#78 ArchaeoTech at CES2012

I’m totally obsessed with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  It happens every year about this time and all of the latest and greatest in technology from around the world is there.  Except for Apple.  And next year, Microsoft.  They have their own events.

This is my third year of being aware of CES and only the first year that I’ve looked at every product review with an eye towards archaeology.  It’s easy to see how something would be useful if you want to see it.  At least it’s easy for me.  That’s probably why I’m totally astounded at the lack of technology being employed in archaeology today.  It seems so easy!

The next few posts or so will highlight some of my favorite gadgets that I think would be good for archaeology.  First, though, I’d like to list my sources for this information.  I watch podcasts from three primary sources.  They are Revision3, which includes Tekzilla and Geek Beat TV, TWIT (This Week In Tech), and CNET.  I think CNET has the best coverage because the have a bunch of review shows and lots of short product reviews.  I use the DownCast app on my iPad to aggregate the shows.  To watch them at home I usually AirPlay the shows to my big screen TV.  They produce most of the shows in HD so the sound and video quality is amazing.

So, here are the first products I’ll talk about…

The inReach by Delorme

Available now

$249 + $10-$50/month for service

Features 2-way satellite communication, text message capabilities with Android devices


This device is great for those surveys in the middle of nowhere.  If only one person has one on them then the entire crew could be safe in case of a vehicle failure or some other emergency.

By itself the inReach can contact whomever you want using pre-loaded text messages and it can be remotely tracked.  When paired with an Android phone two-way text messaging via satellite can be accomplished.  This is a subscription service but considering the alternative, stranded in the desert, it’s pretty reasonable.

Sherpa 50 Portable Recharger by Goal Zero

Available June 1st

$200 for battery, $50 for inverter

This handy little 2.2 lbs. device can be charged via a wall charger, solar panels, or a car adapter and will power anything you throw at it.  The Sherpa 50 can also be linked in series with other Sherpa 50s to provide even more power.  With multiple outputs, including a USB port, the Sherpa 50 is the best back country charger.  It can charge up a cell phone, a tablet device, or your Trimble GPS.  The additional AC inverter will allow you to power literally any device.  With the ever increasing use of technology in archaeology the need for portable power devices has never been more important.  We’ll have to use these devices until someone invents a way to put a friction charger between our legs while we walk.  Talk about unlimited power!

IO Safe’s Extreme Thunderbolt External Hard Drive

Available in February

Price: TBA

Features: dual Thunderbolt ports (first seen on Apple laptops), 2 Intel solid state drives, aluminum endcap.


I constantly talk to people about bringing more digital devices into the field to make us more efficient at what we do.  The common concern that I hear is “what if it fails?”.  With the IO Safe Extreme Thunderbolt you can have that feeling of safety as you upload your data either at the end of the day or on lunch while you’re still in the field.  This new, rugged, drive is virtually indestructible.  At this year’s CES the drive was subjected to 1,000,000 volts of electricity from a Tesla coil and it lived to tell about it!  IO Safe has many rugged drives and I’m sure they have one that fits your needs.  The prices are a bit higher than a standard external hard drive and there are two reasons for that.  First, they use solid state drives.  These drives have no moving parts, are lightweight, and use less power than standard disc drives.  Second, these drives are built to last.  They have shock absorbers and secure cases to protect your data.  If you look at this and think it’s too expensive, ask yourself how much it would cost to collect all those data again and whether or not your client would except your flimsy excuses and pay for it.  My guess is that there won’t be a holiday bonus this year!

G-Form Extreme Sleeve for iPad

Available NOW

Price: $59.95

Features: Drop a bowling ball on it! Water-resistant. Flexible.

This case is made from some pretty fancy materials that will protect your iPad, or any tablet, really, when you slip on some rocks and fall back onto your backpack with your iPad in it.  That was a clumsy sentence but you get the idea.  Check out the video.  They actually drop a bowling ball on the iPad in one of the G-Form cases!  I’m going to have to get one of these.


Pelican Urban Backpack Collection

Available NOW

Price: $108-$270

Several different sizes and a lifetime guarantee on the case

This backpack is for the tech-savvy crew chief on the go.  Pelican is a world leader in device protection.  Their cases are used by photographers, news outlets, and the US military.  Chances are your Trimble is in a Pelican case right now.  Well, take that case and put it in a backpack.  You can take all of your gadgets with you and feel safe doing it.  I’m not sure how much these packs weigh.  It might put some muscle on you if you’re hauling these things across miles of open country.  This probably isn’t a solution for most companies right now but the inevitability of technology will soon come to archaeology and protection similar to this will be necessary.

Check out the CES coverage from CNET and Revision3.  There's something for everyone there!  Technology doesn't have to be scary and you don't have to be afraid of breaking everything that you take into the field that runs on a battery.  We've adapted to the GPS, well, most of us anyway (you know who you are), so let's adopt some more tech so we can all be more efficient and use less paper!

See you in the field!

#38 Pin Flag Organization

I mentioned in a previous post that I would post a solution to the pin flag problem.  What is the pin flag problem? Pin flags are a problem in two places: your back pack and your vehicle.  In both cases pin flags tend to get into general disarray after a short time and require constant attention.  In the vehicle people tend to put pin flags just anywhere in the truck and by the end of the week or session they are bent up and are all over the back of the truck.  Pin flags in the backpack are just a hazard.  There is a good chance that they will poke through the pocket you put them in and fall out anyway.  They could also poke through your water bladder.  There is a solution to both of these problems.

You can buy a pin flag sheath but there is another option that should cost about $5 or less.  I recently made my fiancè and I new flag tubes and, like an idiot, I didn't take pictures of the process.  However, I decided to expand the flag tube idea to the work truck, but on a slightly larger scale.  What follows is the process with pictures and both sizes of tubes at the end.

For my supplies I went to Home Depot and Michael's.  I got the tube supplies at Home Depot and the duct tape at Michael's.  Of course you can get the duct tape at Home Depot but Michael's has a rack of about 15-20 different colors and styles of duct tape so you can get that individual look.

Black 2 ft. PVC tubes. (c) 2011 Chris WebsterWhite 2 ft. PVC tubes. (c) 2011 Chris Webster












Start by buying a pre-cut PVC tube in the color of your choice.  If you cover it in tape or spray paint your creation then color won't matter much.  I chose a 1 1/2" diameter for my backpack.  You may need to find a way to cut the tube down to size.  The two foot standard holds the longer pin flags out there but not the shorties.  You could still store them in the tube but you won't be able to grab them from your backpack without taking your backpack off.  I like being able to reach over my shoulder and pull out a pin flag whenever I need to.

2" black end cap. (c) 2011 Chris WebsterYou will need an end cap for your tube.  For the black tube that I'm making to hold pin flags in the truck I could only find a flat-ended end cap.  My white one has a rounded end cap which I think is better for your backpack.  Fabric does not like pressure points and over time the flat end could cause stress that could result in a rip or tear.

There is an adhesive that is specially made for PVC.  You don't really need it if you decorate your tube.  Duct tape is cheaper and more versitile than a can of PVC adhesive that you will likely only use once.  Also, the end caps fit on pretty snug without any help.

Apply your end cap and place two strips of duct tape, in a "plus" pattern, over the end cap, securing it to the tube.  I then put a horizontal piece around the tube, covering the end cap pieces.  That should be enough to secure the cap in place.

Next, I put in the duct tape in a barber pole pattern.  I only used one color of duct tape so I kept the spiral pretty close.  On my fiancè's tube I first did a widely spaced spiral in pink and then I did the same spiral, covering the open areas, in polka-dot pink.

As I said above, you don't have to use duct tape.  You could spray your tube in distinctive colors.  You could also just leave your tube naked.  You should glue on the end cap in some way, though.  When a bundle of flags is dropped into the tube they have a tendancy to knock the end cap off.

Completed backpack tubes. (c) 2011 Chris WebsterAbove are the two backpack tubes that I made.  We used them for a session and they work really well.  I'm able to easily place the end of the tube in a side, outer pocket, of my backpack. I secure the upper half with a side strap on my pack.  I can easily grab flags when I need them.  As of yet, I can't put flags back in very easily.  However, I haven't run into this as a problem.  Usually we are collecting flags after recording a site and I'm not wearing my pack.  When I return to my pack I put the flags in the tube and move on.

Stay organized and I'll see you in the field!


Written in Sparks, Nevada.


From the Dictionary of Archaeology, Peguin Reference, 2004, an entry chosen using a random number generator Pg 179, entry 1:

Glyph a symbol in a writing system.  In the Mesoamerican system, a glyph may represent an idea, word, sound, syllable or some combination of these.