I listen to a lot of science and skepticism podcasts that often do a “Holiday Wish-List” episode about this time. While I’m a pretty hardcore atheist, I still love Christmas. I think it’s more a love of the time of year and the festive attitude. Actually, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s Christmas without the pressure of giving presents.
Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t what they used to be for me. I’m sure a lot of people have this experience as they grow up. You start to have fewer family gatherings as families grow in size and you create a family of your own. My family was never all that big and I don’t have a family of my own (aside from my lovely wife!) but nevertheless our gatherings have dropped off. That being said, I still love the two holidays.
So, here is the first part of my “Holiday Wish List”. I’ll include examples from the web of each product. I understand that there could be any number of things added to this list and I encourage people to comment to that fact at the bottom of this post. I also understand that there are likely better brands of certain products that I’m not aware of. The point of this list is for new and experienced archaeologists to show to family members and loved ones so they have an idea of what to get them for their jobs. If you’re like me, archaeology is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle and a passion. I received my compass and my metal clipboard as Christmas presents and I’ve used them ever since.
Again, to keep the post from getting out of hand, this is the first part of several.
Compass A compass is one of the most basic tools that every archaeologist needs. You typically use a compass for just about every phase of archaeology. Some attributes to look for include the ability to adjust the declination, a sighting mirror (for the “hold in your palm types), a clinometer, liquid filled reservoir for the needle (faster and finer movement), and commonly used scales around the edges. The link is to the compasses page on REI’s website. I would recommend, if you are a member, getting as much of your equipment at REI as possible. It might cost a bit more than some other sites but there is a lifetime guarantee on everything they sell. If you are a member you can bring your broken compass back, even 20 years later, and get a new one. We are hard on equipment and it’s worth it.
Trowel A trowel is something that the archaeologist in your life likely already has. Trowels are more valuable than their children to most archaeologists. Actually, most archaeologists don’t have children, but they have trowels. That doesn’t make any sense but I’ll continue anyway. There are two main types of trowels: the pointed trowel and the margin trowel. Pointed trowels come in different sizes and shapes. There are short ones, long ones, ones with curved edges and ones with straight edges. Everyone has their preference as to which they prefer. Margin trowels, or square trowels, are typically all the same. The standard, smaller, size is adequate for most jobs. I often prefer my margin trowel because I can excavate and clean up my walls and corners with it.
The maker of the trowel is also important to a lot of archaeologists. The name you mostly hear associated with trowels is “Marshalltown”. Marshalltown is preferred because of it’s construction and durability. The trowels are forged from a single piece of high carbon steel and can withstand just about anything. You can get them with a hardwood or synthetic handle. A popular trowel across the pond is the WHS trowel. They are similar in construction to the Marshalltown line but have a more rounded handle.
Backpack I’m not going to link to any backpacks because there are just too many styles and options. Key features to look for include MANY POCKETS, a water reservoir, a waist strap is nice for those long surveys, an included rain cover (the kind that is in it’s own pocket on the backpack), and sealed zippers. There are different names for them but sealed zippers are generally covered by a thick piece of nylon-type fabric. That keeps the dust out and keeps the zippers working longer. Some archaeologists prefer the messenger type leather bag for their dig kits. These are sets of tools that they bring to excavations and don’t generally walk long distances with. They also have that old, antiquey professor look that sometimes field techs mock but secretly desire. The same rules apply with these bags. They should have lots of pockets, be of sturdy construction, and have solid buckles or big zippers.
Brushes Many archaeologists have a cobbled together set of brushes that they’ve acquired over the years and modified to suit their needs. A nice set of brushes with their own carrying case like these would be a welcome addition to any dig kit. The brushes should be of good enough construction so they don’t leave fine hairs behind and they should be somewhat stiff so they can move dust and dirt efficiently.
Chopsticks These are probably the cheapest and easiest gift to give! I have a set of different sizes of chopsticks that I’ve whittled down to different shapes that suit my needs. Since you can grab a hand full of them at any Chinese restaurant they are easy to acquire. They are also easy to shape quickly with a knife. I have a few that are untouched that I can shape to whatever need I have in a few minutes.
As I said above, this is the first of what will probably be about three posts. Feel free to suggest anything that you’d like me to cover. I think I have most of what should be on the list covered in the next few posts but I’m sure I missed something. Happy buying and digging!
2008 The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (iPad App), Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. Developed by Handmark, Inc.
Trowelling Excavation technique in which a mason’s pointed trowel is used to shave thin slices of material from the floor or face of an excavation unit. At the start of an excavation the entire trench floor may be cleaned several times by trowelling in different directions in order to identify the position, extent, and nature of archaeological features and their relationships.