So This Is Archaeology – Part II

Just a few more glimpses of our days out in the field. Our field school is pretty mellow compared to many. Some field school last several months, while ours is only 1 month. Some schools have you camping on site because it’s too far away from civilization to commute, but ours is blissfully near town. We aren’t finding, or looking for, any dramatic artifacts or specific sites, this school is really to teach the basic tools and techniques and to give students a good lesson in doing work on the surface. It’s not always about making square holes in the ground, you know šŸ˜‰

(Keep in mind that these are all iPhone shots that are not meant to be artsy, so the image quality is not always the greatest)

Here’s a nice little profile that one of our students spent the day cutting (Cutting refers to how we “cut” thin slices of sediment with a trowel to create a smooth surface at a certain level or distance from our baseline). A profile needs to be as smooth as possible so that when we photograph it there aren’t any stray lines or shadows that can look like strats (Mentioned in the previous post) or soil staining. (Yes, the picture is crooked. That top string should be horizontal, but I slipped on the mud just as I shot it).


A few days ago I got this wonderful shot of a vulture soaking up the morning sun. At first I was disappointed that my phone didn’t capture any details, but I actually really like the creepy silhouette effect.


Here the students are practising their mapping skills. They have to create a square or rectangular “unit”, clear away the bits of surface debris like leaves, then get the precise elevations of each corner and the distances of each corner from the site datum. This helps us create a 3-D map of the area for our records. Remember, once you start disturbing a site you can never put it back exactly the way it was, so good records are essential. We are NOT doing any excavating in this area, we’re simply sticking to the surface only, and in this photo they are marking the precise locations of several stones within their unit. It’s not always super exciting, but it’s really important to practise these essential skills. And it’s fun to play in the mud šŸ™‚


Last week we took a long hike around the area, and we stopped for lunch by a small lake. Along the shore I happened to find these weird flakes scattered around which looked like fish scales but were so HUGE.

I emailed this photo to the fish expert at the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and he agreed that these were fish scales, probably from a large Common Carp, a species that was introduced to the area in the 1800’s and which is, unfortunately, very invasive and destructive to both the ecosystem and native species.


In my previous archaeology post I posted a picture and a brief explanation of the Munsell chart. When things are slow and an assistant doesn’t have a lot to do, we sometimes have to find creative ways to entertain ourselves. Yep, the cows were definitely 10YR 4/6 šŸ™‚


Here’s another photo of some really lovely strata that we profiled down on the beach last week. While we often don’t think about what’s under our feet when we’re walking around outdoors, sometimes there’s real beauty down there. Each little layer of sand or clay or silt was laid down by a different high tide, or maybe a small flood, maybe a little landslide here and there. These strats, or layers, are part of how we figure out how a specific landscape was formed, and sometimes they’re absolutely gorgeous.


So that’s all for now. We have two more weeks in the field, and I’m sure I’ll have more to share before we’re done.

And remember, if you ever see a crew doing what looks like archaeological work, it’s absolutely fine to ask questions, but PLEASE don’t come back when they’re gone and try to look around. Sometimes the worst damage at archaeological sites is done not by looters, but by curious people who honestly don’t realize that they just stomped all over a very important layer of sediment, or just tripped over a datum line that took hours of work to precisely place. Sometimes there is really important information that you cannot see unless you’ve been properly trained. While we want the public to appreciate our work, please please please stay out of sites. I’d hate for anyone to accidentally do damage that can’t be fixed, or break something we can’t afford to replace. Thank you, see you soon! šŸ™‚


3 comments on “So This Is Archaeology – Part II

  1. Anonymous says:

    Eagerly awaiting your future posts….love reading your descriptions! šŸ˜‰

  2. rangewriter says:

    Somewhere on some social media venue, I saw photos of jewelry that someone had made from fish scales. They were beautifully crafted.

    I love the graphic quality of the vulture shot. Interesting how our iPhone cameras force us to look at things differently.

    Loved this post.

  3. […] last, the long-awaited conclusion to our field school adventures (Here is Part I, Part II, and the Birthday addition). What a great four weeks, and an awesome crew. I can’t wait for […]

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