Poetic Archaeology 4

Our poetically minded archaeologist continues her work today.

three concentrations

where artifacts gather close

guide excavations

Now that the controlled surface collection is done, our intrepid archaeologist is back in her lab, warming her chapped hands and slathering on another round of moisturizer. She goes through a lot of it. Working outside in all kinds of conditions and digging in the dirt takes its toll.

She (or a crew field chief) sketched out a site map with the controlled artifact collection while still in the field. Since she’s old school, she used graph paper to record how many artifacts were collected from each square. Now in the lab, she’s done a quick and dirty scan of the artifacts collected to see what’s showing up in those squares, like European or American ceramics and glass and Native American stone tools or waste material from making those tools.

When she writes her report, she’ll include a graphic figure similar to the one below, which is extremely simplified, by the way. I didn’t want to pull a real figure from a report, and a “real” fictional one would take a lot of time for me to prepare. (If you’d like, you can click on the figure to bring up a larger image that’s more legible.)

Most of the artifacts found on the surface fell into three easily seen clusters within the site area. When she goes back into the field, she’ll place most of her test excavations in these three clusters. She’ll also do more limited tests in areas that didn’t have a lot of artifacts on the surface. It’s possible that features will be found in those areas that contain fewer artifacts. When that happens, a farmer’s plow doesn’t always bring them to the surface where they can be easily seen.

Will her excavations reveal similar artifacts to those she found on the surface?  We’ll have to wait until she’s back in the field to find out.

20 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology 4

  1. This is painstaking work jm! And the adage must hold true that ‘it’s all in the details’. Why this makes me hold my breath I don’t know…maybe there’s a little bit of the ‘hurry up, let me see’ thing going on? LOL You must have the patience of Job! Very interesting!!


    • Yes, you need to be patient and have a good eye, not only in the field, but also in the lab and the analyses. And sometimes you have to do your own graphics, so some artistic talent doesn’t hurt, either. Really, archaeologists are often jacks of all trades, not only with their hands in the field but also in their education. We borrow from history, social science, geology, soil studies, you name it. All to try to understand what the archaeological record tells us about our past.

      It won’t be too long before we see what’s beneath our archaeologist’s feet. 🙂


  2. Great stuff. Sounds like the kind of job that is fairly precise? Would it be safe to assume that the prehistoric lithic would be found in the two areas upon further digging, and vice versa for the glass/ceramic? How do you explain the heavier concentrations? Perhaps a work or living area versus unused land?

    Lurve the haiku.


    • For the job to be done well, we do need to be precise. But don’t picture our poetic girl going at things with only a trowel and fine brush. 🙂 Sometimes those are the main tools. But there are times we bring out the heavy equipment—literally. Backhoes, belly scrapers—the things you see in construction projects.

      I don’t want to give too much away, but you’ve asked some very insightful questions and given very good potential answers! Heavier surface concentrations can mark what we call activity areas, places where people were doing things that resulted in indicidental or purposeful disposal. At Native American sites, this could reflect an area where someone regularly made stone tools—we’ll find lots of “chipping debris” in such locales. At an 1750s plantation, it could mark where the kitchen was located, and we find broken bits of dishes and bottles and animal bones, for example. (Kitchens were often separate buildings from the main house—a good precaution when you’re cooking over open flames and don’t want your entire house burning down.)

      The concentrations do also sometimes show where structures like houses or barns were located, and their foundations could remain below the soil levels that are currently plowed in a farm field.

      Sometimes a bare area on the surface is deceiving, though. That can mean that nothing like plowing has happened, and so artifacts aren’t being brought to the surface. That can mean there’s even better preservation below ground than normal. We’ll see if that’s the case for our archaeologist or not… 🙂


  3. JM, I love reading about her. What time period is this archaeologist working in? I guess I got to your blog late and missed that part. I can’t imagine having the patience (or simple art skills) for this job!


  4. She’s probably working in the Eastern US, and her work isn’t limited to a certain time period. She might find Native American sites that are 5,000 years old one day and a 1700s tobacco plantation the next. (She must be working in my neck of the woods…. 🙂 )

    You haven’t missed too many of these posts. I’ve done 4 “archaeology” poems, but the first didn’t have any kind of explanation like this. You can catch up easily if you go to my categories widget and choose “Attempted Poetry.” The posts are all there. They’re running in sequential order for her poetic project. I try to keep them short and not too jargon-filled. 😉

    I never planned on doing anything like this. But when I tried my hand at haiku and did the first archaeologically inspired one, I thought it could be fun. And readers seem to enjoy it so far!


  5. Oh, boy. Now not only will I have images of you hunched over your computer writing your fiction but also hunched over a table conducting this painstaking work. Hope you are doing your yoga backbends. 🙂

    Thanks for another peek into your world.


    • Not too many yoga backbends, but the stability ball gives the back a good stretch a few days a week. 🙂 And I’m fairly sure that if I didn’t spend so much time in front of a computer for work and fun (writing/blogging), I still wouldn’t need glasses!

      I just hope I don’t start sounding too academic as I write these posts!


      • I don’t think you are. It adds a nice variety to your blog.

        As for the glasses, sadly, I have been a “four eyes” since 9th grade. I’m now onto bifocal contacts. Fun.


        • I’ve never been able to put anything other than drops into my eyes. So contacts have always been out of the question. It just took a while to get used to seeing my face with glasses!


    • Thanks! There are times I catch myself writing in a more fiction-oriented manner when I’m working on reports. Personally, I think they’d be a more interesting read that way. But professionally, I know I have to bring back the jargon and academic passivity. 🙂


  6. This is so detail oriented–it reminds me of an audit or an investigation. Wow, thanks for giving a tiny glimpse into such a unique world. 🙂


    • No, you never saw Indiana Jones working in his lab in the movies—for good reason. The details aren’t as exotic and sexy as the image of the dashing archaeologist excavating tombs in Egypt or Central America. Thankfully I’ve never specialized in areas that required me to take advanced statistics or exploratory data analysis courses! 😛


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