Day of Archaeology in the Southeast

Happy Day of Archaeology, folks! Social media have brought to my attention that today is a day for archaeologists all over the world to share what it is that keeps them busy on the day-to-day. As stated on the official Day of Archaeology website: “The project asks people working, studying or volunteering in the archaeological world to participate with us in a “Day of Archaeology” each year in the summer by recording their day and sharing it through text, images or video on this website.  The resulting Day of Archaeology project demonstrates the wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe, and helps to raise public awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world.”

So, fellow Southeasternists, how are you spending your Day of Archaeology? While I think it is no coincidence that this event takes place in the summertime, when many of us can report on rad, in-progress field work, such is not my luck this year. Rather, my day of archaeology this Friday, July 11, will be spent at the computer (probably with a cat, intermittently), where I hope to make some progress on a handful of projects that are no less the bread-and-butter of archaeology for a young researcher in the field.  These include:

(1) Making a couple of phone calls to research collaborators, in order to close out an existing project and make plans for a new one

(2) Putting together a powerpoint presentation on Old World domestication for this fall’s intro to archaeology course.

(3) Finalizing an abstract for the Cherokee Archaeology Conference in September.

(4) Tackling a nearly-due article review.

(5) Locating, reading, and taking notes on an article or two related to new project, mentioned above.

(6) Brainstorming about a blog post that explores some archaeo method/theory — taking SEAC-U back to our roots!

(7) If I’m being honest, probably heading to the bar around 5 for a beer or two. I mean, it is Friday after all, and I am an archaeologist.


My cat Pisgah -- "helping" me do computer-based archaeology since 2008.

My cat Pisgah — “helping” me do computer-based archaeology since 2008.

In truth, if today is like most days, I will start several of these things, maybe finish one or two, and save the rest for later. My typical days of archaeology pull me in several different though not entirely unrelated directions. To date, I have enjoyed this blend of activity, since it keeps me from getting bored and often results in fresh ideas inspired from one arena (say, an email with a colleague) that I can apply to another (e.g., a lecture scheduled for the fall).

OF COURSE, I do revel in those days of archaeology when I am in the field. Are any of you folks in the field? I hope if you are (or if you aren’t!), you will share what your day of archaeology looks like in the comments — or on the official Day of Archaeology website, if you are so inclined. Full disclosure: on of my main goals in posting about my fairly ho-hum day in the office is to encourage my awesome Southeastern friends and colleagues to share their summer 2014 field/lab/etc. adventures, in order that I (and other readers, including the public!) might live vicariously through you. Hopefully I can return the favor next field season!


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!

Live, on Twitter… SEAC Underground!

Friends, Southeasternists, Countrypeeps,

Per the previous post, we’ve now got our own Twitter “handle” (at least, I think we do… I’m barely sure what a “handle” is, but I think it means “account”). We’d also like to encourage any fellow Twitter/Facebook/social media-users to embrace the hashtag #southeastarch for the sharing of tweets, links, etc. that fit the bill of interest.

SO! Please find and follow us on Twitter at @SEACundergound — there, we’ll be posting links to our own blog updates, as well as links to other news stories, other blogs, etc., relevant to theory, method, and practice in Southeastern archaeology. Keep coming back to the WordPress site for our full length ramblings on the state of theory in the field, ethical implications of archaeological research, and everyone’s favorite rock jocks.

Mississippian panther pot serving as our current Twitter photo. Truly, this is an awesome pot. #catsforever

Mississippian panther pot serving as our current Twitter photo. Truly, this is an awesome pot. #catsforever

For those of you who may just be discovering our little online project, here’s the 411 from our “About” page:

“This blog first started as a series of conversations between graduate students who were just simply interested in what others were doing. Those extended conversations then became the catalyst for a SEAC symposium, which was organized almost entirely using a group Facebook page. There, we posted abstracts, solicited ideas for who to invite as discussants, and shared comments and papers relevant to our research. After the symposium was over, we again polled our cadre of grad students to see what we wanted to do next. A common request was for some sort of online presence, and thus the idea for this blog was born.”

I should emphasize here that SEAC Underground is not officially affiliated with SEAC (the Southeastern Archaeological Conference), beyond the fact that I’m pretty sure all of our regular contributors are members. In other words, the opinions expressed on our blog and on Twitter don’t necessarily reflect the views of the wider organization. Instead, this is a clearinghouse of what we find interesting, what is distracting us from finishing our dissertations, and what appears to be generally going down in southeastern archaeology.

If/when you find us in the Twitterverse, you’ll note that our current profile includes two photos that, in my mind, capture some of the awesomeness of Southeastern archaeology. As for their attribution, the cover photo was snapped by me on  truly absurd roadtrip from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Baton Rouge, Lousiana for the SEAC meeting in 2012.

Guess that mound!

Guess that mound!

Meanwhile, our current profile pic (shown above) comes from Wikimedia Commons, and shows a “ceramic of the Underwater Panther, from the Mississippian culture, 1400 – 1600, found in Rose Mound, Cross County, Arkansas, US. From the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, New York.” No one should be remotely surprised that I chose a cat-like artifact for this picture. That said, if you have better ideas, send them our way (post them on Twitter, or in the comments, or something!), and if they are (1) awesome and (2) have a proper attribution, we can switch it up!

And, in the meantime follow us! And tag #southeastarch! The SEAC meeting only comes once a year, but thanks to the interwebs, and blogs, and Twitter, we can keep the archaeo-fun going all year round. Join the party!


Protecting Eastern Woodlands Archaeology – You Can, Too!

Let me preface this by saying it weirds me out to ask folks for money. In large part, this is because I get weirded out when I get asked for money. Real talk — we’re grad students. We tend to be the opposite of rolling in dough. BUT, on the off chance that any of our readers have a couple of bucks to burn, I want to draw some attention to a pretty incredible, time-sensitive initiative to save what is arguably one of the best preserved earthwork sites in the Eastern Woodlands: the Junction Group in Chillicothe, Ohio.

The Junction group, for sale at auction.

The Junction group, for sale at auction.

Ok, you’re right. On the surface, it’s your typical field. But dig a little deeper, as the saying goes, and you’ve got ditches, embankments, and mounds, oh my! And, unlike many (most?) other Hopewell sites in the southern Ohio, this one has not been torched by development. As such, Junction represents an amazing opportunity to preserve a relatively intact Hopewell site, not only as a font of potential archaeological knowledge, but also a place sacred to ancient Native American peoples.

Subsurface remains of Hopewell monuments at Junction

Subsurface remains of Hopewell monuments at Junction

Anyhow, the Arc of Appalachia and a handful of other non-profits are spearheading a fundraising campaign to purchase Junction off the auction block next week. Their long term plan is to turn the property over the the National Park Service, which administers several archaeological sites under the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. All around, an incredibly valiant effort, worthy of some publicity, and hopefully some monetary support. There you have it.

To help protect Junction, click on over to the Arc of Appalachia.

Certainly, there are bunches and bunches of other archaeological projects and sites worthy of attention, support, and preservation. However things pan out at Junction, I’d encourage any of our readers with an interest in protecting the past to keep their eyes peeled for other grassroots archaeological efforts. Depending on the situation, time, money, and energy provided by volunteers keep our projects going, ensure that our findings reach a wider audience, and hold us accountable to the many stakeholders invested in archaeological study of the past. Please call our attention to other noteworthy projects in the comments below. Eastern Woodlands archaeology by the people, for the people — let’s do this.

(All photos from the Arc of Appalachia.)


The Eastern Woodlands, Household Archaeology, and the Internet

Town of Pomeiooc, Outer Banks, North Carolina. John White, 1585.

Town of Pomeiooc, Outer Banks, North Carolina. John White, 1585.

Public service announcement! Friend, colleague, and all-around rad dude Dr. Andy White has a gift for us. Today, his Eastern Woodlands Household Archaeological Data Project went live on the interwebs, and anyone interested in the social dynamics of indigenous southeastern/midwestern/northeastern societies should take notice. On this website, Andy has made available data on prehistoric residential structures that he originally assembled for a great paper* in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Much of this information comes from the deep, dark recesses of the grey literature; the point of the website is to make available these otherwise elusive datasets and thus allow researchers to ask and investigate a diversity of questions related to household archaeology.

This is what the internet is for, people!** Dissemination! Collaboration! All that good stuff. If household archaeology is your bag, I encourage you to check the site out, and contact Andy ( if you’ve got questions. Importantly, he is asking that interested folks submit relevant information, references, or datasets on prehistoric households as they make themselves known. Got a residential structure? Let him know!

In the meantime, what sorts of issues would you try and tackle with this database? As a Middle Woodland specialist, my knee jerk reaction is that datasets like this demand that we confront a longstanding research bias focused on mounds and earthworks and start exploring the everyday lives of the people who built them. This is not a revolutionary idea by a long shot, but as Darlene Applegate argued in a recent chapter on the Early-Middle Woodland domestic landscape of Kentucky, this line of inquiry has been hampered by the fact that many archaeologists don’t realize that there’s a decent domestic/residential archaeological record to work with. Well, be hampered no more, folks. The information is there, as long as Andy and future collaborators are willing and able to exhume it from the grey literature. Looking forward to seeing where this project goes…


*White, Andrew A.  2013.  Subsistence Economics, Family Size, and the Emergence of Social Complexity in Hunter-Gatherer Systems in Eastern North America.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32:133-163.

**Obviously, the internet is also for this.


The Ethics of Anzick

Landscape near Wilsall Montana, where Anzick-1 was buried 12,600 years ago.

Landscape of south-central Montana, where Anzick-1 was buried 12,600 years ago.

As Shane brought up yesterday, the sequencing of the genome of a toddler who died 12,600 years ago in Montana is big news not only for archaeologists, but also for Native communities. The results of the study of interest show genetic connections between Siberian, Clovis, and living indigenous North and South American peoples. This has major potential implications for assigning affiliations to ancient human remains, which has long been a cornerstone of NAGPRA. As far as I can tell based on the currently available coverage, the study also seems to demonstrate that archaeological research and respect for Native remains are not incompatible. Nature just posted a follow-up report on this topic — check it out and let us know what you think about it. I need to get back to dissertating/hitting my head against the wall, so for now, here are just a few quotes from the piece, in the order that they appear, that I thought were worth thinking about…

“Eske Willerslev, a palaeobiologist at the University of Copenhagen who led the latest study, attempted to involve Native American communities. And so he embarked on a tour of Montana’s Indian reservations last year, talking to community members to explain his work and seek their support. ‘I didn’t want a situation where the first time they heard about this study was when it’s published,’ he says.”

“[Several years before the present study], Sarah Anzick sought the advice of local tribes over the Clovis boy, but she could not reach a consensus with the tribes on what to do. She gave up on the idea, stored the bones in a safe location and got on with her other research.” [Side note: it’s not clear to me that consultation/consensus was re-sought for the present study. A subsequent passage [below] suggests maybe not… which seems problematic, even if it’s within the letter of the law re: remains found on private property.]

“Doyle and Willerslev then set off on a 1,500-kilometre road trip to meet representatives of four Montana tribes; Doyle later consulted another five. Many of the people they talked to had few problems with the research, Doyle says, but some would have preferred to have been consulted before the study started, and not years after.” 

“Willerslev says that researchers studying early American remains should assume that they are related to contemporary groups, and involve them as early as possible. But it is not always clear whom to contact, he adds, particularly when remains are related to groups spread across the Americas. ‘We have to engage with Native Americans, but how you deal with that question in practice is not an easy thing,’ he says.” [Side note 2: Really? I mean… it’s 2014… surely there is a name/email address/phone number to follow up with in these matters? I don’t mean to belittle the fact that consultation and collaboration can be a nebulous, circuitous undertaking, but still. Have other folks’ experiences highlighted any particular challenges or strategies in these matters?]

“Hank Greely, a legal scholar at Stanford University in California who is interested in the legal and ethical issues of human genetics, commends the approach of Willerslev’s team. But he says that there is no single solution to involving Native American communities in such research. ‘You’re looking to try to talk to the people who might be most invested in, or connected with, particular sets of remains,’ he advises.”

(All quoted material from “Ancient genome stirs ethics debate” by Ewan Calloway, Nature 506, 142–143 (13 February 2014) doi:10.1038/506142a. Photo from Lands of Montana.)


While searching for a photo to accompany this post, I cam across this interview with Shane Doyle (the Doyle referenced above), and think it adds additional dimensions to this discussion. Check it!

Tribal healing: Anzick child genome changed my life


These are a few of my favorite blogs

Obviously, the title of this post should be sung, Julie Andrews style. Tis the season, or something.

But in all seriousness, science blogging has been in the press a lot lately. Even as these stories demand that we confront the good, the bad, and the ugly of the medium, recent events have highlighted that blogs are increasingly important hotbeds of real and valuable discourse on the state of the field(s). There are lots of sweet archaeology blogs out there these days that prove exactly this point. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Bone Broke: If you’ve paid attention to the job market this year, you have probably realized that bioarchaeology is where it’s at. On her blog Bone Broke, Jess Beck, Phd candidate at the University of Michigan (and, full disclosure, close personal friend and wedding cake baker extraordinaire), offers sound advice for analyzing skeletal materials and cogent takes on bioarch-y current event. Her tips and tricks for siding a calcaneus (the right one looks like a lowercase “r”) and id-ing the pisiform (it looks like a tiny, non-fuzzy bison) provide a terrifically user friendly complement to the standard bone manuals. The sharp prose and accompanying illustrations also make the it a fun read. In short: it’s not just for osteologists, but for anyone interested in the ins-and-outs of data collection, ongoing debates at the intersections of archaeology and biological anthropology, or anatomically labeled pictures of Thor.


Thanks for this Jess Beck, American hero.

Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach: Based out of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and the University of Memphis, Robert Connolly’s blog is a boon for anyone looking to learn more about engaging the public in archaeology. Connolly posts include reports on a variety of different cultural heritage projects, reflections on the role of volunteers in museums, and recently, ideas on how to use digital resources in the classroom. It’s always inspiring but never preachy, and offers lots of good ideas for reaching the variety of folks that might be interested in what we do.

Ohio Historical Society Archaeology Blog: Though more focused in scope than the above example, its clear that Brad Lepper and company will never run out of things to cover in their blog for the Ohio Historical Society. Updated almost daily, this repository of Ohio archaeology highlights recent publications, ongoing field and collections-based research, and efforts recognize and preserve Ohio’s remarkable archaeological heritage. Plus, one of their contributors carved a jack-o-lantern in the shape of the Adena pipe, and that is radical.

The Adena Pipe (Ohio's State Artifact) and its pumpkiny doppelganger, carved by OHS volunteer Sara Nuber. Huge.

The Adena Pipe (Ohio’s State Artifact) and its pumpkiny doppelganger, carved by OHS volunteer Sara Nuber. Huge.

Rather than expanding my own list, I’m curious — what are your favorite archaeology blogs? Please recommend some readings, folks!