New Mexico

Indiana Jones was Right.

I’m not sure how many of us would admit this, but I decided to become an archaeologist because of Indiana Jones. He had it all: action, adventure, the whip and fedora. And the theme song. Man, that theme song! When I was a kid, I used to spend my summers on the boat at Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico, begging my dad to take me to Hospital Canyon so that I could see the building that were lurking just below the surface of the water. Each time we went, I would look down into the water, see the wooden buildings and tell myself that one day, I would go down there. Afterall, Indy would want me to.
Fast forward twenty years. I no longer live in southern New Mexico but in Northern Michigan. I never did get to go and check out the buildings of Hospital Canyon, but I did decide to follow in Indiana Jones’s footsteps. Kind of. I am a student of archeology, you see- nautical archaeology. Not something I would have expected from myself having grown up in the deserts of New Mexico, but there you are. I am not a diver, which some might think would hinder my ability to participate in field work. When I started studying the subject, I honestly thought the same thing. As it turns out, Lake Michigan is the place to be this summer.
I teamed up with a couple of NASII students this summer to do a project at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan. We were lucky enough to have this amazing speciman wash ashore this past fall after what amounted to an inland hurricane. The structure was magnificent! We worked with an amazing archaeologist who helped guide us in our work, encouraging us in every way. I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but it was my Indiana Jones “moment” and the coolest day of my life. When the survey was over, we divided up the what needed to be done to get the monograph complete and went home.
Which brings me to today. Today, I am reminded of something that Dr. Jones told his students before he went off to find action and glory. He said that “Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library; research, reading.” That is what I am doing today: research and reading. It’s nothing glamorous, or sexy. And I am certainly not getting dirty digging in the dirt, or in this case knocked around by waves. But there is certainly a lot of work that goes into historical research of an unidentified vessel, the region it was found in, the circumstances under which it was found, and how it might possibly fit into the grand scheme of things. Thankfully, I spent most of my time in the library when the project plan was developed so today is dedicated to internet research: images mostly- period maps, lighthouse logs, meterological reports. This is something I can do comfortably in my pajamas at my kitchen table.
Today isn’t the most glamorous day of my archaeological career, and I’m sure it won’t be the last day like it. But I know that I can say that with each bit of research I uncover, I am that much closer to uncovering the mystery identity of this unknown shipwreck. And as I sit here at the kitchen table, coffee in hand, I know that the fictional archaeologist was right. Archaeology is a lot of research. But the day that I go back out into the field, I will most definitely be humming my own theme song.

Scouting museum collections for teaching

The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New MexicoHad to interrupt the morning identification to head over to the Maxwell Museum.    Every time I head in to the Maxwell I wonder, why don’t I come here more often?  It’s a terrific museum – definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in the Albuquerque area.

I visited the Maxwell this morning to look for a collection for my zooarchaeology class to work with this fall.  I need an assemblage small enough that students can manage it as a part of the class but large enough – and identifiable enough – for students to learn from.  Fortunately there are several options at the Maxwell, and they are well-curated  (not always a given) and so will be easy to work with.  Dave Phillips, curator of archaeology, kindly interrupted his morning to show me some possibilities.

I think we’re going to go with the faunal material from the Tijeras Pueblo archaeological site – there’s plenty of it, there’s good chronological control, and there’s the potential for the students to come up with some interesting research questions.

Coffee and assorted bones

I’m starting off this morning in the lab, cup of coffee by my side, working with some borrowed museum collections.  This picture shows what I’m looking at right now:

Bones from the Navajo project

Photo copyright Emily Jones, 2011

These bones are from a site in northwestern New Mexico; the site was occupied (we estimate) around 1660 A.D., by historic Navajo (or Diné) peoples.  This is just one of a suite of sites I’m examining, all Navajo-affiliated, and all from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Most archaeologists think Athapaskan-speaking Native Americans (including the Navajo) entered the southwestern US in the 15th century, though some argue for earlier or later arrival.  Early on, it seems, the Navajo were mostly hunter-gatherer, maybe with a little agriculture, but at some point they adopted sheepherding with great enthusiasm.  I’m interested in learning about this transition in subsistence, which is why I’m analyzing the zooarchaeological remains from these sites.

So far, I’ve been really impressed with the diversity in subsistence strategy represented.  Many of these sites seem to be evenly split between agriculture, hunting, and gathering of wild resources…and there are a few domestic sheep/goat sneaking in to the record in the 17th century, as well.  Earlier sites seem to have been used for more activities than later ones; it seems like the later sites are more often either hunting-specific or agriculture-specific.  I’ll have to wait to see if this pattern holds up when I get to the statistical analysis!

A Day of Zooarchaeology

My days tend to involve a lot of different projects because, well, I’m involved in a lot of different projects!  So to put my posts in some context, I figured I’d start by introducing myself and the projects that I’m currently working on.

My name is Emily Jones, and I’m a zooarchaeologist – in other words, my specialty is looking at animal bones from archaeological sites to learn about past human-environment interactions.  (You can learn lots more about zooarchaeology at the website for the International Council for Zooarchaeology).  I do go into the field from time to time, but most days I’m either 1) in the lab, identifying animal bones; 2) in the office, doing statistical analyses of the data generated by (1); or 3) in the office, writing up the results of (1) and (2), for technical reports, for scientific publications, or for the public.  Right now, I have two major projects in process: I’m working on the statistical analysis of a collection from Spain (stage 2), deposited about 15,000 years ago, and I’m in stage 1 (that is, identification) on a collection from Navajo-affiliated sites (dating to the 16th and 17th centuries A.D.) here in New Mexico.  I’ll be doing some work on both these projects during the Day of Archaeology!

As well as being a zooarchaeologist, I teach.  In a month, I’ll be teaching a class in introductory zooarchaeological analysis for the University of New Mexico’s Department of Anthropology, here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.  And as the time till class begins is getting shorter and shorter, I’ll be working on this as well.

I’ll be posting on the blog, but you can also follow what I’m doing on Twitter (I’ll mark posts with #dayofarch).

Photo copyright Emily Lena Jones, 2011