Artifacts Galore: Lab Day!

Check out my other posts on the ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?” blog!

Here is the full text: 

When I was in college, oh so long ago, we focused primarily on the traditional aspects of archaeology without doing much in the way of hands-on activities; anything of that sort was left for fieldschool.  Most of the students in the introductory archaeology courses were planning on majoring in the field, and so fieldschool was a requirement, so it’s not surprising methods and artifact analysis were left out.  But, I’m a hands-on kind of learner.  The more I can see, touch, and interact with, the better I will remember it.  If I solely learned about lithics and the process of creating stone tools in class/from books without learning flint knapping or working with collections of flakes, cores, and tools, I don’t think I would be able to recognize tools and such in the field as quickly or with as much accuracy.  That being said, I still drone on about theory, formation processes, the history of archaeology and the like in my courses, but I try to have a hands-on aspect as well.  After covering dating methods, I set up a large dendrochronology (see the post on tree-ring dating) master sequence on one of the walls and handed out tiny tree ring ‘samples’ that my students had to match up to the sequence.  They had to figure out when the tree started growing, when it was cut, and how many wet and dry spells occurred.

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What I hope my students see: the artifacts from this ‘site’ are from an established village. There’s groundstone, so agriculture may be present. There is a variety of pottery types, as well as lithic materials, so there may be trade.

This past week I covered the different types of artifacts typically observed in the material record, like stone tools and pottery.  I raided type collection for all kinds of artifacts to set up small mock archaeological sites in my classroom; each site even had it’s own context!  I wish we had the time to set up mock sites outside, but this was just going to have to do.  So, I set up three prehistoric sites, two historic sites, and one trick (got to keep students on their toes).  Some of the sites had to be created with photographs of historic artifacts, but I think they got the idea across.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lab questions for each ‘site.’

More than anything, I wanted my students to think about what artifacts can tell you about a site, like what people ate or trade networks.  And, how the lack of artifacts may indicate looting.  Context is key—for artifacts to have meaning, we have to know where they were located.  Then, we can generate a narrative for what happened in the past.  That’s why I included a photograph of a rather famous looter’s basement, who had artifacts piled to the ceiling.  A couple of students came up to me, saying, “but this isn’t a site! What’s the context?” and we had a nice chat about whether or not you can actually learn anything from something completely out of context.

What's up, Archaeology?

When I was in college, oh so long ago, we focused primarily on the traditional aspects of archaeology without doing much in the way of hands-on activities; anything of that sort was left for fieldschool.  Most of the students in the introductory archaeology courses were planning on majoring in the field, and so fieldschool was a requirement, so it’s not surprising methods and artifact analysis were left out.  But, I’m a hands-on kind of learner.  The more I can see, touch, and interact with, the better I will remember it.  If I solely learned about lithics and the process of creating stone tools in class/from books without learning flint knapping or working with collections of flakes, cores, and tools, I don’t think I would be able to recognize tools and such in the field as quickly or with as much accuracy.  That being said, I still drone on about theory…

View original post 356 more words

Radiocarbon Dating

I created this cartoon for the ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?’ blog!

What's up, Archaeology?

Radiocarbon

What’s radiocarbon dating all about?  It’s one of the most popular ways of figuring out the age of an archaeological site using organic material (i.e. a living thing at one point, like a tree or ear of corn).  So, bone, charcoal, cloth, artifacts made from organic material or the material itself can (hypothetically) be dated.  How does this work?  The amount of Carbon 14 in no longer living organic material decays at a steady rate (a half-life) over time; the smaller the amount of C-14 left in the material, the older the sample is.  It is incredible how this method can date sites that are 40,000 years old!

Unlike dendrochronology, radiocarbon dating does not provide a specific year to date an archaeological site, but a range of years which are calculated with fancy mathematics and physics well beyond my understanding (i.e. I just hear ‘bleep bloop fancy words blah blah…

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Artifacts: What’s all that jargon about?

Here is another one of my posts from the What’s Up, Archaeology? blog!  Here is the Full text:

There’s a whole lot of jargon surrounding the stuff archaeologists’ study, which can confuse even the most experienced in the field (i.e. Thermoluminescence, that’s a fun word).  There are terms I occasionally hear from colleagues, where I just want to yell, ‘just say “dirt” already’ but jargon is important.  Terms like artifact, lithics, ground stone, and so on, help us put things into categories, which then helps us figure out what on earth was going on at some site (i.e. a place where people made/left their stuff).  I will soon be teaching my students the primary artifact types, so that they can get an idea of how archaeologists break down what they see in the field.  Jargon makes us sound all kinds of fancy, but it can create a barrier between archaeology and the public.  The following is just a little rundown of some of the types of artifacts out there.  Hopefully, through the terms, you will see that whatever you’re looking at is more than just a pretty arrowhead or piece of pottery—jargon gives weight/meaning to each of the artifacts we find.

First things first: What is an artifact?

An artifact is anything made by human hands.  In the United States, based on cultural resource management laws, an artifact is anything made by human hands that is 50 years old or older.  That gross rusty evaporated milk can?

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A variety of prehistoric artifacts, including pottery, a hammerstone, a ground stone fragment, and debitage.

That’s an artifact!  That 1,000-year-old basket fragment?  That’s an artifact.  You get the idea.  Artifacts are an amazing tangible link to past people and cultures.  If you find any kind of artifact, please, just take a picture and put it back where you found it; taking an artifact from the site can change how we interpret the past.  Every artifact—even the ugliest of tin cans—matter!

 

Lithics: any artifact made of stone

Do you like stone tools?  Well, those types of artifacts fall under the category of ‘lithics.’  Flint knapping, the process of making stone tools, generates a whole bunch of jargon-laden terms.

-Core: a big chunk of stone, like obsidian, which flakes are removed during the knapping process.

-Hammerstone: a nice rock to hit the core, in order to make flakes.

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Quartzite flakes and debitage.

-Flake: a piece of stone removed from a core to make a tool or debitage.

-Debitage: stone debris knocked off a core that can’t be used for anything else.

Some sites may have a ‘lithic scatter’ where an archaeologist can tell if people were creating stone tools due to the amount of flakes and debitage left behind.

 

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This protohistoric chalcedony knife was made through the knapping process.

Projectile Point: those pointy things

A projectile point is the tool that gets fastened to the end of a spear, dart, or arrow shaft.  Most people are familiar with stone spears and arrowheads, but they also have been made from antler, bone, and copper.  The type of material used for projectile points can tell archaeologists about trade and the style can show cultural change overtime.  Unfortunately, projectile points are some of the most popular artifacts to be taken from archaeological sites.

Ground stone: feel the grind

Ground stone tools are formed by the grinding, pecking, or polishing of one stone with another stone.  These tools include manos and metates, which were used to grind up seeds.  There are pestles that would be used to crush seeds in a carved-out shape on a boulder, as well as beautifully crafted stone axes to pipes.

Ceramics: fire it up

Ceramics are artifacts made of fired clay, including pottery (jars, bowls, etc.), figurines, or really any other objects using fired clay.  Pottery provides archaeologists an incredible amount of information on clay types, trade, design, culture change, cooking, food, and so on.

Potsherds: no, not ‘shards’

A ‘sherd’ is a prehistoric or historic fragment of pottery.  There are many rocks that look like sherds (‘shrocks’) and sherds that look like rocks (‘jerkfaces’), which can make it difficult to distinguish at a site.

Perishables: where’d it go?

Most artifacts observed at archaeology sites are made of long-lasting materials, like stone or fired clay.  It’s not surprising that we typically do not find baskets, blankets, or animal skins at sites.  You need extremely good conditions, like a dry cave, to preserve perishable artifacts or artifacts made from organic materials, to prevent them from completely breaking down overtime.  It’s a particularly exciting day if you find a fragment of any kind of perishable artifact!

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Prehistoric Fremont baskets.  Observed at The Prehistoric Museum, Price, UT.

What's up, Archaeology?

There’s a whole lot of jargon surrounding the stuff archaeologists’ study, which can confuse even the most experienced in the field (i.e. Thermoluminescence, that’s a fun word).  There are terms I occasionally hear from colleagues, where I just want to yell, ‘just say “dirt” already’ but jargon is important.  Terms like artifact, lithics, ground stone, and so on, help us put things into categories, which then helps us figure out what on earth was going on at some site (i.e. a place where people made/left their stuff).  I will soon be teaching my students the primary artifact types, so that they can get an idea of how archaeologists break down what they see in the field.  Jargon makes us sound all kinds of fancy, but it can create a barrier between archaeology and the public.  The following is just a little rundown of some of the types of artifacts out…

View original post 612 more words

Put a Ring On It: A Brief Overview of Dendrochronology

Another post from the What’s Up, Archaeology? blog!  Here’s the full text:

This week I’m teaching my students about the different methods archaeologists use to figure out how old an artifact and/or site could be, like radiocarbon dating to thermoluminescence.  One of my favorite kinds of methods is dendrochronology, also known as ‘tree-ring dating.’ Trees typically produce a distinct thin or thick growth ring per year, depending on the weather.  A wet year will produce a thick ring, while a dry year will produce a thin ring.  Why is that important?  Well, those rings can help date an archaeological site (something specific, like 735 AD!)!  On top of that, tree rings can help us understand past and present environmental processes and conditions (UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research), like climate change.

Dendrochronology

Trees that are sensitive to wet and dry cycles create distinct thick and thin rings, while complacent trees are boring.

In archaeology, dendrochronologists use a sample of wood with distinct tree-rings from an archaeological site (i.e. a wooden structure or a roof beam) to get the age of the tree when it was cut down—that’s the important thing to remember, the final ring is when the tree was cut and then likely used at the site.  It’s all about counting the rings on that cross section of wood.  The pattern of thick and thin rings from the sample is matched up to a much larger set of tree-ring samples or sequences from areas with similar environmental conditions.  By studying samples from “California bristlecone pine, European oaks, and other trees, tree-ring experts have developed a master chronology over 8,000 years into the past” (Fagan and Durrani 2016:115).

So, if I had a sample from a wooden beam from Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park, I would try to match the pattern of rings with established tree-ring sequences in the Southwest.  That would give me the date of when the tree was cut and then used for that structure!

Dendro_example

A rundown of how to match a sample from a site to a larger master sequence of tree-rings.

But here’s the hitch (there just had to be one), we have to keep in mind that that trees may have been cut earlier, used at a structure, and then reused at a different building where it was discovered by archaeologists.  Despite this issue (important thing to consider!), dendrochronology remains a fundamental tool in figuring out the age of archaeological sites.  You can see where samples have been taken from a variety of archaeological sites throughout the Southwest, like at Chaco Canyon National Historic Park.

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The arrow points to where a tree-ring sample was removed from a wooden beam at Hungo Pavi, Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, NM.

For more information, watch this great video on dendrochronology from Time Team America:

http://www.pbs.org/time-team/experience-archaeology/dendrochronology/

References

Fagan, Brian M. and Nadia Durrani

2016 Archaeology: A Brief Introduction. 12th Edition. Routledge, New York.

University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, electronic resource, https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings

 

What's up, Archaeology?

This week I’m teaching my students about the different methods archaeologists use to figure out how old an artifact and/or site could be, like radiocarbon dating to thermoluminescence.  One of my favorite kinds of methods is dendrochronology, also known as ‘tree-ring dating.’ Trees typically produce a distinct thin or thick growth ring per year, depending on the weather.  A wet year will produce a thick ring, while a dry year will produce a thin ring.  Why is that important?  Well, those rings can help date an archaeological site (something specific, like 735 AD!)!  On top of that, tree rings can help us understand past and present environmental processes and conditions (UA Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research), like climate change.

Dendrochronology Trees that are sensitive to wet and dry cycles create distinct thick and thin rings, while complacent trees are boring.

In archaeology, dendrochronologists use a sample of wood with distinct tree-rings from…

View original post 335 more words

I Love Teaching, But We All Have Those Days . . .

A new contribution to the ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?’ blog! Here’s the full text:

The Twelve Days of Archaeology Class, or, A Professor’s Lament
On the first day of classes, a student said to me,
Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the second day of classes, a student said to me,
Aliens could be the answer. . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the third day of classes, a student said to me,
Who cares about theory?
Aliens could be the answer . . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the fourth day of classes, a student said to me,
It’s just like the show ‘Bones’
Who cares about theory?
Aliens could be the answer . . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the fifth day of classes, a student said to me,
WHERE’S ALL THE GOLD?
It’s just like the show ‘Bones’
Who cares about theory?
Aliens could be the answer . . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the sixth day of classes, a student said to me,
I took this artifact while hiking
WHERE’S ALL THE GOLD?
It’s just like the show ‘Bones’
Who cares about theory?
Aliens could be the answer . . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the seventh day of classes, I stopped answering questions.
And Indiana Jones’s the worst there can be.

What's up, Archaeology?

The Twelve Days of Archaeology Class, or, A Professor’s Lament
On the first day of classes, a student said to me,
Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the second day of classes, a student said to me,
Aliens could be the answer. . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the third day of classes, a student said to me,
Who cares about theory?
Aliens could be the answer . . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the fourth day of classes, a student said to me,
It’s just like the show ‘Bones’
Who cares about theory?
Aliens could be the answer . . .
And Indiana Jones’s the best there can be.

On the fifth day of classes, a student said to me,
WHERE’S ALL THE GOLD?
It’s just like the show ‘Bones’
Who cares about theory?
Aliens could be…

View original post 78 more words

Women in Archaeology Podcast: Re-Release of ‘Badass Women in Archaeology’

Listen to the podcast on the Women in Archaeology Blog [Click Here] or listen to the podcast on iTunes!

cropped-wia_sticker_official1

Join us in celebrating some amazing women in the history of the field!

Show Notes:

*50 Most Important Women in Science

Dig Ventures: Pioneering Women in Archaeology

Rejected Princesses: Zelia Nuttall

Trowel Blazers: see what they are doing in 2019 at the bottom of the page!

Archaeological Fantasies: Gertrude Bell

Book: Ladies of the Field by Amanda Adams

**featured image copied from the Gertrude Bell Archive [1] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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