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.

Archaeology in Translation: Speaking the Language of Social Media

Social media have made some tremendous (and rapid) changes to the ways in which the people of the world communicate with one another. I was in college when Facebook launched in 2004, and had to wait around to join until a “network” was created for students at my university. Today, this ubiquitous social media channel boasts more than a billion users worldwide, from all walks of life—and for many of them, it serves as a means of not only communicating with friends, family, and co-workers, but also of discovering brands, companies, organizations, and institutions, keeping with up with their work and initiatives, and even finding out how to get involved.

Admiring an object on display at the Penn Museum.

Admiring an object on display at the Penn Museum.

I work at the Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) in Philadelphia, which can be, for me, a mind-blowing experience on a fairly regular basis. Our collections are vast, representing every populated continent in the world and including close to a million objects, some of which date back thousands of years. This is the kind of place where a curious visitor could, and often does, spend a full day in exploration mode through our galleries. And with the inside perspective that my job offers, I’m able to understand and experience all sorts of goings-on here that can often either go under the radar, or over the heads, of much of the general public. Sure, our website offers plenty of great information about our collections, exhibitions, events, research, and more—but of the huge portion of the public that would be interested in the Penn Museum, not all of them are looking directly at our website.

But many of them are looking at social media and content-sharing sites. Of the most visited websites worldwide, Facebook comes in strong at #2; YouTube is on its heels at #3; Twitter isn’t far behind at #7, followed by Pinterest at #26, Instagram at #31, and plenty more social media channels beyond those. And many of the people using these sites are younger than what you might consider to be a typical museum-going audience. So it follows logically that, to be seen and engaged with by a larger number of people, especially people with whom we’ve had less success engaging in the past, we want the Penn Museum to have a presence in the places where people are already looking.

From the Penn Museum's Instagram feed, the "Ram Caught in a Thicket" from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, dating to ca. 2650-2550 BCE.

From the Penn Museum’s Instagram feed, the “Ram Caught in a Thicket” from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, dating to ca. 2650-2550 BCE.

So that’s what much of my job here amounts to—taking what’s going on here at the Museum (and with our curators, keepers, and researchers, wherever they may be), and translating it into the visual and textual languages which are employed by these increasingly popular networks. And as time goes on, the landscape is constantly changing to offer more new ways to present our content. For example, Twitter is a great way to update our audience about important happenings at the Museum (and for them to share that info with their friends). Instagram lets us capitalize on the seemingly endless array of stunning visual perspectives that one might encounter during a visit to our galleries. YouTube lets us share our lecture videos, making them available to the entire world instead of just the people lucky enough to live within traveling distance of the Museum. And Facebook‘s clear commenting function lets me have a little fun with trivia about objects from our collections every now and then.

I would not have known about the Day of Archaeology if I had not heard about it through social channels. But because someone took the time to present this to me in a familiar context, in a place where I was already looking, I was able to discover it and embrace it. I think this sort of adaptation, this translation, should play a major role in the future of archaeology—a field that can sometimes inherently appear “too old” to be worthy of the interest of today’s general public. By meeting new people on their own terms, through media with which they are already comfortable, we open a window of discovery that many of them might never have known existed.


Codes, Bones, and a Backstory

Happy Day of Archaeology 2014! It is a day where archaeologists from all around the world share what they are doing in order to spread awareness of the breadth and diversity of archaeology not only to the public, but to other archaeologists. For me, I always love learning about the different projects that people are working on, and learning how they are using similar methods and theories on completely different regions and time periods, or conversely examining a time period similar to mine in a unique manner. It is also a time when we learn what archaeologists really do: it’s not just digging in the dirt and interpreting fantastic burials. We spend a lot of time doing lab work and analysis.

Coding at my kitchen table

Coding at my kitchen table

Today when I woke up early, the sun was shining, there was enough dew on the ground to ensure easy digging, and there was a light breeze that meant outdoor work would be nice and cool. But I’m not digging today. I’m sitting inside at my desk coding cemetery data, which means that I’m taking archaeological reports on cemeteries and creating digital versions of them on my computer that I can use to run statistical and spatial tests. It is one of the parts of archaeology that is both mind-numbingly boring but also extremely insightful. As I go through each grave coding it for age, sex, type of coffin, presence or absence of artifacts, and 30 other variables, I start to make some connections and see patterns. For the most part though it is the most lackluster element of archaeology. So instead of recounting this day that has been beyond boring, I’m going to retell the story of how I came to be where I am.

I spent most of my summers as a child running up and down the gullies of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York. I would often find fossils of brachiopods and trilobites, as well as old bottles and ceramics. My collections each day would be brought back up to my parents cabin for analysis. The first time I thought about becoming an archaeologist was when I began playing the first-ever version of Tomb Raider on my computer. My dad actually helped me find khaki shorts and a turquoise tank top so I could pretend to be her while exploring the gullies (of course it was the kid version, so it wasn’t that scandalous).

Working on my first archaeology dig in Ohio!

Working on my first archaeology dig in Ohio!

When I started college, I had chosen anthropology as my major and archaeology as my sub-field, not so much because I was interested in it, but because I loved history and wanted to travel. During my first undergraduate osteology course I fell in love with the study of human remains and mortuary practices. I wanted to piece together who the average person in the past was, and what their afterlife beliefs were. My first ever mortuary field school was in Giecz, Poland and other than some culture shock at the beginning, I really did enjoy it, and I knew that this was what I wanted to be.

After graduating, I became a Ph.D student at Syracuse University in their Bioarchaeology program. Despite doing well and enjoying my study materials, grad school wasn’t quite what I had expected. I was getting to study bones, but wasn’t learning anything about the context of the cemetery or culture. So I applied for a one-year Masters program at University of Edinburgh. It was the best decision I ever made. I left Syracuse, moved to Scotland, and spent an entire year completely immersed in osteology (I also did a lot of traveling around Scotland and did develop a taste for fine whiskey, but that’s a different story).

Excavating on MSUs campus

Excavating on MSU’s campus

After Edinburgh, I knew that I wanted to keep studying the dead, but I didn’t want to be a bioarchaeologist. I wanted to be a mortuary archaeologist who looked at death rituals, funerary behavior, and the entire archaeological culture in order to understand the dead. I was accepted into the Ph.D program at Michigan State University. Since starting there, I’ve been involved in a number of digital archaeology projects, traveled to Rome and England for research, and discovered that I’m truly passionate about learning about variation in mortuary practices. It was when I started at MSU that I began Bones Don’t Lie as a way to force myself to read a wide range of mortuary archaeology journal articles and stay up to date in the field.

My advice for anyone wanting to become a mortuary archaeologist is this:

  • Take geographic information systems classes, and take them early. It was something I was forced to learn during my undergraduate work, and I’m so glad I did. Being able to use mapping software is a major advantage.
  • Keep up to date in the field. You don’t need to write a blog, but set aside time to read from a range of journal articles to stay current with research and methods.
  • Don’t be afraid to change universities. If you aren’t happy in your program and it isn’t what you expected you can always change.
  • Take a one-year Masters course in osteology. You can a lot of experience quickly, and it aids the transition into grad school. The Ph.D is very different from undergrad, and can be a tough leap for some people.
  • Find a number of mentors to help guide you. Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to have a number of mentors that I could ask open and honest questions about my decisions.

Learn more about the Day of Archaeology on their website or Twitter!


Also, check out Heritage Jam today! I’ve submitted my Ieldran map project, and this year’s theme is death! So cool!


Writing! Reports, Articles, Chapters, and the Dissertation

What many new students to archaeology may not realize is that doing archaeology means doing a lot of reporting. And this week, for me, that means doing a lot of writing and writing related activities. I’m a PhD candidate at Indiana University and conducted my dissertation research as part of the Proyecto Arqueológico Nejapa/Tavela based in Oaxaca, Mexico directed by Dr. Stacie King.

Eli’s desk is all set up and ready for her to work.

Eli’s desk is all set up and ready for her to work.

Monday and Tuesday, my friend and colleague Meghan and I met up at my office in order to motivate each other to do some dissertation writing. Meghan was comparing her ceramic assemblages to other sites by combing through older dissertations and data tables. I was reading book chapters and putting those citations into the appropriate places in my dissertation.  On Tuesday afternoon, I took advantage of my second computer monitor to watch the World Cup match while I worked on digitizing an excavation drawing.

Yesterday, my co-authors and I received good news that our article was going to be published very soon but that the editors wanted us to add additional images. So I took the time to select the appropriate photographs and make nice black/white versions of them. I was also working cross state and national lines with my adviser and colleague on a proposal for an XRF study (X-ray fluorescence, a non destructive form of chemical analysis) of obsidian collected during our field work in 2013. (I’m here in Indiana, my colleague Andy is in Tennessee, and my adviser Stacie is in Oaxaca!)

A fabulous image created this week of an architectural plan of a site included in my dissertation.

A fabulous image created this week of an architectural plan of a site included in my dissertation.

Writing/reporting are important aspects of the archaeological process and archaeologists are ethically compelled to disseminate their research and findings to a wide audience through reports, articles, and presentations. And though I know the writing is important, I’m still stealing the occasional wistful glance out the window and daydreaming about using my trowel.

Fieldwork in NOLA

I just got home from summer fieldwork in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I helped out with a field school excavating on various historic period sites.  My day of archaeology there was as one would expect, with our team starting work at about 8 o’clock in the morning digging, screening, bagging artifacts, mapping, note taking, and trying to stay relatively cool and unburned in the subtropical heat.

Towards the end of the course we found a late 19th century privy (in archaeology you always find the best stuff right when you’re about to leave, naturally), which may be useful for my dissertation.  Privies were essentially bathrooms before indoor plumbing became common, but people also used them to dispose of trash and other unwanted items.  Since archaeology is often an exercise in trash analysis, privies can be a boon to historic period research.

I happily worked through a whole afternoon carefully moving tiny amounts of dirt away from a thick assemblage of artifacts so we could get a better idea of how to proceed with digging out the privy.

A day in the field often runs eights hours, five days a week, which still leaves some down time for archaeologists to rest and view the sights, especially if they’re working away from home.  This was the case for me, and I used the opportunity to take in as much of local culture as I was able.  In historical archaeology, it especially important to take the time to get a feel for the whole history of a place and gain an understanding of the contemporary community.  Archaeology matters beyond academia—the communities in which archaeologists work not only provide insight into what we study, but are affected by the research that we produce.  Collaboration and cultural understanding are vitally important to create meaningful interpretations.

I study food, so the first thing I always want to do on a research trip is eat.  New Orleans is full of iconic cuisine, some of which has roots reaching back to the early colonial days of the city.  To end my day of archaeology, after fieldwork is finished for evening, I like to try dishes at new or familiar restaurants to enhance my understanding of the food culture and history.

Café du Monde is about as iconic as you can get, with a long and popular history.


Monrepos – the early birds


Who thinks that an archaeological research centre and museum can only be run by archaeologists these days must be ignorant. Technical staff is required at many places and usually they are our early birds. They are cleaning, fixing, and organising the house and its bits and pieces before most researchers actually arrive. Nevertheless, they are a part of the our daily working life and an important part of the staff: Imagine an uninformed cleaning lady in an institute mainly focused on stone age archaeology with several pebbles or bones or sediment bags on the floor… Thus, these staff members not only make a whole day of archaeological research possible but also contribute to it with their experience.

However, in the last months, new skills were required from some of them. For example, Walter Mehlem, our house technician, has quite some extra work to do at the moment taking care that really all the work that was supposed to be done in the museum by subcontractors, craftsmen, gardeners etc. was in fact correctly done. So, really he is looking forward to the days after the opening when “business as usual” or the usual craziness returns.

Well, writing about early birds by midday just shows that I’m none of them. However, we couldn’t keep our schedules at the institute if everyone was a nightowl like me. For example, mail arrives early and parcels full of paper necessary for an institute like ours arrive almost on a daily basis. A lot of paper is needed for prints of our scientific output such as our own articles, official letters, and bureaucratic formalities such as compensation of travel cost. Moreover, many pages of articles have to be printed out to become a hardcopy part of our ever growing library. Besides these articles, our library owns several thousand monographs and journals all focused on hunter-gatherer anthropology, Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology, zooarchaeology, experimental archaeology and everything of interest for archaeologists working on the development of human behaviour before the Neolithic revolution(s). Presumably, we house one of the largest libraries on this topic worldwide.

Apparently, such a large body of information needs some organisation and someone who prints out the articles, picks them up from the printer, registers them and puts them in the right place – so if a researcher is looking for a specific article it can be found. At Monrepos, Sascha Sieber is currently taking care of this bit of enabling archaeologists to actually work all day. Frank Schmid is sharing his office and working on another important project: Digitalising photo documentation. Monrepos has been participating and organising excavations in Eurasia for over thirty years so we have an enormous number of slides from excavations and excursions which need to be digitalised and organised in a way that someone looking for a specific profile is also able to find it. Of course, no archaeologists could do this job besides the usual work so we are really thankful that Frank is doing the job for us.

It’s not as if archaeologists were a bunch of poorly organised people but help is always appreciated. And although a lot of our drawings and graphs are made by ourselves as a part of our research, help is not just welcome in this important part of our profession but occasionally needed. Graphs and figures help to visualise our findings or simply the artefacts we found. Therefore, Regina Hecht and Gabi Rutkowski are part of the Monrepos team. Regina helps us make better graphs, optimise our print outs and, occasionally, she also gives short introductions to graphic programs for young students like I used to be. Her work is so helpful because someone who is only considering the readability of a graph helps to translate our results for everyone and, thus, helps us to make science understandable and useful.
Gabi Rutkowski usually helps us with neat and clean ink drawings of artefacts. Although she hasn’t studied archaeology, she has probably seen more archaeological stones and bones than many senior archaeologists and occasionally can point out overseen details. However, at the moment she is also needed for last preparations for the opening of the museum.


Day in the life of an Inspector of Ancient Monuments

I have the greatest job title in the world, and deal with some of the greatest archaeology in the world (there are four World Heritage sites in London, and I have involvement in three) – something I never forget and never cease to be amazed about. I’ve been very fortunate – getting on in archaeology is about hard work, learning and reading everything, being passionate about the subject but also about luck and being in the right place at the right time. I’ve had more than my fair share of luck, and try very hard not to forget this. I deal with 157 ancient monuments in London, ranging from 18th century milestones to Hampton Court Palace, all of which need protection and interpretation. I always approve of an Occam’s Razor approach to life – simplifying down to key issues/messages, so I see my job as to Preserve and Present London’s Ancient Monuments. I try to interfere a bit in other things, and of course nominate new sites for scheduling where I feel there is real threat to outstanding archaeology. Sadly, the threat in London can be quite high, not just from development, but also neglect.

Fortunately I don’t have an average day, so what has this day held for me so far? It started at 8am, and actually conditions were quite average. It was raining, and I was holed up in a proper caff (Al’s on Bermondsey Street) having tea and toast. This is my touchstone across London – finding good caffs with quality tea and toast for less than two quid. Pleased to say that Al’s is still doing well on my grading, particularly astonishing given how Bermondsey Street is getting more and more chi-chi.

I co-incidentally bumped into my colleague Iain Bright (Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments) in the caff – we were meeting on site, but have similar tastes in caffs. Great start there. So suitably fuelled, we proceeded to site where our contact was 25 minutes late – it was a straightforward meeting to discuss the glass box over the medieval tower base of Bermondsey Abbey – it’s currently in a bar, and the glass occasionally gets broken (not fights, but generally someone dropping wine bottles!) – we chatted about how to improve the presentation, and to incorporate some interpretation into the display to try and help people understand this really interesting 11th century Cluniac Abbey which is otherwise completely buried and can’t be recognised in the streetscape.

Frantic zip back to the English Heritage office for a meeting with colleagues in London about Archaeological Priority Areas (one of many names) – these are zones used by planners and archaeologists to get a handle on whether proposed development will harm archaeology. London has a great range of these, many of which are out of date, not big enough, too big, in the wrong place, and generally in need of revision. We discussed a range of issues from what in fact to call them, grading them, whether all cemeteries are automatically of archaeological interest, brownfield/greenfield, industrial archaeology and so on. It’s a long term project, not least of which because they must be completely tied in with Local Authority policies. But it’s all making sure we recognise the significance of London’s archaeology and protect it as thoroughly as possible. We can’t learn about or interpret our archaeology unless we ensure it’s protected through the planning system.

After that I opened my countersigned performance development review for last year- fortunately I’m not being sacked, and a number of lovely things were said about my hard work (I suspect my managers don’t realise quite how fabulous this job is and how many people would like to do it). Got a bit of a wigging for being a little outspoken on some issues, but see above for the need for passion and enthusiasm in archaeology!

Another item this afternoon comes with some fieldwork on Hampton Court – this is one of the most amazing scheduled monuments I deal with, but of course it’s remarkably sensitive. Some fieldwork is taking place currently, and is taking a little longer than planned, which is course is not unexpected in archaeology. A certain amount of discussion was needed to ensure that enough fieldwork is undertaken to fulfil the brief, whilst not holding up the programme. In many ways, the predominance of email correspondence is a shame as sometimes getting the tone right for these sorts of discussions is difficult.

Iain and I have just discussed a new major planning case in Barking town centre- it has raised the knotty issue of setting. Most developments steer clear of scheduled monuments, but they do affect the context and setting. Barking Abbey is a super site – a nunnery founded in AD 666 (not a very good year, you’d think) and the remains, whilst heavily restored, are very good, and allow clear understanding of scale and form. Barking town centre is on the up and up, and unfortunately, this is literally the case, with quite tall buildings being proposed which may overshadow the Abbey. So we’re recommending a formal impact assessment here.

This is quite a good range of the elements of the job, from fine detail of fieldwork at Hampton Court, presentation of remains at Bermondsey, planning related issues with the Priority Area discussion and then setting at Barking. All important issues, and really interesting sites. A little more prehistory would be lovely, but I suspect that’s asking for the caster sugar on the cherry on the icing on the cake.

Surveying the Present

Four years ago I was an environmental archaeologist focused on prehistoric peoples living in the Great Lakes and Northeast with plans to remain on the academic track. I specialized in research on how humans modified their environment through the analysis of microscopic plant remains. My layman’s description was that I looked at the burned remains of a prehistoric person’s dinner. Today, I’m an evaluator for the Institute of Museum and Library Services* and focus on the social impact of cultural organizations such as museums, archives, and libraries.

The obvious question is what does one have to do with the other? On the surface, not much. But I employ my training as an anthropological archaeologist almost daily.

I used to think about how prehistoric peoples used, modified, and moved around their environment. This involved consideration of local and regional environmental resources (water, raw materials, seasonally available food resources, etc.) and where, when, and how/if people accessed them. Now I consider why people are visiting museums and libraries and the resources available to them through these institutions. I think about how people move around a modern landscape (e.g. walking, biking, car, etc.), barriers or impediments that might affect their access to museums and libraries (e.g. safety concerns, cost, transportation, walkability), seasonally vs. year-round available programming (e.g. summer and other school breaks, services for retirees or unemployed persons), and local/regional issues of cultural significance. My conception of people and their environment has moved from a primarily natural environment to a primarily built one. The issues and questions I address in my current work are not ones unfamiliar to archaeologists either; it’s the tangibility that differs. It’s possible for me to collect information directly from the folks I’m studying rather than relying solely on the artifacts of their past activities**.

So instead of this:

Some considerations to think about moving around a primarily natural environment when thinking about prehistory

Some considerations to think about moving around a primarily natural environment when thinking about prehistory

I now think about this:

Some considerations for moving around a built modern environment.

Some considerations for moving around a built modern environment.

My archaeological training has also meant I’ve worked in the very kind of institutions my agency funds. Generally speaking I’m familiar with the processes, resources required, and the kinds of constraints cultural institutions face (e.g. limited budgets or staffing, space constraints, collections care, etc.). As an evaluator these issues are already on my radar when thinking about how best to implement evaluation methods, appropriate questions to ask, and relevant information to collect.

I may no longer be spending my days in an archaeological trench but the interdisciplinary training I received enables me to make connections related to policy and how people operate in and conceive of their world in ways that others might not.

*The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

**With the caveat that some historical archaeologists are able to do this as well

Maya Research Program’ s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

MRP Logo 2013

What is the Maya Research Program?

The Maya Research Program is a U.S.-based non-profit organization (501C3) that sponsors archaeological and ethnographic research in Middle America. Each summer since 1992, we have sponsored archaeological fieldwork in northwestern Belize and ethnographic research in the village of Yaxunah, Mexico. The Maya Research Program is affiliated with the University of Texas at Tyler.

Our goal is, first and foremost, to conduct research that helps us better understand the complex ancient societies of the Americas. MRP is proud to have a diverse staff of talented scientists contributing to this goal and many of our affiliated scholars are recognized as leaders in their fields. Recent support has come from the Archaeological Institute of America, National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, the Heinz Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, the Blue Creek field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and the project was recognized as the winner of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Excavation Outreach contest.

Another key MRP goal is to encourage the participation of students and volunteers — anyone who wants to experience the real world of archaeological or anthropological research and understand how we learn about cultures may join us. We see this as a critical educational component of MRP’s work and it helps us accomplish our research goals as well. The ages of our participants range from 18 to over 80. So many of our participants return year after year that MRP has become an extended family. About half of our participants are university students under 30 years old and the other half are professionals and retirees. While the majority of participants come from the United States and Canada, we have students from Australian,  European, Latin American, and Japanese institutions as well. For students, academic credit can usually be arranged either via UTT or the student’s home institution. Many of our students go on to become successful graduate students in archaeology or a related field and return to focus on MRP projects for their theses and dissertations.

In 2014 and 2015 we again offer opportunities to participate in our field program and learn about the Maya of the past and today. The Blue Creek Archaeological Project is open to student and non-student participants, regardless of experience. The field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and participants will receive training in archaeological field and laboratory techniques. Academic credit and scholarships are available. We invite students and volunteers to participate in the Maya Research Program’s  archaeological field season in northwestern Belize.

2014 Season Dates:
Session 1: Monday May 26 to Sunday June 8
Session 2: Monday June 9 to Sunday June 22
Session 3: Monday June 30 to Sunday July 13
Session 4: Monday July 14 to Sunday July 27

2015 Season Dates:

Session 1: Monday June 1st to Sunday June 14th

Session 2: Monday June 15th to Sunday June 28th

Session 3: Monday July 6th to Sunday July 19th

Session 4: Monday July 20th to Sunday August 2nd

If you are interested in joining the team this summer or next  – please get in touch soon as space is limited! If you have any questions – please don’t hesitate to contact us:

Maya Research Program
1910 East Southeast Loop 323
#296; Tyler, Texas 75701
Phone: 817-831-9011

MRP’s 23rd archaeological field season in Belize

The Maya Research Program is having a very successful 23rd archaeological field season in northwestern Belize! This summer we are concentrating on the site of Xnoha. Xnoha is a medium sized Maya center located on the edge of the Alacranes Bajo. We are delineating the architecture of the site core, three of its elite residences, and a possible shrine structure. In addition, we have recorded and conserved the mural recovered from Tulix Mul, secured numerous soil samples from wetland features, and finalized excavations at “Alvin’s Cave” and “Rice Mill Cave 3.” Our bioarchaeology field school is active this session and we are looking forward to our 3D modeling and photogrammetry workshop next week.  If you are interested in seeing weekly updates from the field – you can follow our progress on our Facebook page or via the photo gallery on our website.


What Does an Archaeology Professor Do All Day?

When I was a very little girl, one of my most favorite books was Richard Scarry’s, What Do People Do All Day?  I spent hours looking at anthropomorphized cartoon animals learning about what it was like to be a farmer, or a tailor, or a police officer, or an airline pilot. My parents thoughtfully saved the book for me, and it sits on a shelf here in my home office as I write this. It’s an apt title to adopt for a Day of Archaeology post, because that’s what this whole project is about- giving people a lens into what archaeologists really do all day.

Looking at the book now, as my academic self, I’m tempted to critique the contents for promoting stereotypes about gender, family, and labor much like I did earlier this year in a post about the media coverage of the Happisburgh footprints for the anthropology blog Savage Minds. From another perspective, however, it’s easy to see my attraction to this book in childhood as a perfect foreshadowing of my career as an archaeologist. The question of, “what do (did) people do all day?” has kept me fascinated by archaeology since I first discovered fieldwork on a Girl Scout program at age 15 (1986).

I study the recent past, because I’ve always wanted my work to be directly relevant to contemporary communities, and I involve local communities in my research as an integral part of every project. Geographically, I work in the Bahamas and in Chicago and my work engages topics such as childhood, gender, labor, migration, slavery and emancipation, and identity. What brings all my work together is a commitment to use archaeology to tell the stories of people whose lives are not well represented in documentary sources, and through the telling of those stories create a richer and more nuanced picture of our shared history. I am also a very passionate teacher, and I enjoy sharing my love for archaeology with students, as well as thinking critically and creatively about teaching archaeology (and related fields) in the classroom and in the field.

manor house 11

Taking notes at Kerr Mount Plantation, San Salvador, The Bahamas.


Working with DePaul University students and community volunteers at the site of the Pullman Arcade on Chicago’s far south side. Photo by E. Ken Carl

So, what does an archaeology professor do all day?

Most people think university faculty members have it pretty easy- we teach a few classes and then are awash in free time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today, July 11, I am officially not working as I only have a contract for ten months of the year. But today, like most days, I am working anyway. My job description involves a combination of teaching, research, and service. While some combinations are viewed more favorably than others by administrators and the like, one of the very real perks of an academic job is that they are largely self-defined regardless of how individual choices might be perceived by others. In other words, my day as an archaeology professor in the summertime probably looks very different than any other professor’s day today- and that’s just fine. Interestingly, it works out that today is a combination of all three “official” parts of my job. So let me break down how I am spending my time today.


I am teaching an overload this summer. Why? Honestly, to make some extra money. I am teaching an online course in World Prehistory, where I am shepherding 25 undergraduates through several million years of prehistory in just five short weeks. Today students are completing a module on hereditary inequality, the idea of (and problems with) chiefdoms, and a case study of the site of Cahokia. I’ll be checking in on student discussion boards, corresponding with students, and making a few news posts with additional resources (including information about the Day of Archaeology!). I’ll also be doing some preparation for our department’s senior seminar course, which I’ll be teaching this fall. This course involves bringing in (in person or via Skype) anthropologists working in a variety of professions to expose students to the diversity of what an anthropologist can be. I also invite expert speakers to work with students on the kinds of skills they need to leave college and enter the job market (interviewing, social media “branding”, resumes and e-portfolios, financial strategies etc.). I’ll be contacting some of those people today to get them scheduled for the autumn.


It’s very hard to do fieldwork in the Bahamas in the summertime, because it’s hurricane season there. In the summer, I usually conduct excavations in Chicago, but I wanted to work on some writing before beginning another research project. So, I am not in the field this summer, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing research-related activities. The first research-related task of the day is to have a phone meeting with a fellow archaeologist about a collaborative project for next summer, particularly the excavation of a WWII POW Camp for Germans that was on the north side of Chicago. It will take me almost all year to get all the necessary planning completed to begin my field project next summer.  The second research-related task of the day is completing a prospectus for a book I’ve been asked to write for the University Press of Florida on the Historical Archaeology of childhood in America. The Day of Archaeology is my self-imposed deadline for this project, and it’s looking like I’ll meet it! Finally, I am organizing a panel for the Society for the History of Children and Youth’s 2015 meeting in Vancouver on “Children, Identity, and Material Culture”. I’ve pretty much got it together, but there are a few emails that have to be sent and responded to in order to finalize our group of scholars and their presentation topics.


I really enjoy doing service, and I choose to do most of my service work for the broader profession and in public contexts rather than for my college or university. Right now, I have two big service projects going on that will take some time today. I am the Program Chair for the Society for American Archaeology’s 2015 Annual Meeting in San Francisco, which means I’ve put together a committee to review all of the (3500 or so) abstracts that will be submitted for the conference and I’m in charge of scheduling the program. The deadline for paper and panel submissions is drawing near, which means every day I am getting several emails asking questions about program rules and scheduling, as well as colleagues making special requests. Today will be no exception. I try to be very prompt in my response to these queries to make the process as easy as possible for my colleagues.


I am also organizing an international conference for the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past that will be held in Chicago in September 2015, and I need to spend some time today developing the conference theme. This last job involves some serious brainstorming, and my hope is to do some thinking while hiking with my dog, Fifi (a 13 year old Bahamian Potcake I brought back to the U.S.). One of our favorite trails runs right through a 19th century house foundation (above). She checks for squirrels, and I look (but don’t collect!) to see what the latest rains have washed to the surface. This time outside makes for a perfect way to get some ideas going for a conference theme. So, if all goes well I’ll get to spend a little time in the field after all.