Various archaeological, historical, and other related musings.  All opinions are my own.
Background Illustrations provided by:

'At the trowel's edge', coined by Asa Berggren and Ian Hodder (2003)…captures a dilemma in archaeological practice: the disconnect between what happens in the field (or laboratory, by extension) and what happens in the interpretation in writing. They argue that, rather than maintaing the common division of intellectual, physical, and skilled labor in archaeology between those who do and those who think and write, the archaeological process should reintegrate the thinking and interpreting back to the trowel's edge. By

Collaborative Indigenous Archaeology, “Troweling at the Edges, Eyeing the Center”, Stephen W. Silliman, 2008

It should be fairly obvious by reading the title of the volume that I’ve taken this quote out of its context.  Silliman is making the point that for archaeology to be truly collaborative between archaeologists and native peoples, collaboration needs to happen “at the trowel’s edge”, from the beginning of the project and not just at the end when the archaeologist presents his/her results to the community.

But reading the definition of the phrase, specifically the disconnect between those who do the archaeology and those who think and write and about it should strike a cord with anyone who has ever felt like a monkey with a shovel.  Listening to my classmates, it’s cleat that this is in fact a common dilemma in archaeological practice. 

I’ve had the opportunity this summer to work on an archaeological project on Nantucket, a collaborative project between the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research and the Museum of African-American History focusing on the Seneca Boston-Florence Higginbotham House.  Florence Higginbotham, pictured above, was a remarkable woman who kept both herself and her employer afloat during the Great Depression and was later able to purchase the African-American Meeting House (top right) adjacent to her property, ensuring its preservation.  I’ve chosen the above artifact photos to give you an idea of not only the richness of the material culture at the site but also of the personal kinds of artifacts we’ve been uncovering that have begun to paint an intimate picture of the long history of the home.  We return to the island tomorrow after a brief hiatus to resume work on some of the earliest occupation layers, that of Seneca Boston, a former slave, and his wife Thankful Micah, a Wampanoag woman. 

Packing for Field School vs. Packing for a Project

It struck me this morning as I re-packed at the last minute that I’m carrying the same two pieces of luggage that I carried to field school in Sicily, with a few crucial differences:

1) For field school I brought two family sized shampoos and two family sized conditioners. Now I use shampoo maybe every 5 days and just condition. It’s better for my hair anyway.

2) For field school I had an obscene amount of field clothes- most of my duffel bag consisted of t-shirts that I never wore. Granted we didn’t have access to a washing machine, but still. I would much rather run out of dig clothes than clean, none sweaty, non dirty clothes to change into.

3) A pair of boots. For field school I wore sneakers. Oh how young and naive I was.

4) Running clothes and running shoes. No wonder everything hurt after that first dig- I never stretched after being cramped into a trench all day.

5) Make-up. Now I still have make-up packed but these days you’ll be hard pressed to see me in anything other than mascara, if I’m wearing any at all. The days of doing my face in the morning are gone.

6) For field school I packed a hairdryer, salon brush, and hairspray. Not that any of it was usable with European plugs, but I still had it. As for what I’ve packed now, see the first comment about my hair.

7) An iPad. Thank God tablets were invented.

Now I’ll open it up: what did you bring to field school that was wildly impractical? What have you learned about packing for the field since then?

Summer #fieldwork cont.- Nantucket bound

Despite having completed a field project already this summer I’ve been blogging very little about fieldwork this summer for two main reasons:

1) since we were working on an indigenous site, there was a social media blackout (the exception being the project blog) to prevent any looting or other damage to the site

2) I was busy writing on the project blog, which can find here if you’re so inclined 

It was an absolutely fascinating project for the nerdiest reasons possible.  For one, new stratigraphy.  I’ve done most of my digging in the Mid-Atlantic and had never heard of “glacial soils” until I started digging in New England this summer.  For two, we dug stratigraphically in arbitrary levels.  That means that even though we followed the stratigraphy we dug in 10 cm increments and bagged the artifacts from those 10 cm levels together.  Unless there was a strat change in the middle of a level, in which case you start a new bag for that level.  It was super confusing at first, but in the end it helped when I found myself in a particularly tricky unit on a slope, of course, where the east half (the higher half) was full of sediments in the process of becoming soils while the west half (the lower half) was your standard A and B horizon soils.  At any given moment we had four different strata going in one level.  You can read more about it here

In two hours I will depart for Hyannis, where I will catch a ferry to Nantucket to start work on the Seneca Boston-Florence Higginbotham House, owned by the Museum of African-American History in Boston.  The Fiske Center has worked there previously, and this year’s excavations will be focusing on some of the outbuildings associated with the house.

The project has a condo for the six of us, so I’m sure these next few weeks will be something out The Real World, but what else would you except from a bunch of archaeologists?