Category Archives: Archaeological Survey

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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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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It’s an Oil Field!

Source: A Fellow Archaeologist, Melinda or Jo (I'm not sure!)

Recently I headed out to do some survey in the San Joaquin Valley, the fruit basket of the United States.  The valley also happens to be a prime location for oil, as you can see above. Those are brand-spankin’ new oil pumping units.

You may ask, “Why were you in an oil field?”

The short answer: Section 106 and CEQA and many other regulations that the United States and California have implemented in order to protect their cultural (historic and prehistoric) resources. That was not such a short answer… Here is a book to read all about Section 106 and those other laws. It’s written by Tom King who is an amazing writer.

I guess a shorter answer would be: I was looking for historic and/or prehistoric artifacts.  There were none. Often, in CRM, you don’t find anything, but we always have to look!

Source: archaeofieldtech

I took a photo of the ground for you- that’s where you look for artifacts. And here is a classic survey pose:

Source: archaeofieldtech

Walking with your head down. Staring at the ground, looking for interesting things. There was a ton of chert sitting on the ground out there, sort of interesting. It was non-cultural, and not very good quality- not knappable.

Source: paleoplanet

The darker brown points in this image are chert (the internet failed me- this is the best photo I came up with).  In this image they call this stuff agate. I’ve heard it called both chert and agate- they’re both classified as crypto-crystalline silicates (CCS). I will have to find the chert I saw and get some photos of it.

One final note about surveying in oil fields: you need an H2S monitor, otherwise you might DIE! Archaeology can be a dangerous business.

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