I am a student at Columbia University studying archaeology and evolutionary biology. My primary area of focus is Mesoamerica, particularly the Maya region, where I am specifically interested in mortuary practices and human-animal relations. As such, much of my work involves human osteology and zooarchaeology. Interests outside the discipline include seafood, Agent Dale Cooper, local radio stations, Rousseau, bourbon and lively conversation.

From field to Field (to field): An archaeological smorgasbord

I have never been good at making choices, so once I discovered how interdisciplinary archaeology can be I was immediately hooked. It is certainly not for people who relish routines, as every day is different, and I am always working on multiple projects in varying stages at once. I am currently in my last year of undergraduate studies at Columbia University in New York, where I am double majoring in archaeology and evolutionary biology. My primary interests are mortuary practice and human-animal relations, and as such I tend to focus on human skeletal biology and zooarchaeology (the analysis of animal remains from archaeologicalsites).

My home away from home.

My home away from home.

I spent 9 weeks this spring in the jungle of Guatemala, excavating the Maya city of Xultun. A typical day in the field involved getting up at 5:30am (challenging for me, as I am not a morning person), eating breakfast, driving an hour through mud to the site, working until 4pm (or later if we found something truly impressive), driving back, and then compiling notes/cataloguing and analyzing the finds in our makeshift lab. Since we were 7 hours from the nearest town, we relied on river water for bathing/drinking and lacked a refrigeration apparatus. Needless to say, the first things on my agenda upon my return were a cold beer and hot shower!

The pyramidal structure I worked at for 9 weeks, pre-excavation.

The pyramidal structure I worked at for 9 weeks, pre-excavation.

The end of a field season, though, does not mean the project is complete; the majority of an archaeologist’s time (at least, mine) is spent in a lab. I worked for about a month after leaving camp on our field report (to see the 2012 report, click here), which will be made public this month as part of the XXVIII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala. An added challenge of working on this particular project was writing the entire report in Spanish, a language that I was all but unfamiliar with prior to January of this year. However, ahora mi español es mucho mejor! Quiero continuar a aprendiéndolo para trabajar y viajar en esta región del mundo.

Enamel hypoplasia (evidenced by ridging on canines and premolars). Photo courtesy of Museum of London.

Enamel hypoplasia (evidenced by ridging on canines and premolars). Photo courtesy of Museum of London.

I try to take advantage of every opportunity to work with human remains, as each specimen introduces me to new pathologies/developmental disorders and helps me improve my eye for quickly estimating age, height, race, sex, etc. To this end, I have been working for the past 2 months in the Biological Anthropology collections at the Field Museum in Chicago. I am taking measurements, determining age/sex, and conducting dentition/pathology assessments of human remains, primarily Salish peoples from British Columbia. This week, I had the opportunity to work with one set of infant remains, one toddler, and one juvenile exhibiting both enamel hypoplasia (a condition in which tooth enamel formation is defective) and a culturally-modified cranium, probably the result of binding in infancy.

I typically take a break from human bones in the afternoon, when I migrate upstairs to the museum’s Zoology collections. I am examining some skeletal specimens in order to compile a reference collection, for use in the aforementioned Xultun project’s faunal analysis. My thesis research involves analyzing the animal remains from a sweatbath structure in order to investigate Maya human-animal relationships and use of animals in ritual praxis. However, the project laboratory in Guatemala lacks complete skeletons from relevant species to use for comparative purposes, making it challenging to identify the skeletal element and species of fragments that often look something like this:

Last but not least, I am preparing for a month-long field project in New Mexico (I leave in 10 days). We will be working in the Chaco Culture National Historical Park excavating Roberts’ Great House, a site with an estimated 38 rooms constructed during the 12th century. Preliminary investigations indicate that this structure, while necessitating extensive labor for its construction, was not inhabited. This season, we will excavate within various rooms to evaluate this hypothesis. As the site is under threat from erosion, we will also be collecting soil core samples to examine hydrologic change and conducting a damage assessment. And lastly, we will be using remote sensing and surveying to identify earlier phases of occupation in order to better understand the region’s settlement history. This will be my first time working in the Southwest US, and aside from the usual pre-season necessities (verifying/purchasing equipment, packing, etc) I am also attempting to familiarize myself with the region’s ceramic typologies, not my strong suit.

This is my first time contributing to the Day of Archaeology, and I am thrilled to be in such great company! I look forward to participating in the future and plan to spend the next few days in archaeonerd-heaven reading about everyone’s exciting work.

All photos are my own unless otherwise indicated.