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.
Most of my days of archaeology this week have involved writing. I am updating some previous work I did for the online student resources that go along with one of W.W. Norton‘s textbooks in physical anthropology. I’ve done this contract work for a few years now, and I like getting to read the latest physical anthropology textbooks before they come out in print. Plus, writing quiz questions is challenging because Norton likes analytical and conceptual questions, which go beyond the basic factual ones you find in most multiple choice tests. Writing multiple choice questions that make students think is a good skill for a teacher to have, and it makes for more interesting exams for the students. This question, for example, comes from my General Anthropology midterm from 2011:
In the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indiana Jones finds a burial chamber in Peru with seven mummies. Looking for a purported golden death mask, he unwraps the mummy of Francisco de Orellana, which quickly disintegrates. If Indy had been a real archaeologist, he would have handled the situation differently by:
a. carefully removing the gold mask, taking it back to his university, and putting it on display in the art museum.
b. generating a research question about the mummies, gaining permission to transport them back to the United States, subjecting them to nondestructive testing to find out what’s inside, and figuring out how to preserve them for future study.
c. classifying the seven mummies into European and non-European and transporting the European ones back to Orellana’s homeland in Spain to be reburied.
d. all of the above
I’ve also been working on book reviews this week. Those of you still in undergrad may not know too much about book reviews for journals, but it’s a way to get noticed in a big-name journal without a peer-reviewed publication and a way to get a free book about an interesting topic. Most importantly, of course, writing a book review means analyzing the content and giving a synopsis of the book’s relevance to the field. I often assign book reviews to my lower-level anthropology courses so that students can get used to reading at a higher level – that is, not just reading for comprehension (that would be a book report), but reading critically. Those of you in grad school should look around and find a way to get a couple book reviews on your CV before you graduate and go looking for a job. Many journals will only solicit reviews from people with a PhD, but others will allow people with a BA or higher in anthropology or archaeology to review a book.
The other way I spent my time this week was in entertaining and educating my 3-year-old daughter, who is quite happy to get incredibly filthy in pursuit of digging up treasure-trash, even in the 95-degree, 95%-humidity weather of central North Carolina. One of the books she likes is called Archaeologists Dig for Clues, which is a charming book aimed at early elementary school kids, but it has some graphic novel elements to it so is very visually appealing to the preschool set as well. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, then, to do a bit of excavation when, on a walk the other day, my daughter pointed out some pottery fragments sticking out of the ground in the woods. I collected as many pieces as I could, talked to her about why they were eroding out from under a tree root after a rain, and took them home. We washed them, and she tried to find joins (I only ended up finding one).
We certainly don’t go on makeshift archaeological digs each week, but we do a lot of puzzles and bury things in the sand only to dig them up again a few minutes later. And I teach her as much about science as I can every afternoon using whatever toys she’s most into – so this week, I’ve been asking her to make hypotheses about which marble will go down the run fastest, then test those hypotheses, and she eventually arrived at the realization that the marble that has to go the longest distance will take more time. It can be challenging to figure out how to integrate science into the daily life of a 3-year-old, but it’s a lot of fun to rediscover basic scientific principles through her eyes.
So that’s what I’ve been doing this past week as a bioarchaeologist – science writing and science parenting!