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Archaeology and Appaloosas

Last year, several of my colleagues participated in the Day of Archaeology 2011 (Marks and Swords). I am excited and honored to contribute to this year’s posts. Today, I worked hard to keep up with my various and evolving roles as archaeologist, student, and assistant curator. As a research assistant and graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho, I carry out a variety of tasks for a large historic archaeology project from Sandpoint, Idaho, a cultural resource project I began working on as an technician five years ago (holy cow!) with the companies CH2MHill and SWCA Environmental Consultants. Simultaneously, I am in the throes of thesis research and act as a museum assistant and curator for the Appaloosa Museum and Heritage Center in Moscow, Idaho.

Dakota Smith, a.k.a. Smitty, is a classic example of an Appaloosa horse and will reside in the pasture adjacent to the museum for the summer.

This morning I awake early to tend to Smitty, the Appaloosa horse-in-residence, main feature of the Appaloosa Museum’s live exhibit, and, I’m guessing, a somewhat unusual curation circumstance for a traditional museum. Then, switching gears, I drive to the University of Idaho to put in a few hours of deaccessioning artifacts from the Sandpoint Archaeology Project collection, the largest historical archaeological collection in the state of Idaho. Myself and several other students from the University of Idaho sort through boxes (… and boxes… and boxes…) of artifacts and execute the deaccessioning procedures carefully planned by the project’s principal investigators.

Deaccessioning is a process of officially (and usually permanently) removing items from a collection, museum, or repository, a practical curation necessity in the case of the extensive Sandpoint collection. Deaccessioned artifacts will find new homes in such educational resources as historical artifact comparative collections and teaching kits. For my master’s thesis I am collaboratively developing and evaluating historical archaeology teaching kits and lesson plans based on historical research and Sandpoint project findings. The deaccessioned historical artifacts will add an experiential element to the kits and provide materials for students to analyze.

Archival safe labels, bags, and boxes are used for storing artifacts.

It’s not yet ten o’clock in the morning and I must return to the Appaloosa Museum for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. Though archaeological materials are not part of the museum’s collections, many of my curatorial tasks are similar to those performed at the archaeological repository for northern Idaho, the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology. As a new employee at a small museum I will learn a variety of often-specialized jobs such as collections management, exhibit design and maintenance, and give museum tours. Today’s tasks mostly include accessioning paperwork, data entry, updating website and social media information, greeting visitors, and answering questions. These tasks are all typical of museum work and many of the principles and processes are similar to those utilized in museums and repositories curating archaeological collections.

One aspect that is not so similar to archaeological work is the arrival of the second Appaloosa in residence for the summer, Snickers. Her arrival broke up my day and made Smitty very happy. As I write this, I begin to wonder if technically the horses should be formally documented as loans to the museum… though the horses’ owners belong to the Appaloosa Horse Club, which owns the pasture behind the museum…

Snickers and Smitty settle in to grazing.

At the end of the (official) work day I head home to develop lesson plans for the archaeology teaching kits and begin to draft a syllabus for the teacher in-service I am planning for this fall. The syllabus is a requirement of the in-service proposal I must submit to the University of Idaho and, if all goes well, teachers will be able to earn a continuing education credit while learning about archaeology and the use of the historical archaeology teaching kits (to be modeled after the well-executed in-service offered by Project Archaeology through Montana State University). After several hours our awesome neighbors invite us over to listen to some live banjo music and I take a much-needed break.

This poison bottle, one of many recovered from Sandpoint’s restricted district, is an example of a type of artifact that will be utilized in teaching collections.

Well past midnight and much later than intended, I begin updating the projects page for the Idaho Archaeological Society’s (IAS) website. Next comes this post and finally, before I nod off to sleep, I will pick up where I left off last night by reading about Basque history in preparation for the upcoming IAS archaeology project, archaeological investigations at the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House. Members of the society will be excavating the well associated with the house next to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in downtown Boise, Idaho. A perfect opportunity for publicly interpreting archaeological excavations!

If all goes well, this year will culminate in the completion of the large long-term archaeology project as well as my completion of the master’s program. As an archaeologist interested in public education and engagement, I am continually thankful to work with folks who are supportive of my teaching kit project and are enthusiastic about public education and involvement in historical archaeology.

University of Idaho

Further Reading: Sandpoint Archaeology Project

Excavated by cultural resource archaeologists between 2005-2008 prior to the construction of a byway, Sandpoint’s earliest historic district originally abutted newly-built tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad and ancient shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille before the town expanded across Sand Creek. In the thousands of years prior to the influx of railroad, lumber, and mining industries in northern Idaho at the turn of the century, tribes such as the Kallispel and Kootenai seasonally inhabited the shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille and crisscrossed the region in a transhumance cycle. (Transhumance is a seasonal cycle of moving between traditional lands.)

Though Native Americans traversed the region for thousands of years before settlers, due to the explosion of material production following the American industrial revolution and Sandpoint’s location along the railroad the majority of recovered artifacts date to the occupation of Sandpoint’s historic commercial and restricted districts – including a hotel, pharmacy, jeweler, butcher, dance hall, brothel, bordello, and saloons – along with the Humbird Lumber Mill’s technologically transitional blacksmith and machine shop, a Chinese residence and laundry, and one of the town’s first jail. Analysis of these materials in conjunction with historical research will allow archaeologists to shed light on some of the lesser-known lives of townsfolk as well as add details to the history of the town’s development and role in the beginnings of a globalizing world.

As you may have already learned from reading other great posts, the life of archaeology extends far beyond initial research or field excavations. Since archaeologists finished excavations four years ago we have catalogued the artifacts, presented initial findings at professional conferences and public lectures, are finishing up the cultural resource report for the Idaho Transportation Department, developing content for the project web page, preparing the collection for curation, anticipating the project exhibit at the Bonner County Historical Museum planned for the end of the year and have completed a variety of other tasks, some of which are being discussed by my colleagues. We are only scratching the surface and are excited for many years of analyses yet to come.

This sign was recovered during Humbird blacksmith/machine shop excavations in 2008.


Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.

 

End of the Academic Year at York

Today seems a very opportune moment to blog about my life as an archaeologist, as it’s the final day of the academic year at York, and everyone is revelling over the coming of summer.  I have something more to celebrate as well, as I’ve finally had time to sign the contract that turns my currently fixed-term position at York into an ‘open’ (permanent) lectureship.  Yay!

I have looked back at my contribution to the 2011 Day of Archaeology, and this has led me to reflect on the incredible changes that have presented themselves in my life since then.  Exactly a year and one day ago I graduated with my PhD in Archaeology from Southampton, and then left for fieldwork at Çatalhöyük.  I started my post at York in January, and at the same time as launching into the design and teaching of a series of new classes and modules, I closed off some research projects (e.g., our Wellcome Collection Brains exhibition – see photo below!) whilst embarking on others (e.g., the Urban Cultural Heritage and Creative Practice collaborative).

saraperry.wordpress.com

Me, June 2012, basking in the glow of my little acknowledgement at the Wellcome Collection exhibition, Brains: The Mind as Matter

Amidst all this activity, though, there has been one clear constant, and that is the relentless pace of scholarly life.  At any given time an academic is torn between a seemingly infinite number of obligations, and it would be difficult to accurately characterise the amount of multi-tasking—and the ever-increasing number of emails and responsibilities—that come with the job.  It’s such diversity and challenge that makes this lifestyle energising and inspiring for me—but it is also indescribably demanding, and there is a consistent concern in the back of my mind that I may have missed or skipped over something critical to my work in all the frenzy.  Today alone I had 3 student meetings and a departmental meeting to attend; I am negotiating the start-up of two new projects, and am analysing data from an ongoing project at King’s College London; I am preparing documentation for our fourth season at Çatalhöyük this summer; I am arranging a qualitative methods workshop to run in a couple of weeks, as well as helping to facilitate some filming at the Archaeology Department here in York around the same time; I have a book chapter that demands completion, along with an unspeakable number of emails in my inbox that require attention.  Even as I write this list, I can think of at least a half-dozen other tasks that need consideration.

But whilst the scale of the workload could be paralysing—or, at a minimum, disillusioning—I have moments every day where I think how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.  Most often, these moments present themselves in my interactions with students and in teaching, something which I never would have expected given that so many people seem to disparage the experience of being a teacher.  For me, however, the enthusiasm of the students at York, the chance to watch them develop and experiment with their ideas, and the opportunity to see them present their work and gain confidence in themselves and in their intellectual capacities, make my job extraordinary.  The relentless nature of academia could easily consume you, I think, but it’s in those conceptual and material engagements with others that the frenzy slips away and you’re left with a sense of real inspiration.  Indeed, for me, it’s not just inspiration, but hopefulness and excitement about what’s to come tomorrow.

Students and Teaching and Archives, Oh My…

Unusually mixed day here – started by doing an archaeology handling session with a school group – not something I usually do. With any mixed group, there are always some who want to be there, and some who don’t care, and some who really are not fussed. Two of the boys in the group were really keen – all the questions and quite a few good answers! Real highlight though was seeing the look on ALL the faces, when I pulled out a Bronze Age sword….(which they didn’t handle, as I assumed the teacher wanted to take all of them home again).

You can tell if a young student will get the archaeology bug, when you hand them a palaeolithic hand axe, and tell them it was made 200,000 years ago. Watch that sink in, and see the reaction 🙂

Got a placement student from UCL with me at the moment, and she’s doing very well – happy to lift heavy boxes, and good with kids…useful combo!

Day ended showing the placement student our painfully slow database, and stores environmental monitoring systems. Then, of course, the network came crashing down around our ears….perfect way to end a week…time to go home…

Writing and Parenting on My Day of Archaeology

Last year, I wrote a fairly general post about my life as a Roman bioarchaeologist for the Day of Archaeology – So You Want to Be a Roman Bioarchaeologist?  This year, I thought I’d write a more week-in-the-life kind of post.

For many archaeologists, the summer is prime digging season, a time to get a ton of research done and data collected.  My summer is a bit more complicated this year, though.  I am not in the field, but rather am furiously finishing up a few writing projects with end-of-summer deadlines, packing and planning to move 700 miles away for a new faculty position that starts in five weeks, and leaving the house at 2:30pm every weekday to head to summer camp, where I pick up a 3-year-old who is exhausted, sticky with sunblock, and reeking of bug spray.

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Spreading the word about archaeology in Tampa Bay: Creating an e-newsletter

As an Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network (http://www.flpublicarchaeology.org), most of my duties revolve around educating the public about Florida’s cultural resources. Today I am working on the latest installment of our e-newsletter.

For those of you not familiar with an e-newsletter, it is a newsletter that is written to be shared on electronic formats. The template is very flexible in regards to amount of content and links can be added to the document for readers to delve further into subjects if they are so inclined. This works very nicely with our other social media platforms, and the link to our e-newsletter is shared on our Facebook page.

In our e-newsletter, we have articles that share what the center has been doing, is doing, and has planned to do. Articles this quarter include a look at this fiscal year’s Annual Work Plan (started July 1st), information on teacher training programs, some results from a community archaeology project, and the launch of the ARCHAEO CART.

If you are interested in reading our e-newsletter, here’s the link http://flpublicarchaeology.org/uploads/wcrc/Newsletter%200711.pdf.

Enjoy,

Rae Harper, Outreach Coordinator for FPAN’s West Central Regional Center at USF

Adventures with the Maya

On Fridays, my husband and I are usually writing or researching or doing school visits, but this week we were at home working on our website. We co-write and illustrate a Maya-themed adventure series for 9-14 year-olds called The Jaguar Stones. Eight years ago, we gave up our jobs in a London advertising agency to become writers in rural Vermont. At that point, I knew nothing about the Maya and never dreamed that one day my life would revolve around them – to the extent that we’ve now explored nearly forty sites in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize, got to know many leading Mayanists, presented at the AIA Archaeology Fair, and visited countless schools around the United States.

Our books – note the Bulgarian edition that just arrived!

It all started when we decided to write a children’s book set in the jungles of Central America. My husband Jon had grown up there and the book grew out of his memories of a wild childhood. So at first, the Maya pyramids were just a cool background for our story. But the more we researched the Maya, the more we realized that truth was more fascinating than fiction.  It soon became apparent that most textbooks were out-of-date and did not reflect the latest archaeological findings. Since then we’ve made it our mission to bridge that gap.

Everything we write is checked by Harvard professor, archaeologist and epigrapher, Dr Marc Zender, who keeps us up-to-date with the latest thinking. For example, one of our main characters was a Maya king nicknamed Lord Six Rabbit, a name we loved. Six Rabbit was supposed to be his birthday in the Maya calendar, but Dr Zender advised us that the Rabbit interpretation of that day glyph is now seen as Aztec. (The Maya reading now being star, as in Venus the morning star.) Given the amount of misinformation that’s already out there about the Maya, we wanted our books to be as accurate as possible. So, with a sigh, we changed our king’s nickname (and his birthday) to Six Dog.

When we visit schools, we often wear pith helmets in a tribute to one of my personal heroes, Sylvanus Griswold Morley – the dashing, daredevil director of the Chichen Itza project and WW1 secret agent. (I even gave the hero of the Jaguar Stones the middle name of Sylvanus.) Or sometimes we wear leather hats like the most famous archaeologist of them all, Indiana Jones. But one of our greatest pleasures is meeting and talking to real life Mayanists. We’re trying to film as many of them as possible for our website and today Jon was editing an interview with Dr Mark Van Stone, Professor of Art History at Southwestern, leading expert on 2012 and author of one of the best books on the subject. When it’s up, you can view the interview here, along with all the others. Link to archaeologist videos

In the clip, Dr Van Stone is talking about how the myth of the world ending in 2012 arose and why it’s complete nonsense. If kids google 2012, they find literally thousands of websites proclaiming doom and gloom and blaming it on the Maya. Many children are terrified, but it’s virtually impossible for them to access the truth. So when we visit schools, we try to empower the students to question everything they read on the Internet and give them a much broader understanding of the Maya world. We also try to convey something of an archaeologist’s life with a video mash-up of archaeologists and anthropologists talking about their hairiest experiences – usually involving skulls, snakes, scorpions, giant centipedes, cave spiders, killer bees and, in one case, a cockroach sandwich.

This student made dolls of four characters from our book. Ah Pukuh - Maya god of death, Lola - a modern Maya girl, Lady Coco - a howler monkey, Lord Six-Dog, Maya king.

This student wrote a hilarious tourist guide to Xibalba, the cold, wet Maya underworld, "a wonderful place full of suffering, misery and sorrow."

While Jon was editing videos, I was scanning in some amazing projects presented to us by students on our last book tour. I’m trying to create some new teacher pages to go along with our lesson plan CD. Sometimes we’ll walk into schools and find ourselves surrounded by Jaguar Stones projects on every wall. Other times, they’ll decorate the school like a jungle in our honor. One school even had a fog machine to generate an appropriately spooky atmosphere. Recently, a student wrote to us and said: “I used to want to be a doctor and save lives, but now I want to be an archaeologist.” Not sure how I feel about that one.

The Maya king holding court in our dining room.

If we get the website sorted before the end of the day, I’m also hoping that we’ll get around to packing up the Maya king costume that’s currently adorning a mannequin in our dining room. We originally made it to take to schools, and we set it up last week for some passing tourists, but now it’s scaring our dinner guests! I think it’s the taxidermy eyes in the jaguar mask that freak people out. Of course, no actual Maya king costumes survived the jungle and the Spanish conquest, but we based our design on wall paintings and sculptures. I spent many long hours on eBay bidding for the feathers and found a Las Vegas showgirl headdress that we deconstructed to form the base. The whole thing was made and put together by our niece who’d had experience making circus costumes at university. When we take the costume to schools, it’s usually modeled by a teacher, much to the students’ delight. We had it with us for school visits in Florida when we went to the Maya at the Playa conference last year. Predictably a late-night reveler insisted on trying it on and wore it back down to the bar where the eminent archaeologist speakers were still, ahem, gathered. We thought they might be horrified at the liberties we’d taken in our design but they all loved it and many of them posed for photos with it!

As soon as we’ve got the website updated and the costume packed away, it’s back to work revising, editing and illustrating The Jaguar Stones book three.”

A Day in the Life of a Public Archaeologist in North Central Florida!

This is me at my office in Tallahassee, FL.

Hello! First let me introduce myself! I am Barbara Hines, the Outreach Coordinator for the Florida Public Archaeology Network’s North Central Region (www.flpublicarchaeology.org). I have been working with FPAN for just over a year now, and have loved every second of it so far. Prior to Public Archaeology I worked in Cultural Resource Management. Because of that experience I have a wide range of interests as far as archaeology goes, but I tend to get a bit more excited about historical archaeology (especially the antebellum stuff). At FPAN our mission is to promote and facilitate the conservation, study and public understanding of Florida’s archaeological heritage through regional centers, each of which has its own website. We have a total of eight regions throughout the state of Florida.

Today I don’t have any field work going on, but there is still a ton of stuff I am trying to get done by the end of the day today. First thing I do everyday is update our facebook and twitter status. You can follow FPAN North Central on twitter at @FPANNrthCentral. I try to post upcoming outreach events and sometimes interesting articles about local archaeological finds. After that it is on to the rest of the day’s tasks.

Today I am trying to finalize plans for an upcoming event I have going on in Blountstown, Florida. I have teamed up with the FPAN Northwest Region, the Panhandle Archaeological Society at Tallahassee and the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement for a Public Archaeology Day. It will be located at the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement on September 10th. This is going to be a great event where the public can bring their own private artifact collections so that they can have them identified by Professional Archaeologists. This is a great way to create a working dialog between the private collector and archaeologists. I think this is very important and allows archaeologists to get a more holistic view of the archaeological record. I have been trying to line up volunteers and work on other logistical matters.

The Thank You Wall!

This morning I went to the P.O. Box to check our mail. I love checking our mail because it is always filled with thank you letters from children. I visit a lot of classrooms and present on archaeology. FPAN also has a ton of hands on activities we do with the kids to teach them about different concepts relating to archaeology. It is probably my favorite part of the job! I have a bulletin board in the office where I display some of my favorite thank you notes and newspaper clippings about some of our events. It is a constant reminder of the impact we are making, and I hope it is a lasting impact. I am a true believer that education will lead to the conservation of our important archaeological sites. In fact, another one of my goals today is to email my education contacts to let them know that I am ready for the upcoming school year. I have a listing of emails for teachers and educators that I email on a regular basis to keep them updated about FPAN outreach events. Some of the teachers even give the students extra credit if they attend! We also conduct teacher trainings to equip the teachers with the necessary skills to incorporate archaeology into their existing curricula.

We also do a lot of things with adults as well. Today one of my main goals is to finish a presentation that I will be giving in early August to a group of adults in Columbia County. I will be talking about the turpentine industry in North Florida. From the 1700s to the early 1900s it was an important industry in this region and I have had the opportunity to work on several sites that contained the remains of turpentine camps. It has been a long time interest of mine. And to think, I had no idea what the turpentine (sometimes called Naval Stores) industry was until I moved up here to Tallahassee! Turpentine was used to seal ships and was also an ingredient in many other products, such as paint thinner, beauty products and medical products as well. I have been compiling information for this presentation for months, now it is time to create the power point and get down to business. I have some really cool pictures that I am very excited to show the public. I found them at the state archives.

This whole summer I have been busy going to summer camps and doing archaeology activities with the campers. Last week I attended a Girl Scout camp and did a whole bunch of lessons with them. Their favorite activity though, was learning to use the atlatl. The atlatl, or spear thrower, is a prehistoric hunting tool. It even predates the bow and arrow! We all spent some time outside learning how to use it. With the use of the atlatl you can learn to throw a spear three times farther and faster! That would come in pretty handy if you had to hunt large game for dinner. The kids always get a kick out of it and so do the adults! Today I want to unpack all my summer camp supplies and send an email to the Camp Director to thank her for inviting me to come and teach the campers about archaeology. I hope that the campers all enjoyed it as much as I did!

Well, I believe that is my day in a nutshell. It is probably pretty different than what most people would expect. No digging in the dirt for me today! As much as I do love excavating, I am pretty glad to be in the air conditioning today, as it is almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside today. However, when I was doing Cultural Resource Management I was regularly out there in the heat, so I know I could do it if I had to! I hope you enjoyed this entry and I really hope I gave some good insight into the typical day of a Public Archaeologist!