Archaeology 101 and ‘Reverse Archaeology’

I wear many hats, some of which are archaeological, and so a typical day for me can come in many different ‘flavours’.

Today, my day started on public transit.

Taking the subway

Taking the subway

And then more public transit.

And the bus

And the bus

But I finally arrived at the Markham Museum.

Markham Museum

Markham Museum

I work as a program instructor at the museum, giving tours and programs for groups that come, but this morning I was actually doing a special program for the museum’s own summer camp.  This week’s theme is Junior Archaeology, so I was teaching a group of seventy 4-8 year olds about Archaeology 101.

I had my tools:

Dirty dig kit!

Dirty dig kit!

And some artifacts:

Markham Museum artifacts

Markham Museum artifacts

And I spent a while talking about all the things that archaeologists learn from bones and stone tools and broken pots.  I also talked about how archaeologists don’t find dinosaur bones, and how we only find things that people have left behind – mostly garbage.

After Archaeology 101, I did some reverse archaeology – burying things for the campers to dig up later.  The activity I set up was Archaeology Bingo, laying a grid and burying everyday objects under some of the squares.

Archaeology Bingo

Archaeology Bingo

Archaeology Bingo

Archaeology Bingo

It was hot work, nearly 40C with the humidity.

But after I finished up, I headed home to put on my next hat.  That involved taking my youngest to a museum to enjoy some well-deserved air conditioning!

Archaeology-mommy

Archaeology-mommy

So while my day did not consist of excavation, or research, I was imparting the joy and excitement of archaeology to a great group of kids.  Archaeology catches the imagination, and where better to encourage that than in a day camp during the summer at a museum!

Stay-at-Home Archaeologist

All archaeologists don’t get to work in archaeology.  For my part, I’m a stay-at-home mom.  I would love to be working, digging, or researching, but I haven’t been able to find a job.  In my experience, having a PhD has made it harder to find a job since there are fewer and fewer academic opportunities, and I am ‘overqualified’ for CRM or other types of archaeological work.  And so, on a daily basis, I do little or no archaeology at all.

Mini archaeologists playing in the dirt!

Mini archaeologists playing in the dirt!

After getting up and having breakfast, I might have some time to write some emails and check job listings, then it’s off to the park or the museum, laundry, lunch, and then the blessed nap time.  During nap time, I might get 45 min to apply for jobs and postdocs, or work on publishing articles from my thesis.  After that, it’s back to the mayhem, with my two girls (4.5 and 17 months) off and running.  Some nights I might get another hour or two in the evening.

Mini palaeontologist at the museum!

Mini palaeontologist at the museum!

Twitter provides most of my archaeology connection these days.  I am able to follow current news and finds even though I don’t have time to keep up with the literature.  It also provides the encouragement and collegial support required to keep going in face of deafening silence from the many many job applications I have sent out.

I hope that by next year I will actually be doing some archaeology on the Day of Archaeology. My kids will be old enough that I might be willing to leave them behind to go back to the Middle East (or somewhere else!) to dig.  I might even have a job!

Alexis McBride

@lexmcbride

Academic Archaeology with Kids

On this day of archaeology, I find myself not doing much archaeology.  The kind amongst you would say I’m on maternity leave.  The reality is that I’m unemployed.

Over a year ago, I completed my PhD in the Near Eastern Neolithic at the University of Liverpool and moved back home to Canada.  As I was unable to find an academic job, I have spent the year publishing articles from my thesis, and being a mom.

Today, on the day of archaeology, I have spent most of the day running around after my 3.5 year old, and my 5 month old.  We have been swimming, played ‘pretend’ and generally done everything and anything.  When my husband gets home from work, he entertains the kids, and I escape to the ‘closet office’, where I can work for an hour undisturbed.

Working undisturbed

Working undisturbed

I wish I were in the field with many of my colleagues, but the reality is that it is hard for mother’s to make it to field seasons sustainably.  It takes so much time and resources to organise childcare that I was unable to go to Boncuklu Höyük, Turkey this year. Maybe next year!

Toddler with a Konya plain Kangal sheepdog

Toddler with a Konya plain Kangal sheepdog

In the meantime, I work to publish my research.  I examined the physical reality of occupying a series of structures found at a number of Near Eastern Neolithic sites.  These structures do not appear to be houses, and are often much larger the other structures, and have unusual features.  The most famous of these are the pillared buildings at Göbekli Tepe, and the tower at Jericho.  I examined these structures to determine how they may have been used and how they might have mitigated problems that were emerging in the Neolithic as people settled in more permanent villages.

Someday, I hope someone will pay me to do research and take my children into the field.  Until then, I will play Dr. Mom for a bit longer, and hope that someday soon I can become a professional archaeologist in reality

Dr. Alexis McBride