Tools of the Trade

Archaeological tools
Tools of the trade for terrestrial archaeologists.

This tool role, the prize possession, and creation, of one of my great friends and fellow archaeologists, Chris Valvano, always seems to have the right tool for the job. Created over years, with colorful strips of leather scraps, the roll itself is as much a tool as the tools it carries. The photo was snapped last summer, at the Michigan State University Campus Archaeology Program’s Field School, at which Chris and I were supervisors. The photo was taken by MSU Photographer Kurt Stepnitz, a regular visitor of our excavation sites all over campus. You can catch more of his archaeology photos here. Special thanks to Michigan State University for giving us permission to use this photo.

“Photo by Kurt Stepnitz, courtesy MSU University Relations

These Boots

Boots by Colleen Morgan
Time to retire another pair of boots. Photo by Colleen Morgan.

This week, we begin a new themed issue: Tools. Archaeologists have always had a unique tool set, often adapted from other disciplines: we use masonry tools, gardening tools, and paintbrushes. Whatever will help get the job done, and done well. It was a post by Colleen Morgan on her blog Middle Savagery that sparked the idea for this issue: her tribute to her boots, which carried her through many countries and many excavations, made me realize that, often, our tools can be more than the items we use to do our jobs: they can illicit memories, carry stories, and have special meaning to us and our discipline. For the rest of the month, you will get to enjoy posts about archaeological tools. These range from a post about archaeological tools discovered archaeologically, tools given as gifts from other archaeologists, or why certain tools are important to the discipline.

So, in tribute to Colleen’s post, our photo of the week is her photo of her boots. Hopefully, they will be able to last us through the month…

Photo: Boots by Colleen Morgan. Licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence.

CFPo: Tools

Every discipline has its own tools of the trade. Archaeologists, however, tend to have a unique toolbox, often comprised of everyday items reused to meet our needs. Some are more practical than others. And for every tool, there is a unique story attached. It could be the trowel you have carried with them since their first field experience, or the pair of boots that carried you through many excavations. Perhaps it’s a trademark hat, or a lucky compass, or the dig van that has served admirably in the service of archaeological discovery. Regardless, the tools we carry all have special uses, and special meanings. This is the purpose behind July’s themed issue: to investigate the tools we use as archaeologists, and the stories behind them.

These posts can come in many forms, and I encourage you to try to look at a number of different types of tools and to be creative (we could very easily do a whole month of “my first trowel” posts, but I’d like to see more variety). Is there something in your bag that you have a special attachment to? Is there a tool that you can’t live without? Perhaps there is a great story about a tool you had to MacGyver in the field to solve a tricky archaeological situation. Maybe you have a tool that is a bit obscure, or that came from a unique place in the world, or that reminds you of a certain moment or important archaeological mentor. Maybe you have a tool that is just so damn awesome you want everyone to know about it (don’t try to sell us anything, though. This isn’t the place for that). If so, then you have the kind of post we’d like to share.

Posts will be presented during the month of July, and are due by June 28th. We need at least 8 posts, and are only looking for 500-1000 words. Please include images, as well. Please contact Terry Brock (brockter [at]  if you are interested in participating as soon as possible, and include your post topic in your message. Or, leave a post in the comment section below or on the Facebook wall, or ship us a tweet @ThenDig. And of course, if there is something not related to the CFPo that you’d like to write about, check out our submission types and guidelines.


[Image courtesy of Campus Archaeologist on Flickr and the MSU Campus Archaeology Program Photo taken by Kim Brock Photography copyright 2009]