Monday, September 7, 2009

The thrilling life

Oddly enough, I've been feeling borderline buried in work for the last 10 days, even though classes don't start until tomorrow. Late last week I had three "diagnostic" exams, in Greek, Latin, and ancient history, supposedly to help in placing me into the correct courses. For a seminar on archaeological theory, the professor asked me to read five background books, because my theory background is a little... informal, shall we say. All this was mostly under control, until I received an email from my Greek professor on Thursday asking us to read a "decent" amount of a thirty page speech before class on Tuesday. So I've spent most of my Labor Day weekend doing homework and while I'd like to think it may get better once school starts, I'm pretty sure it won't. Still, I'm excited for new challenges, new professors, and getting into a routine again.

In other news, I completely, totally miss the Minnesota State Fair.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm Back

I'm currently sitting in the Reference Room of the Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, and for the first time in twelve days, I feel at home in Ann Arbor.

I had to come to the library to check some references for the ridiculous weaving tools paper that I started way back in January. When I got to DS110 (the call number for books on archaeology in Israel), I found myself in a wonderland of knowledge, books I'd only dreamed about or heard of or never knew existed. DS110 at the University of Minnesota was rather pitiful, about six or seven shelves in total, and spread out among regular size, quartos, and folios to save shelf space by putting the tall books only with other tall books. DS110 at Michigan is at least 3-4 times as big. Minnesota, annoyingly, stopped obtaining archaeology books around 1980, and had the habit of only acquiring one or two of a series, ie the book on lamps from the City of David but nothing else. Then, you had to engage in a big fight with the interlibrary loan system to convince it that you needed City of David IV, and the one in the collection was City of David II. Here at Hatcher, serials are prettily lined up in rows because they're all here! Plus all the Atiquots, Tel Avivs, Palestine Exploration Quarterlies... heaven. Just heaven. And that was before I turned around and discovered all the books on Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Granted, I could always ILL this stuff, and often did. But as great as the modern computerized card catalogue is, and as helpful as bibliographies are, sometimes visually perusing the shelves is necessary in order to find just the right source. For example, I found a 2008 book called Textile Production in Pre-Roman Italy (in GN799, not DS110, just to be clear) which looks to be relevant and beneficial to the weaving tools project.

The move has been overwhelming in many ways, full of "we're not in Minnesota anymore, Toto" moments. With three and a half weeks between my arrival and the start of classes, I've had a fair amount of time to think about just what I'm getting myself into, not just for the next 5-7 years, but conceivably for the rest of my life. And I've had some doubts, to be honest. But my little sojourn this morning reawakened some passion and excitement, like a little reminder ribbon of who I am and why I'm here. I'm not in Michigan to sit at the DMV for three hours, or to discover the local grocery stores don't carry Rosetto tortellini or the small size of frozen pizza or Mrs Renfro's black bean salsa, or even to go visit my sister only four hours away. The reason I'm here is to utilize the books in DS110 and elsewhere to learn new things and discover new ways to think about those things. And maybe, just maybe, influence the way others perceive and interpret those things as well.

Speaking of, I suppose I should get started on just that.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Updates Elsewhere

Yes, I totally failed to update on Shabbat as has been my habit the last few weeks. BUT, for those of you wanting updates from the field, I've written two, count 'em, two updates for the Kelsey Museum blog since my last update here. Die hards, please direct your attention here.

Aside from that, I have not updated because it has been crazy mccrazy time here. After break, it's a flat out sprint for three weeks in the field, and then the paperwork and packing up begins. This season is extra intense because it will be the last excavation summer, before the administrative building we're all working so hard on has to be published. So all the outstanding questions like, how did people get into the building (because we have yet to find an entrance) and what did the Persians walk on (because we have yet to find a floor dating to the Persian period), must now be answered or forever keep their secrets hidden away and subject to speculation.

This strain, coupled with Week 5 (now 6) blahs, is catching up a bit to the team. We've had three emergency room trips in as many days, and the bickering has entered full force. We all try to remember that everyone else is tired, and sometimes we may come off a bit short, or terse, or rude, or selfish, when we don't really mean it. Then a tired person's passing statement gets misinterpreted by a stressed out person, and the cow dung hits the fence, if you know what I mean.

Yes, folks, this is the glamorous world of archaeology.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"This is my village, this is my country"

We're one day into a three day mid-season break. I elected not to travel in order to get work done; the first day and a half have resulted in an epic failure to do just that. Yesterday, most of the "kids" (younger/less experienced team members who have never been to Israel) left for Jerusalem around 12:30. Trouble was, the day's work was not over, so other more senior members of staff and I spent the next few hours sorting, reading, and bagging my pottery and helping another trench supervisor complete his locusing (in about 3 weeks, I will tell you all about locusing. Consider yourself tantalized.) I was a bit grumpy that just because I wasn't going anywhere, I lost time from my break, but then the directors treated us all to a wonderful dinner at a steakhouse that I don't remember the name of and can't find on the internet right now. I had filet mignon medallions and portabella mushrooms in a sauce of ginger, garlic, and honey, with pecan pie and ice cream for dessert. The signs on their doors said "Shalom y'all." Wish I'd had the nerve to take a picture.

Today, we had been invited to Buq'ata, the village in the Golan Heights where our Druzim workers live, we thought for dinner but it turned into a 6 hour, full afternoon outing. We had a wonderful time, and it was fantastic to go somewhere and see something a bit different.

When the six of us got there, we first were led into a small anteroom with long cushions on the ground around the room. We chatted with various people aged one through 70 (almost all men) who came to say hi or sit with us for awhile. Most of them were people we work with on site and their relatives. Our host was Hamid, who speaks passable English, and translated for us when he was not drifting in and out himself. We were served small cups of strong, seasoned coffee and giant plates of fruit. After a couple hours, we adjourned to a larger living room with similar ground cushions and a huge spread of stuffed grape leaves, chicken, tabboleh, cheese, stuffed eggplant, hummus, and another salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and fried flat bread, plus pita and huge folded pieces of flatbread which we used to pick up assorted bits of food. The food was wonderful, perhaps a bit heavy on vinegar and oil, a factor compounded by the single mug of water shared among the eight or nine of us dining. Then followed a small dessert of slices of honeyed cake and a rolled chocolate cake, with strawberry, mango, and grapefruit sodas.

From there, we went to Hussein's house. (Hussein is sort of the foreman/Godfather of the whole operation.) His house was huge, beautiful, and full of assorted archaeological relics like an olive press and column capitals, plus an old fashioned sewing machine and a saddle. There, we had more soda (Fanta and Coke), sweet fried honey balls and cakes, and coffee.

After that, Hamid and Hussein took us for a drive through the countryside surrounding Buq'ata, including orchards, other villages, a beautiful lake, the forest where all the men go to eat and drink on the weekend, and a view of Syria. Here's Hussein pointing out Syria to us: he's wanted there (we're pretty sure for spying for Israel in the 60s) so he proclaims Syria "no good." By the time of the car trip, we were all entering severe food comas, despite the coffee, when Hamid broke out a 6 pack of Carlsberg in the car and started opening bottles. Drinking beer! In a car!!! What a novel experience!The afternoon was much more enjoyable than I had thought it might be. I have some lovely memories, a full belly, and a deeper understanding and awareness of these people with whom I have worked side by side for two summers now but because we lack a common language, it's so hard to really learn about their lives. They were wonderful hosts who shared their homes, food, and life with six American graduate students in need of a little escape.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Floor CB17052

I (mentally) composed this post on Thursday, but haven't had the chance to actually write it down until now. So we'll all just pretend it's still Thursday for the sake of reading this, mk?

Today in my square was a very typical archaeological day in the sense that days like this are at the heart of fieldwork and research, but very atypical in that days of its ilk are rather few and far between. My assistant, my two Druzim workers and I had basically spent the last 4-5 days preparing for Thursday's operation, which was the removal of a hard plaster floor.

We had to do several small little operations for what basically boil down to two reasons: first, basic archaeological principle in removal of soil is last in, first out. Because we date the deposition of the soil by the types of things we find in it - mainly pottery - we take out the latest soil first in hopes of also taking out all its later material. If we leave any behind, we risk mixing that single sherd in with earlier soils, thereby throwing off the dating and phasing of the entire operation. (This actually happened to me this week, in a less important area. We had a piece of modern (as in less than a thousand years old) pottery in where it shouldn't have been. Bad supervisor Kate. I was annoyed.) Anyway, so before taking out the plaster floor, we had to be absolutely sure that any excess soil and stray pieces of pottery were totally vamoosed from the area around the floor, lest they somehow dislodge and make my life hell. This is harder than it sounds, as soil, roots and so on tend to cling stubbornly to the walls around the floor and to the sides of rocks, and to be disguised in robbing trenches from when locals came to take the nice cut blocks from the abandoned building for their own new construction, leaving behind little tiny bits of their stupid early Roman pottery which we now inconveniently find in the middle of the 2nd century BCE building.

The second reason of piddly slow preparation is to ensure we had the best possible photographic view and documentation of the floor before we took it out forever. My undergrad archaeology professor must have reminded us every week that archaeology is the only scientific research in which you destroy your evidence and, contrary to the hard sciences, the research can never be duplicated in double blind studies or other lab conditions. Our job then becomes to do as much documentation as we possibly can, so that if we fail in our interpretations (or even if we don't), others might be able to come along later and use our notes to reinterpret and understand. For the sake of removing the floor, that meant cleaning previously excavated, overgrown areas to show their relationship to our floor, excavating some rocky debris that interrupted the field of view, and carefully and cleanly cleaning out areas where the floor had eroded or otherwise disappeared in order to show where the floor was and where it wasn't.

Bored yet? So were we. But Thursday, the day finally came!! We began by removing the very thin upper laminate of plaster, and immediately had a big surprise. Although the floor itself had been clean, smooth, white plaster, the underside of the surface itself was chock full of teeny tiny shells! At least two or three other floors like this have been previously excavated, but none shared this characteristic, suggesting that something a bit different was going on with this floor. I suspect that the limestone used to make the plaster for this floor just happened to be very fossiliferous, but our faunal expert wasn't sure if the shells were fossilized or not and mused that in Egypt, shell had been occassionally put into floors and buildings as a rodent deterant, because the rats apparantly we put off by having to chew through sharp shells. Either way, the shelly floor was cool.

Underneath the hard, smooth upper surface was a flakey, crumbly plaster subsurface. Embedded in it were fragments of a little cookpot. Which is odd, if you think about it, but certainly handy for archaeologists. I mean, what happened, did it just happen to break and the contracter thought "might as well throw this in the mortar mix"? Maybe the workman were on lunch break and accidentally broke their picnic equipment that the wife sent along, and didn't feel like explaining so hid the evidence? Maybe they used the pot to mix the plaster, and just threw the whole thing in for good measure. Other ideas?

Benath that was a cobble subfloor, with 10-20 cm stones laid out and somewhat mortared in. After we had taken that out, we began to take out the thick layer of somewhat moist soil beneath (at least 40cm deep, we haven't reached the bottom yet), which yielded a crap ton of large pieces of pottery which we hope will give us a good idea of the date after which the floor must have been laid. Pottery reading tomorrow! I can't wait!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Down and Dirty

Before I sign into Blogger, all of my sites have the menu bar in Hebrew. This presented a bit of a problem as I kept choosing options on the righthand side in order to sign in, before I realized the "Sign In" link was going to be on the left in accordance with the way the Hebrew language works.

If I wrote Hebrew instead of English, I bet I wouldn't get the giant pencil smudges and have to do the wrist crook around binder spirals to write on the front of pages...

Anyway. It's Shabbat again, so I have the luxury of a bit more time for writing and reflection. The first three days of the week were rough - we worked in the field from 5am to noon, then washed and read pottery until 5 or 6 in the evening. Tuesday was particularly bad for me, since my assistant and I had to sort about 50kg worth of pottery sherds and I was literally on my feet for 13 hours, minus the half hour from 2:00-2:30 when I ate lunch. Finally sitting down and relaxing in a chair at the end of that day was the best feeling. Wednesday, our director had to go down to Jerusalem, so we couldn't excavate by law, and instead worked on clearing and cleaning the site out in anticipation of aerial photos at the end of the season. While we will certainly thank ourselves later, when it's July and 95 degrees and there are a thousand other things to be done and clearing is the last thing anyone wants to do, it was still an exhausting, hot, boring day. I entertained myself with fantasies about Mike Rowe coming to do archaeology as a "Dirty Job."

Exciting week in my trench, though. We found a few floors and a drain that appears to run under one of the walls and floors. I'm excited to take up some of these surfaces next week and try to get good, datable material from underneath in order to determine the date after which these floors must have been constructed.

Tonight, I'm going over to visit the Omrit-ians. I can't wait to see them and hear about all the goings on at the site this season and generally catch up.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Archaeologist's Tool Box: Trowel and Shabbat Shalom

The other major, “stereotypical” archaeological instrument is the trusty mason’s trowel. Trowels are handy for scraping off surfaces (walls, dirt, etc), poking around between rocks and features, scooping up or maneuvering small piles of soil, trimming baulks, testing material and hardness of soil composition (like when looking for a floor), and various other small tasks. The trowel is perhaps a bit more refined than a patiche – which may be why I don’t like it as well. It is not particularly handy for loosening a lot of soil, and can often make soil look like a hard, packed, defined, level surface when it isn’t.
A trowel is actually the first tool I bought for archaeology, way back in 2004 before I first went to Omrit (we were all carefully instructed about the difference between a gardening trowel and a mason’s trowel). My particular trowel came from a Menards or some such place oh so long ago, and my favorite thing about it is the signature red handle. Most trowels (including Marshalltown trowels, which are the gold standard for archaeological equipment) have wooden handles, resulting in the identical appearance of numerous items and complicated systems of marking and burnishing initials. I can always spot mine from meters away.

Today is Shabbat, the Jewish and Israeli day of rest, which means we have the day off from excavating. I celebrated by sleeping in (until 9:00!!! Oh, the luxury!!), doing some light paperwork, and reading the final excavation reports for areas around where I am digging this season so as to learn what I should be looking for in terms of stratigraphy, pottery, and architecture. We have several undergraduates here working as assistants in varying capacities, many of whom were confused to see so many of us working on our day off and marginally guilty to not be doing so themselves. I explained to them that 1) we are all complete and total workaholics who don’t know what to do with ourselves when not working, 2) this is the work to which we freaks look forward the remainder of the year – I’d honestly rather be calculating elevations or recording pottery readings than reading a junky novel, and the promise of this work sustains me through the drudgeries of translating Greek in the middle of February, and 3) we know how much work there will soon be, and how it will pile up if not done now.

The last two or three days have been beautifully clear, allowing a brilliant view of the snow on Mt Hermon to our northwest and of the Lebanese villages to the northeast. The accompanying wind has also kept the gnats away. But the right side of my face is exceptionally dry and chapped, and I couldn’t figure out why it would be so much worse than the left until someone pointed out that I stand in the same position on site for several hours (while I’m sifting dirt), with the right side of my face oriented in the direction of the wind. Another team is also working in that vicinity, thereby sending gusts of fine sifted soil down in my direction. So my poor poor face is abraded from wind and dirt.

Also, did you know there are three kinds of heat rash??? At least I only have the one. Hot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Israel at last

I've now been in Israel for about four days (wow, is that really it? huh). We've had two full days of excavation, preceded by a day and a half of clearing assorted brush, including thistles and dry hay, from around the site. Of the many years I've worked in northern Israel, this is perhaps the most quickly I have seen a site "reclaimed" by nature. We promptly took it back. Take that nature!

The thistles were frequently over 6 feet tall and covered in spikes but were not nearly as petrifying as the hay. My resulting allergy attack was truly epic. I am master of the farmer blow.

Other than that, we're still settling in and recovering from a bit of jet lag. I had a really difficult time sleeping the first few nights, with the result that our first day of excavation, I was completely dragging and unenergetic. I wondered, "what the heck happened to me? It's going to be a loooong summer if this doesn't improve." Then, lo and behold, after a two hour nap and solid 6 hours of sleep, today proved much more bearable, almost enjoyable. (I say almost because we're still making our way through topsoil, which is essentially 50 centimeters of churned up modern crap, so we are not doing or finding anything remotely interesting.)

The conservation team here has a website and blog that they update fairly regularly. If you just can't get enough Tel Kedesh (and who could), here you are.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Your hero and mine

Packing is a bit all consuming at the moment, but here's a little bit of Indy joy that passed through my email inbox this week.

The AIA made a big deal about HF coming to this huge gala in April. And apparently he didn't show up. Whoops.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Archaeologist's Tool Box: Patiche

In a blatant rip-off of my friend Casey, who has been entertaining readers with her series on "Squirrel Stuff I Own" and "Casey's Foods," I'm inaugurating a new posting theme revolving around the Archaeologist's Tool Box. As I pack to leave for Israel in a week, I'm coming upon all the random tools and equipment archaeologists use - almost never for their intended purpose.

The other reason is my high excitement at the newest addition to my assemblage. A patiche is unique in archaeology in so far as it is one of the few tools actually designed explicitly for archaeological use. The narrow pointy end of this handpick is useful for knocking away fine dirt from the edges of a rock or chunk of pottery (aka "articulating"), and the wide end is perfect for breaking up larger amounts of dirt and trimming balks (aka the dirt walls created by digging) to be nice and straight. The patiche has so many other uses, I can't even begin to describe or even think of them all. The trowel is often reputed to be the most indispensable tool to an archaeologist, but I find patichim more versatile and generally useful. I have a friend who claims he can perform any archaeological task with only a patiche - perhaps not optimally, or most efficiently, but certainly doable.
My particular, brand new patiche was a graduation present from Rhys that magically showed up on my doorstep this week! (Well, technically the UPS tag showed up stuck to my door, and I had to go pick up the package at the distribution center... but that doesn't sound nearly so romantic.) Apparently I had been hinting that I wanted him to get me one; I thought I was just talking. In the package was not only a patiche, but also a holster, so that I can have my patiche at the ready at all times, in the event of a dirt removal emergency. How handy!

In other news, I'm completely, officially done with all requirements for my Master's degree.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Journalism, Archaeology, and Legitimacy

Way to generate a four way voting tie, people. You're so helpful.

The Sunday New York Times ran a front page article this week titled "Parks Fortify Israel's Claim to Jerusalem." I'd learned about this issue last semester. Essentially, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel in 1967 (Silwan) is now being transformed into an archaeological park which emphasizes the centrality of the area to Jewish history, thereby enforcing a mindset of Jewish/Israeli hegemony there. The excavation and parks construction are being conducted by a shadow group which appears to be funded by American and Russian Zionists, called Elad. Elad is fundamentally a settlers group. An Elad spokesman reputedly told a reporter in 2006 that the organizations' goal is "to get a [Jewish] foothold in East Jerusalem and to create an irreversible situation in the holy basin around the Old City." (quoted in an article in The Nation, July 2008). This is accomplished in part by forcing Palestinians living in Silwan to sell their houses cheaply and conducting archaeological excavation on the City of David (translation: Iron Age remains) to demonstrate that Jewish people were there first. These "excavations", if clearing anything less than 2500 years old with bulldozers is to be called that, are tacitly approved by the government.

If you're curious about further ethical, political, and archaeological issues involved in Elad's City of David excavations, read The Nation article linked above, or watch this video. It "stars" Rafi Greenburg, a respected Israeli archaeologist. I've met him a few times; he's a legitimate scholar.

But does the NY Times article really discuss any of this? No. The online version loads in two pages. The first page includes such gems of objective journalism as: "As part of the effort, archaeologists are finding indisputable evidence of ancient Jewish life here. Yet Palestinian officials and institutions tend to dismiss the finds as part of an effort to build a Zionist history here. In other words, while the Israeli narrative that guides the government plan focuses largely — although not exclusively — on Jewish history and links to the land, the Palestinian narrative heightens tensions, pushing the Israelis into a greater confrontational stance."

The second page acknowledges some controversy in the archaeological community about the legitimacy of the scholarship. There is a quotation from a February article by Professor Greenberg, who was clearly not interviewed for this piece. The NY Times writers then undermine all legitimacy of opposition by writing "At the same time, the Web site of Al Quds University, one of the most important Palestinian institutions, states that the Western Wall, the remnant of the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, was probably built by the Romans because the temple could not have stood there. There is no scholarly dispute about whether the temple stood beneath what is today the Aksa Mosque compound." What Al Quds and the Western Wall have to do with Elad and Silwan, I have no idea, other than to show that all interested parties have "scholarship" at their disposal and are not above using it for political purposes. But Al Quds University is of course flat wrong...

This post is less about the blatant uses and abuses of archaeology at Silwan - I think it's fairly clear how I and hundreds of other archaeologists feel about this - and more about the dangers of journalism, even from such a legitimate source as the New York Times. This bias and poor journalism of this article completely angered me, and if I had more credibility (say, three letters after my name) I would write such a scathing letter to the editor.

What it really comes down to, again, is lack of scientific and academic literacy in the US. How do you distinguish good scholarship from bad? Real bias from attempted objectivity? The "theory" of evolution versus creationism?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Once we were in danger from fanatical lama priests..."

One of the small joys of my life is listening to Science Friday podcasts on the bus to and from school. All spring, Ira Flatow has been interviewing guests with ties to Charles Darwin in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of The Origin of Species. I'm heinously behind, but this evening on the way home, I learned something very very interesting and important.

Roy Chapman Andrews is the official real life Indiana Jones! And he's from Beloit, Wisconsin, which is a half hour from where I grew up and less than ten minutes from my parents' current house!!!!! Apparently his true gift was in taxidermy, but he worked his way up the ladder at the American Museum of Natural History by taking a position sweeping floors and hitting up Andrew Carnegie for money.
The only problem is RCA (as his society seems inclined to call him) isn't really an archaeologist. He's more a paleontologist/evolutionary biologist, who set out looking for hominid fossils in the Gobi desert but instead ended up finding scores of dinosaur fossils, including the first ever identified velociraptor and dinosaur eggs. When I tell people I'm an archaeologist, and they reply "Wow, dinosaurs!", I helpfully correct them by pointing out that Indiana Jones is archaeology, Jurassic Park is paleontology. Way to not understand the difference, George Lucas.

But, he did wear a fedora and carry a pistol, which, as we all know, are really the only relevant aspects here.

When I have free days this summer at my parent's house, I'm going to go look at his birthplace and grave and maybe, finally, eventually, go to the Logan Museum of Anthropology at Beloit College as I have been intending for years. Pictures to come!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Coffee stimulates your urges, it is served in Lutheran churches

I have a problem, dear blog readers. And that problem is that I'm going to run out of coffee at home in about 3-4 days, but I promised the Gods of Moving that I would not buy any more groceries before I move in 13 days. But I also promised the Gods of Finance that I would attempt to be responsible, given all the going away-last minute-I have no food in my house meals and drinks out which will occur in the next couple weeks, thus making the $2 a day to become one of those people who buys overpriced coffee also an inadequate solution.

A sub-version of this problem is that I am going to run out of the cute little #2 coffee filters around the same time, for my scuzzy little coffee maker that I haven't cleaned in 4 years. I recently was gifted a clean, shiny, larger coffee maker courtesy of friend Rachel, courtesy of friend Rachel's future sister-in-law. In my master plan, I was going to throw away the old one when I moved and take the new one with me, thus absolving myself from all coffee maker cleaning. However, I don't want to buy new filters when I know I won't use them all, particularly if I don't have coffee to put in them.

Yes, I realize this might appear to have little to do with archaeology. But you try waking up at 4:15am, six days a week, for eight weeks, and tell me coffee is irrelevant to archaeology. (I feel a little Michael Scott-esque, claiming that signing papers for his condo doesn't count as a personal day off from work, because it pertains to his job as he needs a place to live in order to perform his job.)

So! I turn the question to you, dear readers. Vote in the poll at right anytime between now and Sunday night. I will abide by your collective wisdom.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Claire has sufficiently shamed me into a new post, even though (I promise!) I'd been meaning to get around to it since, as she pointed out, it has been a month.

I passed my written and oral defenses over a week ago. Overall, they went fairly well. I had a written slide exam, with 4 minutes each to identify and discuss 15 images and 10 minutes each for another 3. The only thing that worried me after completing it was if I had, in such a short time, provided the information my adviser would be looking for in my answers, as I generally didn't have time to write down everything I knew about any given image. We discussed my exam at a dinner party later that week, and she laughed about how she'd had fun making up the exam, including several controversial or curious images, that we'd discussed in several contexts, just to see what I'd say about them. (One of them was the Cave of Pan, which is the alternate site for the temple Herod built to Augustus προς Paneion, as opposed to Omrit. I skirted the issue by talking about the cave itself, rather than any temple that may or may not have been there...) She further observed upon looking at my exam that I had taken it a bit more seriously in the writing than she did in the grading.

My oral exam was more pleasant, mainly casual discussion about both my Herod paper and an earlier version of my beads paper, which is still very much a work in progress. My committee members asked me some questions, some of which I had never considered an answer to or was completely ignorant of, but that was ok. My advisor was glowing in praise of my work, suggesting that I consider working up a version of Herod for an article in Near Eastern Archaeology (a semi-scholarly journal), although the two others were less effervescent, I suppose. They sent me out of the room for about five minutes, brought me back in, said cursory congratulations, and left. It was rather anticlimactic, as I found myself gathering up my things in the emptied room, looking around, not sure what to do next. Didn't anyone want to take me out for a drink???

Silly me, I had expected it to be more like my Honors project defense when heaps of laud and praise would be poured over my head as a slave (in the form of Rosamund Rodman) sat behind me saying "Remember you are only a man" (and God is not gendered). Even my current advisor is usually very complementary, but no real support or encouragement from my other committee members. I suppose, in reality, the goal of my time at Minnesota was not to complete a Master's degree, although that was a necessary by-product of the actual goal, which was to get into a program like Michigan. So the real triumph of my education here occured a month ago, and my defense was of course anticlimactic.

I've had a difficult time keeping motivation and spirits up post-defense, so I have taken today off completely from work and school. Oddly, when I woke up this morning, I was possessed by a desire to catch up on the pile of journals and articles that have been sitting on my coffee table, waiting to be read, for months. On my day off, what I wanted to do more than anything, was read archaeological articles. So I did (in between making blueberry muffins and reading the New York Times). And I remembered: I really, really, really love my field, and I am proud and excited to be a part of it. One day, I'll have articles in these journals, and they'll review my books, and I'll have an array of issues lined up on the floor to ceiling bookshelves of my tenure-track office.

20 days to Israel.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Plan So Far

Slowly but surely, my life post-Masters degree is coming together. On Friday, I both booked my flight to Israel and reserved a Portable On Demand Storage (PODS) moving apparatus. I don't care that it will cost me $2000. For the ability to put my stuff in a container in my driveway in Saint Paul and unpack it from the same container in Ann Arbor three months later, never having to deal with it in between, I would forsake my firstborn. So, here's the rough schedule as it stands now:
May 14 - Last final
May 15-17 - New York for family wedding
May 20 - POD arrival and load up (this means I have to be fully packed by then)
May 21 - POD disappears; drive to Illinois
May 22 - Flight to Israel
May 23-July 17 - Field season at Tel Kedesh
July 17 - Back to the States
July 18 - ~August 15 - Visit Rhys in LA (Getty Museum!) and the Twin Cities, because I really won't have much else to do (I say now...)
Late August - Move to Ann Arbor
September 8 - Classes begin

The only thing of substance that really has yet to be determined is the actual place I will be living. If anyone has hot tips on the Ann Arbor rental market, feel free to share.

Now all that's left is finishing this pesky Minnesota nonsense. Oy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Insert catchy title

I've been asked by my adviser to shorten and modify a paper I wrote for our ethics class last semester for an Opinion piece in the Daily Planet. (Careful In Situ readers may remember that I first wrote a similar piece in December... apparently it was so good, they want two.) I plan to submit it early tomorrow afternoon, but any feedback before then would be greatly appreciated and taken into careful consideration!

We all have a favorite piece of art in our homes. An heirloom desk from a deceased relative, a cheap trinket from a favorite vacation, a finger painting by a son or daughter, a painting or sculpture by a famous artist, or even a copy of one: each piece holds so many associations, memories, and meanings. These objects are priceless to us, each in its own separate, individual, unique way.

So how can a price be assigned to a “priceless” piece of art? Every day, in auction houses in New York and London, this very act occurs. We give so many different types of values to art and antiquities: the object’s biography and fame of its creator, its significance for art historians, archaeologists, and cultural historians, its aesthetic merit, and finally, its value as an economic commodity. It is this last value, that of an investment, which is glorified in the process of buying and selling. More expensive comes to mean better, more “valuable,” more unique and important.

Archaeologists like to complain about how ancient objects have become “commoditized,” meaning that their economic value has become the preeminent feature for defining their fundamental worth as objects, overwriting their aesthetic or scholarly values. Collectors and dealers counter that granting high monetary values to objects causes people to care more about them. The problem, however, is that not every object is worth the same dollar amount, and the dollar amount is often wholly unrelated to those other values.

The great harm of privileging certain objects over others on the basis of such an arbitrary and essentially meaningless premise as price, from the archaeological perspective, is that it legitimizes the uneven treatment and preservation of antiquities. Almost all archaeologists, museum curators, and collectors agree that preservation is the most important ethical responsibility governing archaeological material. But all too frequently, the determination of what should be preserved and what should not is made on the basis of economic worth. This value judgment has thereby been codified into law. The United States Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 dictates the criminal penalty for violations relative to the “commercial or archaeological value of the archaeological resources,”(16 U.S.C. 470ee(d)). The 1975 Cultural Property Export and Import Act of Canada grants particular protection to objects worth more than $500. However, the mechanism for establishing such value is not defined in the parameters of these laws. Prices of antiquities are notoriously slippery: an object worth a couple dollars in its country of origin may fetch several hundred at auction in New York or London, and fluctuations in taste over time can drive an object’s price up or down.

Ascribing a dollar amount to “archaeological value” makes even less sense and has no basis in archaeological practice. It assumes that the knowledge to be gained from such an object is finite, definable, and static over time. Think back to that favorite art piece in your own house. How much would you be willing to sell it for? How much would anyone offer to pay for it? Chance are, those two dollar figures are pretty different. That is a rough approximation of saying that the amount paid for an antiquity at auction is the same as its “archaeological value,” or worth as a piece of data to inform our knowledge about the past.

More and more, objects are becoming recognized for values beyond that of money. The looting of the Baghdad Museum and archaeological sites in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003 has raised public awareness of the scientific methods employed by archaeologists, who see artifacts as a scientific data set. For a graduate student like me, where objects are found, what they look like, what materials they are made from, and so on are all important questions to my research. Destruction of archaeological sites through looting is the equivalent of vandalism of a research laboratory, except that things stolen from the ground, unlike scientific experiments, are completely irreplaceable and unable to be reproduced. Moreover, my data can be legally bought, sold, and owned in the United States and many other countries, but scientists have the ideological and legal protection of patents and artists have copyright. Should my “archaeological” value necessarily be privileged over the economic, the personal, or the aesthetic values of an object? Perhaps not, but neither should it be diminished for sake of the others. And that is precisely what the current system does.

(me, the blogger, again) I'm not particularly thrilled with the end, but it's after 9:00 and I have yet to eat dinner, so I'm calling it quits for the time being.

You know, it's pretty handy when I can pass off other work as a blog post! It bypasses that whole I'm-too-busy-to-blog thing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Go Blue!

Aside from several airport delays getting in and out of Chicago on Sunday (into Monday), my Michigan trip went very well. I had a moderate freak out when I got there Thursday night, however, as I realized that I had not made UPenn's first cut. (Other people had heard from them, and were scheduled to go to a similar visit weekend in Philadelphia.) Ultimately, that put much more pressure on the Michigan visit, as it was officially became the only program in play. Compounding this nerve-racking state of affairs was that it seemed everyone else visiting had several other visit weekends lined up at places like Penn, Brown, Berkeley... and I just had this one. Granted, I didn't apply to most of those places, because I didn't want to go there and I felt that I could get into a place I actually did want to go, so why bother, but it didn't help the nerves every time someone asked "So what other programs are you visiting?" for me to say "None."

But that was Thursday, and by Friday and Saturday I had calmed down somewhat. I was able to spend some time with people I know from Kedesh - a huge boon in such a stressful and odd scenario - and I had lovely conversations with several professors. I never felt like I was particularly being grilled or evaluated; it was all very informal receptions, dinners, tours, and so on. I was most impressed with the library resources (one librarian assigned just to archaeology and Classics, who buys books specifically related to what students and faculty are working on! A book-generating machine!) and the collegial atmosphere among graduate students and faculty. The people all seemed to genuinely like and respect each other. Unlike Minnesota, where professors are all "Professor", professors at Michigan were universally called by their first names. I take this as a very strong sign of the suitability of a department to my personal style and preferences - and I'm not a girl who stands on formality. This is all on top of what I already knew about the program: that it is one of the top three in reputation and training in the country, that it encourages museum research and offers a museum studies certificate, and that students are competitive for research fellowships and international programs.

Today, I officially found out that I would receive full funding - tuition and fees, health insurance, and a modest but adequate living stipend - for the 5-6 years it will take me to finish my PhD. Finally, finally, after years of hard work and dreaming, my future in this field is at least somewhat assured. I will earn a PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology, from the University of Michigan no less. This will be my career, this will be my life.

PhD, University of Michigan, 2015!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Michigan and other excitement

I've been a little frantic the last couple days, between Rhys' visit to the Twin Cities and my impeding departure to the University of Michigan for four days starting tomorrow, and blogging tends to fall to the bottom of the list when I have basically three work days over a two week period during Midterms.

I scheduled my MA Defense today. I'm pretty excited about it, actually. From my understanding, the three members of my committee and I will just discuss my two thesis papers, both of which I like and am proud of the work I did for them. I also like all my committee members, so really, it's just an opportunity to talk about things I'm interested in with intelligent, knowledgeable people for two hours. I say this now.

Michigan this weekend will determine my funding, and thus my ability to go there. It'll also be nice to see the department and meet more people in the program. This will all help me be able to begin to visualize my life post-Minnesota. Crazy. Still no word from Penn yet. I really wish they would just get moving; it will help to have all the information at hand when decision making time comes.

Also have dates for Israel this summer. Once again, I'll be there from about Memorial Day to the middle of July. Told you there was much excitement afoot!

And, finally, my friend Casey, fellow archaeologist, sent me this link for to discuss here. Alas, time does not permit the analysis this deserves, but I post for your general amusement:
Do these mysterious stones mark the site of the Garden of Eden?

I will admit to being genuinely perplexed at several statements made therein, particularly since the article appeared to quote *real* archaeologists in support of this wackjob theory. (Ian Hodder, hello!) But then I found a discussion of the same site in Smithsonian Magazine, and it all made sense:
Gobekli Tepe: The World's First Temple

So, there you have it, personal life and professional world updates all wrapped into one post! Tada!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Basements and Roofs

President Obama signed the stimulus bill at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science yesterday.

Man. There is no part of that sentence I don't love. Every part of it! Subject, verb, object, prepositional phrase, adverb. They're all just inherently awesome.

Anyway, the reason (and relevancy) of this post is that the Denver Museum is very comparable to the Science Museum of Minnesota. I really like that Obama chose not only a museum, and one that is looking toward the future, but a moderately sized, regional museum. It has such grassroots feel. However, beyond symbolism, the question of the role of the museum in this exchange is pretty interesting. I'm sure they didn't approach the Obama administration about it - why would they presume that he might consider it an option? But collections based museums like DMNS, SMM, the Field Museum, and the Smithsonian generally, by nature, focus on the past. While they can then orient that focus towards the future, such as using biological specimens to talk about changing environment and extinction, the basis upon which that system of knowledge, as communicated in exhibits, is founded remains the past.

But the latest developments in museology, particularly at places like DMNS and SMM that operate on more limited budgets, instead focus on the new, the revolutionary, the future. The professed claim that Obama chose the museum because it had solar panels on the roof is a perfect example of this. Collections are expensive, boring, and pointless, right? The future isn't in the basements of museums, but on their roofs!

I'm not saying that museums of this sort don't have a role, because they do. But there's a big difference between a collections museum and a science center. And, unfortunately, many formerly collections based museums are shifting to science center, which means collections themselves, and access to them, are rapidly deteriorating, nor are they being developed. And that ain't good.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Funny Valentine

In honor of Valentine's Day weekend (I wanted to write this post yesterday, but life got in the way), I will take this opportunity to reflect upon the major love of my life: archaeology.

In the ubiquitous 25 Things meme on Facebook, I posted "I more or less consider myself married to archaeology, and I am exceedingly grateful that I found an occupation I love, seem to be capable of doing, and which will pay my bills." As I've watched three very dear friends get married in the last year alone, I've come to realize that I, like them, have been lucky enough to find a soul mate too. Sound like a strange analogy? Let's call archaeology "Bob" for the rest of this post. Allow me to tell you our love story.

Bob and I met in college, sophomore year. I quickly found that I preferred him to all other men, and would rush through all my homework so we could spend time together. However, even after a month together in Israel the summer between junior and senior year, when we discovered that we could be together for sustained amounts of time, I wasn't sure I was ready for a full, life-long commitment. We talked about moving in together for a couple years, perhaps at Cornell, but he didn't have the financial means to support me and I wasn't ready to move.

Like all couples after college, we had to work to redefine our relationship outside of an academic, collegiate environment. I still wasn't sure if I was in for the long haul, but after exploring other options, I realized Bob was vastly superior to them. Alas, I was ready to spend our lives together, but my period of waffling in college made him unwilling to extend the same commitment to me. So we moved in together, in Minnesota, where I managed to prove to him and the rest of the world that I was serious, and we belonged together.

Bob and I spend evenings, weekends, and vacations together. I don't get tired of him; in fact, the more I learn about him, the more intrigued I become. When I'm feeling crummy about something, Bob always manages to make me feel better. Sure, our relationship is far from perfect - we occasionally have different interests, so I have to do things I don't enjoy in order to spend time with him, and sometimes I resent that he takes time away from my friends and family. But when he "proposed" a week and a half ago, I knew it's all been worth it. I don't know exactly where Bob and I will land, but I know we'll be together, and he'll take care of and support me for a long time. So yesterday, Bob and I hung out in the library for a few hours, where I remembered that I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have found him. He's just so complex and interesting.

That maybe turned out a bit weirder than I thought it would.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Second post of the day!

I know, two posts in one day is completely unprecedented here. But I just saw this, and I couldn't help but share it with you, my faithful readers.

Fox News reports on "archaeologist" Randall Price's search for Noah's Ark in Turkey

See, this is why people think that archaeology isn't real science! Randall Price, for the record, is affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. I'm not going to get into all the issues - there's a nice blog entry here which goes into nice detail, including grammatical errors on the guy's website - but, if nothing else.... wasn't Noah's Ark made out of wood? Wood doesn't preserve for 3,000+ years unless it's in a bog or totally dry environment, and even that is far from a guarantee. Frozen in a glacier is not going to cut it. Unless we're going to start attributing divine miracles here, which, hey, might as well be the case.

Also, the Fox's Archaeology Center is about to become mandatory reading for me. At the top of the list? "Mythic Birthplace of Zeus Possibly Found." Actually, almost all the headlines read "likely found," "possibly found," or - my personal favorite - "almost certainly found." Endless fun!

The Choices We Make

It's been a relatively quiet week after the flurry of excitement that was a week ago. I had a bit of a panicked weekend, as happens every now and again, when I became really anxious about getting things done. The latest stressor is the publishable chapter I have to write for a class this semester. My adviser is teaching a class on "Artifact Analysis," the whole point of which is to finish the chapter on the weaving implements from the same site my beads were from. But because too many people signed up for the class to work on just the weaving implements, we divided into "squads" and I am essentially in charge of the weaving implements team. The trouble is, trying to find a time when four busy people with incredibly different lifestyles can meet to even begin to decide how to do this project is impossible. And I'm concerned that the rest of my group isn't taking this as seriously as I am, considering this to be the same as a project or paper they'd write for any other class. I, however, take the responsibility of this much more seriously. Not only will our names be attached to this thing for all time, but people's impressions of the site and of this body of material will be strongly colored by the interpretation we give to it this semester. It took me almost a year to finish the beads chapter. Becoming familiar with the extant scholarship and the assemblage of finds, not to mention organizing and writing it all up, takes a significant amount of time. How we will accomplish that in a mere 2 1/2 months is beyond me, especially when we can barely find a time to meet. And because I am the graduate student in the group, as well as being the person that I am, I'm afraid all that responsibility will fall to me. It will require major effort on my part anyway to trust other people and not totally control the project.

Anyway, all that responsibility came down on my head Friday afternoon, and I spent just about all weekend finishing up the beads paper before I submitted it this morning. Only about a quarter of that time was on my part - the rest was dealing with an extant manuscript about the stone beads that had incomplete citations, notes instead of sentences, and incorrect information. Fun times.

It was unfortunate that this work compunction came about in the midst of a weekend with a lot of other activities. I missed several events because I was working. And while this isn't totally unusual or unprecedented, excepting major events for which I plan ahead to take the entire day "off", it seemed harder and more isolating this time around. Maybe it's because I thought this semester would be lighter. Maybe it's because now that I'm into a PhD program, I'm less focused and motivated. Maybe, just maybe, it's because deep down inside somewhere, I prefer my work to my social life, but refusing 3-4 invitations in succession because "I have to work" starts to seem like hiding after awhile.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"I am very pleased to tell you..."

It's been an exciting week so far in the life of this archaeologist. I gave my talk on "Beads and Beadmaking in the Ancient World" to the Upper Midwest Bead Society on Monday night, and it went fantastically. I was marginally nervous about it because their talks generally consist of how-to-make-jewelry sorts of things and mine was certainly much more "academic." Also, they paid me $50, so I felt some compunction to not completely suck. But they laughed at my jokes, asked lots of questions, and gave me some really great ideas about a couple pieces. One lady came up to me afterward and said "I'm an engineer, and it was so nice to actually have a talk with actual scientific sorts of information." They've already asked me if I can return next year, but....

I won't be here, because I found out today that I was admitted to the University of Michigan Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology! Michigan has been a beacon of archaeological achievement to me for years. It's been my dream program and my first choice. Two years ago, they rejected me. But today, today, they accepted me. The one downside is that this admittance comes with the slight caveat of no financial aid. They determine packages after an "informal" interview and visit process the first weekend of March. And, no money would mean no PhD for Kate. But I'm feeling really good about it, and the most difficult part has certainly been surmounted. (My chances now increase from the 1 in 16 they admitted to probably something like 5 in 8 who will recieve financial aid.) It also bodes really well for the University of Pennsylvannia, which does give aid to everyone admitted. Months ago, my advisor assured me that I'd get into Penn but she wasn't sure about Michigan. Yeah baby!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rage, sing of the rage

Spring semester has now passed the two week mark, and I'm cautiously optimistic that I will not actively loathe any of my classes (cough, Prehistoric Greek Art, cough) and may actually enjoy a few, which would be a nice change of pace. I have, however, been exceedingly grumpy about Greek and Latin, since I somehow forgot that the beginning of the semester is the most challenging and time consuming in language classes due to a combination of forgetting things over break and adjusting to new authors with different writing styles and vocabularies. For example: our first Greek assignment, the first 20 lines of the Iliad, probably took me about three hours. Today's assignment of 30+ lines took less than two hours. And while assignments may get marginally larger (perhaps 40-50 lines), I'll keep getting faster and will likely be able to get it done in about an hour. (The same holds for Livy.) The trouble is, I always remember the end of the previous semester, in which I blaze quickly through the readings, and it's obnoxious when things take longer than I think they should.

I also tend to get grumpier about languages taking up a lot of time when I feel like I have better, more productive things to be doing with said time. (This goes back to my long-standing resentment of having to learn languages at all. I will never ever be as good at Latin or Greek as other people around me. In the future, the most I'll have to do is read an inscription or quickly check a translation; anything more substantial I could pawn off on those who enjoy it more.) So, me struggling to read the Iliad accomplishes nil in the grand scheme of the world. I'm not going to get anything more from it than the zillion other people who have read it before me. Working on my own research and projects feels so much more productive to me. I'm doing something new, something unique, something which adds to our accumulated knowledge rather than takes from or duplicates it. This feeling has been particularly acute in the last couple weeks, as I'm trying to finish the last draft of the beads paper and put together a talk for the Upper Midwest Bead Society.

There are a lot of parentheticals in this post. Clearly, I've been spending too much time reading Claire's blog.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


In Situ has gained media attention! And by media, I mean my grad school colleague and friend Richard's blog, on which it is proclaimed "Blog of the Week." We're talking the new, independent media here, folks. So, welcome to any of Richard's readers, and I'll try to moderate the nasty things I say about Classicists. Sort of.

Meanwhile, in the traditional media, the New York Times reported today that Brandeis University plans to sell off the entire collections holdings of the Rose Art Museum, consisting mainly of paintings from the second half of the twentieth century. The decision appears to have been made by the university's president and trustees, independent of any oversight or knowledge by the museum's director and board. The president's statement cites a low endowment, and the university's "priority" of teaching and research, as reasons for the sale.

Now, first and foremost, as is brought up in the article, now is a terrible time to spell expensive artwork at auction. Duh. Second, museums and their collections are data mines for research in art, history, anthropology, psychology, etc, so to argue that museum collections do not fit into a university setting of teaching and research shows not only a lack of understanding what museums are, but also an utter lack of creative thought.

Finally, and perhaps what bothers me most about this situation, is that the article states that due to a low budget, most of the 6,000 pieces of artwork were donated to the museum. No one - no one - donates to a museum intending for their object to be sold back into private hands one day. People give expensive, important pieces to museums so that their contributions may be ensured survival and access. Museums, as holders of the public trust, have no right to violate that tacit agreement, whether it was legally defined in the donation documents or not.

When I worked at the museum (you know which one), the collections department had an ongoing fight with administration regarding the value and sale of our collections. To administration, the collections were worth money, and therefore could be sold if the museum needed extra funds. Even in difficult economic times of the present, we as a society cannot mortgage our past - and future. Museum collections are not like government bonds or stocks. They are not an investment. They are a documentation of who we are as a culture.

And that is worth so much more than whatever a painting can fetch on an auction block.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I know, I know, I start this new exciting blog and then promptly go on vacation for almost two weeks (and take a week to recover). And it's a shame, really, because the first 4 days of that "vacation" were actually archaeology-related. I went to the AIA conference in Philadelphia, where I interviewed with graduate schools, voted on AIA resolutions at the Council meeting, drank more than I should have, and discovered Philadelphia might not be the worst place in the world to spend 5-7 years of my life. I had a mental list going of blog-related topics from that weekend, too. I'll save them up for a later date, when I lack other inspiration.

But not today! Because today, as I was eating my breakfast cereal, I heard on Morning Edition a crazy story about Ohio and Kentucky feuding over a rock with some graffiti on it (dating back to at least 1847, when an "archaeological publication" noted it). Essentially, some guy decided it would be fun to try to find this rock, which had been underwater since the 1920s, when the Ohio River was dammed. So he and a buddy went out scuba-diving, found it, hauled it to the surface, and offered it to the local (Ohio) museum. Eventually Kentucky found out, and now they are raising a stink about the rock belonging to them, since it was an antiquity registered in Kentucky (having, presumably, been on the Kentucky side of the river before it was submerged). The original guy and his buddy are also facing charges because they illegally moved an antiquity.

There are so many convoluted issues in this story, I am forced to make a list to keep track of them all.
  1. What the heck is the archaeological significance of this rock anyway??? The story doesn't say anything about who made it, when, what's inscribed on it (other than a face that "looks like Charlie Brown"), or any other bit of information that would tell us why we should care. This is why people don't understand what's so wrong about removing an object from it's in situ location, and why it is against the law to do so.
  2. I'm sure some people care about legal disputes and state's jurisdiction, etc. I'm not one of them.
  3. A major problem in China right now is that with the building of the Three Gorges Dam, tons of ancient sites are being covered up. Conveniently for China, a lot of those sites are thought to have associations with non-ethnically Chinese people who lived in the region and might make a territorial claim to the land based on ancestry. Damming of the Nile has also destroyed many sites in Egypt. Damming = bad for archaeology and site preservation.
  4. Now I'm looking more closely at the face image, and it seems to have the year 1856 inscribed in it. Does something just over 150 years old count as an antiquity or not? Where do we place that line, both ethically and legally?
  5. Is it actually wrong - ethically - to have moved this rock and brought it to a place where people can see and study it? (If it warrants either of those things - I'm still not convinced.)
  6. Other thoughts? I know there's more!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Archaeologists Love Amphoras

Yesterday evening, I emailed a final draft of the beads paper to my adviser. I'm sure she'll have some comments and suggestions, but I'm not anticipating any major revisions. I put a lot of time into that project, and am really satisfied with the result. It was a perfect project, in many ways: it was fairly small and narrowly defined in scope but completely challenging (since I'd never done anything of the sort before), it opened avenues of further research and papers, and it fulfilled two important goals (a thesis and a publication). I can pretty honestly say that it was the most enjoyable paper I've ever written. While I'm almost sad to see it completed, it's very rewarding to know what I was able to do with the material at hand. This is a bit of a weird analogy, but in Season 2 of Project Runway, the eventual winner talks about how happy she is with her final runway collection and says something to the effect of "this is my dream...I'm so happy with what came out of me." I feel like that about the beads paper.

I also noticed as I was consolidating all the little bits and pieces that in word length, this project is almost identical to my senior honors project. Those of you who were my faithful Livejournal readers back then will recall what a disaster that was from top to bottom. I hated that paper when I had finished it; it took months before I could even look at it. It still makes me cringe a bit. But had I not been through that experience, I know that my research, organization, and writing abilities would be much less developed, and this project would have been less successful and more challenging (in the not-good way).

So, I launched this blog a few weeks ago and promised you all deep and brilliant insights into archaeological news, law, and ethics but have not produced such a post in at least two weeks. Nor have I been nearly as diligent at generating daily posts as my friend Claire on her new blog. Sorry. I'll do much better in two weeks, when break is over and I have more time. (And although that sounds counter-intuitive, trust me, it's not.)

My roommate got her copy of the American Philological Association newsletter today, and I was mildly annoyed to see that it's named Amphora. Now, for those of you who don't know, an amphora is a type of large storage vessel, generally for things like grain, olive oil, and wine. Stamped amphora handles, if you're fortunate enough to find one, are one of the best tools for dating strata at sites since they often have identifiable names or dates and circulated for shorter periods of time than coins. Long story short, an amphora is material culture and related to archaeology. What it has to do with the American Philological Association, I have no idea. I could accept if they had selected a material culture item at least tangentially related to the study of language and ancient literature, like Scroll or Inscription. But no. It just goes to show that everyone secretly wishes they were in archaeology instead. You would never see an archaeology newsletter called The Aeneid or Plato.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Very Indy Christmas

This post is only about a week overdue...

So what do budding archaeologists get for Christmas? Indiana Jones merchandise! My family only did "stocking presents" this year (meaning we opened presents for 3 hours Christmas morning, rather than the usual 5-6). Included in my stocking was: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a new Lego set featuring Junior and Henry Jones Sr riding the motorcycle/sidecar, and a Lego Indy keychain.

The reason for only stocking presents is my family's upcoming epic 9 day adventure in Disney World in about a week. Will I go see the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and covet many many things in the accompanying gift shop? Why yes, thank you for asking.

In other news, I'm making moderate progress on my thesis paper about glass beads. My adviser and I had a nice impromptu chat about it when I went into the office this week, but she politely asked if I could write up and include about 4 bone beads and a couple shell pieces in the final product as well. It's for the greater good - the final publication version of the paper will be a chapter titled "Beads" and include beads of all materials. Since, just like us, ancient peoples wore jewelry in multimedia, it makes much more sense to discuss all beads and pendants together, rather than isolated by material. It's just... the bone and shell pieces are so boring compared to the glass. But, that's archaeology. It ain't always golden idols and arks.

And finally, my last two PhD applications were officially due today. I, naturally, completed them weeks ago. Unfortunately, one of my recommenders has yet to do the same. For any of the programs to which I applied. Including the one due December 15th. Awesome.