Friday, November 23, 2012

Native American Heritage Day

Today is Native American Heritage Day and I was hoping to provide a list of some activities in honor of this day, similar to my post last year on Presenting Native American Heritage Month and Thanksgiving. This post was to be a look at how Native American Heritage Day is presented in our culture. However, there are few events occurring on the actual day: most tribes, universities and organizations celebrated Native American Heritage Day earlier in the month. This is actually not all that surprising considering that Native American Heritage Day is designated as the day after Thanksgiving. If you actually want people to attend these events, it is impractical to schedule these on the actual day because people will be visiting family members.

This is saddening in many ways. The actual day is not celebrated and groups have had to adopt a different day. What is even more saddening is that the day after Thanksgiving is also commonly known as Black Friday-a day of shopping deals and sales. So although people are unable to attend Native American Heritage Day events because of being with family, people are able to go on crazy shopping sprees. I'm hoping these shopping sprees are a family event at least. And for people looking to participate in Native American Heritage Day, here is what I was able to find-

Amerind Museum near Tucson, AZ offers free admission on Native American Heritage Day

NABI Native American Heritage Day in Phoenix, AZ

A grand total of two events on the actual day. The more I think about this post, the more I begin to realize that looking for these type of events is a kind of a demand on Native American groups. I do not have Native American ancestors and yet had an expectation of Native American groups to be interacting with the public on this day. I really don't have any place to say how Native American Heritage Day should be celebrated and honored. That doesn't change my feelings that it absolutely should be honored and celebrated. Or my feelings that "Black Friday" is the exact opposite of honoring Native American Heritage. But perhaps, simply being aware of the day, being aware of the native first peoples and spending time with loved ones is the best way to celebrate and honor this national holiday.

Several museums have Native American Heritage Month exhibits which would be a great family activity during the last week of November.

Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound at the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center in Marysville, Washington

Free admission to Cherokee Nation museums during Native American Heritage Month

Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, CO displays two photo exhibits for Native American Heritage Month

"Tuscarora Beadwork from 1812 to the present" at the Lewiston Opera Hall, Lewiston, NY

For other articles and thoughts on Native American Heritage Day and Thanksgiving from Native American perspectives-

Indian Country Today Media Network

Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Why Some Native Americans Can Laugh About Thanksgiving

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Deterioration of Organic Objects

Skeletal Material




Soft rot fungus. Both soft rot and brown rot results in brick-like macrodeterioration.



Tendering and bleaching due to UV exposure

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Conservation under the Microscope


  • Leather
Grain surface (left) and cross section (right) of leather, six different tanning techniques (SEM).

  • Skeletal Material

Micrographs of osteons from two different samples from Terme del Sarno (SEM).
Top a and b are from well preserved sample TS4
Bottom c and d are from deteriorated sample TS23.

  • Wood

Micrographs of waterlogged archaeological wood from Bowling Farm Site (SEM)

Micrographs of Redwood (Metasequoia) sample after 60 days anaerobic degradation in an artificial enivronment (SEM).  

  • Textiles

Micrograph of freeze dried cloth from man's handkerchief, recovered from deep-sea environment (SEM).


  • Glass

Glass Delamination and Crizzling (SEM)

  • Ceramics
Micrograph of ceramic vessel (SEM).

  • Stone
  • Iron
Optical micrographs of iron artifacts from the Xiongnu Empire (3rd century BC-2nd century AD) in Mongolia.

Micrograph of an iron artifact with slag inclusion.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Day of Archaeology 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012 was the Day of Archaeology, a project started to showcase what archaeology is and what archaeologists do. There were a lot more posts than there were last year, which is awesome, as this provides a truer picture of a day in the life within the discipline. The amount of posts about lab work, office work and conservation seems greatly increased from last year as well. Which is also great, because as we all know, time in the field results in a lot of necessary lab time, data organization/interpretation, and report writing.

Intern at Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology: "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."

Curation at Lost City Museum: I enjoyed that the curator discussed the necessity of wearing many hats at small museums. Really gives a feel of the variety of tasks necessary to preserve archaeological artifacts for future generations.

Institute of Archaeology at University College London: I really enjoyed the Keeper of Collections post last year as well. This year, she made support for pottery with non-flat bases, sorted through paper bags containing artifacts and sorts samples from Evan's excavations at Knossos (so cool!).

Worcester Archaeology: I liked this on because the coffee start to the day and the chocolate break were awesome. Big chocolate fan myself, and although I sometimes forget to take breaks while working, I am pretty ravenous by the time I do. The roman tiles and pottery were pretty cool. I also like that the author gave us a bit of insight to some of the more mundane controversies of archaeology (like money spent on new buildings or updating old).

Curator at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex: This is the first curation facility for artifacts in West Virginia. Which has been one of the focuses of this blog, listing the various state archaeological curation facilities. The curator also talks about the importance of salvage archaeology and gives a shout-out to future archaeologists.

Leather Belt Conservation at Rubicon Heritage: Uniquely preserved, a beautiful medieval belt. This artifact was, and is, in fantastic condition. 

Conservation at AOC Archaeology Group: A day in the conservation lab-including writing up all treatments and progress.

The Bitterly Hoard at the British Museum: Wonderful write up about conserving the Bitterly hoard. Stunning photos and really captures the ongoing excavation aspect of conservation. One of the most rewarding experiences in conservation is to take sediment or concretions apart and reveal previously unknown artifacts within. Check out Part Two as well.

Conservation on the Pambamarca Archaeological Project: I really enjoyed the bit about in field conservation of a burnt reed mat. These kind of activities are vital to illustrating the importance of interaction between conservators and archaeologists. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, conservators can assist in the preservation of the artifact and archaeologists can immediately see that their work is being preserved for future generations.

Conservation at the Kelsey Museum: Conservation of artifacts from the 1920s for an upcoming exhibit Karanis Revealed.

Conserving 5 Burial Urns at Wiltshire Conservation Services: Skeletal material conservation has been one of my interests since working in Hawai'i. This post was fascinating and illustrates the necessity of various sub-disciplines working together, the initial archaeologists, the conservators, and the bioarchaeologists that will interpret the stabilized remains.

Human Remain Detection Dogs: Very interesting, including this one solely based on the fact that dog as archaeologists or archaeological helpers to find unmarked burials had never occurred to me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Things I wish I'd known . . .

I am incredibly fortunate in a lot of ways. I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up while I was still just a kid. My original dream of becoming a professional baseball player fell through after realizing that I never saw a single woman in the Major Leagues. After that, I was pretty worried about my future (at 9 years old, yup, I was that kind of child). We had a children's book, the Secrets of Vesuvius by Sara Bisel, that was totally fascinating to me. It described the process used to form casts of where people's bodies had been. All the intricate details of someone else's life captured in a single slice of time. It still is awe inspiring to me that archaeologists can actually 'see' people who lived so long ago. And I knew from that year forward, that I was going to be an archaeologist when I grew up.

This passion was manifest in my undergraduate coursework. Although I had to wait till I was 20 years old to start college due to a severe medical trauma in the family, once I started, I zipped through the requirements, often taking the maximum amount of credits allowed per semester. I was at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for a total of three years, I took 125 credits (124 required to graduate), all with the view of getting my degree as soon as possible!! As I mentioned, I was truly fortunate not to have to go through the stress of figuring out a major or changing majors, I knew from the beginning of my college career exactly what I wanted to do.

I also zipped through my graduate coursework. Now that I am writing and editing my thesis, looking back there are a few things that I would have done differently. The following is advice that I wish someone had given me and I'm hoping it can help some budding archaeologists out there.

  • Take a variety of courses related to archaeology and as many technical classes as possible (Geoarchaeology with a lab portion, Dendrochronology, Paleobotany, whatever you can get your hands on). Also include a healthy dose of computer classes. More and more employers are hiring archaeologists with computer skills-not just GIS (Geographic Information Systems), but website and html design as well. 
  • Do a field school during undergraduate coursework. I was working for a CRM (Cultural Resource Management) firm during my undergrad and although I was working in the field 20 hours a week, a fieldschool is a frequent requirement during the hiring process.
  • In addition to your university requirements for graduation, and anthropology department requirements, it is a good idea to review the requirements for working as an archaeologist through the government. Government positions pay on a grade scale and each pay grade has very specific requirements. 
  • Many employers are hiring archaeologists based on regional knowledge in addition to general knowledge. This is also good to keep in mind when choosing a university to attend. For example, if you attend a university in the Southwestern United States, you will most likely have classes that are specific to the region, and are more likely to get hired in that area.
  • Attend an annual archaeological conference-one of the larger ones, such as SHA (Society for Historical Archaeology) or SAA (Society for American Archaeology). It is a perfect view into the professional world of archaeology, and showcases projects from academia, government, and private sectors. It also gives you a chance to start networking and planning your own future in the profession. They are pricey (which is why I skipped so many while an undergrad-but now I wish I hadn't). Include these costs in your school budget from the beginning of the academic year. 
  • Make sure you have photos of yourself working in the field and personal photos of artifacts and archaeological sites as permissible. This is important for social networking and your informal 'portfolio'.

Plotting STPs (shovel test pits)

  • Before choosing a graduate program, ask the average length of time it takes grad students to finish their thesis or dissertation. Some programs will be streamlined to make this process easier or will provide the support that leads to graduation. No matter how quickly or efficiently you work, you can get bogged down in this process, because of the number of people and processes involved.
  • Actually, go ahead and make a loooonnng list of questions. Here's a few to get started with.
    • How many students work on projects in the field? 
    • How many students receive grant money for research projects? 
    • How many students work as teaching assistants? How many students work as research assistants? 
    • What projects are ongoing? What projects were undertaken last year? 
    • Does the department have a good relationship with other departments? If no, why? (Make this as impersonal as possible, you don't want to get involved with interdepartmental warfare before you even start!). 
  • Visit the grad program prior to accepting!! For an undergraduate degree, it is not quite as necessary to visit because most programs offer very similar basic anthropology courses and there are enough teachers that you can be sure to find ones you get a long with. For graduate degrees, you will be spending a lot of time with these professors and it is worth it to make sure that you like them before committing. 
  • Find a professor that is willing to be a mentor, someone you can work with and who has similar research interests. This is essential. Having a professor that will be a thesis adviser, who will let you know about opportunities, and who will be a great reference for you, makes a world of difference. This relationship starts before you arrive at the school. Talk to them at conferences, visit them on campus, and communicate via e-mail.
  • I'm not there yet, but I'm hoping that some of the wisdom I gained from completing a master's degree will be of assistance in the process.

I wish that I had been more aware of the importance of networking and publishing articles during my undergraduate and graduate work. I really just wanted to get out and dig!! I still do! But I've learned that archaeology, as a profession, is about far more than just the archaeological record. It is about working with people today and it takes a lot of skill to tread the water of interpersonal relationships and group dynamics.

You will get your chance to excavate an archaeological site, excavate artifacts, record profiles, catalog artifacts, and interpret the data in an attempt to know who these people were. In the meantime-don't forget to let people know who you are.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CV in Timeline Form

I decided to approach my resume in a different fashion, using a timeline and graphics to condense several pages into one. The reason for this decision was largely due to having heard back from a potential employer that more than 200 people had applied for the same position! Also, Doug's Archaeology introduced me to the idea of a timeline resume. The only thing that would not fit were publications.

Sooo, here it is . . . Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thesis Etiquette and Communication

I am currently working on my Master's thesis and this semester has been spent sending my written work to thesis committee. How do you balance moving your thesis along while remaining respectful? I also discovered this semester that it is customary to give your thesis committee members a gift. I had not thought about it before and was grateful that a fellow student mentioned it. That set me to thinking about thesis etiquette and how I would like to improve my own thesis communication.

In addition to this helpful document from my current university-Steps to Theses Finalization, I have also found some other gems regarding thesis procedure, including lots of university specific procedures and general how-tos on selecting a thesis committee and writing a thesis. But very little on etiquette and no handy dandy manual.

I was on my own. Since etiquette is just appropriate forms of verbal and non-verbal communication, I've put together a few useful hints and will add to this post as I learn more! Comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Establish an initial thesis committee meeting. This is not a necessity, but it would establish communication among all thesis committee members and ensure that you and your thesis committee are on the same page about the direction your thesis or dissertation is headed. 
  • Include your thesis adviser in all communications with your thesis committee members. For all e-mails, carbon copy (cc) or blind carbon copy (bcc) your thesis adviser. For phone calls, let your adviser know about the conversation (when it occurred and what was discussed). This will keep your adviser in the "know" regarding your progress and will allow your adviser to step in if one committee member is suggesting taking your research a different direction from the rest of the committee. 
  • Keep a record of all of your communications with your thesis committee members. Generally it is a good idea to keep e-mails that your thesis committee members have sent you and to print off a hard copy for your personal records. 
  • Communicate with your outside reader regularly. Some Universities allow for an outside reader, a professional in the field or at another university who can provide valuable insight on your project. Since these outside readers may not be located on campus and may not see you regularly, it is a good idea to let them know how things are progressing. Even if things aren't progressing (sigh) a regular e-mail will inform them that you would still like them to be involved with your project.
  • Establish a thesis defense timeline. If you can establish times of the year that are good for your thesis committee to attend a thesis defense, this will save you a lot of trouble. For example-some professors are not available during the summer months due to projects. Planning around sabbaticals is also important. Also there are numerous conferences during the year and it would be prudent to check with professors as your thesis defense approaches to ensure that there are no scheduling conflicts.
  • Write a thank you letter and give a gift to your thesis committee members. Several students have posed the question of what to give your thesis committee members on websites. A thank you letter is always appropriate and other suggestions have included getting members a book related to their field or interests and restaurant gift cards. For dissertations, a bound copy of the dissertation is a very traditional gift for advisers and committee chairs. Gifts should only be given after the successful defense of the thesis or dissertation. On a practical note, a great gift is leaving a clean work space after you leave. Clean your lab area and desk, and present your research notes, lab books and other information in an organized fashion. Also keep in mind that the gift does not have to be expensive, it is the gesture that is important.

Books on completing theses and dissertations-

Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish: Psychology and Related Fields

Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising and Finishing your Doctoral Thesis

Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation

Finish your Dissertation once and for all: How to Overcome Psychological Barriers, Get Results and Move on with your Life

And a comic to lighten the mood-

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Conservator vs. Conservationist

Let me preface this brief commentary by stating that none of these images are mine. They were all found on google images and links to the original sites have been included. 

That said, one of the first things I learned in my conservation classes was that I was not studying to be a conservationist. I was studying to be a conservator. What's the difference you ask? Well, at the most basic level, both conserve, but a conservator preserves man-made artifacts while a conservationist preserves nature.



Allison works on foot case 5-409

Okay, okay. This might not be the best image of a conservationist (a.k.a. tree-hugger) but it does illustrate the point at hand. Conservationists are all about nature.

Dr. David E. Guggenheim takes water samples near Louisiana
 to test for toxins affecting marine life (link)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Florida State Archaeological Collections and Conservation Lab

The Archaeological Collections and Conservation Laboratory is a part of the Bureau of Archaeological Research within the Division of Historical Resources. I had the opportunity to visit both the conservation lab and the collections on Friday, January 6, 2012. It was a great visit and both tours were both personal and fascinating. It was interesting to see the curation of such a large quantity of artifacts. I thought it was well done, and as I've come to learn, it is quite unique. Only a handful of states actually run their own collections facility rather than depending on a museum or university to house the archaeological collections.

Conservation Lab

The conservation lab is located in the R.A. Gray Building which also houses the Museum of Florida History. The building was constructed in the 1970s and the conservation lab was specifically designed and constructed at that time. It is an impressive facility with a dry lab and a wet lap complete with several tanks for treatment of large artifacts along with a lift crane.

Chandelier from the Martin House at the Dry Lab

Anchor undergoing treatment in the Wet Lab
 J. Claire Tindal, Conservator, led me through both labs and described some of the projects that are currently undergoing treatment. This included a large bronze eagle that had the misfortune of being target practice, a lamp from a shipwreck, numerous parrott shells, two anchors undergoing retreatment, a Native American wooden bowl and a dugout canoe enjoying a nice long polyethylene glycol (PEG) bath.
Conservator J. Claire Tindal with a bronze eagle undergoing mechanical cleaning

Brass lantern, similar to the one found on the USS Monitor

Parrott Shells desalinating

Wooden bowl soaking in PEG with a thin layer of biofilm
(common occurrence during PEG treatment of wood).

Dugout canoe soaking in PEG.
Water color likely a result of natural tannins leaching out of the wood.  

As you may have guessed, I am interested in the conservation of dugout canoes (Cambridgeshire Canoes and Logboat Conservation) stemming from my interest in prehistoric organics conservation. In addition to the canoe soaking in PEG another canoe was being treated by controlled air drying. The method for the controlled air drying including wrapping the canoe in a large polyethylene sheet and essentially let the moisture out just a bit at a time. Some of this moisture would evaporate and some would form condensation on the sheet, which would be cleaned periodically. It seemed like the canoe was in great shape. And the treatment seems to be one of the safest and easiest for freshwater canoes that retain some integrity at the cellular level (if cellular walls are degraded, bulking would be required).

Controlled air drying for a canoe
Collections and Research Lab

Marie Prentice, Senior Archaeologist, and Dr. David Dickel, Lab Supervisor (oversees collections and the conservation laboratory), showed me the collections which were located in the Department of State building on Monroe Street. It was really great to talk to them about the many details of the collections and they did not seem to mind all of my questions. I had quite a few as I am interested in a position with a state archaeological repository as a future career option. In addition to the cool stuff, like the immense variety of artifacts, they were also quite frank about some of the difficulties associated with a large state collection including the fact that not everything that is excavated can go into the collections, and the necessary limitation of artifacts excavated from state lands and a portion of artifacts recovered from state waters.

Marie Prentice
David Dickel

Another difficulty is the perception researchers and exhibit planners have about the collections. Researchers sometimes expect interpretations and some analysis along with the artifact. But this is a repository, and as Dave said, it is similar to a library. The archaeologists working in these collections protect, preserve and catalog these artifacts-and they know exactly where to find them. Analysis and interpretation falls squarely on the shoulders of those with a specific research design. The same goes for exhibit planners, many of them may not know what they want the exhibit to look like prior to coming to the collections. And while the archaeologists have some samples of the variety of the collection in display and it remains difficult to impress upon visitors the inherent differences between archaeological objects and historical objects.

But back to the cool stuff, there were rows and rows of boxes labeled by accession number and filled with polyethylene baggies. The numbering system for accessions was slightly different than those used for historical objects. Artifacts are sorted by material then type, a much simpler and more applicable system than the categories and sub-categories of museum nomenclature.

Archaeology Accession:
Year (xx)-Accession Group#-Field Specimen #-Object # (Lot #) 
Historical Accession:
Year (xxxx)-Accession Group#-Object #-Parts (a, b, c, d etc.)

In addition to the two canoes at the conservation lab, there were numerous canoes within the collections. Many of the most complete canoes are on long-term loan and the ones that remain in the collections are often partial remnants or deteriorated. One of the canoes had been recovered privately and left exposed in the open. The canoe began to deteriorate and it was decided to put it back in the water-which led to even greater deterioration as the wood cells rapidly expanded after shrinking.

Canoes at the Florida State Archaeological Collections

Boards holding together canoe with severely deteriorated and fragmented wood.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Six Logboats discovered in Cambridgshire, UK.

"One canoe would be great. Two, exceptional. Six almost feels greedy"
David Gibson, head of Cambridge University's archaeological unit, is not exaggerating. A single site with several canoes can illustrate the importance of water in early man's life (see previous post on logboats in the Southeastern United States). Sites like this one change how we think about our ancestors. The site dates between 1300 and 1000 BCE, and is located in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom.

Photo by Dave Webb, Cambridge Archaeological Unit for the Observer
In addition to the logboats, numerous other artifacts have been discovered in pristine condition. Tableware-some with contents still intact, fabric, spear hafts, ropes, wicker baskets, fish weirs and fish traps have all survived. These fish weirs and traps were large baskets constructed of thin willow branches and organic material like branches or reeds rarely survive burial and deterioration processes. The eel traps were designed and used in a similar fashion to those used in the area today.

Photo by Cambs Times
The peat and silt of the riverbed preserved the most delicate of materials. Also the depth is pretty incredible, the site starts 12 feet below surface level. The site was discovered during excavation of the banks for clay bricks by the Hanson Heidelberg Cement Group.

Photo by BBC
The logboats range in size from 13 feet to just over 27 feet. This quotation captures the size and sheds a little perspective on these vessels:
"It feels as if you could get the whole family – granny, grandad, a couple of goats and everything – in there" -Mark Knight. 
Conservators have been involved with the process of excavating these artifacts and will continue treatments at York Archaeological Trust. There are concerns that some of the boats will crack as they are lifted out of the ground, but as you can see below, the boats are properly supported as they are excavated.

Photo by University of Cambridge
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Archaeology, Conservation and Curation by Whitney Rose Petrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License