The Grand Challenges for Archaeology: A Blogging Carnival


A few years ago I participated in a Blogging Archaeology Carnival organized by Doug Rocks-Macqueen, a man whose surname manages to combine aspects of both lithic analysis and 1970s British rock. The carnival tasked participants with answering one question per month, beginning in November 2013 and culminating with a “Blogging Archaeology” session at the 2014 SAAs. It also launched an associated edited volume, which is open access and available here. The questions posed in 2013/2014 were as follows (with my own answers linked):

  1. Why blogging? – Why did you start a blog? Why are you still blogging?
  2.  What do you consider to be the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging?
  3. What are your best and worst post(s), and why? 
  4.  Where are you going with blogging, or where would you it like to go?


This year Doug decided kickstart a more focused one-month blogging carnival, revolving around the theme of “Grand Challenges for Archaeology”. The idea stems from a forum in the January 2014 issue of American Antiquity. The forum tasked fifteen archaeologists with refining crowd-sourced survey data to determine the 25 “grand challenges” of archaeology as a discipline. Importantly, the project was intended to “to inform decisions on infrastructure investments for archaeology. Our premise is that the highest priority investments should enable us to address the most important questions.”

The American Antiquity survey sparked some debate online due to the low response rate it garnered from younger archaeologists (see SEAC Underground for the most holistic coverage of the issue, and my own ” The Grand Challenge of Archaeology: Getting young people to respond to a survey, apparently” for a snarkier perspective). Doug is now taking the carnival opportunity to solicit feedback from a wider range of voices. This month, he posed the question: What are the grand challenges facing YOUR archaeology?going on to specify that “it is up to you to define what ‘your archaeology’ is. It can be highly specific to time and place. It can be the grand challenges for the archaeology of Aberdeen-shire between 1723-1746. Or it can be as broad as you want i.e. the looting of archaeology around the world. It can be about the profession i.e. pay, job prospects, etc. It can be as many or as few grand challenges as you want. It is all up to you.”

There have been some great posts of late that have been focused on contemporary archaeological problems, from Jake Lulewicz’s piece on the ethics of social media and archaeology, to Sian Halcrow’s descriptions of the obstacles specific to women in archaeology (particularly mothers), and Andy White’s persistent tenacity in combatting pseudoarchaeology and pseudoscience in a very public fashion.

However, what first leapt to my mind when thinking about the challenges facing archaeology was diversity. Even the word itself is divisive; some scholars reject it outright because of its ability to gloss over deeply entrenched structural racism in favor of a feel-good mentality propped up with buzz-words like “inclusivity” and vague promises of “celebrating cultural difference”. In using it here, I am referring to the fact that in North America and the UK, archaeology is an incredibly homogenous field, and archaeologists have remarkably homogeneous identities when it comes to their race, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities.

Salon – Diversity is for white people

Ellen Berrey,  the sociology professor who penned the aforementioned “Diversity is for white people” for, dislikes the term diversity because “it’s how we talk when we can’t talk about race.” Archaeology in the U.S. does have a widespread and undeniable race problem –as Doug Rocks-Macqueen has pointed out “archaeology [is] disproportionately white.” He notes that “our audiences are not very diverse either, they tend to be middle class, older, and white.

This pattern was made abundantly clear in the results of the 1994 Society for American Archaeology census, now over 20 years old. Melinda Zeder, who analyzed the results of the survey, writes “for a discipline dedicated to the study of human diversity over the ages, American archaeology is starkly homogeneous in its own ethnic makeup (Figure 2.7). Of the 1,644 individuals who responded to this part of the Census, 1,470 (89 percent) reported that they were of European ancestry, two were African American, 4 were of Asian heritage, 15 were Hispanic (with 5 coming from Latin American countries) and 10 people classified themselves as Native Americans. One hundred and forty-two individuals (9 percent) classified their ethnic heritage as “Other,” and most of these were Canadians who objected, reasonably, to being classified as “European American,” … Eliminating this “Other” group from our sample, we see then that a full 98% of the respondents claim European heritage“(Zeder 1997:13).

Figure 2.7 from Zeder 1997

Aside from the amusingly offended Canadians, the census painted a troubling picture of a discipline that is almost entirely white. The SAA has yet to conduct another census on the 1994 level, but its 2010 Needs Assessment Survey suggested that the number of minority archaeologists is slowly growing, with respondents identifying as members of groups  other than “non-Hispanic white” having increased to sixteen percent. However, Diane Gifford-Gonzalez and Anna Agbe-Davies underscore that “absent significant new recruitment, 10 years from now, the membership of the society will probably still be predominantly white, with even higher proportions of this ethnic group among its senior leadership. Viewed in the context of the 2010 demographic profile for U.S. K-12 students, the disparity between SAA membership and societal composition may become more pronounced in two decades“(Gifford-Gonzalez and Agbe-Davies 2012:12).

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 9.56.17 PM

Writing about his experience as an African-American archaeologist working in the U.S., Bill White notes that the number of black archaeologists has increased since 1994, but only slightly – “Today…I personally know at least nine African American archaeologists – five of whom are PhD students…There were at least 13 black archaeologists in attendance at [the Society for Black Archaeologists meeting] in Baltimore, so I guess our numbers are so large I don’t personally know all of us anymore.” That White expected that he would personally know all of the black archaeologists in America is jarring, particularly for anyone who has witnessed the hordes of practitioners (84% of whom are “non-Hispanic white” archaeologists) congregating at the SAAs every year.

To bring my discussion back to Berrey’s point about diversity, I’m not using the term here to deny differential access to professional archaeology that is clearly based on race. Unfortunately, I feel the need to use the term “diversity” because there are also other identities, and often overlapping identities, that are poorly represented in professional archaeology including women, LGBTQ individuals, and people with disabilities. This is not an archaeological iteration of “all lives matter” – academics who are people of color face a slew of unique and terrible obstacles within the academy. For eloquent and eye-opening descriptions of these sorts of battles, I recommend following Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on twitter (@IBJIYONGI), reading  Kiese Laymon’s “My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK“, and Ta Nehisi Coates’ “Acting French” (and really reading anything that Coates has ever written). My point is that archaeology still needs to do better at incorporating a number of identities that differ from the “middle class, older and white” disciplinary norm.


I’ll touch upon some of these here. Women have been consistently underrepresented in archaeology since its beginnings (see Mike Pitts’ defensive post describing publishing statistics in British Archaeology in 2008/2009, and the results of the AAA survey in 1998). Recent anthropological research has underscored that this may be partially related to the dangers of sexual harassment, particularly in field-based contexts (see the famous SAFE survey, or the SEAC sexual harassment survey, both published in the last two years). In his 2014 series of posts on disability in archaeology, Doug Rocks-Macqueen covers the low number of professional archaeologists with disabilities (2%), and the many reasons archaeologists may be reluctant to disclose such disabilities, touching upon his own experience with speech issues and dyslexia.  Alison Atkin has written four thought-provoking posts titled “Silence in the Cemetery” (Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV) that center on her experiences navigating academic archaeology with hearing loss.

I was unable to find any statistics on LGBTQ representation in American archaeology, though the SAA has recently developed QAIG, the Queer Archaeology Interest Group, and Chelsea Blackmore and Dawn Rutecki cite a need to “[bring] together individuals interested in sexuality studies and other forms of queer research, [highlight] the problems experienced by members of our community, and [address] pedagogical issues important to LGBTQI students” (2014:18). In this vein it’s worth mentioning that Sarah Bess has a great recent post on her first experience of attending an archaeological conference as an out trans womanlgbtq_ally
So, several hundred words later, my answer to Doug’s question is that diversity, or perhaps more appropriately homogeneity, is one of the grand challenges currently facing archaeology. As anthropologists, understanding what it means to be human from a variety of perspectives is part and parcel to our disciplinary mission statement. It’s hard to see how we can achieve an informed understanding of human behavior without scholars representing the scope of human variability. This is not a problem with quick, simple, or cheap solutions. However, a key first step is being aware that the challenge exists and working to develop strategies to overcome it. Recent SAA initiatives like the Historically Underrepresented Groups Scholarship Fund and QAIG suggest that it is a challenge that archaeologists are at least beginning  to address.

I want to conclude with the words of the far more eloquent Bess, who writes:

Those of us with the power to speak out and the privilege to be heard need to speak out, but we also need to listen. As much as the academy has conditioned us to love the sounds of our own voices, as hard as it may be for an anthropologist to shut up, we need to listen. We need to amplify those voices that might not be heard on their own. We need to make sure that this dialogue resounds at all levels: at field sites and in labs, in the classroom, in barrooms, at SEAC, at SAA, at AAA”.

Image Credits: Blogging Archaeology header found here. Cat on computer found here. Figure 2.7 is a screenshot from Zeder 1997. Banner from the Society of Black Archaeologists from their website, here. Banner from TrowelBlazers from their website, here.

Blackmore, C., and D. Rutecki. (2014). Introducing the Queer Archaeology Interest Group: Who We Are and Why We Need Your Support. The SAA Archaeological Record 14(5):18-19. — full issue available online here. LGBTQ ally banner found here.

Gifford-Gonzalez, D., and A. S. Agbe-Davies (with assistance from T. Tung). (2012). The SAA’s Historically Underrepresented Groups Scholarship Fund. The SAA Archaeological Record. 12 (5):11-16). — full issue available online here.

Zeder, M. (1997). The American Archaeologist: A Profile. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira.

Posted in Archaeology, Blogging | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Minding the gaps: A methodological approach to inter-individual variability in skeletal completion


Four and a half years ago, in summer 2011, I took the Kampsville Bioarchaeology and Human Osteology lab course through ASU. The class is an intensive osteological bootcamp, and though I’d previously taken an introductory osteology course at Michigan, the immersive Kampsville approach cemented my love of bioarchaeology and honed my ability to analyze fragmentary remains. In addition to the methodological training, I made some amazing friends who I still see at conferences, and learned new things about my own physical and mental limits. I vividly recall sleeping in the lap and getting up at 430 to make coffee and get a few hours of analysis in before breakfast during the last two weeks of project crunch time; good times.

Early morning view of the mighty Illinois
 At the time I was particularly interested in examining how health and social identity intersected in prehistory, and how that intersection changed over time relative to changes in subsistence practice and social organization. I used the data I collected that summer to develop the framework of my predoctoral paper, returning in October 2011 to analyze another twenty individuals and increase my sample size.

I submitted the predoctoral paper in September 2013, and since then have been busy with another minor program requirement called a “dissertation”, which has entailed a lot of gallivanting around in southern Spain, taking photographs of teeth, and trawling the methodological literature on dental analysis. In the interim the paper has undergone multiple rounds of revisions, and required me to learn more about the Middle Woodland than I thought I would ever need to as a European archaeologist (though, as Bob Chapman has astutely pointed out, there are some pretty compelling parallels between the Middle Woodland and European Prehistory). Its final incarnation is as more of a methodological paper. I was curious as to whether there is any significant relationship between skeletal completion and insult preservation (spoiler: there is), and I also came up with a simple statistical strategy for dealing with the fact that individuals with more bones or teeth preserve higher numbers of insults.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.03.04 AM I’m excited that the paper is finally out. I’ve posted a pdf on my page (link below):

If you’re interested in bioarchaeological methodology, or the Middle and Late Woodland, or amazing maps of the American Midwest that only took three and half hours to make because I am bad at GIS, then you may find this worth a read.

Posted in Bioarchaeology, Data Collection, Osteology, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Osteology Everywhere: College Bar Edition

This past Monday night I grabbed a pitcher* with a friend at a local watering hole. After a long day of grappling with histograms of canine metrics, I felt that some time apart from bones in any form was well-warranted:

But of course there was a hamate in my beer. Sigh. Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something again.


*Technically pitchers, plural. But we were really using the beer as incentive to work on some pesky manuscript revisions, so I feel that they were justified.

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Osteology Everywhere: Elephant Edition

My life has been dominated by pachyderms of late because I’ve spent the last two and a half weeks  in Thailand. In late December, I visited real elephants for the first time at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai,  where I had one of the best days in recent memory. Instead of the traditional elephant ride, we started the trip by feeding the elephants bananas and sugarcane, gave them a “mud spa”, and then rinsed off in the river. Elephants are basically big dogs – they’re extremely social, friendly with humans, frequently covered in dirt and the younger ones… well, they don’t yet have fine-tuned motor control.


Elephants are considered good luck in Thailand, so if you visit you’re sure to be bombarded by megafaunal iconography. Elephants abound, represented on t-shirts, pants, and pillowcases, and replicated in amulets, statues and jewelry. However, my favorite instantiation of the elephant motif was found at Asiatique, a riverfront area of shops and restaurants in Central Bangkok that is swarming with tourists.


Phanda, by Note Dudesweet

This year Asiatique is playing host to an “Elephant Parade” of 88 hand-painted elephants that are being auctioned off to raise money for The Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation. Perusing the shops and food stands, you run into elephants at every turn. Unsurprisingly, my favorite was called “Nicha.”


The artist drew inspiration from elephant anatomy when creating the piece. Some of the anatomy is a little off (elephants do not have massive, bony ears, for example):


However, I like the thought of being inspired by how bones “hold animals up,” especially animals as large as elephants.


Also, I’ve realized that it reminds me of some of the trippy elephants from the dream sequences in Dumbo, a movie I otherwise haven’t thought about in a good decade and a half.

Dumbo dream elephants
Hopefully, the combination of bones and elephants will bring me luck in the New Year. Has anyone else found any skeletally-themed animal artwork that they find particularly impressive? If so, feel free to share in the comments!

Image Credits: Elephant skeleton found at Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, here. Dumbo gif found here.

Posted in Osteology Everywhere, Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Bone Broke Year in Review 2015


Incidentally, 2015 also marked the my first hands-on experience with elephants. It was magical.

2015 was a year of firsts. It was the first time I spent the summer in Ann Arbor, rather than the field. It marked my first experience solo teaching my own class, the summer session Science of Skeletons. I also began applying for jobs and post-docs, started working for the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, got my first car, and wrote the bulk of my dissertation. It was a busy time, which is reflected in this year’s lower post count, particularly in the late summer and early winter. My goals for the upcoming year are to have some of the work that I put into 2015  come to fruition – defend my dissertation, get a job or post-doc, keep blogging regularly, and hopefully finally get my pesky Pop-Tart addiction under control. How often do normal people eat Pop-Tarts? Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Advice here is welcome.

2015 was the year that I decided to only participate in conferences held in cities named after religious figures. Fortunately I was able to attend both the AAPAs in St. Louis, and the SAAs in San Francisco. At the SAAs I gave a talk on my dissertation research, and experimented with screen-casting talks  so that people could hear what I had to say, even if they didn’t attend the conference. This ground-breaking approach to conference presentations clearly took the world by storm, as the video has has a whopping 64 views on youtube (sigh – I’ll try again next year).  In San Francsico I also presented a poster with my esteemed colleague Katherine Kinkopf. Our work on the bioarchaeology of looting, borne out of Katherine’s undergraduate honors thesis, is particularly exciting as we’ve recently submitted it to the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Katie Kinkopf (L) and Jess Beck (R)

Katie and I in front of our poster in San Francisco. We have both clearly mastered the bent lateral arm pose.

In May I was quoted in a peer-reviewed publication  after Kristina Killgrove and Katy Meyers-Emery interviewed me and other likeminded bloggers for a piece they wrote on blogging and bioarchaeology. Later that month, I moved to the North Quad basement to begin working on my dissertation (and consuming massive amounts of popcorn) for 30 hours a week as part of the Sweetland Dissertation Writing Institute. I quickly grew weary of being trapped underground when the world outside was full of bright summer sunshine – there are reasons I made the early decision not to pursue cave archaeology – but I made significant progress on my dissertation, and made a lot of new friends in other disciplines who have provided an invaluable support network in the first trying year of applying for jobs. While in the basement, I took a quick break to send out a missive encouraging readers to support SBE NSF funding, before immediately delving back into the cursed dissertation.

During the second half of the summer term I taught, which is why there is a steep drop-off in posts during in July and August. I was busy developing exciting new ways to make sure my students became as obsessive about osteology as I am. One of these involved using PlayDoh as a teaching tool, a great way to get students to appreciate the three-dimensional knowledge necessary for navigating the human skeleton. Autumn ended on a high note as my chapter Part of the Family: Age, Identity and Burial in Copper Age Iberia  was finally published in the edited volume Theoretical Approaches to Analysis and Interpretation of Commingled Human Remains.


Since I’m unsure of where I’ll wind up next year, I devoted a lot of time this year to outreach, largely in the form of public talks. I kicked off the year in September by giving an introductory talk on bioarchaeology to the Huron Valley chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society, who were the most engaged and appreciative audience I’ve had in a long time. Only one person fell asleep! In October, I presented a brown bag at the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, describing some of the methodological conundrums posed by fragmentary, 5,000 year old human remains. I attempted to be a devout four-field anthropologist in November by giving a Four-Field Graduate Talk to an audience of my archaeological, biological, linguistic and cultural peers . Finally, at Archaeology Day at the Ruthven Museum of Natural History, Abagail Breidenstein and I had the opportunity to test the bioarchaeology outreach activity stations we developed in the Biological Anthropology Graduate Students group at the University of Michigan.


Osteology and Anatomy
In 2015 I crafted a number of osteology and anatomy guides that I’d had sitting on the mental back burner for quite some time. These included a palpable anatomy post about the Palmaris longus tendon, and guides to identifying and siding the radius, metacarpals, tibia and hamate. I also organized my osteology posts so that they are more easy to navigate. They’re now all arranged by anatomical region on a page titled Osteology + Anatomy Tips, that can be found under the Resources tab. I must admit, the osteology post I am most proud of is Hip hip hooray: Orienting and identifying features of the os coxae because now Caroline VanSickle can no longer nag me about the lack of pelvis posts on this blog.


Osteology Everywhere
As I mentioned, this year was the first time I spent the summer in Michigan, and no doubt due to all of the teaching and dissertating I saw osteology everywhere, from orange peels to summer sidewalks, Ikea, Target, and local breweries. I also caught a few skeletally-themed displays  on my travels through airports, in Madison, and in the Mission in San Francisco. I of course also spotted the brief osteological cameo in one of my favorite guilty pleasure tv shows: the ever entertaining Scandal.


“Harrison, can’t you see I’m trying to examine this metatarsal using these tweezers? I don’t have time to talk to you!”

Bioarchaeological Vocab and Bone Quizzes
I road tested a new category of posts this year, writing a series of short definitions of important bioarchaeological vocabulary. These covered key anatomical terms, regions, and features (nutrient foramen, glenoid fossa, splanchnocranium), paleopathology (caries), anatomical movements (supination, abduction and adduction) as well as an introduction to bio- and geochemical approaches in bioarchaeology (isotopes). Looking back on all of this year’s posts, I realized that I only gave three bone quizzes, asking you to identify a dirt-covered tarsal, estimate a dental MNI, and use a single feature to ID an extremely small fragment of bone. I suppose that one of my 2016 resolutions should be to write more bone quizzes.


Anthropological Miscellanea
Finally, I incorporated a few posts about archaeology into my osteology obsessed world. I helped distribute a survey for an archaeologist in the Netherlands that examined the relationship between public archaeology and blogging. I tried to provide a clear answer for the oft-asked question  “how do archaeologists find sites?” I publicized the fascinating research of some of my closest friends from grad school  in a post on the Homo naledi discovery, and finally, and most importantly, I told you all what you should get your archaeology friends for Christmas.

All told 2015 has been a hectic, but productive, year. I am to keep blogging regularly in the 2016, so if you have any ideas for any posts you would find useful feel free to post suggestions in the comments. In the mean time, HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Image Credits: Photo of Katie and I standing in front of our poster is courtesty of E.Nelson, photos of playdoh making courtesy of Z. Cofran. Pelvis post images of mouse lemur found here and alien found here. Scandal screenshot taken from episode 3×19, on Netflix. Thor abducting his arm while holding Mjölnir found here, Thor adducting his arm while looking pensive found here. All other images my own.

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Top Ten Christmas Gifts for Archaeologists

This time of year the internet abounds with practical suggestions for gifts, no matter what your hobbies. Ailurophile? How about some Taylor Swift cat sneakers? Kitchen novice? What about a bagel-slicer? Wealthy scion of Hollywood elite? You’re clearly in the market for some $125,000 gold-plated dumbells. In keeping with the spirit of last year’s Top Ten Christmas Gifts for Osteologists, I have assembled a list of slightly more practical gifts for the archaeologically inclined. To provide suggestions appropriate for fieldwork in multiple regions, I assembled a crack team of archaeological consultants focusing on projects ranging from kayak survey (Anna) to household excavation (Shooby) and experimental caribou procurement and processing (the Alaskan, obviously). Unlike my osteology items, all of these gifts have an exceedingly practical bent, and double as appropriate presents for any outdoorsy campers or travelers your might know. If you’re an archaeologist reading and have other suggestions, feel free to include them in the comments section!Archaeological Consultants

1) Dry sack
In the field you find yourself torn between wanting to have all of your equipment with you, while making sure none of your gear gets destroyed by the elements. My solution to this problem has been to rely on dry sacks to protect my equipment. These are particularly useful for making sure electronics (GPS units, cell phones, watches, etc.) don’t get wet or dirty. I’ve always bought the one liter Sea to Summit models as these pack down easily and are the perfect size for cellphones, wallets, and small field notebooks. I’m still mourning the loss of my favorite dry sack (bright yellow, and impossible to lose) that disappeared when I lent it to a friend for fieldwork.
Price: $11.95 (1L) – $24.95 (35L)
Link: Can be purchased through Summit Hut, here.

dry sack

2) Field Scarf
I first realized the utility of an all-purpose field scarf when I bought my first keffiyeh on a survey project in Jordan in 2008. During a particularly long stint at a sinkhole when some keys got locked in the trunk of our car, I used it variously as a means of keeping the sun out of my eyes, a scarf, and later that night, as a blanket. Bree also recommended a multi-purpose field garment, noting that Buffs are “great for keeping your locks out of your eyes, the sweat off your forehead, or the dust out of your nose and mouth, depending on how you wear it.  And it doubles as a handy lunch placemat!”
Price: $10-20, depending on color.
Link: You can buy a Buff at REI here.


3) Thermos
I’ve worked on a few projects when you’re up at God-awful hours because of local summer temperatures and field schedules. In those instances, having a reliable, relatively indestructible travel mug for morning tea or coffee has been a lifesaver. Something easy to wash and unlikely to break is a must. I like the Contgio thermoses because they have a locking mechanism that prevents inadvertent spillage if you stash them in your bag (though if your belongings are already in a dry sack, you’l likely be safe either way).
Price: $21
Link: My favorites are from Contigo, here.contigo
4) Insulated Camelbak
My friend Anna spends summers bushwacking and kayaking her way through the wilderness  Willapa Bay. When I asked her what her top Christmas gift would be, she described “an insulated Camelbak” that would keep beverages warm while she was dragging sea kayaks through muck. Camelbaks are useful in warmer climes as well – I know people who have conducted fieldwork in the American Southwest have also relied on Camelbaks , where they burned through several liters of water per day while traversing the rugged desert landscape.
Bonus: Camelbak makes a model called the “bootlegger”, if you decide you need some fortified beverages on hand. I would not recommend this for precision profile cutting or wall straightening.
Price: Insulated models ranges from $55- $130
Link: Can be purchased at Camelbak, here.
camelbak5) Outdoor Gear Membership
When I set off for a summer of fieldwork in northern Italy a few years back I purchased most of my gear at Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Montreal. The American version of MEC is REI. Shooby is as enthusiastic about the American store as I am about the Canadian – “I can never emphasize enough how useful an REI membership is. Only $20 and the returns policy is clutch for when fieldwork gear or attire doesn’t hold up. (As I found out in Arizona when a cactus thorn ripped my pants and I had to “fix” them with black duct tape.  They still took them back and gave me a full refund).”
Price: Lifetime membership to REI is $20, membership at MEC is $5.
Link: Purchase a membership for REI here; MEC gift cards are available here.

6) Field Knife
When I did my field school in Finland, the director explained that most Finnish men carried their own knives called “puukos,” and I soon witnessed the utility of this particular piece of field gear first hand. Bree concurs, noting that these Kershaw knives are “great for pesky roots and cutting off slices of summer sausage and cheese.”
Price: $65
Link: Can be purchased through REI here.
knife7) Speakers
I once worked on a project in North Carolina where radio reception was  so poor that our options were often limited to the local Christina channel, or to a popular country station. Things got so bad that at one point during the summer we were able to differentiate between the “good” song about fishing” and the “bad” song about fishing. So that you’re not trapped in the same (fishing) boat, I suggest gifting your favorite archaeologist a pair of portable speakers. As Shooby describes “I like how the crew learns new music from each other. Plus time goes by faster with good tunes. ” I would recommend purchasing a brightly colored set, so that they don’t get lost in the back dirt pile.
Price: $25
Link: Can be purchased on Amazon, here.
speakers8) Bandana
When you don’t want to sully your field scarf, but have trowels to wipe down  or sweat to dab from your brow, a bandana is the perfect substitute. I always keep a red one tied to the top of my backpack, making it readily at hand while ensuring that my backpack is easy to spot, even in tall grass. Avoid the white ones.
Price: $7 for three.
Link: You can buy a three-pack at Amazon, here. Technically these are “men’s bandanas,” but given that Levi’s does not appear to market “women’s bandanas,” these will have to do.
bandana9) Spade
I once went to a hardware store in northern Michigan to pick up shovels with an all-female crew. An old man watched us carting several loads worth of equipment out of the store before drawling “You ladies havin’ a plantin’ party?” To ensure that your friends aren’t subjected to similarly archaic and backwards comments about women digging, why not gift them a shovel?  Shooby has some specific recommendations: “I LOVE my Blue Hawk short-handle spade, which I used all the time to cut sod for new units and clean walls really quickly.  One of my volunteers from Burnsville gave me one for Christmas 2013 and it was the BEST gift I got that year.  But that was very specific to me and my clay-heavy soils.”
Price: $15
Link:  Can be purchased at Lowe’s, here.
spade 10) Reuseable utensils
These Swedish Light my Fire sporks are great for field breakfasts and lunches, and the plastic utensils are wonderfully handy for airport and train travel as well. The only issue with the plastic sporks is that they can snap down the middle, so if you’re looking for a heavier duty version I might try the titanium.
Price: $3 for the plastic version, $15 for the titanium
Link: Both plastic and titanium are available for purchase from REI.

Image Credits: All images were taken from the linked websites where materials are available for purchase (except the sporks, which are from Light my Fire). Photos of my “archaeological consultants” acquired via social media stalking.

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Bioarchaeology Outreach Activities


A few weeks ago the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History hosted Archaeology Day, a biannual event during which local middle school classes visit the museum and participate in different activity stations scattered throughout the building. This year, Abagail Breidenstein and I coordinated with Museum staff in order to test out some new bioarchaeological stations, and had a great time identifying bones and estimating the sex of crania with lots of excitable 7th graders.

We developed two new stations for this archaeology day. Abagail used casts of human crania and figures from Buikstra and Ubelaker’s Standards to teach students about how anthropologists can assess the sex of an individual feature using the appearance of the cranium and mandible.
Activity 1 – Male or Female?
I was determined to showcase the horse skull from our Zooarchaeology lab – veteran of many past Archaeology and Behind the Scenes days, and one of my favorite faunal specimens from our archaeology collections. To that end, I put together a station focused on differentiating human and animal bones, that also taught students how to calculate how many people are buried in a given place.
Activity 2 – How many people?
Developing these new activity stations was part of a larger initiative on part of the Biological Anthropology Graduate Students association (BAGS, for short). We are currently aiming to get a number of outreach projects off of the ground, from drawing exchanges between schools all over the world, to giving talks about anthropology research at local schools.

We’re using our new website as a repository for outreach activities and resources. If you’d like a copy of the bioarchaeology activity station handouts and guides, they are available for download here on our outreach page:

If you have suggestions for further outreach activities, or are looking for advice on running your own museum day, feel free to contact any of the BAGS Exec.

On that note, Happy Thanksgiving! May your long weekend (and mine) be filled with several pounds of sugar.

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