First Ever Public Archaeology Twitter Conference was Groundbreaking

On Friday, April 28, 2017 Twitter hosted a public archaeology conference that boasted more than 50 presenters from seven countries over the course of 15 hours. There were no fees to pay and no travel needed, as the “speakers” were able to present via tweets and the attendees needed only follow the hashtag #PATC. The conference, which straddled the realms of public and digital archaeology, was set up by Lorna Richardson as part of her post doc research. Two keynote speakers, Colleen Morgan and Shawn Graham, kicked off the conference on Thursday afternoon/evening (depending on your time zone) and got the twitter conversation rolling.

The unique format of the conference allowed “attendees” to either follow along live, as each speaker was given 15 minutes and 12 tweets to present, or scroll back through archived tweets to catch up on all the action later. The established timetable of presentations also ensured that there was no overlap amongst speakers. I was very happy to participate in such a fun, inclusive, forward-thinking event that is sure to be talked about for years to come.

Full text of my presentation:

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I am an archaeologist entering my 5th year working at a colonial site in James City County, VA where we host a number of public archaeology programs each year.  We are realizing the goals of our field are able to be met by cooperating with the public.

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Public archaeology in James City County, VA

The more the general public understands about our profession, the better.  Learning first-hand about the history & archaeology of a site promotes a sense of shared heritage and creates stewardship amongst those being educated.  Participating in activities like assisting with lab work, excavating & screening for artifacts, or just simply witnessing the processual nature of archaeology makes what we do more real; dispels overly romanticized perceptions of archaeology.

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Romanticized public perception of archaeologists

Youth archaeology education programs in particular encourage an early interest in history & science, and create life-long allies in our struggle to preserve and protect sites for future generations. E.g.: An individual who participated in ‘Dirt Diggers’ program as a kid recently graduated with a degree in Anthropology and returned to help us with a dig. Adult archaeology education programs (e.g. Road Scholar program) allow individuals to continue & broaden their education outside their areas of expertise. Prospective land or money donors are also more likely to give when they can see and understand exactly what it is that will be done with their donation.

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Giving a talk to a local DAR chapter

It is imperative we continue engaging the public through educational programs, digs, & social media in order to foster understanding and support for what we do.


Link: Public Archaeology Twitter Conference 2017

Day of Archaeology 2013

Today, July 26th, is the 2013 Day of Archaeology! Head over to www.dayofarchaeology.com  and check out what archaeologists are doing all over the world.  If you are an archaeologist, contribute!

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My entry can be found here: http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/anthroprobably-day-of-archaeology-2013/

Relative Dating and Ceramic Typologies

I have been asked a number of times how we archaeologists date our finds and sites. There are a number of ways researchers can accurately date an artifact; but many times more than not, objects cannot be absolutely dated and must be placed within a timeframe. We create typologies (classifications of objects based on characteristics) of ceramics and other artifacts to keep track of archaeological data on a large scale. In doing so, archaeologists can verify a site’s age by narrowing the window of time that an artifact found at the site would have been in use.  By cataloguing the distribution, frequency, and approximate ages of a site’s artifacts, one can determine how old the site is. Obviously this is an oversimplified explanation, but you get the point.

Currently I am working at a site that is dated to 1611 here in Virginia. It is one of those rare times when we actually have written documentation that proves the site’s age. However, elements of the site include later occupations and uses of the same land, which we would like to date. This is where relative dating and typologies can come in handy. While excavating a palisade wall ditch (which we know was originally dug-out in 1611 and re-dug some time later) I uncovered a piece of pottery in a portion of the ditch which we know had been constructed much later than 1611. We had already found a few other artifacts in the more recent portion of the ditch that gave us clues to the ditch’s age but this find gave us a much better idea.

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Bartmann jug piece (photo by author)

The Bartmann jug (also referred to as Bellarmine jug) is a stoneware vessel used to store or transport food or drink. They originate in Western Germany and were manufactured for use and export during the 16th and 17th centuries. The jugs come in numerous forms and styles, but all have one defining feature: a bearded face mask icon, usually on the neck of the vessel. Luckily the potsherd I found contained the beard portion of the icon (see above). Bartmann (‘bearded man’ in German) masks tended to be very realistic and detailed in early versions of the jugs from Europe (Fig. 1), while later versions were very rudimentary and less lifelike (Fig. 2).

Figure 1
Figure 1 – Early Bartmann (photo: David Jackson, Creative Commons)
Figure 2
Figure 2 – Late Bartmann (photo: Creative Commons)

The beard featured on the piece I found is very basic and linear. This lets us know that the jug was made during the latter periods of Bartmann manufacturing. When we couple this knowledge with the other finds from the later ditch, we can get a much smaller window of time that the ditch construction occurred within. It’s all part of the fun of reconstructing the past based on scant material evidence!

America’s Heritage is Not for Sale

I wanted to create a post in order to draw more attention to two American television shows that are currently promoting the looting and destruction of archaeological and historical sites around the country. There is a growing movement among archaeologists, history buffs, and academics who are sickened by what they have seen and read.

The first show, airing on the Spike TV network, called “American Diggers” follows a former pro-wrestler turned relic-hunter as he and his crew pay-off landowners to hunt for treasure on their property. The goal of the show is to sell whatever artifacts the unsystematic digs turn up for a profit. As a trained archaeologist with two degrees in Anthropology, it hurts me to see our collective heritage defiled by none other than mercenaries. I first heard of this television series through Professor Lynne Goldstein (@LynneGoldstein on Twitter) of MSU who tweeted about it. A few dozen retweets and mentions later, Kristina Wyckoff (@kcelwyckoff) created a petition at Change.org called Stop SpikeTV From Looting Our Collective Past! which collected over 12,000 signatures in the first four days of its existence. Please consider adding your signature and/or writing to the producers of the show.

The second, which airs on [gasp] the National Geographic Channel (@NatGeoChannel), simply called “Diggers”, feels like a personal betrayal due to the Society’s departure from their normally ethical practices as stewards of American heritage. Promoting a show which encourages amateur looting of archaeological sites (very similar to the “American Digger” show) is a very reckless and irresponsible move by the National Geographic Society. This program was brought to my attention by archaeologist Sarah Miller (@semiller88); I have since witnessed a large number of professionals and archaeologists who have boycotted the show and are speaking out. A petition against the show (Stop Airing the Television Show Diggers!) was created by Jeffrey Baker and is quickly gathering signatures. If you feel as strongly as I do about this subject, please let National Geographic and the producers of the show know that you do not approve.

While the permits, grants, approvals, and bureaucratic red tape involved in processual archaeology may be a huge pain in the butt, these things are here for a reason. Once archaeological sites are dug-up, artifacts are removed, and natural provenience is destroyed, they are gone forever.

See also: The Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) statement on The Ethics of Historical Archaeology and the show “American Diggers”

Anthropology Community Mourns Loss of Father of Modern Archaeology

The archaeological world is still reeling from the recent loss of the eminent American archaeologist, Lewis R. Binford. The highly influential anthropologist was born in 1931 and leaves behind a legacy few can match in terms of breadth of work.

The larger-than-life man many consider to be the “Father of Modern Archaeology” began his academic pursuits in his hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. Binford graduated from Maury High School (also my father’s alma mater) in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk before attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute. After a stint in the military, he returned to school at the University of North Carolina in 1954 to pursue his new-found interest in anthropology.  

Soon after attaining his B.A. at UNC, Binford moved to Ann Arbor to undertake his graduate studies at the University of Michigan. It was here that Lewis Binford found his niche and blossomed as an archaeologist. Under the direction of Leslie White, Binford was free from the shackles of the outdated culture-history view of archaeology he associated with UNC.  

Lewis Binford further developed his ideas of what archaeology should and shouldn’t be at the University of Chicago as an assistant professor. It was here, in 1962, that Binford published his first major article, Archaeology as Anthropology. The paper argued for the anthropologification of the field of archaeology. He claimed that by connecting artifacts to human behavior we could get a much better understanding of the associated culture than by simply collecting and cataloging. This call to arms for archaeologists set off a ripple effect which gathered momentum quickly. The movement’s followers were dubbed the “New Archaeologists” by outsiders.

Binford spent the late 1960’s shuffling around Anthropology departments: from Chicago, to UC Santa Barbara, to UCLA, before ending up at the University of New Mexico in 1969. It was during this time that Binford pioneered the methods of ethnoarchaeology. This approach involves the ethnographic study of modern-day hunter-gatherers to form assumptions about prehistoric H-G behaviors which may have shaped material remains. Binford lived among the Nunamiut of Alaska to get an idea of how Middle Paleolithic peoples may have shaped (and were shaped by) their environment.  

Much of Binford’s body of work was produced in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. He produced dozens of publications during these decades and cemented his position as the preeminent American archaeologist. Binford took on his opponents and critics with lively debates, most notably the post-processualists.  

In 1991 Binford began teaching as a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and continued to serve as the pater familias of American archaeology until his retirement.  

Binford was a paradigm shifter; a pioneer in the realms of processual archaeology and ethnoarchaeology. His emphasis on utilizing the scientific method and “striking a balance between theoretical and practical concerns” helped the field of archaeology become what it is today. Lewis Binford leaves behind a pair of shoes too large to fill.

[This article was originally posted on Examiner.com]