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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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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.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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