North America

Experimental Archaeology Rocks

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the reproduction and experimentation of ancient technologies.

Today, I’m doing an inventory of lithic material so for this year’s Day of Archaeology post I’ve decided to focus on lithic technology which basically refers to the art of bashing, cracking, knapping, pecking, grinding or polishing stones of various kinds to manufacture tools, ornaments and other objects whose significance becomes even more obvious through the study of how they were used, broken, repaired, recycled and discarded.

Stone is of all materials the most dealt with in archaeology and stone tools are of paramount importance not only because they are very well preserved in the archaeological record and common to all cultures but also because they are the basic tools with which most other tools were made in prehistory. They not only help us understand the technical skills of ancient people but also inform us on chronological periods, cultural groups, food production, population movements, social organization and trade networks.

Stone tools are in fact a complex technology that benefits greatly from experimental archaeology which is a research method specialized in the reproduction of past objects and behaviours to understand the processes involved in making and using artefacts found in archaeological sites. For decades archaeologists have recognized the value of experimentation and reproduction for the benefit of research but also as an educational approach to share that knowledge with the public in a comprehensive and dynamic way.

I will briefly present here a photo essay of our latest projects aimed at improving our understanding of stone technology and reproducing various artefacts either for scientific objectives or educational purposes.


Collecting cobble stones for the reproduction of axes, net sinkers and grinding stones. It can take many hours of searching a shoreline or a river bed to find appropriate stones.

Collecting chert for knapping. Finding accessible chert can be a tricky operation these days since alot of the ancient stone quarries are now protected sites.

Preparing quartz preforms in the field to bring back to the workshop for tool making. As in ancient times, it’s a lot easier to carry preforms than boulders back to camp.

Testing a stone axe reproduction in the field during a house building project. Using a tool is the only way to learn the about the details of its construction.

Inserting a stone axe head in a live tree to test a hypothesis. According to historical sources, some stone axes were hafted by allowing a living tree to grow around a prepared stone blade.

Stone knapping

Knapping chert preforms for the reproduction of various tools. Similar piles of preforms are sometimes found in archaeological context and are known as caches.

Knapping experiments with quartz and dolomite. Unusual materials for that purpose that were nevertheless used in prehistory because of their availability.

Exercise in knapping very small tools from equally small flakes. In prehistory, people made the most of what they had available and chert was rarely wasted.

Typology of stone points of Northeastern America showing the evolution of projectile points. This display was designed as an educational tool for our public activities.

Polished stone

Reproductions of polished stone tools (celt, grooved axe, adze, gouge) that were used for woodwork in North America between 8,000 and 500 years B.P.

Reproductions of Northwest Coast style fish knives. Such knives made by grinding slate slabs were delicate but very sharp for the preparation of fish.

Drilling stone with stone. Various soft stones like soapstone, slate and limestone were polished and drilled in prehistory to make ornamental or ceremonial objects.

Common polished slate tools (semicircular knife, spear head) used in North America during the Archaic period (8,000-3,000 years B.P.).

Unworked stones as tools

Many stones found in archaeological context were modified by use but not by design. Sandstone for instance was commonly used as a grinding surface to work bone while chert flakes served as disposable blades.

Working a native copper nugget with a stone anvil, a hammer stone and a grinding stone to manufacture a prehistoric knife for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Making beaver incisor gouges with various grit stones for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Using various types of stones for cutting, hammering and polishing bone for the manufacture of prehistoric tattoo needles as part of a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Sharing the knowledge

Reproductions of Dorset tools incorporating chert and slate blades commissioned by the Avataq Cultural Institute for education programs in Arctic communities.

Craft workshop on polished stone projectile points with students of the University of Montreal during Archaeology Week.

To see more, visit our website or follow us on Facebook.


Experimental Archaeology towards Experiencing Archaeology

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the reproduction and experimentation of ancient technologies. In the past couple of years, my Day of Archaeology posts have focused mainly on artefact reproduction because this is what I do most of the time. So this year I would like to talk a bit more about my work in education as I am spending the day preparing educational material for upcoming activities that take place in August during Archaeology Month in my home province of Quebec.

Flintknapping demonstration in a reconstructed native village. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

Flintknapping demonstration in a reconstructed native village. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

Third grade student learning to fletch an arrow.

Third grade student learning to fletch an arrow.

Learning about ancient technologies through experimentation is central to my work but sharing this knowledge is the ultimate goal of my career. In fact, most of my artefact reproductions are purchased by museums and interpretation centres to complement their activities and exhibitions. I have worked as a museum educator for over a decade from delivering to developing public programmes and always enjoyed giving the general public a better understanding of what life would have been like in the past. I have dealt with all sorts of groups ranging from children to elders and from amateurs to scientists as well as survivalists looking towards ancient technologies to expand their wilderness skills. It’s always been a challenge to adapt the complexities of archaeology to a variety of audiences but one that has kept me passionate about public education.

Families learning to make prehistoric fish hooks. (Photo: Maison Nivard De Saint-Dizier)

Families learning to make prehistoric fish hooks. (Photo: Maison Nivard De Saint-Dizier)

Survivalist group learning about ancient fishing technologies. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

Survivalist group learning about ancient fishing technologies. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

As a craftsman, my educational approach is about communicating through objects that can be touched, used or created so my activities range from interactive conferences for adult audiences to craft workshops for school groups and demonstrations for public events where people can experience the subject directly. For this purpose, my work in artefact reproduction is not about imitating artefacts with synthetic materials but rather going through the entire process or creating them from raw materials to finished tools and testing them so that I can explain how they were made and what this meant for people using them in the past. This level of experimentation is mostly a way for me to learn beyond theory but it also allows me to share my knowledge and skills with specialized groups such as college and university students interested in experimental archaeology.

Anthropology students from the University of Montreal learning about the uses of plant fibres. (Photo: RÉAUM)

Anthropology students from the University of Montreal learning about the uses of plant fibres. (Photo: RÉAUM)

As a part time anthropology teacher, I have also used my classroom experience to develop specific activities that can be integrated into anthropology classes to give students a better understanding of anthropological concepts, archaeological techniques and past lifeways. The school curriculum in Quebec includes several chapters on aboriginal culture and history which were integrated only a decade ago, so most of the groups that I meet are primary and secondary level classes looking to complement their programme with activities giving them access to specialized knowledge and material while discovering archaeology as a profession. Primary school children are my favourite age group whose limitless curiosity and enthusiasm inspire me the most to educate the public about the importance of learning from the past through archaeology.

Primary school students learning about prehistoric lifeways through a modelling project.

Primary school students learning about prehistoric lifeways through a modelling project.

So these are the things on my mind and on my table today. To learn more about Aboriginal Technologie’s educational programmes, please visit my website.


Artefact Reproduction as a Trade

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the experimentation of ancient technologies.  Since 2005 we have provided artefact replicas, educational workshops, interactive conferences, craft demonstrations and consultation services for a variety of institutions such as schools, colleges, universities, interpretation centers and museums across Canada and beyond. We also enjoy collaborating on various projects ranging from experimental archaeology to movie sets. Rather than summarize too much information or present one of many projects, I’m offering here a photo essay of various subjects and activities we have worked on since last year’s post.

Collaboration with a PhD student from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows. Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Collaboration with PhD student Luc Doyon from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows on an animal target.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Part of large order of Northwest coast fishing tools for a Hollywood movie set.

Part of a large order of Northwest coast fishing tool replicas for the movie set of Night at the Museum 3.

Stone axe from our collection used by local archaeology cooperative Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment. Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Stone axe replica from our collection used by archaeology consultants Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment.

Set of stone tools made for a public dig simulation at a local interpretation enter.

Set of stone tool replicas made for a public dig simulation at Pointe-du-Buisson museum.

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach a group the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Photo credit: Mathieu Hébert

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for educational activities interpretation in a museum.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for interpretation activities in a museum.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal people.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal lifestyles.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

One of our most popular items: cooked knives. Just as we use it for artifact replication, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

One of our most popular items: crooked knife. Just as we use it in our reproduction process, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

A variety of Northwest Coast artifact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture in British Columbia.

A variety of artefact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture.

A custom replica for a European collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could otherwise have in their collection.

A custom replica of a warclub for a private collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could not otherwise have in their collection.

Paisley Caves – a view from the microscope


Working on the microscope

So this is my second year taking part in the Day of Archaeology. It’s great to look back at my post from last year, when I was working as a research associate on the Feeding Stonehenge project – lots of new things have happened since then, including a new position for me as a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh. Since joining Edinburgh I’ve been working on a lot of new and exciting projects, which you can read more about in my blog, Castles and Coprolites. This week I’ve mostly been sat in front of a microscope, analysing thin section samples from the site of Paisley Caves, Oregon USA, directed by Dr Dennis Jenkins. Paisley provides evidence for the earliest dated human occupation in North America, famously in the form of ancient human DNA recovered from coprolites, aka fossilised faeces. The samples I am working on are known as thin section micromorphology samples – perhaps not as well known as animal bones and charred plant remains, thin section samples investigate the actual sediments in which archaeological materials are found.

The way in which sediments are deposited can actually tell us a great deal about the environment and human activity in the past, and are also useful in helping interpret the artefacts that are found within the sediment. For example looking at soils and sediments under the microscope, we can tell whether they were deposited by wind or water action, or whether they were trampled by humans or animals. With the Paisley samples we are looking at the formation processes in the cave environment, to see whether this can help understand the activities that were occuring in the cave.

Paisley 3

Thin section slide of sediments from Paisley caves. Photo by Julie Boreham,

Thin section micromorphology is quite a specialised technique, and requires laboratory processing. We cut out blocks of sediment from profiles during excavation, wrap them very carefully to avoid any disturbance, then take them to the lab where they are set in resin and cut into slides for viewing under the microscope. I have been working with Earthslides to process the Paisley samples, and we will be presenting a poster exhibiton of the thin sections at the European Association of Archaeologists conference this September.

Archaeology Under the Arch

Tamira here, Research Archaeologist with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS). I currently serve as a Site Supervisor at the East St. Louis Mound site, one of the largest Mississippian period (AD 1000-1450) sites in the pre-Columbian world, just downstream from Cahokia Mounds. Large-scale excavations have been ongoing at East St. Louis since 2008 in advance of the construction of a new bridge that will span across the Mississippi river from Illinois to Missouri. This project involves more than just the bridge though – it includes new utilities, interchanges, road realignments and improvements, and the diversion of an interstate from its current route to the new bridge. A large portion of this project’s footprint impacts the site. It’s our job to recover as much information as possible from this portion of East. St. Louis before construction takes place.

This bridge project requires LOT of work from a lot of different groups. ISAS works with all of these groups on a daily basis in order to ensure that this important project runs safely and with efficiency. Just like the many other groups working on this project, we have deadlines that must be met so that the bridge will open as scheduled in 2014. Unlike those contractors however, we really never know what lies ahead on any given day – which is one of the most exciting parts of being an archaeologist. We could be faced with rock hard soil or sloppy mud depending on the weather or enjoy a perfect day of sunshine; be completely shut out of an area due to another contractor’s schedule or finish an area ahead of time; spend hours digging finding nothing but dirt or discover an amazing artifact that will help rewrite the history of the site. These factors make a large part of the job a balancing act between maximizing data recovery and doing top notch research while meeting the demands of the larger project. Luckily, we have a hard-working crew of more than 80 individuals who rise to meet the challenge day after day. Our team includes not only the excavators and supervisors on site, but essential staff in the office who make our maps, write reports, curate finds, coordinate with native groups, and make sure that our research both reaches both the scientific and public communities.

My particular role at ISAS shifts depending on the needs of the project. Until recently, I spent my days running one of the many excavation blocks at the site – supervising crew, interpreting features, making sure that paperwork is done properly, coordinating with supervisors in other areas of the site, and deciding what’s to be done next among other tasks. The job requires a great deal of flexibility, problem solving, and people skills. I worked in this capacity until the day that my daughter, Orin was born. This came with particular challenges – working through morning sickness, an increasing need to visit the port-a-john as the due date approached, and navigating my baby-bump in tight excavation areas – but the most unexpected challenge was probably finding field-appropriate clothing for the expectant archaeologist! Try a Google search of “maternity work wear” and you’ll see what I mean. Despite these minor obstacles, a healthy pregnancy allowed me to enjoy my entire pregnancy in the field, and there’s no place I would have rather been!

I returned to work from my maternity leave just last week and am now active on the next stage of the project – analysis and write-up. My day to day involves checking over notes and maps from the field, examining the artifacts – which includes anything from the refuse of daily life such as pottery and chipped stone to exotic and unusual items, interpreting finds, and most importantly, pulling all of this information together so that it can be written up and presented in a cohesive report. For a project of this scale, this process will take a large team of researchers several years to complete. The finished product will be a seminal volume that will rewrite the history of the East St. Louis site and its contemporaries, helping us to better understand the people that made their lives in the fertile river valley that I now call home.

So how did I end up with this awesome job, working on this awesome site? Well, unlike many of my colleagues, I didn’t always want to be an archaeologist. I used to go arrowhead hunting on the family farm as a child and was always fascinated with Native American culture, but I actually went to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to pursue a degree in music. I was derailed from that path by an excellent gen ed course in anthropology during my first semester, which led to a new major and my participation in Dr. Tim Pauketat’s archaeology field school the following summer. Several additional summers of excavation convinced me that there was no better life than the digging life, and I’ve been doing it ever since – for the government, independent contractors, universities, in graduate school at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and ultimately at ISAS on one of the most impressive and important projects in North America.

A Day of Archaeology from the City of Brotherly Love (And Beyond)

It’s been a typically diverse summer day for me. One of my ongoing projects deals with understanding the initial adoption of pottery technology by the Indian peoples of the Delaware Valley (between roughly 1600 BC and 1000 BC) and subsequent trends in the manufacture and use of pots. Today I reviewed a number of recently published articles on the subject and made arrangements to see collections of pottery from archaeological sites in New Jersey (Gloucester County) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). I also continued my review and organization of data from an ongoing excavation project I direct, along with graduate student Jeremy Koch, in the Lehigh River Gorge of Pennsylvania. This location is a fantastic layer cake of deposits left by Indian groups beginning around 11,300 years ago and ending in colonial times. The site was brought to our attention by amateur archaeologist, Del Beck, who was concerned about the site being looted. Del remains an important member of our research team along with my old friend and amateur archaeologist, Tommy Davies, and colleagues from the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Clarion and Baylor universities. We are currently into our 5th year of investigations at the site and are collecting evidence of native cultures that is rarely seen in buried and undisturbed contexts in Pennsylvania. I’m looking forward to my next trip to the site later this week.

Michael Stewart, archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


For the record, I’m not an archaeologist. I manage the regional historic preservation program for the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. General Services Administration. The regional headquarters is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania although the region covers six states from New Jersey to Virginia. We undertake a number of projects for the federal government that involve ground disturbing activities and I manage the regional regulatory compliance, including archaeological investigations. On June 25, 26, and 27 I reported to a customer agency about the ongoing investigation of two historic archaeological sites at their project site in southern Virginia, sent copies of correspondence and archaeological resource identification reports to a couple of Native American tribes who expressed interest in being consulting parties to a Section 106 consultation, prepared a scope of work to direct an archaeological contractor to undertake a survey to identify whether or not there are archaeological resources present in a planned project area, and worked on slides describing how to incorporate archaeology into project planning for a training presentation I’ll be giving in a few months.

Donna Andrews, Regional Historic Preservation Officer, GSA Mid-Atlantic Region, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA


In the evening of June 25, 2012, I edited a draft of a publication being prepared regarding a multi-component prehistoric site (28GL228) located in New Jersey immediately east of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA). The article will be published in the journal entitled Archaeology of Eastern North America and presented at the 2012 Eastern States Archaeological Federation meeting in Ohio (USA). The data from 28GL228 provides insight into Native American culture in the Philadelphia region. This project is being conducted on a volunteer basis.

Jesse Walker, MA, RPA


I, Poul Erik Graversen, MA (Masters), RPA (Registered Professional Archaeologist), spent most of my Monday, June 25, 2012, doing research for my PhD/Doctorate Degree.  I am currently living and working in New Jersey (USA), not far from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I grew up; however I attend the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.  Literature on free African Americans in the antebellum northeastern United States is sparse.  The literature that can be found on this very important topic has had little focus on the placement, layout, settlement patterns, and the archaeological record of these people.  My PhD dissertation aims to fill in the gaps of current scholarship focused on African American archaeology in the northeastern United States by means of an in depth analysis of both enslaved and free African American settlements in not only the northeastern United States, but in the southern United States and West Africa as well.  By analyzing the settlement patterns and socio-economic reasons behind the settlement patterns in other parts of the United States and the world, a clearer and more concise picture of the reasons behind the settlement patterns of free and enslaved African Americans in the northeastern United States will emerge.  Most of the information amassed in this regard up to this point stems from a historical perspective, with archaeological contributions and content lacking.  The new information gathered in this dissertation will shed light on the life-ways of these people via the archaeological record of both enslaved and free African American Diaspora in the northeastern United States of America and the ramifications of their extended exposure to European influence in North America. 

Poul Erik Graversen, MA, RPA PhD/Doctoral Candidate University of Leicester
Principle Investigator/Instructor Monmouth University New Jersey USA


Worked in the morning on several writing projects including my material culture based memoir: “Some Things of Value: A Childhood Through Objects”, my essay with my colleague Julie Steele on Valley Forge and Petersburg National Park Service sites, and some new stuff on American Mortuary practices inspired by my attendance and paper presentation at last week’s national meeting of the Association for Gravestone Studies held in Monmouth, New Jersey (USA). At about 10:30 am left Temple University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and went to Elfreth’s Alley [the oldest street in the USA) and discussed the excavations now underway, directed by my graduate student Deirdre Kelleher, ably assisted by two energetic volunteers and fellow student Matt Kalos. Three foundations have appeared (not the expected two) and need to be sorted out. Lots of stuff to think about there: the growth of 18th century Philadelphia, perhaps the first settlements there, the 19th century immigration and its impacts, all to be read through material culture; especially the remarkable surviving architecture. Greatly relieved not to get a speeding ticket as I journeyed back to Delaware City (Delaware, USA) where I answered some queries and agreed to some talks; including one on the Fourth of July!! My local historical society is busy trying to save a magnificent mid-18th century farmhouse on an imposing knoll surrounded by lowland farm ground and wetlands. Approved a draft to hopefully speed the preservation process along. Also reviewed the National Register nomination crafted by a group of us working at the Plank Log House in Marcus Hook, Pa., another early structure in the Delaware Valley. Regretfully decided that I could not attend the Fields of Conflict 7th Annual Meeting in Hungary this October. The day ended with a group response, led by my next door neighbor, to save an injured Great Blue Heron which found itself in front of our house. By 8:00 pm the heron was revived and taken care of at a friend’s animal hospital!

David G. Orr, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


I spent the day doing fieldwork at Elfreth’s Alley in Old City Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA) as part of my doctoral research.  Elfreth’s Alley, designated as a National Historical Landmark, is credited with being one of the oldest residential streets in the nation.  My research seeks to illuminate the lives of the inhabitants on the Alley, especially the many European immigrants who resided on the small street during the nineteenth century.  This summer, I am working behind 124 and 126 Elfreth’s Alley which house a small museum and gift shop.  During the day I worked with volunteers from the local community who came out to learn about and participate in the excavation.  I also spent time discussing my project with the many visitors who came to the Museum of Elfreth’s Alley.

Deirdre Kelleher, Doctoral Student, Temple University, Department of Anthropology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


I am a Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA) lecturer who teaches in three programs (Anthropology, Art History, Cultural Heritage); I also am a sole proprietor archaeological consultant with 25 years of archaeological experience – every day is always busy, diverse in the tasks and projects I work on, and linked with archaeology and anthropology. Today I: 1. Finished and submitted a review for a textbook on on Native American history and culture to a major publisher of archaeology and anthropology texts 2. Submitted an application to be listed as an independent archaeological consultant for the state of Pennsylvania 3. Gathered material for, and started writing a draft of, a syllabus for one of three courses I will be teaching next fall (“Cemeteries, Monuments, and Memorials: Cultural Heritage and Remembering the Dead”) 4. Wrote a short draft of an invited book contribution on the topic of an Alaskan archaeological site I helped to excavate in 1987 and 1994.

Katharine Woodhouse-Beyer


I just returned from a visit to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, where I viewed the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Franklin Institute in which the accompanying artifacts of everyday life illuminate the scrolls themselves. I also was privileged to enjoy a preview of reconstructed transfer-printed creamware pitchers that will be included in an exhibit commemorating the War of 1812.  Curiosity about the images of naval engagements on these Philadelphia artifacts led me to explore similar prints offered on the websites of antique print dealers as well as on the Library of Congress Guide to the War of 1812. Researching Melungeons in aid of a relative’s family history quest, I examined Kenneth B. Tankersley’s work about the Red Bird River Shelter petroglyphs in Clay County, KY.

K. L. Brauer, Maryland, USA


June 26, 2012

Today, at Drexel University (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA), I met with two Digital Media undergraduates developing digital assets representing the James Oronoco Dexter House, the site of which was excavated in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.  The 3D model will eventually serve as a virtual environment in which users interact with avatars and take part in “possible” conversations that led to the formation of the African Church, later known as, The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, which are known to have occurred in this home. Jason Kirk, a junior who received a Steinbright Career Development Center Research Co-op Award to work on the project, is completing the latest digital model.  Jason and I met with freshman Joseph Tomasso who received a Pennoni Honor’s College STAR (Students Tracking Advanced Research) Fellowship to work on the project. Today is Joe’s first day on the summer term Fellowship. He will develop digital 3D models of appropriate furniture and furnishings that will be used to populate the house.  Virtual artifacts will include ceramics recovered from the archaeological site that are believed to be associated with Dexter’s occupation.  The purpose of the meeting was to prepare for a session with Independence National Historical Park representatives on Wednesday, June 27th.  At that Park meeting we will review the house model and will discuss appropriate virtual furnishings with Park experts.  The model has been prepared with advice from archaeologists Jed Levin and Doug Mooney (who excavated and interpreted the Dexter House site) and guidance from Public Archaeologist, Patrice Jeppson and Karie Diethorn, Chief Curator Independence National Historical Park.

Glen Muschio, Associate Professor, Digital Media, Westphal College, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Doing archaeology today has entailed a wide range of activities, some not always associated in the public’s mind with archaeology.  I work for a cultural resource management firm. Today’s work has included such mundane activities as reviewing contracts to perform archaeology in Bucks County and the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, USA; firming up logistical efforts to meet with a geomorphologist tomorrow in Delaware County (Pennsylvania); and checking time statements. Fortunately, the day also included putting the finishing touches on an archaeological monitoring report for work in Bucks County. This required nailing down dates for two artifacts found in association with a house foundation. I learned that Pennsylvania in the 1920s and 1930s stamped out automobile license plates with the year that they were issued. I also learned, through a historical marker database on the internet, that the Trenton Brewing company was incorporated in 1891 as a side line business of an ice company and stopped using the name by 1899. These two objects helped to bracket the date of the foundation that had been encountered.  In comparison to the mundane business aspect of doing archaeology, the historical information about the two artifacts, brightened my day.

Kenneth J. Basalik, Ph.D. Pennsylvania USA



I work for an engineering company in Pennsylvania (USA) and serve as the Vice President of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). In the course of the day I went over plans for field and laboratory work for a Phase II bridge replacement project that will be starting shortly outside of Philadelphia. I spent time researching the status of industrial archaeological sites in the city for an encyclopedia article. Indications are that in some neighborhoods in the city, between 1990 and 2007, as many of 50% of the documented and listed industrial archaeological sites were completely or partially demolished, or were abandoned or fell into disrepair. In other neighborhoods with higher property values, more sites were preserved by adaptive reuse. In addition, I spent a portion of the day reviewing and proofreading comments on a visit to a laboratory for a major urban archaeological project in Philadelphia.  In the evening, I attended the monthly meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF), an organization that works to promote archaeology in the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia).  After the meeting, I began reviewing the report summary for Phase IB/II testing and the data recovery plan for a major highway project in the city. The goal will be to prepare comments on the documents for submission to the agency that is sponsoring the project, on behalf of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum.

Lauren Cook, Registered Professional Archaeologist, Philadelphia, PA

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.
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.
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.
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…
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 (, 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.

Writing, Tweeting, and Course Prep.

I am an archaeology news junkie. I like to read about it and write about it. So, like most days, I made several forays to my twitter site ( to see what is happening in the world of archaeology. I  tend to make several tweets a day, mostly related to archaeology, but occasionally I will tweet about issues related to the Indigenous  Peoples of North America or human biological evolution as well.

I have also been working on a column I am writing for the American Anthropological Association’s on-line “Anthropology News” . I write a monthly op/ed column called ‘Archaeology in North America’.  I just started drafting the column today and will revise and submit it tomorrow. It will appear on the Anthropology News web site sometime in July. The topic for the July column is on the emergent subfield of glacier and ice patch archaeology in North America, and the urgency to record the remains now being exposed by the rapidly melting ice and snow.

Another bit of writing I did today was to draft a report on my recently completed field project in the forests of west coast of Canada. I made a separate entry to Day of Archaeology 2012 on that (Archaeology of a Japanese Camp in Western Canada).

I am also drafting some syllabi for some courses I will be teaching in the Fall term. I am astutely aware that those great ideas for teaching that I have in June often translate into an enoromous workload for both the students and me in the Fall, so am trying to be cautious and reign my ideas in.  One of the courses I will be teaching is on the Indigenous Peoples of North America, and I am anxious to use my most recent book for that. (Indigenous Peoples of North America: A Concise Anthropological Overview).

Archaeology of a Japanese camp in Western Canada

One week as passed since the seven week fieldwork portion of an archaeology project I direct has passed, and for at least part of the day I am trying to make sense of it, and put the highlights into a report for the principal stakeholders.  The fieldwork focussed on an early 20th century Japanese camp in the forests of western Canada, and the work was undertaken primarily by those enroled in a university field school.  Those interested in the project  may want to take a look at a blog one of the students maintained. During the course of the field school, the blog had more than 3,000 hits from 20 countries, ranging alphbetically from Argentina to Zimbabwe. The blog includes daily posts, with multiple photos each day and severa video clips.

The site is unique, perhaps the only of its kind in North America, with a bathhouse, gardens, considerable evidence of women, and at least several cabins (rather than a typical bunkhouse and central mess hall). The peak period of occupation was clearly as a logging camp for a few years around 1920 and was probably exclusively Japanese.  The focus of the 2012 excavations was to get a good idea about the camp layout, with a view to making it an interpretive stop along a nearby trailway, and to test the hypothesis that after its initial use as a logging camp a small group of Japanese continued to secretly occupy the camp until the early 1940s.

The report I am writing includes a section on the primary objectives of the project, which include training university students in field archaeology, documenting heritage resources in this heavily-forested area, making scholarly contributions to the archaeology of logging camps and Asian-American sites, and public education about archaeology and local history.

Now a heavily forested area near Vancouver, Canada, several decades ago this was a Japanese camp, with several cabins, gardens, and a bathhouse.

In order to write the report, I have been reviewing the artifact catalog, about 600 pages of field notes, and student reports which include maps and analytical reports. My tentative interpretation is that there were at least several cabins located along two wooden plank roads, the site was unique insofar as it was laid out with many typical Japanse features, and that it probably did continue to be occupied secretly by Japanese from the mid 1920s to the early 1940s. I only have circumstantial evidence so far though. I hope to find evidence of a post 1920s occupation in the severa hundred artifacts collected.