faunal_fantasy (faunal_fantasy) wrote,

What do I know about Archaeology?

As my time on this project is coming to a close (at least temporarily, if not altogether), I feel that I should attempt to consolidate what I have learned. Not that what I have learned is the type of knowledge that can be jotted down and pulled up when needed. Sure, I could type up my notes for setting up a total station or a transit to be accessed later, but I feel confident that the next time I encounter survey equipment the procedures will come back to me. What I have learned is more nuanced and less procedural, but of course, this is ME. I will attempt to turn it into, “if A is encountered, proceed to B, etc.” I can’t just know something. I have to makes rules that never hold up in all circumstances.

What have I learned?

-It can be difficult to obtain excavation permits in a timely manner. If you can afford to do so, keep your archaeology technicians and crew chiefs on the payroll for as long as possible. If you lay them off, for even a week, they will scatter to the winds, and you will have to dredge up a new work force.

-Providing housing per diem will attract more archaeological technicians to your project. Of course, they will not all being staying in the same location, causing some transportation difficulties. For instance, those who choose to camp down long dirt roads may become stuck after a downpour, and not be able to make it to work.

-My body is weak. Carpal Tunnel, Trigger Fingers, Achille’s Tendonopathy—all these conditions were aggravated by excavation—how many years can a feasibly do this before my body breaks down?

-Speculation makes one look unreliable or prone to flights of fancy. I have yet to see a single pit house on this project, but they have been predicted or proclaimed by the Powers That Be at least five times. For myself, I already lean toward the “it’s not cultural” camp. This conservative leaning seems somewhat out of character, but after this summer, I am significantly more conservative in what I consider to evidence of prehistoric activity. I recognize that this is somewhat premature—I haven’t seen evidence of enough features, especially as they are being excavated, to even know what I am seeing. Yet, I am already a nay-saying-sally. In this vein,

-Pursue the data as it presents itself, but don’t impose your preconceived notions. Let the data speak for itself. How many sparse lithic scatters produce features? In my limited experience, not many. Let us pursue the ash stains and artifact concentrations, but leave our interpretations until the data has run its course. Sure, in some cases in order to follow the data you have to proceed as if a likely natural feature is, in fact, cultural; but that does not mean it is evidence of prehistoric human activities.

-What makes a sparse lithic scatter have data potential? How many artifacts are necessary? Does one need a certain number of artifacts and possible features to assign data potential? So many of the sites I excavated on this project and less than twenty surface artifacts (almost all uniformly flakes) and no possible features. Such minimalist sites seem pointless to excavate. I feel like I am missing something (experience?).

-Don’t promote people unit they are ready. This begs the question: how do you know when they are ready?

-Good tools are necessary. It is hard to dig an attractive excavation unit with the crappy tools the company provides.

-Don’t walk behind a backhoe, which is actually the front of the backhoe.

-String your units, even if they cool kids don’t. My units looks immensely better once I started stringing them.
--I know shit about leadership, although I can muddle through. I want to inspire a crew, not just keep them walking in a straight line and digging holes efficiently.

-I have learned that I don’t enjoy being homeless or living in cheap motels. This is a bad sign for one wanting to be an archaeologist. I suspected this about myself before. This is why I chose to pursue federal archaeologist path at first, only to find that way closed to me (at least for now). I doubt I will have a permanent job for at least a decade. I have met several people who have been living out of their cars for five or more years. I don’t think I can live like that, nor did I pursue two degrees in order to be homeless.

-And finally, I NEED MORE EXPERIENCE--Weeks, months, and years of more training in various cultural areas and various site times. What I don’t know about archaeology could ruin me, and a Master’s Degree qualifies me for jack shit. Sure, it gets me a skill set beyond the level of a tech. I can do research and write passably (I will never be an engaging or skilled writer), but that doesn’t mean I don’t need spend a few more years on the basics. Getting the degree doesn’t mean you can skip that step.

The reason why I am writing this now, in the middle of the session, is because I had to take the day off. This is my first sick day in three months, apart from the 2 days I needed to get my carpal tunnels injected. There is no need to go into it—it’s one of those “chained to the toilet” issues. It’s a good thing I am crew chief only in name now. They didn’t really need me at the site.

I am thrilled that this will be over soon. I can’t wait to get out of this shitty motel and in to my own bed. I am so tired of the screaming babies, sex, and fights that my various neighbors inevitably have. I am tired of washing my dishes in the shower, cooking in a “caldron,” and using the Laundromat. I really miss the internet. I feel like a sick blob watching cable—I have now seen every episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Home sweet home…
Tags: archaeology, travel, work
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