November 2010

I’ve been particularly bad at following up with this blog. It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything archaeologically related–indeed, I may in fact be slowly overdosing on the ARC Lab– but rather that I have been too busy to spend any time on writing anything meaningful (outside of my own schoolwork, though that may also be compromised by lack of time). I will take time out to do something that will hopefully help to restore my sanity, which has been waning and spiraling into nerdy conversations about the benefits of radiocarbon dating people over going out and dating real people.

It’s very difficult for me NOT to think about archaeology these days. My entire life revolves around it. 3/5 of my classes involve me reading, writing and discussing it. The other two (Japanese and Mandarin) are to further my academic career so I can have the language skills to flourish in the Far East.

I have included this pie chart of my time and thoughts:

Sarah's Thoughts, 11/17/2010

Sarah's Thoughts, 11/17/2010

Even outside of the classroom and my schoolwork I spend a lot of time indulging in archaeology. This past weekend I was double booked on conferences. One was for the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, of which I am blessed to be a part of. It took place at CalTech in Pasadena (which was my middle school stomping ground, so it was like being at home more or less) and it brought all the Mellon fellows from the west coast together (Heritage, Whittier, Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, USC, CalTech) to share our research and foster a sense of camaraderie. I had a freakin blast meeting people who are exactly like me in that they are driven by passion for their field. I was part of the presentations, so that was also interesting for me (public speaking scares me still, even after all these times presenting). I walked away completely inspired by my fellow Fellows who are all so very bright, articulate, and passionate about what they study. I always feel like I may be lost in a sea of career-minded people here at USC (so many business majors…) who smile and nod when I tell them what I do, so it was truly refreshing to be surrounded by people who, to quote my roommate Ciku, “could never see themselves doing anything else”, who know it’s not about the PhD. or the rack of awards you get, but rather the fact that you could never stop learning about what it is you love learning about.

I also went to a conference on Kucha, which is an ancient kingdom located in present-day Western China (Xinjiang to be exact). Specifically the panels discussed the cave temples that are located there. It was an amazing conference with a lot of big names, and I absolutely love Buddhist archaeology, so it was pretty sweet. I’m so down for anything talking about Asian archaeology– it gets little attention here at USC, so I feel like I get overexcited. I also ran into one of the head archaeologists from my dig in China, as well as my TA from the same excavation! It was awesome to see them. I like going to conferences to learn how to engage an audience. I feel like I still don’t do it like a few of my professors can do, but I hope that one day I’ll be able to be as awesome as my project is. If anything, sometimes I learn what NOT to be like. I’ve also learned that it really sucks to sit through a lecture when the speaker is really good but the content just does not come alive.

Speaking of my project, my directed research is getting pretty crazy. We’re going back to Chicago on 11/28 to shoot more x-rays at projectiles. I’m SO EXCITED. I’ve been contextualizing and reading recently (well not this past week because I’ve been preparing for conferences). There’s not much to say about it other than that… Woo.

I have two other research projects for classes that are also consuming parts of my life. All this research is making me feel schizophrenic in terms of academics: reading about Near Eastern bronze production during the Iron Age and evidence for tin trade, then skipping over to the political ideology evident in the material culture at Longmen/Yungang during the 5th and 6th centuries CE, then a contrast of Qin and Han funerary rituals through their tomb architecture and archaeology.

Fun fact: burial chambers during the Han dynasty were lined with white clay and charcoal to protect the body from moisture. HOW COOL IS THAT.

I’ve decided that I want to do a fun mix of things with my body when I am dead. I want it mummified in a traditional Egyptian sense– canopic jars and ERRYTHING. I then want to be interred in an earthen pyramid with a massive subterranean complex housing hundreds of thousands of prestige items. I want lots of magic and rituals– import traditional shamans if you have to. I then want to have incense burned at my altar. Wooot.

Here’s a cool photo for you:

Skull showing syphilis

Skull showing syphilis

As a student of bioarchaeology, we talk a lot about paleopathology. The most basic of the diseases that mar the bones is syphilis. I am also a student a university, so if there has ever been compelling evidence to be safe in your extra-curriculars, it is this. See? Everyday applications of classroom learnin’.

~Sarah Butler

It’s been a while since I’ve updated, so I figured I’d post a quick look at Life After USC Archaeology.

I’m currently at the University of Sheffield, getting an MA in Aegean Archaeology. I LOVE it. I have classes in research methods, Aegean prehistory, funerary archaeology, and a theoretical class called “Reinventing Archaeology.” The professors are phenomenal, and the city of Sheffield itself is pretty adorable.

The main difference between archaeology education in the States and archaeology education here is that here, I have to be totally self-motivated. I was warned about this by other students who have come to the UK to study. Here, it’s all about the reading you do on your own and the independent paths you take while hunting down an education. The professors are there to guide, to answer questions if you need them, but there aren’t a whole lot of assignments. Reading lists will include entire books for one week, and you can choose to read some or all or none of whatever is on the syllabus. I’m used to a little more direction–specific articles for specific weeks, with assignments to guide your progress.

I mentioned this to one of my professors, and she seemed surprised that I was having a little difficulty adjusting to the new system. She said, “I’ve always thought of education as spots of really bright light, and your job as a student is to fill in the spaces in-between. The classes are the bright lights, highlighting times and places across history, but the true process of education is purely self-motivated. It’s an individual journey of discovery. When I asked for her advice regarding how best to tackle the enormous reading lists, she shrugged and said, “Read what interests you.”

This amount of personal freedom is novel, exhilarating, and a little intimidating. Left to my own devices, I have a bad tendency to read trashy novels, play on the Internet, or paint my toenails. Or to read academic literature that has absolutely nothing to do with my area of study. For instance, I’m currently splitting my time between “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Nietzsche and “Central Problems in Social Theory” by Anthony Giddens. Oh, and an anthology of famous vampire short stories. At this rate, I’ll be writing my dissertation on the social evolution of vampire lore and how that has absolutely NOTHING to do with Aegean prehistory. Unless the Minoans were vampires. Which is totally possible.

One project I am actually starting is an end-of-term paper in which I have to analyze the theory, motivations, ethos, and effectiveness of an archaeological publication. Somehow, I ended up being given “The Emergence of Civilisation: The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium B.C.,” by archaeological rock star Colin Renfrew. Great! I thought. Should be interesting. And then I went to the library and checked it out.

Holy smokes. This thing is huge! About 600 pages! Nonetheless, I’m rather looking forward to writing the paper, once I manage to read the whole thing.

This week we do a field archaeology unit, where we travel around Yorkshire, learning about landscape archaeology, drawing, etc. etc. I’m pretty excited.

That’s all, really. Maybe I’ll put a picture in here.

Hiking around the Peak District, just outside Sheffield

Yup, this is where I’m studying. I’m a very lucky lady.

P.S. Here’s a quotation that seems rather relevant to this post. First of all, it’s from a tremendously trashy book (I wasn’t kidding about reading smutty stuff for fun). Second, it has to do with the quest for education.

“She had liked once to think of herself as passionate, in love with her books, drunk on history, enamored of the wide world, of all the peoples within it. To be studious was to be the opposite of boring, she had believed; it was to be so interested, so madly curious, that one simply could not wait for the answers to arrive on their own: one had to go chase them in the only manner available.”
~Meredith Duran