Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Graduate Melanie Miller in Belize

This summer I participated in the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project (BVAR). This project focuses on the research of Maya sites in the Belize Valley and it is presently working at three sites: Cahal Pech, Lower Dover, and Baking Pot. I had the opportunity to work at latter two sites.

 I spent the first couple days in San Ignacio, Belize learning the basics of excavation before I went with a group to the remote jungle site of Lower Dover for two weeks. We stayed in cabins in the jungle where we slept with mosquito nets, showered with rain water, and walked with flashlights at night to avoid stepping on tarantulas. The site was about a half mile hike in the jungle from the camp. Lower Dover is a Terminal Classic site where excavations only recently began in 2010. This field season focused on excavating a plaza structure to determine its architecture to establish a chronology of Lower Dover. I helped to excavate a ceramic cache, which also contained faunal remains and obsidian, and then painstakingly re-uncover it with a spray bottle and paintbrush after a torrential downpour covered it in mud. I also worked in another unit to establish the site’s chronology by uncovering as many stratigraphic levels as quickly as possible before the season ended. This involved recognizing when there was a level change and very reluctantly having to break through several plaster floors of the plaza with a pick.

The last two weeks I worked at the site of Baking Pot, which has been under excavation for about 20 years and dates back to the Preclassic Period. Baking Pot is covered by modern farms and we had to navigate through a maze of corn fields to reach the mound under excavation. The objective was to expose the architecture of one structure and determine the mound’s chronology with a test pit that measured around 20 feet at season’s end. Since it was the end of the field season, most of the work at the mound was last minute digging, endless screening, and backfilling. Most of the time I was washing and processing artifacts at the ‘lab’ located on a livestock farm. The lab was really just a barn for storage, the porch of the livestock veterinary office, and the outdoors. Thus, we had some curious four-legged visitors that would attempt to eat or play with our equipment and we periodically had to run for cover whenever a stampede of cattle ran through the lab area while we crossed our fingers that they would not trample our drying racks full of 

On the weekends I visited other Maya sites in Belize and Guatemala. I’m looking forward to participating in another field school next summer, whether it is with BVAR again or another program in Belize. Overall, I learned a lot from my experience in Belize and gained invaluable insight into archaeological fieldwork. Nothing in the classroom can ever completely prepare you for work in the field, but fieldwork offers invaluable experience and the best stories definitely come from the field.

Graduate Rachel Lawrence Interns in Illinois

I volunteer at the Peoria Historical Society in Peoria, IL, where I have been designing a virtual exhibit that supplements the new museum in Peoria and the Smithsonian.  I planned everything from formatting to information to images.  In addition to that, I catalog artifacts in our collection, including items from the arrival of the French in the mid-17th century to photographs and books.

I also have just started an internship at Dickson Mounds Museum near Lewiston, IL.  In September I was one of two archaeologists to lead their "Be an Archaeologist for a Day" program where fifteen students from the ages of 10-12 participated.  Now, I am helping to plan some of their events for October and November as well as learning to lead tours and other group activities.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dr. Heidi Strobel on The Trend

Dr. Heidi Strobel recently discussed the past and future of Evansville's historic Alhambra Theater on The Trend.  For the full interview, follow the link below:

Dr. Heidi Strobel on The Trend

Student Sami Miller Participates in the Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project in Italy

This summer I participated in the Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project in Italy. Elizabeth Frost and I had been accepted into the program in Summer 2011 and were invited back as staff members for the 2012 season. Instead of working as a student, I was a junior staff member. This meant that I was working as an assistant Trench Master, learning proper archaeological documentation methods, both on and off the field. I learned that actually running the trench is very different from working in it. I still played an important role in my trench, but instead of helping to dig it, I was recording what everyone in the trench did. This included setting up the trench, drawing the trench and all the artifacts found, keeping a daily record of any action taken in the trench, and elevations of the trench floor.

This season was very different from last season. Last year, trench masters had their excavation areas in specific spots that were within walking distance of each other. This time around the area I was working in had trenches that were side by side for a total of ten trenches covering an approximate area of 16 meters by 12 meters. We were working off the side of what is known as the “medieval road” which is a medieval era footpath still used today. On the other side of the road there were eventually six trenches that uncovered lots of material from the Iron Age, Etruscan Orientalizing and Archaic periods.

One unique opportunity I had in the trench was to excavate what is potentially a post hole, which involved a lot of lying down on my stomach with my head and one arm inside this hole. There is the big taboo about sitting in the trench, so there was a great rush of excitement about getting to actually lay down in one, but that euphoria was soon diminished when I realized lying down with your head below your body was not a good feeling. Especially in 100 degree weather and no shade. It was a great experience overall and I learned the finer points of delicate excavation, but which can come in handy later if I ever encounter another post hole. Because of an injury later in the season I spent the last two weeks working in the lab with alumni Theresa Huntsman cataloguing artifacts (meaning Theresa did the cataloguing and I did whatever task she told me to, which was usually munselling new finds and entering the colour designations). 

My first summer here I learned about the Italian Iron Age, which has become one of my favourite topics in archaeology. This interest evolved into my honors thesis with which I received UE’s Undergraduate Research Grant, which allowed me to return to Poggio in the summer of 2012.  Every weekend I was going to a new museum or city to conduct research, and I was able to build on the Italian that I learned last year.  If you want to learn the basics from an exceptional field school, consider Poggio Civitate.