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

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

What’s the Point of Archaeological Theory? No Longer Just a Torture Device!

View the rest of the post at the new ‘What’s Up, Archaeology?’ blog!  Check out all of the great contributors to the blog!

Here is the full text:

What’s the Point of Archaeological Theory? No Longer Just a Torture Device!

On a good day, I would say roughly 80 percent of my students hate archaeological theory, if not more.  I’ve had numerous chats with friends and colleagues about their collective hatred of theory.  It’s incredibly confusing stuff.  There was even a time I thought theory was invented to torture students, and in part, that is still true.  Over time—long after graduate school—theory grew on me.  I wouldn’t necessarily want sit down and read a theoretical extravaganza for kicks, but I see it’s usefulness and the need for it to be taught (sorry, students, you’re learning all about it this week).  So, what is ‘archaeological theory’?  Like many of the methods in archaeology, theory is just another tool to help us understand and explain the past.

Let’s get some jargon out of the way.  A ‘theory’ is a policy or procedure that is proposed and/or followed as the foundation of some action.  An ‘archaeological theory’ is then the set of procedures/methods used to conduct research, do an excavation, and interpret the past.  I like to think of theory as a set of lenses you can use to view archaeological data—a variety of extremely serious to super wacky glasses you can put on.  If I had a bunch of artifacts and data from a dig in Mesopotamia, I could use theory as a foundation/starting point to help explain why the site was abandoned, how the layers of dirt on top of the site formed over time, why people wanted to live in that specific area, and so on.

Theory can be taken too seriously.  Consider the following parable of the blind men and the elephant, a story I first heard in graduate school: there was a group of blind men who heard that an elephant had been in town, but none of the men knew the actual shape of an elephant.  When they felt the creature, one thought it was a snake (i.e. the trunk), one thought it was a fan (i.e. the ear), one thought it was a tree-trunk (i.e. the leg), and one thought it was a wall (i.e. the body)—they could only understand parts of the whole and insisted it was that one thing.  So, what on earth does this have to do with archaeology?

Think of the elephant as the material record/all we have left of the past and archaeologists are the blind men trying to interpret this confusing creature.  Each archaeologist is using different means (i.e. theory) to interpret and reconstruct the past.  But, they can be wrong about the interpretation.  Just as the blind men insist that the elephant was a snake or a wall, an archaeologist may misinterpret the past by insisting that that interpretation is the one single way of looking at the past.  We have to look at the whole picture to understand how a group of people lived.

Theory

Archaeologists trying to interpret the past (i.e. elephant) using extreme versions of post-processualism (left, anything goes) and processualism (right, super rigid and doesn’t consider people’s role in making culture).

There are so many archaeological theories to choose from and no single theory is perfect.  There’s processualism, post-processualism, cognitive processualism, processual-plus, neo-Marxism, neoevolutionary theory, feminist and gender theory, phenomenological theory, and so on.  These theories force us to use scientific methods, as well as confront our own biases about the past, and to consider multiple perspectives, human agency (i.e. people make culture), and otherwise neglected voices (i.e. women, elderly, minorities).  I prescribe to processual-plus, since it is a happy medium between competing theories, but it’s important to remember that theory shouldn’t be thought of a rigid framework.  Theory can be seen as a set of guiding principles to help us understand the past.  Choose what works best for you and the type of work you’re doing.  Does that make sense?  Good.  There’s going to be a quiz.

References

For the parable of the ‘Blind Men and the Elephant’: https://www.peacecorps.gov/educators/resources/story-blind-men-and-elephant/

Want to know more about specific theories? Read:

Trigger, Bruce G.

2006 A History of Archaeological Thought. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

What's up, Archaeology?

On a good day, I would say roughly 80 percent of my students hate archaeological theory, if not more.  I’ve had numerous chats with friends and colleagues about their collective hatred of theory.  It’s incredibly confusing stuff.  There was even a time I thought theory was invented to torture students, and in part, that is still true.  Over time—long after graduate school—theory grew on me.  I wouldn’t necessarily want sit down and read a theoretical extravaganza for kicks, but I see it’s usefulness and the need for it to be taught (sorry, students, you’re learning all about it this week).  So, what is ‘archaeological theory’?  Like many of the methods in archaeology, theory is just another tool to help us understand and explain the past.

Let’s get some jargon out of the way.  A ‘theory’ is a policy or procedure that is proposed and/or followed as the foundation of some…

View original post 529 more words

Living History Museums, Part 1: An Introduction

My brother and I were exposed to history, museums, and living history museums early on in our childhood; it shouldn’t be any kind of surprise that I ended up as an archaeologist, and he, a Medieval history scholar.  I loved reading about the past and viewing artifacts of daily life.  My family often visited the Ohio Village, which is a reconstructed town presenting daily life during the Civil War.  As soon as I turned thirteen years old, I was old enough to volunteer at the Ohio Village alone—and I jumped at that opportunity.  I had a wonderful period costume, hoop skirt and bonnet included, and I would demonstrate different activities in a third-person interpretation, as well as provide information about all kinds of facts about the Civil War and how people lived through it.  When I got a little bit older, I was the school teacher, the village feminist, a pharmacist’s daughter, a German barrel maker’s grand-daughter, presenting in both the first and third person.  I loved it!  This love of educating the public about the past continued into college, where I studied the background research, interpretation type, archaeology, and historiography of three early American living history museums: Jamestown Settlement, St. Mary’s City, and Plimoth Plantation.  So, why living history museums?  What makes this museum format special?

Historical facts need a certain level of interpretation to be comprehensible in a modern context.  Outside of the archivist, archaeologist, and historian, there are few who venture into the archives or archaeological sites.  To reach a wider audience, these facts can be weaved into popular historical fiction novels or epic films.  There are historical documentaries about popular periods of history such as the Civil War or World War II.  Modern society receives much of its information via visual media, from the news to the History Channel.  Therefore, it makes sense that if historians and museum curators wanted to draw in the public they would try to present historical information that is accessible and participatory.  Unlike docudramas and documentaries, as well as history exhibits, visitors to living history museums must become part of the presentation of the past.  One cannot simply watch: there are various smells, demonstrations, with history talking back at the visitor at museums like Plimoth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg.  The visitor is experiencing heritage!

There is space at this type of museum for both the public and scholars to engage in the past.  For scholars, it can be a space for experimental archaeology and public outreach.  For the public, which is used to visual stimulation (i.e. television), a three-dimensional reconstruction of an archaeological site allows for greater interaction, and, consequently, a better understanding of the past; visitors tend to remember what they see and touch, rather than what they read.  Not only are living history museums interactive and informative, the public can also relate the present to the portrayed past.  Women today can note how women in Plimoth Plantation fit into the social hierarchy, realizing how far society has progressed and where there is still room for improvement.   So, what does every living history museum need to do get started? First, there must be a commitment to the Truth (yes, with a capital ‘T’) and a commitment to presenting that truth to the public.  There must also be a large reserve of resources, especially scholarly resources and well-trained interpreters, to re-create the environment of the settlement.  And, most of all, the museum must make sure that a compelling narrative is being told.

[Keep an eye out for ‘Living Museums, Part 2: A Brief History’]

Women in Archaeology Podcast: Sexual Harassment Follow Up

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CLICK HERE to listen to the episode on the Archaeology Podcast Network website!  You can also download the episode from iTunes.

Summary: On this episode of the Women in Archaeology Podcast we will be revisiting the topic of sexual harassment. We will discuss new developments in the past year, the SAA panel from the last meeting, and resources for survivors.

Check out the Women in Archaeology website: https://womeninarchaeology.wordpress.com/

What is archaeology? The Elevator Scenario

In what seemed a cruel exercise in futility at the time, at the beginning of my first semester of graduate school my professor gave all of the students the following scenario: imagine you’re in an elevator with a lawyer who has no clue what an archaeologist does and they don’t really care either; in 150 words, describe ‘what is’ archaeology without using any jargon. My professor called it a ‘thought experiment;’ I called it torture. No jargon? We couldn’t use words like ‘artifact’ or ‘culture.’ Since I couldn’t just write ‘we study dead people’s stuff,’ it took a couple of tries.

Here’s what I came up with (ugh, reading anything from graduate school makes me shudder):

“Archaeologists explore the past through artifacts, which include the art, buildings, and any other items made and left behind by humans. As a processual-plus archaeologist, I study past societies though various artifacts, like Egyptian mummies, and ask scientific questions to understand a society. Popular archaeological areas, such as Mesa Verde or Angkor Wat, offer a spectacular window into the lives of people from thousands of years ago. A physical reminder of the past allows the public to engage history and archaeology firsthand, sometimes without even realizing. Opportunities then rise for archaeologists to draw on already popular archaeological and recreational areas and further connect the public with the past. Educational programs created and implemented by archaeologists aid the public in understanding why preserving history matters. Allowing the public, particularly children, to look at and touch artifacts through educational programs, enable people to fully engage archaeology.”

Hardly a masterpiece. My professor absolutely hated it and I had to re-write the darn thing several times. But I now better understand what my professor was trying to do. He was trying to get each of us out of our own little box in order to relate archaeology to more than just other archaeologists. It’s easy to say, ‘I recently recorded a polychrome sherd and projectile point dating to the Pueblo III period.’ It’s far harder to break that down into laymen’s terms without inadvertently dumbing down the information. Beyond explaining what sherds and projectile points are, you’ll need to get into why you were recording those artifacts (what’s an artifact?!) in the first place, leading into a discussion of cultural resource management, law, and the necessity of protecting and preserving the past. Phew.

Discussing archaeology with a larger audience is difficult but absolutely necessary. The public isn’t going to learn about archaeology through osmosis. It takes practice. I know we’re busy. There are always courses to teach, places to survey, sites to dig, and reports to write, but we also have an obligation to educate the public in some way. Going into classrooms to give presentations, blogging, videos, lectures—there are many ways to engage the public. I love teaching kids using sandboxes full of artifacts and giving presentations to the public. My elevator scenario has changed over the years, but I hope it’s improved.