As you might or might not know, I have a background in archaeology. I've been on digs in Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Mexico. It sounds extensive, but for true shovel bums, that's really nothing. (Honest.) Still, it's a lot of experience that others don't have and I feel fortunate to have had. In honor of that, I present two top ten lists tonight.
|Archaeologist J. Walter Fewkes:|
hat, yes; whip, no.
10. Archaeologists do not dig for dinosaur bones. Paleontologists do.
9. Archaeologists do not dig for gold. Crotchety old miners do.
8. Archaeologists are given to substance abuse.
7. Archaeologists are usually geeks who also like the outdoors.
6. Archaeologists do find pottery and sometimes "treasure," but mostly they find the trash that people left behind.
5. Archaeology is a science.
4. Archaeology is not a science.
3. We don't name our shovels like cowboys named their rifles, but we really, really wish we did.
2. It's all about walking and digging.
1. We do wear hats, but we don't usually carry whips and guns.
And now, another list, a little more serious, and a lot more detailed:
|Artifact from Site MA-52 in Jalisco|
(Original photo by the author.)
10. Most archaeology in the US isn't done where we think there might be something; it's done where we need to demonstrate there isn't something that might be disrupted by major construction project.
9. There are a lot of specialties within archaeology. Georchaeology, which looks at the geology of archaeological sites; zooarchaeology, which deals with animal remains; and bioarchaeology, which deals with human remains within archaeological sites, are three of the most important.
8. Archaeology proper is the study of the material culture of prehistoric people. Historic archaeology is the archaeology of more recent people.
7. Archaeology is very conscious of scales. A feature is found within a test unit (or "test pit"), which is part of a site, which is situated within a region.
6. Archaeological survey takes place in phases. First, there's a ground survey, where the area is just walked, and the ground inspected for surface artifacts or features. Second, there are random test units (often 500cm X 500cm or 1m x 1m) dug to sample beneath the surface. Third, areas are identified that might be come to archaeological sites or artifacts, more systematic, and perhaps larger and deeper test units are dug. Fourth, any well-developed sites may be exposed to a high level of detail.
5. Most archaeological field crews internationally are comprised of poor, local workers with very little training. Most archaeological field crews in the US, Canada, and the UK (and probably some other places) are comprised of undergraduate college students. Most contract archaeology is overseen by crew chiefs who hold masters degrees in archaeology or anthropology. Most academic archaeology is overseen by faculty members with PhD's. In the contract world, PhD's stay in the office and run the business.
photo by Richard Webb
3. While it does happen, archaeologists don't actually carbon date artifacts very often. (Most artifacts recovered aren't organic, and carbon dating is a destructive test.) Most often, when carbon dating is used, it's used to establish "no earlier" than type chronological brackets.
2. Archaeological test units and sites are described in layers called strata. One of the fundamental principles that archaeology is based on is the idea that strata which are lower in the earth represent earlier time. Also, strata that are lower than others, are earlier than those. Therefore, an artifact found 40cm below the surface is usually presumed to be older than one found 15cm below the surface.
1. The most important thing: It's not just about how many test units you get through in a day. It's also about how clean your profile walls are.