Arkansas

Project Archaeology and Archaeological Education in Arkansas

Because archaeological sites are endangered and finite resources, I spend a lot of my time doing archaeological education encouraging people to care about and protect sites. I teach in a university setting, but I also do youth programs to help teach young people to be stewards of the past. This year, I have spent many of my days of archaeology co-writing a 5th grade (age 10-11) social studies curriculum about archaeology and plant-based foodways in the southeastern United States. The curriculum, which focuses on sites in Arkansas, will be aligned with common core standards to promote and enhance archeological education in Arkansas’s public schools.

Project Archaeology Leadership Academy course materials.

Project Archaeology Leadership Academy course materials.

Like the majority of archaeologists, I didn’t learn how to teach archaeology to the public in college. Fortunately, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. This summer, I attended the Project Archaeology Leadership Academy in Bozeman, Montana. Project Archaeology is “an educational organization dedicated to teaching scientific and historical inquiry, cultural understanding, and the importance of protecting our nation’s rich cultural resources.” They are a national network of archaeologists, educators, and concerned citizens working to make archaeology education accessible to students and teachers across the country through high-quality educational materials and professional development. Each year, they offer a Leadership Academy to teach educators (and archaeologists) to use Investigating Shelter, an inquiry-based Social Studies and Science curriculum, and empower them with educating their peers on how to implement the curriculum in the classroom.

Workshop participants visited Madison Buffalo Jump State Park

Workshop participants visited Madison Buffalo Jump State Park

It was a fun week of learning new ways to teach archaeology, visiting Madison Buffalo Jump State Park and the Museum of the Rockies, and meeting educators and archaeologists from around the country. The 5-day workshop underscored the importance of working with descendants to learn about the past, how archaeology contributes to inquiry-based learning, ways to connect archaeological education to common core standards, and a lot more.

Dr. Emerson Emerson Bull Chief, Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, talking about Native American buffalo stories.

Dr. Emerson Bull Chief, Crow Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, talking about Native American buffalo stories.

Panorama of the Buffalo Jump.

Panorama of Madison Buffalo Jump State Park.

When I was an undergraduate student, if someone asked me: “What does an archaeologist do?”, it never would have occurred to me that archaeologists teach educators (and other people) to teach about the past. This is changing as archaeologists have come to recognize the importance of working with communities and teaching others to think like archaeologists. But I hadn’t thought about how important it is to teach educators to teach archaeology until Courtney Agenten pointed it out during the workshop. As an archaeologist, I have taught an archaeology camp for 10-15 students, which I wrote about last year. The students learned about the process of archaeology from excavation to lab work and from artifact analysis to report writing. In the process, they developed a love for learning about and preserving the past. But if I teach 10-15 educators to teach archaeology in their science or social studies classes, in one year, those teachers have the potential to teach 250-375 students about the importance of archaeology. That’s a huge impact if you think about how many students could be reached in 10 years!

So now as I sit at my desk in front of my computer, like so many of my days of archaeology, I am inspired by my experience at the Project Archaeology Leadership Academy to teach their fun curricula about shelter and nutrition. I am also motivated to continue to develop high-quality lesson plans focused on archaeological sites in Arkansas that teachers can implement in their classrooms. Thanks to the support of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, the Arkansas Archeological Society, the Arkansas Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the curriculum should be available this fall. Check out the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s website for classroom materials currently available to teachers and keep an eye out for new things to come. arkansasarcheology.org

 

How to think like an archaeologist: Youth archaeology in Arkansas

Behind the scenes of Hollywood

Cover of Behind the scenes of Hollywood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I discovered archaeology as an undergrad majoring in journalism. It’s a good thing I wanted to write, because that’s how I spend a lot of my time as an archaeologist. Recently, I co-wrote a short book introducing high school aged students to archaeology. When people think of archaeology they often envision fieldwork (and Indiana Jones), but archaeologists spend most of their time in the lab and writing up the results of their research, rather than excavating.

Behind the scenes of Hollywood is a little different from most of the books you may read about archaeology. The book follows ten high school students from southeast Arkansas who participated in a 3-day workshop. The workshop lead them through a series of activities that demonstrate the archaeological process from the field to report. The book provides the data to let the reader practice being an archaeologist and reach their own conclusions about artifacts and the site. The reader doesn’t get to dig in the dirt or handle the artifacts, but they think like an archaeologist while doing a series of activities such as examining landscape change on maps, analyzing soil, and setting up an excavation unit.

Analyzing the artifacts.

Analyzing the artifacts.

Many archaeologists recognize that archaeology is more than just digging in the dirt or analyzing archaeological collections. In her new book, Strung Out on Archaeology, Laurie Wilkie underscores that archaeology is more than just research methods. Archaeology is a way of thinking about and living in the world. Archaeology helps people imagine deep time, human interactions, and social change. It puts to use all of the things you learn in high school the Pythagorean theorem, how to ask research question, examine data, see culture change, think about human environmental interactions, and write.  At the end of the day, archaeology requires putting your fingers to the keyboard and telling someone what you learned.

A Day of Archeology in Blytheville, Arkansas, USA

A typical day in my archeology job is anything but typical. It can be anything from a full day of excavating, to a day working in the lab or doing public presentations. I wrote about all of the various things I may do during a day in last year’s Day of Archaeology post. This year, I’m starting a large scale research project, so my day of archaeology is a lot more library driven.

I start out my day by getting on the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville library website.  Because I am stationed in Blytheville, which is about a 6 hour drive from Fayetteville, I have access to the library as an employee of the University, but I have to search for the books I want on their website and then have them mailed to me.  It makes the process for books a bit longer, but is better than having to drive to Fayetteville whenever I need something.  The library website also has access to an excellent variety of journals and journal articles that can be viewed online or downloaded.  I like to use journal articles for research as they are generally a bit more current and specific to a topic than books, so this works out well even from the other side of the state.

Blytheville, Ar is located in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which is a spot in the middle of a continental plate that produces earthquakes.  From what I’ve been reading, no one is really sure why earthquakes happen here, but they certainly do.  I haven’t felt one myself yet, but last year there was an earthquake large enough to be felt and shake things in houses about 75  miles SW of Blytheville.  Historically the earthquakes here can be very large.  In 1811-1812 there was a series of 2 large (~M7) earthquakes centered on the city of New Madrid, MO and then thousands of aftershocks for the following years.  Large earthquakes like this also happened in the 1450’s and 900’s.  In the delta region of the Mississippi River (where we are only a few feet above the water table) there are hundreds of feet of sand covering the bedrock below.  Because of this, when a large earthquake strikes, the shaking of the wet sand causes it to become a liquid that moves up to the surface of the ground and come out almost like a volcano, covering the area around the crack with wet sand.  This phenomenon is called a sandblow.  You can see these sandblows all around this area in farm fields.  Often the crops don’t grow as well in these areas because the sand doesn’t have as many nutrients in it and it doesn’t hold water as well as the surrounding silt.

When the wet sand comes up out of the earth and covers the surface is when it gets interesting in terms of the archaeology.  Sometimes what is on the surface is an archaeological site.  If the sand covers the site and is fairly thick, it prevents the site from being destroyed by plowing.  Due to the huge amount of farming that is done in the Delta (where the soil is excellent for growing a variety of crops), many archaeological sites are at least partially destroyed by plowing and planting crops.  Many sites are almost on the surface as they are only a few hundred years old, so any plowing hurts them and deep plowing or leveling can destroy them completely.  If a sandblow is covering the site, it mitigates these effects.  It can also cause the site to be unknown completely if it is totally buried.

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As a research project, my station plans to look at these buried sites in a variety of ways.  First, we want to do some survey to try to find completely buried sites.  There are known sites here and there along the Bayou, but we think that there may well be more that are deeply buried.  To find them we want to put in deep shovel tests in areas that look like a good location for an archaeological site (generally higher areas near the Bayou or another water source).  If we find these sites, we want to bring in a specialist to do geophysical survey so that we can try to see if there are any possible cultural features that could be excavated to tell us more about the people who lived on the site.

We also want to look at the ways in which different groups responded to the large earthquakes.  Did the people move away from the site?  Did they stay and rebuild?  Did they leave but then come back again later?  We hope that by looking at a variety of sites we’ll be able to see some of these things archaeologically.

During this initial background literature search, I have come across reports of a number of archaeological sites in this area that have been excavated in which the people who lived at the sites seem to have reacted in different ways.  I’m very excited to find out if we will see the same kinds of things in our project.

After the literature review, I am going to write up a research plan/agenda for the project.  I want to be able to present it to the landowners and farmers that we’ll be working with as well at to the Native American groups whose ancestors lived in this area.  The background is an important part because it explains why we want to do the project and why it should work the way that we think it will.  Using geology and seismic data I can talk about how the earthquakes would cause the sandblows and how they work and using other archaeological reports I can talk about what other researchers have done, what worked, what didn’t and how we plan to do our project.

So despite seeming a bit boring for awhile while I sit at my desk in my office day in and day out, this is the first step to starting what could be a very interesting and long-lasting line of research that could produce some really interesting results.  Hopefully next year for A Day of Archaeology I can update you on what step of the project we are on by then.

 

A Year In a Day: My Life as an Arkansas Archeological Survey Archeologist

The logo of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.  Click here to find out more about us.

The logo of the Arkansas Archeological Survey. Click here to find out more about our organization.

My name is Jamie Brandon and I work for the Arkansas Archeological Survey (AAS). Last year, the 2012 Day of Archaeology caught me finishing up a large excavation I was directing at Historic Washington State Park.  This kind of thing (directing excavations) is what the public might expect an archaeologist to do.  This year, however, the 2013 Day of Archaeology is in July, and for me, July is all about winding up my fiscal year which runs from July 1 through June 30.  So, late every July you will find me writing a summary of my last year’s work—this will eventually find its way into an annual report which is a major document that we provide to the public and lawmakers to explain what it is the AAS does and why it is important to Arkansans.  This may seem on the surface to be bureaucratic and boring, but, in fact, it is an excellent opportunity to give you an idea not only what I do in a single day, but what my life as an archaeologist looks like throughout the year—the width and breath of what it is we do at the Arkansas Archeological Survey.  I call it “A Year in a Day.”

The Arkansas Archeological Survey is an organization whose mission is to “conserve and research the state’s heritage and communicate this information to the public.”  What this means is that I do quite a number of different things in the course of my job.  I teach, work with graduate students and conduct research (like most university-based, academic archaeologists), but I also am responsible for helping to manage archaeological resources in my assigned research territory (11 counties in southwest Arkansas), working with groups of volunteers and doing public outreach about what we do…that’s a lot of hats for one job.

Research, Fieldwork and Publications

Let’s start with the parts of my job that most people expect—doing archaeological research and fieldwork.  As I just finished up directing two field seasons at the aforementioned Historic Washington State Park, I tried to take this year easy…but as I sit down to write my annual report, I find that I was not very successful.

We conducted a series of “long weekend” digs in the fall at a site called Dooley’s Ferry, a Civil War-era community that was a major, early crossing on the Red River.  I say “we” as this project was actually the dissertation topic of my research assistant, Carl Drexler.  You can read Carl’s Day of Archaeology post (including a little bit about Dooley’s Ferry) here.  Our work at Dooley’s Ferry, however, points out two things.  First it indicates that even the categories that I use in this blog post are problematic—I could have easily placed this project under “Teaching and Working with Graduate Students.”  Second, it reminds me to mention the importance of volunteers in our work at the AAS.  Last year my Day of Archaeology post was about the Arkansas Archeological Society, the volunteer organization that helped lobby the AAS into existence in the late 1960s.  We work continually with the Society on projects all around the state and I would not truly be able to do my job without them.  Over 51 volunteers helped out in our Dooley’s Ferry work.  We worked with the landowners, retired mill workers, foresters, archivists, biology instructors, nurses at correctional facilities, software engineers and even folks who own a hardware store—folks from all walks of life…If these folks had not volunteered their time and effort, we would have not found out all that we did at the site.

Arkansas Archeological Society volunteers digging at Dooley's Ferry last fall.

Arkansas Archeological Society volunteers digging at Dooley’s Ferry last fall.

The second field project we were part of this year was also a graduate student project.  John Samuelsen, a Ph.D. student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, is working on collecting remote sensing data at Crenshaw, an important prehistoric Caddo Indian site in my research territory.  John, Carl and I—along with a number of our colleagues and volunteers—collected 387 twenty-meter-square grids of data during two field efforts at the site (one in July and one in the fall).  What is “remote sensing,” you ask?  Remote sensing means using a suite of high-tech methods (such as ground penetrating radar or magnetometery) to get a look at what might be under the ground before we dig…or on ceremonial sites, like Crenshaw, to get a look at what might be beneath the surface without disturbing sacred deposits.  Remote sensing is an increasingly important component of the technical and methodological tool set available in archaeological research, and I’m proud that, despite stereotypes about the state being backward, the University of Arkansas and the AAS are at the leading edge of these methods.

As far as publications go, I got two peer-review publications through major hoops and hurtling towards publication this year—one for a thematic volume of Historical Archaeology, the international journal of my sub-discipline…and the other a chapter in an edited volume on historical archaeology in Arkansas.  The former should be published by the end of the year, the latter has gotten through review and we hope to receive a book contract early this fall (*fingers crossed*).

Additionally, I also did two book reviews this year.  I reviewed Buying into a World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia by Ann Smart Martin for (of all places) Enterprise and Society: The International Journal of Business History and I reviewed Archaeology, Narrative, and the Politics of the Past by Julia King for American Antiquity.  I personally think book reviews are underrated academically…not for resume padding (although some people do that)…but for my own professional development.  One of the things I miss about graduate school is the amount of reading and synthesizing of information that you do on a regular basis.  I find accepting book review projects as a good way to force myself to keep up with literature and really digest it (I have to write about something before I fully understand and integrate its content).

Teaching & Working with Graduate Students

The second most commonly thought of aspect in the life of an academic archaeologist is teaching.  As a part of my job I teach the anthropology curriculum at my host institution, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia—this year that means that I taught General Anthropology (ANTH/SOC 1003) and Anthropology of North American Indians (ANTH/SOC/HIST 3143).  I teach anthropology and archaeology on a campus that does not have an anthropology major.  This means that, in all likelihood, my classes may be the only anthropology class a student ever has. The impression I give a student is the one that he or she is going to carry for a big hunk of their lives—I had better make anthropology relevant and interesting. In this situation I feel that it is not my job to get incredibly technical about my field (as I would do with majors), but simply to make sure that my students understand what anthropology is, what questions anthropology is interested in asking and how it goes about answering those questions. If students leave my class with an appreciation for the diversity of human culture (and they have improved their critical thinking skills), I have succeeded.

Teaching art students about prehistoric ceramics at Southern Arkansas University.

Teaching art students about prehistoric ceramics at Southern Arkansas University.

I get more technical (and philosophical) in my role working with graduate students from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and elsewhere—the future of our discipline.  I am proud that this year two of the graduate students I’ve been working with on projects in my research territory have completed their Ph.D. dissertations.  In April, Duncan McKinnon successfully defended his dissertation at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.  I’ve been working with Duncan on the Caddo site of Battle Mound in Lafayette County since 2007—his work combined new technologies (that remote sensing stuff again) and the reanalysis of old collections from the site.  His dissertation, entitled Battle Mound: Exploring Space, Place, and History of a Red River Caddo Community in Southwest Arkansas, is a major contribution to Caddo archaeology and the archaeological literature of southwestern Arkansas.

In May, my current research assistant, Carl Drexler (mentioned above) was successful in his defense of his Ph.D. dissertation at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA.  Carl’s dissertation, entitled Dooley’s Ferry: The Archaeology of a Civilian Community in Wartime, was based on 6 years’ worth of archaeology here in southwestern Arkansas using resources and staff from the Arkansas Archeological Survey and volunteers from the Arkansas Archeological Society.  Carl’s work reconstructed the footprint of Dooley’s Ferry and explored the ways that this community was impacted by the Civil War.

Public Outreach and Professional Service

This is where my job with the AAS departs from that of a typical academic archaeologist.  One of my favorite parts of my job is that doing public outreach is valued by my organization.  I gave 22 public talks this year on archaeology around the state—that averages to almost two every month.  This includes talks to chapters of our volunteer organization (I gave 5 of those) as well as community groups as diverse as Rotary clubs, genealogical and historical societies, museum groups, state parks and local chapters of the DAR…I even gave a talk about the archaeology of religion to the Hot Springs Freethinkers!

Giving public talks is the favorite part of my job as an AAS Research Station Archeologist.

Giving public talks is the favorite part of my job as an AAS Research Station Archeologist.

In addition to these formal talks, I also consulted with private landowners in four counties (Little River, Sevier, Union and Hempstead) about objects found on their property…and I provided advice and assistance to the South Arkansas Historical Foundation (about preservation efforts at Bethel Methodist Church in Mt. Holly, Union County), Historic Washington State Park (about preservation efforts at Pioneer Washington Cemetery, Hempstead County), Southern Arkansas University (Alumni concerns about the preservation of a Mosasaur fossil on display at SAU in Magnolia, Columbia County…yes, I KNOW archaeologists do NOT do dinosaurs…but what are you going to do?…), EAST Lab at Dierks High School (about cemetery preservation efforts in Dierks, Howard County), the Historic Arkansas Museum (Funerary art for the Arkansas Made Project), and several consultations with the Mapping the Legacy of African American History, LLC (about a West Ninth Street mapping project in Little Rock, Pulaski County).

Most academics spend some amount of time on professional service—serving on conference committees and whatnot.  I spend quite a bit of time in this arena…why?  Because I feel that in this part of my job I can make “things happen”…I can help shape public policy, help put on a conference, help research get published and, thus, get shared with the community at large, or help save a historic place…On the state-level, I serve on the boards of the Arkansas Historical Association (AHA) and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas (HPAA).  Positions like this afford us the opportunities to get tangible results from our work.  For instance, this year I was the conference chair for the AHA Conference in Helena, AR—making all the arrangements for a state-level conference in a town without a hotel, no major conference venue and only a single restaurant…talk about challenging.  It was a lot of time and energy, but in the end (thanks to the help of the Delta Cultural Center), it was incredibly rewarding to see the conference come off as a success.  Similarly, I served on the HPAA committee which names “Arkansas Most Endangered Historic Places”—a list that is meant to call public attention and, hopefully resources, to the sites that most need saving in the state.  Two of the seven properties that we listed this year (the Roundtop Filling Station and St. Joseph’s Orphanage) have made great strides toward stabilization, obtaining much needed support, and planning for future renovation/adaptive use.  That is gratifying work indeed.

I am also the Vice-Chairman of the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and I serve on the State Review Board for Historic Preservation (the state body that recommends properties for listing on the National Register of Historic Places).  In these roles I feel that I really (or I should say, more directly) make a difference—helping constituents get their property listed on the National or Arkansas Register of Historic Places, helping local communities and organizations get grants for commemorative events, or historic markers, that tell that community’s local story…even consulting with and educating others in state government about policy issues…this, too, makes me feel like my job matters.

You’ll notice that all of the above mentioned service roles are not specifically archaeology-oriented…When I serve in these capacities I’m still doing an outreach of sorts…educating other professionals—historians, architects, planners, historic preservationists, and law makers—about what archaeologists do and why they should care.  But I also do service within my sub-disciple of historical archaeology.  I am an Associate Editor of Historical Archaeology (I shepherded three articles to publication this year) and the Chair of the Academic and Professional Training Committee of the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA).  In these roles I get to do things like help the SHA get into modern social media, coordinate workshop for professional development, and chair the SHA Student Paper Prize (which I have chaired for the last 6 years)…giving young, outstanding scholars in my field recognition (and over $1500 in books)…it doesn’t get more rewarding than that…

Conclusion

So there it is:  a year of what I do with the Arkansas Archeological Survey (well, actually, there is still more that I left out)…as seen through my annual report.  I think it gives you a bigger picture than the “day” snapshot that I normally blog about.

Ok…ok…ok…reading back over this blog post as I write, it seems way too self-promoting…that’s NOT what I’m trying to do…Likewise, I know that this blog post seems to ramble in various and sundry directions…but that IS the point, actually—my job as an archaeologist with the Arkansas Archeological Survey is not a simple job.  In truth, it is more like three jobs…1) that of a typical academic anthropology professor; 2) that of an public outreach coordinator for archaeology and; 3) that of a state agency official responsible for managing cultural resources in my territory.  This is challenging…But if I were to leave the AAS and become a more “typical” academic archaeologist I would miss these other aspects of my job, and I would probably still do some of them (such as public outreach)…the only difference is that they would not be specifically part of my job per se…or would at least not be as appreciated as they are with the AAS.  I appreciate that my organization lets me do all of these things in the name of archaeology…It’s a whole lot of a job…

..but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Want to keep up with what we’re up to?

Follow my personal blog, Father Along, at: http://fartheralong.wordpress.com/

…or take a look at the AAS web page, the AAS-SAU Research Station website, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr

A Day of Archeology in NE Arkansas

There is no “typical” day as the Station Assistant at the Blytheville Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.  I can find myself doing anything from initial site survey, to mapping, to excavating, to lab work, to final report write-ups.  So I thought a more fun blog would be to show you around my area of NE Arkansas and the kinds of places that I find myself throughout my days.  We have some amazing archeology out here and I’m lucky to get to work on it every day.

As a general rule I start out my day by coming out to my office.  This summer we planted two gardens out front as part of our public outreach/engagement.  One is a tenant farmer garden and the other is a native (3 sisters) garden.  These two gardens show people not only how the crops differ, but also how planting techniques differ between cultures and time periods.

Tenant farmer garden (left), Native garden (right), Survey Station building in the background

Tenant farmer garden (left), Native garden (right), Survey Station building in the background

We also have an up-and-coming museum in Blytheville called the Delta Gateway Museum that is located on Main Street in the old Kress department store building.  We have loaned some of our collections to the museum for display and we work with them on various events and displays throughout the year.

Delta Gateway Museum

Delta Gateway Museum

Mississippian Pottery on display at the Delta Gateway Museum

Mississippian Pottery on display at the Delta Gateway Museum

We have more than just a museum in NE Arkansas though.  We also have a lot of archeological sites.  Despite being so close to the Mississippi River and having it meander and destroy most very old archeological sites over the years, we do still have some Archaic (8500BC-600BC) sites!  Though they don’t look like much during the summer while the field is in beans…

Archaic Site, NE Arkansas

Archaic Site, NE Arkansas

We also have a lot of small, nearly abandoned historic cemeteries.  You can be driving down the road and just run across one.  Someone is keeping this mowed, but the headstones are falling down and the church that was likely near it is long gone.

Historic Cemetery

Historic Cemetery

Just down the road from our office is the city of Armorel, named for Arkansas (Ar), Missouri (mo), and Robert E Lee Wilson (a local cotton Barron in the early days)(rel).  They don’t have a huge headquarters there anymore, but this is their old headquarters building and also possibly the company store.

Armorel Headquarters

Armorel Headquarters

Armorel is just inside the levee that protects the low lying ground of NE Arkansas from flooding on the Mississippi.  Seeing the levee makes you really think about the days before the levee was built and how people must have constantly worried about the river flooding, which would have wiped out everything in the area.

Mississippi River Levee

Mississippi River Levee

The huge Mississippian site called Knappenberger is also in our area of NE Arkansas.  It used to have giant mounds on it, but farming over the years has reduced them to hills on the landscape.  Here they are planted for the season.

Knappenberger Site

Knappenberger Site

Another nearby Mississippian site has a mound that hasn’t been plowed over.  It has been severely looted over the years, but not taken down in the same way that plowing does.  It is called the Chickasawba mound and has a large site associated with it.

Chickasawba Mound

Chickasawba Mound

Back to our historic roots, there are a few shotgun houses still standing around the area.  Why are they named shotgun houses?  Maybe because they are long and thin, or maybe because if you take your shotgun and shoot, you can reach from the front of the house to the back through the doorways in the center.  Most are uninhabited, but this one has a satellite dish…

Shotgun house...with satellite dish

Shotgun house…with satellite dish

In the more recent past, the NE Arkansas area was home to Eaker Airforce Base, where B52’s were stationed during the Cold War.  The base is now closed, but many of it’s buildings, including our office, are still extant; as is the razorwire on the top of the fences and some of the old guard towers.  A bit of a chilly reminder of no-too-distant American history.

Razor-wire topped fence

Razor-wire topped fence

Guard tower near bunkers

Guard tower near bunkers

So there you have it, a fly-by tour of archeology in NE Arkansas as seen by the Station Assistant at the Blytheville Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.  This is an amazing area with so much archeology that no one could ever possibly get bored.  Come out and see it for yourself!

Day of Archaeology 2013: From One End of the State to the Other

Last year, I put together a piece on the contents of my desk. It was appropriate at the time, as we had just completed a really big dig, and I was working at restoring order to my office work environment.

This year, the big dig was (thankfully… it’s exhausting to manage) run by someone else, so I haven’t needed as much time to recuperate, though I’ve been no less busy. This Day of Archaeology post looks at my last week of work and how it covers a wide range of activities, all of which are within my duties as an archaeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey, the Natural State’s public and research archaeology agency. We’re one of the best (if not the best) such agencies in the country. My boss, Jamie Brandon, and I work at the Southern Arkansas University station, and handle archaeological research and outreach for 11 counties in southwest Arkansas (pretty much everything south of the Ouachita River, plus a few other counties thrown in to boot.

Mapping Baytown

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This was a rice field when Phillips, Ford, and Griffin visited. It’s a little harder to work in now.

Though assigned to southwest Arkansas, I frequently get called out to assist with projects elsewhere around the state. Being the station assistant, I get calls to help Jamie’s equivalents in other stations quite frequently. The bulk of this week was just one such example.

Dr. Elizabeth Horton, station archaeologist at Toltec Mounds State Park, focuses on furthering our understanding of the Toltec Mounds, located outside of Little Rock. To do this well, she needs to study contemporary sites to understand how Toltec fit into the social landscape of the time. In pursuit of that goal, she recently inaugurated a project focusing on the Baytown site in eastern Arkansas. Occupied during the same rough time period as Toltec (we believe this to be the case, but we need to make sure… that’s why we’re starting working there), Baytown was a set of mounds, perhaps as many as ten. It is also under threat from both looters (it’s on federal property, so anyone caught could get hit with an ARPA violation) and erosion, so this project is timely and necessary.

Baytown is well-known in archaeological circles. It was one of the sites documented during the Lower Mississippi Valley Survey in the 1940s by Phillip Phillips, James A. Ford, and James B. Griffin. They named the Baytown phase after it, along with two pottery types, Baytown Plain and Baytown Incised. Check out their Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947 and Martha Rolingson’s chapters in The Woodland Southeast for more about the site. Despite its importance, Baytown hasn’t had that much research done on it. It’s been mapped a few times, and there have been some limited excavations, but nothing in line with what one would expect for such a site.

To start fixing this shortfall, I helped Dr. Horton, Dr. John House (Survey station archaeologist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), Ms. Jessica Howe (station assistant at the University of Arkansas at Monticello) and two students start mapping the site and examining it for signs of disturbance, assessing threats to its integrity, and evaluating its potential for future work. Much of my responsibility circled around running the Trimble GeoXT global positioning system, which allowed us to map mounds and modern features, even in thick forest. This will allow us to register past sketch maps of the site to the modern landscape to assess landform change, document where previous work has taken place, and allow us to start planning future research.

We really lucked out with field conditions, I must add. Usually, Arkansas in July is really, really hot. Eastern Arkansas also tends towards the humid side. Luckily, we ended up with a humid high-80s/low-90s with very few ticks or chiggers. The poison ivy was a little crazy, but with liberal application of Tecnu, I think we held that in check (knock on wood). It was, all-in-all, a really good time, though exhausting (as fieldwork usually is).

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

Working within a statewide agency, there are forms to fill out and reports to file. I’ve got two travel claims to finish off this morning, and need to compile field notes and GIS data to send to Dr. Horton. But, being a researcher, I’ve got other, more engaging tasks to polish off.

I’m in the process of editing a volume of chapters on Arkansas historical archaeology for publication. It’s a long, peer-reviewed process, and I’ve got some work to do on that this morning. I’m hoping that the project will be both a handy example of the effectiveness of the various state, federal, and private agencies on this front as well as an interesting volume for Arkansans, or anyone interested in historical archaeology and regional history to thumb through.

Touring Dooley’s Ferry

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Giving a Tour of Dooley’s Ferry, 2012

Baytown was the research end of my job. The other end, public outreach, came on Friday afternoon. Each year, Historic Washington State Park (think Colonial Williamsburg, but for the 19th century) puts on the Red River Heritage Symposium, a multi-day teaching workshop and public lecture session focusing on the history and heritage of the Ark-La-Tex.

In past years, I have given papers here on my research at Dooley’s Ferry and on the archaeology of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, a project I worked on while with the National Park Service. This year, I am giving a presentation on the archaeology of Dooley’s Ferry for the teaching workshop portion, showing a bit about what we have done, what we are going to do, and what archaeology can teach us about the past. I’ll probably throw in a bit about the Survey and how it functions in hopes of getting some opportunities to come and teach a bit about archaeology to regional schools.

That’s supposed to be a tour of the site, but given today’s forecast…

Photographs as Sources: Documenting a World War II PoW Camp

A picture is worth a thousand words the old adage goes. For historical archaeologists, photographs can provide important information about the location of buildings and activity areas. They can also provide insight into the everyday lives of past inhabitants. One of my current projects is the mapping and documentation of a World War II Italian Prisoner of War (PoW) camp in Monticello, Arkansas. Camp Monticello opened as a training facility for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1943 and served as a Prisoner of War (PoW) camp for Italians from 1943 to 1946. Photographs of the camp provide important context for archaeological research, but as with any primary source they have to be examined carefully.

Section of a map of the PoW Camp showing Compound 2.

Section of a map of the PoW Camp showing Compound 1.

Camp Monticello consisted of three compounds that housed enlisted men, two compounds that held officers, a hospital and other facilities. The buildings of the camp have mostly disappeared from view. But the archaeological evidence of the PoW camp is relatively widespread and exhibits good preservation as concrete foundations mark the landscape. Archaeologists are increasingly interested in research on prisoner of war camps. Research in Europe, Canada, and the United States has fostered new understandings of PoW camps and their inmates. See for example, Michael Waters, Lone Star Stalag about a German PoW camp in Texas or Harold Mytum and Gilly Carr’s edited volume on prisoners of war. Archaeology at Camp Monticello has the potential to yield new information about the Arkansas’ role in World War II, the lives of women at the camp, and the ways in which the Italian PoWs adapted to confinement and expressed ethnic and cultural identity through daily practice.

Gate to a compound at Camp Monticello.

Gate to a compound at Camp Monticello. Photograph courtesy of the Drew County Historical Museum

I use historic photographs and documents to provide context. Photographs help me understand what the camp looked like, as well as how people may have used the space. But as with any source of information, I have to examine the photographs carefully. Photographs may appear to give an unmediated view of the past, a promise of truth and neutrality that is free of the partiality of written documents (Edwards and Hart 2004). However, this sensation is deceptive, because for each photograph the subject has been selected, framed, and thus partially constructed by the photographer. Plus, the photographs preserved in archival collections tend to have been taken for specific reasons. As Barbara Little points out, documentary history — photographs, deeds, wills, maps — offers us one set of evidence about the past. Archaeology offers us a different kind of evidence. Historical archaeology is a kind of scholarship that challenges our certainties in useful ways.

A makeshift clothesline at Camp Monticello

A makeshift clothesline at Camp Monticello. Photo courtesy of the Drew County Historical Museum.

Photographs are great sources for archaeological research, since archaeology provides a way to test and corroborate the information contained within the photographs. As we head into the field to map and test the site, we hope to find activity areas like the makeshift clothesline that show what everyday life was like for the PoWs at Camp Monticello. Like the Arkansas Archeological Survey – UAM Station Facebook page for updates on this project and other happenings in southeast Arkansas.

 

Excavating an Archaeologist’s Desk

In honor of the Day of Archaeology, in which we endeavor to display the “wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe” (Day of Archaeology 2012 [archaeologists cite things]), I’m throwing this together as an archaeologist who embraces three different roles within the profession, has worked across 10 states and 3 foreign countries (Mexico, Cuba, and the British Virgin Islands), and still hasn’t finished graduate school (much to the chagrin of many, including myself).
To convey this complex existence, I’m choosing an archaeological metaphor and excavating my desk. My workspace is, to no surprise, a reflection of the many things that occupy my time, pique my interest, and, I hope, lead to some insight into the pasts of the common people of history, a group that counts my ancestors, German and Welsh immigrants, among its numbers. I have imposed a classification system on the contents of my desk, by which I will unpack the contents and, in turn, my life as an archaeologist working in the SAU Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Books
Indiana Jones once told a student (while running from the KGB) “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.” While I fully endorse this sentiment, you must realize that a lot of archaeological research involves bookwork. We read a lot about the work of our forebears as a way to help orient our own research, building on and modifying that which came before, and to avoid scientific dead-ends. The books on my desk include those oriented towards:
Dissertation: I am a doctoral candidate at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, the cradle of historical archaeology in the United States. I am trying to knock out a dissertation that will be the final step in my formalized education. This requires both books on epistemological issues relevant to the way I do research, such as Tim Murray’s Time and Archaeology or Anders Andrén’s Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. Combining the clarity of thinking derived from such sources with the results of fieldwork are then combined with the insight derived from other books, such as D.W. Meinig’s The Shaping of America and Kenneth Lewis’s The American Frontier to produce a document that will add to the historiography of southwest Arkansas and the American West… and earn me a diploma (please please please).
Teaching: I just finished teaching two classes at Southern Arkansas University, one a survey of world archaeology and the other a criminal justice research methods class. The detritus from preparing the lectures, including Catherine Hakim’s Research Design and Henn et al’s A Critical Introduction to Social Research still haven’t left my desk. They’re actually checked out from the University of Arkansas (5 hours away), so the next time I get called up to the coordinating office in Fayetteville, I’ll drop them off.
Methods: We demonstrate our competence as archaeologists in the field, showing each other and the cosmos that we can dig properly (carefully and fast), map precisely, and document our findings appropriately. I’ve got Hester et al’s Field Methods in Archaeology on my book rack for reference, and the bookshelves surrounding my desk are full of books on aerial remote sensing and LiDAR research.
Conference preparation:  One of the high points of any archaeologist’s professional year is a conference. For me, that usually means the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings, though in my current position the Arkansas Archeological Society conference is important as well. I’d like to go to the Fields of Conflict conference this year, but Budapest is a bit out of the range of my wallet (my truck needs work…). This week, I’ve been pulling together a session for the SHA with colleagues and classmates at William & Mary, and I’ve been using the abstract books from past conferences and De Cunzo and Jameson’s Unlocking the Past to write abstracts and encourage the session to take form.
Fieldwork Papers
As mentioned above, proper note taking is an integral part of archaeology. Documentation of context is key. It separates us from looters, provides a basis for scientific work, and is a backstop for ideas and information that might otherwise get missed. If ideas were baseballs, an archaeological dig is like being a catcher behind home plate, facing a battalion of pitching machines. Even if you’re Johnny Bench, you can only hold so many of those baseballs at once. Paperwork is like having a canvas bag to put those ideaballs (I’m liking this metaphor less and less) in so you don’t lose them. On my desk may be found
–        A green 3-ring binder from Area B of the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Training Dig, directed by my boss/friend/mentor Jamie Brandon. See his post here on the dig itself. The stack of papers inside is probably 2 inches thick. All of that came from two weeks in the field. It’s a lot of stuff to sift through, but every sweat-stained word is archaeological gold.
–        Field books. I see three, though there may be more buried in there somewhere. These nifty little books, usually with yellow covers, have waxed pages, making them resilient in rainy or sweaty conditions, and are the place where we jot our notes about the project we’re working on. My field book from the Society Dig contains the shot log for our surveyor’s total station, so we have a redundant copy of all that information. I also have my field book for site visits done on behalf of the Survey. The notes I take in the field can then be transposed into either a site form, which I submit by way of report to the Survey, or included in subsequent publications on that research. Writing notes, particularly under hot or busy conditions, is one of the disciplines that archaeologists must learn. As with so many other things, when it comes to notes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. In some positions, such as federal jobs, field books are part of the paperwork associated with a project and subject to subpoena and other legal strictures, so don’t draw too many cartoons about gophers in them.
Technology
The final big section of research-related equipment can be classed as technology.  Technological advancements in computing, remote sensing (Johnson 2005), data sharing (Kansa 2012), and numerous other fronts in the past twenty years is revolutionizing archaeology. The very fact of this blog post, the internet, and personal computing is evidence of this. Hallmarks of this advancement are, of course, found on my desk.
–        Computer: Shocking, I know. Nowadays, computers are everywhere and used in most pursuits, but mine is special, consarnit! First, it’s a laptop on a dock, which is necessary given the high mobility of many archaeologists. Since you can’t bring sites to you, we have to go to the sites, often for extended periods of time. We just finished two weeks at Historic Washington State Park, and in the last year, I’ve spent weeks at Toltec Mounds, Wallace’s Ferry, and Prairie Grove, all in Arkansas, as well as making numerous trips to the Coordinating Office in Fayetteville. My Army job was just like that, as was my time with the NPS, just that in the federal gigs, the projects are usually spread over greater areas. Laptops are essential in taking our computing power along with. Crucial to that computing power is the software held on the machine, particularly, in my case…
–        Geographic information system (GIS) software. I do a lot of work with spatial documentation and analysis, so I need mapping software. Being able to document the location of sites and areas within sites is an important part of the documentation process.
–          Scanner: I scan lots of things, primarily to make back-ups (hard to lose all copies of a document) and to share them with colleagues. Information sharing is a big part of the research process, as those who share your interests and expertise are not likely under the same roof as you. This is partly why conferences are so important. Information exchange stimulates, as Poirot liked to call them, “the little grey cells” and advance the discipline. Scanners help make that possible.
–        Telephone: Again, rather mundane, but an important part of my job. The Arkansas Archeological Survey does a lot of public outreach work for people of all walks of life from across the state. My station covers 11 counties in southwest Arkansas, and I get calls to come out and look at sites or assist colleagues at museums and parks in the area with public outreach work (come to the Red River Heritage Symposium at Historic Washington State Park on the 28th of July). Much of that begins with a phone call.
Other/Miscellaneous
As this all should indicate, I spend a LOT of time working, well more than 40 hours a week. As a result, I spend a lot of time in the office or in the field, and my desk contents reflect that.
–        Coffee mug and empty Coke/Diet Coke cans: I am a caffeine addict, plain and simple. I often get little more than 5 hours of sleep a night, and with as stacked of a to-do list as I have, it’s rather unavoidable. I can’t keep up with a friend, who runs on five cappuccinos a day, but there are times when I wonder how awesome that feels. I’m guessing “pretty.”
–        Mulerider Baseball cup: Our host institution and my erstwhile employer, Southern Arkansas University has a great baseball team, and the Muleriders just won the GAC Championship… again. Great job, guys! One of the ways I avoid having the pressures of all of these jobs and responsibilities burn me out is by having a mental outlet. For me, that’s baseball and hockey. We don’t get much of the latter down here. However, the baseball stadium is right across the parking lot from the office (really, I can see it from my desk), and those evening games are a nice break from the grind.
–        Yellow duct tape: Why yellow, you might ask? Because every station in the Survey system was allocated a color to mark their equipment with so that we could tell whose stuff is whose when we collaborate on projects. Our station’s color is yellow, Henderson State’s is orange, Toltec’s is blue, etc. etc. etc. Marking things as ours helps avoid confusion and trowel fights.
–        Field hat: I saved this for last because it’s one of my favorite things. For archaeologists, the attachments we form with crucial bits of equipment can be very strong. Many people still have their first trowels, and carefully guard them (think of a mitt for a baseball player). They’re things, but they’re things intimately tied up in the art of our discipline, and that makes them special. For me, there are three things that fall into this category. My trowel is the first, and I keep it distinct from all other trowels by wrapping the handle in hockey stick tape. The second is my Brunton pocket transit (think a compass on steroids with neon flames shooting down its hood), which is not only a very useful bit of equipment, it was also my father’s when he was doing his dissertation, and that carries great meaning to me. Finally, there is my field hat, a mid-crown cattleman with a 4” brim from Sunbody Hats in Houston, Texas. No matter how hot it gets, it’s always a little cooler under this thing, and it was a wedding gift from Jimmy Pryor, the owner of Sunbody and a childhood friend. It’s a link to home and my wife all at once, and it cheers me up when I’ve been out on a project for a couple of weeks and starting to get a little barn sour.
Now, having looked at these piles for a few hours while writing this, it may be time to do some cleaning…
References
Andrén, Anders
1997     Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. New York: Plenum Press
Day of Archaeology
2012    About the Project. Electronic resource (http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/about-the-project/, accessed 29 June 2012).
De Cunzo, Lu Ann and John H. Jameson, Jr.
2005     Unlocking the Past: Celebrating Historical Archaeology in North America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Hakim, Catherine
2000     Research Design: Successful Designs for Social and Economic Research. New York: Routledge.
Henn, Matt, Mark Weinstein, and Nick Foard
2006     A Critical Introduction to Social Research. Los Angeles: Sage.
Hester, Thomas R., Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder
2009     Field Methods in Archaeology. 7th edition. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Lewis, Kenneth
1984     The American Frontier: An Archaeological Study of Settlement Pattern and Process. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Meinig, D.W.
1988     The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 2: Continental America, 1800-1867. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Murray, Tim, editor
1999     Time and Archaeology. New York: Routledge.

Digging on the Web

On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy preparing to head off to the field (in sunny Tuscany (!!)), square away some data, and finish work on some tech consulting.  That last bit is a clue that I’m not really a “normal archaeologist”. Actually, I’ve never met an archaeologist that I’d consider normal –  which is what attracted me to this field in first place. But even among archaeologists, I’m something of an odd-ball.

I have a background in Near Eastern archaeology, and did my dissertation research looking at interactions between Egypt and the Levant (modern Israel, Palestine, Lebanon) in the Early Bronze Age. But for various reasons, both personal and professional, I shifted gears toward the digital side of archaeology, co-founded a nonprofit with my wife (and boss!), and for the past 10 years, I’ve loved almost every minute of my work day. Except writing grant proposals (but there are some necessary evils in all work).

My research and professional interests focus on archaeological data, and much less on digging and field work for myself. This focus means I have a very different professional network, set of collaborators, and work life. Though I work closely with other archaeological professionals, I’m also heavily engaged with folks well outside the discipline, including Web and information scientists, digital librarians and archivists, technology companies, “digital humanists”, and researchers in scholarly communications.

I keep such odd company because I’m really interested in improving the way archaeologists communicate and share their research. Archaeology is intensely multidisciplinary and collaborative. It involves inputs from all sorts of different sciences, and many archaeologists work together in large teams. Sharing the results of all this research needs to reflect the collaborative nature of the field, and it needs to speak with people in other disciplines and walks of life. That’s why I’m so interested in making it archaeological data more open, easier to share, and easier to reuse.

My primary project is Open Context. It’s a system for publishing archaeological data, openly, on the Web, for all to browse and reuse. On this “Day of Archaeology”, I’m busy indexing tens of thousands of detailed records of archaeological contexts, objects, bones, and other material from Kenan Tepe, a major excavation in Turkey led by Bradley Parker. This collection represents the monumental effort of almost 10 years of field work. You can browse around its photo archives and see many thousands of pictures, mainly of dirt. Though it is free to access and use, the data are priceless. Excavation is a destructive process, and the documentation describing such excavations will be the only record available to revisit and re-analyze excavation results. That’s why comprehensive publishing with platforms like Open Context, as well as archiving with digital repositories like tDAR, the ADS, or the CDL is so important.

As this blog post should make clear, I love working with the Web. And what I like most about it is that I work with a growing and vibrant community of like minded people who want to see more from archaeology than costly journal articles read by a narrow few. The developers of ARK, Portable Antiquities, all the collaborators of Pelagios, and the bottom-up group linking archaeological data, are all hugely talented and make my work life rewarding and fun. All this makes archaeology (for me) as much about community and the future as it is about the past.

Wrestling Pythons, Blending Grass and Proofing Papers

Today has been a pretty normal day in my current archaeological life. I am in the final year of my PhD and so have been battling away infront of a laptop (like many others) trying to make sense of archaeological data and say something new and interesting about the past.

I am lucky in that I live in Cambridge, and so had a lovely cycle ride this morning across the meadows, past the cows, to install myself into the Cambridge University Library (UL). This is one of the joys of being a student in the UK, even though I am doing my PhD at UCL in London I am more than welcome to come and use the library in Cambridge for free which is not only great for books – it also has an excellent tea room.

Bronze Age Huts in QGIS

My PhD is on the Bronze Age hut settlements on Bodmin Moor, I am using Augmented Reality to examine the locations of the huts and how they fit into the landscape. This involves a lot of GIS work and also some 3D modelling. I have a lovely GIS dataset of the Bronze Age hut locations and a pretty decent elevation model. When out in the field archaeologists use quite few tools, but the trowel is probably the most useful. When in front of the computer archaeologists also use a lot of tools – today I was using the Python framework to script a way to get GRASS data into blender so that I could load virtual models of the huts into Unity3D to view them in my ARK database to then finally use Vuforia and Unity3D to display it in the real world. Today my most useful tool is Textmate.

Bodmin Moor in blender

Basically what I am trying to do is import 2D GIS data into a 3D gaming engine, that I can then use to explore the data and (using Augmented Reality) ‘overlay’ that onto the real world. The important thing is to ensure the spatial coordinates are preserved when it is imported into the gaming engine – otherwise the on-site GPS location won’t work during the Aug. Reality stage. So the distances, heights and topography seen int he gaming engine representation are as close to the real world as possible (at least the real as modelled in the GIS!). To keep track of the huts and their associated data I have been using the ARK database system (created by Day of Archaeology sponsors  L – P : Archaeology). ARK brings all of the various bits together  – data from the literature, basic dimensions of the huts, spatial data and also the 3D representation. I’ve been getting some pretty good results from my experiments and seem to have cracked the workflow – I’ll put up a proper walkthrough on my blog once the script is all sorted out as I think it will probably be pretty useful for others to see and use. In the meantime I have made a very small screencast to show the huts within ARK and Unity – which I think it pretty cool. For those of a techy bent, ARK is sending the Unity3D plugin the id of the hut currently being viewed and Unity is then figuring out where that hut is in the virtual world and placing the ‘player’ inside it.

Wow that was all a bit techy – sorry about that!

So as promised in the title of the post then – here is a link to some wrestling pythons…

and someone blending grass..

and the paper proofing is a bit more boring…

Today I also approved the final author proofs of an article on my research that is going to be published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. Apparently when they have made my suggested corrections (c. 1 week) it should be available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10816-012-9142-7  for people who have personal or institutional subscriptions to the journal, very exciting!

Right back to the coding… only an hour before I get chucked out of the library.