archaeological life

Starting Over in Alberta

The Alberta weather is sometimes cold

The Alberta weather is sometimes cold

This year, the Day of Archaeology actually fell upon the first day of a four day weekend. Having moved to Alberta from Wisconsin in late-2014, I’m currently working a 10-day on/four-day off shift as a field tech for a Canadian Cultural Resource Management company. Actually, they constantly remind me that I’m not a field tech, if only because they don’t use that particular title. Officially, I’m a staff archaeologist working for this particular firm for a limited time. The job duties are essentially the same, though. I basically accompany a higher ranking archaeologist and help them by doing the basics: dig, walk a lot, look for historic properties, and take notes. I’m pretty removed from any decision-making, which after 15 years of being in a supervisory role, is both incredibly relaxing and somewhat boring. It’s nice to be free of the stress and obligations of being a boss. At the same time, I really enjoy performing a lot of the boss-type duties.

In Alberta, you need to be issued a permit in order to conduct archaeological excavation. I’ve been approved to apply for one, with certain reasonable restrictions. This means that I could theoretically work for a firm as a permit-holder, and run my own projects. Unfortunately, I chose pretty much the worst time to move to Alberta. With the price of oil in the tank, development has all but stopped. There just aren’t very many archaeology positions, this year, so I feel lucky to have the job I do. The only other place that seems to be hiring is apparently working their staff for long shifts comprised of 12-hour days. That just sounds like burn out city to me. I can’t imagine how someone could consistently produce quality work with that sort of schedule and I wonder how many will still want to do archaeology in five-years time.

The typical day starts with a safety meeting, which is called a tailgate meeting despite the fact that most of them don’t occur at the tailgate of our truck. After that, the bosses knock out any coordination with the client that might remain. Then, we head out to the project site, where we drive around looking for sites and historic structures. We follow a judgemental survey strategy, which means we dig shovel tests in places where we think there’s a good chance of finding a site. This targeted approach is different than the systematic survey methods that I’m used to. For that, we shovel test along regular intervals in order to get broader coverage. There can be some down time while bosses do boss stuff. Flexibility is an essential skill for a (not a-) field tech.

During all of this, we talk. In addition to the usual discussions about our interests in pop culture, we discuss archaeology. As a result of the judgemental method of surveying, we debate about where sites might be located and how that differs between the boreal forest, the northern plains, the alpine portion of the Rockies, and any other places that we know about. We talk about possible interpretations of the sites that we’re currently working on. We compare the differences in the compliance process between Alberta, the other Canadian provinces, and the United States, which has strong federal legislation. We talk about the job market and the potential for work after the project ends. This all helps me calibrate my reasoning to the Albertan way of doing things, as well as the local variations of cultural property that we might encounter.

This job is sort of a restart for me. In addition to just getting the local experience that employers want to see, it lets me see the local archaeological properties, methods, and processes first hand so I can relate it back to what I already know. I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunities to discuss our work with my coworkers and that will hopefully lead to more (and longterm!) employment in the future. The bottom line for many of the archaeologists that you might have seen in other Day of Archaeology posts is that archaeology isn’t just something we love, it’s something we do to (hopefully) pay the bills. Trying to make that profession fit with the rest of our lives can sometimes be a challenge. In my case, moving has required me to restart my career in a number of ways.

A #DayofArchaeology unlike any other

Since 1989 I’ve participated in field work almost every summer in the eastern Mediterranean, but this summer is different. My day of archaeology 2015 was unlike any other day I’ve experienced in archaeology. Instead of walking transects and digging shovels tests with the Galilee Prehistory Project . I spent the day in Chicago, out of the sun, applying chemotherapy cream to my face – 20+ years of working outside take a toll even if you are vigilant about wearing a hat, sunscreen, and other protective clothing. Ask anyone, I am famous (infamous) for badgering people about hats (and drinking water) – everyone wears a hat in and out of the field or I nag, a lot. In February I had a cancerous tumor removed from my nose (involved a large needle, months of hello kitty bandages, and beko wearing.

Excised timor site - missing from the image, they large needle . . .

Excised timor site – missing from the image, they large needle . . .

In follow up appointments the dermatologist decided that I was a likely candidate for future tumors and recommended a chemo field therapy for my face. After negotiating a later start date for the chemo treatment.

Big old bandage after tumor surgery.

Big old bandage after tumor surgery.

I went to Jordan for an abbreviated field season and 2 weeks in Jerusalem Following the Pots then I flew home.

Attractive hello kitty bandage was my friend for months, post tumor surgery.

Attractive hello kitty bandage was my friend for months, post tumor surgery.

For last 10 days every evening I put the chemo cream on my face – the precancerous areas are now starting to erupt as the chemo kills the mutant cells. It stings, some of the eruptions are painful, and I am experiencing some of the common side effects from the chemo, generally not much fun.

Killing those pre-cancerous cells! Chemo eruptions after 10 days of treatment.

Killing those pre-cancerous cells! Chemo eruptions after 10 days of treatment.

I have a great support network here and afar checking in and keeping tabs. I know that many of my archaeological pals are thinking “will that be me?” – good I hope it encourages people to be more proactive about sun protection. If you can see your shadow you should be wearing a broad spectrum (zinc/titanium based) sunscreen and you should be wearing a hat. Fours more days of treatment this round, 2 weeks off and another 2 weeks on and then a follow-up with the dermatologists, my summer in the field. This is not a sympathy generating post, I consider this post for the day of archaeology 2015 a public service announcement: wear a hat, wear sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and get a beko (I just know they will become the new archaeological fashion fad, all of the cool kids are wearing them).

Don't leave home without your fashionable Beko.

Don’t leave home without your fashionable Beko.

Hard Work Pays Off!

This is my third year of doing this. In the previous years I had wrote about the desire to go back to school and then when I actually went back. On June 26, 2015, I graduated from my community college, Foothill College, with double honors, two Anthropology certificates, and my AA in Anthropology. This was a huge accomplishment for me because I am a mother of five and my (soon-to-be-ex-) husband recently left my children and I out of the blue… and homeless (my parents have been kind enough to allow us to stay with them until I can find a place of my own, which I’m hoping will be soon). To say things have been easy is a huge understatement. I will begin work on my BA in January 2016. The original plan was to begin in August 2015, but some things have come up that are preventing me to do that, so January it is.

I may not have any exciting stories to tell yet but I am sure as I move on to my BA and things get going –maybe even some volunteer work thrown in there- I’ll eventually have stories to tell. But for now, I leave you with this: FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!!!! Don’t let anything stand in your way. Hard work DOES pay off! And if you are a parent… don’t be discouraged in thinking that you can’t be a parent and a student, it IS possible and doable!

The Archaeologist Who Stayed Home

For the record: I am an archaeologist, even doing a PhD on contemporary archaeology at the University of Central Lancashire. I am not a “mummy blogger,” just putting down a couple of my thoughts on a subject we archaeologists really don’t talk about much.

Four more days. Four dreadfully slow days until my husband comes home from the field. He has been away for seven and a half weeks on a very exciting excavation in southern California, the kind that are once in a lifetime. While he is off having fun in sunny California, I am home writing my PhD and being a mother to our three year old. That’s right archaeologists have CHILDREN!

This is our first big time apart, with only one of us is in the field. Even when we both worked professionally in cultural resource management, we managed to get on the same projects, most of the time. At the time, ten days apart seemed a life time. How ignorant we were. When you can hear the time you are away in the development in the speech of your pre-schooler, you feel you have been away for years. (I did three week field work, six weeks before my husband left, and noticed a difference. I can’t imagine what it will be like for my husband.)

Being apart is something as an archaeological family we are all going to have to adjust to, as such I have really tried to help our Munchkin while dad has been away. Here are three things that have helped us.


  1. Communication: Pretty much a given, but is so much harder in real life. For this particular excavation it was NOT every night, but on his days off we did get to have some Skype time, which helped greatly. Munchkin was mostly happy to get to talk and SEE daddy, but after a call he would act up, which is a kid’s way of showing emotional distress.
  2. Calendar: At three he gets the idea of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and that at one point in the near future we are going to have a church day. Seven weeks may as well be seven years or seven months, no real way to understand. We printed off a calendar of all the days dad is away and let Munchkin choose his stickers. Every morning after breakfast we pull out the calendar and place a sticker. We have learned all about numbers and days of the week (thank you They Might be Giants). We count down every once in a while to see how many days until daddy gets home. He gets numbers. He also get the power of stickers and tries to put his dinosaur sticker on the final day every day, as if by some magic it would make dad come home earlier. (If only…)
  3. Celebrate Important Dates: The 15th of July was one of anniversary days (how long we have been together). We met at a volunteer excavation in Pioche, Nevada a little over a decade ago. We have always celebrated this day as something special. My husband went the extra mile this year and had flowers and a gift sent to me on the day. Even though he was not here, I could feel the love!

If I REALLY, REALLY thought hard I could come up with another two and then it would be a tidy list of five, but then it would seem forced.

Relationships as an archaeologist are tough. I have seen many come and go, and I know that we are not unique. Most of the time I have seen family archaeologist become one in archaeology and one leaves and gets a “real” job. I love archaeology. I don’t want to be the one to leave, I want to be an archaeologist. Thus, I am an archaeologist.

If this post has not been archaeology enough for you, here is how I spent the non-mom section of my day: researching the difference between Temple Grandin and Bud Williams (Google bud box) cattle management systems and how these differences could be seen in ranch corral layouts.