stone tools

Is it Déjà vu All Over Again?

Life at the Alfred W. Bowers W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology (AWBLA) is progressing into the summer months with its usual stately grace. The frantic pace of the semester has grudgingly given way to long hours in overwarm rooms. Staff members work determinedly to impose order on our many collections while finding creative excuses to work in the climate controlled Repository. The AWBLA is located on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho. The Laboratory also serves as the Archaeological Survey of Idaho, Northern Repository and holds 748 collections unique to that function. The Laboratory also houses several other collections unaffiliated with the Repository, most notable among them being: the Asian American Comparative Collection, the Donald E. Crabtree Lithic Comparative Collection, and Pacific Northwest Anthropological Archive. These collections are well recognized and undeniably among the most prestigious elements of our facility. Although highly prized, these resources have a seemingly endless list of needs that must be met as new artifacts are added, technology advances, curatorial practices shift, or even as the Laboratory redefines its purpose. As a result, Collection Managers at this Laboratory have been accessioning, rehousing, or modifying these collections for decades. As the years pass and our work on the collections continues, part of my brain whispers “It’s like deja vu all over again.” So, on this hot day in July, the amazing staff members of the Laboratory of Anthropology log in and settle down to do some serious work that few will ever appreciate. Over the course of a day, the dedication of the morning starts to fray a bit and the radio stations get a little louder, some people have disappeared into audio books, while others have mysterious means that involve laughing aloud to something no one else can hear. No one says anything about someone else’s coping mechanism. Here again, part of my brain starts whispering. This time it says, hang in there and remember “90% of the game is half mental.” The extreme tedium and almost hypnotic quality of the work is soothing for some and meditative for others. However, there are those days where the silent susurration of papers or the repetitive activity of cataloguing feels like a slow crawl toward madness. As all archaeologists, curators, preservationists, and related professionals know – this job is not for the faint of heart or undisciplined mind. Projects can take months, years, and for one of the collections we recently finished rehabilitating, a solid decade. People assume that because of the work we do that archaeologists are patient and calm people but that isn’t always the case. I for one can be marvelously impatient and often have the attitude of a caged animal. Yet I understand it isn’t about what my brain can tolerate, it is about the stack of papers that needs to be preserved for people I have never met, or the organization of a collection of Fire-Affected-Rock for a researcher that hasn’t been born yet. A determined mind and a belief that what we do serves some kind of purpose is what keeps our hands moving when our ability to focus is being lured away by a gloriously sunny day. Year in and year out we may work on the same project with good days and hard days thrown in the mix but eventually, we get to the point where we slide a box on a shelf and say “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

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This archaeological collection consists of approximately 75 cubic feet and contains well over 16000 artifacts. Given the size and complexity of the collection, nearly inscrutable field records, and vagaries of funding, it took ten years to bring to completion. After working on it for so long, I doubt it will be ever be “over”.

Leah K. Evans-Janke, Ph.D.

Collections Manager, Archaeological Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology University of Idaho

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A portion of the Pacific Northwest Anthropological Archive. By December of this year, some of these books will be made available to the public, students, staff, and other interested researchers through the University of Idaho Library as non-circulating resources. The project is slated to be completed in the next few years as more than 15,000 items go online.

Alyssa Griffith

Laboratory Technician

As an employee of the Alfred Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology, I get to work on different projects throughout the year. My current project is working to integrate the Pacific Northwest Archaeological Archives (PNWAA), housed here at the lab, into the existing University of Idaho library system. The goal of this project is to make the archives more accessible, visible, and searchable so that they can be utilized by researchers, students and members of the public. In order to integrate the PNWAA into the U of I library system, I am tasked with finding Library of Congress (LOCs) numbers for each book in the archive. The library uses these LOCs to electronically catalogue and shelve books. At first glance, it seems like a simple task. In books recently published (the last 20-30 years), the LOC is usually located on the copyright page along with the publisher’s information. The challenge comes from trying to find LOCs for older books, obscure periodicals and foreign publications, of which the archive has many. The Library of Congress has an online search engine to assist in finding the LOC numbers for these kinds of archival materials but it is hardly ever a straightforward query. In fact, it’s more akin to an electronic scavenger hunt at times, requiring multiple search engines and websites to find the information I’m looking for. Never a dull moment here at the lab!IMAGE 3

Overview of Michelle’s desk. Each staff member, or “Labbie”, spends so much time here that we get a bit attached to our space and make it into a home-away-from-home. Michelle, like all Labbies, has nestled her work in and among the artifacts of her life.

Michelle Sing

Laboratory Technician

On this fine and glorious eleventh of July, I find myself numbering endless documents that once belonged to the much esteemed Don Crabtree. Since my fellow Bower’s labbie Dakota Wallen will explain most of the project, I will refrain from detailing more. For my own experience on this Day of Archaeology, I find myself wondering what project I was working on one year ago to compare it to my tedious, though important, work of today. Last July, I was cataloging items from a well located during the Cyrus-Jacobs Uberuaga project from the 2012 summer field season in Boise. I remember how excited I was to spend hours piecing together old mason jars, perfume bottles, and ceramics. Basically, it was one big puzzle that was conveniently labeled as archaeology (or, more specifically, lab work). Today, I spend endless hours numbering Crabtree documents Ce.10.1.4… Ce.10.1.5…Ce.10.1.6…Ce.10.1.4…Oops, got distracted by a hang nail. Ce.10.1.7…..). Clearly, my work last year was about 1000 pieces of glass better, but I have found that all archaeological work has its perks and importance. Working with the Crabtree collection has shown me quite a bit of the evolution of flintknapping and archaeology (I count myself lucky to be working in the field when it is less sexist). The knowledge we have since found from Crabtree’s time has painted a more complete picture of lithics in Idaho and beyond. And there is still more to learn. As I continue to number my documents (while longing to be outside in the lovely Idaho summer), I know none of that knowledge is possible without me cataloging and analyzing away. So, this summer I will continue to preserve the work of Don Crabtree and know I am contributing to a long line of knowledge in my field.

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Overview of Dakota’s desk. One of Dakota’s strategies for dealing with the tedium of numbering papers is to obsessively collect every piece of metal he removes the documents prior to their scanning and eventual long term storage. The pile in the left hand corner of the image has been growing steadily over the past seven months and has become a fixture in the Laboratory.

Dakota Wallen

Laboratory Technician

A graduate student in archaeology, I work as a Laboratory Technician for the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology at the University of Idaho. I have been processing the Donald E. Crabtree Lithic Technology Collection for 7 months now. Crabtree donated his library, most of his documents, replicas, and artifacts that he made to the University of Idaho when he died. Crabtree is very famous in lithic technology because he was a flintknapper extraordinaire who taught himself how to replicate the stone tools and projectile points found so often at archaeological sites. After teaching himself he began flintknapping field schools and taught the first generation of flintknapping archaeologists. He also made educational films about making stone tools, gave flintknapping demonstrations at the Smithsonian and consulted on projects as small as local Idaho surveys to the Leakey’s projects in East Africa. Crabtree’s artifacts have been well cared for and catalogued, however his documents and library have not. The entire collection was catalogued with no particular order; articles were mixed in with wedding announcements, correspondence, rough drafts of publications, and other miscellany. It remained that way for 30 years and now it is organized so anyone wishing to do research on the collection can actually find relevant materials and look through specific documents and categories. With the collection reorganized the remaining work is quite menial. I arrive at the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology at 8:00am. The work room is already uncomfortably warm, so I turn on our little old air conditioning unit, which will struggle all day to keep the room a not so comfortable 80 degrees. I open a gray archival quality box and dive right into work . . . numbering pieces of paper. Okay so maybe it is not quite that bad, the papers are documents from the Donald E. Crabtree Lithic Technology Collection after all. I grab a folder of alphabetized and chronologically ordered correspondence and begin assigning catalog numbers so that we can keep track of documents. If people came and did research with the collection it is important to be able to know how many documents were there before and after the collection was used, in case anything was stolen, removed or misplaced. After numbering a few hundred pages of correspondence I take a break to check some thesis research related emails. Budgets have finally been approved; they have been pending since February but get finalized in July. After learning this I also find out that the project deadline is actually August 1st. There was 6 months to do the project, but the funds were not yet available so now there is only a month to complete the project. I consult with my major professor and he suggests telling them when it will realistically be completed, our plans to do so and that I should say he said to do it because in his words “he is pretty famous.” After this good news I head back to work, more page numbering. If I come across any staples, paperclips or any other metal objects they need to be removed to protect the longevity of the collection from rust and other problems metal implements can cause to documents. After numbering all of the pages they will eventually be entered into a database, many of the documents will also be scanned so that they can be accessed digitally, which will prevent damage to many of the more fragile documents. It sounds awful numbering papers all day, but it’s not so bad. Working with the great group of employees at the Bowers Lab makes work enjoyable, and if no one else is around there are always audiobooks to fill the void!

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The completely reliable, if somewhat contrary, copier/scanner that Samantha has lovingly nicknamed “Satan”.

Samantha Widner

Laboratory Technician

I am a senior at the University of Idaho working towards my BS in Anthropology. I have been working here at the Laboratory of Anthropology for a year and a half. I have spent the last 4 months working on the Don Crabtree Collection with Dakota Wallen. My specific job is digitize all correspondence and other donated material. On a typical day, I arrive at the lab around 10:00am and go directly to scanning. Unfortunately our scanner is located in a separate room from the main lab so I spend most of the day by myself. At first I struggled with the isolation of the scanning, but as time has passed I have adapted to it, while racking up some impressive Pandora hours. Scanning for 8 hours a day is as exciting as it sounds, but I occasionally come across some interesting finds in my work. I’ve found mentions of the Leakeys and their work in Africa, amusing stamps and cards, and what might be my favorite find to date. In a correspondence to his French associate Dr. Crabtree opened his letter by stating “How about that Apollo 11”. When the scanner is in an agreeable mood I can scan a thousand or more pages a week, however, any of my coworkers would tell you that the struggle with the scanner is real, and finding it in an agreeable mood is a rare. Overall I enjoy working at the lab, both for the opportunities it provides, and because of the people who work here with me.

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.

Flint, Finds and Fieldwork!

Hi my name is Josie Mills, I’m an MSc researcher at UCL and am currently working on the Ice Age Island project on Jersey!

Our day on the Ice Age Island project (see here for more info) began bright and early as the team amassed to clean and tidy the base post our mid-dig party, sending off our first team of student volunteers, who leave the project on Saturday.

As our project is based in two places, one dig, one archiving, after breakfast I jumped into a car heading to Jersey Heritage Stores, where we are in the process of archiving some 94,000 flints excavated from La Cotte de St. Brelade in the 1970s (see here for more info).

Before the students arrived at the store I spent some time with Dr. Chantal Conneller looking through the collections from the North Coast of Jersey for evidence of Mesolithic stone tools. These collections are particularly fascinating because they span the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic but also have stone tools from the Mesolithic and Neolithic. It just shows the sheer importance of the North Coast of Jersey as an archaeological landscape, perhaps because of the wide clear view across the, now submerged, topography that would have existed throughout much of the Ice Age.

CoastlineA view of the North Coast from Grosnez

Usually we have one student in the stores to get experience of the archive system and the bigger picture of how our re-organisation effort will allow the stone tools to be studied by location in the site, helping us to understand specific areas of activity and raw material use. Today we had two students Eloise and Stacey, who spent the morning writing new bags for artefacts and organising them into boxes.

10393891_10154328764480366_4380804967825527440_nUCL students Eloise and Stacey working in the stores

After lunch there was an earthquake, the biggest on Jersey for around 200 years – fortunately everyone and the site was fine!

BsRUeUnCQAAOmL2.jpg-largeMe with the large flint nodule at the Houge Bie geology museum

I rounded off my archaeological day with a visit to the geology section of the Hougue Bie Museum. Where I got to see a giant flint nodule dredged from the Casquet Reef, near Alderney, which is very exciting for my dissertation research based on flint provenancing in the Channel area.

Tracing Neandertal Territories in the Mountains of Southeast France

Day of Archaeology 2013 for me means being away on 2 months of fieldwork in the southern Massif Central, France.  I’ve been contributing to DOA since 2011, and if you look back, it’s clear a lot has changed  since then (see my four 2011 posts, and 2012). After my PhD I was searching for a postdoc for several years, ran out of time and money to keep looking, and ended up seredipitously with a contract to write a book about humans and birds in prehistory.

I thought that would be it, and that the 2013 Day of Archaeology would take place without a contribution from me. But it seems that archaeology wasn’t quite done with me…

My workspace at the field station, Laussonne, Haut Loire

My workspace at the field station, Laussonne, Haut Loire

As I wrote in a postscript comment to my post last year, only a few days after writing about the difficult process of changing paths from a research career to one focused on writing and wider communication, an email dropped into my inbox from the European Commission offering the very last postdoc funding I applied for- a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship to work in at the PACEA lab, Universite of Bordeaux. After a lot of soul-searching on the wisdom of doing another 180 degree turn in my life trajectory, and talking with my husband about him coming out with me, I decided to go for it. And so here I am, in the mountains of the Massif Central!

Laussonne map

Laussonne map

The field station for Archeo-Logis at Laussonne, Haut Loire

The field station for Archeo-Logis at Laussonne, Haut Loire

My postdoc is focused on two elements: training in a new skill (the Marie Curie Fellowships are especially concerned with career development), and applying this method to an archaeological context. I’ve written on my own blog in more detail about my project, which is called TRACETERRE. This stands for “Tracing Neandertal Territories: Landscape Organisation and Stone Resource Management“. It’s part of a larger collaborative project directed by my boss, Jean-Paul Raynal, and Marie-Helene Moncel.

Essentially I’ll be learning a detailed geological technique called petro-archaeology, that allows us to determine where in the landscape Neandertals were obtaining the raw materials to make their stone tools. Specifically, we are especially interested in the flint sources: most of the geology in the area is igneous, which means it comes from volcanic action (the Massif Central is a world famous centre for volcanology, where you can see virtually every type of volcano and lava).

Sancy Massif

Sancy Massif, north of where I am based, showing volcanic formations

It’s possible to make stone tools from these kinds of rocks, but they are often very hard, and can also be coarse. Flint is a sedimentary rock, meaning it forms from the slow accumulation of mineral deposits. Flint is famous for the high quality tools that can be made from it, because of the predictable way it fractures. It’s often associated with Cretaceous chalk deposits, such as the big cliffs in the southern UK, where you can see black bands of flint nodules. So flint forms in marine contexts, but it can also form in other situations such as in lakes.
Although there are few primary sources of flint in the Massif Central (i.e. outcrops of rock containing flint), there are many different secondary sources. These can be eroded outcrops, material washed into river gravels and other kinds of sources. My training will be in identifying these secondary types of sources, based on the way the outer surface of flint cobbles changes during the process of first formation, erosion and later exposure at archaeological sites.

Some of the geological reading I've been getting up to speed on. Volcanoes galore!

Some of the geological reading I’ve been getting up to speed on. Volcanoes galore!

Because there are more than 70 different secondary sources in the region which have been painstakingly identified over more than thirty years (by Paul Fernandes, who will train me), this is too much to try to attempt to learn in two years. So I will be using a source-centred approach, where I look at one flint source, and see how this particular rock has been used by Neandertals. In particular, we are interested in where this rock ends up: which caves or open-air archaeological sites is it found in? And secondly, in what form does it occur: as finished tools, raw blocks, or flakes of stone that have been struck off blocks (cores) but not yet made into tools.

Finding these things out can tell us a huge amount about techno-economics: the way in which Neandertals were choosing to organise their exploitation of resources on landscape scales. For example, working out which types of technology they used to make tools and which stages of tool production occur where can reveal the level of investment of energy: were they making tools quickly, and dropping them soon afterwards? Or were they carefully choosing which kinds of tools to make, and which ones to take with them in toolkits, maintaining them by re-sharpening? Both these strategies can be used as adaptations to different situations, particularly the level of mobility.

A handaxe, one type of tool Neandertals seem to have carried with them as part of mobile toolkits, which could be re-sharpened and used in many tasks. This one is from near Bournemouth, UK

A handaxe, one type of tool Neandertals seem to have carried with them as part of mobile toolkits, which could be re-sharpened and used in many tasks. This one is from near Bournemouth, UK

The question of Neandertal mobility is also a key reason for studying in such detail the different sources of stone used. We want to know where the stone from a flint source was going: which sites is it found in? How far was flint being transported, especially in comparison to other stone types? We can even begin to work out the paths taken through the landscape by Neandertals: did they have to cross rivers, high mountainous areas? Which passes would have been likely to be used? We also plan to excavate at the flint source itself, to see what activities were taking place, and also which tools came from other places in the landscape.

We can then begin, by combining all the geological and techno-economic data, to build up a detailed understanding of the inter-connections between different parts of the landscape that Neandertals were living in. And this is just the stone tools: other parts of the archaeological record, such as animal bones preserved in caves, are studied by other project members. We can use these to determine things like what season people were living at sites, and where they were probably hunting the animals in the landscape.

Gravel bar system, Switzerland- one example of a secondary source of stone. Image used with permission via Creative Commons: " I, Paebi [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons"

Gravel bar system, Switzerland- one example of a secondary source of stone. Image used with permission via Creative Commons: ” I, Paebi CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons”

All this creates a web of the palaeo-landscapes that Neandertals were inhabiting. But the impact of sourcing flint tools goes even further, because if we can map the extent of inhabited landscapes, we can start to think about territories. This is crucial because territories are not just regions full of resources- they probably were also involved in defining social interactions between different Neandertal groups. This is something we are still learning how to measure, but it has huge significance because different kinds of territories and social interactions suggests particular cognitive capacities. This is of course one of the key areas of research in human evolution: how did Neandertals differ from us, and how were they similar? Did they have similar webs of social connections, or were they living local, isolated lives in small groups that did not regularly meet? If this was the case, how did they find mates, and prevent huge in-breeding? All these fundamental questions can be advanced by new data and investigations such as the research I am doing.

Right now, I’ve only been here just over a week, and am only one month into a two year postdoc. So there’s a long way left to go. But it’s very exciting, and I hope to start the petro-archaeology training and looking at the flint collections very soon. Meanwhile, there’s always time on fieldwork to have a day off, check out the local wildlife, cuisine and culture, and enjoy some of the lovely sunsets in this region. Very different landscapes to when Neandertals were living here!

 Sunset at Laussonne

Sunset at Laussonne

I am funded through a European Commission Framework 7 Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship for Career Development, and I work at the PACEA laboratory, UMR-5199, Universite Bordeaux 1.

EC logoU-Bordeaux1 logopacea logo

Archaeology at Kelly Forks, North Idaho

This 2012 field season marks the third summer that the University of Idaho (UI) has held an archaeological field school at the Kelly Forks Work Center site, a prehistoric upland hunting camp on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in north-central Idaho. I’m Laura, a graduate student at UI and my master’s thesis will detail our investigations from 2010 through 2012. The field work schedule goes from Mondays through Thursdays so my hands and feet are cleaner today than they have been all week. I have spent my June 29th copying forms, writing emails, uploading photos, and performing a myriad of other minor tasks (removing sediment from equipment) and domestic routines (laundry) which are all reserved for Fridays. I don’t think much elaboration is needed on this aspect, but it’s all linked to recuperation from the labors of this week and preparation for that of next week. (more…)

The Business of Archaeology

Michelle Touton

While surveying, you sometimes find unexpected things–like blueberries! Yum.

I’m a project manager at a contract archaeology company, which means I have to be both an archaeologist and a businesswoman.  Anathema to purists, maybe, but in the United States most archaeology is done commercially, as part of an industry called Cultural Resource Management (CRM), and businesses need people doing business-y things to keep them running.  In CRM, developers hire archaeologists and architectural historians to help them deal with cultural resources that will be affected by their development project, in much the same way as they hire environmental scientists, traffic engineers, and architects.  We work for the developer, but our first duty is to the resources.

For me, the 2012 Day of Archaeology was pretty typical.  My primary task for the day, as it has been for the last month or so, is to continue editing a site report.  The archaeologist who wrote the report works mostly on prehistoric sites, but this report is about a historic site.  Since it’s her first historic-period report, we’re taking our time with it to teach her how to do it right.  Historic-period artifacts require completely different analysis knowledge than prehistoric artifacts (e.g., learning to recognize mold seams on bottles or differentiate fabric types in ceramics, vs. categorizing edge flaking in stone tools), which takes time to learn.  You also have more lines of evidence (in the form of historical maps and records) that you need to bring in to your analysis.  Work on the report has been slow-going because I often am too busy with other things to get a chance to work on it.

The Day Begins

My first task upon getting to the office–after brewing a pot of tea, of course–is to check in with our people in the field.  Today we have two field projects going on, both of which are in the monitoring stage.  “Monitoring” means that an archaeologist watches the construction crew as they dig, in order to spot any emerging resources (artifacts/sites/etc.) before they’re damaged or destroyed.  Monitoring is usually done after we’ve already done testing and evaluation of anything we know is on site, and is largely a failsafe to protect things we didn’t know were there.

(more…)

A Day with Field Archaeologists in the Republic of Macedonia

6:00 am
I wake up. My colleague who came from the Archaeological Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia is my guest these days. We drink our first cup of coffee and exchange opinions about today’s trip. We have a really busy agenda and we begin slowly to sort out and prepare all the equipment we need for the field.

Prospecting St. Atanas site, Macedonia

07:00 am
We are on the highway from Skopje to Eastern Macedonia. The road to the small town of Kochani takes no more than 1 hour and 15 minutes. Our colleague, archaeologist Ilinka Atanasova is already waiting for us. Together we leave Kochani towards the archaeological site of St. Atanas located a few miles from this city. The prehistoric site of Eneolithic period with outstanding findings of female figurines has been attracting the attention of the scientific community for several years, since it was prospected and excavated in 2008. But we are more focused on the chipped stone material that is my subspecialty in archaeology. While our colleague is explaining the artefacts of the site, we are observing profiles of the trenches where in the soil there are still embedded flint tools.

Eneolthic figurines from the Republic of Macedonia, St. Atanas site

10:30 am

The stone collection from mine Opalite

Our visit to the mine “Opalit” is scheduled before. This mine for non-metals (opal, agate, chalcedony, opalized tuffa) is located 1 km from the site of St. Atanas. Several years ago this mine was my topic of interest as a possible location where prehistoric communities of the region and beyond obtained raw material for their stone tools. The same goes for my colleague from Bulgaria, who tests the assumption that some raw materials for stone tools found at prehistoric sites along the Struma in Bulgaria came from this deposit. We walk around and observe the surface deposits in search of possible quarries made by prehistoric communities. We take photos and document the information for my doctoral dissertation.

13:30 pm
We arrive at the Institute of History and Archaeology at the University of Stip, my home institution. A meeting with prof. d-r. Blazo Boev, my mentor for the thesis, is very useful. The long talk covers all my notes from today and personal opinions on the subject of local resources for stone in prehistoric Macedonia. Any information fills in and shapes my thesis towards this topic.

14:45 pm
Driving to the city of Vinica, our final destination for today. In a local “Terracotta Museum” there is a small collection of ground and abrasive stone tools from the archaeological site ‘Vinica Fortress’. I feel a moral and professional responsibility to help with this topic, since I’m the only archaeologist in Macedonia working with stone artefacts from prehistory. While I am getting all information about the field notes and stratigraphy, I am thinking about possibility to come again with my mentor. We could work together and process this collection for scientific publication. In the meantime we managed to visit the site ‘Vinica Fortress’, the fortification from the time of Justinian I, which is a trademark of the town of Vinica.

Ground and abrasive stone tools vrom Vinica Fortress (Eneolithic)

17:00
We get back to Skopje. We are home and I began to check and answer emails, facebook and twitter messages. My archaeological day has not yet been completed. I need to sort all impressions, notes and photos from the past day in the folders to be usable in the future for me or for someone else.

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This article was written as part of the action for ‘Day of Archaeologists’ (June 29, 2012). The goal is to raise public awareness of cultural heritage and the responsibility that archaeologists have about it.

Tracking Ice Age Mammoths

In my last post, I talked about the main project I’m currently working on, which is studying the stone tools made by the last Neanderthals at the site of La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey. This collapsed cave site is well-known not only for the richness of its deposits, but also for the famous ‘bone heaps’ of woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros remains found in the 1960s-70s excavations. These have been interpreted as the remains of a mass-kill by early Neanderthals driving herds off the cliffs into the ravine.

Standing below the site of La Cotte de St Brelade. The rock arch in shadow opens out into the ravine.

Another project I am working on today is aimed at testing this theory, as well as providing rare information about the migratory behaviour of ice age megafauna. These are the large, often formidable beasts that lived alongside the last Neanderthals: mammoth and woolly rhino, giant deer, horse, bison and the extinct ancestors of  today’s domesticated cows.

In 2010 I set up a project with Geoff Smith and Sarah Viner that uses isotopic analysis of ancient teeth to determine mobility of Pleistocene megafauna.  The Pleistocene covers roughly the million years before the end of the last ice age, but at the moment we are focusing on investigating sites during the time of the Neanderthals, which is mid-late Pleistocene. Our first site is La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey, which we are working on with the Quaternary Archaeology and Environments of Jersey project. We can use the Strontium isotopes present in an individuals’ teeth to determine their movements over different periods. Simply put, we can find out if an animal whose remains ended up at La Cotte had spent time in other regions of the landscape. Isotopic analysis works based on how different geology affects the levels of Strontium isotopes present in drinking water, which gets laid down in animals’ and peoples’ teeth.

This kind of direct measure of animal (and human) mobility is still quite rare for this period, although one Neanderthal from Lakonis in Greece has been published. We want to understand how animals that Neanderthals were hunting were moving around: for example, were mammoths great travellers as African elephants today can be? And were Pleistocene reindeer going on vast annual migrations as we can see in herds from Alaska in modern times? This information will help build models about how Neanderthals may have been following or intercepting megafauna at various points in the landscape. As Neanderthal fossils themselves are so precious, it’s unlikely we will be able to directly measure the mobility of many more individuals for some time. Until then, we can use animal movements to provide a framework alongside other measures for Neanderthal mobility such as transport of stone tools. At La Cotte, we may also be able to test whether the bone heaps are really mass-kills by determining if the bones represent  herds that had moved around together, and then were killed in one event.

With some of the La Cotte de St Brelade collections, Jersey Museum.

We received funding this year from the Societe Jersiaise, the island of Jersey’s learned society, to do pilot analysis on six samples of mammoth and horse teeth, which Sarah will be undertaking very soon. Today I am working on finding more funding to allow us to increase the number of samples from the site. This involves trawling various websites of funding bodies to see whether we are eligible or not for different grants. We’re in a difficult situation, as only one of us (Sarah) currently has a Postdoc, and is therefore affiliated to an Institution, which rules us out of a lot of grants. At the same time, current Postdocs are ineligible to apply for other kinds of funding, meaning that early career researchers in our position really struggle to get projects off the ground independently.

We are hopeful however that the pilot study will provide positive results which will allow us to apply for more extended funding from particular sources, and keep building up the project profile while I apply for Postdoc funding separately.

My last post for today will be a round-up of the other things I’ve been working on, including writing a funding application to work on a French project on Neanderthal landscape use.

Another kind of human: researching Neanderthal archaeology

As I described in my first post, my research is on the last Neanderthals, a field I find fascinating through the ‘alternate universe’ of hunter-gatherer adaptations and lifeways they represent as a different kind of human. I’m a lithics geek, which means I study, in loving detail, the stone tools that Neanderthals made and which were fundamental to their everyday lives. My PhD involved looking at the evidence from Britain of the re-occupation by Neanderthals of this landscape around 55,000 years ago, after they had been absent for about a hundred thousand years. This meant in practice spending a year visiting a LOT of museums, to record information from over 1000 stone tools. This might sound like a big number, but in fact it’s a very small sample when you’re talking about sites which probably span over 10,000 years in time. Big French cave sites of the same period can have ten times that amount of lithics from a single occupation layer.

After this recording phase was another year (or two…) of data crunching to find out what the stones were telling me. The results showed that Neanderthals moving into Britain during a very unstable climatic period (termed Marine Isotope Stage 3; we’re now at Stage 1, and the last proper ice age was Stage 2) were living very mobile lives, with a highly organized technological strategy that promoted flexibility in their tool production and maintenance.  So where am I now two years later, on 29th July in 2011?

At the moment I have several different projects, and multi-tasking is definitely something as a researcher you need to get to grips with. I’ve just got back from three-weeks of fieldwork in Jersey, as part of a really exciting project called the Quaternary Archaeology and Environments of Jersey, which will be featured in the first episode of the new Digging for Britain tv series. Although Jersey is a small island, it has a fantastically rich archaeological record.  We’re interested in the hunter-gatherers who lived there from the Neanderthals right up to the people who lived in the forested landscapes after the last ice age. My part in the project is to study the lithics (stone tools) from the upper layers of one of the most important Neanderthal sites in the world, a collapsed cave/ravine called La Cotte de St Brelade.

La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey. The original excavations were underneath and behind the rock arch, originally thought to be a cave until the roof of sediment collapsed in the early 20th century.

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A Day in Japanese Archaeological Laboratory

I’m an archaeologist living and working in Japan. I’m a researcher of Meiji University Archaeological Investigation Unit. This unit is organized for preventive excavation within university campus.

In Japan, all archaeological sites are conserved under the national law. Local governments develop a registration map of archaeological sites and check all land development. In order to keep to the law, all developer and constructor – not only commercial sector but also public/administrative sector- must make an effort to conserve archaeological sites within their development/ construction area. If they cannot change their plans, they must do excavation. More than 95% of excavations carried out in Japan are this type – preventive excavation…documentation before destruction of sites for those 40yrs.

As you know Japan has large population- about 120 million- in small land. Most parts of our landscape are hilly or mountainous, so our living spaces are definitely limited and overlaid on ancestor’s lived space. This is the cause of so many excavations – more than 8,000 in average/year and the peak was about 12,000 in 1996…- have done every year.

In 2004, our project was started. It was for the construction of new buildings of the university affiliated junior-high and high school. At first we did survey and sounding in total 40,000 sq-meters area, then begun excavation in 18,000 sq-meters area. The excavation continued for 2 years and 5 months – more than 800 days. We unveiled Modern Age (including Imperial Japanese Army and occupation Allied Force sites during WWII ), Jomon Age (mostly Middle Jomon, 6-4.5ka) and the Upper Palaeolithic Age (32-16ka). Now I’m constructing web-site for our excavation (https://sites.google.com/site/japarchresources/ :it’s not completed) .

aerial view of our excavation area in 2005

aerial view of our excavation area in 2005

excavation of the Upper Palaeolithic living floor

excavation of the Upper Palaeolithic living floor

excavation of a shelter for air fighter of Imperial Japanese Army during WWII

excavation of a shelter for air fighter of Imperial Japanese Army during WWII

documentation of the Late Pleistocene staratigraphy

documentation of the Late Pleistocene staratigraphy

Our excavation was finished in Dec,2007. However it means finishing just the first step only in the field… we have more than 500 containers filled with artefacts such as: 5,000 potsherd and 40,000 pebbles of Jomon, 25,000 lithics and 90,000 pebbles of the Upper Palaeolithic, more than 200GB of digital images and measurement datum by total station system… and so on.

Since 2008, we’re engaging with the post-excavation procedure and it will continue until 2015. We have published the 1st volume of our excavation report this May and will publish other 5 volumes over 5 years.

This is our background. And here I show our habitual day in post-excavation laboratory of our investigation unit. Now we’re tackling with Jomon and the Upper Palaeolithic materials.

The first section is for Upper Palaeolithic pebble refitting work. We uncovered more than 300 stone heaps composed with 90,000 pebbles. Most of pebbles are burnt and fragments. These stone heaps are assumed for cooking, as in the Pacific ethnography.

This work has started in 2010 and will continue for the next 2 years. There are many pebbles in containers waiting for their turn…

Upper Palaeolithic pebble refitting

Upper Palaeolithic pebble refitting

Upper Palaeolithic pebble refitting(2)

Upper Palaeolithic pebble refitting(2)

These workers are from the commercial company engaging in preventive archaeology.

more pebbles are waiting their turn...

more pebbles are waiting their turn...

all containers are fulfilled with material

all containers are fulfilled with material

The second section is for Upper Palaeolithic stone tools (lithic technology) refitting. This work has started in 2007 and will finished this year.

Basically we start from distinguishing chipped stone tools and debitages into petrological classification and making sub-divisions acording to their colour, texture, micro-structure and other characteristics. This is very empiric but very efficient method. Up to now we have documented more than 6,000 cases of refitting in 25,000 specimens of lithic material. In some cases, we can reconstruct original shape of nodule and decode total sequence of knapping technology. Of course, to determine source of raw material, we apply archaeo-scientific analysis.

Lithic refitting work(1)

Lithic refitting work(1)

Lithic refitting work(2)

Lithic refitting work(2)

arrange debitages with raw material, texture and other character

arrange debitages with raw material, texture and other character

documenting which pieces are and how they are refitting in sequence

documenting which pieces are and how they are refitting in sequence

The third section is computer application for managing the database, drawing maps and artefacts, geo-spatial analysing and editing publications. We use Microsoft(R) Access(2007)(R) for database managing; Inteli CAD(6.0J) for arranging and original drawings measurement survey datum, 3-dimensional distribution maps of artefacts; Adobe(R) Illustrator(CS5)(R) for drawing artefacts and finising maps and other figures for publication; Arc GIS<sup>(R)</sup>10 for geo-spatial analysing; Adobe(R) InDesign(CS4)(R) for editing publications. Some part of these computer works are put out to commercial companies, those which have specific technique and systems.

computers in our laboratory

computers in our laboratory

a drawing of stone tool (Upper Palaeolithic backed blade)

a drawing of stone tool (Upper Palaeolithic backed blade)

drawing distribution map of Upper Palaeolithic lithic concentration

drawing distribution map of Upper Palaeolithic lithic concentration

database for chipped stone tools of Upper Palaeolithic

database for chipped stone tools of Upper Palaeolithic

geo-spatial analysing of Jomon inter-site components

geo-spatial analysing of Jomon inter-site components

Post-excavation laboratory working continues…however I hope to go back to the field…yep I should!!!!