I just got home from summer fieldwork in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I helped out with a field school excavating on various historic period sites. My day of archaeology there was as one would expect, with our team starting work at about 8 o’clock in the morning digging, screening, bagging artifacts, mapping, note taking, and trying to stay relatively cool and unburned in the subtropical heat.
Towards the end of the course we found a late 19th century privy (in archaeology you always find the best stuff right when you’re about to leave, naturally), which may be useful for my dissertation. Privies were essentially bathrooms before indoor plumbing became common, but people also used them to dispose of trash and other unwanted items. Since archaeology is often an exercise in trash analysis, privies can be a boon to historic period research.
A day in the field often runs eights hours, five days a week, which still leaves some down time for archaeologists to rest and view the sights, especially if they’re working away from home. This was the case for me, and I used the opportunity to take in as much of local culture as I was able. In historical archaeology, it especially important to take the time to get a feel for the whole history of a place and gain an understanding of the contemporary community. Archaeology matters beyond academia—the communities in which archaeologists work not only provide insight into what we study, but are affected by the research that we produce. Collaboration and cultural understanding are vitally important to create meaningful interpretations.
I study food, so the first thing I always want to do on a research trip is eat. New Orleans is full of iconic cuisine, some of which has roots reaching back to the early colonial days of the city. To end my day of archaeology, after fieldwork is finished for evening, I like to try dishes at new or familiar restaurants to enhance my understanding of the food culture and history.