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.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

6 thoughts on “Archaeology Field Kit Update”

  1. To be fair, even ignoring that short period where WHS trowels were apparently snapping all the time (, it’s pretty much always cheaper for someone in the U.S. to buy two Marshalltowns than one WHS. . .

    I guess that argument only goes so far, since you could buy four of those two-piece welded Home Depot trowels for the price of a good Marshalltown, but still.

  2. I’ve dug with both and I still keep my Marshalltown margin trowel kicking around for working on sections. But I have come to agree with the old school English archaeologist who took the Marshalltown pointer out of my hand and insisted that I use a WHS because “Marshalltowns cut the archaeology” and “sound horrid whilst you are digging.” It’s terrible once someone points the latter out to you, all you hear from then on is a high-pitched screeching sound whenever anyone uses a Marshalltown. The former point is more of a methodological difference–most Americanists do indeed “cut” the archaeology instead of digging it properly. I used to dig some mighty pretty 1×1 squares, but doing this relies on too much damage to the surrounding matrix. Nice square hole…too bad you missed the feature or, worse, pedestalled it.

    Anyway, at the end of the day, a good archaeologist can use any tool but a bad one can truly brutalize a site with a razor-sharp Marshalltown.

  3. Ah the WHS… :) Funny to think of the time when this symbol of archaeology went ping and snapped ( trying to act like a Marshalltown I fear!) Funnier still to look at every WHS trowel available now and realise that it was the great alliance of Past Horizons and BAJR ( that is Maggie and David really ) that created the redesign and got the manufacturer to make them again. Beams widely :) If you want a slightly worn WHS trowel, give us a shout and I could feel one heading your way. Perhaps we should consider selling worn in trowels ? Pick your blade size. from worn nub ( old lag field worker) to slightly worn but rusty ( professorial )

  4. You are right about most archaeologist not advising to bring sunnies and especially about what kind of sunnies to choose. Thanks for the tip about von zipper. Their site is not too easy to navigate but they offer a great selection of sunglasses that I can buy online with descriptions and pictures.

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