Garbology as a first introduction to hands-on archaeological analysis of material remains

 

I was first introduced to the concept of “garbology” on my first year of college, at my Anthropology 101 class in Bellevue College. We read an article of a professor in Arizona who was trying to paint a more complete picture of the population that was crossing the U.S Border at the desert, by analyzing all the items that had been left behind in the bushes, and it immediately opened my eyes to the immense  treasure that our disposal means for anybody trying to construct a context of who you are without your presence itself, only through your trail of used materials.

This is what Archaeology really seems to aim at, right? Building a strong context with the multiple layers of realities that compose our human existences. And this is what I’ve seen during this lab exercise. When I started seeing patterns emerging beyond the apparent frenetic disposal of random objects of the individual the case that I analyzed, it really motivated me to keep on trying to discern the micro-fibers of this complex tapestry:

Could I tell if the person was going through more unstable mental periods because of the rate of food disposal and the types of food been consumed? Could I tell if the person is experiencing the collapse of the middle class by the fact that instead of buying food in bulks they had kept buying them individually, even though the number of household members was great enough to qualify for deals found in larger purchases?

This is definitely something I will bring with me, into my practical analysis of material data. That is why it’s so important to seek inter-sectional approaches to such data!

Blogging Archaeology; Blogging styles across different cultures

  • Tribuna d’Arqueologia

http://tribunadarqueologia.blog.gencat.cat/

This highly didactic blog is listed as one of the services that the community of archaeologists and paleontologists of Catalonia offers to the wider public and for people of the same field, to share updates on research projects, stream live conferences of the sector and share news on a uniform website.

While it is not immediately apparent who the exact authors of this blog are (since it’s the fruit of a collective work of archaeologists and paleontologists of government of Catalonia), I still believe that the authority they have on the writing of research advancement and news of the filed is still very palpable.

We are talking about a scientific journal that is accessible by everybody. They belong to the government, so of course their objective will be to inform the population of Catalonia on their archaeological records and where they can bring us as a nation.  They organize their content through categories such as articles, papers and they also upload their conferences in video format.

The tone is very formal, and I believe it’s more oriented towards people from the same field. That is where I would use more advertising and more media to attract a wider range of readers.

  • Archaeological Fantasies

About

On the contrary of the previous blog I wrote about, I believe this one is much more oriented to a broader audience, and specifically to an audience that might not necessarily be from the archaeological academic world.

The author doesn’t give away her own name and keeps it as “ArchaeologicalFantasies”,  even thou she does identify as female as one of her blog sections is dedicated to women that have had great impact in the field since the late XVIII century, calling them “Mothers of the field”. I am not sure if you can give full authority on the quality of the content based on someone who doesn’t display their real name, but this assumption could be very colonialist of mine. She has a B.A  in Anthropology and a Masters of Science certificate in GIS/Remote Sensing focusing in archaeology, and is currently finishing her masters in CRM Archaeology.

Personally, while I believe she does a good job at attracting more people to the field, I find some of her topics based on a much more colonial-classic tone. There is little mention in new decolonizing- feminist methodologies. But interesting to read still!

  • Publishing Archaeology

http://publishingarchaeology.blogspot.com/

I believe this blog has a much more academic content and intention, and it includes the opinion of the author, on technical and field methods as well as publications from across the field. The audience could be undergraduate students of his own, as well as colleagues and other publishing researchers from different fields.

On the authority of his writings, he is an archaeologist and university professor since many years ago: His name is Michael E. Smith and he is an archaeologist who works on Aztec sites and Teotihuacan. He is currently a professor in the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University.

He writes in a journalistic style, and I found his dedication to the undergraduate professor that motivated him to research in his field very moving. There are multiple sections where we comments and gives his opinion on main topics and definitions within anthropology such as “are we living in the Anthropocene”? where mostly, he asks of anthropologists and archaeologists to publish in journals of other disciplines to be better critiqued.

I like how instructional the content is, and at first I couldn’t help but think that his research in the big “gory rituals of ancient Meso American societies” was lacking the study of the daily lives of its inhabitants as we talked in class, but he has done some research on urban lives as well.

 

 

About Me- Alec

A totally not staged photo of taking levels…

For a first blog post, I think it makes sense to talk about what I know best- myself. I am a first year graduate student at the University of Washington, having just moved to Seattle from Buffalo where I was in the Master’s program at the University at Buffalo. I have been interested in archaeology since I was a small child, so younger me would be thrilled to find out that I’ve participated in excavations in Portugal, Spain and France as well as throughout Western New York as a member of the UB Archaeological Survey team. I am currently interested in Western Mediterranean archaeology of the first Iron Age.

Outside of archaeology, I am a huge Buffalo fan. This goes for our sports teams (go Bills, Sabres and Bisons!) as well as the city itself. We don’t have wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, mudslides, avalanches, volcanic eruptions or other major natural disasters. Sure, it snows, but with the invention of the snowplow and salted roads, you hardly ever think about it. They say people who move to Buffalo cry twice; once when they find out they have to move to Buffalo, and once when they find out they have to move away.

 

Home Sweet Home: Closing Remarks

kaylaAfter five weeks of sleeping outside, waking up at the crack of dawn and going to bed at sundown, retuning to life in Seattle was very weird at first. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way!). My sleep pattern very quickly reverted to my late-night schedule and one of the first things I did (after dumping all of my camping gear onto my bedroom floor) was sink into my couch and turn on the TV. Home sweet home. While my camping habits fell away very quickly, the lessons and skills I learned while at field school will stay with me for a long time.

I learned how to set up and operate a total station, and while I may need a brief refresher on it in the future or may need to follow slightly different procedures on different machine models, I understand the theory behind how the total station works and how it collects data. Our in-depth training and work shopping with the field equipment is something that not all field school students get. I will not need extensive training or to be taught the theory behind how the machine works which I find to be incredibly valuable know-how. During our project I learned to orient the total station in terms of North-South, East-West, take points on an X-Y grid, how to shoot the laser beam from the total station at the prism, and the delicate task of holding the prism level (your ab muscles are the key!).

I also got to observe how to interact with communities directly connected to the area in which we were doing research, an experience which I think will have a strong hand in shaping my future professional growth. Almost daily we had members of the community stopping by the schoolhouse site as well as at our camp site; occurrences that made me realize how visible we were to the public and how much our work mattered to everyone. Explaining to people what it was that we were doing helped to keep the public informed and engaged in the work being done as well as reaffirmed my own understanding of the project. The overall response to our field school was very positive, and I am thankful for the support we received from the CTGR community.

I encourage anyone who thinks that they may be interested in archaeology to pursue a field school experience. You learn the good as well as the difficult aspects of pursuing archaeological research. You learn how to problem solve when difficulties arise, and you learn which parts of the work you love and which parts you absolutely can’t stand (for me, I don’t want to screen another bucket of dirt for a very long time which is problematic for obvious reasons). A hands-on style is really the best way to learn, and that’s something you can’t get from a textbook. If anyone is looking to pursue a field school in the future, this is definitely one to look out for!

Technology in the Field

During my time here at field school thus far, a big part of the learning experience has been instruction in utilizing technology to aid in fulfilling the project’s goals. Our field equipment includes a Brinno time-lapse camera, a DJ Phantom 3 drone that can take high-resolution photos and videos, a Sokkia CX-105 total station for taking grid coordinates, a ground penetrating radar (GPR), Panasonic ToughPad computers that are portable and easy to transport, Trimble Pro 6H GNSS receivers able to record point locations with sub-centimeter accuracy, and point collection and visualization programs such a Terrasync and Field Genius. These pieces of equipment have proven to be incredibly valuable and even vital to our work in surveying archaeological sites. We can use the GPS receiver and Terrasync to pinpoint an object’s exact location on the globe, or the total station and Field Genius to map out our site grid in terms of location along a North/South and East/West axis. The total station is accurate up to about 3mm, providing a high level of confidence in the location of points along a grid.

While these pieces of equipment allow us to keep a very precise digital record of our operations in the field, some of our work still remains paper-based. Stratum and level forms, catalog number checkout, and other key excavation observations are all recorded on paper and stored in a binder. There are opportunities available to digitize this information too, however. Other field schools, such as Doug Wilson’s Ft. Vancouver public archaeology field school, are experimenting with using iPads to digitally record their observations and store their data.

With this young generation of new archaeologists having been trained on these technologies and programs, a bothersome problem arises when technology doesn’t work. During one of our survey projects in the Willamette National Forest, in which we were documenting lithic flakes, our GPS receiver repeatedly failed to connect to the ToughPad computer via Bluetooth. A task that should have taken approximately two minutes ended up taking about fifteen to twenty while we shut down and rebooted the program to make the two units reconnect. In such instances we have little choice but to battle with the equipment and, where possible, seek alternative modes of operation such as pinpointing the location of an object or test unit using the old-fashioned compass and tape method from a fixed point.

Technology is constantly providing more accurate and more creative ways to collect and express information. We can provide an aerial view of a site location, we can use freely available software such as Google Sketchup to detail a 3-D digital reproduction of what a site might have looked like, and we can use radar to get an idea of what is underground without digging into it. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can achieve using technology. Not only are many of these methods detailed, but they also allow us to minimize site destruction and the need for excavation. Technology aids in our accuracy and record-keeping as well as how we approach a site methodologically, and an initial survey using equipment such as the GPR, GPS, and the drone in combination with methods such as pedestrian survey and historical research give us an idea of what is under the surface before we even lay a shovel to it. We have the Student Technology Fund (STF) at the University of Washington as well as the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to thank for much of our equipment.

Kayla’s Bio

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 7.45.42 AM           Kayla Krantz is an undergraduate at the University of Washington double majoring in both archaeological science and human evolutionary biology with an interest in pursuing museum studies. She is also pursuing a minor in art history in an effort to seek a well-rounded education ground in both fine art and cultural history.

Born in Federal Way, WA and raised in Puyallup, Kayla has always had an interest in archaeology beginning with a fascination for Eqyptology (as most kids do). As a child, she also amassed an impressive rock collection complete with geodes, crystals, obsidian, petrified wood, and more. But her initial career path was not geared towards her hobbies of archaeology and geology, but rather towards her love of animals. Kayla was accepted to UW in 2011 to pursue a pre-veterinary degree, but a tumultuous freshman year that saw both a 1.8 in physics and a 4.0 in introductory archaeology put her back on the path towards pursuing her childhood interests.

Kayla is now living in Seattle and will be graduating with two bachelor’s degrees this upcoming fall. She hopes to be able to move to sunny San Diego in the next three years.

Introducing: Rachel!

Best in Terms of Pants

Best in Terms of Pants

Rachel Fahlgren is an Anthropology Major and general nerd.  When she is not reading articles for class, she can generally be found reading (or writing) a book of the sci-fi fantasy genre, watching anime, reading comics or just rolling about her living room watching something awful on Netflix (for like, five hours).  Originally hailing from the Seattle Metropolitan area until her teenage years, she moved back to attend the University of Washington after completing two years at a community college in Spokane.  Now she lives in Lynnwood and, while she has the best of intentions to get some reading done on her morning commute, she usually just dozes for a half hour every morning.

This summer, Rachel hopes to go on an Archaeology field school in Oregon, write the next Great American Novel, breed the cutest cat ever (that one’s a joke because clearly Lil Bub is the cutest cat ever), hopefully not sunburn too badly while out on adventures, and attend PAX for the fifth year.