I see dead ppl…I see live ppl

It’s time for a new school year! Classes started this week, and we’re really excited about all the archaeology offerings this fall.

Our newest professor, Maya expert Dr. Thomas Garrison, will be teaching two courses:

ANTH-202: Introduction to Archaeology

ANTH-202 is a great opportunity to learn about the theory, methods, and practice of archaeology. You will learn how archaeological research is conceived, planned, and carried out, from survey and excavation to analysis of finds and final reconstruction of ancient cultural systems. The class will be held on T/Th from 9:30-10:50 AM.

Come learn what it’s like to be a real-life Indiana Jones!

ANTH-310: Archaeology of the Americas

Do you like hidden palaces? What about human sacrifice?

If the answer is yes, then you need to sign up for ANTH-310: Archaeology of the Americas (T-Th 12:30-1:50), an exciting new course taught by Maya expert Tom Garrison! You’ll get an overview of anthropological archaeology and the great cultures of the Western Hemisphere in this fun and fascinating course.

Temples and palaces and human sacrifice, oh my!

In addition to these two exciting courses, we’ve added a new course, REL-402: Cultural Heritage, Religion & Politics in the Middle East, which is taught by Prof. Dodd and will be held on Wednesdays from 2-4:50 PM.

Are you curious why Jerusalem matters so much to Palestinians and Israelis? Or why Christianity isn’t the dominant faith in the land where it began? Or why the Taliban dynamited the massive, ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan and Egyptians looted national treasures? Anyone seeking greater insight into foreign policy, faith-based movements, and emerging political trends is invited to join this seminar. We investigate how the past matters in the Middle East today through film, field trips, and discussions. The course can be taken for credit in Religion, International Relations, History, Archaeology, and Middle East Studies. There are NO prerequisites for enrollment.

Unearth the politics of history in this fantastic new course

As if those weren’t enough, there’s also a new Freshman Seminar, FSEM-180 Human Survival: Learning from the Past. Professor Dodd will be teaching this, and students will get the chance  to learn ancient survival skills. We’ll be making stone tools and pottery, smelting, weaving cloth, and brewing beer, and I personally can’t wait.

And, of course, ARCSmart will be starting up again! Our introductory meeting is Friday, August 31st, at 2 pm in ACB-330. Stop by and get involved in this fun volunteer project.

Join us this Friday, August 31st at 2 PM in ACB-330!


More updates to come soon!
-Sarah H

Marhaba! That’s ‘hello’ in Arabic, also known as مرحبا (according to Google Translate)

Ashley and I are once again in Amman, Jordan, after spending the last week in and around Ramallah in the West Bank. We were volunteering at the Birzeit University Archaeological Library organizing books and papers–it was alphabetization the likes of which this world has never seen…

Working with local students!

Apparently the theme of the day was 'pink'

Finished alphabetizing off prints

We also spent time in the area around Ramallah, including a visit to Jericho and to the Taybeh Brewing Company, the only Palestinian-brewed beer and the only Middle Eastern brewery to employ a woman. The annual Taybeh Oktoberfest provides a chance for tourists and locals to mingle and for artisans to sell handmade products, an important event and a chance to stimulate the economy in a town with an over 50% unemployment rate. We highly recommend visiting the brewery for Oktoberfest, which will be October 2-3 this year.

We also experienced a little of life in the Jalazon refugee camp, where some 15,000 people have been living in 1.5 square kilometers of space since 1948. Throughout the West Bank, the people we met were vibrant and hospitable, and Ashley and I enjoyed our stay very much.

The streets of Jalazon

After the work was done, we visited Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity.

Outside the Church of the Nativity

We crossed the wall into Jerusalem the next day. It was eerie to see the wall and the arduous process Palestinians had to go through to get through checkpoints. The colorful graffiti and protestations for peace on the Palestinian side reminded me of another famous wall… Sometimes the lessons of history are forgotten far too easily.

Graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall


Once in the Old City, we stayed at the Austrian Hospice (that’s actually what it’s called) with some of the team members from Doron Ben-Ami, an excavation run by the Israeli Antiquities Authority where students from the University of Vienna travel to assist. We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, al-Aqsa, the Dome of the Rock, and the Western wall, and went to a great Ramadan concert/party at the Damascus gate.

The Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall

Doron Ben-Ami

Fire-breathing party at the Damascus Gate!

Then we met up with fellow USC archaeology alum, Aaron! He showed us around his site, Ramat Rahel, which was an ancient administrative center. Aaron has been at Ramat Rahel for three summers, and this is the excavation’s last year, so it was a bittersweet site tour.

Fighting On at Ramat Rahel!

After an excruciatingly long border crossing, we ended up back in Amman, where we’re briefly resting before heading out to see the Dead Sea and, of course, Petra. Ashley and I are both sick (ick), but we’re embracing the experience anyway. Tomorrow we’re going to a hammam (Turkish bath) to be pampered and scrubbed and massaged until we are clean and glowing. This won’t last long, since we’re heading out to the Dead Sea later in the day… but those few minutes of cleanliness will be glorious.

~Sarah H and Ashley S

With the USC Symposium quickly (how very quickly) approaching, this is a great time to look back at our archaeological beginnings and see what twisty, marvelous paths they’ve led us down. And perhaps, in the process, reach a satisfying conclusion as to why we have spent so many hours in the lab and on Microsoft Powerpoint getting our projects ready for one fleeting poster session tomorrow – because in the end, it is still a lot of fun sharing our passion with others.

Name: Tiffany Tsai      Year: Junior     Major: Archaeology

1. What is your title at USC? Student archaeologist, research assistant, and STARC Public Relations Chair all come to mind, but really, the only official title I have is “Bachelors of Arts Candidate in Interdisciplinary Archaeology,” which I do not use very often.

2. What is your area of expertise? I have the most field experience in sub-Arctic Alaska and research experience in laser paint conservation and Egyptian names. At the moment, though, nothing particularly qualifies me as an expert in a certain area.

3. When and where was your last dig? Fairbanks, Alaska, in the summer of 2009. It involved finding bits of stone tools and little animal bones from people who had crossed the Bering Strait about 14,000 years ago.

4. How long have you been an archaeologist? In the sense that archaeology begins when you take your first class or your trowel hits the dirt, I have been an archaeologist since June 2008. In the sense that anyone who makes a story of the past using physical remants is an archaeologist, I’ve always been one. Then there is the definition of archaeology as a profession, something you need credentials and years of postgraduate education for, and in that sense I am still trying to become an archaeologist.

5. Why did you become an archaeologist? I have always wanted to study EVERYTHING, and in the first couple of years of college I jumped around from architectural engineering to math to English and even a music minor. Then I took a class on the Ancient Maya and realized that archaeology lets you study EVERYTHING!  For instance, architecture – lots of ancient sites have buildings and infrastructure, and we need to record and reconstruct the building plans. Math/science – one big rising area today is archaeological science, which borrows ideas from physics and chemistry and biology, like how fast a particle decays, to figure out things like how old an artifact is. Language – people study languages of the past to gain greater insight to a society’s beliefs.

6. Describe your most exciting day as an archaeologist. Last year my professor took me and Sarah (second below) to Sedona, Arizona, where we were invited to help evaluate a Native American site found on someone’s ranch.  In the 70s it was home to an artist, and in the back of his studio there was a bookcase covered in inch-thick dust, and we hauled it aside to reveal a door…which when we opened it, led a storeroom filled with artifacts people had totally forgotten about, literally crammed with rotting cardboard boxes full of Sinagua heritage objects from floor to ceiling.  On one hand it was appalling, but as it was my first time “finding” anything I could not help the “oh! oh! oh!”s welling up inside me.

7. Describe your average day. Right now I’m in school, so I just get up in the morning, go to class, rush around campus doing various errands, and go back to my apartment to study more archaeology.

8. What is the most important thing to remember when doing archaeology? On a dig, don’t immediately pick an artifact out of the ground when you find something really cool. Our knowledge of former peoples comes from where an object is found as well as the object itself.

9. Why is archaeology important? You don’t know who you are until you know where you came from.  We, as the species of humans, don’t know what we truly are until we see what others before us have done.

10. What do you see as the future of archaeology? Less destructive digging, more local people getting involved with archaeologists from a foreign place, more women as head archaeologists, increased focus on modern-day American culture and junk from outer space…those are things I’d like to see happen.

11. What do you usually wear on a dig? It depends on where I’m working. When I excavated a Mission Indian site in Southern California, close-toed shoes and a T-shirt and lots of sun protection were necessary, as Sarah said. In Alaska, it was bare feet and a light sweater with long pants (for the mosquitoes).

12. What is your favorite part about being an archaeologist? Hands down, the camaraderie of digging.

13. What qualities must an archaeologist have? A willingness to go through lots of library books and scholarly papers and write lots and lots of papers, which most people don’t realize; a willingness to go out on a limb and get your hands dirty as well.

14. What would you like people to know about an archaeologist that most people are not aware of? I must echo the dinosaur thing, for which there is even a T-shirt: http://www.cafepress.com/shovelbums/2603940

15. What is the most interesting place your work has taken you? There isn’t a place that hasn’t been interesting in some way, but I guess the ancient limestone caves in Belize – and my time spent crawling through their muddy stalactite mazes – stand out in memory.

Name: Sarah Butler
Major: Archaeology, East Asian Area Studies
Year: Junior

1.  What is your title at USC? I am an archaeology and East Asian Studies major, and the scholarship officer of the Society of Trojan Archaeologists. I am also a research associate in USC’s Archaeology Research Center.
2.  What is your area of expertise? I wouldn’t call myself an expert on anything, but I tend to know more about Asian archaeology than any other region. My personal research has ranged from Native American rock art to Near Eastern bronze weaponry, and I’ve gained a lot of important skills from those projects that I can use in the future.
3.  When and where was your last dig? I am going on my first dig ever this summer near Xi’an, China, which is the ancient capital of China, but we’ll be excavating a Neolithic site (about 6,000 years old). I’m so excited to get my hands dirty!
4.  How long have you been an archaeologist? I’ve loved ancient history and archaeology since I was a kid, but I took my first course in archaeology in spring of 2008.
5.  Why did you become an archaeologist? Archaeology uses lots of ways of thinking– science, religion, art history, linguistics, and just about any other field you can think of. I like knowing everything, and archaeology lets me use many different thinking caps. I’m extremely fascinated by past cultures, and my imagination mixed with my love of other cultures and desire to know everything really cemented my love for archaeology. I also like adventure!
6.  Describe your most exciting day as an archaeologist. While working on taking pictures of rock art in the area with my colleague and mentor Lucy, we went on a trek and did a little bit of bouldering (climbing on giant rocks). It was very hot, and I was carrying a big backpack. I was beginning to think that we would never find the art that we were looking for… But as we climbed up a flat rock, we found some really cool basins that had been rubbed into the rock with smooth rocks nearby. It was obvious that Native Americans had made food here. We also found a cave with a lot of rock art in it. It’s finds like these that, when you can connect yourself with the people who were there before you, make archaeology really rewarding and fun.
7.  Describe your average day. I’ve never been on an excavation, but similar to what Sarah Hawley said, it’s probably going to be very grueling. When I am working in the lab, I can be there until midnight some nights writing, researching, measuring, mapping– you name it. Archaeology takes a lot of dedication, but the minutes tend to fly by and I don’t feel it at all until the next morning when I am dead tired.
8.  What is the most important thing to remember when doing archaeology? Like I said before, archaeology takes a lot of dedication. Sometimes you can get caught up in all the work and lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing– to find out the truth, and to understand the people who made a certain pot or statue. That is what keeps most of us going, even though it is a lot of work.
9.  Why is archaeology important? “We learn about human systems of trade, economics, politics, and art. We discover parallels between the past and the present, and the ways in which ideas and traditions travel and evolve over the years. We are living out a continuation of everything that has happened before, and so we can always see ourselves in the people of the past.” – I couldn’t have said it better myself.
10.  What do you see as the future of archaeology? Archaeology adopts a lot of tools that are not necessarily made specifically for archaeology but still have a use. Because so many new ways of doing research and new tools are being developed, it’s hard to say where we will be in five or ten years. I hope that as new minds emerge into the field and new ways of thinking about things come up, we will be able to have really great discussions about our past. Because we need these new minds and a constant flow of conversation, I hope that all these new tools will give young people the opportunity to experience and get involved with archaeology.
11.  What do you usually wear on a dig? The same things you would wear on a hike– boots, LOTS of sun protection that doesn’t make you hot and allows you to move around freely. Some countries have laws telling you what you can and cannot wear, and it’s very important you respect those rules too.
12.  What is your favorite part about being an archaeologist? Mystery! Adventure! Getting to know people, both your fellow archaeologists and the people of the cultures you study!
13.  What qualities must an archaeologist have? Passion and curiosity.
14.  What would you like people to know about an archaeologist that most people are not aware of? We don’t excavate dinosaurs, and none of us carry a whip!
15.  What is the most interesting place your work has taken you? Sedona, AZ. It’s a popular vacation spot, but there is so much archaeology there it is unbelievable. To me, it is amazing that people lived on high cliffs in such a hot, dry place because I know I wouldn’t be able to do that.

One of the greatest things we can experience as student archaeologists is the chance to share our enthusiasm with young students. Having been sucked into the world of archaeology ourselves, we delight in sharing the joys (and struggles) of it with anyone who might possibly be interested in joining us. This is an incredible discipline, full of interesting people and the potential for adventure, and if archaeology needs anything, it is more young enthusiasts to carry on the work.

So it is with great pleasure that we post some of our responses to student questions, in the hopes that we can help share our excitement.

Name: Sarah Hawley
Major: Archaeology
Year: Senior

1.  What is your title at USC? Archaeology major is about the only title I have, although I am president of the Society of Trojan Archaeologists.
2.  What is your area of expertise? Most of my experience is in Near Eastern archaeology, specifically in Turkey. My personal research focuses on terracotta figurines from a Turkish site.
3.  When and where was your last dig? I went to Alalakh Excavations last summer from June to August to survey, excavate, and illustrate pottery. The site is located in southern Turkey near Antakya.
4.  How long have you been an archaeologist? Since August 2008, when I took my first archaeology course at USC.
5.  Why did you become an archaeologist? I didn’t know what to choose as my major. Archaeology had always interested me, so I signed up for a class and was instantly addicted.
6.  Describe your most exciting day as an archaeologist. Probably my first day excavating in Tarapaca Valley, Chile. I had no idea how to hold the trowel or what to do. The first thing I scraped out of the ground was a tiny piece of a stick, and I was convinced it was tremendously significant and the most fabulous stick in existence. On that same excavation, I dug up a 1,000 year old mouse corpse, which terrified me when it popped out of the ground. Maybe that was a little more exciting.
7.  Describe your average day. On excavation, the schedule is grueling. Wake up at 4:30, start excavation at 5:30, lunch at 1:30, nap until 4:30, lab work until 7:00. During the school year my schedule is much more normal, and I sleep as much as I can!
8.  What is the most important thing to remember when doing archaeology? I think it’s most important to remember the people behind the objects we discover. Someone lived in those mudbrick houses once, or made that pot. We don’t dig for our own prestige–we dig to uncover the truth about the past and to better understand the people who have come before us.
9.  Why is archaeology important? We learn about human systems of trade, economics, politics, and art. We discover parallels between the past and the present, and the ways in which ideas and traditions travel and evolve over the years. We are living out a continuation of everything that has happened before, and so we can always see ourselves in the people of the past.
10.  What do you see as the future of archaeology? I hope that archaeology will become more accessible to the public and to young scholars. It’s a field that is always changing and evolving. Technology is constantly giving us new tools. Who knows? Maybe in the future, we won’t have to dig at all to see what lies underground. Which would actually make me a little sad.
11.  What do you usually wear on a dig? Close-toed shoes, long, comfortable pants, and a cotton T-shirt. You need to be able to move easily while having protection from the sun. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a broad-brimmed hat are also essential!
12.  What is your favorite part about being an archaeologist? The chance to travel and meet so many new people.
13.  What qualities must an archaeologist have? A sense of adventure. Curiosity. Dedication.
14.  What would you like people to know about an archaeologist that most people are not aware of? It’s a lot more work than people think, and a lot more time spent in the library and the laboratory. But while we may not be exactly like Indiana Jones, we do have a lot of fun.
15.  What is the most interesting place your work has taken you? Turkey. I love the country so much, and it was wonderful to be able to see such a new and fascinating place.

Insight of the day: a great percentage of being an archaeologist is actually being a hustler for grant money.

I just had this thought right now, as I am in the process of surfacing from a near-death experience drowning in applications for scholarships, fellowships and study abroad admission. I am now in shoulder-height paperwork, but holding steady treading reams. And clay tablets– but more about that later.

As previously posted by my illustrious colleague Tiffany Tsai, we spent a whirlwind weekend in Argonne, IL, about 26 miles south of Chicago. Tiffany had been to Argonne before and had experienced the intensity that is 18-hour shifts with little else to look at but screen captures, code gobbledigook and XRF graphs. This, however, was my first time.

This is the second time that Professor Dodd had been awarded “beam time” by the Argonne committee (side note: Professor Dodd is like… the ultimate hustler of grant money. She was sitting at the Advanced Photon Source (the name of the synchrotron beam), already a huge grant, writing an NSF grant). Her project this time investigated imperial control over strategic resources (metals) such as bronze. We used bronze arrowheads from five sites across the Near East on loan to us from UChicago’s Oriental Institute: Chatal Hoyuk (not associated with the Stanford/Hodder dig), Tell al-Judaidah, Tell Tayinat, Megiddo and Persepolis. Our readers may recognize the last two, those being extremely significant sites in the ancient world (and one the root word of every crazed  eschatologist’s favorite noun “arMEGEDDOn”).

I arrived at O’Hare at midnight central time, and was greeted by the strange slang for various types of cars for hire– cab (pronounced KYAHB), limo (meaning pre-arranged kyahb), and a limo (meaning stretch limo). After a little confusion and freezing my bum off waiting at the cab line (it was 25 degrees F), I made it into a luxurious limo (pre-arranged cab) Navigator, driven by a man who was too tired to answer my questions. Argonne was about 30-40 minutes away, and boy was I confused. In LA we use San Diego, Santa Monica, San Bernardino and Sacramento to orient ourselves with cardinal directions (that are in the state). Many of the signs around Chicago orient you to weird places– Minnesota, Iowa, St. Louis, Indianapolis, etc. I was concerned about where I was going… I had never really looked at Chicago too closely in relation to everywhere else. I never realized that it was so close to so many state lines. Enlightenment number 1 of my stay in Illinois.

Argonne security is tighter than a medieval vice. I was stopped at the main gate, and given a police escort to the guest house, which is located some distance from the gate. After checking in with Professor Dodd, I passed out. The next morning, we went to Sector 1 of the synchrotron beam. Professor Dodd gave me the down low on what we were going to be doing, who is who and what is what. The who is who is what was confusing at first– when I say we were “rolling deep”, I mean that we had about 4 physicists from Argonne staff, Dr. Friedman from IIT, Dr. Mini from NIU, two physics grad students, one post-doc, Tiffany, myself, and Dr. Friedman’s daughter who is an undergrad physicist at IIT. That was about 13 people overall working together on this project. So much brainpower pooling together for this project!

The general rule of the project was this: don’t touch anything. This isnt to say that we had nothing to do with the project. On the contrary, we non-Ph.D’s moved the stage around with a remote computer to find the appropriate point to shoot high-energy x-rays at the artifacts. We manned the books, taking extensive notes about every detail of our experiment. We did documentation of every bronze arrowhead that went under the beam. This is to say that everything was placed PERFECTLY. Bumping something would most likely mean locking you in the x-ray hutch with the beam shutters open!

At first the project was a little rough. Keep in mind that this project is a new kind of collaboration between people of varying academic fields. I tried to keep up with the discussion about keyences and measurements and what not, but ended up just waiting for the show to get on the road. It was difficult to get everything to work together all at once and perfectly. After awhile though, we were on our way. We worked through the night for three nights, taking 5 or 6 samples from each point. This entailed taking photographs of beam placement, screen captures of beam placement from cameras set up inside the hutch, moving the stage with the artifact on it (which was a very long process), and running the x ray fluorescence and diffraction. Overall, we managed to photograph and collect data from over 40 different artifacts from all five sites.

Something interesting to mention is that the main synchrotron beam is ~3,000 ft. in circumference and 2km long with a beam that runs 24/7- except when someone trips up the beam. I dont know what the issue was, but sometime on Friday the beam shut off and everything went still. We were in the middle of taking an XRD when nothing showed up on our screen. We began to panic a little bit (oh no, not again!), but it wasn’t our fault for touching the wrong button of kicking the off switch on a CPU. This was a nice break, and I spent some time shopping on Amazon looking for new fantasy novels that were recommended to me by our post-doc associate from University of Toronto. The beam came back on about an hour later, and again we were off shooting high powered beams.

Beyond the 18 hour shifts, we had some pretty decent food. I performed a very scientific gastroethnographic experiment on the delicacies of Chicagoan deep-dish pizza– or, as it turns out, a cheese pie with tomato sauce on top. The experiment ran rather smoothly, and I am pleased to report excellent results to my Californian counterparts: EAT IT, IT’S SO GOOD, WHY DOESNT THIS EXIST IN CALIFORNIA.

Tiffany’s post picks up most of the details I left out…. Keep reading down.


The Monday after my return from Chicago, I was up and at ’em at 8AM to participate in USC Archaeology’s new outreach program, ArcSmart. The project was created by archaeology students (Cara, actually), run by archaeology students in cooperation with LAUSD and JEP, and designed for middle school students in the USC area to get their hands on some real artifacts. We brought in some artifacts from the LAUSD collection to teach kids about Roman coins, seriation, cuneiform tablets, and various other sundries/trinkets of the ancient world… And boy were they excited. My group (also consisting of Heather and Alyssa), each manned a table to teach kids about our artifacts while they circulated from table to table. I was in charge of the cuneiform tablets. I had three in front of me, all of them documents discussing commercial and agricultural items such as livestock, grain, etc. It had been awhile since they had learned about Hammurabi, but after jogging their memories and telling them about the elaborateness of the cuneiform language, their age (~4,000 y.o.) and cylinder seal “signature”, they were incredibly enthusiastic to jump right in and touch and examine the artifacts. Overall, it was a great success, and I look forward to going back next month.

Before I was an East Asian Studies major on top of Archaeology, I was a Philosophy major. In an intro class I took, the main focus was ethics. We discussed ethics throughout the ages, and I was lucky that my professor had his Ph.D in comparative philosophy so we had the opportunity to discuss both Eastern and Western approaches to ethics.

Looking back at the philosophers we studied (the Greeks, Aquinas, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Hume), I find it ironic that the man whose philosophy I least agree(d) with (Kung Fu Tzu, or Confucius) in the ethical, social, and spiritual contexts, I can agree with most in the context of Archaeology. One of the basic teachings of Confucius is to respect your parents and honor your ancestors. While I may not practice what he preached, I can certainly see what value this outlook has for my field, and everyone’s enrichment.

Case and point: the Buddhas of Bamyan. In 2001, the Taliban, viewing the 80+ foot monolithic Buddhas carved into the cliff faces near the remote town of Bamyan, Afghanistan (along the Silk Road trade route) as remnants of Buddhist idolatry, chose to destroy these potential tourist attractions/revenue creators. Despite offers to buy the statues and the 0% population of Buddhists in Afghanistan, over the course of several weeks, anti-aircraft artillery and anti-tank mines were used to obliterate the UNESCO World Heritage site. These Buddhist statues weren’t so much idolatry (most Buddhists in this region did not worship Buddhas, much like Catholics do not worship a statue of Mary per se) as remnants of the rich Gandharan culture that reigned over the region until the 11th century AD. Gandhara was a wonderfully diverse culture, notable for its mixture of East and West in its artistic styles. Indeed, even in our small collection of Gandharan artifacts at USC, one can see the Buddha dressed in a toga with Caucasian features.

Destroyed Bamyan Buddha

Desroyed Bamyan Buddha

Next semester, REL 465, the Archaeology capstone course, is being offered for once. This course covers archaeological ethics and its place in society. It’s interesting that we need to be taught an ethics course, much like a bio or engineer would.

On a side note, a few interesting developments were made after the destruction of these statues: 50 more caves were revealed behind the Buddhas. There are caves littering the cliffs, where hundreds of monk-hermits lived spiritually rich lives creating paintings, writings, and miniature statues. In these most recently found caves, the oldest known oil paintings have been discovered, possibly predating European oil paintings by 600 years.

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