Dirt Sculpting

Still being somewhat vague:

On Monday I finished excavating my burial.  The internment was fairly shallow and therefore extremely truncated, with only the long bones of the legs, an arm, and a few ribs left.  Plows, an orchard, and groundhogs had taken the rest.  There was a small bird bone in it though, which looked like it had been shaped into a whistle.

The excavation technique for these kinds of burials is still very different though–not much contextual information is required.  The burials had been pedestaled by a backhoe so they were little islands on top of the sterile and there was no real way to associate them with horizons or soil changes.  The burial I was excavating was in the top of the midden, with burnt serpentine embedded all around it.  I carefully removed all of the rock, pedestalled the individual bones, dug a moat around it, then we took a photo, drew it, then lifted the bones.    We were unable to determine the age or sex of the burial, beyond that it was an adult.

So, after I finished with the burial, I moved on to more familiar territory–a very large round house feature.  My 1×2 is in the NW corner of the 7m diameter structure and I immediately started coming down onto large (<30cm) rocks (some with fossils!) and mission tile.  There’s a mixture of curved (roof) and flat (floor) tile, but the flat tile is apparently a little too thin, so that part is a mystery.  We’re trying to determine if the tile and rock and fragmented animal bone is historic fill brought in from somewhere else, or if it is the remains of the roundhouse, which would make it one of the only roundhouses to have mission tile.  I got to level within the first day, even though the soil is extremely hard in places–to the point where it the pickaxe and handaxe were just adding a sheen to the clay, not really breaking it up at all.  We’ve been dumping buckets of water into it at night, much to my dismay at having achieved lovely level walls and floors.

I was happy during the first level, as the 10cm depth started to define the clusters of tile and rock.  We’re leaving it all in situ though, and going down another 10cm, which I’m a little unsure about.  Pedestalling is just bizarre if you’re trying to dig stratigraphically, and I would have rather tried to expose the roundhouse with 2 2x2s, getting an areal view, and tried dig out the features as they were deposited.  I think that might be one of the best ways to figure out if the debris was carted in from elsewhere.  Also, there’s a sandy layer at about 16cm which I suspect is more than just groundhog burrows.  I’m also excited to get to sterile, to see if there are postholes or other storage features.

I don’t argue though, as I’m frightfully happy to be out in the sun again, injuries aside.  I’ll put all the artifacts on square dirt pillars if that’s what it takes.

Handaxe vs. Left Index Finger.

Handaxe WINS!


Tool Minutiae

It’s become a somewhat sad fact of life that I don’t sit still very well. In addition to the class that I’m helping teach two days a week, I started a second job working on a CRM project three days a week–the time that I’m really supposed to be working on my own research.

I couldn’t resist though, and it’s been gratifying to get my hands back in the dirt for pay. Like Jlowe (http://whereinthehellami.blogspot.com/), I can’t really talk about it all that much, but I am digging burials and it’s been fascinating to see the politics and skill set involved.

It’s also introduced me to my new favorite tool: the Peach Pitter! A peach pitter is an elongated spoon with sharp edges and is just perfect for precision digging compacted clay. It also doubles as a regular spoon, so you can remove small amounts of dirt from tiny areas without too much trouble.

Also, to my horror, I’ve been using the WHS trowel more often. Marshalltowns cut through stratigraphy (which is important sometimes) but WHSs are blunt and you seem to be able to feel the dirt a bit better using them.

So, my toolkit for this job is:

Trusty rock axe
WHS trowel
Marshalltown pointer trowel (some undergraduate stole my square trowel)
Wooden sculpting tools
Sculpting tool with metal loop (for shaving off small amounts of dirt at one time)
Small paintbrush
Small whisk
Leaf trowel
Bamboo skewers
Peach pitter

This weekend I really want to find a puffer and maybe a couple more brushes.

Social Networking Wishlist

Facebook just recently opened its API and I’m rushing off to campus to copy a book chapter for class tomorrow and the combination of these two things has renewed my interest in a fantasy project.

See, I don’t want to develop it, I just want it to happen.  And happen in a way that is open source, free, and completely awesome.  Hey, I told you it was a fantasy.

I want a social networking site for academics where we can upload journal articles, book chapters, whatever source material we want, tag them appropriately, and create knowledge/school constellations depending on what we’re currently reading and working on.  I’m so tired of begging books (hello, Archaeological Semiotics, $75!) and it’s not like most academic publishing makes any money anyway.  I would also like this mythical site to host powerpoint presentations, photos, and to stream video from conferences.  The emphasis would be on creating contributing content, peer review, interdisciplinary work, and transparency.

My node would have my CV, my works, and my references, which I could upload and share.  Right now those things are spread across four different platforms and it seems so unnecessary.

I want it now.  NOW, dammit.

Toward an Embodied Virtual Archaeology

Lara Croft is an unavoidable cultural figure for women in archaeology. Some choose to feel empowered by this representation of an ass-kickin’ buxom femme who slings guns instead of shovels. She’s an arguably harmless fantastic character and frankly I’m a little bored of being irritated at this representation of my profession and at people who remark about either Indiana Jones or Lara Croft while talking to me about archaeology. I’m nearly loathe to bring her up at all, except for this:


A new iteration of Tomb Raider is coming out on the Wii. While this likely means that you can smash pots/natives/steal artifacts using the new controller, the first thing I thought of was digging!

While there have been attempts at VR digging (some of which I should be writing about right now in my field statement, argh), the Wii controller is versatile, relatively inexpensive, becoming pervasive, and can do most of the basic motions associated with field archaeology:

1) troweling
2) shoveling
3) sifting
4) pick-axing
5) drawing

It would be a lovely educational tool and would guide people through the some of the physicality of archaeology, something that is sorely lacking in most virtual excavation projects and games. Obviously I need to write a grant proposal that includes funding for purchasing a Wii, right?

Metaphorical Archaeology

Here’s the first two paragraphs of a thirty page paper I dropped off yesterday:

Archaeology and photography, both considered projects and products of modernity, have extensively exchanged metaphorical weight throughout their complimentary histories.  As early as 1839, Dominique François Jean Arago enthusiastically embraced photography as a means to accurately “copy the millions of hieroglyphics which cover even the exterior of the great monuments of Thebes, Memphis, Karnak” in a way that would “excel the woks of the most accomplished painters, in fidelity of detail and true reproduction of the local atmosphere” (Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology., et al. 1986:73).  Fox Talbot, the inventor of the ‘Calotype’ process in 1841, was an antiquarian and took photographs of manuscripts, engravings, and busts (Dorrell 1989).  While archaeologists have considered photography as an attractive and theoretically transparent way to quickly document sites and artifacts, critics and theorists of photography have drawn on archaeological metaphors to describe and understand photographs.

In describing Niepce’s first photograph, Clarke declares it “not so much an image as an archaeological fragment” due to poor quality and representation (1997:12).  Sontag spells out this relationship, stating that “photographs are, of course, artifacts” (1977:69).  They “turn the past into a consumable object” (68), by “slicing out this moment and freezing it” (15), “giv(ing) people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal” (9).  Berger expands on Sontag, acknowledging that “photographs are relics of the past, traces of what has happened (1980:61), but champions creating an “alternative photography” wherein photographs are contextualized, situated through social and political memory.  Barthes further obscures the relationship between the photograph and the ‘reality’ of the past by stating that “the reading of the photograph is thus always historical” (1977:28).  While the linkage between artifact and past meaning has been problematized extensively in archaeology, its apparently objective use of photography as a tool to represent scientific process has only recently been called into question.  Shanks (1997) destabilizes the use of photographs as “transparent windows”, situating ‘photowork’ within a specific framework of cultural production within archaeology.

I’ll post the rest as a pdf after I’ve, um, read it.  Now, on to finish the big lit review I have due to my advisor!

And, suddenly, I need to have read, digested, and contextualized Walter Benjamin’s entire corpus.

I love/hate when this happens.