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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;)

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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?)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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)!

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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!

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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 Change.org 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.

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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!)

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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.

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Sapelo Island points of interest.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Bean clearing the beach.

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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.

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The sign may be a bit outdated as the ESPN video cited less than 50 residents now.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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Another view of Chocolate.

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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.

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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.)

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The ABAC Shack, our home during our stay.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Networking

Tuesday: May 1, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Students meet and greet NPR's Steve Inskeep.

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

Public bookreading by NPR's Steve Inskeep.

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