Where in the hell am I?

January 13, 2016

Public archaeology, citizen science, and bad ideas.

Filed under: archaeology, archeology — Tags: , — John @ 8:46 pm

ArchaeoTwitter (or at least certain segments) was buzzing today with news from Florida that the Legislature there was considering issuing archaeology permits to any citizen (First Coast News story about proposed bill). I was busy in the field, so didn’t have time to delve deeper, but my initial response was “Um, very bad idea” along with confusion, as more or less in the US there’s nothing stopping a citizen from digging on their own property (or on someone else’s private property, with their permission). Why would they need, or want a permit?

As it turns out, it’s because people (primarily artifact collectors and dealers) want the right to dig for and collect artifacts from submerged, state-owned waters (rivers and lakes, among others). Not only collect these artifacts, but keep them. In exchange, they pay $100 and are supposed to report the location. The archaeologists get the location, the collector gets to keep the goodie (or sell it), win-win, right?

Not at all. Eminent archaeology blogger (and University of West Florida professor) has an excellent discussion of the proposed legislation and the many problems on her blog at Forbes, co-written by Sarah Miller of the Florida Public Archaeology Network (a great organization that offers many opportunities for people in Florida to be involved in, and “do” archaeology. Among the problems is that, when a similar program existed years ago, the reporting rate was roughly 20%. And while the perception may be that the artifacts belong to nobody, because they’re on public land, it’s the opposite: they belong to “everyone”, the citizens of Florida, held in trust (and protected by) the state and designated agencies.

And then there’s that word that all of us archaeologists use, because it’s that damned important: CONTEXT. The most important data one can get from an artifact is the context in which it was found. This includes the location, sure, but also what kind of soil it was in (and the Florida bill would allow digging with handheld tools), what else was found with it, how deep (if buried), what was above and below…you get the idea. This is all important information, as among other things it helps archaeologists to assess the integrity and significance of the context. A 4,000 year old projectile point might be associated with a 2,000 year old projectile point, which can lead to further questions about the archaeological record, or associated with a 20th century bottle fragment, which means that the deposits have questionable integrity.

Public archaeology is important for many reasons, and archaeologists could, and should, do a better job of making their data, their reports, and (in some cases) the artifacts available AND accessible to the public. We can also continue to look for ways for the public to assist in archaeological work in the field and in the lab.  Organizations like FPAN and many of the local and state avocational organizations have such opportunities (note that the collectors group in Florida refers to themselves as an archaeological society, but don’t seem to understand archaeological ethics). Of course, they don’t allow you to keep the things you find. And that’s because professional archaeologists don’t, either. Nor do we sell them.

Citizen science is a buzzword these days, and rightly so. The public can, and has, made important contributions to science in many disciplines. There is a place for citizen science in archaeology, ideally through avocational associations and stewardship networks (and always with a stewardship approach). I’ve read some great work, and the SAA Crabtree Award is presented annually to an outstanding avocational archaeologist. The 2015 winner of this award was Tom Middlebrook, recognized for his work in East Texas on the Caddo and contacts with the French and Spanish. Also in Texas, the Texas Historic Commission created the Texas Archeological Stewardship Network, for training and supporting avocational archaeologists in activities including the finding, recording, and monitoring of archaeological sites. I imagine that opportunities like this exist in every state, because WE WANT the public to be involved.

But where archaeology as citizen science ends is reckless digging and collecting. An amateur astronomer doesn’t blow up their newly discovered star or planet. But the archaeological record is non-renewable. Once a site has been excavated, it’s been destroyed. We mitigate this damage through detailed documentation of the work, scientific collection and analysis of the artifacts, a report of the work and the findings, and finally curating the artifacts in a repository where they are available to other scientists, and (in some cases) able to be included in exhibits and outreach programs.

The Florida bill is bad policy, a bad precedent, and shows ignorance of what archaeology is. It boils down to people wanting to go onto publicly-owned land and keeping what they find, in many cases to sell for a profit. If the Florida legislature was seriously interested in more opportunities for their constituents to learn about, and do archaeology, I suggest throwing support and funding behind FPAN and other avocational organizations that practive ethical archaeology. They might also consider funding museums, so that more artifacts don’t “get hidden away in some box” but can be on display in educational interpretive exhibits.



January 28, 2014

Blogging Archaeology #blogarch Carnival 2014: Best and Worst

Here it is, late January. I’m on a 4-hour weather delay at work, as the Austin roads are iced over and there are scores of accidents and closures. I have on April March and Los Cincos, my go-to “gray, wet, and cold” weather album. Seems as good a time as any to write my January post for Doug’s Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival.


Click here for a link to a summary of the December responses, which was on “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. At the bottom of the page, Doug has the January question: “What are your best (or if you want your worst) post(s) and why? Compare and contrast your different bests/worsts.”

As Doug mentioned in the comments to my December post, I basically anticipated (and already answered) this question:

“My stats are pretty depressing, even when I was blogging pretty regularly. I have less than 15,000 total views. My most popular post, which  detailed some of the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by Twitter promotion and retweets”

So my most viewed post is a pretty good one, and I’m happy that it has so many views. In terms of using my blog for outreach and public archaeology, it’s an excellent example of what CRM archaeologists do, and what our discoveries can mean for our clients. I felt like I did a good job of sharing the excitement of discovery and the disappointment most CRM archaeologists get knowing that finding a cool site doesn’t mean you get to dig on it (and for the sites in the blog post, the client opted to do a very long, expensive directional drill underneath them as an avoidance measure). I suspect that some of the hits come from the fact that I’ve pinged back to it in several other posts, and that it was shared on Colleen’s Four Stone Hearth compendium. But maybe some came from people looking for info on Section 106.

My favorite post is named after my favorite Ice Cube song: Today was a Good Day. It describes a typical day in the field that turns into a wonderful, atypical adventure. It’s my favorite for several reasons. First of all, it was just an excellent little adventure, getting to ride around in a WWII surplus jeep with an old rodeo cowboy (spoiler, if you didn’t read the original). Secondly, I felt like it gave a sense of what kind of people you can run into in the field, and that they’re not all bad. This is especially important to me for Texas, because so much of the country has a low opinion of Texas, particularly outside of Austin. Even a lot of Austinites can be snobbish about the rest of the state. Finally, I feel like I did an excellent job of telling the story (he says immodestly), especially once I remembered to add the punchline. I suppose I should also add that that particular day was probably the first good day for me in weeks, following a terrible stretch of fieldwork that almost broke me AND then getting separated from my now ex-wife.

My worst post could be any of the placeholders I put up promising to blog more soon, and then not following up. One might think these would motivate me to actually post more.

But in my December post, I specifically mentioned a post I made that was a little more emotional and personal than usual, and directly referenced a co-worker (although not by name). It related to concepts of masculinity, and feeling like I was occasionally slighted for not being traditionally masculine (in the big strapping lad sense) and treated differently for my slight stature (even though I’m pretty much at the median height and below weight). The bad part was that another co-worker saw it and replied, and defended the other person and essentially said I was making a big deal out of nothing (my interpretation, not necessarily their intention). It made things a little rougher and more awkward at work at a time when I was already struggling. It also reminded me that I needed to be careful what I said about work and co-workers, which essentially made me stop blogging during my really negative stretch at work (when realistically I really could have used the outlet). I didn’t link back to the original post because I’m over it, I’m sure you can find it if you really want.

Looking forward to next month’s question! Meanwhile, stay tuned for more of my “Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014”


January 17, 2014

An Austinite’s Guide to #SAA2014: Lodging and getting around

Filed under: archaeology, archeology — Tags: , , , , — John @ 11:34 am

Hi y’all!

Note: we say y’all in Texas. Very few people, besides Aggies, say “Howdy”. There’s your language lesson for the week 🙂

After doing some research, I thought it might be best to combine lodging and transportation in a single post. This is because most of the lodging options near the convention center (ie walking distance) are pretty expensive, and I was tasked with finding cheaper lodging. Note that, as often happens, most of the downtown hotels have jacked their prices up during the convention weekend. I should also note that the downtown hotels are never really cheap (besides the La Quinta, which SAA took over for student housing), and the trend has been to build upscale/”hip” boutique hotels in the area.


First, if you are a member of Hosteling International, and/or not opposed to staying in a hostel, there is one located walking distance from the convention center, on Lakeshore Boulevard: http://www.hihostels.com/dba/hostel060035.en.htm?himap=Y#book. I’m surprised that this actually has availability that weekend, so maybe jump on that (and I may have to edit this in a week). I have never stayed here but have driven by it a number of times, and it seems to have decent ratings.

A number of people have mentioned finding a room or place from sites like AirBnB or HomeAway. I have never used these services (and it looks like there is a lot of overlap of listings between the 2) and don’t consider my listing of these any type of endorsement. There are some places walking distance, or easy mass transit distance from the convention center listed. I wouldn’t stay further south than William Cannon (and really, not further than Ben White Boulevard/290 West), further west than Lamar Boulevard or MOPAC (Loop 1), further east than Chicon Ave (and only in the immediate downtown area), and further north than St. Johns (which is kinda pushing it). Please check the “Getting around” section below for more details!

UPDATE 1/27/14: THE AUSTIN MOTEL IS NOW COMPLETELY BOOKED FOR THE SAA 2014 WEEKEND. One pretty cool place that I actually HAVE stayed, that is walking distance to the Convention Center is The Austin Motel. This place is something of an Austin icon (and not just for the phallic sign). You’ll have to call to check on availability (and it’s entirely possible it’s already booked solid), but there are some single rooms for under $100 a night, and if you have a roommate there are lots of two bed options. Each room has it’s own theme. It’s also located on funky/hip South Congress, so lots of restaurants and bars and shopping in the area.

Another place I’m familar with is Habitat Suites. This place isn’t walking distance (but on a transit line), and not really in an ideal location (by a failing mall) but it’s a great hotel, and a room for 1 is $99/night during the conference (or one with a sofa bed for $109). One proviso: if you stay out after midnight, you’ll be taking a cab here. On the plus side, they have an amazing free breakfast!!

Some other options (between 90 and 130 bucks per night before taxes) are around the UT Campus. I have no idea how nice those places are, but they’re all the lower scale “name” hotels: Days Inn and Rodeway Inn. Both are walkable, but not the nicest walk (along the highway) and I can’t vouch for the safety of this walk. There are buses that can get you close (again, check the section of Getting Around).

After that, you’re looking at the cluster of hotels on the SW side of the IH-35 and US-290 intersection, or along IH-35 south of the river. There are a range of options, from Motel 6 to Embassy Suites. If these places don’t offer shuttles (and I can’t tell/don’t want to look at every one of them), you will likely be taking a taxi or walking a bit to get to a bus stop.


This section will be important in helping to choose lodging.

First, as I stated above: I wouldn’t stay further south than William Cannon (and really, not further than Ben White Boulevard/290 West), further west than Lamar Boulevard or MOPAC (Loop 1), further east than Chicon Ave (and only in the immediate downtown area), and further north than St. Johns (which is kinda pushing it). Anywhere further than that and you will need to rent a car or pay for cabs. And you might have to do some cabbing anyway, because…

Austin’s dirty secret is that we have below standard public transportation (although it’s getting better), particularly when it comes to late night travel. Particularly for a progressive city that is now the 11th largest in the US. For a city that calls itself the Live Music Capitol of the World (still justifiably so) and promotes itself as an entertainment destination, if you stay out late and don’t want to drive/don’t have a car, you may be screwed or have to shell out some money. There are a limited number of late night buses on the weekends. These fill up fast, don’t go everywhere, and you may show up at 2am and not get on one until 4am. We have trains that run to the suburbs, and to a couple of the hip new developments. These also don’t run late.

Here’s the link to the Capital Metro website: http://www.capmetro.org/default.aspx. From here, you can look at maps and schedules, and plan your ride. For funsies, go ahead and enter your possible hotel/room location and the Convention Center, and check on various to and from trips, at different times. As an example, there is no bus that can get you within 3/4 mile of the campus area motels after midnight on the weekend.

So cabs. Here is a link to taxi fare info for Austin: http://www.yellowcabaustin.com/fare_info.aspx. From here, you can go to a fare generator. This should be very helpful in figuring out transportation costs from various lodging options. The trip from the Convention Center to the campus area hotels costs $10.53 (including the $1 surcharge for trips after 9pm, and not counting tip). It’s $16.50 to the hotels around 290.

One possible option is to use Car2Go, which is a Smart Car share program. You have to be a member, and please don’t do this if you are intoxicated! But, for trips within the center city and even to the edges of what can be considered the urban core (alas, my own house is just south) it could be an excellent option for getting around relatively affordably.


Downtown Austin is very walkable, especially for us CRM archaeologists used to walking 5-7 miles a day with heavy packs (sorry, a little good-natured rib at my academic counterparts). I consider anything within about 2 miles to be walking distance.

First, let’s talk safety. I consider Austin a pretty safe city, especially for being around a million people. Downtown is also very safe, although of course crimes do occur. You’re more likely to have to deal with drunk college students than muggers, but it happens. Click here for a link to the official 2012 crime statistics from the city website. The downtown zip code is 78701. The numbers are high, but remember this is a high activity entertainment district. The best advice is that which applies to any city. Be street smart: be aware of your surroundings, try and stay in well lit areas, travel in groups when you can. Once you’re away from the convention center or the immediate area: TAKE OFF YOUR BADGE. Especially late at night. Put it back on at the bar/restaurant if you want to meet people.

If you don’t feel like walking, or want to do something different, there are options. First, downtown is full of pedicabs. You tell the operator where you want to go and they’ll tell you how much it costs. Most have music and a sense of fun. It’s a good option to get someplace in a hurry, or just take a load off your feet, but it’s not super cheap.

A newer option (and something I haven’t tried yet) is the Austin B-Cycle bike share program. You can get an annual membership, OR purchase a daily or weekly pass (probably the best option for the SAA goer). You can ride the bike around and return it to any station (this is the critical part, it must be returned to a station to end the service time); the first 30 minutes is free. For getting around the immediate downtown vicinity, this seems like it might be a great option.

SO…that’s a lot of basic information! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer, or shoot me a tweet at twitter.com/archaeocore (you can use that handy little widget on the side too)!

December 30, 2013

My 2013 in review

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 2:42 pm

2013 has been a very big year for me professionally, and a challenging one personally.

I started the year, as I had since May 2004, at the Austin office of SWCA Environmental Consultants (I’m honestly not sure if I ever said exactly who I worked for!). I was writing up the results of a survey I had led in Laredo just before the holidays. It included a large, typical South Texas deflated campsite, with lots of diagnostic artifacts and stone tools but also eroded with no potential for significant buried deposits. The surface was a palimpsest of several thousand years worth of occupations. Neat, but no potential for significant new information.

After finishing that up, work shifted to east Texas and a Caddo site. I can’t say what the project was or where the site was located, but it was an unanticipated discovery. Sometimes, even though you’ve looked hard and done a thorough survey, you can miss something and be surprised. We excavated a few test units in a easy-to-dig fine sandy matrix, and determined the site was likely a small Caddo hamlet. After the first round of testing, we recommended further excavations, and I started on the artifact analysis and writeup.

I was struggling some with work. I had gotten severely burned out in 2012, and was questioning whether I wanted to continue in archaeology. In particular, long stretches in the field (I was gone for month-long stretches in July and September 2012) had nearly broken me. My supervisor was aware of this and tried to help me, and one thing he did was forward me job openings at state agencies, which would require less travel and keep me based in Austin.

March came and a new project appeared: construction monitoring in Galveston. I was chosen to spearhead the work and do at least the first couple of sessions. I drove to Galveston to meet with the client, pick up some schematics and figure out their schedule. Then, I took a week off to enjoy South by Southwest.

At the end of December, I had applied for a job at State Parks, but hadn’t heard anything back, and had given up hope. I assumed someone else had gotten in, since it had been months. But over South By I got a call asking if I was available to interview for the job the following Monday! I was excited and nervous, and after enjoying the Golden Boys at Side Bar on the last Sunday of SXSW, I went home to hydrate and rest for my interview.

I was so nervous, but I felt like I did a really good job on the interview. I had answers for all of their questions, and they seemed to like my attitudes towards report writing. After the interview, I went back to my office and prepared for Galveston, but I felt like maybe I had a chance. That Friday, I saw the people at the CTA meetings and again got a sense that I had done well.

Monday, one week after interviewing, I got a call offering me the job! I accepted, but there was one minor hitch: they wanted me to start the following Monday, rather than with 2 weeks notice, because they had a field session scheduled.

SWCA very kindly accepted, and on April 1 I started with the Archeology Survey team at Texas Parks and Wildlife, in a job that came as both a raise and a promotion. On April 2 I left with the other members of the team and the Archeology lab to spend a week in the Lower Pecos (I still can’t say exactly where or what). It was the 7 of us in the middle of a huge area, staying in a lodge and bunkhouse, an hour away from the nearest sizable town. I got to know my co-workers very well, very quickly!

Since then, I’ve done two sessions in the Lower Pecos, responded to a looting incident at McKinney Falls, helped with the archeology session at a Junior Ranger day camp at McKinney Falls (including a tour of some of the park’s sites and an atlatl demonstration), and surveyed part of a park near Beaumont. I’ve also been given my own project near Boerne, and we’ve done three sessions there so far. And, I’ve also started the report for a survey done at Bastrop State Park following the 2011 wildfires, including some stone tool analysis.

I’ve also tried to introduce new forms of outreach to my group. I wrote about my job for the Day of Archaeology, which was well-received by my bosses. Some of my photos have been used by the Parks and Wildlife Instagram page. As a result of this, plus stating my own interest in more opportunities, my bosses arranged for me to be involved with the TPWD social media team, something I’ll be more involved with in 2014!


Personally, there have been lots of ups-and-downs. A long-term relationship ended, and a hopeful summer romance ended in heartbreak. I can’t blame it all on archaeology, but I do know that it’s hard to date someone who is gone a lot, even if it is much less often with my new job. I recently started dating someone new, so we’ll see where that goes, especially with some longer field sessions upcoming (out of respect for the people involved, I won’t say more, as I know that some of them will likely read this).

On a lighter, more upbeat note, having less field time and a more predictable schedule allowed me to adopt two adorable kittens, Wendy and Ruby! I feel so bad when I’m gone from them, but they seem to take it in stride. They’re extremely social, so they follow and play with the folks who come by to check on them when I’m gone; this makes it a little better for me. But they sure do seem to grow a lot every time I’m gone!

I started a new blog devoted more to music, which is my real passion in life. Much like this blog, it is not updated as regularly as I had hoped.

I made a lot of new friends and only lost a couple to moves and none to death, thank goodness. I saw a lot of great bands, and finally am able to check both New Order and The Cure off of my concert bucket list. Finally, I didn’t miss nearly as many shows as I have in the past due to fieldwork.

Finally, I had let myself get out of shape and put on a bit of bad weight. With the start of the new fiscal year in September, I decided to make a change and get control of that. Since then, I’ve dropped 15 pounds and 4% body fat while also adding muscle. I had to buy new jeans. I’m still trying to add more muscle and tone, but I feel much better physically and mentally, and I’m pretty proud of myself.

December 4, 2013

Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival: Good, Bad, Ugly

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , , , , — John @ 1:44 pm


It’s month 2 of the #blogarch Blogging Archaeology Carnival 2014, leading up to the Blogging Archaeology session at the 2014 SAA meetings in my hometown of Austin, Texas. Note that this session will be on Saturday morning, and I’ll see what I can do about having some coffee for everyone!

The first month had an overwhelming response, now over 60 posts. Some new blogs were created for the carnival, and some inactive ones revived (ahem, kinda like mine). It seems like there are either a lot more archaeology blogs now than there were 3 years ago, during the first #blogarch carnival, or that Doug did a better job of spreading the word and recruiting people. You can see the summary of the first month’s action, as well as the December question, by clicking HERE or this link: http://dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/blogging-archaeology-blogarch-all-of-the-responses-to-why/

December’s theme is an excellent one: The good, the bad, and the ugly of blogging. In some ways, it’s a follow-up to November. Discussion points include Good: “anything and everything positive about blogging…You could even share what you hope blogging will do for you in the future.” Bad: “What are your disappointments with blogging? What are your frustrations? What do you hate about blogging? What would you like to see changed about blogging?” Ugly: “Your worst experiences with blogging- trolls, getting fired, etc.”

For some extra fun, enjoy this playlist (click it! click it!) I made of some reggae, rock steady, and dub jams inspired by The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and other spaghetti western flicks.

Here we go!

The Good –

  • I’ve had a chance to share a few excellent stories from the field (although when I looked at my site stats, none of those are among my most viewed posts). In some ways, it was nice to document them this way, so I can remember some of the details later. I think the few people that have read them have enjoyed them.
  • I’ve had a couple of opportunities to answer questions for people about CRM archaeology, what and how and why we do it. I’m heartened that my most popular single post is about this.
  • I’ve been able to share some semi-fleshed out thoughts and opinions and participate in the debate about some of the hot topics in the world of archaeology, such as crowdfunding and #freearchaeology.
  • I’ve gotten to attend one SAA conference and will be attending another, where I’ll continue to meet awesome new people as well as some amazing online friends in the flesh.
  • I was able to participate in the Day of Archaeology for the last three years, and my post this year got a really good response from my bosses and people in general…which leads me to
  • Positive responses at work to my blog, my Twitter, and my Instagram have helped convince my bosses to recommend me as a contributor to the social media group at my job, although they don’t have any blog set up…yet 🙂

The bad:

  • As always, feel like I’m talking to a wall most of the time. Very rare comments, although sometimes I get Twitter or Facebook or IRL comments and feedback.
  • My stats are pretty depressing, even when I was blogging pretty regularly. I have less than 15,000 total views. My most popular post, which  detailed some of the section 106 process and talked about how sites are both a dream and a nightmare, has 390 views. My favorite post has 113. I have gotten a lot of recent views for my Rising Star Expedition post, helped in part by Twitter promotion and retweets
  • I just have a hard time keeping up, and it makes me feel guilty. Believe it or not, I put a lot of time into these posts! Even a very brief one might take me over an hour of thinking, writing, rewriting, finding links to make it more interesting. This makes the “talking to the wall” aspect that much worse.
  • And this can make me feel, well, a little worthless (for want of a better word), I’m putting an awful lot of myself out here.
  • The old Impostor Syndrome. I don’t do real research, I don’t keep up very well with the research, I’m afraid to take speak up or take a strong stand on issues related to my actual area of work. There are also some other topics I have really strong feelings about that I’m afraid to blog about/take a public stance on, for fear of losing my job or future opportunities (I’ll gladly talk about them with you in person, though).

The Ugly:

  • While I didn’t get fired, I did have to make private delete one of my best, most well-received blog posts, that also happened to be topical to the day it was posted. One of the client representatives saw it and demanded it be taken down and that I not mention/blog about that particular project. Not only that, but as a result one of my old company’s offices (not the one I was based in) banned their people from blogging about work, period.
  • I posted something a little more personal and emotional than maybe I should have, and one of my (now ex-) coworkers saw it and commented in a way that wasn’t entirely positive or reassuring. This turned me off of blogging for a while, because I feel like one of the strengths of this blog and my writing is the attached, personal element of it. I mean, I could just post news story links with a couple of dry comments.
  • See Impostor Syndrome, above.

November 20, 2013

Blogging Archaeology 2014 Carnival Month 1: WHY?





So, at the 2014 Society for American Archaeology meetings in my lovely home city of Austin, Texas, we’ll be doing another Blogging Archaeology session entitled, appropriately enough, Blogging Archaeology Again. It’s not exactly a follow-up, more of an update with new ideas and almost all new people (I may in fact be the only holdover).

Anyway, as a contribution to the discussion  Doug Rocks-Macqueen (an excellent archaeology blogger [an excellent blogger who can’t make it, read his blog here!) is running a Blogging Archaeology blog carnival. Last time, Colleen hosted one and it was a lot of fun, got some good discussion going before and at the session.

So I’ll play along again. It also helps me because I’m not good about updating, so at least there will be a monthly post by me from now until April 🙂 This is even funnier because of question 3! So here we go!!

Question 1: Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?

I first started blogging because I liked writing and sharing my ideas and opinions. In college, I did radio and in my first run at grad school I wrote for the newspaper (entertainment section). I did a few issues of a zine after (the namesake for my other blog http://alltheragezine.wordpress.com/) and was online. So when I found out about blogs, it was something of a natural thing for me to be interested in and try out. At first, I did a personal blog and enjoyed that, met a lot of new people in Austin and elsewhere that way.

When I back to grad school for archaeology, I would occasionally write about that on my blog (it was on Livejournal and I’m pretty sure I deleted it), and I wrote some about my first field school on there. When I went back in Spring 2004 I decided to start a blog dedicated to my field school and archaeology, partly inspired by what Colleen had started doing. First post was on January 14, 2004, right before I left. It was called Digstories and there’s probably some posts on there that were too honest or not well thought out.

I kept up with it as I moved into CRM, eventually moved the blog to a different host (the whole LJ stigma partly), and changed the name to Where in the Hell Am I, because that was one of the questions my friends would always ask me! It started with just stories, and then I would explain things to my friends who would ask specific questions about aspects of my work. I tried to develop it more as a tool for public outreach, but this somewhat coincided with me starting to be burned out on archaeology, which leads to…

Question 2: Why are you still blogging?  Have the reasons why changed since you first started blogging? Are there new reasons why you blog?

Well, I answered some of that in the paragraphs above. Sometimes I still tell stories here, and I’ve used it on occasion for outreach. Sometimes I use it to vent or discuss issues in archaeology such as #freearchaeology or machismo, which was always an element of my blogging (while trying to keep it professional). Mostly, I’ve switched to microblogging and photoblogging through Twitter and Instagram (which is what my presentation at SAA14 is about). Mostly because it’s easier and has more feedback.

I still feel guilty about not blogging more, and I honestly want to, but…

Question 3: Why have you stopped blogging?

One of the ironic things about blogging that I’ve mentioned in the past is that usually when I have lots to talk about, or good stories to share, I’m too busy from doing things to take the time to talk about them, or just too tired. As I got higher in the field hierarchy, especially with some of the pipeline projects, I had a lot to do after the fieldwork was done. It was not unusual to have a 9-10 hour field day and then 2 hours of post-field work, 6 days a week. Once I was done, I was tired and didn’t want to talk about my day again.

Also as I moved up, things got less interesting, in some ways. I was mostly running the GPS in the field, managing the techs while they did the actual digging. I was talking to clients and landowners (which could be interesting, of course). I was also doing a lot of survey report writing, which is repetitive and boring even to me. I tried to talk about analysis, but was afraid to expose my ignorance to the public and other archs.

I also had some very difficult periods in my life, and got very burned out on the field and archaeology. I always try and be positive on here, even if I don’t always succeed. When I was depressed, or hating my job, I just didn’t want to pretend on here.

Finally, my company got a couple of very large projects, with clients who were very protective and concerned about media and publicity. I started to worry about possibly getting in trouble or straight up fired for things I wrote here. And when I was mad or burned out or thought something was dumb, I DEFINITELY knew not to say so on here. Last year, I found out that even a very innocent post that doesn’t mention much of anything about a client or a project can get noticed and possibly lead to reprisals (although all I had to do was pull it and promise not to blog about or while on that job). That last thing happened right when I was thinking about getting back in to this.

And, now that I’m a public servant, I feel the same need to be extra cautious. That’s why I started a totally non-archaeology blog (which gathers as much dust as this!).

And thus ends my unsurprisingly long first contribution to the Blogging Archaeology Carnival!

October 7, 2013

Looking Down

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , — John @ 8:46 pm

(note: I accidentally posted this on my personal blog, All the Rage, so I’m copying and pasting here for the archaeology folks for whom it was intended)

This past weekend on Twitter, I mentioned how even when I’m on a leisure walk on my own time, I find myself looking down at the ground. I joked that it was an Archy for life thing, and someone replied that they were the same, and had found $2 recently. This reminded me of a piece I wrote for a zine back in April of 1997, which I’m sharing here.

I should say that this ended up in a one-off “Emo”/personal zine I did called For Reals. At the time, I was rather proud of it. On re-reading it today, while appreciating it as a snapshot of a very complicated, fucked-up time in my life, I cringed a great deal, and this is likely the only piece that will see the light of day on this blog. My 4-issue music zine “All The Rage”, which is also the title of my other oft-neglected blog, was much better.

Anyway, here is my short piece “Looking Down”, transcribed exactly as printed with one needed correction in brackets (parentheses are in the original).

“Despite the fact that I’ve lived in Austin for almost 4 years now, I still look down when I walk.

Growing up in New York, it is a skill you learn quickly. Eye contact is, at best, rude and at worst seen as a threat. So on a train, you either bring something to read or stare at your hands or feet. If you happen to catch someone’s eyes, just turn your head quickly and pretend it didn’t happen.

Walking is a little more difficult. It involves having your head tilted down while still flicking your eyes up and down from time to time to look for addresses, people whose shows [sic: shoes] look familiar, cute girls, and the oncoming pedestrian traffic.

This practice does have benefits, which is perhaps why I still maintain it 8 years after moving out of New York City. You can find really cool stuff on the ground. Money, jewelry, a watch (which I still wear!), photos, assorted odds and ends. Yesterday, walking home from I Heart Video at 2am, I found a dime. Everything shiny catches my eye.

I’m even worse when there’s lots of rocks around. I guess I have an obsession for rocks. As a child, my grandparents farm had a gravel lane full of fossils and even an occasional indian arrowhead. I spent long hours in my youth looking through their gravel for treasures.

In Austin, there’s a few places to find cool rocks and fossils. The train tracks along Airport Boulevard yielded a nice hunk of flint the other day. The creek bed in Pease Park is full of little fossils! And I found a great hunk of quartz at the Umlauf Sculpture Gardens, so big I had to dig it out!

So if you see me looking down, I’m not just being anti-social, I’m on a treasure hunt!”

– John Lowe, April 1997, For Reals #1, Austin.

October 1, 2013

My abstract for SAA14 Blogging Archaeology panel

Filed under: archaeology — Tags: , , , , , , — John @ 7:39 pm

I don’t remember what fancy title I gave my paper, but here’s the abstract.
I’d love to hear feedback, questions, and anecdotes from y’all about my vague notions presented here, as this will help me with the final presentation and ideally provide me supporting anecdotal material and references!

“More agencies, cultural resources management firms, and individual archaeologists are now using social media for promotion and outreach. However, the use of microblogging platforms such as Twitter and Instagram can also help in building a “community of archaeologists” that goes beyond typical job networking.

This community aspect is likely just as important, particularly for younger working archaeologists and those still in school. People can commiserate, seek support, share advice and suggestions, and forge friendships outside of a professional setting and beyond the field. It is also a way for archaeologists to join forces to discuss and act on serious issues affecting them, such as the recent fight concerning the use of volunteers and unpaid interns, known as #freearchaeology.

Microblogging also allows for a different perspective from the common top-down, expert, official narrative. Field and lab techs are able to share their photos and their opinions. Finally, it gives the public a glimpse into the daily lives of archaeologists and the challenges we face, in essence adding a different element of “humanity” to archaeology.”

September 19, 2013

Thinking about #freearchaeology and #crowdsourcing #archaeology part 2: an example?

A couple of days ago, I outlined a couple of issues that are at the root of my problems with Free Archaeology and Crowdsourcing Archaeology. In both cases, it can be boiled down to having a fun, “sexy” project that maintains a high level of interest for volunteers/contributors.

This led me to think about my thesis research in Belize, back in 2004. In some ways, isn’t field school somewhat of an example of both Free Archaeology (albeit done right, and more of the “apprentice” idea) and crowdsourced funding for a project? At the time, there were 6 field school students for the spring session, 4-6 junior staffers, 3 senior staffers (note: these numbers may not be exact, ppl came and went and it was a while ago), occasional volunteers, as well as some paid Belizean workers. We were starting work on some newly discovered plaza groups at a relatively unexplored site. Initially, most of us worked on test units in the plaza of one group, and we discovered some really interesting and unexpected things. Eventually, I was sent to start doing some off-plaza test units, to help understand the landscape and how it was modified. I was a little annoyed, as the people working in the plaza units were uncovering all sorts of cool things, and I was digging in dirt to bedrock with whatever artifacts washed in. Friday was lab day, which most of us found a bit tedious as well, we were there to dig!

When my professor came to me to talk about my thesis excavation, I didn’t really have any ideas, but he had one for me: excavate two depression features around the plaza to see if they had been modified to use for water retention. One of the pits had already been started, and had unexpectedly turned up a small, complete plainware/undecorated pot and some human bone at the edge of the depression (I had/have no explanation for this). It seemed like there was potential for some great finds, and I was excited as were the people who were sent to help me.

As time would go on, and the unit expanded, nothing exciting happened. There was no burial. There were artifacts, mostly eroded plainware sherds and flakes, along with the rare bifacial tool and the even more rare obsidian microblade fragment. The feature was not turning into anything besides a typical, natural karst depression feature. I could tell that some of the field school students were getting bored and restless. It certainly didn’t help that 20 meters away they could hear their fellow students celebrating another amazing discovery seemingly every hour.

Eventually we opened up another large unit on a different feature, and I had people working at both features. I eventually noticed that at least one of the students was looking resentful, and word got back to me that they were complaining about how much my dig sucked. Most of the other students were clearly relieved that they weren’t on my crew. I tried to encourage my people, and every day thanked them for helping me out, apologized for “getting stuck” in the off-plaza units, told them they were doing good work. I didn’t feel good about it though, hell I was a little frustrated that I wasn’t following plaster floors or exposing buried Late Preclassic architecture!

My work got done, mainly because I was able to get help from a number of my fellow grad students/junior staffers, who could sympathize with the need for good thesis research, as well as one student who didn’t really care where they dug and liked me personally.  I also had a very dedicated helper in the girl that I was dating (and would later be married to for a while).

What we ultimately discovered was archaeologically important, in that we showed that neither of these so-called “water retention features” likely served as such. I don’t know what they were for sure (one was likely natural, one was most likely a quarry), but my conclusion was that one can’t simply go around labeling every depression around a plaza group or structure as an “aguada”, because you are assigning it a function by using that name.

Of course, the excavations in the plaza yielded a number of very cool artifacts, located at least one unknown, buried Late Preclassic structures, with a burial covered by a smashed plate in the center. I don’t even know what was found there during subsequent seasons, although I do know that the very large depression that was later investigated did in fact prove to be a water-retention feature and ALSO a quarry.

So, how does this relate to Free Archaeology and crowdsourcing project funding?

The first may be more clear, as I stated how much the field school students hated working on my project as opposed to the “cool” stuff going on in the plaza excavations. If they had been true volunteers, I couldn’t have made them work for me instead of the other spot. As it was, I relied heavily on my personal relationships with people (be they colleague or romantic). If my work had been the only work going on, I wonder how many people would even have signed up for the field school (had they known).

As for crowdsourcing, there are two ways. First is (again) my reliance on my personal network of colleagues and “friends” for support, because what I was doing wasn’t fun, appealing, interesting, “sexy”. The first step in any fundraising/crowdsourcing drive is hitting up your networks. Secondly, and related, how many people would fund an archaeologically interesting but generally mundane excavation project, as opposed to one right in the plaza where the cool stuff is? I can promise you that my excavation and artifact photos were not exciting, unless you like seeing LOTS of exposed limestone surrounded by piles of rock. I didn’t contribute anything to the history of the Maya or that site by magazine standards, although I probably should’ve done a journal article.

Funny thing is people often ask me if I want to go back, or if I ever would. Honestly, I’m kind of over the Maya at this point. However, I feel like my work is undone. The lithics from my excavation units were never analyzed. It would be interesting to see if I could isolate “quarrying” shatter in the assemblage, and examine the tools for crushing wear. But I can’t afford to travel down there right now, and honestly, would YOU pay for me to stare at a bunch of pieces of chert in a lab in the middle of the jungle for a couple of weeks, knowing that it may not prove anything?

September 17, 2013

Thinking about #freearchaeology and #crowdsourcing #archaeology part 1

During those times when I’m not tweeting about my new kitties or Thin Lizzy, I’ve been sharing some ideas and musings about issues in archaeology. One of these is the ongoing debate/controversy over what is being called #freearchaeology, involving the use of interns and volunteers in lieu of paying people. There are many good blog posts about this, click this one for a start or do a search using your favorite search engine. Another issue has also popped up recently, about using crowdsourcing platforms to fund archaeological research (in particular, but not exclusively, PhD research) and scientific projects and research in general. These are obviously related, as both involve trying to deal with the drastic reductions in public and private funding of science and research.

One point I’ve made regarding Free Archaeology is that when you use volunteers, you are reliant on their level of interest in what you are doing. Volunteers like to dig in the “honey holes”, they may not care much for surveying through thick brush, digging negative shovel tests, or labeling debitage. And, if they’re not being paid, there’s no reason for them to agree to do so, and you can’t (or shouldn’t) force them.

In a similar vein, today I suggested that trying to crowdfund archaeological research favors the “sexy” projects, and that the pressure to do “Popular” archaeology would be very high. Note: I was involved in a research project that was partly funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, but was canceled for other reasons. I feel the need to make that completely clear, and I will address this at some time in the future.

Let’s say a crowdfunding platform had a choice between 2 projects in Italy: one is studying artifacts from a wealthy Roman villa, the other is studying the lithic assemblage from a Mesolithic site (I’m making these up and I have no idea if there are Mesolithic sites in Italy). Which is more likely to pique the public’s interest, and get them to kick in some money? Now (and this is a controversial question that reflects my own biases), which one is more likely to yield unique new insights into the past of Italy? As I said on Twitter, think about the kind of articles and projects featured in National Geographic or Archaeology Magazine, versus an archaeological journal.

Just some things to ponder. I’ll have another post in the next day or so that uses my thesis research experience to explore some of these ideas.

(finally, Ruby wanted to add this: /;;;; )

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