Croxden Abbey

[yt video=vohLD32fyNw]Croxden Abbey Illusion[/yt]

I’m trying to catch up with work, hence the skipped week. You can see the work at aobblog.com, which is a HTML5 page template among other things. Something more interesting is the Photo Search tool for botanical photos. If I can write a search engine for botanical images, then I can write one for archaeological images. When I get time to look over this site I’ll look at adding a similar engine. If you’d like to request archaeological photo pools to search, then leave a comment below.

Because I’m pushed for time it’ll be something I made a while ago that I put up as photo of the week. It’s based on this image of Croxden Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. For the optical illusion, you need to stare at the black dot at the centre of the image. After around 30 seconds something will happen, but will you see a colour image or is it black and white?

Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women’s Heritage Center

Why the West Side Matters: Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women's Heritage Center
Why the West Side Matters: Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women's Heritage Center. Photo by Baltimore Heritage.

It’s easy to take women’s equality for granted. Particularly if you’re a man. In my own case a female friend said that Prof. X.* had a habit of ignoring female grad students. I replied he’d never noticed that when I’d had to see him and, after about five minutes, I realised why. But we have history books, empowered rap artistes and occasionally a middle-aged politician will helpfully highlight what has changed by ranting about feminists promoting drug abuse, communism or inappropriate transport for marine life. Do we need physical places as well? Whatever the state of equality, it’s hard to see removing an old building changing the law.

At Baltimore Heritage, you can read why it matters as part of a series on Baltimore’s West Side. The Center acts as a focus for research and community based around women’s heritage, and there’s plenty there as you can see at their website. But even if the center were rubbish, I’d still argue it’s physically important. As Eli notes in his post, the corner was a site of a major open-air rally, that eventually lead to the passing of the 19th amendment. Places don’t just have locations, they have associations. They can be personal, the place where you first kissed your beloved or where you were first arrested. They can be communal. I used to live somewhere that has markers for plague infested traders, public hangings and a small but thorough massacre.+ Having somewhere that has positive connotations as a touchstone for a community is something worth holding on to.

The reason I’ve chosen this photo is partly because Baltimore Heritage has been up to a lot of interesting work this summer with their public Civil War digs. There’s also a chance to work there yourself. If you’re in the USA, you can access this page advertising a post for a Historic Preservation Officer. If, like me, you’re not American you can visit the page, get blocked and logged and then ask for a link to the site. The reply was impressively fast. The other reason is that often when I take photos indoors near displays I get a colour cast on my photos. This photo is well-lit, evenly exposed and has what looks like a good white balance.

Photo: Why the West Side Matters: Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women’s Heritage Center by Baltimore Heritage. Photo licenced under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.

*Unnamed as it’s my friend’s decision not mine whether or not to give details, and as you can see she had enough problems already.

+They were Vikings, so they tend not to get much sympathy.

Building a Foundation for Korean Archaeology as World Archaeology

Building a Foundation for Korean Archaeology as World Archaeology – Martin T. Bale and Mark Byington (Early Korea Project, Harvard University)

Scene from the first joint international excavations in almost 40 years between the Early Korea Project, the University of Michigan, and two Korean buried cultural heritage excavation institutes in May 2011. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lee.
Scene from the first joint international excavations in almost 40 years between the Early Korea Project, the University of Michigan, and two Korean buried cultural heritage excavation institutes in May 2011. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lee.

From our point of view, there are problematic issues with the archaeologies of Korea and Japan that developed from distinct historical reasons, but the result of the problem is the same in both places. That is to say, the meaningful exposure of the global academic archaeology community and the general public to the prehistory, proto-history and early history of the two countries is quite limited. This lack of awareness and/or exposure problem is even more acute in what Olsen (1991) calls the metropoles of academic archaeology, i.e. in the top universities and museums of United States and the UK. One can see this in any introductory textbook by Fagan, Renfrew and Bahn, and others. Korea and Japan are reduced to the role of inconsequential satellites in comparison to the kinds of archaeology that are popular in the metropoles of the US and UK.

In the words of the archaeologist and Professor Sasaki Ken’ichi of Meiji University, this is “tragic” because the rich archaeological data from Japan (and conversely, Korea) offer enormous promise to help push forward the major research questions of our field from a global perspective: the origins and intensification of agriculture, the evolution and devolution of complex societies, the development of urbanism, and more. Given the nature of the preservation of material culture these questions may never be completely resolved, but archaeological data from these two countries offer a comparative perspective of great depth that seems to only be paid lip service by luminaries and mover-shakers in the metropoles of academic archaeology. The potential positive effect of Area Studies, which theoretically should include and actively foster archaeological research on Japan and Korea and help to interface the results in a multi-disciplinary way with the wider academic community, has been insufficient thus far, with the exceptions of the Early Korea Project (EKP) at Harvard University and the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Culture. Our particular hope is that the Early Korea Project can make a contribution to remediate these problems through lectures, workshops and high quality, authoritative publications (see below).

We know the case of Korean archaeology best, and so the following comments are based on our experiences in that region. Until the mid-1990s, academic archaeology in Korea was a small field dominated by the excavation and interpretation of ancient archaeological features that were visible on the surface: megaliths of the Mumun Pottery Period (or the so-called ‘Bronze Age’, c. 1500-300 BC) and mounded tombs of the Three Kingdoms Period (c. AD 300-668). The propagation of knowledge about Korean archaeology has been inhibited not only by language differences but also the lingering hangover from colonisation by Japan (1910-1945) and reactionary nationalist interpretations of material culture that followed. Such interpretations have distorted the archaeological record and have allowed detractors to paint all of Korean archaeology with the same negative and dismissive brush. As South Korea steadily became more economically prosperous due to manufacturing and export policies of the national government, substantial infrastructure construction and housing development began. Korean heritage protection legislation specifies that archaeological investigations must occur before major construction projects start, and this has led to a great explosion of archaeological excavations that continues unabated. The Korean Peninsula may appear small on a world map, but the archaeological data available to investigate the big questions of archaeology are considerable. The settlement, mortuary, and production data that have resulted from excavations of the last 15 years is startlingly massive and highly useful. The salvage/emergency excavation industry in Korea now rivals that of Japan, which is better known in the Anglosphere. In Korea these developments have transformed archaeology into a vibrant and relevant field. These data have much to contribute to dialogues and theoretical model building in world archaeology, but even with the advances of recent decades the majority of it exists as ‘grey literature’ in Korean language only.

To help offset the problems mentioned above, the Early Korea Project (or EKP, http://tinyurl.com/ny6fyu http://on.fb.me/icwaig http://bit.ly/hRsqTW) was established at the Korea Institute, Harvard University in late 2006, with generous support from the Academy of Korean Studies and the Korea Foundation. The Northeast Asian History Foundation of Seoul provides programme funding. The mission of the EKP is to promote and direct the development of academic studies of early Korean history and archaeology prior to the 11th century in the English language, primarily through lectures, workshops and publications. The EKP takes a multi-disciplinary, comparative approach to the study of Korea and relies on active relationships with scholars in Korea and the engagement of scholars elsewhere whose research involves early Korea. These fields include not only archaeology and early history but also various sub-disciplines of anthropology and art history. This should come as no surprise for those trained in archaeology, but the EKP includes NE China and western Japan in its coverage. This bears mentioning given the fact that modern nation states of Northeast Asia had not formed before the 11th century and national boundaries, territories, and cultures are contested in the present.

In the next three to five years we hope that the EKP can improve the state of knowledge about archaeological research on early Korea in English, encourage undergraduates to major in Korean archaeology as postgraduate students in the metropoles and beyond, inspire archaeologists in the Anglosphere to engage in research on early Korea, and thus lessen the Olsenian satellite status of Korean archaeology. In addition, through our work we hope to show archaeology professors in expanding university departments in the Anglosphere that they should strongly consider hiring tenure-track faculty whose major research is on the archaeology of Korea. Hiring committees need to consider that there is more to East Asian archaeology than China, after all! Over the medium term we optimistically envision a time when the efforts of the EKP will help Korean archaeology, prehistory, and early history find an appropriately prominent place in the field of Korean Studies and assist in breaking down disciplinal differences between the humanities and the social sciences. Through the activities of the EKP we are working to contribute to an atmosphere in which archaeologists can use data from Korea that will substantially add to the creation of comparative theoretical models for world archaeology that will benefit a holistic understanding of the past over the long-term.

References Cited

Olsen, B. 1991 Metropolises and satellites in archaeology: on power and asymmetry in global archaeological discourse. In Processual and Postprocessual Archaeologies: Multiple Ways of Knowing the Past, edited by R. Preucel, University of Southern Illinois Press, Carbondale.

Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History, University of Oregon, 1966

Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Natural and Cultural History), University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon (USA) 1966
Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History, University of Oregon, 1966

I’ve been looking to use one of John Atherton’s photos for a while. He has a lot of photos of archaeologists at work in both the USA and Africa. I chose this one as it gives me a sense of peering into the past.

I’m not entirely sure what we have this week, but I can say we have something on Korean archaeology tomorrow from Martin Bale and Mark Byington tomorrow. It also has an excellent photo of archaeologists at work. If all goes well I’ll also have a reliable broadband connection from tomorrow, which could revolutionise how I use the internet – like I’ll be able to use the internet and chase up emails.

Photo: Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Natural and Cultural History), University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon (USA) 1966 by John Atherton. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.

Archaeology as a vendetta

A belated post from yesterday as I couldn’t get onto the Berkeley server and because I couldn’t make up my mind about which book I was going to blog.

Sacred Geography coverSacred Geography: A Tale of Archaeology and Murder in the Holy Land by Edward Fox is a book I’ve been meaning to blog about for years. Various things have put me off, but the key one is the theme, violence and the location, the West Bank. There’s a possibility that it’s a case of sticking a lightning rod into a site, because a small but vocal minority do like to argue that saying side A doesn’t deserve everything they get means that you secretly want side B to be massacred. Ratchet up this tension and what you get is the West Bank as described by Fox. A place where ordinary people try to live while extremists fuel violence to attempt to polarise communities and strengthen their own political position.

It’s in this place that the American archaeologist, Albert Glock, worked. It’s not unusual to find American archaeologists in the Levant, but Glock was unusual. From the article Cultural Bias in the Archaeology of Palestine in the Journal of Palestine Studies:

Albert Glock, the head of the archaeology department and the founder and director of the Institute of Archaeology at Birzeit University, was murdered by unknown assailants in 1992. He wrote this article, previously unpublished, in late November 1987 for presentation to several universities in India and Pakistan.

Beyond that trying to eke out more facts objectively is difficult. In the afternoon of the 19th of January 1992, Albert Glock visited the home of his assistant in Bir Zeit in the Occupied Territories. Three shots were heard and witness say they saw someone dressed like a member of Hamas jump into a car either registered in Israel or a Jewish settlement (you can tell by the colour of the numberplates) on the West Bank with two accomplices. An ambulance was called but took two hours to arrive and the Israeli army took a further hour to arrive. At the time there was an intensification of violence in the West Bank following the collapse of another round of peace talks. Foreigners were targets for Palestinian anger. Additionally Glock had been involved in a fractious dispute with a Palestinian member of staff over a job appointment. The murder has not been solved, but a member of Hamas interrogated with what we now call enhanced interrogation techniques made a vague reference to BirZeit University that could be related to the killing.

Israeli police have closed the case. The murder remains unsolved.

There are more details and depending on the order I present them I could slant the presentation of the facts one way or the other. Laying out the details without getting pulled into the wider political debate of the region and taking sides is difficult. Fox does this well, which is why I’m not really willing to give more information about the killing. It would spoil the book for you. So what can I talk about?

While it’s hard to ignore the Political (capital-P) issues in the death of Glock, Fox also draws attention to the political (small-p) implications of archaeology, though this being the Middle East, even that p is probably in bold letters. Glock was working on Palestinian archaeology because he thought the Palestinians were not being served by the archaeology of the region. Rather than having over two thousand years of history, some archaeologists felt that 2000 years of the past had to be removed in order to get to the history. In a less contentious setting, much medieval archaeology was lost in Britain by excavators eager to find the important stuff in the Roman layer. Equally you’d be a brave archaeologist to find a magnificent classical mosaic in Greece and dig underneath to find out about the earlier occupation of a site. Investigating the strata between modern Israel and ancient Judea has more meaning than simply finding out what happened in between.

As for Fox’s description of Glock, if I were murdered and in a state to care about afterwards I’m not sure I’d want Fox writing the book about it. I’d want someone who has Mr Clippy appear in her word processor to say: “Hello, it looks like you’re writing a hagiography. Would you like some help?” Glock is someone who went looking for archaeology away from the easier sources of funding from rich Christian philanthropists and set up a new institute in a place where archaeology was seen as a tool of the enemy. It would be easy to get carried away. Fox’s Glock is very human, with human faults. If Fox is accurate then while I could admire Glock’s work, I’m not sure I’d have liked the man.

As for the conclusion, I’ve lent the book to a few friends and got a different answer back each time as who they think did it. There is a tendency for people to think people who shot at them in region also shot at Glock. I’ve not been shot at in the Middle East, so I don’t know if that gives me some objective distance or if that’s a lack of useful experience.*

If you hear “Glock was shot by someone who appeared to be from Hamas who escaped in a car that appeared to be registered in Israel”, and you immediately know who did it then congratulations! You’re not going to enjoy the book. If you’re looking to piece together the clues and you aren’t discomforted by the sense paranoia and claustrophobia that sometimes comes across in the descriptions then you could find this interesting.

There’s a couple of places you can read about the murder of Albert Glock on the web.
The mysterious death of Dr Glock The Guardian
Who killed Dr Glock? “Archaeology is not a science, it is a vendetta.” Geoffrey Wheatcroft on the assassination of an American who became caught up in the land disputes of the Middle East New Statesman

Archaeology Magazine’s review
Brief review at NY Times
Reviews on Goodreads

Published as Palestine Twilight in the UK.

*This is not a request to be shot at in the Middle East or anywhere else.

Are you looking at me?

Bust of Caracalla.
A Quizzical Look. Photo by Trey Ratcliff.

This is the best shot I’ve seen of the hall of Roman Emperors in Naples. It’s by Trey Ratcliff, better known for his HDR work at Stuck in Customs. HDR is a method for compensating for wide variations in brightness for exposures, and so it’s usually very well suited for indoor work with natural light from outside, which makes it more unusual that this photo isn’t HDR. You can find his tutorial on the technique at his site.

Hopefully there will be more posts this week. I’ve been cut off from the internet to a large extent after moving house, and will be for a while yet. Everyone else is on fieldwork – which is more fun.

Photo: A Quizzical Look by Trey Ratcliff. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence.

Ancient Guide

An inuksuk in Nunavut
An inuksuk in Nunavut. Photo by Mike Beauregard

In the northern hemisphere it’s the hottest part of summer, so I thought this week I’d chose a nice upbeat summer photo. It is a summer photo, taken the second of July 2009, I checked. This is an Inuksuk, a marker found in the arctic of Canada. It’s easy to see the arctic as a desolate wasteland. A marker like this shows how different it could be. Physically it’s a pile of rocks. It’s probably a sturdy pile of rocks because any pile of rocks that isn’t sturdy will be blown over rapidly by the arctic winds. Yet pile of rocks says very little about what it is. And from the way I’m rambling it should be obvious I don’t know what it means. It could be a navigational guide, or a warning or simply a sign that other people were here.

There is a danger that Inuksuit (plural of Inuksuk) will become increasingly rare due to expansion of the mining and energy industries. One the one hand this isn’t a physical problem. As Scott Heyes points out in his article Protecting the authenticity and integrity of Inuksuit within the arctic milieu, things like GPS are replacing traditional methods of navigation. Yet Inuksuit are not just about navigation to physical places. There’s a cultural landscape as well as a physical landscape and so far this has not been replicated with GPS. Given that native shamans of the arctic would say that they were walking over the ice to the Moon, that could be quite a navigational feat to replicate.*

If Inuksuit say someone was here, is their removal an archaeologically traceable sign that someone was removed?

Photo: Ancient Guide by Mike Beauregard. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY licence.

*Walking to the moon is an interesting concept. This far north in the summer the Moon doesn’t really leave the southern horizon, so for a while it’s easy to conceive of the Moon touching the Earth. Also, the plural of shaman really is shamans. Shamen is a pop group not an anthropological term<.

Teaching Preschoolers about Anthropology

After reading a few of Matt Thompson‘s “Illustrated Man” posts over at Savage Minds, I decided to search for children’s books that go beyond the ubiquitous kiddie-adventure-with-moralistic-underpinnings storylines.  Now, those books aren’t all bad.  My 2-year-old daughter and I both really like the Adventures of Patrick Brown book series, which is lushly illustrated in an almost graphic novel style and which employs a good level of vocabulary that doesn’t talk down to kids whose language skills are increasing at an astounding pace.  But my ultimate goal was to find books related to my life-long interests – archaeology and biological anthropology – that I could share with my daughter.  More importantly, I wanted to find books that won’t make me pull my hair out when I inevitably have to read them over and over and over again.

I discovered, though, that it’s surprisingly difficult to find books geared towards the preschooler set that aren’t board books with too little dialogue (half of the words in Fifteen Animals are “Bob”) or lightweight stories about everyday activities that reinforce old gender norms (I’m looking at you, Berenstain Bears).  Most of the books that interested me and that tried to communicate a small part of what I do for a living seemed to be written for kids in late elementary school.  Fortunately, I managed to stumble upon a couple books that captivate the attention of a squirmy toddler and her academically-inclined mother.

Archaeology

Archaeologists Dig for CluesAmazon.com lists over 1,100 results for children’s books about archaeology.  It’s pretty daunting, and I ended up getting some duds.  The best one by far – which I highly recommend – is Archaeologists Dig for Clues by Kate Duke.  The format has some graphic novel qualities to it, with little dialogue bubbles in addition to the text and side-bar explanations, which cover everything from water screening to ceramic typology.  The characters are quite diverse in their gender, age, and race.  Although the story – a day in the life of a field archaeologist – condenses basically an entire field and lab season into one day, the portrayal of the field archaeologist, the explanations about the tasks she undertakes, and the demonstration of what specialists do at the lab are all quite good.

Biological Anthropology

The WatcherA recent New York Times Sunday book review profiled two works about the life of Jane Goodall:  The Watcher and Me, Jane.  One of my friends sent a copy of each for my daughter’s birthday.  Jeanette Winter’s The Watcher is definitely the better book – with more words and better vocabulary, the story introduces children to some basic concepts in primatology and anthropology. Winter’s illustrations can be used to get children involved in watching too: Jane doesn’t immediately see the chimps, who are hiding in the trees, and it’s fun to ask my daughter to point them out and count them.  This book also deals with events like Goodall’s bout of malaria and the progressive endangerment of chimpanzees because of poaching and deforestation, all while remaining approachable by kids. One of the things I dislike about Patrick McDonnell’s Me, Jane (other than the title, which irrationally annoys me) is that he jumps from little Jane dreaming about chimps to Goodall in the field, skipping the trouble, hardships, and work she had to put in to get from interested kid to adult researcher.  Anthropology isn’t as simple as digging a hole in your backyard or looking at an ape through a zoo window for a few minutes, and The Watcher manages to get this point across quite well. It’s a surprisingly thorough (for a kids’ book) story of Jane Goodall’s life written in a way that challenges younger readers but at the same time doesn’t talk down to them.  I definitely recommend The Watcher, but I’d give Me, Jane a pass.

Another good place to look for anthropology books may be your local science or art museum.  My colleagues at the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma, for example, created an illustrated pamphlet for children that explains what bioarchaeologists do (and helped me learn the Italian version of various bioarchaeological terms).  The cartoonish dead Romans are adorable, even though they’re not a great match for the higher-level text that discusses such heady topics as palaeopathology.  Unfortunately, you can’t all rush out and buy this, but I suspect there are similar English-language pamphlets floating around somewhere.  If not, well, I guess my next project will be writing a children’s book on bioarchaeology!  (Anyone want to illustrate it?)


Kristina Killgrove is a bioarchaeologist who blogs regularly at Powered by Osteons and tweets as @BoneGirlPhD.

Digging in the Dark

Archaeologists digging in the dark
Digging in the Dark by Wessex Archaeology

It was the Day of Archaeology last Friday. Unfortunately I didn’t get a post in, despite days of archaeology clearly including night sometimes as this photo shows. I had to check I hadn’t already chosen this as a photo of the week, because it’s one I keep coming back to. Usually the aim of a photo is detail, but here the silhouette of the diggers gives it much more drama.

It also reminds me of the dig at Tanis conducted by Prof. Henry Jones Jr. shortly before the Second World War.

Photo: Digging in the Dark by Wessex Archaeology. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence.

Shovels: Regional Diversity in One of Our Most Indispensible Tools

“…the shovel is the trademark of archeology and perhaps its most indispensible tool.”– Heizer A Guide to Archaeological Methods (1949:32)

“Lucille, God gave me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well.”– The Shoveller, Mystery Men (1999)

When I was given the brief to write about archeological tools for ThenDig, my mind reeled.  Like Ms. Morgan, whose post about boots inspired this issue, I have been a collector of regional tools and methods for as long as I have been a field archeologist (going on 25 years now).

Everyone has trowel stories (including stories of lost trowels recovered like the Silas Hurry post about archeological tools recovered in St. Mary’s City).  I, however, have always been interested in the “coarser grained” archeology tools—shovels and their kin. One of my earliest mentors in the field of archeology kept his flat shovel razor sharp and could use it to make floors with a skill and cleanness that most of us only muster with a good trowel.  In his hands, the shovel was just as good as a trowel.  I will never be that good…but it did spark my interest and respect for the shovel.

At first blush this may seem like an innocuous topic.  How different can shovels be?  I do not claim a wide geographic experience—I have worked mostly in the southeastern US—but in the 13 different states I have worked, I have encountered a wide variety of shovel tools and techniques.  Each of these is an adaptation to the local conditions, or products of the genealogy of intellectual traditions.

Standard No. 2 excavating shovels recommended By Hiezer
Standard No. 2 excavating shovels recommended By Heizer (1949).

My old (1949) edition of Heizer’s A Guide to Archaeological Methods states that a “long-handled, round-point standard No. 2 excavating shovels are recommended. Spades, scoops, and square-point shovels are virtually useless owing to their inability to penetrate any but the softest dirt.” These shovels were clearly important and as recently as 2006 archeologists were combing the country (or at least advertising in some newspapers) for these shovels… The Nebraska State Historical Society was willing to pay up to $50 for True Temper No. 2 light-weight shovels in good condition.

Over the years, apparently, the archeological stance on flat shovels has softened a bit.  The seventh edition of Field Methods in Archeology still uses Heizer’s introduction (and preference for snub-nosed round shovels), but it also reports that “square-point shovels are useful in excavating sandy deposits and many archeologists find them valuable for cleaning excavation unit floors in the search for post molds, rodent burrows, and other features” (Hester et al. 1997:70).

Despite Heizer’s recommendation, my personal motto for archeology and the use of shovels is simple—“round shovels for round holes, square shovels for square holes.”  By this I mean that I prefer to use a sharpened spade to dig the small (30 to 40 cm in diameter), round shovel test holes that southeastern archeologists use to locate sites on survey, and a VERY sharp broad, flat shovel to dig 1×1 or 2×2 meter test units that are common in testing and full excavation projects.  This maxim of mine has been fed by my original training in the Mid-South where we commonly dug in nice soft loams and loess soils.  Things changed for me as I began to work in other settings.

In the Mississippi Valley the fine clays can be very difficult to deal with—when they are dry they are bricks and when they are wet they are a sticky mess.  Two different shovel styles (springing from intellectual traditions) have evolved to deal with these soils (why do I suddenly sound like an environmental determinist?). First, there is the spade that has a “half-moon” cut out of the blade—these are the self-manufactured versions of Heizer’s shovels trimming the point off and filing the edge with a bench grinder.  To the best of my limited knowledge this style comes out of the American Bottom region (or at least remains in style in that area).  The “half-moon” cut out allows for a lot of strength in cutting through clay (and even burned daub walls).  They do tend to make little ridges in the units floors, but if you were trained in this tradition you have probably become adept at minimizing this effect.

Rice shovel
The sharpened "rice shovel": weapon of choice for the Mississippi Delta.

The second adaptive strategy in the Mississippi Valley is the use of a sharpened “rice shovel.”  For those of you who have not encountered them, a rice shovel is a hybrid spade—with a snub nose and three holes in the blade.  The shovel is somewhat flatter than a typical spade (more like a flat shovel) and the snub nose eliminates the pointy bit the way the cutting the “half moon” out of a pointed spade does.  “Why the holes?”, you ask.  The wet, sticky clays of the Mississippi River valley can often stick to your shovel blade with such suction that it can be very difficult to dislodge your soil matrix once you have shoveled it up.  The holes break this suction insuring that you will be able to toss your soil into a bucket or screen.

But in the mid 1990s I left the lowlands and worked for a decade in the Ozark Mountains.  This, again, radically changed my thinking about excavation.  In the lowlands of the southeast I had been trained to keep floors and walls level and pretty…and my trowels and shovels sharp enough to cut string.  In the rocky, uplands of the Ozarks all of this was nigh impossible.  Most of the sites I worked on were 50%-70% gravel and as such it became very difficult (and pointless) to keep and edge on a trowel as you were literally mining the rocks out of a roughly 10 cm level in every unit.  This environment made my favorite weapon, a sharp, large, flat-bladed shovel useless.  I had three adaptive strategies for the Ozarks.

1945 Ames Entrenching Tool
1945 Ames Entrenching Tool

1)      Entrenching Tool (or E-Tool):  I am told that entrenching tools go back to at least the Roman period, but the ones I use have their roots in the folding spades of World War I and II—In fact, I literally prefer WWII entrenching tools—I have owned three different 1945 shovels manufactured by Ames for the US Army (this has lead more than one student to declare that my shovel “belongs in a museum”).  I like to fold the shovel blade 90 degrees and use the shovel like an excavation hoe (or a large trowel).  It works really well in the gravelly soils of the Ozarks, but I actually picked this tool usage up from a colleague of mine who worked in Texas and the southwestern US…so I am not sure of the origin of its archeological use…but it is not indigenous to the Ozarks.

2)      Geologic hammer:  This tool was actually great in the Ozarks for cleaning the rocks out of the corners of your excavation units and for better defining the wall/floor transition.  Just like you would run your trowel along the base of the wall to create a right angle transition, you could use the pick end of the geological hammer to carve away the rocks to approximate a right angle…sigh.

3)      Small-scale gardening spade AKA “The Lady Shovel”:  Back to my maxim…using standard-size round spades to dig shovel tests was also difficult in the Ozarks as you were pounding through gravel.  I found that a small-scale gardening spade was the best for digging shovel tests as it allowed you to “go around” rocks in the process of carving out the round hole.  Unfortunately, many people (and some industry marketing) has given this tool the blatantly sexist moniker “the lady shovel” due to its frequent use in gardening (which apparently has become a gendered hobby).  A word of caution, however, you cannot use the cheap, welded gardening spades you might find in discount stores for shovel testing in the Ozarks…you have to have a “real” thick gauged steel shovel…just scaled down from the standard pointed spade.  The Ozark rocks would tear up one of the flimsy variety within a single shovel test.

In 2006 I once again fund myself changing geographical regions as I took up my new post in the rolling gulf coastal plains of southwest Arkansas—it’s called the Trans-Mississippi South by some researchers.  I’m now working in the beautiful sandy soils at Historic Washington State Park near Hope, Arkansas.  It’s beautiful—the ease of digging and screening sand, with just enough structure to hold it together and not collapse the way coastal sand does. There is dust on my entrenching tool these days…I’m back where I started with a sharp, flat, broad bladed shovel.