Archaeology: What’s on your feet?

Before I became and archaeological field technician, I never wore proper shoes, hiking or otherwise. I always wore flip-flops. In the rain. In the snow. In the sun. Skateboarding. Bicycling. I think you get it.

The only time I didn’t wear flip-flops was hiking. Then I wore sneakers.

I hiked a bit as a kid. I loved to be outside. I really loved to be barefoot, but you know that doesn’t work so well most of the time.

I hiked in running shoes, sandals (who remembers the Lands’ End knock-off Birkenstocks?), Tevas, and even tennis shoes (which my dad insisted not have any tread at all- useless for hiking).

Finally, when I was in high school, my mom got me real hiking shoes. They weren’t boots, they looked like sneakers.

Sneaker-type hiking boots

Similar to that. They had tons of grip on the bottom, not so much in terms of ankle support. I wore them a few times. I bought them a couple sizes too big, hoping to grow into them. Unfortunately, that was right at the time my feet finally stopped growing. They are still too big.

When I finally went to college, I began hiking more often. At this point, it would have been a good idea to get some real boots.  But I was stubborn. And who has the money for hiking boots as a college student? I wore the same pair of New Balance sneakers for many years.

They made it to my field school in Peru, but they didn’t make it back to the US. When I got back, I bought the same ones.


Running Sneakers

Back before the Great Recession they were under $40!

These lasted until I got my first CRM job. I still didn’t own hiking boots.

During my first week in the field it became apparent that my footwear was no longer adequate. They had holes in the pinky toes (due to my super wide feet- which will be important later). A co-worker called them rattlesnake bait. A valid concern as there were a number of snake sitings, and finally a nice, fat Mojave Green was spotted right near the lunch spot.

Mojave Green Rattlesnake

Mojave Green Rattlesnake

I was also required to wear steel-toe boots. So I headed over to dear old Wal-Mart (cut me some slack, I was this close to broke) and picked up some Wolverine steel toe boots.

They served me well for almost a year. The whole time the soles were slowly peeling off. Finally the rubber heel just came right off.

Also- in case you are thinking of buying a pair- the laces fell apart within a few months, and got progressively worse over time. Not to mention, they are entirely too uncomfortable to wear without some cushy insoles.

Really, these boots couldn’t stand up to hiking.  They couldn’t stand up to hiking, because they are not hiking boots. Shocking.

I finally decided it was time to shell out for real hiking boots.


Lowas- $220 at REI

The REI near me had one pair of Lowas, and one pair of Vasque boots. I tried both on, found the Vasque ones to be a bit too bulky, went with the Lowas. They were super comfortable right from the beginning.

They were great during the excavation. Wonderfully flexible, but still supportive enough to stop my ankles from rolling.

Then I wore them on a few surveys… This did not work out well. Either they were too narrow (I really do have super wide feet, comes from wearing flip-flops too often), or I bought them half a size too small. My toes were not happy.

This was the reason I bought boots at REI. Their return policy is the best, especially for members.  I took the Lowas back and got the Vasque boots instead.

Vasque boots-002

Vasque Boots- $185 at REI

These boots are awesome.  My coworker refers to them as “little tanks” that encase her feet in safety and support.  The majority of my coworkers wear these same boots, and it seems that a lot of archaeologists nationwide wear them as well.

Finally, I went to an oil field safety training recently, and the instructor said it best.  “Your boots are not the thing to skimp on.  You’ll be spending every day, all day in your boots.  It’s best to make sure they’re comfortable”

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An Archaeology Cover Letter

Thanks to Miriam for asking about cover letters!

Make sure that you sound professional, don’t have spelling or grammar errors, and that you list these three things clearly: availability, driver’s license and regional experience.
Availability:  How soon are you available and how many days a week are you available? Are you willing to work on weekends? Are you available to travel?
Driver’s License:  Many CRM firms need their field techs to be able to drive company vehicles.  In order to drive the company vehicle you need a valid driver’s license.  If you have a good driving record (no recent tickets or accidents) you should definitely add that in as well.
Regional Experience:  If you have any experience working in the area that you are applying to jobs in, it would be good to highlight that in your cover letter.  I’ve been told by a few different people in management positions that regional experience is key.  It’s certainly easier to train people who already know something about the archaeology of the area.  I work in California, so firms are looking for experience in California or the Great Basin (which encompasses parts of Nevada, California, Utah and Oregon).
I’m going to take this opportunity to suggest that one great way to get experience is by volunteering.  Passport in Time is a great volunteering opportunity.  It’s a national program, so hopefully they have something in your region.  Most projects get posted in the spring, but keep checking the site for updates!
Some other things to add to your cover letter are any special skills that you have.  GIS, faunal or osteological analysis, lithics analysis, ceramics, GPS experience, etc…  These skills should be in your CV, but the cover letter is a great opportunity to make it clear that you know what you’re talking about.  “I have experience with GIS, analyzing slope within survey coverages, exporting GeoPDFs, and preparing field data for a GPS.”
Take a look at my cover letter (feel free to point out any errors).  Let me know what you think, or use it as a guide for your own!
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Archaeology: What’s for Lunch?

What do you do about lunch in the field?  I like to pack light, so even on excavation (when lots of techs bring coolers full of a variety of foods) I want my food to fit in my backpack, with my trowel, pick, measuring tape, notebook and water.

Therefore, my food needs to be able to endure heat, be impermeable to dirt, and withstand being knocked about.  What are my favorite field foods?  Prepared goods from the grocery store!

I’m not a fan of saturated fat or high fructose corn syrup.  So what do I eat?

Trader Joe’s mostly.

Source: Archaeo Field Tech's Kitchen

1. Clif Bars are your best friend.  They pack the perfect amount of calories and nutrients to keep you going throughout the day.  Take advantage of your two 15 minute breaks with one of these guys.  I like White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, Peanut Toffee Buzz and Oatmeal Raisin.  Also- Luna bars- read CHOCOLATE.  I also love Luna bars for providing delicious chocolate flavors that are much lower in saturated fat than regular chocolate.  As a former chocolate addict, these bars are my savior.

2. Hard sourdough pretzels.  Super low in fat, lots of salt to help keep you hydrated!

3. Grape tomatoes- these require tupperware, although they also do remarkably well in plastic baggies if you want to destroy the environment that way. Grapes are also great this way.

4. Artichoke & Heart of Palm salad.  The way this one is packaged is genius- no leaky dressings! And no meat or cream to go bad in the heat.

5. Shelled edamame. Fantastic snack food, high in protein, low in fat.  Lots of energy in these guys.

6. Indian dishes packed like space food.  Fellow field tech Gregg pointed me in the direction of these awesome, flavor-packed dishes. They have been a field staple ever since.  These go great with #7- whole wheat flour tortillas.

Source: Archaeo Field Tech's Kitchen

7. Hand-made whole wheat flour tortillas. These aren’t always available, the regular whole wheat flour tortillas are a good substitute.

8. Mozzerella & kalamata olive salad. This one isn’t packed as well as the previous salad, but it won’t leak liquids- which is key. The problem with this one is really that it has cheese in it- which pushes that saturated fat content up pretty high. What do you do? Don’t eat the cheese!

9. Cooked vegetables in tupperware!  How do you cook vegetables in a motel room?  I recommend buying either frozen veggies and making use out of that microwave.  Frozen veggies are available at most (all?) grocery stores nation wide.

10. Chickenless Chicken- works great in wraps and sandwiches!  Keeps better than real chicken too!

I have it on good authority (from fellow field techs Tad & Jennifer) that  St. Dalfour’s canned goods are delicious and nutritious, and check it out- fork attached!  These require planning, because you have to order them online.


What foods don’t work?

1. Bananas.  There are too many sharp things in my backpack for a banana to survive the day. It ends up bruised, broken and mushy.

2. Peaches- for the same reason. Although they survive better if you wrap them in a paper towel and eat them early in the day.

3. Fast food.  This stuff is high in saturated fat and sodium, so if you plan on eating it all day you’ll end up feeling like shit. Sure it’s quick, easy to pick up on the way to the site, but it’s not going to provide the energy you need to do anything. You’ll most likely end up feeling sick all day.

4. Chicken salad/tuna salad/mayonnaise.  These are okay in the winter, when it’s cold and the world acts like a refrigerator. In the spring, summer and fall- no dice. They spoil.

5. Yogurt- turns to liquid, a consistency that I personally can’t stand.  Also- it can pop and get all over everything- see 1. Bananas.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional nutritionist.  I am a professional archaeologist.  I do not presume to know anything about nutrition or what will or will not work for you.

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America’s Parks

Two scathing reviews of the National Park Service’s approach to its historical resources were published recently:

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, The Organization of American Historians

The State of America’s National Parks, The National Parks Conservation Association

In local news:

Source: Antelope Valley Indian Museum

In case you didn’t know, 70 California state parks are slated for impending closure. One Huffington Post article posits that this closure plan somehow forgot to include the treatment, packing, transportation and storage, of the thousands of artifacts these parks curate, including the two artifacts depicted here.

Source: Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Update: In response to the park closures, reduction in funding to the NPS and the state of cultural resources within parks in general, a select number of universities are offering a new certificate program entitled Leadership for Public Lands and Cultural Heritage!

The Leadership for Public Lands and Cultural Heritage Program began in January, 2011 with a class of 14 students. These students will be graduating from the program in May, 2012. Next year’s program is currently on hold, but hopefully it will start up again in the future.

The program’s curriculum was created by the universities involved in conjunction with the  National Park Service, the Center for Park Management and the National Park Conservation Association.  At least one of the professors was previously (or is currently) employed by the National Park Service. The majority of the students are also currently National Park Service employees. The program is taught mostly online, with only 1 week required in residence, allowing students to work and pursue the degree/certificate at the same time.

Thanks to Matt Wolf from the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands Support for answering all my questions!

Another Update (4/26/2012):  George McKale and The Olompali People are trying to save Olompali State Historic Park, which is just north of San Francisco.  The park hosts 6 Coast Miwok archaeological sites, some of which date back 8000 years!  The park is also home to some great hiking and a recreated Coast Miwok village.

Source: The Olompali People

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The Solutrean Solution & North American Sloth

Another proponent of the Solutrean Solution.

Does anyone have any thoughts on Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford’s new book?  I’m not a fan of the Solutrean Solution, but if the evidence is there, I’m willing to listen. Do they have the evidence to back up this wild claim?

As well as hunting sloths in North America.

Now this is cool.

Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Also- check out this take on the new evidence for sloth-hunting.

Here’s a hint as to the topic:


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