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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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