End of the Semester at San Quentin

Last night was the last day of class at the Q.  We were almost finished with presentations and had a few make-up tests to give, so only a few of the students showed up.  I had said most of my good-byes on Friday night, shook hands with everyone, and assured them that I’d be back.  Last night was nice though, a few of the guys showed up just to talk about things–parallels between Yoruba and Hopewell religion (!), NAGPRA, and the Navajo were all topics that were bandied about.  There was a big “feast” put on by the Catholics, and so everyone was Catholic for the night–the Muslims, the Sikh–everyone.

On Sundays we teach in “Arts and Corrections” which is the prison art room.  There are works by inmates hanging all over the walls and a few old instruments in the corner.  I have no idea what it was originally, but there are high ceilings with windows so that the prison guards that roam around on the catwalks above the yard can look in.  Sometimes I wonder if we could teach them too–but class is a haven where the students can learn and escape, and talk without reprisals.  It’s usually pretty cold in there, and last night was no exception.  So we all kept our coats on, and sat and talked.

I’m not sure what to say about prison anymore–I’ve gotten used to most of the quirks of going there.  But as I’ve gotten used to the teaching, the strident injustice, the bitter humor (one guy last night said, “take your time coming back; I’m going to be here for 17 years!”), I think my confidence in something that I felt deeply and suddenly when I first started has become absolutely entrenched–this has to end.  No more prisons.

But I’ll go back next Fall and teach something else–maybe Californian or Mesoamerican history.  We’re doing a paper on it at the Society for Californian Archaeology, and I’d like to expand that into a journal article, so we’re profiting academically, to be sure.  But the best thing that I’ve taken from this is that getting a degree in archaeology and working for social justice aren’t really all that far apart after all.

Excavating Unit 12

Yes, I still excavate. Yes, I need to wash my hair more often.

Another Day at the Cheney House


So this was the only picture I was able to take yesterday–my camera batteries gave out. I worked a nice, full day excavating in the misty rain, bossing undergrads and digging floors, laminated features, and a small brick wall.

You’re looking east across three 1×1 test units where a small brick “wall” (likely the edging to a long-gone garden) came up at about 15 cmbs. The stratigraphy has been kinda fun in this area–there’s top soil, then a scatter of gravel, then a condensed gravel “pavement”, then fill–clay with charcoal on the north side of the wall and sandy stuff on the south side.

In the dustpan to the side you see a horseshoe–no nails, so it hasn’t been used. Even better, it was sitting in a sandy cut with a metal pole sticking out of the middle. Yup, century-old game of horseshoes.

You can’t see it very well (maybe I’ll make some notes on the flickr page) but there’s also a cut in the unit farthest west (closest to the camera) with condensed, darker soils in it. I excavated it and it was a hole that was dug for a plant.

I also found a neat old-timey brass button pressed into the “pavement” layer.

It’s a little strange to be working on historic stuff after Catalhoyuk, but it actually prepares me to go back better than the paleoindian stuff did in Texas. Complex stratigraphy is a gratifying challenge, whether it be 100 years old, or 9000 years old.


Grad school does weird things to you.

Today I had to have an Xmas tree. Airplane ticket lottery has deemed it so that we won’t actually be going to Nicaragua until after the holiday. So, a tree. And the delightful procrastination that came with finding it. I don’t actually own anything remotely Christmassy, so this was a completely manufactured thing. I’ll buy a few small bulbs tomorrow. It’s in a pot at least, so I’ll have to find a piece of land after the holiday and do some illicit tree planting.

Next I’ll be celebrating Easter. Mon dieu!

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