For those of you that enjoyed the weekly videos from last spring's Broad River Archaeological Field School, I wanted to make you aware of this compilation of the entire season into a single 2:16 presentation. It will be a good refresher for me to watch the whole thing, as I'll be spending much of this semester working on analysis and write-up of the data from the first two seasons of work at 38FA608. Enjoy!
Just as I did in 2016, I started off the first day of Forbidden Archaeology with a brief pre-course questionnaire to try to get some insight into the level of familiarity of my students with various relevant television programs and topics. I kept the television programs the same as in 2016, but added/deleted some of the topics to more closely reflect what we'll be talking about this semester.
Here are the "familiarity" data for television programs from both today and 2016:
As is plain to see, the report from the class of 2018 is pretty similar to the report from the class of 2016. Ancient Aliens has clearly penetrated this demographic to a much greater degree than any of the programs, with over half of the class members (n=19 in attendance) reporting that he/she has watched at least one episode. The majority of the class had not even heard of the other three programs. Two students account for the four "watched it regularly" responses.
I also asked about the same four publications as I did in 2016: Chariots of the Gods! (Von Daniken), Fingerprints of the Gods (Hancock), Forbidden Archaeology (Cremo), and Ancient American magazine. Most of the students report never hearing of any of them, and those that have heard of them report that they've never read them.
Here are the data from the "circle what you're familiar with" questions:
There are a few things of note in the 2018 data. Not surprising is that Atlantis is the clear winner in terms of familiarity: they've all hear of it. In contrast, no-one was familiar with the term "OOPArt," and only one person reported having heard of Lemuria. There is a fair amount of familiarity with terms like "aryans," "Rh factor," and "Mound Builders," which does not surprise me because most of the students are anthropology majors.
I was surprised at the number of affirmative answers for "Nephilim," "elongated skulls," and "Nibiru." It's possible that familiarity with those terms is largely due to Ancient Aliens, as half the class reports seeing the program at least once. I don't think that would explain "Flood geology," however. I'll have to dig deeper on Monday to learn more about the origins of their exposure to these concepts.
Summer is winding down and I'll be back in the classroom in just a couple of weeks. This fall, I'm teaching Forbidden Archaeology again. In this second iteration, I'll be making some significant changes from the way I structured the course the first time around. As the rubber begins hitting the road (i.e., it's time to start working on the syllabus) I'm looking for ways to keep the course fresh and interesting for both me and the students.
Our topical focus this year will be "Cataclysm and the Lost World." I tried to cover three topical areas the first time around, and it felt like too much. So I decided to go with a single theme this year and use that as a lens to explore the social/political/historical threads that wind through various claims that (1) the cultural/natural world was a qualitatively different place in the ancient past; and (2) that "lost world" world was destroyed through some kind of incredible catastrophe.
As I start to think about what specific claims to focus on, I'm struck (again) by the overall staleness of the fringe world. There's plenty of "new" material out there, but much of it mixes around the same basket of stupid garbage that's been circulating since the mid-1800s. While there is still great value in going through these ideas and understanding (1) where they come from, (2) how they can be shown to be wrong, and (3) why people still cling to them, it would also be nice to explore something that's not essentially a re-casting of Victorian baloney. If you know of anything that really strikes you as a new claim based on new evidence that fits within the theme of the course, please let me know with a comment.
My wife thinks that finding a new nemesis would help to energize me. She may be right. It would fun to engage in a focused, prolonged analysis/debate of a specific claim or set of claims that revolve around material evidence. The key term here is "material evidence:" in order to have a meaningful back-and-forth, there has to be some kind of "thing" about which a claim/interpretation is made. One good artifact in archaeological context is all you really need to make a claim that actually has some teeth . . . so what have you got? What's the artifact that should change everything? (Note: discredited Roman sword advocates and rune stone apologists need not apply.)
Video from Week 11 of the Broad River Archaeological Field School: Features, Possible Posts, and the Invention of Tailgate Archaeology
We've only got two more days left in the spring 2018 season at 38FA608. The weather looks good for this Friday, so I may end up threading the needle with yet another season with no time lost to rain.
While we're in good shape to finish up in the block on Friday, Unit 13 is going slower than I'd hoped. It just won't stop being interesting. As you will see in the video from Week 11, I took two students out for an extra day to work on the Late Archaic deposits and try to keep things moving along. There is still work to be done before we reach the Middle Archaic zone, and there's no telling what we'll run into down there. If the broad pattern of field archaeology holds, we'll find something extremely interesting this Friday that will bring the whole endeavor to a screeching halt.
The video for Week 11 is a long one, as it includes footage from an extra field day. I resisted the temptation to pose on a lawn chair in the back of the pickup truck. Enjoy!
I grew up on a small farm, so I can verify through personal observation that a chicken really does run around like crazy after you cut its head off.
Things have been hectic both at home and at work over the last month. The coming week is USC's spring break, which will offer a little bit of breather as I won't be in the field this Friday and won't have regular office hours or meetings with students.
Here's some bullet points about what's been going on and what's coming up.
"Finding the Family" Fieldwork Started
As I think I mentioned in the Week 2 video from field school, I've got a complementary project lined up to do some subsurface reconnaissance (i.e., targeted backhoe excavations) of nearby landforms that are similar to the one we are working on for the field school. At least some of those landforms -- also alluvial -- probably contain archaeological deposits, perhaps of different age ranges than 38FA608. Anyway, the first step is to establish some known points that we can use for mapping our excavations. I've spent a couple of days in the field doing that, one with Eddie Reeps who used his GPS rig to help determine the coordinates of a handful of far-flung points that I set (by sinking rebar).
This work is being funded by an internal USC grant. I realized this seek that I never actually announced it or described it via my blog, so I'll do that sometime in the near future.
My First Holi: That Was Fun!
Last weekend, my family and I joined some of our Indian friends (and their Indian friends) to celebrate Holi. This is a holiday that I knew nothing about before the rise of social media. The bright colors make it naturally photogenic.
This was a really interesting experience. Speaking as an "alien" with very little foreknowledge about what to expect, I was struck by both the overall positivity of the atmosphere and the sense that it was a time/place where "normal" cultural rules were put on temporary suspension. There was color (and water) everywhere, much of it applied to your face and body by strangers. It's a strange kind of intimacy, not unlike what I experienced at the fringes of the mosh pit at Against Me!
I wish we could have stayed for the food, but the little kids were on overload/meltdown and a retreat was the best option.
Friday Field School Video Will Be . . . Delayed
Our ongoing work at the field school site (38FA608) went well. We had another beautiful day with plenty of sun and high temperatures in the low 60's. The crew was smaller than normal.
I had hoped to get two of the Late Archaic features out of the ground, but it was not to be . . . they are going to take the time they're going to take, and that's all there is to it. While Feature 3 (exposed in the machine-cut wall) was completely removed, Feature 11 remains in progress. Both of these features are defined by dark fill contained some carbonized plant remains (including nutshell) and a low density of lithics. Feature 11 is deeper than I anticipated, and the fact that it intrudes into earlier deposits makes i's excavation complicated. I lined our ongoing excavation with landscape fabric and filled it with back dirt to protect it until we return.
I probably won't get the video from Friday done on Monday. I'm not sure, but it may be next Monday before I upload the Week 8 video. We won't be in the field this week because of spring break. Watch for the premiere of "trowel cam."
"Harley" Ready to Move!
I finished my first officially-commissioned sculpture: a scrap metal javelina named "Harley." It's be a steady weekend project, occupying the large majority of time I've spent in my workshop since late January. I think it turned out great - perhaps one of the best pieces I've made. The "formal" pictures are here on my ZeroPointMechanic website. There will be a video when I get the time to put it together.
"Harley" will be travelling to Arizona, hopefully leaving my garage on Monday. My least favorite part of the whole deal was making a custom crate to ship the piece. I don't like working with wood, and making the crate (including scrounging pallets, buying new materials, trying to figure out what constitutes "strong enough, etc.) took about four times as long as I thought it would. The sculpture alone weighs 76 pounds, while the whole package with crate and pallet balanced out at a whopping 185 pounds. My sister (aka "the client") is dealing with the specifics of getting the thing moved from point A (Columbia, SC) to point B (Tempe, AZ). I made a stencil. Spray paint, like wood, is not a good medium for me.
"Beauty and Grace:" Final Prep Before ArtFields
Next week (I think on Tuesday the 20th), I'll finally have to face the challenge of moving "Beauty and Grace" to Lake City, SC, for ArtFields 2018. The piece will be displayed on lawn in front of The Citizens Bank (209 East Main Street). My friend and archaeology colleague Chris Gillam has agreed to help me get the ceratopsians moved and reassembled. I'm not sure what I promised in return, but I'm sure it was something. As it stands now, my plan is to get some segments of heavy-duty PVC to use as rollers when moving the components of the piece over the lawn. Some 2x4's and a crowbar will also come in handy. If it was good enough for ancient Egypt, it will be good enough for me.
I've started prepping both pieces to finally live outside. I cleared space in my workshop yesterday so that I could wheel "Beauty" inside and apply a coat of Penetrol, which will arrest the rusting, bring out colors, and provide a barrier to moisture. It also makes the entire piece shiny, which I'm not a huge fan of. But it's better than all the colors degrading to an even rusty orange. The coating is sticky as it dries for 48 hours, so I had to apply it in a space that I could enclose to prevent the omnipresent March aerosol of pine pollen from becoming a permanent part of the piece. "Grace" will go next.
An Unknown Road Trip
I will be spending a few days this week on a road trip with my older daughter. We don't know where we're going. We may not know where we're going until after we've already been there. It's tradition.
A 250-mile radius from Columbia includes most of North Carolina and Georgia as well as eastern Tennessee. I had some thoughts about going to Florida to see Cape Canaveral and/or a restaurant with a mermaid show, but that might be too heavy on the driving, too pre-planned, and too expensive. Plus I'm not really impressed with Florida's government right now and not enthusiastic about spending my money there.
If you know of a "good," out-of-the-way destination in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, or Tennessee that I should be aware of, post away. I've driven by the UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, SC, but not yet stopped (it looks like it has been trashed). I went out of my way on my last swing through North Carolina to visit the Andre the Giant museum, only to find it closed. I'll probably try to avoid the Myrtle Beach area.
I have decided to build my Fall 2018 Forbidden Archaeology class (now ANTH 227) around the theme "Cataclysm and the Lost World." We'll be exploring a variety of claims connected to one another through the general ideas that (1) the cultural/natural world was a qualitatively different place in the ancient past; and (2) that "lost world" world was destroyed through some kind of incredible catastrophe.
As in the first iteration of the course, the main goal will be to build critical thinking/communication skills. Credible ideas about the human past can withstand scrutiny and challenges, while incorrect ideas can be shown to be incorrect. My goal is to give the students the confidence, tools, and information they need to critically evaluate ideas about the past. And have fun doing it.
I have yet to narrow down the exact topics we'll be covering. The theme, obviously, provides lots of potential avenues down which to explore: e.g., Atlantis, gold-mining Annunaki from Nibiru, pyramid power plants, the pre-Flood world, etc. Within any and all of these topics, one can evaluate specific claims and explore the various motivations for creating/maintaining narratives about the past that are not supported by facts.
The structure of the course will be somewhat different than the first time around. There will still be student blog posts and I hope I can arrange for a guest or two, but I'd like to try to build some of the structure around some other activities. I've got some ideas that I'll need to think through, and some of what will be possible or impossible may depend upon enrollment numbers. I'll keep you posted as things develop!
Last Friday was our second day in the field. We had another sunny day with temperatures starting around freezing but warming up to the mid-60's by the afternoon. As far an January working weather goes, I'll take it.
Other than educating students and directing the excavation, I had one main job: bring ground coffee and filters. I botched it. I won't fail again. I promise.
We started the day going over the basic components of our record-keeping system: the Field Specimen (FS) log, the unit/level forms, bag labels, and individual notebooks. I explained to the students how all of these things work together to match the materials we collect to the contexts from which we have removed those materials. The FS system I use is a kind of single context recording system that assigns unique numbers to unique proveniences of artifacts and samples. Redundancies built into the information that goes in the FS log, on the forms, and on the bags provide a way to catch and fix errors.
There was a little bit of water in the block that we bailed while removing the plastic. The main activities for the day were resuming excavation in Unit 5 and getting started on a unit extending the block to the north (Unit 12).
At the end of last year's excavation, the floor of Unit 5 was 20 cm higher than the floor of Units 4 and 6. Unit 5 was the only unit in the block where we maintained a consistent piece-plot strategy all the way down after the first plowzone. That, along with a large number of roots, slowed things down. My plan is to maintain the piece-plot methodology in Unit 5 in perpetuity, as it will provide us with a consistent column of high resolution data down through the deposits.
Removing the landscape fabric from the floor of Unit 5 revealed some minor damage from ant tunnels. Sam and a crew of two students got to work cleaning the surface with trowels and beginning excavation of level 7.
Unit 12 is a 2m x 2m unit abutting the north edge of Unit 4. My goal in opening and excavating this unit is to get it down to the level of the floor in Units 4 and 6, exposing the northern portion of a cultural feature (probably a Late Archaic pit feature) that extends outside of Unit 4. As in the first unit/levels last year, we started Unit 12 by excavating arbitrary levels in 1m x 1m quadrants of the unit. This gives the students a chance to get some experience with controlled excavation while we're still up in the plowzone, where mistakes don't actually cost you any data.
.After the students get some reps digging arbitrary levels in near-surface contexts, we'll strip the remainder of the plowzones (there are two plowzones, remember) as natural levels and get down into what's underneath. In some places in the block and the machine profile, there appeared to be lenses of unplowed sheet midden and/or a natural A horizon beneath the lower plowzone (Zone 2). We'll be on the lookout for those as well as for truncated features extending from base of the second plowzone.
The floor and walls of Units 4 and 6 remain covered by backfill for now. While having that dirt in there makes for some ugly pictures, its presence protects the unexcavated deposits from our feet and from the water that will get in the block (and the bailing to remove the water). It also provides support to the fragile cut wall between Unit 5 and Unit 6, and allows us to have a ramp to get in and out of the block. It's better to have some ugly photos than to lose the archaeology through weeks of trampling.
As promised, I made a video of our activities in Week 2. Enjoy!
Last year, I wrote a blog post after every day of field school. This year I'm going to try something different. My plan is to create a short (5-10 minute) video that shows and describes our activities each day in the field. While the blog posts were useful for both research and public communication (and I plan to write when I need to talk about particular things in more detail), I think I might be able to expand my audience by making our work accessible through video.
I hope to have a video from each Friday posted by the following Monday on my YouTube channel. Here's the first installment. Enjoy!
As I gear up to teach field school again this spring, I've just begun thinking about the upcoming fall semester. I'm planning on teaching Forbidden Archaeology again. Buckle yourselves in.
I'm going to make some changes, both topically and in terms of the structure of the course. I think I'd like to have a guest speaker again (the Jim Vieira visit worked out well), but I need to decide on what I'm going to try to cover first. There are numerous choices. I want to keep it fresh but also hit some important, relevant themes. So I'm looking for topics (probably two this time instead of three) that crosscut several dimensions of the social, political, historical, and cultural contexts of fringe claims. This timely article from the Southern Poverty Law Center lays some of this stuff out pretty well.
If you've got any suggestions or ideas, now is the time to voice them. If I can triangulate topic, timeline, and a willing guest, I can work on the fundraising aspect of getting someone to Columbia.
In the week before SEAC, I had the students in my South Carolina Archaeology class sorting sherds in my lab. As the first part of a group/individual ceramic project, they were getting some experience identifying vessel portion, kind of temper, surface treatment, and decoration in sherds from a surface collection from Allendale County, South Carolina (the Larry Strong collection -- the same one I used to get some data for this Kirk paper). For the second part of the project, I'm going to supply them with the combined data and ask them to: (A) match the groups to named ceramic wares using information on excellent sites such as this one; (B) create a graphic depiction of change through time in temper, surface treatment, and the frequency of decoration; and (C) address in writing several questions linking the pottery to patterns of social/technological change.
I'm posting some quick images of most of the rim sherds (and some decorated non-rims) here so they will be able to look at them without coming back to the lab repeatedly while they're working on their projects. I know that some of you will know what these types are -- please don't deprive my students of the joy of discovery!
Also - hi students!
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