journal, university

Kindness of others; Detective work

“You will never meet a close-minded archaeologist.”



I should have made a note of where I heard or read this in the past week – it was mentioned, and got stuck in my head.

The people running the Archaeology department are some of the kindest teaching staff I’ve ever met. Whenever a student made a mistake and said sorry, more than once I heard, “No! Don’t apologise! You are learning!” And all of them are so nice that I just want to buy all of them weeks’ worth of beers, although you are not supposed to drink on archaeological field trips.*

April’s field school did indeed support the idea that archaeologists are very open as people**. It has been both refreshing and comforting. My experience of teachers throughout uni has now officially been the full range of let’s-belittle-students-until-they-cry (this was elsewhere), to the above.

Bless good folk!


These are a handful more other things we did at field school:

Pedestrian Surveying is literally walking in a row with your team mates, and scanning the ground for man-made objects with your eyes.

• We sieved through buckets and buckets and buckets of dirt, clay, and rocks, and every time we found even a tiny item of interest, they went into bright containers labelled Metal, Glass, Ceramic and Other. This bit was hard work…

Here is an old bone from an ovine (sorry, fellow vegos). Turns out the land in O’Halloran’s estate was often used for cropping and farming. A morbidly fascinated part of me wondered if there would be any forensic archaeology of 90-year-old crime at this field school, but no, it was just sheep.


These trays got taken to the Artefact Processing station, where absolutely hundreds of tiny bits of human-made objects were catalogued into Excel Spreadsheets, and we practiced being magpie-accountant hybrids.

I saw first-hand how a lot of detective work goes in to analysing little bits of items that are found.

Good times!

One more interesting idea that I came across while doing assignments is that police, forensic scientists and archaeologists all seek to reconstruct human actions by looking at things and/or bodies left behind – the time periods are generally thought of as different, but the principles are the same. This was mentioned in a paper by Dr Soren Blau.


How is your week? Do you think the things around your house reveal some telling things? What has your experience with teachers been like?

Photos: all mine.

*For safety reasons, as levels of sobriety and the incidence of falling into trenches are inversely related, probably.

**I realised, paradoxically, a truly open archaeologist may be open to the idea of there being a close-minded archaeologist.


22 thoughts on “Kindness of others; Detective work

    • Thanks for your comment! It was a fantastic experience. It was indeed a real site – the project managers were looking for evidence of what 19th Century colonial Australia was like in that area.


  1. This is fascinating stuff and it reminds me of my childhood dreams of being an archaeologist/paleontologist, wandering around the farm looking for evidence of lost civilizations (and maybe dino bones!). There were artifacts such as arrowheads, pottery shards, and even evidence of a stone foundation of a centuries-old Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) dwelling, but that was about it (no dino bones, alas). Still, even now, archaeology holds my interest, and I appreciate your sharing your adventures with us. Exciting stuff. 🙂

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  2. Well, according to the laws here, items that are found on private land can stay with the landowner if desired, but items found on public lands must be left undisturbed and should be reported to authorities (such as the BLM–Bureau of Land Management) so archaeologists can investigate and collect them. The arrowheads–the few I found over the years–stayed with me. The pottery shards were all quite small, but some had painted designs on them. I never found anything whole, like a pot or container. The foundation was barely recognizable as an outline of sandstone rocks arranged in the shapes of a two or three small rectangular “rooms.” Just the rocks were there among the overgrowth of wild grasses, but if you knew what to look for, you could see what it was. Neighboring farms had produced whole pots, arrow and spear heads, and even skulls and other bones. Then there are the people who collected artifacts by stealth-raiding burial grounds on BLM lands or purchased/sold them on the black market (it’s a real thing in this area, with the proliferation of Ancestral Puebloan sites such as Mesa Verde, Hovenweep and Chaco Canyon, to name a few important sites), and those folks were the targets of FBI raids to recover the artifacts and prosecute the offenders. The few items I found on the farm were just some fascinating keepsakes of a past age for me, but had I found anything significant, I’d have most definitely reported it to an archaeologist. There’s a museum nearby that hosts a wide variety of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts (Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado). I actually had one of my nature photographs used by this museum for the cover of a archaeology textbook and as a poster for National Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month in May 2001, and I’ll be posting that image soon on my blog. To see the poster, you can visit this site and scroll down about 2/3 of the page and look for the poster that says “Archaeology and Historic Preservation Month May 2001–that’s mine:

    The museum is a cool place, for sure. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • They sound like really special items and sites. Such a tragedy that people would plunder.

      That is a really neat poster. The arrangement of the elements kind of reminds me of surrealist artwork, and I can see your style of photography in the landscape with the yellow flowers. Well deserving of front page for a textbook!

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  3. Loved the little retrospective of your field work. As for the questions – I’ve got a couple broken ceramic pieces in the garden that I thought looked pretty so perhaps in a hundred years someone might dig them up and wonder about them. Being the daughter of teachers I always had the upmost respect for teachers. Then I got to middle school and I had a horrible teacher – she lasted one year and probably should have been fired halfway through the first semester. I’ve also had marvelous teachers who nurtured my curiosity, stoked the flame of inquiry, and encouraged me to greater efforts and success…

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    • Sounds like a neat find for future generations. Maybe it will be someone who isn’t even born yet – what a trippy thought.

      Sorry to hear about the teacher in middle school. But otherwise… teachers change lives and the world, they do!


  4. Talus, I enjoyed reading about your fieldwork. The enthusiasm in this post had me thinking good for you! You’ve found a career that will bring you happiness and fulfillment! So many people spend their whole lives at jobs they detest! All the best!

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  5. Your teachers sound great –
    When the local museum offered to identify garden finds, one of ours turned out to be a 17th C musket ball – not fired.
    Broken ceramics – some fine bone china, some heavyweight kitchen ware – and
    some shards with an interesting greenish glaze – museum suggested mediaeval.
    but couldn’t be more specific.
    Stone floors, lots of breakages !
    And the head of a tiny china doll – UK dolls used to have fabric bodies, ceramic or wax heads, hands, feet.

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