Friday, July 19, 2013

You might be an archaeologist if.....

Treasure trove of fun!

I think all archaeologists are slightly odd.  I mean, we study people's trash, what isn't odd about that?  Take the people at the University of Arizona and the Garbology project, who study legit modern day trash in landfills and other places.*  I mean, they are anthropologists using archaeological methods to study modern cultural practices.  Using trash.  Which I find gross.  At least the stuff I find has had time to dispose of germs in the soil...well, that is what I am telling myself, please don't burst my happy bubble!  So, trash.

Anywho, this "oddness" is a recent revelation of mine.  You see, there I was at the Zortman Ranger Station sledgehammering out walls and (eventually) crawling around underneath the building, finding all sorts of fun stuff!  

I let them clear it out and build the supports...then I was brave and crawled in there to search for fun stuff!
Ah....the delicacy of archaeology...
Get some!!
Only a fraction of all the fabulously sexy trash I found! (The gloves, camera, and water bottle are not artifacts...well, not yet at least!)

After an hour (or two or three) of my random squeals of delight at finding something else, and to my utter dismay, disbelief, astonishment, and bafflement, one of my fabulous and brilliant coworkers basically called my little piece of fun, "trash" and "unimportant."  Not her exact words, and in her defense she studies Hydrology and plants and rocks and I may  have been redundant.  So yeah, this made me realize that there are people out there who maybe don't understand what the hell archaeologists do with a bunch of pieces of broken plates, windows, bottles, broken bones, tin pull-tabs, and whatnot.  But there are a lot of things we can learn from this trash.  To name just a few, artifacts can tell us about:  the socioeconomic status of a household; trade networks; sex and/or gender of the people in the household/community; what they ate and drank; where they may have lived before; how long a house or general area of land was inhabited and how it was used; hunting and/or agricultural practices; how the people of a community interact with each other and other communities....and so very much more. 

Whiteware rim sherd with a polychrome
floral design.
Stoneware Whiskey jug!  Love him!

So!  You might be an archaeologist if:
  • You dig small or medium or large holes that can be upwards of 4 feet deep only to then refill them after you are done looking for stuff.
  • You see a cut bank and stare lovingly at the wonderful stratigraphy.
  • You stumble upon a fresh pile of dirt and proceed to sift through it on your hands and knees scraping your nails through it just to find a single piece of something.  You may even yell out "wait!" to someone, who is in the midst of moving a heavy shovel, because you spotted something shiny in the dirt and you're afraid you'll lose it if you don't grab it right then and there.
  • You get all sorts of excited about finding broken plates/cups/bowls.  Most people get all sorts of angry when they drop a plate and it shatters...but an archaeologist treasures these!
  • You may get excited about excavating privies.  Yes.  Privies.  Old toilets.  I'm not sure what I think of it, and it isn't something I have had the pleasure of doing, but back in the day when privies became...full(?)...people would begin to use them as middens (a.k.a. trash cans).  So, privies are treasure boxes for archaeologists.
  • You have a shovel and trowel in your vehicle at all times.
  • You refer to pieces of broken glass as "glass shards," and broken pottery as "ceramic sherds."
  • You use the terms "ceramics" and "pottery," even when you're talking about your coffee cup you got during your last vacation.
  • You get a kick out of realizing you have Stoneware and not Whiteware tableware...and you know the minute details that differentiate the two...and you know the differences aren't actually minute but rather huge, and so you start to tell your friends and family about it and you realize they aren't as excited about this as you are.
  • You can tell if something is legitimately hand-painted or if it was painted by a machine in just such a way as to make it appear to be hand-painted.  Then you call shenanigans on the producers who had the audacity to pull that kind of stunt. (Pier One I'm talking to you!)
  • You love finding nails because you know the difference between hand-wrought, early-machineheaded cut, machine cut, and wire nails, which in turn, tells you when the house/barn/fence/whatever was built.  
  • You know the time-frames for the use of different pottery types, and start talking in terms of hand-painted Pearlware, hand-painted polychrome Whiteware, clobbering, Annular-ware, transfer-printed (ooohhh.....let us not forget the different time periods for each transfer-print color)....need I go on?
  • You willingly read articles that have titles such as, "Thimbles and Thimble Rings from the circum-Caribbean Region, 1500-1800:  Chronology and Identification," and "Gender and Historical Archaeology:  Eastern Dakota Patterns in the 19th Century."  Willingly.  You may even be excited about it. **
  • You coo at artifacts, and may actually refer to them as "he" or "she" when you tell them how pretty they are.  You may even find yourself saying, "I like him...he has a nice spatula," with reference to a rose-headed, spatula-tipped, hand-wrought nail.
  • You have a lot of descriptors that are hyphenated (see previous point).
  • You clean artifacts with water and a toothbrush.  Sometimes just the toothbrush.
  • You spend hours trying to take the many pieces of ceramics (or bottle glass or whatever) and make them all fit together.  And when you do find cross-mends you yell out "Owned!" and throw your arms up in the air in a victory pose.
  • You know some random-ass facts.  For example, thimbles were seen as acceptable gifts from young men to the lovely ladies they were courting.  And you know that thimbles can get awfully fancy and be made of silver or gold and could have engravings.  Oh!  And you know that in the 1700s people loved themselves some fancy buttons and buckles and that at least 60% of the time, these objects were purely decoration and were not functional.  And that this had to do mostly with men's clothing.  George Washington was fabulous!
  • You lick stuff, fresh out of the ground, to try to figure out what it is. 
Tin-plated thimble with a fancy little design around the rim.

Archaeologists are also slightly neurotic.  You see, we sometimes find a whole bunch of little pieces of something that we know was once a single object.  So then we start putting it together. Here is a look at the process of finding cross-mending objects.  You start with all the pieces that you believe go together (in this case 14 pieces) and you look for patterns or breaks that look like they fit.  Just like a puzzle!  I should've taken a "before" picture, but oh's what I had after an hour or so:

I should've taken a picture of all the pieces before I got some of them together.  
Fourteen pieces of some sort of leather thing.  I was able to get it to that point before I threw my hands up in defeat and walked away.  But I didn't stay away for long......because I couldn't.  I knew they went together and by all that is holy in the universe I was going to figure it out!  And I did!  Sort of.  I got it down to two groups.  And it only took me around 2 hours.

No idea what it used to be!  But I left it, with my note, on my supervisor's desk as a Monday morning present.
Close-up of a few pieces.

And here's a look at some of the decor in our office...just because:

I like to pet him and mush his face...though he's all stuffed and whatnot, so he's not very mushy.
And here are some more friends!

I am particularly fond of the owl in the left side of the filing cabinets.  I like to think he's dancing.

*The Garbology projects have since expanded to other Universities, but if you want to read about it, the best book I know of is called Rubbish!:  The Archaeology of Garbology, by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy.

**In all honesty, these are pretty cool articles and are publicly (read:  free) available from the Society for Historical Archaeology's website. 

1995  Hill, Erica.  "Thimbles and Thimble Rings from the circum-Caribbean Region 1500-1800:  Chronology and Identification."  Historical Archaeology, 29(1):84-92.

 1991 Whelan, Mary K.  "Gender and Historical Archaeology:  Eastern Dakota Patterns in the 19th Century."  Historical Archaeology, 25(4):17-32. 


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Archaeology awesomeness and recent revelations!

I have said it before, and I'm saying it again.....I LOVE ARCHAEOLOGY!  Archaeology, I've learned, is so much more than digging in the dirt.  This is especially true when I stop and actually think about the whole "historic building restoration" aspect of the job.  I'm not sure what I thought it would be like...I mean, the whole "restoration" part never translated as "building a house foundation."  Clearly, I have some things to learn.  

Legit building construction.  Color me impressed.
For the project in general, they've been doing a whole lot of foundation support building and whatnot; however, several of us got to go rock shopping through the mining tailings in the Little Rockies.  What that means is I get to drive here:

My view whilst jealous.  (Just FYI,  I was parked when I took this, because it is most definitely not safe to take pictures and drive off-road across streams at the same time....might drop my phone.  Safety first!)

I drive there and follow these road signs:

And as I drive along these ravines full of rocks and across streams, I stumble upon stuff like this:

I like to think that the driver thought, "If we're crashing, we're making it epic!"

In addition to collecting ginormous stones for the foundation, there was also a lot of digging.  Between people with shovels and a backhoe, about 2 feet of soil was removed from around the house in order to expose the foundation.  And this wasn't just immediately around the house, it was at least 6 feet out from around the house.

Imagine this, but evened out and all around the house.
Of course, I couldn't let all this churned up dirt go unsearched.  The archaeologist in me continuously looked for artifacts, and I'm pretty proud of my haul!  We haven't screened anything, because we aren't excavating per se, but between me randomly searching the piles, and other people looking for stuff we've found this: 

Bone, ceramics, tin pull-tabs, a thimble, glass, and a fossilized squid!!  

In addition to all the above awesomeness, archaeology in Montana has also taught me a little something about myself:  I am a fearless pansy.  I attribute this to living in big cities, thereby avoiding exposure to things a lot of people in the country deal with on a daily basis (or I could just be making excuses). My fearless pansy-ness was made very clear to me as we sat in the yard of the Ranger Station eating lunch.  I was just sitting there, munching away on my broccoli and hummus, when all of a sudden a freaking spider ran up over my leg and into my lunch box.  I promptly said something along the lines of "oh, shit!" and chucked my lunch box about a foot away.  Then, not five minutes later I look down and there's another freaking spider sitting on my leg.  I all but ordered my boss to get it, which he did, complete with a "Hulk smash" moment.  I am forever grateful.  So, I thought I had gotten used to spiders, evidently I was mistaken.  

Here is a tick on the hunt.  Epically creepy.  Those are front
legs...not antennae.
Aside from spiders, there's ticks.  Ticks!  Ticks are creepy little shits that grab ahold of you as you go walking, then they crawl up and all over you, only to find their little tick happy place on your body where they proceed to bury their freaking heads into you in order to suck your blood.  They hang out on plants with their 6 back legs holding onto the plant and their 2 front legs sticking out waiting.  Did you count that?  8 legs.  8.  Flip it sideways and it is the infinity symbol.  Like they have an infinite amount of legs. 

I'm done now.  Anywho, in my 18 years living in the greater Los Angeles area, I never saw a tick.  I'm not even sure I knew what a tick was....except for that cartoon The Tick, but yeah.  I didn't have my first tick experience until my dog had one feasting on his muzzle in Hawaii.  Then I got to Virginia and we had a few, but mostly on/in the dogs.  The one time I found one on me we were in a car, so I freaked out until the car pulled over, jumped out and bounced around for a few minutes.  By the way, I was totally wearing pants, not shorts, and it was on my jeans.  So, 6 years, one tick.  I get to Montana, and I found at least one tick a day!  I very quickly got over them. Or so I thought.  I was fine with them until I washed one out of my hair.   

He was IN my hair.  
Because of him, I now apply a bug spray with 40% deet.  Haven't had any since, but now I'm just waiting to find that one that is embedded.  I know it will happen sometime between now and September, but.....eewww. 

Caterpillars I can deal with!  Especially beautiful ones!
 And then today I initiated Operation Counter Poison Ivy.  You see, we went out to the Missouri River in order to learn all about weeds that they don't like in Montana.  Noxious invasive weed species....plants.  They were green, I think.  The point is, I was 5 steps into the plant life when our illustrious instructor suddenly stops and goes, "I forgot to ask, is anyone allergic to poison ivy?"  To which I asked, "There's poison ivy here?"  And then I proceeded to notice (now that someone pointed out actual living poison ivy plants) that I strolled right on through a bunch of it.  Fan-freaking-tastic.

My freak out continued (internally for the most part, at least) the whole way home.  And then!  I proceeded to stand just outside my apartment door, took off my shirt (I had a tank-top on, get your mind out of the gutter) and used it to untie and carry my boots.  Then I tip-toed into my apartment straight to the bathroom where I placed my shoes.  Actually, I tip-toed everywhere for awhile.  I found my Tech-nu (which I've had for a year and have never used) and proceeded to douse my clothes and shoes in it.  There may have also been a vigorous scrubbing of my legs as well....and my hands....just in case.  Then there was laundry.  Operation Counter Poison Ivy seems to have been successfully completed.  Here's to being able to tie my boots tomorrow and NOT find out I missed a spot!

So, yeah.  I'm all brave and adventurous charging through the undeveloped prairie and mountains of Montana, up and down hillsides searching for cultural stuff through thick ass pockets of sagebrushes and cacti, encountering snakes and horses, and crawling into caves.  Yet, I still have a minor freak out when a tiny spider scurries into my lunch box or I wash a tick out of my hair, and I panic when I stroll through some poison ivy.  Ergo, I am a fearless pansy.  And I am totally okay with that!  

Here are some more pictures for your viewing pleasure:

I am fantastic at choosing great places to park!
So many rocks!!

I drove through that!

My poor shoes....

Monday, July 8, 2013

Day in the life....part deux....or dos, or dva, or two....

This is Zortman's backyard.  Sometimes archaeology takes you to freaking beautiful places. This one happens to be in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Montana.  

Today marked the official start of Historic Ranger House Foundation Restoration!  That isn't really the project name...I'm not sure what the official name is.  But it doesn't matter.  This post is going to be kind of a "day in the life" meets "the things they never told you."
This is how our day started.  With rain.

This building, which could double as a house, was built in 1908 by some random Forest Service firefighter guy.  He was essentially told, "Go to Zortman, where there is nothing, and build an office."  So he did.  I have to say that for someone who was not technically a house builder guy, he did a freaking fantastic job.

Here's the front of the building....complete with newly placed Backhoe trenches.

Here's a view of the town of Zortman from the front yard of the Ranger Station.
This house is located on a sloping hill at the base of mountains.  This is important in that, as evidenced by every single day we've gone out there, it rains.  A lot.  The rain run-off comes down the hill (right side of the picture above) and runs through the foundation.  This is important because foundations can only take that running water for so long, as evidenced by this:

Foundations and the houses sitting on them, should be even with each other.  
This poor building has a 4 inch difference in height from one side to the other.  This makes for a strange feeling when one stands in the house.  As a matter of fact, knowing that the house leans so much gives me the impression that it sways, so I can't stand in it for more than 5 minutes without freaking out ever so slightly.  I keep getting these images that the house is going to just slip on down the hill....taking me for the ride I've never wanted.  

Luckily for this building, and my sanity, the age alone gets it into the National Register of Historic Places.  And because of that little status, the BLM is charged with maintaining the house, which is what we are going out there to accomplish.  And thus, I start my day believing we will be transporting mortar and cement from Malta to the house.  

Just like this.  3,000 pounds.  I felt bad for the truck.
Now, I could've sworn my supervisor said we'd be going back and forth.  He didn't say squat about doing any actual work.  Pfft.  What the heck was I thinking.....I should've known he'd be like, "yeah, we have time!  Grab a shovel!"  I was seriously underprepared with drinking water.  But that is okay, because I survived.  

I wrote in a previous post that in college courses they teach that archaeology is a gentle and slow process of digging.  Then I laughed at that preposterous idea and said that sometimes you are handed a pick-axe and told to get 4 feet down in a 1x1m unit in 4 hours....including time for screening.  Well, today we not only had shovels, but also these beauties:

To the left, we have Mr. Backhoe and just behind the ginormous dirt pile we have Mrs. CAT-Skidder Thing....and my boss....doing something....
Oh yeah!  Pretty archaeology!  Not.  But it was the backhoe in a day, or 6 people with shovels in 3 days.
So, between the backhoe and the CAT-Skidder Thing, that entire left side of the house foundation was cleared about 2 feet down.  You see, though archaeologists prefer to NOT use backhoes and such, they do, in fact, come in handy.  The land came up to the base of the house on that side, and none of the foundation was exposed.  To top it off, the land needs to be leveled out to prevent future water run-off issues.  So, we plowed through that crap!  Wait.  Was that un-archaeological of me?  Oh well.  I'm glad I didn't have to dig it all by hand, because instead we got clean the dirt off the dirt and make the newly exposed foundation wall as pretty as possible.  

I love making mud pretty!  
Okay now, let's all "ooh" and "aahh" at the beautiful stratigraphy!  Archaeologists love it.  So now you all know that in addition to staring at stones on the prairie, I also stare at dirt.  And I get paid to do this. The dark soil on the top is a feature called a "Builder's Trench,"  and it is noticeably different from the undisturbed subsoil beneath it.  The great thing about this is that we can see where they dug when they laid the foundation in 1908.  

Wall collapse!  Oops.
In clearing the remaining mud/dirt off the foundation, we stumbled upon a small section of foundation that had collapsed.  This was not the result of the backhoe or my wall cleaning, rather it happened sometime after the building was completed.  We stood around this for a good 5 minutes discussing it while ooh'ing and aah'ing...because that is what archaeologists do.  I don't think I was ever warned in any college course that I would find something like this fascinating.  Though, if they had tried to tell me that staring at a crumble of stones in mud would lead me to ooh'ing at it, I probably wouldn't have believed them.

You know what else they don't warn you about?  That one day you'll play "What Munsell Color is this Soil?"  

So many colors, so little time! Fun-sell Munsell book, so oh well.
So, the restoration process has officially begun.  We'll have a mason from the Forest Service with us to tear out the old foundation and build a new one.  "Build it with what?" you ask?  Why, with a ton of stones from the nearby mountains!  

Specifically, that pile of stones.
I can officially say that I now know what types of stones are good for building a house foundation.  I never thought I would be able to claim that!  I can barely hang a picture on the wall and get it centered without fixing it 4-5 times.  This is something I am not sure many people know:  archaeology needs people who can learn a variety of skills.  Not only must you be able to distinguish human-made objects from naturally-made, but you may also need to be able to tear down and rebuild a wall.  And even if you don't have a hand in actually rebuilding anything, you need to at least understand what it takes to build it.  If you don't understand what goes in to building a house, how can you hope to truly understand the house?  So, archaeology kind of requires you to be open to learning new skills.  I have no idea if I will be of any use in setting the new foundation, but I'm glad I'll understand the process! grasshopper friend!  He has nothing to do with anything else, except that he's adorable!!
You also need to be able to work in crappy conditions and in horrible weather.  It rained on and off all day.  It hailed, though thankfully that happened when we were on our way back.  Did I mention it was an 11 hour day?  No?  Well, now I did.  And we're going back tomorrow, and the next day, and probably everyday this week through the weekend.  But we'll see if the government will let us little seasonal employees work on the weekend.

We work in this...
...and sometimes this...archaeology is such a clean profession.
So at the end of the day, we had dug out the entire foundation area (yay!), and nicely excavated a side of the foundation.  We were rained on, had to dig in slimy clay mud, and in general, had a typical day of archaeology.  As a word of warning for anyone who decides to go do archaeology, you should know this one last thing:  it is dirty play in the dirt and mud.  It gets everywhere, just like the bugs.  Don't be fooled by the pretty women out digging in the dirt.  They may have nicely painted nails, and they may be sad if they chip a nail, but I promise you that won't stop them from being awesome.  But you should know that when you get home at the end of a dig day, do NOT sit down until after you have showered, gotten out and started drying off, climbed back in the shower because you found more dirt, climbed back out of the shower because at that point you just gave up and thought "meh, close enough," gotten your lunch and coffee ready because you won't want to do it in the morning, and gotten dinner in your hands.  Then, and only then, may you sit down, because I guarantee that the second you sit down, you will stop functioning.  Well, you'll probably function enough to shovel food in your mouth, but that's about all you'll want to do.

"Gore-Tex is waterproof," they said.  Tell that to my socks and feet.  By the way, this is after 15 minutes of me slamming my shoes on the ground to get the mud off.  This is just after I gave up.
And this is how clean I stayed while playing in the mud.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The things they don't warn you about

The TARDIS.  Just cuz.
When I first started going back to school post-Army days, I had every intention of studying anthropology.  I swayed back and forth between doing biological anthropology (focusing on forensics) and archaeology.  But, sometime around my 2nd semester at George Mason University I got caught up in studying artifacts in museums.

Forgery, in that he wasn't made 2,000 years ago...
more like 113 years ago.*
So, at GMU I took a lot of classes focusing on archaeological theory and methods, archaeology in the museum, and pre-Columbian studies.  I definitely have a firmer grasp on Mesoamerican timelines than I do of American history.  That, however, is neither here nor there.  The point is, I got all sorts of wrapped up in looking at Zapotec funerary urns at the National Museum of the American Indian.  This followed me to graduate school at George Washington University, and was even the focus of my thesis....all 150 pages of it.  Except, the urns I studied were fakes, and therefore technically not really archaeological, but I love them nonetheless.  Anyways, I still focused on the museum aspect of archaeology.  You see I wanted to work with archaeological artifacts in a museum, not the field.

Know why that was stupid of me?  I wanted to work in a museum, but I didn't have the experience to actually work in a museum.  So, a year after graduate school, my darling husband said, "I will pay for you to go get experience.  Sign up for a field school."  So, I did.  And I went.  And it has been the best decision I've ever been prodded into making.  Not only do I love archaeology (which is what I had originally planned to do), but I have been lucking out and getting work.  I went to my field school a year ago, got my first big-girl archaeology job last November, and I have been doing that ever since.  

During the last year, I have discovered that there are a few....discrepancies....between what you learn in school and what actually happens in the field.  I know, I know....the same is probably true for all jobs.  College courses teach the ideal of the field of study.  These courses are designed by professors to force you to think outside your safe little bubble and to force you to try to come up with your own opinions....sort of.  I know I jumped on some archaeological college you're all like "Yeah!  Down with the man!!"  Kind of like when I joined the Army and I was all, "I'm going to go Airborne and Air Assault and be all badass!!"  And then I got through DLI for language training and San Angelo, Texas for job training, and I was like, "You want me to do what?!  Play real Army and go for a how long ruck march, carrying how much weight in my pack?  Pfft, you're crazy."  Even managed to make an infantry officer laugh out loud when I said something similar to "we have to play real Army?!"  I'm pretty sure he asked if we were Intel, we said yes, and he nodded with understanding.

Anyways, when you study archaeology in college courses here's some of what they teach you:
  • Archaeology does not study dinosaurs.
  • Excavations are very slow and exact.  You must be delicate and careful.
  • We should only excavate what we need to in order to understand the site, while leaving enough unexcavated for future excavations.
  • All artifacts must be carefully dealt with, because you don't want to cause any more damage or break them!
  • All excavated artifacts must be carefully monitored and cannot be lost, because every artifact counts.  And if you lose one you've done as much damage as looters, for shame!
  • You must be exact, because archaeology is a legit science.
  • Indiana Jones is not an archaeologist, nor did he do any real archaeology in the movies.
Then there are the rumors you hear:
  • Beer.
  • Don't know what it is?  Lick it.
Archaeology is hard sometimes.  Even when you lick it, 
you may get it wrong.  This was bark, not bone.  Oops.
My traveling companion.  Cuz archaeology is a profession that 
literally takes you places.

So, when I got to my field school, all of the above was pretty true.  But, that was also the nature of the site.  It was a very old and long-use Native American site.  We dug only as quickly as we felt safe doing, because the artifacts were mostly fragile (shell and pottery and mica....these things can crumble when you dig them out and the only thing holding them together was the soil you just removed).  As far as how much land was excavated, the field school had been going there every summer for several weeks for several years, and only a manageable amount of land was excavated each time.  However, they did not have their field season this summer because they had too much data to get through.  There was definitely a lot of archaeological science going on out there, what with measurements and soil colors and such.  And there was beer.  Every Thursday the field school gathered at the most awesome bar for food and fun.  So, beer.  .....I don't remember anyone licking anything....but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

You'll find wild onions, name one "Oni" and then forget he's in your field 
pack....and then you wonder why everything smells like onions.....
But that was the field school.  And since it doubled as a field school, and a legit excavation run by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, it makes sense that they would be ideal.  Of course, I also know that a lot of archaeological excavations will fall under this ideal, as well.  Otherwise, they wouldn't teach those specific guidelines in college. The thing is, I clearly haven't worked on ideal excavations since my field school!  This is what I have learned through my archaeological work:
  • Coffee.....every single archaeologist I've met drinks a lot of coffee.  Every. Last. Person.
  • Sometimes, you just gotta plow through levels with pick-axes and shovels (and boy, do I love a good pick-axe).
  • Sometimes artifacts break, or you have a clumsy moment and drop it, and well.  Let's look on the bright side, now you have two pieces!  
  • There are artifacts that turn out to tell you absolutely nothing about the site.  Such as a random ass strip of metal.  Similarly, when you have hundreds of unidentifiable ceramic sherds, you also have a whole lot of nothing.  They are only useful when identifiable.
  • When the Department of Highways says it is going to plow through your site unless you find a pyramid in West Virginia, you excavate as freaking much of the site as your time frame and budget allows for....then you wave good-bye to what is left and pray you have enough to justify all the money spent.
  • When you have thousands of pieces of mortar or plaster, you take maybe 100 pieces and chuck the rest.  You're not going to learn crap from those thousands of pieces, and honestly, since they aren't diagnostic their numbers will only inflate the artifact count for the site.  So, no.  Not everything is important, trust me. 
  • As far as the "science" goes, sometimes you find yourself saying, "yeah, close enough."  
  • Sometimes you won't keep anything from the site.  You record and walk away, leaving the stuff where you found it.
  • Archaeologists know that Indiana Jones is totally not a real archaeologist, but still like to pretend that we'll one day get to punch Nazi's in the face and use a bull whip, and wear the fancy hat...actually, I've seen archaeologists with Indiana Jones hats.  So, yeah.
  • Sometimes you will look for dinosaur fossils......but you still know nothing about them.  :)

You also start playing "Which Bone Goes Where?"
and "I Wonder What Ate Him?"
Other things you may not know until you get out in the field is that:
  • You may or may not like working outside...all day long....and for days on end, at that!  There's no way around it, archaeology is done outside, or in caves....but still out in le natural world.  And if you know you don't like working outdoors, please don't show up to any archaeological work site, your complaints about nature are annoying.
  • Speaking of nature, the two of you will become infinitely closer.  Toilets are only available at fancy dig sites.  
  • Bugs.  There are always bugs.
  • Aside from your lunch and actual archeology stuff, your field pack will include: toilet paper, sunblock, bug spray, Tech-nu (for poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and skunk spray), Benadryl, and Caladryl (or Calamine or Cortizone 10, or some other anti-itch stuff), and baby-wipes if you wanna get crazy.
  • If you think you're a nerd/geek, just wait.  Someone on the field crew will put your nerdiness to shame.  
  • There will literally be blood, sweat, and tears.  Likely to occur because of one another.  For example, you get a splinter, you bleed, sweat gets in the wound, and you cry.  Or you may be digging in a 4 foot deep hole and some 6th sense kicks in and you suddenly sit upright only to find a bucket full of dirt where your head just was.  Dangers of the job!
  • You'll find that while you may barely be able to draw a stick figure in art class, you can suddenly sketch an artifact as if you're Monet.
At some point in the day you look out at this and think, "Wow, I really wish I hadn't had those 10 cups of coffee...."
We're pretty lax when it comes to fashion.  Dr. Who socks at work are completely normal.
You get happy about hand-wrought nails with spatula tips and rose-heads.  Especially fancy
ones like this.
Late 1700s - Early 1800s Flintlock.  As clean as it is gonna get.  Trust, me.  I tried.
So consider yourself sufficiently warned.....I think.  I'm sure some of my archaeology friends have stories crazier than mine....I find all of my crazy stories to be hilarious and not terrifying....except for the bucket incident.  Indiana Jones may have punched Nazi's in the face and returned an alien skull to the body, but I bet he never had to find a safe, yet private, spot on the prairie to pee.    

Carhenge.  Epic.

*  This Zapotec funerary urn lives at the National Museum of the American Indian, the photo was taken by me.