Archaeology Field Kit Update

So I’m moving out of my storage unit in three hours, trying to finish a presentation for my department, and jet lagged beyond belief…why not blog? In light of John’s nice post about his broken trowel (psst, get a WHS next time) and Terry Brock’s love of kit nerdery, I thought I’d update a bit about the tools of the trade. Sorry for the bad photos–I was in a hurry to pack everything in England.

This past year in Qatar I made a few needed adjustments. My old field boots died after many years of service and I wanted a pair of boots that would last just as long as the last pair. It’s just wasteful to get disposable shoes that you have to replace all the time. On Michael Smith’s excellent advice, I bought a pair of Red Wing chukkas for the field. I have a pair of steel-toed work boots that I use on commercial sites, but the Red Wings are nice to wear in the desert and are okay for walking around in as well. There is a substantial downside though–they have to be regularly oiled and polished.  An added bonus for archaeology is that they have virtually no tread and so you can sneak in and out of a clean trench without leaving a trace. They still seem to have a decent amount of grip though–I was hiking on exposed rock ridges in the Rocky Mountains and they didn’t let me down. I bought a size too small and they’ve stretched out nicely.

While most archaeologists will tell you that it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen, I don’t really hear much about another piece of vital protection: a good “real” pair of sunglasses. I love cheap thrift store sunglasses, but they are actually a very bad idea if you are out in the sun for any length of time. While price is not always an indicator of how well the sunglasses will protect you, try to go for sunglasses that are made for skiing or snowboarding with 100% UV filter and polarizing lenses. These Von Zipper sunglasses have both of those and are “impact resistant”–they’ve fallen off my head many times and have endured a lot of general abuse. They were also big enough to serve as goggles during sandstorms–at least until I managed to get my real goggles on my head.

My old stationery bag was also on the way out. The zipper had started to rust and rip free of the metal mesh. I find that metal mesh bags work the best for stationery. You can see through them and the dirt just falls through. They are a bit of an oddity though–my last bag came with a package of pantyhose and my new bag on the right (given to me by my wonderful in-laws) had Body Shop shampoo in it. After all of this product placement I think I should get sponsored or something. Too bad I’m too lazy to set up affiliate links.

Sadly I left my trowel on the top of a wall in Qatar–the second one I’ve lost this year.  Nothing like showing up to excavations with a shiny new trowel to make you look like a noob. Oh well.

Isometric Drawing in Archaeology

The Victoria and Albert museum in London was not of particular interest when I read the description. It sounded like lots of blingin’ artifacts without the context to make them interesting. But the Natural History Museum looked like a Easter weekend riot might break out at any time, and we still had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up with other Catalhoyukians for a reunion, so the V&A it was. We wandered through the Middle East exhibit without much enthusiasm, then headed up to the 6th floor ceramics hall. (Which was pretty nice, and had a big exhibit on how ceramics have been decorated and constructed throughout time.) On our way up we passed by the architecture room and I saw the beauty above–a 12′ x 8′ isometric drawing of St. Paul’s cathedral.

An isometric drawing (technically an isometric projection) is a way to show three-dimensional objects in two dimensions. If you’ve ever drawn a cube, you’ve done an isometric drawing. They’re useful for architects who want to depict building interiors and exteriors together and for archaeologists who want to show stratigraphic relationships between building components. Archaeological isometric drawings can be either measured to scale or sketched with measurements added to the drawing.

Isometric sketch by Michael House

I learned how to sketch isometric drawings of archaeology from my dear friend Michael House, one of the most gifted archaeologists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. This is one of his sketches that I happened to see on his desk and took a quick snapshot. In it you can see the relationship of a threshold to the surrounding wall and to the internal render on the wall. As you can see, the sketch is just that–it is a quick representation of the relationships of the various elements of the archaeology to each other. The walls are not truly as square as the drawing would imply, and the roughness of the stones is captured by their irregularity in the drawing, but are not drawn to show texture.

Isometric drawings are becoming rare in archaeology. It is much easier to reconstruct a building using a program like Sketchup, then manipulate the perspective to show the various elements of the building. Though isometric drawings are a well-honed skill for archaeological illustrators, I don’t know many archaeologists who sketch isometric drawings in the field, and I’m afraid it is becoming a lost art.

When I leaned in to look at the drawing of St. Paul’s, I could see all the traces of pencil left after the drawing was inked. You can also see a couple of mistakes, such as in the column on the left. But I was happiest to see the depiction of the stratigraphy beneath St. Paul’s–just a little archaeology sneaking in with all the gorgeous architectural detail. It is not likely to be correct, as the isometric drawing shows a fictitious section through the building, but it was nice to see that the architect was aware that there was history below even a building as ancient and as storied as St. Paul’s.


Open Access Article: An Archaeology of the Contemporary: A Standing Buildings Survey of “The Chicken Shed” at Catalhoyuk

Rainbow over the Chicken Shed by Jason Quinlan

One of the primary goals of this report is to preserve by record the physical nature and some of the history associated with what is now the oldest modern building on the site. A secondary goal is to make visible a rarely-discussed aspect of an otherwise exhaustively recorded enterprise…the study of the use of architecture and space in archaeological dig houses, while secondary to the primary research goals of an excavation, remains an oral tradition on even the most reflexive of excavations. Recording the chicken shed at Catalhoyuk allowed us to consider the history of the site and the reuse of buildings as well as reconsider the social space we live and work in while conducting research on the lifeways of people in the past.

Dan and I wrote a short piece for the 2011 archive about the beloved chicken shed at Catalhoyuk, something that I hope we can expand upon in a more formalized article. You can read the rest here (starting on page 138):

Archive Report 2011

It is all a little bittersweet now that the team has been fully turned-over and the chicken shed is slated for destruction. Anyway, enjoy!

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