Category Archives: Archaeology Excavation

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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A Snowy Field Season- The First Submission!

The long awaited submission from Richie Cruz. These photos are from his field work up in Sonora, CA. The work was done prior to the construction of a bypass.

Richie says “the milling slick is going to soon covered with a freeway bypass. So these photos are going to be the only evidence of it.  The bypass is going to cover three sites, which is what we excavated. And we spent most of March there.”

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Probing the Ground

And now for some archaeology from the field:

There are many different types of excavation units. The main difference between them is SIZE. How do you determine which kind of unit to use? This is also dependent on SIZE, of the site. Well, maybe not so much size, as type. Digging up a structure is different than digging up a sparse scatter of artifacts (see above).

Source: Scientists at Work Blog, NY Times

Follow the link of that image and you can read all about Takeshi Inomata’s strategy for deciding which types of units to dig at the Mayan site of Ceibal. That link will also bring you to the NY Times’ “Scientists At Work” blog, which is pretty cool.

(*Update- the link for the photo has been fixed.)

Back to units:

You can see that there are two vastly different types of units displayed so far. The first one is called a shovel test probe, or a shovel probe. It is a 25x25cm unit, I think Bill only dug down to about 30cm. Tiny little unit. The second unit is called the “Big Pit” at Ceibal. It is an excavation into a structure at an ancient city. Takeshi Inomata says the reason this unit is so deep is, “because we have to take into consideration Ceibal’s unusually deep sequences of constructions…”

As a CRM field tech, I have yet to dig a unit that large or that deep. I probably will not ever dig a unit like Dr. Inomata’s Big Pit. Instead, I dig lots of little shovel test probes (STPs). STPs are useful in quickly determining the depth and breadth of a site. However, STPs are less precise than a regular 1x1m unit. This is due to their size. It is hard enough to get a good picture of a site from 1×1, in a unit that is 1/4 that size it is almost impossible. An STP can really only tell you about the depth of a site, which is great for management purposes. And that is why CRM field techs dig lots of STPs.

Here is Bill again taking a look at his unit:

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