Random Thoughts

Attempting to make fire was fascinating.  As a child, when first watching cartoon cavemen whip up flames from thin sticks on lazy Saturday mornings, I recall thinking, “That’s impossible!”  The Southern survivalists on Youtube made it look easy, but I was suspicious because their videos involved cut scenes between embers and actual fire.  Trying it myself proved to me how truly difficult it is.

Our class was supplied with cedar planks, some simple cutting tools, sticks, dried brush, and faux leather.  My group carved holes for the stick in two planks: one plank was the base with a groove to channel hot sawdust toward a pile of kindling, the other plank fit onto the stick from above to help create friction and stability.  We were elated by our quick ability to create smoke, but apparently where there’s smoke, there’s not always fire.  We took turns rubbing our dowel until we blistered our hands without producing a single ember.  We briefly tried to make a bow with the faux leather, but it kept falling apart and didn’t work well.

Now, I like camping and bonfires, so I have made a few fires before, but modern technology definitely makes the process much easier.  Usually my friends and I can get a fire going in about 15 minutes, depending on how windy it is and whether we have lighter fluid.  The hardest fire I’ve actually succeeded in making was a campfire using only kindling collected from the rocky hills of Catalina and a fire starter that shot magnesium sparks.  This took half an hour or so.  An hour and a half was insufficient time to succeed using the ancient method.

The great, single-minded determination and persistence it must have required from ancient humans to invent and succeed with this method is amazing.  I think we might have more success using a bow, which would reduce hand trauma and increase the rotation speed and consistency of applied friction.  For now though, I’m going to continue keeping waterproof matches and a lighter in my first aid kit.


~Sam Cadwell

There is never a dull moment in Tayfursökmen, the Turkish village that contains our dig camp. This is my first experience with both survey and excavation, and it is fabulous so far. I have really enjoyed sorting pottery (and bone) in the pottery yard before dinner; I think I have learned a lot just by asking about the pieces I find.

Along with learning tons of new things about archeology and how it’s ‘done’, I have really enjoyed visiting some village families in the evening, once even for dinner. I have been taking some observations each time I go, and here is an excerpt from the dinner we had with an Arabic family (you think understanding Turkish is hard, but Turkish-Arabic!?):

At 7:30, we headed back to the Arabic family’s house for dinner. We met them a few hours earlier while wandering the village. As we turned left from the bakkal onto the family’s street, the children ran to greet us. The street is a dusty road that is used for cars, tractors, cows, goats, dogs, and many other things that move. They walked along with us (and behind us) to lead us toward the house. We took off our shoes, walked up the narrow steps to the second floor of the house, and were seated in a traditional Arabic living room with some of the little girls and their father. A large carpet covered the floor, and cushions lined the walls for people to sit. A calendar hung from the wall supporting the MHP, or Turkish nationalist party. The centerpiece of the room was a television on a stand, and the father of the girls switched the channels between Turkish and Arabic stations. Finally, he decided on an Arabic music station. “Probably from Egypt,” he said. A belly dancer flashed across the screen with Arabic writing scrolling across the bottom.

The physical characteristics of the family differed quite a bit from person to person. The father and mother both donned bright blue eyes and lighter skin. Some of the children had the same, with light brown hair, while others had quite dark features, including dark brown eyes.

Before dinner arrived, Michelle taught the little girls how to play some hand games that we learned when we were little. It was an immediate hit. The girls learned our games, showed us some of theirs (some that were the same). We also taught them rock, paper, scissors and tried to explain that you can use this game when making big decisions. We played for a while, and then dinner arrived.

The girls (all of them, except the mother) brought bowls of salad, fresh cut herbs, a mezze of eggplant and other vegetables, and huge black pans of chicken, fresh cooked. We drank the cola that we brought as a hospitality gift.  We also brought along some cookies and chocolates. The men (the father and Trevor) sat at the ‘head’ of the table; farther from the door than all the women. The girls also brought out huge circles of flat bread, which one girl informed me was baked by the mother only hours before. We ate until we were full, and then we ate more. The parents and girls were very eager to know how we liked the food. We confirmed that it was delicious (it was), and thanked them. They shook off the thanks; it was their pleasure. After we had convinced them that we were full, the plates cleared (again by the girls) and one girl in a headscarf (around 16-17) swept the carpet. The father asked us if we believe that President Obama was not born in the United States. When we replied ‘no’, he told us he never believed the rumor either. The TV turned on again, and we watched more Arabic music.

Finally, we played more hand games. The girls started to ask me about my family. “Do you have a father?” they asked, “what is his name?” The girls ran out of the room at one point and returned with some jewelry, with which they proceeded to adorn my ears and hands. One bracelet had a ring attachment and chains crossed along, sort of like a henna design. I tried to give the bracelets back to the girls when we left, but they sincerely refused and told me to keep them.

So today I received an email from the lovely Tiffany, and it made me realize that I haven’t posted anything exciting on hunterblatherer for about 8,000 years (+/- 7,999 and a bit). I suppose it’s debatable whether I was posting anything exciting before, but let’s pretend for my sake that I was.

I’m still here in Sheffield, getting ready to submit three papers and a dissertation proposal on May 31st. Naturally, that’s what I ought to be doing right now, instead of posting blog updates, but I think breaks are conducive to my health. I have the same policy towards chocolate and periodic naps, with the result that today I’ve taken a nap and eaten an entire chocolate bar. Also, I’ve written 919 words. Success! But I can do better than that, so after I post this I’ll go right back to writing.

The program here is still wonderful, and I’ve gotten some great opportunities to talk to and work with phenomenal scholars in the field. In February I got to attend the Sheffield Centre for Aegean Archaeology Round Table (SCAA website here). It’s a small, informal conference held every year, in which groundbreaking research and theory is discussed for several days by very important people. It was incredible meeting people I’d heard of, whose articles I’d read: Colin Renfrew, John Bennet, Cyprian Broodbank, Michael Vickers, Carl Knappett… and the list goes on and on. These are the rock stars of the Aegean Archaeology world, and their presentations were all fascinating. It was a privilege to listen to them, and to top it all off, I was able to hobnob with them throughout the conference. I can say that they are all lovely, kind people who are perfectly willing to talk to a visibly nervous MA student. I was so nervous meeting John Bennet (he of the Linear B tablets) that I fumbled my reception snack and ended up throwing some sort of half-eaten pastry across the room, where it landed on a professor’s trousers (Notice the use of ‘trousers.’ “Pants’ means something quite different in Britain, and I’d like to be clear that it was a social gaffe, but not THAT much of a social gaffe). Luckily, the professor didn’t notice, and John Bennet still spoke to me afterward.

My class at the Ashmolean with our professors, learning about Cypro-Minoan

Yesterday I went to the Ashmolean museum at Oxford with a group of archaeology students and two professors. We wandered around looking at artifacts (artefacts, for the crazy Brits) and got to play with some objects incised in Cypro-Minoan script. Cypro-Minoan and Linear A are two undecipherable Bronze Age scripts. I think it would be fun to get a tattoo of an inscription. Either you would never know what it said, or archaeologists would finally decipher it sixty years from now and you would find out it said something like “the king demands wool for taxes” or “Kushmashusha was here.” Which would actually be pretty cool, since it would verify Cyprus’ identity as the Alashiya of the Amarna letters, a point still up for scholarly debate.

Ashmolean Museum - I'm pretty sure this says "The king's squirrel demands tribute"

In other news, I wrote a sonnet about Linear B yesterday while pretending I was going to write essays. I’m writing about various Late Bronze Age related topics for the end of term, and Linear B is an inevitable part of my research, albeit one I don’t necessarily enjoy. Take this as proof that I am quietly going mad.


A Sonnet

The Pylos archives bring me to my knees
The pinnacle of pinacology
I have no life, you say; I don’t agree
I have no friends, but I have Linear B!

Oh, Tn 316 can thrill me more:
The human sacrifice; a hasty plea
Your text meant naught, alas, Hand 44—
All kingdoms fade to dust eventually

The po-ro-ko-re-te wants fifty sheep—
Such poetry sends joy throughout my soul!
Redistribution haunts me in my sleep—
Obsession, yes, my passion takes its toll

I welcome scorn, for desperate as I seem,
I much prefer my Mycenaean dream


Actually, I don’t think I’m going “quietly” mad, I think I’m probably doing it rather loudly. Anyway, if you didn’t enjoy that poem, I don’t blame you, and if you did enjoy it I seriously question your sanity, but you are probably also an archaeologist and therefore already certifiably insane.

I suppose there’s a point to my rambling, and it goes something like this: I am really enjoying graduate school, and I never would have been able to be where I am if I hadn’t gone through the archaeology program at USC. I’m so grateful I stumbled upon the ARC website one day and went on a tour of the lab, because my life has been altered in incredible ways since then. I’ve been to Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Chile, Ireland, and England, and all because USC sparked my passion for archaeology and travel. To the undergrads, I would definitely recommend grad school if you are interested in archaeology, because it’s been a phenomenal experience so far, no matter how many jokes I make about it in my blog posts.

So thanks, Professor Dodd and Ashley and ARC-peeps everywhere, because you prepared me for the next steps in my education and encouraged me in the adventures that brought me where I am today.

~Sarah Hawley

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”- Mahatma Gandhi

I’m absolutely thrilled that ARCSmart has received the Archaeological Institute of America’s Society Outreach Grant. I am personally involved with the program as a coordinator and volunteer, and while getting up on Friday mornings is sometimes hard, it’s totally worth the payoff. I know this program is working, not only for the students themselves, but also for me.

Paul Salay, USC Graduate student, teaches local elementary school students about archaeology

I think one of the most underrated aspects of volunteering is what the volunteer reaps from the experience. I don’t mean a sense of self-worth from vanity projects or generating personal good karma, I mean actually taking a good hard look at the human experience in the microcosm of schools. For example, during the Fall semester, I volunteered at a school deep in south Los Angeles. I have a lot of awesome memories from that school. The particular day of the week that I volunteered for was always before my Japanese class, so between rotations I would carry around my kanji flashcards or be furiously scribbling characters to finish my homework. A few saw this, and suddenly I was writing everyone’s names down in Japanese so they could display them on their binders. The word spread to the next class during recess, and I had kids asking for their names in Japanese again. Some chatted me up about my interest in anime, manga, and my excavation experience in China. I had to miss a day to do something, and upon my return the next week I had kids frowning at me saying I am not allowed to miss another day because they missed me. The unconditional love of students for being nothing but what they consider “cool” (heaven knows I am not, nor have ever been, cool by the standards of my peers) is awesome.

It was the last session with this school that really touched me the most. We played a game of archaeology Jeopardy, and the kids got prizes, and all was well and good. Usually at the end of the last session, we open up the floor to the whole class to ask us anything about archaeology, college, growing up, whatever. Standard questions include, “What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever found?” and “When did you decide you wanted to be an archaeologist?”. All fun things.

Beyond that, we start to get questions about college life in general. Do I get to sleep in a lot? Do I live with my boyfriend? Do I get to stay out late? Is it true that USC has a lot of parties? Is college hard? These are all really cool to answer because I can see their eyes widen when I tell them that I can eat whatever I want, and that I can more or less do whatever I want as long as I keep my grades up. To them, college is the enticing reward at the end of all the arithmetic, cursive and geography they endure.

The questions that make me uncomfortable are ones involving cost. Is it true that USC is incredibly expensive? How do you afford to go to college? I don’t want to discourage them from bothering to even try to go to USC, or any university for that matter. I take this opportunity to tell them about USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, which works to prepare students in the USC neighborhood for university and beyond by providing academic support for committed students and full financial packages to USC. This last session, however, raised some worrying questions in general. These students are very aware of the California state financial crisis, that their education funding is being hacked left and right, and that their resources are limited. Small voices throughout the room murmured that they would never be able to go to college because their families could not afford it. This was especially heart-wrenching after spending five weeks getting to know them, knowing that they are incredibly bright and creative, and knowing that they deserve every bit of support getting into college that I did.

While I was carrying our materials back to my car, two young girls walked next to me. Both of them were told me that they would never be able to go to college. I misunderstood them, thinking they meant to continue the financial conversation from before. I told them that there will be a way to make it happen. I hate to sugar coat things for anyone and any reason, but I felt I had to mask my own feelings on the matter so they would not despair. In fact, they did not mean to continue the financial conversation– they said they would never be able to go to college because they were not American citizens, are scared of applying for federal funding because their families are all under the radar, and that without funding, they would never be able to go to college. This is all in light of the current events in the US with the immigration issues. I was left speechless. I mean, I really don’t know what to tell these kids. I felt awful, answer-less, and sad getting back in my car and driving back to my ivory tower institution.

ARCSmart getting this grant means a lot to me in that we can continue helping kids. Unexpectedly, this grant also means that we can keep helping ourselves. Most students I know at USC have done some sort of community service– whether that’s working with the Joint Educational Project teaching math and English, reaching out to the homeless, or simply donating blood is up to the student themselves. This grant has ensured that we’ll be able to keep educating kids, and in the end, educating ourselves and giving ourselves a holistic education beyond books and research and into interactions with real people, real issues and the reality of a world that I don’t think many USC students ever grew up knowing about, let alone immersed in.

–Sarah Butler

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

I have been out in Turkey for a while now, but will be finished here in less than two weeks. woot.

In the meantime, I have done a ton of work here, including rearranging the depot organization and of course registering tons and tons of small finds. I have organized the drawing of materials, and now Im assisting with the photography. Data entry and then we are set for the season!

Question: What do you do when a local villager’s cow dies?
Answer: Naturally, you would bury it on the compound, and then a couple of seasons later dig it up once the flesh is gone. The bones have defleshed, so give them a good washing and then you a have a perfect cow study collection for your zoo-archaeology team!

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