This Week in Awkwardness

I got to throw an atlatl in my North American Archaeology class, & didn’t do too bad with it.  I mean I didn’t hit the mammoth outline but the spear stuck in the ground instead of just lamely falling down so that’s something.  I was wearing my field school t-shirt & my teacher was like “oh you did the St. Mary’s one, that’s a good program” so yay me for choosing well!

I found an app called StayOnTask that occasionally asks if you’re actually working, says “Get back to work RIGHT NOW!” if you aren’t, and if you try to use your phone it very ominously says “You should be working…” in the taskbar. It’s surprisingly effective, because I know it’s just sitting there, watching me…

I downloaded Blender, the free open-source software we’re using in class to make our 3D reconstructions, & started playing with it.  It’s a lot of fun!  It’s funny, I have a strong need for a creative outlet but I’m so obsessed with details that I can’t really draw or paint without getting frustrated, 3D rendering of actual buildings is nothing but details so it really fills that void.  I hope to have something worth showing off soon.


This Week in Awkwardness

I have my first week of fall classes in the bag!  It looks like I’ll be at USF one semester longer than I had planned though.  Trying to cram in everything I needed to do in order to graduate in December was just way too much.  I was taking 17 credits, but my 4-credit Archaeological Science class turned out not to be what I thought it would be.  For whatever reason I thought it would be remote sensing, which is what I wanted to learn, & there’s a little bit of that but it’s a lot more “let’s shoot a bunch of rocks with a laser so we can see exactly which volcano they came from!” which is a really cool thing that SOMEONE can do, I just don’t want to be that person.  Anyway it seemed like it was going to be a lot of work for something I wasn’t that interested in, plus it was keeping me from going to Anthropology Club so I nixed it.

My Digital Archaeology class on the other hand looks like it’s going to be AWESOME.  It’s all 3D modelling & virtual reality, I spend the whole lecture just drooling over the beautiful recreations & how amazing it is that we can do this stuff & share it with the whole world.  You can walk through a laser-scanned model of an archaeological site in some totally different part of the world, put whole museum collections online for anyone to study, manipulate virtual replicas of dinosaur skeletons, it’s just amazing what’s possible with this technology.  We have a hands-on project to make a digital recreation that I’m pretty excited about, honestly I’ll probably start playing with the software LONG before we actually learn anything about it.  You can see some of the work they do at the USF Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies on their Sketchfab account.

So this won’t be my last semester after all but I’m actually pretty glad to be staying.  I like USF, I like my apartment, I like my job, there’s no reason to go running out of here just yet.

Field School: Week 8

The whole week was brutally hot – I think the heat index was over 100° every day.  I actually ended up missing half a day because of the heat, which of course drove me nuts, I hate missing time on anything.  It was a good week overall though.  This was our field trip week, with visits to Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestowne, two places that I’d never been before.

The lab at Williamsburg is amazing – they have a whole room dedicated to a study collection of faunal remains.  Basically it’s an exercise in comparison – all the bones are from known species of known age, so when you find a bit of bone out in the field you can use the collection to figure out what animal it’s from and how old that animal was.  We also got to peek through drawers of artifacts that most people don’t get to see, including lots of pottery but also metal bits, children’s toys, and most amazingly soles from centuries old leather shoes.  Organic bits such as leather or rope survive only under special conditions; they must be in anaerobic environments or continuously wet or dry.  Bogs and very dry deserts are great places to find organic artifacts; in Williamsburg they pull things like that out of the bottoms of wells.  We went out to where they’re digging this year and also to where they have a dig set up for young children to participate in.  The kids’ area is really cool because it’s a legitimate dig, they’re not just pulling out fake things that get tossed back in for the next group.  It’s located in a cellar that was dug in the 1940’s, with all the soil & artifacts tossed back in as a big jumble of stuff.  There’s not a lot of information for an archaeologist to glean from a big jumble of stuff, so they can allow children to dig it up without losing anything.  I guess every slot is full every single day, it’s a really popular activity.  Outside of the lab & archaeological sites, I found the town itself to be a little on the kitschy & crowded side for my taste.  It reminded me a lot of high season on Mackinac Island – really legit & awesome stuff alongside goofy gift shops & way too many bars with herds of sweating tourists wandering around.  If I was to go back there it would be in fall or winter when it’s slower, cooler, & easier to understand.  I did get to visit with 3 of my island friends who were around, so that was great!

Jamestowne is only a half-hour or so from Williamsburg and consists of two parts: the archaeological digs at Historic Jamestowne on the original site of the fort & Jamestowne Settlement, the museum & recreation a little away from the original site.  On the site itself they’ve set up a frame & a half-wall of two of the buildings & a simple palisade to show how things were laid out.  They’ve also got the cellar open where they found Jane – the 14-year-old English girl whose skull showed evidence that she had been murdered & cannibalized.  On our lab tour we got to pass around a 3D print of her skull; later at the Archaearium museum we got to see her actual skull, which was a pretty surreal experience.  Over at Jamestowne Settlement is an amazing museum where they seem to have spared no expense.  Beginning in 1600, the galleries walk you through time comparing the lives of English settlers, the Powhatan people they met in Virginia, and the Africans they brought over as slaves.  Full-blown recreations of rooms, houses, & a whole London street scene, all located inside the museum building, are just absolutely stunning.  Outside the museum is a recreation of James Fort, a Powhatan village, & three tall ships, but there was a certain kitsch to all of that too & I didn’t stay very long before I went back into the museum.  I guess I just wasn’t feeling the living history last week.

I can’t think of any really fantastic finds from our field site this week, but here’s an NPR podcast about St. Mary’s City, including interviews with my teacher, his assistant, and the director of research, if anyone’s curious.

Field School: Week 7

I had a couple of interesting finds this week – a blue & white glass bead & part of a pig mandible with several teeth still in it, which was honestly pretty creepy.

We had lectures on maritime archaeology, the wreck of the HMS Braak, & the archaeology of Naval properties, all very interesting topics.  Because of all the federal laws in place to protect historical & cultural resources, all projects completed by or involving federal agencies must have surveys to assess their impacts on those resources.  Big organizations like the Navy might have some archaeologists on staff, but for individual projects or smaller agencies, that’s where Cultural Resource Management firms come in.  CRM is booming right now, & these consulting businesses hire people like me to come out to their project sites for however long they need, be it a week or a month or a season, & help with the surveys & test excavations required to see what might be impacted by the project.  There’s even a name for people who wander from project to project – shovelbums!

It was crazy hot & humid this week – one day it was 98° but the heat index was 110°.  It did cool off eventually though, & really it hasn’t been too bad for July in the mid-south.  I thought it might be 100° every day.  I have just 3 more weeks here before I head home to Florida!

Field School: Week 5


We opened several more units this week, including some that had been dug before & we’re going to do further work on, or that are adjacent to other squares and just make it easier to see the whole picture.  We have a resident bunny who hangs out with us for some portion of almost every day, he’s not real tame but he lays in the clover and watches us.

The highlight of the week was our field trip to George Washington’s family home at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia.  We didn’t actually get to go into the house but we had a special lecture & tour of the grounds with the staff archaeologists.  It’s a complicated place – the excavation they’re doing this year is behind the kitchen building, with modern utilities on top of the historic kitchen midden on top of the postholes of a building they didn’t know was there, with a giant hole from a 1940s tree replanting dug through the middle for good measure.  We also got to see the Lives Bound Together exhibit in the museum, which is on until September 2018.  Lives Bound Together tells the stories of Mount Vernon’s enslaved population by directly contrasting the objects they used and the lives they led with those of the Washington family.  On the way back to St. Mary’s City I was lucky enough to spot South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s motorcade on the other side of the highway, so that was interesting.

We have a long weekend over Independence Day and then we’ll be back to it with a Wednesday to Sunday schedule for the rest of the summer.  With five weeks down and five to go, I’m now officially halfway through the class!

Field School: Weeks 3 & 4

In Week 3 we became noticeably better at picking out which objects were artifacts, although not necessarily at knowing what they were.  We opened a couple of new squares, with my group starting on a new unit one square away from our first one.  It too was full of gravel, but not so bad on the roots since it wasn’t next to a tree.  We learned the art of schnitting, a technique of removing soil little by little using a shovel to scrape away the top layers very quickly. We found a few small pieces of various types of artifacts mixed in with the pebbles, but we were really looking for a modern pipe trench that was mapped in adjacent squares and finally found it on Saturday.  We took a tour of the nearby Spray Plantation and Brome Howard Inn to look at the architecture and check out one of the original slave quarter buildings that used to sit near where we are digging right now.  It was a sobering experience to stand in that tiny building and try to imagine living there with 7 or 8 other people.

Week 4 was my turn for a lab rotation – basically scrubbing dirty chunks of brick and coal all day.  I did enjoy cleaning glass though, it’s pretty and it’s one of the only things we have that really gets clean!  It was interesting to get an idea of how the lab setting works and what materials require different handling, but I’d rather be out in the field.  This past week we also survived our midterm artifact identification test, I haven’t gotten my grade yet but I think I did fairly well.

In my wanderings around campus I discovered a bunch of forts in the woods, including one tiny fairy village made of pebbles and twigs, and a turtle in the science building.  It was so hot one day that I decided to walk through the building instead of around it so I could have a few minutes of air conditioning and spent a few minutes with Izzy the diamondback terrapin.  At first I thought she liked me, but then I realized that she just thought I was going to feed her.  I visit her a couple times a week anyway.