#253 Choosing a Field School

Figure 1. Screening with some help from local volunteers.

Bill White and I are recording a special episode of the CRM Archaeology Podcast all about Field Schools. What should be taught at a field school? What shouldn’t be there? What did you get out of your field school? Should you learn job hunting skills? Why type of field school should you go for?

We’ll be recording on Thursday, March 26, at 5pm PDT. Send an email to if you want to call into the podcast and tell us your field school story. If you’re an undergraduate looking for a field school, call in and tell us what you’d like to learn or what you’re looking for. If you don’t know, we’ll try to help.

I’ve told my field school story before on the this blog, in my book, and on the podcast but I’ll talk about it again briefly. The field school was actually an Earthwatch program at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. We were digging trenches in deposits between basalt layers dated from 1.83 to 2.01 mya. Basically, the bottom of the Gorge. It was AWESOME. We dug, screened, identified extinct faunal remains, did a little pedestrian survey, cleaned and tagged artifacts in the onsite lab, and had presentations on the area and the archaeology. We also visited several Masai villages and a market. The experience was one of a kind and fueled my passion for paleoanthopology. Did it prepare me for a career in contract archaeology, though? Not even a little bit.

Choosing the Right School

First, you need to figure out what you want to do with your life. I know, easier said than done. I don’t mean be specific, though. I just mean, do you want to be a paleoanthropologist? Do you want to work in contract archaeology? Even better, do you want to work in a certain part of the country or world? Those are big, mostly easy, questions that you can probably answer right now. The next question, though, is even more difficult.

Attributes of a Field School

Figure 2. This image is NOT from a WCRM project. Just FYI.

Now that you know where you want to go, or at least the region, you have to figure out which school to go to. If they have a website with info, great! If they don’t, contact someone that teaches the school and ask them questions. I’m going to focus on contract archaeology now since that’s what I do.

If you’re interested in contract archaeology you are going to need some specific skills that will set you above your competition. Many people, like me, just fulfilled the basic requirements of a CRM job: a degree and a field school, oh, and a pulse. To set yourself above the rest you want to get some good training in but you have to know what that training is.

Here is a list of things that you should learn at a field school to be more marketable on your first job:

  • Tablet Recording
    • Everyone is going digital, learn it
  • Sub-meter GPS
    • we use these EVERYWHERE
  • Using a compass
    • yes, we still do that
  • Hand drawing a map
    • just a good skill to have
  • Reading a map
    • Know how to read a topographic map. It'll save you from some treacherous hikes in the west
  • Taking notes
    • not as easy as it sounds; you have to be succinct and descriptive all at the same time.
  • Soil description
    • no one told you that you’d need a geology minor, did they? Well, you do.
  • Using a screen
    • see my embarrassing episode on my first dig in my book.
  • Reading a Munsell book
    • colors are important to some people
  • How to find a job in the instructor’s profession
    • they should be training their replacements

This is just a start, but, it’s a fundamental list of what you should look for in a field school. If a field school director is not teaching one of these things, ask them why they aren’t.

The Two Purposes of a Field School

Figure 3. The waste rock and entrance corridor of an adit, a horizontal mine shaft.

Contrary to what some graduate students and professors might think, field school isn’t just for finishing your dissertation or working on that site you’ve been digging for 20 years. It’s for teaching. Chances are the field school has been funded by organizations who demand that you teach. So, teach! I’ve heard of a number of instances of people attending field schools and just moving buckets for the grad students or not being able to use the expensive equipment. Field school students aren’t there to be your grunts. They are there to learn and they are often paying over $6000US for the privilege.

Remember, if you want to tell your story or tell us what you’re looking for in a field school, see the note at the top of this post.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!!

#250 Tom King is Wrong

I drafted this post a few weeks ago and never got around to finishing it. Now it’s about to encompass a couple things that Tom King is wrong about.

Do we need archaeologists?

It all started with a podcast interview I recorded with Tom a couple months ago. The interview is for a podcast that isn’t quite ready yet so I have no link for it. We were talking about archaeology and archaeologists and the idea of professional licensing. I asked Tom why we don’t have licensing for archaeologists. He told me it’s because we don’t actually need archaeologists. We need plumbers and electricians so we have licensing for them. He apparently thinks we need nail and hair salons too since they also require licensing.

Was Tom King right? Do we not have a NEED for archaeologists? I guess it depends on your definition of “need”. If you take it to the absolute reductionist view of my friend, Dave, then we don’t really “need” anything beyond a cave to sleep in and some food to eat. However, most of us have more extensive needs.

We need archaeologists the way we need science, medicine, and space travel. These things help us live in this world in a better way than our ancestors did. They help us live healthier lives and learn from our past. Archaeology teaches us what has and has not worked in the past. It shows us what’s been tried and how we can proceed. More than that, archaeology is a record of human achievement. Whether we need that or not, again, depends on your definition. I think we do need archaeology and I think the world would be worse off if our heritage were not recorded for descendent generations to learn from.

Consider this, everything from farming to chemistry to physics to industrialization is recorded by archaeologists. ALL HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT is part of history and archaeologists record that history.

Do we need licensing?

The follow-on question is, of course, should we license archaeologists? What would that get us? What is the benefit to the public and what is the benefit to the archaeologist?

The public benefit is the secure knowledge that someone with sufficient training is recording their precious history. We’ve all heard of, and have possibly seen or been party to, those excavations where someone blew through a feature. We’ve seen people blow off sites while on survey. Would licensing prevent those things from happening? Maybe. With licensing would come the need to maintain that license. We would have to go through regular training and continuing education. We could bring in an ethical component too, and, harsh penalties for violating those ethics. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but, in the end I think there would be a huge benefit.

Archaeologists would benefit as well. Aside from the continuing training, archaeologists would likely get paid more and would have a higher credibility amongst the other field sciences. Maybe these things don’t mean much to some, but, from questions asked on the Profiles in CRM podcast it’s clear that pay and respect are high on most archaeologist’s lists.

Do you have to publish to be an archaeologist?

The other thing Tom King is wrong about is that you don’t have to publish to be an archaeologist. Let me explain.

I shared a link on my Facebook page to a podcast from Joe Schuldenrein:

On that episode Joe interviewed a couple of grad students and asked them about their program and what their plans are. The show was completely from a grad student perspective.

Along with the post on Facebook I commented that it was a good episode but ignored the fact that most archaeologists don’t have a graduate degree. Then Tom started commenting.

Basically, Tom said that the industry standard for getting hired at a museum or university is that you have to publish. Sure, I’ll buy that. The problem is that most archaeologists in the United States work in Cultural Resource Management (CRM). Most CRM archaeologists (Tom is cringing at that term right now) are field technicians. Most field technicians have a BA/BS in anthropology or archaeology. So, most archaeologists do not have graduate degrees.

I explained this and the conversation turned to whether field technicians are archaeologists at all. Just because they dig holes and walk lines doesn’t make them archaeologists, according to Tom. If they don’t do research and they don’t publish, then they just aren’t archaeologists.

Wow. What they hell do we call them, then?

What is an archaeologist?

An archaeologist is someone that studies the material remains of human activity. The papers and reports that are written about archaeological topics are based on data from the field. Those data are collected by field technicians. Field technicians need to be able to identify artifacts and sometimes assess the condition of sites. They need to have a knowledge of many different types of artifacts and features in order to do their jobs. Anyone can dig a hole, but, not everyone can determine the soil horizons they’re digging in and what they mean. Not everyone can look at a piece of glass and know that it’s from 1970 so we shouldn’t waste our time there. Of course these things just take training, but, it’s that training, on top of a degree, that makes a person an archaeologist.

Do you need a degree to be an archaeologist?

Yes. You want more? Fine. You need a degree because going through college gives you a perspective that people that don’t go through college just don’t have. Over the course of an anthropology or archaeology BA/BS you’ll be exposed to writing, research, and analysis. The quality of those activities is variable, but, you’re exposed nonetheless.

When I was a field technician I freely called myself a scientist. I encouraged others to do the same, even though they saw themselves as shovelbums. In fact, I want to do away with the label “shovelbum”. It’s derogatory and in no way describes the fantastic people that I’ve had the privilege of working with. At my CRM firm I don’t hire shovelbums. I hire archaeologists. Shovelbums can go look for work at Home Depot.

So Tom King is wrong, in my opinion. Archaeology IS important. We SHOULD be licensed. You DON’T have to publish to be an archaeologist.

Eviscerate me in the comments…

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!!


#183 Book Club, Second Try

OK. I posted back in #181 about a Google Hangout book club idea that I had. I asked for interested people to comment on the blog. Well, so far I’ve received a total of...ZERO comments! Help me figure out why.

I can think of a few reasons. First, and the most obvious, is that no one is interested in the book. That’s very much a possibility. I found the book at the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center and didn’t know much about it. After reading the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads it seemed like a good book to read. Since I’m constantly busy and don’t often make time to read I thought I’d set a schedule and include others in on the discussion. Oh, and the forty or fifty blogs I read every week take up my time. Damn blogs! I’m into chapter three and so far it’s pretty good. I like reading history from an alternate perspective and not much is written about the European conquest from the Native American point of view.

Another reason for the lack of participation could be that people are just too busy during the summer. A number of my readers are students and students might not want to continue reading after a year of intense reading for school. On the other hand, a number of my readers are CRM archaeologists. They like to read all the time. But, they might not have access to a solid internet connection while in the field and feel they can’t participate.

I guess another reason could be that people don’t want to buy the book. It’s a few bucks and students are always strapped for cash. CRM archaeologists are notoriously broke as well. When you include shipping, assuming you’re still reading on paper, then the cost just increases.

A final reason could be that NO ONE READS THIS BLOG! Maybe all my page hits are just bots. Or Google. Well, that’s not it. 

Seriously though, I’d like to do a Google Hangout book club. So, if anyone wants to suggest a book to keep up with during the summer suggest one in the comments! As scientists and professionals we need to keep the reading up and read stuff constantly! Even if you are reading constantly right now it helps to discuss the book with others.

So, once again, suggest a book! Or, if you still want to do this one I can push back the Hangout date a few weeks. I originally scheduled the hangout for July 2nd but that can be moved. Let me know!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

#178 Alabama City Destroying Mound for Sam’s Club (88 mph Marty!)

178 large_stone mound.jpg

Here is the article:

Ready for time travel? Read on.

A friend posted this on my Facebook page last weekend. I saw the headline and immediately posted it on my blog’s Facebook page which sent the article to Twitter. I had not actually read the entire article yet. After a few retweets on Sunday I decided to read the entire article so I could write this angry and scathing blog post today. 

Reading the article certainly got my blood boiling. I’ve hated Walmart for a long time and Sam’s Club is just a bloated version of Walmart. Why would I want cases of crap as opposed to individual items of crap? I’ve never been in a Sam’s Club and I haven’t been in a Walmart since 2004. So, I was primed to be pissed off and angry. And boy was I. 

The article’s author explained how the CRM report said that the mound was not eligible for listing on the NRHP but that it should be avoided by construction activities. They also mentioned how the city was basically ignoring the recommendations because the mayor thought the mound was natural. There seemed to be fighting on all sides of the debate.

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 11.30.49 AM.png

So, screw Walmart, right? Yes. That will never change. However, if you look at the end of the article the date says…2009. That’s right! This article is four years old! According to the Sam’s Club website there is currently no store in Oxford, AL. Apparently the construction was stopped, but, not before the site was already damaged.

I’d love to see a current picture of the site and if I come across one that I can verify I’ll post it here in an update. 

This article is a lesson in checking out the details. I usually look at news on Google where the date is prominently displayed. I just assumed that this article was recent because it was moving around the internet so suddenly and so fast. This just show’s that while Twitter and Facebook have their uses, us users still need to practice caution and check the sources. Nothing ever goes away on the internet so make sure that you know when something was published or posted, myself included.

Consider yourself (and me) humbled.

Thanks for reading (and verifying this on your own!) and I’ll see you in the field!

#177 Day of Archaeology 2013

Here is the poster for the #dayofarch 2013. Do you plan to participate? It's fun to record your day in a unique way and let the world see what you do. We need more CRM archaeologists to participate. I was the only one in Nevada for the last two years!

Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field...and I'll read about you on the Day of Archaeology website!

#175 Word For Archaeologists Pt. 3.2: Fun with Tabs

Part one of this short series on the use of tabs in Microsoft Word dealt with a few common issues. Those include setting up tabs, types of tabs, and some cool little things you can do right in the ruler. Here are some more advanced techniques you can use with tabs. Please comment and enjoy.

Tab Leaders 

Tab leader types.

Tab leader types.

Ever wonder how people get those dots in their table of contents? You know the ones I mean. The series of “periods” that run from the chapter title to the page number. Those are called tab leaders and can be used any time you have a tab in the document.

Tab leaders don’t care what type of tab you use. The symbol you choose will flow left from the tab between your text at the tab and the text at the beginning of the line. To choose a tab leader either double click in the ruler bar on a tab or click on “tabs” in the Format menu. 

In the Tab dialogue box you’ll see a wealth of information. At the top you can change the default position of tabs. It’s usually set at 0.5 inches. That means when you hit the tab key, with no tabs set in the ruler bar, your curser will move 0.5 inches. Next you’ll see a list of the tabs you have in your ruler bar and the position on the ruler that they are set at. Notice that there is a box where you can enter a number. If you know where you want all your tabs and would like to do it manually, or you would like to adjust existing tab positions, you can do that here. Just enter a number and click “set”. The tab will appear in the list.

Tab Menu dialogue box

Tab Menu dialogue box

Now you can click on one of those numbers and change the attributes of the tab. Notice that you can change they tab type by clicking one of the radio buttons next to left, center, right, etc. Here, is where you set the tab leader. On my version of word there are four options: none, dots, dashes, and a solid line. Most people like the dots, although, the solid line is clean and classy. You should always try to stay classy. Anyway…

Finally, you can clear all the tabs in the document by clicking on “clear all”. Keep in mind that this will move text around in your document if you’ve used the tab key. Only use “clear all” if you know what you’re doing. You can always press CNTL-Z if you really mess things up.

Paragraph and line indents

These aren’t really tabs but they function the same way. The margins of your writing area are determined by the triangles on the left and right side of the ruler. There is only one triangle on the right side and moving it will change the length of your paragraphs. The left side is more complicated and is composed of three parts: an inverted triangle, a regular triangle, and a small rectangle.

The bottom rectangle’s only function is to move both triangles at the same time. This is for indenting lines and paragraphs. All lines in the selected area will be moved. Keep in mind I said “selected area”. Tabs and the ends of the ruler can be different for every single paragraph you have in your document. When you press the enter key the settings for the previous paragraph are copied to the next one. To change the entire document press CNTL-A and highlight everything. Only do this if you want to change EVERYTHING.

The top triangle is the first line indent. Every need to indent the first line of a paragraph? Ever need to outdent (pretty sure that’s a word) the first line? This is where you do it. Just drag the top triangle only in either direction and that is where the first line will start.

Indented text using just the triangles on the ruler bar.

Indented text using just the triangles on the ruler bar.

The bottom triangle is the hanging indent. The rest of the lines in a paragraph (after the first line) will be positioned according to the bottom triangle. Thankfully, once you have your top and bottom triangles set you can move the whole lot by dragging the rectangular box. That will come in handy later.

Moving Ordered and Numbered Lists

An ordered list is one with bullets (dots, squares, whatever) and a number list uses, uh, numbers (OK, letters, roman numerals, and whatever else you want too). Instead of fiddling with the ruler bar to indent or outdent a list item, just use the tab key. Pressing the tab key will move the list item forward one tab space. That distance is determined by the tab distance you have set in the tab menu. Pressing SHIFT-TAB will move the item backwards. If you’re using a numbered list the name of the list item will also change (a. to i. to 1. etc.).


Click here for the first part of the tab series. In this post we learned how to manually set tabs and tab leaders, how to change the indentation on paragraphs, including first line indents, and how to move ordered and numbered lists quickly and easily.

If I made any mistakes, left something out, or you’d like me to cover something else in a future post be sure to let me know in the comments. You can also let me know by using the contact form in the sidebar.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!

#173 A Podcast for Recent Graduates

Podcast Logo (1).png

This is just a quick note to all my readers to let you know that the next episode of the CRM Archaeology Podcast is up. We have an extensive discussion on how recent archaeology graduates can enter the world of CRM Archaeology. We discuss our experiences with finding our first jobs, CVs and resumes, job finding sites, interview questions, and much more.

If you know a recent graduate, or if your are a graduate student at a university, please share the podcast or this post. It's great information and it's something that all of us wish we'd had when we started in this field.

Thanks you.

Here's another link, just in case.