Archaeology Strike Force!

By Turtlemoon, on Flickr.

So last week for our Wednesday archaeology brown bag lecture we had Ran Boytner from UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology come and speak to us about their collective archaeology field school program. It is a good idea, that universities and individual field schools have a centralized place for organizing and funding field schools so that larger pools of money can be around when something goes wrong and more students from varying institutions can participate. I was less happy with the administration–UCLA professors are the only ones who can decide if the methodology on site is rigorous enough for your field school to be associated with the Field School system.  I guess I’d like to see what training in excavation methodology and pedagogy these professors have, especially if they’re the 1m x 1m square-heads that dominate US institutions.

Anyway, during the Q&A at the end of the talk I had a question about that–just how vigorous is vigorous? What is your metric for a rigorous field school? I didn’t really get an answer more than “UCLA professors decide and they know what is best” but I did get a particularly good anecdote:

So a semi-anonymous professor/field director last year lost a piece of equipment on the plane ride over and decided to replace that equipment from the student food budget.  Field school budgetary decisions are absolutely opaque to students (and to most of the team) so this information must have gotten leaked somehow and it got passed around.  The students went un/underfed, and had to lead tours of the excavation to visitors while holding a can that said “food money” and beg for tips. While this is hilarious, and sadly fairly typical, word of this came back to the Cotsen Field School system and they immediately flew out a “crack team of UCLA graduate students” to “separate the director from the undergraduate students” and to make sure that the undergraduate students had enough food. The director could no longer have any contact with the undergraduate students and the graduate students effectively took over the excavation.

This is a great boon to field schools in that the students–who are absolutely under the complete sway of directors who may or may not care about their tutelage, living situation, or dietary needs–have recourse if something goes terribly wrong during the field season. The students also have no metric to judge if the field school is particularly bad, as it will be their first time in the field and they have nothing to compare it to. So they put up with a lot, have little decision-making ability and can be fairly thoroughly abused. Some people even consider this a sort of “jumping-in” for students to see if they are tough enough for archaeology. Utterly ridiculous.  For this reason I endorse the Cotsen program, perhaps combined with a little radical transparency for individual field directors and budgetary concerns…

…but only if I can be part of the graduate student strike team, of course.

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