Bone of Contention: Episode 4 (October 14,2016)

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In this episode, we explore the study of human remains with an emphasis on treating every individual with respect and care. Two bioarchaeologists share their experiences of working with human remains and how to best treat the individuals. Three archaeologists share their collective experiences of excavating a cemetery in New Jersey. Please note that all of the stories recorded were shared by professionals in the field who work within CRM law; this podcast does not endorse the disturbance of burials/human remains without thorough consultation, working within CRM law, and extreme care.

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.

Women in Archaeology Podcast: BACK TO GRAD SCHOOL – EPISODE 11 (October 16, 2016)

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I think we did a great job going into the pros and cons of potentially going back to school.  Give it a listen!

Episode Summary: Today the panel discusses getting back into the grove of grad-school, especially after taking a break. They discuss reasons to delay going into grad-school, how to pay for it when you do go back, how to survive school/life balance, and what to do with your degree once you get out.

The Dangers of Survey

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You wouldn’t think simply walking across the landscape looking for tiny flakes, bits of pottery, and the occasional structure, would be dangerous–well, you’d be wrong.  It is surprisingly dangerous.  Trees just appear out of NOWHERE!

Why we need more public archaeology programs . . .

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I actually had this conversation at a party–okay, it’s a little exaggerated, but this person really had skull fragments and artifacts from a site he visited back in the 1970s.  He said the site had been badly looted, so what did it matter if he took stuff, too?  Everyone else was doing it.  I kept hinting at repatriation and how wrong it is to steal artifacts, but it fell on deaf ears.  People need to understand that it’s both unethical and illegal to remove artifacts from archaeological sites.  It doesn’t matter if ‘everyone is doing it.’