Plots, Papers and Reports, Oh My!

Wieke surveying at Monte san Nicole


I woke up this morning very excited about the Day of Archaeology, and looked over the first few posts while I ate my breakfast at home. It was a good moment to reflect on the last eleven months, since Day of Archaeology 2011. I’ve moved out of the shipping container (!) and now have a lovely flat near the park. I also now work full time, have been appointed a second post-doc position for the ‘other’ 20% of my time within my department (looking at Roman Minor Centres in the Pontine region). Technically, they have my fridays, but in practice we’re more flexible than that as they’ll need me for whole weeks at a time later in the year, so I’ll be working on Rural Life stuff today…


09:00 – and I’ve just arrived at work by bike- almost all of my colleagues bike or walk to work, even if they come from further afield, they’ll use the train. I check my email then get to grips with my to-do list (after tweeting it!). I’m happy because I’ve been able to cross a couple of things off it this week. I had to drop everything to get our CAA 2012 paper written up, after delivering it in Southampton in March (I’ve been on two lots of fieldwork and short holiday since- and haven’t had time to update my blog), and we’ve been working on the final push to get two pilot geophysical studies published. The latter isn’t quite finished, but it’s at the point of having been sent off to be read by someone other than me and Martijn- my project leader. We’re both at the point with it where we can’t really judge it objectively any more. I’m glad it’s almost done- it’s very difficult to write up research you didn’t conduct yourself, and I really hope that I’ve done justice to the work of the people involved before me!

To Do List

09.30 – … my elation turns into a sinking feeling as I ponder my to-do list. It looks OK in the picture, but the thing is, each of the things on the list has it’s own, usually longer list on another bit of paper somewhere. I’d been in the middle of writing a report tying up all of the loose ends from our 2011 fieldwork, when CAA and fieldwork intervened. It is a tricky job because we had to work out a lot of the data-handling as we went, so I don’t have a standard set of methods that I can update with the incidental details- everything needs to be carefully explained, every decision made in the field, every bit of statistics or image correction applied afterwards.

10:00 – Ten AM on Friday is coffee and cake time for the whole institute, but I decide that today I have too much going on to take part in the chatter and socialising, and start looking at some raw data files for the report…

10:15 – and my computer spectacularly crashes, fortunately the only thing it wipes out is the start of this post, which word can’t recover when I get everything rebooted… and my email is misbehaving so I decide coffee is a good idea after all.


10:30 – and I’m back at my desk. I’m working on a file from a site where gradiometer surveys last July showed the presence of several (probably Bronze Age) structures on a small plateau. This data is a series of surface MS (magnetic susceptibility) readings taken on the topsoil by the team in October, when I wasn’t there. They made a small but critical error in how they decided to place the readings on the grid set up for the geophysical surveys. It’s not a major problem, but it means I have to do about an hour’s careful editing work on the data before I can get it loaded into a program that lets me plot the results in a plan view, to let me look at spatial variations and compare them to other data. Luckily, the field team kept excellent notes about exactly how they gathered the data, so while it takes time, I can be sure that I have the right readings in the right place by lunchtime. I write it all up carefully in the report, and make a note to myself to update and improve the training notes and protocols I hand out to our student helpers.


My morning’s work- the offset between the plot and the lines of the grid is intentional due to the mistake made collecting the data.


Writing it all up…

12:30 – and I go to lunch in one of the amazing old buildings at the heart of the university with my team. Today,the canteen has mosterd soup (a local speciality) that everyone loves. We chat about the football, and the weather in a mixture of English and Dutch, and then head back over to the Institute for the rest of the day.

13:30 – I’ve loaded the data into the plotting program and I’m making corrections to it (such as removing very high or low values, to better visualise subtle changes) when I hear a lot of commotion outside. It’s the bus being loaded with all the equipment needed by the teaching excavations at Crustumerium next month. It makes me grin, knowing people will soon be off to Italy, but for now I need to concentrate so it’s in with the earphones and on with the music.

14:30 – I have to admit I’ve been sneaking onto the Day of Archaeology site and following the #dayofarchtag on twitter. The LAARC guys give me a five minute break by tracking down the contents of shelf 666 for me. Turns out, it holds a neat little bone gaming die from Roman London. I love small finds, I don’t get to work with them very often- though on this current project I’m learning a lot about protohistoric pottery. I’m fascinated by the little everyday things that make it into the archaeological record, probably more so than the big and shiny things that make the headlines.

16:00 – I’ve finished with the first survey for the report. It takes a while to get everything into the GIS to compare it to the other surveys of the area we made in July, and information about pottery lying on the surface in October. I record everything I have done to the data, as well as the exact conditions it was collected under, then describe the pattern of values. Finally I write a short paragraph offering an archaeological interpretation of the data, taking into account everything we currently know about the site and the landscape. It’s really important to record things in this level of detail for any future researcher that needs to understand how the final plots were made, and why I concluded specific things about the site. It’s painstaking, and probably no-one will ever need to use it, but I’ve had the horrendous experience of trying to work with badly described geophysical data before, so I’m determined not to leave some potential future researcher in the same mess! I start with the next site. On this one, we did some surveys because workmen found a protohistoric storage vessel in a trench for an irrigation pipe, but the surveys didn’t show up anything structural. I still have to write them up in the same detail though!

The gradiometer survey of the same area

The gradiometer survey of the same area

17:00Corien, another PhD student knocks on mine and Wieke’s door. Wieke is the PhD student I work with- the geophysics I do is part of a wider project encompassing her PhD research. We normally work until 18:00 but Corien reminds us that it is Friday, and drags us off for a post-work drink. Our project leader Martijn comes along too, and we’re joined by another PhD student from another part of the faculty. We chat about the path PhD students are expected to follow- all three of them are at different stages, and it’s quite different to the UK in some ways, so interesting to me. At six we part company and head off on our bikes…

I’m about to submit this to the team at HQ, and while I wait for it go live I’m off to read as many of the other posts as I can fit in! Happy Day of Archaeology everyone.

Feeding Stonehenge – a view from the laboratory

Large pottery sherd from Durrington Walls

So, today is another day of laboratory work for me. I work as a research associate in the BioArCh group at the Department of Archaeology, University of York. I am part of a large team of archaeologists working on the AHRC funded Feeding Stonehenge project, which is investigating the provisioning and consumption patterns of people who lived at Neolithic Durrington Walls – the settlement site associated with the construction of Stonehenge. My role in the project is to analyse the distinctive Grooved Ware pottery for food residues and to see if there were differences in the types of food products that were being consumed by different households, and to see whether certain animals were selected for feasting. I have already looked at over 300 individual pottery sherds, and today I’ll be analysing another 10-20. I’ll also be supervising undergraduate students who have recently started their dissertation projects, working on pottery from other archaeological sites. One student is carrying out work on modern reference pottery that has been used to cook and process marine animals. The results from these experimental studies can be used to help us interpret what we find in archaeological pottery. The day starts off by coming into the lab and switching on the kit in the fume hood – we have to heat the samples to 70 degrees so I have to do this first so it gets up to the right temperature. Then it’s time for the first coffee of the day….


A Nevada CRM Archaeologist

This is my first post for the Day of Archaeology event.  I’d like to begin by thanking the organizers, advisors, and sponsors for conceiving of and making this event happen.  It’s important that we discuss archaeology across the world and get our work out to a broad audience.  All most people know about archaeology is what they see on the Discovery Channel or from Indiana Jones.

The road I took to get to a career in archaeology involved several u-turns and a few speed bumps.  Here is a quick history.  When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, an airline pilot, or an archaeologist.  Since my family didn’t have the money for me to realize any of those goals I did what I thought was the next best thing and joined the Navy right out of high school.  I spent the next four and a half years working on EA-6B Prowlers as an aviation electronics technician.  During that time I went on a cruise on the USS Enterprise for six months in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf.  We saw some great cities with great archaeology and history.  At this time, archaeology was something you saw on TV and included crusty old PhDs working in universities.  I never considered it as a career.

Near the end of my time in the Navy a random phone call landed me in commercial flight training at the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  While there I received my private pilot’s license and finished the training for a few other licenses.  After a year and a half I transferred to the University of North Dakota to continue my flight training at the nations largest and most advanced collegiate flight training school.  UND Aerospace has an amazing program with state of the art aircraft and flight simulators.  It was a great experience.

While I was taking aviation classes I filled up my general education requirements with anthropology classes.  I still loved the science of archaeology, in particular paleoanthropology, but still didn’t see it as a career option.  I’m not sure why.  I think it was still just one of those fantasy fields that you never think you are capable of performing.

After a couple of years I started to lose my desire to fly commercially.  I just didn’t think I would get any satisfaction from shuttling people around the country for the rest of my life.  Sure the pay is good but there are a lot of things you can do that involve less stress if all you want is money.  I need a job that makes me feel good at the end of the day and that I look forward to going to everyday.  Since I still didn’t see archaeology as an option, even though I had taken most of the classes offered, I spent the next couple of years taking photography and math classes just for fun.  I know, I like math.  I’m probably the only CRM archaeologist that has used SOHCAHTOA to determine the exact angle for a transect.

During my penultimate year in college my professor, Dr. Melinda Leach, told me that I could graduate in one year with a degree in anthropology.  I just had to take all of the upper level classes and that would be it.  With no other direction I decided to go for it.  I had to take 18 credits during the fall and 15 credits during the spring and write, I think, five or six research papers during the year but in the end I graduated.  After graduation I went back to Seattle and worked with my brother’s father in law’s home remodeling company.  I hated it.

In the fall I went back to North Dakota to help with the big event that the department had planned the previous year.  We had Jane Goodall coming to speak to a packed house.  One day, while sitting in the student lounge, a former student, and friend, came up to me and said hi.  He was visiting because hurricane Katrina had destroyed his apartment in New Orleans and his company laid everyone off for a little while.  He asked what I was doing.  At the time I was getting ready to go on an Earthwatch expedition to dig in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.  After that I had no plans.  He asked if I had checked Shovelbums.  Shovel what?

I educated myself on, prepared my CV, and started on a job in Minnesota a week after I returned from Africa.  That was in October of 2005 and I’ve been in CRM ever since.  I’ve worked at all times of the year, on all phases of field archaeology and in 13 states.

In August of 2009 I began a one year MS program at the University of Georgia.  The program was intense but I received my Master of Science in Archaeological Recourse Management in July of 2010.  I’m currently working in the Great Basin of Nevada and love every minute of it!

So, I guess that wasn’t too brief.  My fiancé will tell you that brevity is not a trait that I possess.  Hopefully someone will get out of this that it’s never too late and you are never too old to get into the dynamic field of anthropology.   There are many paths that you can take to get to anthropology and there are just as many that you can take along your career.

My Chief in the Navy once told me how he decides whether a job or a position is right for him.  He said to look around at the people that have been doing your job and are at the ends of their careers.  Are they happy?  Are they doing what you would want to do?  My favorite thing about archaeology is that you can’t really tell what the future will bring.  You could be running a company, teaching at a university, or hosting your own show on the Discovery Channel, if they ever get back to science and history shows and away from reality shows.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

In my next post I’ll talk about the project I’m on right now and the wonders of monitoring.


Written northeast of Winnemucca, NV.