Unwritten Rules of Archaeology – A Blognanza!

A reliable source of blog posts both thought-provoking and entertaining, Tracy C. Brown posed the following question at Archaeology in Tennessee: what are the unwritten rules of professional archaeology? Oh. Man. This could be great fun indeed! In fact, the perhaps tongue-and-cheek unwritten rule mentioned in this post rang so true for me that I laughed aloud: “Professional archaeologists we do not already know and love need to call first and make an appointment because it makes us damned nervous when such colleagues show up suddenly and unannounced.” Preach! Give me a chance to clean up those profiles, and perhaps more importantly, to think of something more cogent to say about the ongoing excavation than “screening clay is the woooorst.”

Doug at Doug’s Archaeology has since offered a few rules of his own, including the disciplinary dedication the the Marshalltown trowel. There might be a few other archaeo-blogs out there adding to the list (if so, please share links in the comments!), and word on the street is that Tracy will be offering up a full compilation of rules next month. Has SEAC Underground anything to contribute? Off the top of my head, and in no particular order:

(1) Stay the hell away from the edge of an excavation unit. Like, a couple of feet away, at least, at all times. Collapsing a profile is even worse than screening clay.

(2) In inclement weather, better the crew gets soaked than the units. When the wind picks up and the sky darkens, grab a tarp, drag it over, tack it down, and make it snappy. AFTER you have secured all of the paperwork and/or electronic equipment safely out of the elements, of course. If you follow this rule, it probably will be raining on your face; you may or may not be crying; but the archaeology will survive.




(3) Fieldschool — gotta have it. A couple of years ago I met an undergrad who was a total rock star in the archaeology classroom. Unfortunately, he was also a student athlete, meaning all of his summers in college were taken up by sports practice; he could never fit in a field school. This proved a major challenge for him looking for a job in archaeology after graduation. At the end of the day, coursework only gets you so far; you need to get experience in the field, and that starts with a fieldshool. And, just as important, there are plenty of folks who might love classroom/lab archaeology but hate the field. Better find out at a fieldschool and be able to adjust your career planning accordingly, before getting a degree in something you aren’t into.

(4 – inspired by and complementing Tracy’s rule, above) If you have the chance, encourage your colleagues to visit the site and pick their brains. Sometimes, multiple/fresh eyes on an excavation are exactly what is needed to get out of a logistical rut or interpretive challenge. This past week, I visited the Berry site in Morganton, NC, where several my colleagues and mentors are currently excavating the remains of one of the earliest Spanish forts in North America. Apparently, they had just been visited by a handful of experts in Southeastern and early colonial archaeology, and the results of their meetings had shed all sorts of new light on the project (not my place to go into here, but I’m guessing it’ll make an appearance at SEAC-Greenville 2014 if you are interested). In a similar vein, earlier this month I was fortunate to join a group of about 10 other Southeastern archaeologists for the first pilot season of work of what promises to be a long-term research project in west Tennessee (again, something for interested peeps to keep their eyes peeled for at SEAC).



The heat of west Tennessee made tolerable by sweet archaeology and friendship.


This was, hands down, the best week of archaeology that I have ever experienced. Sure, there is always the risk of having too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen, but for my part, I found having so many different skill sets on the site and so many people to think out load with to be a total game changer. My sense is that archaeology, at least research-based archaeology in the American South, has not always been so pro-collaboration, but I think in 2014, “taking advantage of an archaeo-hivemind” is an unwritten rule that could yield stellar results.

Blog co-authors, commentors — what other unwritten rules are there? Pass them along to Tracy at Archaeology in Tennessee, or add some in the comments below!


Postscript — Obviously, things have slowed down on SEAC-U this summer. Between the fieldwork, dissertation defenses, and cross-country moves that several of us have tackled in recent months, the blog has taken an unfortunate backseat. But, we hope this is a temporary slump, and to offer new content in the near future. On that note, we are also thinking of ways to extend the longevity of our largely grad-student-oriented blog now that some of us are, well, no longer graduate students. That’s not to say “we quit!” Rather, if you are a graduate student in Southeastern archaeology (or related fields) and are thinking it might be fun to join our blogging ranks (it is!), give us a shout; we’d love to talk with you! Lacking a blog-wide address, feel free to contact me at wrightap2[at]appstate[dot]edu. Thanks for you patience!


12 comments on “Unwritten Rules of Archaeology – A Blognanza!

  1. dover1952 says:

    Hi Alice. I hope your summer is going great. Thank you very much for the unwritten rules.

    You know how much Shane and I love music. I was thinking what the appropriate theme song might be for this unwritten rules in professional archaeology exercise, which is a bit devilish actually. These words from “The Weight” seemed apropos:

    I picked up my bag and I went lookin’ for a place to hide
    When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
    And I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on, would you like to go downtown?”
    And she said, “Well, I gotta go but my friend can stick around.”

  2. David Cranford says:

    #5- When you visit a summer field project (see #4), you are expected to bring popsicles, especially if you arrive at or after lunch. Any flavor, color, or # of sticks will do. Make sure you have at least one for everyone, more is better.

    • David Cranford says:

      Watermelon is also acceptable, as long as its carved up with a clean trowel.

      • Shane says:

        Yes. Just…yes.

        Depending on the temperature, ice cream sandwiches. One of my favorite archaeology pictures is David Anderson losing a fight with an ice cream sandwich.

    • John Krebs says:

      This is a fact, always, and everywhere not just the southeast. Archaeologists bring tokens like Popsicles to treat the students with, otherwise rethink your visit. Watermelon is also acceptable and appeases the archaeology gods.

  3. dover1952 says:

    Thank you too Ed Henry. Collaboration now. Collaboration forever.

  4. Shane says:

    #6 When you visit someone else’s field school – stay positive, ask the students questions (they are the ones digging, afterall), and don’t be above hauling buckets or screening dirt.

    Or, just simply, don’t be an a-hole.

  5. JB says:

    “Thou shalt not comment derisively on the sharpness of another archaeologist’s trowel or the size of their feet.”

  6. Caryl Anne says:

    I couldn’t agree more that field school is a must when it comes to archaeology. Knowledge will only get you so far within this field! Thanks for sharing your post!

  7. DuVal Lawrence says:

    All good suggestions (gotta remember the Popsicles/icecream next time).

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