Practical Archaeology Fieldschool Tips – Start Today!

You’re going to a field school? I’m excited for you! You’re reading your field school manual, you bought your trowel, you have your plane/train/bus tickets, and you’re ready to go!

Terry Brock has some good tips on how to get an A in field school.

But I, I will teach you to be a ninja. Or a ninja-archaeologist. Archaeoningologist? This is how you can start improving your field technique BEFORE you go to the field.

1) Teach yourself to write architect style–in block capital letters. I know you are a unique individual, and your flowery script reflects the depth of your soul. I don’t care. Write like an architect. Some archaeologists never learn and they are cursed by subsequent researchers, museum handlers, and data-entry folks. Your handwriting sucks. Fix it. Now. BLOCK CAPS.

2) As a corollary to rule one, write your numbers correctly. Look up there, at the photo. I actually had a hard time writing them incorrectly, but your numbers should not have personality. They should be clear at 50 paces. This is more important on international excavations where you have people writing wonky ones and sevens.

3) Where is north? From where you are sitting, point north. Can’t do it? Learn. At several points of the day, figure out where north is. You should always know where north is, no matter where you are. Fancy phones have compass programs now and it shouldn’t be hard. Level up–find out what the declination is for where you are and where you will be digging. I would probably faint if a student came to field school and knew what the declination was for the area.

4) Practice distances and measurements. A good archaeologist should be able to put two fingers out in front of them and accurately portray 10cm, 20cm, 30cm. Start estimating how big things are in centimeters, then whip out a ruler and check. None of this inches business–I don’t care what they do at Monticello. We estimate a lot in archaeology–know if a rock is 2-5cm or 5-10cm or 10-15cm.

5) Know your pace. If you can, lay out a 10-20 meter tape on the ground. Walk it. See how many steps of yours is 10 meters. I come in at about 12 at a regular gait. If you know this, you can walk around sites and have a rough idea of how close things are together. It’s actually best to practice this along 50 meter stretches so you don’t have as much stopping and starting.

6) Know how to tie a few basic knots. Square knots are useful, as are slip knots. It’s amazing how few people know how to tie a few useful knots. (Including myself–I need to get better at this)

7) Take a shower with very little water. Fill up a bucket, then get a smaller cup, and there you go. You should be able to get really clean with 2L of water, and pretty clean with 1L of water.

8) Get sporty! Go online, check out a few walks or hikes in your area and go outside! You don’t have to run marathons, but you should also not rely on field school to get you into shape, because it won’t–unless you are hiking in and out and shoveling all day, then kudos! But the people who have the most fun on digs are the folks who like to be outside. Get a book on whatever birds or rocks are local to your dig site.

9) Get over your food issues. I understand that some people will die if they so much as smell a peanut, but try to eat everything that is offered to you. Vegans and vegetarians, don’t make your habit other peoples’ problem, and don’t be rude to local people who don’t understand why you don’t want their chicken. And for crying out loud don’t exist on protein bars–you are missing out if you are not eating the local food, whether you are working in Mississippi or Tibet. Be an loca-omni-vore and chalk it up to experience.

10) Read my old, yet still relevant tips on how to dress in the field.