dig I participated in which I will share in a later post.

Before the measurements were completed, Dr. M realized it may take us a while so we held our normal discussions out on the lawn until it got dark and went inside. We talked about chapter 16 and covered these three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Raw Material Utilization in Carroll County, Indiana: A Small-Scale Analysis of Diachronic Patterns in the Usage of Attica, Kenneth, and Wyandotte Cherts
  • Sourcing Lithic Artifacts by Instrumental Analysis
  • Macroscopic and Microscopic Analysis of Chert. A Proposal for Standardisation of Methodology and Terminology
UIndy campus

University of Indianapolis campus, looking at Smith Mall (the "quad" area). The lower half of this image is a large portion of our contour map.

UIndy campus

University of Indianapolis campus, looking at Esch Hall. The foreground is a large portion of our contour map.

UIndy campus

Fall colors hiding Martin Hall at the University of Indianapolis.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 5: Shoulder and Arms


The shoulder girdle connects the forelimbs (appendicular skeleton) to the thorax (axial skeleton). It is a very shallow ball and socket joint, allowing for great flexibility. The forelimb design is a common tetrapod design. The proximal half contains a single bone, while the distal end is made of two bones, terminating in the hand, which contains carpals, metacarpals, and free moving phalanges.

The shoulder girdle:

  • Scapula
  • Clavicle

The forelimb:

  • Humerus
  • Ulna
  • Radius
  • Carpals
    • Trapezium
    • Scaphoid
    • Lunate
    • Pisiform
    • Triquetral
    • Hamate
    • Capitate
    • Trapezoid
  • Metacarpals 1-5
  • Manual Phalanges
    • Proximal
    • Intermediate
    • Distal

We learned the various features of each bone and how to side them. Interestingly, I have spent a lot of time on the small bones of the hand which now I find easy, but I am having trouble with the larger bones of the arm. I wonder if this is normal. Remember, we do not get tested over full bones. Fragments are what is found in the archaeological record so fragments I must know.


We jumped ahead to the pelvis and lower limb. The pelvis is a paired group of three bones: the illium (what you feel as your “hip bone”), the ischium (what you sit on), and the pubis (which can be felt in the nether regions). These two sets of bones fuse early on to become two oddly shaped bones, sometimes referred to as the ox coxae or the innominate. The leg is in the same model as the arm: a single bone in the proximal half, two bones in the lower half, terminating into tarsals, metatarsals, and phalanges. My favorite bone pops in at the knee: the patella.

The lower limb:

  • Femur
  • Patella
  • Tibia
  • Fibula


  • Tarsals
    • Calcaneous
    • Talus
    • Navicular
    • Cuboid
    • 1st Cuneiform
    • 2nd Cuneiform
    • 3rd Cuneiform
  • Pedal Phalanges
    • Proximal
    • Intermediate
    • Distal

Just like the upper bones, I am pretty confident in the small bits, but the long bones trick me often. I am decent at identifying which bone it is, but siding is still a struggle. I missed the practical lab section here because I was working with my cohort on a presentation for BARFAA coming up on the 8th of October. This is part of my problem with long bones I think, but I should make up for it this week with extra study time.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 5: Trauma


Tuesday was our first exam. It is always a bit disconcerting when tests are open book, but I felt I did alright. Since this post is quite delayed, I can say I did more than alright, I nailed it:)


Trauma includes both intentional and accidental conditions affecting the skeleton. Antemortem trauma (occurring some time prior to death) is recognized by evidence of healing, although in some cases healing can be so complete that the trauma evidence itself is erased. Perimortem trauma (occurring shortly prior to, at, or just after death) will lack healing but usually can be distinguished from postmortem trauma (occurring some time after death, due to taphonomic processes) because living (or very recently living) bone reacts to external forces differently than dry bone.

One common type of trauma found in the archaeological record is fracturing. When a force of energy contacts bone, it will radiate in a certain pattern depending on the bone properties and the type of force. There are several key types of factors:

  • Depressed: At low velocity, these fractures will radiate in concentric rings. At high velocity, the rings are also blown by the force so only a hole remains.
  • Torsional: These are spiral fractures which occur when the proximal end of a bone is forced in the opposite direction of the distal end.
  • Longitudinal: These occur with extremely compressive forces. Greenstick fractures have a longitudinal component.
  • Transverse: Hairline fractures occur when the bone is forced to bend just slightly more than it can handle.
  • Bullseye: Technically this is not considered a traumatic fracture because this occurs when bone gets burned (as in cremation, therefore after death and not trauma).
Some fractures have special identifiers because they are seen so often:
  • Parry fracture: A fracture of the ulna, often associated with self-defense (when your arm goes up to block your face).
  • Colles fracture: A fracture of the radius, associated with falling (when you arm goes down to catch your fall).

We also discussed a little about modern trauma. Bullets can make a keyhole shaped entry with radiating fractures connected by concentric fractures. This is an incredibly simplistic description, though, because a lot of science goes into ballistics. The angle, the gun, the bullet, and the distance combine so a lot of possibilities can occur but also are related in such a way that this is how a forensic team can identify said variables. For instance, another example is a shot from the side through a leg bone. The bullet forces bone particles with it so when it goes through the other leg bone, the damage is greater (this situation is known as the Hertzian cone). People hit by cars experience both compressive and tension stresses on their leg bones, which will cave under the force and a wedged piece of bone will crack off, known as a butterfly fracture.

In bioarchaeology, everything is about patterns seen in populations. Of course there are always exceptions to any rule, but in general, pre-agricultural societies experienced more lower limb bone fractures than agriculturalists. We held class discussions with case studies to delve further into interpretation.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Tuesday: November 1, 2011

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Week 5: Field Methods & Geophysics


Archaeologists often use a total station to record the site topography and artifact locations. A total station records X, Y, and Z coordinates by shooting a laser situated in a fixed place at a prism on a stadia rod at other locations around the site. It calculates some wicked math (probably basic trigonometry actually) and creates a digital file which can then be inputted to other programs for analysis. We went outside to see how this is done, setting up the total station tripod over a water drain for our Datum 1 point. Because most of the students were experienced with a total station from field experiences, it was a quick introduction for those of us without prior knowledge of it.

Archaeologists also employ Google Earth, using their database of aerial photos and historic imagery to locate possible locations of archaeological sites. These can be seen by discolorations of the soil, particularly along floodplains which were magnets for ancient populations.

Archaeologists also need to know how to read a topographic map, so we took some time to go over an old map of the school’s area, back when it was known as Indiana Central. Archeologists work with maps primarily at 1:24,000 scale. This means that it is 7.5 minutes latitude by 7.5 minutes longitude. Also indicated are northing and easting units. One section is a square mile, or 640 acres. You can get a small plastic card to further break down the sections, into quadrants and smaller – down to 1/8 square miles.


We went over how to use Surfer 9, which is a mapping program that the total station file can be imported into, allowing creation of a contour map.

We also talked about the upcoming field trip to Lew Wallace, where geophysics would be seen in action.

Then we went into class discussion on chapter 15 and I presented on these three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Current Practices in Archaeogeophysics: Magnetics, Resistivity, Conductivity, and Ground-Penetrating Radar
  • Situating Remote Sensing in Anthropological Archaeology
  • Palaeotopography: The Use of GIS Software with Data Derived from Resistivity Surveys and Stratigraphic Profiles to Reconstruct Sites and Past Terrains

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School Bits

Friday: October 14, 2011

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Although I have several segments of class notes to type up, I thought I would make a short post about other things happening in grad school.

Over the weekend, my cohort and I presented our findings at BARFAA (see the abstract located here). UIndy was given the responsibility of profiling (at least) three individuals accidentally discovered in Tippecanoe County. Originally, I was to present my own research on teeth from Isreal using the WLCP, but instead we all felt it would benefit the project if I changed course and added dental texture analysis to the accidental discovery. We put together a keynote presentation and though quite nervous, I felt we did well. I was surprised to find that I was able to master my voice and talk slowly during my segment. We had some questions afterward, and I was able to meet several people in the field. Boy came with me so we could make it a mini-vacation, and the next day we attended the workshop for Transition Analysis, by Dr. Wilson of IUPUI. It is a software developed for use by anthropologists. My take is that it is similar to Fordisc, only targeting age rather than ancestry. It allows you to input several measurements and use a range of measurements. Then it will calculate the confidence level and show you a graph which outlines the individual methods and the correlated age from them. I look forward to using the program in my studies.

Since I made a plug for it, I shall make a plug for another anthropologically awesome program. Anthropomotron is designed for estimates of sex, stature, body mass, skeletal population estimates, and various skeletal indices. I am also interested to see how this works out for me.

Aside from BARFAA, I have been working on my Human Osteology skeletal project. I requested a juvenile since I had worked with mostly adults in Peru, and received a tiny baby. It is sad to think he or she passed away so early and the heartache that must have caused the family. Perhaps that thought is ethnocentric, I do not know, but I feel honored to take the little one in my care. From my research this far, I am almost certain the baby did not reach full term. The teeny tininess has proven a learning experience for me – not just because the bones are not at their mature form, but also because they are literally so small, it is simply hard to examine them. I have also learned first hand about the difficulties archaeologists face when excavating children (this site is a CRM recovery, of course). The archaeologists did very well bagging different bones and labeling the bags, but they did not always correctly identify something. A turtle shell was mistaken for a cranial fragment, and some fragments of ribs were misplaced in the fibula and vert bags. The pubes were both placed in the vert bag as well. This avenue is something I would like to explore more – archaeologists do not always get proper osteological training, and even then sometimes children are not discussed in depth. This is for several reasons of course (and will be explained in a later post), but the need is there. Considering the importance of reburial, the most respectful thing would be to collect the whole individual, you know? Tooth buds, epiphyses, and all.

Another cool thing that happened (and then didn’t) is that the DNR called to see if we could excavate a skeleton discovered in someone’s backyard. To have the excavation experience ourselves would have been wonderful but unfortunately it coincided with BARFAA so we could not get there as early as the police requested and they were able to hire someone else. Maybe next time.

Undergrads (friends and strangers alike!) may surprise you with free food since their tuition includes a meal plan that they do not always use. I’ve had this happen twice and it is quite awesome. The anthro undergrads are pretty cool, especially. For instance, today we discussed the anthropology behind zombies. Does it get any more real than that?

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Friday: September 30, 2011

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Week 4: Spine and Thorax & Review


 The human body has 24 vertebrae:

  • 7 cervical
  • 12 thoracic
  • 5 lumbar
There are two kinds of curves that create the “S-curve”: lordosis (a ventral curve, employed by  the cervical verts and the lumbar verts) and kyphosis (a dorsal curve, employed by the thoracic verts and sacrum).
Some vertebrae have special identifying features:
  • C1, otherwise known as Atlas, articulates with the skull, allowing us to shake our heads “yes”
  • C2, otherwise known as Axis, articulates specially with C1 via the Odontoid, allowing us to shake our heads “no”
  • C7 is the bump you can feel at the bottom of your neck, and it transitions into the thoracic vertebrae
  • T1 is also transitional between cervical and thoracic, but unlike the cervical verts, all other verts lack transverse foramina
  • T10-T12 transition into lumbar verts, but each still maintains a costal facet which articulates with a rib
  • L5 is transitional to the sacrum (sometimes it even becomes fused with the sacrum)
We also covered the sacrum and coccyx which are each important for muscle attachment. Between each vertebra is an intervertebral disk. This is made of annulus fibrosis, which surrounds the nucleus pulposis, a remnant of the notochord. When a person has a slipped disk, the disk itself does not slip, but the nucleus pulposis is no longer centered. It is estimated that this soft tissue accounts for almost 25% of our vertebral height.

We have twelve pairs of ribs, men and women alike. The first six are sometimes called “true ribs” because they each have a cartilaginous connection to the sternum. Ribs 7 through 10 are sometimes referred to “false ribs” because their cartilaginous connection is shared between them. Ribs 11 and 12 are “floating ribs” because they lack this connection to the sternum.

A sternum has three parts, though these often fuse. The top is called a manubrium. If you have ever seen the movie The English Patient, he referred to the supersternal notch, which is the area we call a jugular notch, between the clavicular notches. The body of the sternum is sometimes referred to as the corpus sterni, or sternabrae. The bottom tip of it is the xiphoid process.


 We had lab time to study for our test. Anna and I spent the entire evening there (much like Tuesday) to go over fragments. I have trouble siding the sphenoid. That bone is not my friend.


We had the first test of the semester. 50 written questions, but an additional essay and diagram for the grad students. Then we had 50 practical questions, plus 10 extra hard grad student questions, and an optional 10 question quiz. I got done with both parts early and with time to go over each question to be absolutely sure. There were a few I couldn’t be confident about but overall I think I did alright. My main issue is still balancing time. Two classes demand a lot of time for reading. This class demands a lot of extra lab time. And then I have the Dental Microwear Project to work on also, not to mention commuting and saving time for “weekend husband”. As the semester draws on, I am finally getting the feeling of caught up, so by the end of the semester, I ought to be rocking it.


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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Friday: September 30, 2011

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Week 4: Implications of Disease (and some non-pathogens)


Bioarchaeologists focus on patterns formed by the relationship between pathological conditions and behavior. Associations of one to the other, however, does not necessitate a causation, but it does allude to the cause in some cases.

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) could be caused by genetics, large body size, age, and diet. Take a football player into account: are people of larger body size more likely to get into sports? Is this large body size part of their genetic make up? Do they eat the healthiest diets? Are they tested for DJD while they are young and playing football, or only after they are older and retired? Issues like these are multivariate so controls are used to identify the true effects. DJD begins with the breakdown of soft tissue between the bones of a joint. The bone will react by increasing the surface area and creates lipping, or osteoarthritis. In some cases, the wear can be so extreme that bone on bone contact occurs and this can be identified by the shiny, polished characteristic at joints, known as eburnation.

We discussed osteoporosis as well, which is a growing problem today. It is associated with activities, sedentism, and demographics. Bone increases robusticity through use, so the lack of use found in sedentary lifestyle could be a partial cause to the issue. People in general will lose bone mass as they age, and women experience this during pregnancy, lactation, and menopause which equates to sex being a factor.

In bioarchaeology, the use of controls is limited but it can be done in some cases. If a research question wanted to know the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and rule out agriculture of maize as the cause, an agricultural population can be compared with a coastal population, who is also sedentary but relies on marine resources. If the factor that the bioarchaeologist is looking for exists in both, it could be caused by a sedentary lifestyle. It if is only found in one population, however, it could be related to the diet or some other factor that differentiates the two groups.


We covered how the pervious class discussions can be applied to different sites, expectations from testing a research question, and new questions deriving when those expectations are not met.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Friday: September 30, 2011

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Week 4: Archaeological Soils & Correlations


We had a lab using Adobe Illustrator to take shovel test probes provided from real archaeological field notes and reconstruct the strata. As the name implies, holes are dug with a shovel to probe the landscape so as to test for the possibility of an informative feature. The width between the probes varies depending on the site – I have no idea in my representation below if there is a meter or tens of meters between them, but I am able to do a rough estimation of what lies below the ground with the data collected in the field notes.

Shovel Test Probe lab

Statigraphy correlated from shovel test probes done at an archaeological site.


Soil is different than sediments. Soil itself is weathered sediments that develop over a long period through a stable landscape. Sediments can accrue instantaneously, such as being deposited from a tsunami. Soils are only found on the surface, whereas sediments are found throughout the earth. If a soil surface becomes buried by sediments, it is no longer considered a soil, but instead a paleosol. There are five soil forming processes (also known as pedogenesis).

  • Climate
  • Organisms
  • Relief
  • Parent Material
  • Time
Soil also requires four components to be differentiated from sediments:
  • Inorganic mineral matter (derived from its parent material)
  • Organic matter (derived from the organisms)
  • Soil pore space (empty space between particles with allow water percolation and movement of organisms)
  • Soil water (some will fill the pore space, and others will be bonded to the aggregates themselves)
Soil characteristics for classification include:
  • Color (using the Munsell Soil Color Guide)
  • Texture (relative frequency of particle sizes)
  • Structure (shape of aggregates)
Soils can be described by their orders as well. We covered several:
  • Alfisol (found in upland environments, are older but with higher base and less weathering)
  • Mollisol (found in prairies and flood plains)
  • Entisol (thin layers, very young)
  • Inceptisol (slightly older than Entisol)
  • Histosol (found in marshes and swamps)
  • Oxisol (found in tropical rain forests)
  • Ultisol (like Alfisols, but older and the bases have been lost)
  • Aridosol (found in drylands and deserts)
  • Vertisol (found where clay shrinks and expands)
  • Spondosol (found in confiferous forests, highly acidic)
  • Gelisol (found in permafrost environments)
  • Andisol (volcanic soils)
Soil can be classified through taxonomy as well.  These are known as horizons. Thinking in terms or the surface on top, and going deeper, this is a typical Indiana soil broken into horizons:
  • O : If there is decay of organic material, there will be an O Horizon. Most soils lack this layer because bacteria acts quickly to dissolve it, but it remains where there is leaf litter, peat, or muck.
  • A : This is the most common top soil – it includes the highest concentration of organic matter (when O is not present) and therefore is darker and richer.
  • E : Sometimes there will be a small E Horizon. This occurs when water leaches the fines (clay sized particles), bases, and organic matter, leaving it lighter and sandy. It is most common in coniferous forests or in coastal environments.
  • B : Leaching has caused the loss of all bases, but the fines accumulate. This creates a reddish, more firm version of A due to a higher clay content.
  • C : This is the parent material layer  where the soil rests, and what is being weathered to become the soil, be it a deposit of clay or bedrock, though bedrock itself sometimes gets the designation of an R Horizon.
Tax dollars went into archiving US soils and providing a free website to learn about them (so get your money’s worth and check it out!). The Web Soil Survey allows you to type in an address, or simply zoom in over an area of choice. If you then click on the AOI button (the one with a red rectangle) at the top of the map, you can draw a box to create an area of interest. It will draw a box with diagonal lines. Then click on the Soil Map tab. It will give you a break down of the specific soils in that area. If you poke around some more, it provides all kinds of information. In addition to having fun on the internet, you can order any Soil Survey you create – for free. For instance, this is what campus looks like:
UIndy soil survey

Soil survey of UIndy. I spend most of my time in the basement of the building below the orange bullseye.

UIndy soil survey key

Soil composite of UIndy.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Sunday: September 25, 2011

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Week 3: Osteometric Landmarks & Teeth


In class, we covered the view of the interior cranium, the maxilla, and the mandible. We also covered some common craniometric landmarks used to identify ancestry. Since I have these memorized well: gnathion, incision, prosthion, nasospinale, nasion, glabella, bregma, vertex, obelion, lambda, opisthocranion, inion, opisthion, basion, gonion, ectomolare, ectoconchion, dacryon, zygion, porion, euryon, and pterion.

There are 20 deciduous teeth and 32 adult teeth in most instances. I only had 31 teeth because one of my third molars never developed. Cool, huh? Teeth are made of enamel (which is almost entirely protein and is acellular, which means they will never heal), dentin (which is about 75% mineral but is cellular although not well enough to patch cavities), and cement (about 65% mineral, like bone, and is what Sharpey’s Fibers hang on to inside the gomphosis joint).

The human dental formula is 2:1:2:3. This means that for each quadrant of your mouth, you have two incisors, then a canine, then two premolars, followed by three molars. We were briefly taught how to determine each category, and upper versus lower dentition (except for canines). More specific detail of this will be taught in Dental Anthropology next semester.

  • Upper incisors: Crown will be flat, enamel flares out from root, the root is more round, and wear will be linear.
  • Lower incisors: Crown will be flat, enamel continues evenly from root, the root is oblong, and wear will be linear.
  • Canines: Crown will be pointed, and wear will have a central bulge.


  • Upper premolars: Crown will be a rounded rectangle, and evenly cut in half.
  • Lower premolars: Crown will mostly circular and will have two dimples.
  • Upper molars: Crown will be shaped like parallelograms, and generally only have four cusps and three roots.
  • Lower molars: Crown will be more squared, have a Y5 or +4 pattern, and only have two roots.

As a grad student, I also have to be able to determine first, second, and third molars. Third molars are fun because typically the cusps are all messed up and the roots are tiny. First are generally the perfect examples of a molar, and seconds are intermediate between the two.


We were given details on our dental topography project. The machine we will be using is part of my Research Associate position. Not only will I scan the teeth for texture with the white light confocal microscope, but I will also profile them in the topography machine (TopoM). This process takes literally about 2 hours to do a single tooth but it builds a three dimensional view of the tooth.

For lab, we went over more skull fragments and began sorting teeth.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Sunday: September 25, 2011

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Week 3: Infectious Pathogens


Dental caries is the process of  tooth decay. Once a cavity opens up into the pulp chamber of a tooth, bacteria has access to the arteries and nerves inside. It can then move into the alveolar bone, to which the body will react with resorption, forming a puss-filled abscess. This can go on until so much bone has been resorbed that the problem tooth falls out, known in bioarchaeological terms as ante-mortem tooth loss (AMTL). [Side note: researchers today believe there is a causal link between the S. mutans bacteria and heart disease.] Bioarchaeologists will look at dental caries for trends between sexes, social classes, and populations to determine cultural causes of the disease.

Periosteal reactions (PR) are another indicator of interest. These are “non-specific” in that they can be observed, but the cause cannot be determined usually because too many different circumstances lead to the same reaction. They are generally found on shallow bones (shin bones for instance) and are thought to be related to an infection resulting from trauma. A specific form of PR is osteomyelitis, which is diagnostic of the staph infection caused by S. aureus. These systemic infections cause the body to carve out the infection, literally creating a bone island and causing a gaping sore in the skin to drain the fluids.

Treponemal disease is caused by both venerable and non-venerable syphilis, from the T. pallidum bacteria. It is diagnosable from stellate lesions and “saber shins”. Contrary to popular belief, it was not introduced to the New World from Europeans, although contact did put much stress on populations and caused them to grow much denser which rapidly increased the prevalence of treponema.

Tuberculosis (TB) affects the ribs followed by vertebrae, which collapses creating a hunchback appearance known as Pott’s Disease. TB creates a good discussion for the Osteological Paradox. Some individuals may die of TB before their skeleton has had time to react, thereby looking completely healthy compared to an individual who was able to live with the disease long enough for boney reactions to occur, leaving a visibly unhealthy skeleton. The Osteological Paradox is something that must always be considered when working with skeletal populations.

Leprosy is another common disease found in bioarchaeological studies. Caused by M. leprae, it may not always be fatal. Diagnostic characteristics include atrophy of the face, peripherals, and appendages. It is currently thought this this disease was brought to the Americas by the Europeans.


Common non-specific diseases include Cribra Orbitalia (CO) and Porotic Hyperostosis (PH) which are often associated with each other and with iron deficiency, or anemia. These show in the roof of the orbits (CO) or along the flat bones of the skull (PH). It could be an issue of the Osteological Paradox again – are these individuals lacking in iron, or are their bodies fighting off an infection of some kind by limiting the iron available for the infection to feed on? For instance, a person affected with Sickle Cell Anemia has a higher survival rate against malaria because sickle shaped cells prevent the parasite from rapidly reproducing, thus allowing the body time to resist the infection. The idea of health has many facets which must be considered in bioarchaeology.


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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Sunday: September 25, 2011

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Week 3: Archaeological Stratigraphy


Stratigraphy refers to the layers of deposition of sediments and soils (which are not the same thing!). All else being equal, there are five geological principals that apply to archaeological strata:

  • Superposition: The oldest layer will be the deepest layer.
  • Original Horizontality: Due to gravity, deposits are layered horizontally.
  • Lateral Continuity: Strata will continue until the materials run out or reach the edge of the depositional basin.
  • Cross-cutting Relations: In order for a deposit to be cut through by another, it must have existed first.
  • Included Fragments: The stuff the deposit is made of is older than the deposit itself (similar to cross-cutting relations).
There are also a few different approaches to defining stratigraphic layers:
  • Lithostratigraphy: Layers are defined by their visible physical properties (color and texture, for instance).
  • Pedostratigraphy: Layers are defined through the soil horizons that separate them (remember, soils are not sediments).
  • Biostratigraphy: Layers are defined by the flora/faunal fossils found in them (changing of shell types, seed types, etc.).
  • Chronostratigraphy: Layers are defined through datable objects found in them.

Depending on the research question, an archaeologist may use any one of these approaches to sort what artifacts are found.

We had a Stratigraphy & Correlations lab to understand how Shovel Test Probes can provide an idea of what the strata look like. We also had to determine, using the geological principals, how the strata became the way they were.


 Microstratigraphy is a technique geoarchaeologists use to determine site use (is this feature a hearth or where the ash was dumped?), and uses over time (was the hearth used consistently for a long period or was the place chosen over and over again through time?). They take a thin section of soil and can identify different stages of weathering, which means different surfaces over time, through a microscope. To understand this further, we read chapter two and discussed three articles (see the Library for bibliographic information):

  • Microfacies Analysis Assisting Archaeological Stratigraphy
  • Discontinuity in the Stratigraphic Record: Snapshots from Franchthi Cave
  • Chronology and Stratigraphy at Dust Cave, Alabama


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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Saturday: September 24, 2011

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Week 2: Bone Growth and Joints & Skull


Bone development (osteogenesis) in the embryonic stage basically forms three layers: the ectoderm, which transforms into skin and teeth enamel; the mesoderm, which forms connective tissues and bone; and the endoderm, which turn into the organs. Mesenchyme in the mesoderm layer will begin to form a cartilaginous skeleton, known as an anlage. This will be followed by a layer of protein matrix which will build the bone shapes. This pre-bone matrix is an osteoid. Mineralization then takes place, creating immature bone. This turns into mature bone once the minerals and proteins become organized through the work of osteoblasts (bone forming cells) and osteoclasts (bone removal cells), to form osteons (organized bone matrix).

Bone repair works in much the same way, beginning with osteoids. If the periosteum becomes strained or torn (the layer on the outside of living bone), a fracture callus will form along with a hematoma (blood mass), allowing osteoids to patch the area until osteoblasts and osteoclasts begin the true remodeling.

There are three classifications of joints:

  • Synarthrosis (fibrous): allows almost no movement (such as that found in cranial sutures)
  • Amphiarthrosis (cartilaginous): allows limited movement (such as that found in gomphosis, which keeps teeth in place)
  • Diarthrosis (synovial): allows much movement (found in synovial joints, which are the typical joints)

Synovial joints come in several forms: ball and socket (ex. hip), hinge (ex. elbow), pivot (ex. shaking head to say “no”), gliding (ex. wrist movement), condyloid (ex. finger joints), and saddle (ex. thumb joint). A synovial joint includes the bones involved, which have a layer of articular cartilage on each of their articular surfaces. This cartilage, along with a synovial membrane, forms the joint, which is filled with synovial fluid. The joint is covered by a fibrous capsule and ligaments keep the capsule in place.


 The first skull appears about 500mya in fish, although it was more osteodentin than true bone. There were no moveable parts, and it acted as armor to protect the notochord. Placoderms derived from this and were the first jawed fish. Chondrichthyes began having a cartilaginous skeleton in addition to the skull plate. Osteichthyes developed a skin covering over the plate, and the plate covered the head, leaving the orbits, nasal, and mouth free. Early tetrapods began the mineralization of the cartilaginous skeleton, and moved out of the water. Their skulls now housed a full brain and teeth.

Today, we see three common types of skulls: anapsids have the boney plate still, but underneath is another boney portion protecting their brain. This set up is heavy, so it works best in aquatic or slow moving animals such as a turtle. Diapsids are similar, except that their boney plate opened up windows to lighten the load. They can move faster on land, and this is seen in alligators. Synapsids opened the window so much that there truly is no longer a window. Instead, synapsids skull is almost entirely only the inner boney portion found in anapsids and diapsids. In fact, the only skull plate left in a synapsid skull is the zygomatic arch (cheek bone). Humans are synapsids.

There are 29 bones in an average human adult skull, along with 32 teeth. In class, we covered the frontal bone, both parietal bones, both temporal bones, the occipital bone, the sphenoid, and the ethmoid.


In lab, we examined skull bones to be able to identify features and side fragments.

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Saturday: September 24, 2011

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Week 2: Age, Sex, & Ancestry


Bioarchaeologists begin with determining the biological profile, which would include age, sex, ancestry, and any idiosyncrasies relevant to the individual. It is not clear cut, so the aim is accuracy over precision. For instance, does everyone age in the same way? No. Age has both intrinsic and extrinsic factors: individual development which is then affected by lifestyle stresses. Is a person’s sex truly reflected in their skeleton? Can molecular testing positively identify ancient DNA? Not always. Although sex is genetically determined, the environment can affect the indicators – more physical stresses can lead to more robustness, skewing the indicators of females, for instance. Genetic sex itself is not always concrete either, with developmental issues and hormonal problems, in addition to poor rates of preservation. Is ancestry a discreet classification? No. Ancestry actually is easier than perhaps aging and sexing in older populations because they were small and isolated, but it is still not exacting. This is especially due to limited preservation of certain traits needed to be confident in identifying an ancestral relation. Idiosyncrasies can be more specific since they are blatantly observable in most cases, but even these sometimes are considered “non-specific” because the cause is unknown. When the individuals are then brought together to understand a population, paleodemography can be discussed.


Demographic factors can be affected by age and stress. Stress (trauma, disease, nutrition, lifestyle, etc.) can interrupt the normal growth trajectory of an individual. This is why stature is often used to determine the health of a population. Harris lines can occur in long bones, which may represent periods of stress on the skeleton as well, though these will heal over the course of a lifetime. The development of teeth in children can also be interrupted, which forms linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH) – horizontal lines typically found in the front teeth, but even something like a fever can cause them so they are not explicitly used to determine overall health. Sometimes the development rate of teeth and the epiphyseal fusing of long bones no longer match as they should, and this may represent a period of stress as well.

Overall, bioarchaeologists have been able to determine that with the adoption of an agricultural lifestyle, health in populations did decline. In part, this is because the hunting-foraging diet is much more widely varied and therefore highly nutritional compared to a concentration on a few staples, particular maize in North America. Perhaps a much more crucial cause of this trend is that an agricultural population is a sedentary one, which will have a denser concentration of people. This creates sanitation issues and the ability for diseases to spread rapidly, either from domesticated animals to humans, or simply humans to other humans.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Saturday: September 24, 2011

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Week 2: Archaeological Sediments (continued)


Being Labor Day, there was no class.


We discussed what geoarchaeology is, namely using geosciences to answer archaeological questions. Geosciences typically work at massive scales, but for archaeology the largest scale is a macro-region. An example could be all of North America, or more specific such as Eastern United States. A regional scale is smaller, such as Indiana, or specifically the Ohio River Valley. An archaeological site varies depending on the research question and could mean a specific cave dwelling, a village occupation, or multiple villages in close proximity. The smallest level of archaeological inquiry is at the stratum level – the layers of dirt and sediments in which archaeological sites are contained. This is where geoarchaeology comes in handy.

In order to understand fully what questions can be answered with geoarchaeology, however, we need to have a full grasp of the field’s study materials so we continued talking about sediments. There are three kinds:

  • Clastic (those derived from parent minerals or rocks, such as gravel)
  • Chemical (those created through precipitation from a solution, such as travertine)
  • Organic (those created from organisms, such as sea shells or nut shells)
They then can be classified further by identifying composition (clastic, chemical, and organic), texture (clay, silt, sand, gravel, pebble, cobble, boulder), and physical characteristics (surface features, sorting characteristics, roundness or angularity, and form).
We also held class discussions over the intro and first chapters of the book and three assigned articles (see the Library for bibliographic information).
  • Archaeological Sediments in Cultural Environments
  • Socializing Geoarchaeology: Insights from Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice Applied to Neolithic and Bronze Age Crete
  • Archaeological Sediments in Coastal Environments
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Public Archaeology

Friday: September 23, 2011

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In geoarchaeology, it is required to go on at least one of three field trips. Earlier this month, I took the option to visit the History Beneath Us event at the study of Lew Wallace. Prior to this, I knew nothing about Lew Wallace, who is likely best known for being the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. During my time there, I visited the small museum and toured his study. His fantastical study – check it out if you are ever in the area. He seemed like a really cool dude and from a photo on display, I believe it is likely he knew Hiram Bingham (“discoverer” of Macchu Pichu, or a relative of the man). I point that out because before grad school began, I had been reading Turn Right at Machu Pichu, by Mark Adams. It collects dust now, but I digress.

Under the direction of Dr. M and his archaeologist wife Anne, I worked alongside two undergrads and with two volunteers. One of them happened to be friends with Dr. Haskell, which operates a workshop about entomology that I have always wanted to attend. The other provided me some (small) photos since I did not bring my camera. Other photos can be found at The General Lew Wallace Study and Museum Blog.

Archaeology at the Lew Wallace Study

I dig while Dr. M discusses with the undergrads.

Being the grad student of the group, I got the pleasure of digging most of the day. It was exactly what I had expected, except that instead of being completely boring, I found it to be mildly therapeutic. It helped that I was there with people very passionate about archaeology. The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” never rings as true as when a tiny chipped piece of ceramic pops up in an archaeological site.

Archaeology at the Lew Wallace Study

Anne and Dr. M shoveling out a new unit.

While I was digging the last layer of a unit, Dr. M and Anne began widening the trench for further excavations. They dug up a lot of cool stuff – nails, mica circles, a glass bottle of some type, pottery sherds, and a metal object of some sort. The undergrads, with the help of the volunteers, screened everything through a quarter-inch screen and saved it all for later analysis.

Archaeology at the Lew Wallace Study

Dr. M, a volunteer, and I screening for artifacts like glass and charcoal.

The purpose of this particular site is to assist the Lew Wallace Museum. On the grounds of the study, Wallace had a beautiful reflecting pool built which then later was filled in due to fear that his grandchildren may suffer harm. In every photo taken of it that the museum has archived, the photographer is standing at the end so little is known about this particular portion. The Ms volunteer their time and efforts each season to answer this question and give students some archaeological experience.

Public archaeology events are always great because one of the most important things to me is sharing anthropology with others. At excavations like this, volunteers do not only get to observe archaeology in action, but to also participate. Be sure that if you hear of an event like this near you that you check it out!

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Research Associate

Saturday: September 10, 2011

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I have not truly begun my duties as an RA yet but I have been shown the ropes and began practicing. The process can be simplified as thus:

Researchers from around the globe take molds of molars in their samples and send them to us. I have been given a site from Isreal to work with first, since I am expected to present at the Biological and Forensic Anthropology Association (BARFAA) in October. The first step is to clean the molds with alcohol because sometimes the dirt from a tooth is left in them.

Then, I mix up resin and hardener to cast the teeth. The cast works better to reflect the light from the white light confocal profiler (WLCP) than real teeth, and it standardizes all the teeth samples for comparisons. Not to mention, it also prevents us from having the full responsibility of samples in house and opens up a lot more sites to be studied (some of which may be reburied right away can still have the teeth examined through the casts).

I carefully adjust the tooth on a tray so that Phase II is level. Phase II can be thought of as the part on top of your molar that can be felt with your tongue and hikes up to your cheek (of course, it is much more specific than that). Phase II is useful for dental microwear because it is where food hits the tooth during chewing. Microwear, by the way, refers to the scratches and pits that you (yes you!) have on your teeth that can only be seen via a microscope. Different diets will show different patterns of wear. In older populations, some of the teeth are completely worn down and are flat across the top, even exposing the dentin inside. Although this does not bode well for my particular kind of study, it is a fascinating thing to witness. Teeth were used as major tools back then, but also food processing did little to soften food as we have now. In fact, sometimes stoney grit was added to food as a consequence for grinding it with stone tools. In fact further, some populations today still wear their teeth down!

Next, I use the microscope to find a representational place on Phase II and then use the software that came with the WLCP to profile the texture of the tooth. The light shines down and bounces back to the lens and this is calculated so that it can be represented through computer output, rendered in several ways. First, it shows as a gradient of elevation. I then show it as a true image which can give the appearance of an Scanning Electron Microscope image (SEM). This is important because our technology is new and therefore we need to make sure that our results are comparable to SEM results for a control factor, but also because SEM images are what everyone is already familiar with.

Here, I will inspect the image for evidence of dirt. At this point, it will be microscopic dirt, and likely part of the cast so instead of removing it in real life which is likely impossible, I can edit the images so the program understands that it should not be included in the calculations.

Amidst all the linear scratches or circular pitting, you may wonder how I can identify dirt, but the trick is that dirt generally looks like tiny little balls, unlike anything else on the tooth surface so really it is not that difficult to determine. I use the program to erase little spots and then tell it to finish with the calculations.

There is more after this step, but at this point, I am just focusing on finding Phase II (it is not that easy for a newb like me since I am still learning simply how to identify which tooth is which) I also poke around learning the program (and earned the title Rebecca the Grey which quickly transformed into Rebecca the White and even sometimes all the way elevated to Gandolf since I happen to have magic computer powers). I should start on the real thing in the coming week and my next post about it hopefully will include some sort of visual reference for you.

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Class Notes: Human Osteology

Saturday: September 10, 2011

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Week 1: What is Bone? & Histology & Introductory Terminology

The course objectives are to give students the abilities of:

  • Know every single bone in the human body
  • Know the function of every bone
  • Understand the microscopic anatomy of bone
  • Determine biological profile of a human skeleton
  • Understand how paleopathology, dietary reconstruction, and paleodemography shed light on early human lifeways
  • Complete the analysis of a human skeleton

Books assigned for class are: Human Osteology and Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains. Recommended is also: Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains. (See the Library page for bibliographic information.)

There are nine students (6 undergrads and 3 grads). The separation lies in that graduates are expected to not only identify a bone but side it, sex and age it when possible, and note any pathology. Instead of being teamed up to work on the skeletal project, we will do it independently. And we must get at least 70% on each quiz in order to pass.


The skeleton functions to provide support for the body, anchors for movement of muscles, and protections of organs. It also makes blood, stores minerals, and assists with breathing, digestion, the immune system, and the central nervous system.

Briefly, bones are composed of roughly 65% calcium phosphate mineral (part of the hydroxyapatite composition), which gives bones their strength. The other part of the make-up is collagen, which gives bone enough elasticity to not be brittle. We went into detail of long bones, which have three main parts: the diaphysis (the long shaft), the metaphysis (widening of the shaft at either end), and the epiphysis (the end cap which forms separately and fuses during growth).

The diaphysis is made up of dense cortical bone, which then fades into thin subchondral bone (which is covered by cartilage) at the metaphysis and covers the epiphysis. The ends of long bones have trabecular bone, otherwise known as spongy bone. This is so that a bone can absorb impact without shattering. The outside of a bone is covered with a living tissue called periosteum, while the inside of the bone along the medullary cavity (which is where marrow is stored) is lined with endosteum. Because a bone must grow and also remodel after trauma, it needs nourishment like any other part of the body. Therefore, between the marrow (which houses fat and calcium as well as creates blood cells) and the periosteum,the cortical bone is made of osteons.

Osteons are small tubes of lamellar bone which form concentric circles around a Haversian canal. Through the canal, blood, lymph, and nerve endings are channeled. Between osteons are Volkamm’s canals which further channel the means necessary for nourishment. Within the lamellae are lacunae, or small cavities where the actual living cells of bone (osteocytes) needing the nourishment are housed. These are then connected to the entire system via tiny channels called canaliculi.


We went into further detail of the histology of bone and teeth but I will spare you the details (you can check it out at Wiki). Then we covered the anatomical position and its reference planes/directional terms. These include midsagittal, parasagittal, transverse, coronal, and oblique planes. Also, anterior/posterior, ventral/dorsal, superior/inferior, and medial/lateral directions.

Particular kinds of bone landmarks were also mentioned. The list is long but a few of them are foramina (holes), sutures (the squiggly lines on a skull), condyles (where two bones articulate), and fontanelle (the soft spots on a newborns head).


Fridays are lab days. They begin with a quiz and the rest of the time is spent working on a packet of material. We covered what I have already mentioned in detail and we had to be able to draw certain items (like an osteon or the parts of a long bone) and label features on a bone (like a protuberance, a turbercle, and a tuberosity). The three hours scheduled truly is not enough time to really grasp it all. It is a little daunting to know how much harder the course will become and how much less free time I will have to hit the lab after hours, but I am excited for the challenge that Human Osteology will give me. Bring it!

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Class Notes: Bioarchaeology

Saturday: September 10, 2011

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Week 1: What is bioarchaeology?

The course objectives are to inform students of:

  • History of bioarchaeology
  • Theoretical rubrics that surround bioarchaeological analysis
  • New directions of bioarchaeological study
  • Ethics of studying the ancient dead

We are assigned two texts for the course: Bioarchaeology and Ancient Health. Grad students have an additional book: Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton. (See the Library page for bibliographic information.)

This class is cross-listed with undergrads (eleven of them, three of us grads). The main difference is the extra text and the discussions that we will lead from it, in a form similar to seminars.


We discussed what bioarchaeology is, and the method involved of mixing biological theory with social theory. Very briefly, bioarchaeology examines past human remains (mostly hard tissues of bone and teeth although the occasional mummy comes to light) to understand behavior, subsistence practices, and sociopolitical organization of a population.

We then went over the history of the field. During the 1800s, C. B. Moore was considered an “archaeologist” and gave a lot of artifacts to museums (how he obtained them may be a bit dubious). Only recently, in the early 1900s did skeletal remains begin to be seen as an important source of information. A. Hrdlicka, perhaps the first “bioarchaeologist”, founded the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, still active today. After having studied different native groups (also quite dubiously), he realized that there were certain physical traits present (such as shoveled incisors, also common to those with Asian descent). Following him, people began to use analytical methods to understand how skeletons age throughout life. Only in the 70’s did the term bioarchaeology get coined and still yet not until 1990 was the Native American Graves Protection Act passed that really set the stage for respectful and professional studies of past populations (of course, I suspect some “professionals” are yet still dubious themselves, unfortunately).

I completely respect the viewpoint that the dead should remain buried. Unfortunately, as America changes and construction goes on, old grave sites get dug up or discovered all the time. In place is Cultural Resource Management, which is a sector that I may pursue after my degree. CRM bioarchaeologists are hired on rescue missions when a new street or new office basement uncovers human remains. If possible, the population is identified so that they can be repatriated to the closest native group for proper ceremony and reburial. Don’t get me wrong though – immigrant (“American”) burials are in just as much peril, if not more, than native groups. Side note: some people find skeletons and all that to be creepy but I would like to point out that if I could just examine my own skeleton I would be more excited than if I won the lotto. True story.


We discussed how the turn from foraging hunter-gatherer societies to sedentary agricultural societies is one of the worse decisions ever as far as health is concerned. Close living with higher populations leads to unsanitary conditions and rapid spread of disease. Nutritionally, agri diets are far less varied in nutrients and are often focus on one type (ie. maize) which can lead to health problems itself (cavities). Think about your own diet – how many different types of food do you truly eat on a regular bases? (And think about what the potential is across the globe!)

The context in which a skelly is found is critical. For instance, cultural phenomena can be seen in burials. The burial itself is evidence that the society had a specific way of laying their beloveds to rest. Social stratification can be seen – elite class people may be buried closer to a monument, whereas the common class may be at the outskirts. To further this thought, do the elites show better health in their skeletons than the commoners? What type of grave goods do each get? Are men treated differently in burials than women? Than children? These are only a few questions that can be answered and interpreted from a burial.

But much like anything else, bioarchaeology does have some limitations. For starters, those discovered are only a subsample of the whole population. Maybe not everyone was buried in the particular area. Maybe not everyone was found or even preserved to be found. Obviously, bones will not show everything and sometimes cannot be fully recognized for classifications. The processes which occur after a burial (called taphonomic processes) can disrupt the bones as well as the burial.

As the program goes on, I will try to explain some of these ideas in further detail.

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Class Notes: Geoarchaeology

Saturday: September 10, 2011

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Week 1: Archaeological Sediments


We simply covered the syllabus and expectations in the class. The course objectives are to enable students with the abilities of:

  • Theoretical and methodological foundation for interpreting the physical remains of human activities
  • Use earth-science concepts to answer archaeological research questions in both the field and lab
  • Generate topographic and archaeological site maps
  • Identify earth materials like rocks, minerals, and native metals used by prehistoric peoples in Indiana
  • Locate and identify archaeological sites, interpret site formation processes, and reconstruct prehistoric human behavior
  • Participate in an on-going research project

The book assigned for class is: Practical and Theoretical Geoarchaeology. (See the Library page for bibliography information.)

There are 8 people in my class, which is cross-listed with undergrads (four to four ratio). The main separation is that we (the grads) read more articles and have essays due every week.

There is also a field trip involved to participate in the on-going research project which is scheduled later in the semester.


We had a geology lab to identify minerals, and igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. This was not one of my best classes as an undergrad (colors are much too subjective for me!) so hopefully the focus quickly changes to something I am better at.

Minerals can be identified by: luster, color, hardness, cleavage, streak, and sometimes special properties. We identified: copper, halite, quartz, calcite, chert, k-feldspar, galena, hornblende, biotite, muscovite, kaolinite, pyrite, hematite, magnetite, and fluorite.

Igneous rocks can be identified by: color, texture, and the essential mineral or accessories mineral components. We identified: pink granite, basalt, obsidian, gabbro, rhyolite, and pumice.

Sedimentary rocks can be identified by: origin, texture, particle size, composite or diagnostic features, and likely sedimentary environment. We identified: shale, conglomerate, fossiliferous limestone, arkose, lithographic limestone, bituminous coal, dolostone, sedimentary breccia, siltstone, peat, travertine, rock salt, and coquina. Other possible ones we looked at were: chalk or claystone and quartz-sandstone or oolitic limestone (the lab has not yet been graded so I am not sure what I was actually examining).

Metamorphic rocks can be identified by: color, texture, grain size, and diagnostic minerals. We identified: marble, quartzite, slate, schist, and gneiss.

The grads were paired with undergrads and I worked primarily with Lori. Having just taken a geo class as a pre-req to get into this one, she taught me well!

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checking out campus

Sunday: August 28, 2011

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Thursday night, Boy and I stayed in Indy with his mom so that I could move some of my stuff to her guest room. On Friday, we wandered around campus to get my parking permit, find the different offices that may come in handy, locate the cafeteria and bookstore, find my class rooms, and so on. Dr. S had also invited me to attend a MS thesis defense by Lindsy Frazer, titled “Dental Microwear Texture Analysis of Early/Middle Woodland and Mississippian Populations from Indiana.”

This was the first defense I had attended, and it was much more relaxed than I had expected. I followed her presentation pretty well, though she said afterward part of her committee had a question or two they felt were unanswered. Her thesis hits on a difference between the SEM technology and the new 3D technology that she utilized at UIndy (I will explain in another post). Defending a thesis sounds really horrible, but watching her public presentation lightened my anxiety somewhat. Of course, I was not there during the private committee part and I am sure that will be much more difficult.

During her private defense, Boy and I met my cohort – there are three of us on the bioarchaeology track. We also hung out with a third year student, Laura, who showed us the white light confocal microscope (which I will reference from now on as the WLCP, and when I learn more about it I will explain that that means to you, but this is the new 3D technology I mentioned). I only got to hang out with one of my cohorts because the other had to leave campus right away, but I feel I will have a good time there.

Afterward, I met with Dr. S to discuss a funding opportunity that equated to roughly half the tuition cost for the entire time I am at UIndy. It is a research associate position, which can basically be thought of as a research assistantship (RA). I will be in charge of making sure all the incoming molds of teeth from around the world are getting examined with the WLCP, and that any student needing to use it will get an appropriate time on it. This is great for me, because I wanted to be a part of this new technology, but I am not sure I wanted to base my thesis with it, since I very much like macroscopic research (things you can see with your own eyes without technology). Having this position will also give me something to do on my off time down there on campus, and of course the funding aspect is wicked cool. He is going to train me on it this week, so I should be able to post more details.

Boy was impressed that the whole campus uses Lenovo instead of the “crappier Dells and other garbage” you see at other universities. He also enjoyed Dr. S’s sense of humor. A lot.

I am looking forward to class starting tomorrow. I am enrolled in geoarchaeology, human osteology, and bioarchaeology. I’ve had two weeks off of work now and my brain is fully recharged and itching to go. I do feel a bit of anomie going into this new situation without really being able to understand the changes my life will take until it happens. In addition, a lot of stuff started to go wrong right when I was leaving my job (my car stopped shifting, my glasses broke, and some other snafus popped up). I suppose a pessimistic person would have told themselves that it was Fate trying to tell them something. I looked at it differently. In the face of all these unexpected expenses, I asked myself, “How sure are you that this is the best decision to make?”

Absolutely sure.

Undaunted and uprooted, I will be a Master of the Universe! Science! :)

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Friday: August 19, 2011

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Bioarchaeologists blur the line between archaeology and biological anthropology. They study human remains found through archaeology to determine some forensic characteristics like sex, age, and health. But unlike forensic anthropology, whose purpose is to identify an individual primarily for the sake of law, a bioarchaeologist will take the findings of several individuals to apply a general picture of the represented population. Who were they? How old is the population? How healthy were they? What diseases did they encounter? Did they encounter violence? Did they fish or hunt or what? Was their society divided, male and female? Young and old? Nobel and peasant? Religious and secular?

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

My best expression as a questioning anthropologist.

Obviously, since I haven’t even had my first graduate class yet, I am no authority on the subject. Instead, I will tell you a little bit about the 2007 Lima, Peru field school I attended as an undergrad through Mizzou, with Dr. Robert Benfer and (now Dr.) Keith Chan. I have tried to keep it brief, but I assure you: staying in another place for six weeks leaves a huge impression on you, and I could go on about it for a super long time.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Working on the Paloma set at Centro de Investigaciones de Zonas Aridas (Ciza) prior to getting the other lab operational.

EDIT 11/1/11: I decided without provocation to remove some other photos of skeletons originally posted due to a new awareness of offense that other people outside of physical anthropology may experience. However, I have chosen to currently keep the above image because the focus is on us students rather than the remains and I believe that it is helpful in sharing what bioarchaeologists do. For future images, I will only include those that I believe are informative for bioarchaeological purposes. You can bet your bottom dollar I’d like to donate my own skelly for classroom study and therefore I do not have an issue with photography of skeletons, so I may miss the mark sometimes on this topic. Therefore, please share your comments if you do take offense, as I wish to remain respectful. /EDIT

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Dr. Benfer and Keith clarifying the contents for class at the new lab.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Our lab tent, hosted by the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia del Perú.

To start, I had experienced culture shock. Having read about it first in school did me no good – I was unaware that it was the cause of my symptoms. I was depressed, anxious, a mess unlike my normal passive self. Worse, I felt I needed to hide that from the others, and worse still, it was like double culture shock because not only was I in a foreign country, but it was also the first time I had stayed in a major metropolitan area. I coped by staying in alone while the others picked up the final student at the airport. I tried to read but found myself spying on the outside world through the window more often than not. Then my roommate Andrea and I went outside. We got brave enough to walk to the end of the street and back. Then the block. Then we were comfortable going all over the place. It was like a magic drug, but I couldn’t tell you why.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Failed attempt to replant flora at Cerro Blanco - once the ecosystem was destroyed, there is no longer any shade to keep moisture from Lima's only water source: la garua (fog).

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Along with Mercedes, we were invited to attend a memorial for Julio Cesar Tello Rojas, Peru's Father of Archaeology. His oldest descendent is standing with us.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

A folk dance provided for Tello's memorial.

Second, getting on a day schedule was tough for me, although there was no time difference. I just felt strung out for the beginning. Then I got sick, enough so that I kept Andrea awake all night with my nasty coughing. Dr. Benfer sent me in to the doctor (Keith was my translator) because he and another student had also had a bronchial infection. She prescribed me some meds and had me follow up with a electrocardiogram because my heartbeat was super fast. Since soon I would be venturing to high altitudes on the foray to Machu Picchu, that can create a major problem. (Turns out I was ok, it was just the high quantities of Sudafed I had been taking trying to kill the sickness). I went to the pharmacy alone, and back to the hotel alone. I struggled with the language – not a single person knew anything beyond, “Hello, how are you?” and for my part, I had studied French, not Castellano (Peruvians immediately correct you if you call it Spanish) – but immersion really does wonders. By the end of the trip, I was ordering food and having tiny conversations with the hotel staff and the “yogurt men” (workers at a shop around the corner where I bought breakfast every morning).

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

La garua coming down the mountains as the sun rises. We were on an Incan Trail at Buena Vista, one of Dr. Benfer's projects.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Dr. Benfer preparing to photo the winter solstice at Buena Vista.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Temple of the Fox at Buena Vista - an incredible discovery of the oldest astronomical alignment and sculptures in the round this side of the Meridians.

Third, there were moments of interpersonal conflict among the group. It was the first time I had really had to experience this for longer than an hour or something (other than growing up with my brother of course, ha!). Six weeks is a long time, and we all knew that, so I feel like we kind of vented and then let it go for the most part. I am sure there are certain moments which could have been handled better, but overall the support of Dr. Benfer and Keith got us through. All three of these things were surprises for me but in no way did they ever cause me to regret the journey.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Partly restored Pachacamac.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The Pachacamac site is adjacent to a packed city.

I fell in absolute love with Lima and its people. They wear their hearts on their sleeve. They have an odd sense of time (some would say a lack thereof). They are modern, yet hold on to old traditions like catching a cold from not wearing a scarf. Sometimes, they made us feel like superstars – when Andrea and I ventured out, we caused quite the stir with our tall, light skinned, light eyed, and light haired appearances – from school children to wrinkled adults, men and women alike. Plus, we were Americans. That made me feel silly but there was no way to hide it. I had fun with bargaining, and became quite apt at getting good prices. I love their bright colors – in the eclectic architecture (which often had roof dogs!) and especially in the Quechuan traditions: skirts and shirts and hats and braids and shawls. Inka Kola, chicha morada. Not pisco sours though, not pisco at all actually. Pollution is a problem – no emissions testing + zero rainfall to rust out vehicles = vehicles fully operational that are much much older than me. Plus there is just a lot of traffic. I also did not love their traffic laws (or lack thereof) although it sure was a rush! Dr. Benfer says they do follow rules, just not the red-light-green-light one-lane-two-way kind. (His suggestion: pick an old taxi driver – they are the ones who obviously know how to survive!)

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

El Beso, at El Parque del Amor in Lima.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The Old Wall at Parque de la Muralla in Lima.

Dr. Benfer became one of my all time favorite teachers. He is bursting at the seams with information and gives off a super amount of energy. Keith was a great balance, very calm and focused, and we became friends over a little Yoshi’s Island when off the clock. He recently gave me his doctoral dissertation and I can’t wait to finish reading it. Crystal had some interesting stories from her recent stay in Japan, and Andrea was a crazier-kookier version of myself. Ruthy and I became good friends and I try to visit her when I see my brother on the East Coast. Mercedes Delgado also joined us on several occasions, and I found a stone tool at Caral for archaeologist Gloria Villareal (Dr. Benfer refers to her as the lithics expert). True story!

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Gloria is holding the stone tool I found at Chupacigarro, also known as Caral, which is the earliest known South American civilization.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Dr. Benfer discusses Caral's archeoastronomical significance.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Caral is a massive complex. This is but one of the many temples. The valley use to be rich in vegetation.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Another feature of Caral.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Peruvians often restore ruins to what they believe the structures once were.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Restored structures are noted so the original stones can be seen as separate from the hypothesized restoration.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

One of the researchers of Chupacigarro prepares a ceremony for all of us gathered to honor Pachamama.

We saw a lot of significant archaeological sites, and at certain points I was very sad that I did not know Castellano because I missed out on some great tours. All I could do was walk about and guess at what I was looking at while the others, who knew enough of the language to listen, but not enough to translate easily for me, followed the tour guides. At the end of the school, we stayed another week to check out the truly awe-inspiring Machu Picchu and its surrounding sister sites. We started in Cusco to acclimate to the altitude. Then we took a train to Aguas Calientes. A bus up half the mountain to Machu Picchu, and a major hike to the summit.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The main plaza at Cusco. I preferred Lima.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Tourist trap clue: A traditionally dressed girl targeting gringas at Cusco for money in exchange for photos (Andrea bought it:)

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The terraces of Pisac, part of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The ruins of Pisac.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Amazing Incan architecture (lacking mortar) at Pisac.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The terraces of Ollantaytambo, another site associated with the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The Wall of the Six Monoliths at Ollantaytambo.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Ruthy's cousin Abe flew in after the school ended. Here he is at the marketplace at the bottom of Aguas Calientes. And I had thought Cusco was bad...

My great memories of Peru are shadowed by the loss of two people I met during the the process. Dr. Kathy Forgey, who had worked with the field school team previously, helped me get accepted to the field school by spending a lot of time with me working on the application. She had been teaching at IUN but had never met me prior to that, yet she offered her assistance with excitement to send me on my way. Gloria’s son, Fernando Castro-Villareal, also studied with us. He took us on several different outings to see Lima and meet his friends so that we could have the full resident experience. Unfortunately, both passed away in 2010, much too early for either of them.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

The beauty of Machu Picchu.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Awe-inpsiring views of Machu Picchu's ruins amid the mountains.

Mizzou Bioarchaeology Field School 2007

Llamas and/or alpacas at Machu Picchu.

Places we visited:

Museo de la Nacion



Sacred Valley of the Incas

Aguas Calientes
Machu Picchu 

Texts used for class (reference information can be found on the Library page):

Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behavior from the Human Skeleton
Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains
The Human Bone Manual
Ancient Health: Skeletal Indicators of Agricultural and Economic Intensification
Early Villages in the Western Hemisphere

Further information about the Paloma set:

The Preceramic Period Site of Paloma, Peru: Bioindications of Improving Adaption to Sedentism
Faunal Remains from Paloma, an Archaic Site in Peru
Encyclopedia of Archaeology: Geographic Overviews, The Americas (South)/Early South American Villages

Further information about the Armatambo set:

Life in the Late Intermediate Period at Armatambo, Peru


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Thursday: August 18, 2011

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For my readers who are not fellow anthropology students, I thought I would take a bit of webspace here and go over some things. I will try to always add brief basic explanations of topics covered, but if you still find it confusing, let me know and I will add further detail. Sometimes it is hard to see the trees through the forest.

Anthropology is the study of humankind – what does it mean to be human? It is also holistic, which means it uses all fields of knowledge to form an understanding, from the humanities to the natural sciences. This is why it interests me so – if boredom with a subject were to ever occur, I can switch gears and look at it from a new angle. I can be a Jane of All Trades, so to speak.

Anthropology is also often divided into four major subfields. Each can then be divided again, and some will overlap, and theories continually are reworked, but in general they are:

·Archaeology, the most widely known category, focuses on the artifacts left by human populations. It should be noted that artifacts are created by people, while fossils are their remains. Archaeologists look at things like development of art, evolution of tools, stylistic changes in architecture, and trash. Trash heaps, or middens, actually tell a huge amount of information. Just think what can be told about your household with the items you discard each day!

·Biological anthropology utilizes hard science to determine what makes us human. How did we evolve? Why are there different blood groups? How does our lifestyles affect our DNA for future generations? How do some populations survive disease while others are completely wiped out? Primatology is a subfield of bioanthropology, as well as forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, and molecular anthropology. By the way, anthropologists have never ever said that we evolved from apes!

·Cultural anthropology studies what defines culture. They often fully submerge themselves into another group over a very long time. Historically, these groups were mostly tribal populations, but as anthropology progresses, the groups could now be a punk-rock subculture in Brooklyn or people who think the internet meme of owling is cool. Cultural anthropologists are the most similar to sociologists and they question how are all cultures the same? What makes a person part of one culture, but not of another? How are cultures changed or even eradicated with colonialism or globalism? How do cultures provide social organization?  What is culture?

·Linguistics is likely the least well-known field of anthropology. Like cultural anthropology, the field questions how all languages are similar, yet how are they different? What is language? How does language evolve? How does one learn language? How does having language affect our world view? Some languages are are even endangered, or have never been turned into written language, and linguists work to preserve them.

I have taken classes on all of these subjects and any one of them is highly interesting. I also volunteered at an archaeological dig in 2008 ran by Dr. Mark Schurr of ND and the Kankakee Valley Historical Society at Collier Lodge in Kouts, Indiana. Here are some photos of that experience:

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

I primarily helped these two graduate students while they excavated and took measurements.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

Soil layers are defined for mapping.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

I used a screen to sift through the unit's artifacts.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

Dr. Schurr demonstrates how water screening works.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

Recovered artifacts after cleaning.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

An arrowhead found from a nearby unit.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

An 1888 coin found from a nearby unit.

In the next post, I will discuss what my grad studies will be centered on: bioarchaeology.

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taking the GRE

Wednesday: August 17, 2011

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My friend Jaclyn took a GRE course and graciously loaned me her books and notes. I have listed their ISBN information on the Library page, but this is the quick list:

Practicing to Take the GRE General Test: Explains the test procedure and includes practice tests.

The Ultimate Math Refresher: Covers everything from basic math to geometry.

Vocabulary Cartoons I & II: Quick way to learn a lot of new words.

I found the Practice book and the Math one to be the most valuable. I did learn a lot of new vocabulary but considering there are a million words, I can’t say a single one in those books was on my test. That said though, studying so many words helped me see patterns to make educated guesses so I would not skip learning vocabulary altogether. I also did not study anything about the essays from a book. I talked with people who had taken the course and the test and asked for their insight.

She also gave me the Graduate Admissions Essay book for when I needed to write the letter of intent. I did not read this one cover-to-cover, but I did flip through the examples. I learned to make the letter personal and not rehash what was on my CV. This process is where you show who you are, not what you have done.

I had a very limited time span to take the test – I studied like mad so I could get the results as soon as possible so I could tell my boss and coworkers that I would be leaving in enough time for them to replace me before class started (of course, other issues popped up and I unfortunately left them for a short time without a replacement). I studied long enough to pass, but not long enough to be content with my scores. I learned the GRE really is set up to make you fail. It is quite possibly the dumbest standardized test out there. When the vocab is centered on words no one uses but GRE test-takers, what is the point, exactly? When essays are graded by a computer looking for lame keywords like “first”, “second”, and “third”, how is it judging a good quality essay? At least the math part makes sense. Although why I would need to know how many combinations can be made with some blue marbles, a row of seats in a theatre, and a pig beats the heck out of me.

I passed, it’s over, and one day sociologists will rule the world with programs that actually measure and work. Right?

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the grad school interview

Tuesday: August 16, 2011

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In my case, I did not have an interview with UIndy, exactly. Dr. LP, from IUN, had suggested that I speak with the school because I was not sure whether I should enroll under the biology department for human evolution, or the anthropology department, for bioarchaeology. I decided to learn about the new anthro program first and began email correspondence with Dr. S, the director of the master’s program. He offered to meet in person to go over the specifics.

I had scoured the interwebz about what to expect at interviews, what to bring, and other ways to prepare, but I could not say for certain this was the situation I would find myself in. Was it a casual meeting, or was this to be an interview? I decided to dress up and bring a copy of my CV-in-progress, my unofficial transcript, and a copy of the paper I churned out for the Peruvian field school, just in case.

I arrived early and first sat down with Dr. R, the chair of the anthro department. From that conversation, I decided it was going to be more of an interview process, but surprisingly my nerves were not wrecked.  I think because I hadn’t actually decided if I was going to do anything about grad school in the near future. Of course, once I met with Dr. S and he asked the life-changing question, “So will you be enrolling for this fall?”, that decision was pretty much made. The thought of enrolling so soon made me as as giddy as a school girl.

Dr. S allowed me to sit in on his mortuary archaeology class. [I would like to note that although I personally have zero desire to partake in excavating cemeteries for the sake of excavating, it would be lying to say the subject did not interest me.] Sitting in on the class was nice – it allayed my fear of how formal grad school may be, or how formal UIndy would be compared to IUN. It was a relaxing atmosphere, open and inviting.

I had gone in to this interview expecting the worse. Was it a commuter school, like IUN? I did not want that. Was it going to be all secondary research instead of the real deal, similar to IUN? The stroll through the lab, with the white light confocal microscope, proved this was not the case. Would the teachers be grueling in their expectations of student’s “free time”? I got the feeling the faculty understood personal lives. Overall, it was a great experience. Except for the lack of major funding and the uncertainty of a brand new program with a teeny cohort, I had no issues and decided to kind of pursue the idea.

There was just this little dilemma about a solid job I had had for over ten years…


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giving credit

Monday: August 15, 2011

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I am proud that I personally designed this website myself. Although my husband and brother helped with the coding,  most of it was haxored by me, and therefore please do not expect perfection. If you happen to notice any glitches, please toss them my way. That said, I would like to thank the following artists/websites for their freely given images. Without them, the design of this website would have been extremely poor. Trust me :/

Font: Olduvai by Aquatoad (Triple-Double thanks, Randy!!)

Header and footer: Torn Paper by TriCornDesign

Focus on tabs: Prehistoric Brushes and Version 2 by FoxFireRed

Human skeletons: Brushes through

World map: Brushes by gutterlily10

Ammonites, mesopithecus, and skull: Paleontology brushes by ValerianaSTOCK

Footprints: Brushes by chain

Arrows: Brushes by cesstrelle

I have tried to contact each of them to show my appreciation. You guys rock!

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through dangers untold

Sunday: August 14, 2011

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I begin this journal shortly passed my 30th birthday and shortly before I uproot my life and attend graduate school. School begins at the end of the month and I will be staying with my gracious mother-in-law during the week, while visiting my husband, my cats, and my home two hours away on the weekends across a timespan of one and a half years.

Let me start with a short history:
In high school, I hated school – it was boring. I decided to start my college career as early as my junior year so that I could get through it and get on with life. My first full year of college was declared as general studies, at IUS. My second full year, at PUC, led me into computer programming. I loved it, but could not see myself working in that environment. I took two years off with the promise that if I could not determine my passion, I would finish college with a fine arts degree. Two years came and I enrolled at IUN with that intention. But then I took an elective class, an anthropology course on human origins, and the rest is history.

Working full time through school delayed my graduation date, but I also had a craving for learning more. When all was said and done, I ended up with a bachelor degree in sociology (anthropology track), an associate degree in anthropology, in French, and in fine arts (photography focus), and minors in anthropology and in art history.

Then I needed a break and gave myself at least two years off before pursuing graduate studies. Amid the third year off, this year, I learned of a new anthropology master’s program at UIndy and went there to check it out with the idea that maybe I would go next year. Instead, they offered me enrollment for this fall and accordingly, I did my part with the GRE and other enrollment processes. The official acceptance letter came, and I left my position in the banking industry after ten years with some slight misgivings.

I look forward to opening this door to my future and plan to keep a record of my classes and anthropologically awesome adventures in graduate school.


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