Tag Archives: personal experiences

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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So You Want to Be an Archaeologist

“We’ll be digging every day, and it’s hot in East Texas. Can you dig 10 STPs in one day?”
“Uhhh, what’s an STP?”

Source: texasrobo via Flickr

That was my first job interview. It took place on the phone with a harried sounding man from Texas. I don’t remember his name, the company, or anything about the project except for “East Texas.” I didn’t take the job.

It could have been a great opportunity. They didn’t care that I had zero experience, and that I didn’t even know what an STP was. They were willing to teach me everything. I didn’t take the job because I thought there would be more opportunities closer to Southern California. Boy was I wrong. (Trying to get a job in a recession=HARD)

For a year and a half I did not get paid to do archaeology. That was a learning experience. I learned that as a recent grad with no real experience as a field tech, you take whatever job is offered.

I wasn’t idle for a whole year and a half though, and I would not recommend anyone who wants a job to have long gaps like that in their resume! To fill up my gaps I continued to work in the Archaeology Lab at USC. I took a class in archaeology at Cal State University Northridge, in which I learned a whole lot of theory and met some awesome people. And I volunteered my time to the cause of archaeology with Passport in Time!

However, none of that really helped me with my next job interview. They needed someone with lots of local regional experience, which I didn’t have. The woman who interviewed me liked me well enough, and she and I even had a common acquaintance, but that didn’t get me the job. It would have been helpful to know beforehand what kinds of questions I would be asked in the interview.

I used the resources available to me to try to figure out how not to bomb my next interview. I Googled “job interviews” and “interview questions.” I came up with lots of links about interviewing for business-y jobs. The only resources I have come across for getting a job in archaeology are Shovelbums, Archaeology Field Work and the Have Trowel Will Travel Guide. If you know of any other resources, please let me know!

I also got in touch with the USC Career Planning and Placement Center. I got some one on one time with Denise Johnson- she is AWESOME. She was very motivating, and opened my eyes to some Alumni resources that I wasn’t exploiting. She helped me rework my CV to a more standardized, easy to read format. And she worked on my cover letter with me. The only problem was that she couldn’t help me with specifics related to a job in archaeology, that didn’t stop her from trying! I do give credit to Denise for helping me get the job I have now. Denise- if you see this- Thank you!

I got lucky with my next job interview. It went something like this:

“Let me pull up your resume… Oh you have GIS experience, they’re looking for someone with that. Can you start tomorrow?”
“Uh, sure!”
“Great, let me get you the office’s phone number.”
The location is pretty close to where I live, only 1.25 hrs! And I’ve been given an opportunity that I don’t think I would have at another company. I work with GIS!

I’m not exactly sure how I was picked for this job. I don’t think it was my GIS experience, I was not initially hired to do mapping. Later my boss implied that it was all because of my references. I don’t think I’ll ever really know for sure.

Now that I am finally employed, there is a book that includes guidelines on how to get a job as an archaeologist.

Source: Amazon.com

The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide is published by Left Coast Press. It markets itself as a book “intended to assist you in learning how to plan for the next five years, write your letter of introduction, construct your resume, and best present the knowledge, skills, and abilities learned in class to prospective employers.” –courtesy of Left Coast Press

Check out the Table of Contents. It’s super comprehensive. It covers all of the topics that I want to know about! Especially “Chapter 8 Letters of Introduction and Reference” and “Section Three: Set Yourself Apart.”

It reminds me of the book I got for myself when I graduated.

Source: MelParkerBooks.com

From B.A. to Payday is a great book, it’s very motivating and supportive- specific to my generation (Generation Y). The only problem is that it is oriented to a business student. There is no information about archaeology, and very little info regarding jobs in the social sciences in general.

I’m very excited about this new book from Left Coast Press, I hope it lives up to its hype. I’ll let you know.

ALSO- If you have an experience you want to share with the world, email me at archaeofieldtech@gmail.com. I want to hear about it!

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Drinking Archaeology

The study of biomolecular archaeology has never been so cool. It’s products: ancient beer re-created for the modern masses. Check it out:

Those are the beers. Here is the man who created them:

His photo links to the event, “Uncorking the Past: Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages” hosted by the Getty Villa on June 4, 2011 at 5pm.

The event begins with a lecture “illustrat[ing] the biomolecular archaeological approach by describing the discovery of the most ancient, chemically-attested alcoholic beverage in the world, dating back to about 7000 B.C.” This drink is from China, and is recreated by Dogfish Head as “Chateau Jiahu.”  The event ends with tastings of the three brews listed above.  Free beer! Almost- the event costs $25. I am certainly going to make my very best attempt to attend. See you 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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Ferocious Wildlife

Local wildlife is often a concern for archaeological field technicians.  In Southern California we have to deal with mountain lions, rattle snakes, tarantulas, etc… These animals can be scary. I saw my first Mojave Green rattlesnake last summer, thankfully it was too cold for it to move much! Tarantulas although not poisonous, will bite you if you get them angry.

The local wildlife here in Lancaster, some will remember, is much tamer.

Chip hiding from the rain/taking a nap in the office.

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