Field School: Week 6

You know what’s a really great workout?  Bailing water out of holes.  Two days of rain this week meant two mornings of scooping water out of units that looked like swimming pools, dragging buckets around to dump them, & I have pains in muscles that I didn’t even know existed.  But we had a day off from digging, so I guess that’s something?  I think it’s easy to forget how incredibly hard this work is until it’s the end of the week & all you want to do is eat dinner & go to bed at 8:30.

I re-watched all of the Cinema Sins videos of the Jurassic Park movies – & realized how many times they refer to paleontology/paleontologists as archaeology/archaeologists.    Archaeology is the study of human cultures through material remains.  Archaeologists do NOT study dinosaurs!  We also don’t like it when you touch our stuff.  We have to keep track of exactly where each pile of dirt & each item in it comes from.  If you visit an archaeological dig by all means ask questions – but please don’t touch things without permission & DEFINITELY don’t move them!

This knowledge of where each item comes from is called its provenience.  This concept is related to the term provenance, which has to do with tracking the ownership history of art pieces – something that comes up a lot in cases of Nazi-looted art & the like.  Archaeological digs are built on grid systems, with each square assigned a unique identifier.  The entire area of St. Mary’s City is divided into numbered 10-foot squares, & each of those is in turn divided into 4 5-foot units which are dug individually.  As we dig each unit, we keep track of the stratigraphy within it – the layers of dirt as they were laid down over each other in the past.  The earliest layer is at the bottom, with new layers deposited on it so that the most recent layer is at the top.  Within the stratigraphic system there might also be features – things like post holes that are now just a different color of dirt because the post rotted away or was removed & the hole filled back in.  Each layer & feature in each 5-foot square is given a letter designation.  So for example, in one 10-foot square you’d have letters for the topsoil layer in each of the 5-foot units – A, B, C, & D.  Under the topsoil, you’d have a new set of letters for each unit’s plowzone layer – E, F, G, & H.  If a feature shows up, it gets its own letter.  So, if you’re digging the northeast corner of square 4506, the topsoil layer might be layer C, the plowzone under it layer G, a ditch dug through it & since filled in layer K.  The same layers or features in the other three units of that square get their own letters.  Then, each item you dig up goes into a particular bag – things from the topsoil go into a bag labeled 4506 C, plowzone into 4506 G, & anything found in the ditch into 4506 K.  Provenience is so important because the context of an item – where it was found & what it was found with – is vital to understanding what it is & what it means to the site overall.  Without context, OK you’ve got a cool thing, but it doesn’t tell you much.  With context, you might be able to say when that ditch was filled in or what a certain room was used for – you can connect it to the objects in the same layer or the ones above or below, & to the site at large.  Basically, context is everything & provenience is how we maintain our knowledge of that context.

Four weeks from now I’ll be back in Florida!  This summer seems like it’s taking forever, but I’m sure when I leave it will feel like it flew by.

Field School: Week 2

In the second week of our field school, we had a couple more days of lectures and then continued working on our site.  It was an exciting week with several nice finds and a handful of visitors to talk to.  My group found lots of teeth & bone shards – we’re digging near a 19-century smokehouse so no surprise there – plus some nice bits of 17th- and 18-century ceramics & a couple pellets of lead shot.  On our last day of the week I found a pipe!  We find a lot of fragments, but so far this is the only one with bowl and stem together.  Because my find required a more delicate tool than a trowel, I go to be the first one to use the brushes, which is weirdly exciting.  Another member of my group found a couple of pipe stem pieces with a fleur-de-lis design stamped into it, and someone in another square found one with the maker’s whole name in it, instead of just his initials.  People smoked like chimneys 200 years ago.

 

On Saturday evening we had a real treat – sailing the Maryland Dove, a recreation 17th-century trading ship.  We were each put in charge of a couple of ropes and one of the crew members stayed near each group to translate the captain’s orders into actions and make sure we did them correctly.  It was really interesting because this is still a very rural, wooded area so seeing it through the rigging of a ship, with no engine sounds or vibration, gave a reasonably good sense of what the first English settlers would have experienced sailing up the river.  It reallllllyyyy gave me an appreciation for how much of a pain it must have been to actually travel that way, with a dozen people all having to work in synchrony to achieve every little change in course.  All we did was sail up and down the river for an hour and we all left exhausted!

 

Field School: Week 1

I survived my trip to Maryland!  It was about 18 hours from Orlando to Alexandria, Virginia, where the head archaeologist picked me up for the drive down to St. Mary’s City.  St. Mary’s College of Maryland is a small, rural school with pretty much nothing anywhere near it except the museum site where I’ll be working.  I like it though, the campus is beautiful and very wooded, it reminds me of Michigan.

We had three days of lectures on field methods, history, and some of the artifacts we’ll encounter, then two days in the field.  Yesterday my group learned to use the surveying equipment, plotted a new square & started taking off the topsoil, today we finished the topsoil & dug through a layer of pea gravel that nobody expected to be there.  We haven’t found anything really big but in sifting all of that dirt we came across lots of little bits of brick & coal, some nails, & a few pieces of ceramic & clay pipe stems.  Digging holes and picking through dirt really is the best thing ever.

So here I am for the next couple of months.  Should be interesting!

Racist History

 

I never really understood why we have the group-specific History Months.  Like it’s all history right?  Why the need to occasionally single out this group or that group?

A couple of weeks ago in one of my anthropology classes some guy from the department asked us to do a survey so they could figure out if we were learning the right things, and gave each of us a question.  I don’t recall the exact wording of mine, but I was supposed to define the concepts of sex vs. gender and write about a recent change in gender roles.  I picked a quick & easy topic: women entering the workforce during World War 2 & the long-standing changes that stemmed from that.  Easy.  I could write about that in my sleep.

In that moment, I realized that I have no idea what that experience looked like in any other racial community.  Like I’ve never seen a non-white Rosie the Riveter (not one of the original ones anyway).  Not once in my life have I come across a photo of a bunch of women building bombs and not every single one of them was white.  I’m sure they’re out there but I’ve never seen them.  It never even occurred to me to look for them, which says a lot about how I’ve been educated.  Chalk it up to media racism in the 1940s, ethnocentrism, whatever, it doesn’t matter, I’ve taken a zillion history classes and nobody’s ever brought it up.  We don’t talk about black people between slavery & civil rights.  Not much is ever said about Hispanics outside of colonialism and whatever happened in Texas.  Asians get passing mentions with the railroads & internment camps, maybe somebody mentions a Chinese laundry, but that’s about it.

I still don’t care much for the special History Months, but I think that’s because it’s not really an inclusive concept, plus they recycle the same history over and over.  Make all of history class inclusive.  Bring in more perspectives on a wider slice of of life.  Please!

Your Language Shapes Your Concept of Space

I wanted to share something interesting I found out today in an essay called You Are What You Speak by linguist Guy Deutscher that I read for my anthropology class.  He has some very interesting things to say about language and how it shapes the way we think about gender, time, and our feelings about inanimate objects, but the thing that caught my attention was in the concept of spatial relationships.  It never really occurred to me that there could be a different orientation system than the one we use, but it turns out that there is.  When we think of small-scale directions, we orient ourselves in terms of right, left, forward, & backward.  This is called egocentric – our directional axis is based around our bodies and rotates with us; we are literally the center of everything.  Some cultures use a geographic orientation system – their languages refer to EVERYTHING in terms of cardinal directions, and actually contain no concept of left or right.  ‘Walk three blocks east, turn north, then it will be the first house to the west,’ isn’t really that crazy.  It gets crazy when someone says ‘I left my keys on the north end of the dresser on the west side of the room,’ or ‘Scooch a little to the south,’ or ‘There’s a bee to the east of your head.’  THAT’S WHAT THEY DO.  Not only do they talk this way, they REMEMBER things this way.  Deutscher writes about a native speaker of such a language telling a story about his boat being capsized in the midst of some sharks and swimming back to shore:

“Apart from the dramatic content, the remarkable thing about the story was that it was remembered throughout in cardinal directions: the speaker jumped into the water on the western side of the boat, his companion to the east of the boat, they saw a giant shark swimming north and so on.”

People whose native languages are geographic-based have INSANE senses of direction.  Put them inside, outside, in a cave, spin them around, they can still tell which way is which.  They just KNOW, because their languages force them to know, at all times.  Just the way that we know left from right (most of us, I still struggle with this one….).

Epic Information Fail

I’ve gotten a few things from the bazillion colleges that I asked for more information from, and I’m genuinely surprised at how little actual information they’ve sent.  I guess I don’t really know what I expected, maybe something about their application processes & deadlines, what they look for in applicants, more details about their anthropology programs since they all asked what I was interested in.  What I got was a little pile of pamphlets & swag that basically tells me nothing.  The University of Michigan even said they wanted to look up my ACT scores, you know what they sent?  An over sized postcard with a bumper sticker and an appeal to put it on something and post a photo to Instagram with #goblue.  How is that supposed to help me choose them over some other school?  When I asked for more information it was because I wanted more information, not a booklet of all the companies that have hired their graduates, a breakdown of their football statistics, or what the social scene is like in their city.  This is about whether you fit into my future plans, not how cool you think you are.

Somewhat Less Confusion

I called the admissions office of the school I’m planning on applying to, and she said that as long as I have the FAFSA in it should be fine for the spring semester. Hopefully she’s right, I’d hate to lose out on a bunch of aid money.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to finish the application so right now there’s nothing for me to do but wait and keep looking for other sources of funds. I’m taking a little break from it right now.  I’m actually developing a huge callus on my elbow from leaning on my desk staring at my computer. I call it my college search injury.
I’m also considering whether or not I should get a job over the winter. My summer earnings will last quite a while, but besides just that I’m looking into companies that offer employee tuition benefits. Costco is at the top of my list right now, it’s supposed to be a great place to work plus I’m actually qualified for it. The problem though is that I’ll have field schools to attend and those last a month or two. I don’t know if I’d be able to get that off of work or not. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do a field school the first year anyway, so there’s no point in worrying about it now. It’s all just going to have to wait until I get a better idea of my financial situation, but I hate waiting, it makes me twitchy.