Archaeology Doesn’t End in the Lab, It’s Got an Office Too


Today you’re going to read lots of great and interesting posts about what we do when we are in the field and lab, but I want to show a bit more than that. I want to take you out of the Field, out of the Lab, and into a place of magic and wonder! I want to show you the world of the Archaeological Office!



I am currently doing an internship with the DHPA here in Indiana. For those who don’t know the DHPA stands for the Department of Historical Preservation and Archaeology. I do quite a bit of a variety of things. I’ve been in the woods looking for prehistoric artifacts, I’ve been in the lab labeling artifacts, but mostly I’ve been in the office, learning GIS and an awesome new system called SHAARD.

SHAARD and GIS are great for a geeky-chick like me. I’ve got a soft spot for computers, and I’ve been fascinated with GIS ever since one of my coworkers took a picture of his cat and made a 3D Topo-map out of it. It was cool.



SHAARD’s main page with a drop down menu showing selections

SHAARD stands for The Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database. (It’s the government, they love alphabet soup.) This database is open and searchable by the public, except for the archaeological records. Now what does that get the average person? Well, you can search cemeteries, Historical theaters, anything on the National Register, Historical Bridges, and the County Surveys. Check it out, you don’t have to do anything to search and access records.


                                                                    One of several images in SHAARD for the historical Indiana Theater

If you are a professional, you can apply to receive access to the archaeological part of the data base, which is where I come in. I am one of a team who are busily inputting data from hand written field and site reports into the online database. This is  a whole lot more intresting than it sounds, and sometimes a little more difficult.

Just a tip to the field people, other people have to read your handwriting…just saying…

SHAARD is a bit groundbreaking with all it’s trying to do. It’s unique to the State of Indiana, and it is attempting to be the most complete searchable database out there. It is currently focused on connecting the site information to a massive GIS map of the entire state. When we get done, not only will you be able to log in and see all the data collected so far, you’ll see a list of artifacts, references, descriptions, vital contact information, and maps. When you click though, it will take to you a usable GIS map with photo overlay. No more guessing.

I was ecstatic when I found out this last bit, and I will admit, I’m very picky about point and polygon placement on the map. I know what it’s like to be out there in the field with a Tremble “guessing” about where the site really is. I’ve been there, I’ve dug those empty holes, marched that extra half mile, been lost in that wood. I get it.

I’m also picky because this is what I’ve decided to get my masters in. GIS is becoming vital to our field. Not just for mapping, but other excellent uses…like making Topo’s of your cat pictures…or artifact density analysis, you know, whatever is more important.

DHPA and Cemeteries

The DHPA is also responsible for locating and recording cemeteries in the state. I don’t just mean the easy to find ones like beautiful Crown Hill, I mean tiny, probably forgotten, no-tombstone having, cemeteries too. One of my fist projects at the DHPA was to help defined the boarders of a small, neglected cemetery. It turned out, I already knew quite a bit about the cemetery because I’d done work on two sites connected to it already.

I won’t lie, I spent a fair amount of time in the State Library going over old records, newspaper clippings, city histories, and Sanborn maps on micro film. (Not a fan of microfilm). I’m a bit of a research nut, so this was pretty cool, and I got goofy excited when we went to the State Records Archives  and look at the 1930/40’s aerial photography looking for my little cemetery.  Sadly, I never did find it, but sometimes this happens.


                                                                                       John Walters and a cleaned headstone

Now you all know I’m big with the public outreach and all that, and I was really happy to find out that one of the things the DHPA does is works with our local Historical Foundation to host Cemetery workshops. They host a two-day long class where people come and learn how to restore and preserve the cemeteries around the state. They work with John Walters, an expert in cemetery restoration, to teach people how to clean, repair, and restore tombstones. They also provide lectures on how to identify features of the tombstones, what kind of stone they are, and how to use SHAARD.


A local geologist showing how to identify types of stone used in headstone production.

The class also has an advanced component where you can become certified to probe in the state. See, there are laws that control when and how you can dig on land that isn’t your own. In Indiana you can become certified to probe with a solid body probe in order to look for buried tombstones.


DHPA is also involved in a little thing called National Archaeology Month, where each year they put on numerous workshops and day camps, bringing archaeology to the public. I’m also going to be involved with those.

So, yah, I’m not bushwhacking though greenfield in 100+ degree weather, fighting for my life against mosquitoes and ticks right now. I am making life a little easier for those who are, and extending archaeology to the public little by little. I like to think this end of archaeology is just as interesting as the survey and recovery end, I know it’s just as vital. In the end, I’m having as much fun here as I’ve ever had in the field, and I know having done the full gambit allows me to understand what people in the field need from those in the office. I feel like I am bridging a gap, for the time being, and when the time comes and I’m out in the field again, I’ll understand more about why the Tremble hate us.

Working with the Public

It’s hot.  It’s extraordinarily hot.  The hottest, and driest, summer in recent memory.  The students are aware of this, naturally, and yet they continue to dig.  

And talk.  Not only is it hot, and loud, but school kids and tourists and neighbors and rangers and curators and press and colleagues and just about everyone else in the area is dropping by to talk.  They all ask the same thing: “what have you found?”  Each day the answer changes.  The basic sentiment, however, never varies.  By experiencing archaeology first-hand, the students have found satisfaction.

Faculty at Indiana University South Bend are working this summer with students in two archaeology excavations, both with significant public components.  The properties (described below) are owned by public institutions, the public is invited to participate fully in the experience, and the results will be publicly and widely distributed.

In 1848, Havilah Beardsley and Rachel, his wife, built the first brick house in Elkhart, now known as the Havilah Beardsley House. The Beardsleys and their children would have an immense impact on the community and in some cases, well beyond. The house remains a part of the Elkhart community, serving as one of the museums on the Ruthmere campus.

Now within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Bailly Homestead contains the remains of the trading post established in 1822 by Honore Gratien Joseph Bailly de Messein (1774-1835). His home was an early center of culture and civilization in a backwoods wilderness, providing a meeting place for both Indians and whites as well as being a stopping place for travellers and missionaries.

For more perspectives on what archaeology means to the students, check out the following clips:

Sarah M – speaking about sharing

Bryan – pontificating about playing

Amanda – bragging about bones

Hannah – preaching about patience

Sarah K – discussing digging

Ron’s pamphlet about the program



Doing Archaeology, Digitally

This Day of Archaeology doesn’t see me out surveying or excavating, nor in a lab.  Instead, it finds me sitting at my desk at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University in front of my Mac Book Pro, two large Apple Cinema Displays (powered by an old, yet remarkably reliable, Mac Pro), an iPad, an iPod, an Android handset (Droid X2 if you are interested), and a Galaxy Tab 10.1.  This (extremely technological) state of affairs results from the fact that its been a long time since I’ve actually stuck a trowel in the ground.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a great field archaeology pedegree.  I spent my elementary, highschool, and undergrad years (my father is an archaeologist as well) working on sites in the Northern Plains (mostly Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta – and a little bit in Montana and North Dakota).  As a graduate student, I worked in Indiana and Illinois.  My primary area of research as a graduate student (as well as my archaeological heart), however, rested in Egypt – Predynastic Egypt to be precise.  I worked several seasons with Fred Wendorf and the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at Nabta Playa.  The bulk of my work in Egypt, however, was at Hierakonpolis, where I excavated a variety of Predynastic household sites and did research into Predynastic household economy.

As a graduate student (and even as an undergrad, to be quite honest), I found myself increasingly interested in how information, computing, and communication technology could be applied to archaeology for teaching, research, outreach, and scholarly communication.  Fast forward several years and I find myself sitting at my desk at MATRIX in front of a dizzying array of devices.  My transformation from a “traditional” archaeologist (if you will – though, to be honest, is there really such thing as a “traditional” archaeologist) to a digital archaeologist is complete.


Archaeologist in Training

As an archaeologist in training, I arrive early to the lab with my assistant/coworker/friend Kayla. We basically live here.

We have been getting out sherds from the Hovey Lake site (which is near Evansville, Indiana) and been picking out the best examples of different things like vessel form, lip modifications, cordmarking, etc. We are currently on surface decorations.

Most of the time I find myself at my computer on excel sheets, checking to see where an artifact might be hiding or to change different variables about the artifacts.

Kayla is working hard to make sure all the decorate sherds are accounted for while Cheryl Munson, our boss, glues a miniature vessel back together.

This is one of my favorite vessels because it’s huge and has beautiful decoration on it.

We had printed out a faulty list for Kayla to pull all the body sherds. She was not very happy when we finally realized that it was missing half the things we needed and was out of order. We then printed out a new list and things were much easier after that. When we have trouble finding things, we put on our favorite Korean bands, Super Junior and Girls’ Generation, which always seems to help us find the artifacts faster (or with at least a smile).

Here I am searching through our study boxes. (Note my Icee in the corner, the room we work in has a bad a/c unit).

This is Kayla and myself, getting ready to leave after another long, hard, and fun day of work.

But even when grocery shopping an archaeologist is always being presented with mysteries. Why are the grains ancient? What makes them ancient? Who the heck came up with such a stupid selling point? (Don’t worry, I didn’t buy the bread, I kept to my 100% Whole Wheat.) But it confused me nonetheless.

Then again, this is just an average day for me.