St. Kitts Field School Experience #2

By Rachel Jenson

Rachel, in the black shirt, on her first day in the field learning to layout test units.

Rachel, in the black shirt, on her first day in the field learning to layout test units.

I have always been entranced by the possibilities archaeology presented as a career. The idea that I would be able to travel for a living while experiencing cultures, both alive today and from the past, seemed like the perfect job. Working in St. Kitts has only enhanced that. Continue reading

My Archaeological Field School Experience

by Kathleen Jenkins

Kathleen and her dig partners catching up on field notes. Each student is responsible for maintaining a field notebook.

Kathleen and her dig partners catching up on field notes. Each student is responsible for maintaining a field notebook.

Before I arrived in St. Kitts for my archaeological field school I had no idea what to expect.  Were we going to unearth a lost civilization? Was Dr. Ahlman going to take us on a secret journey to discover the lost ark? Regardless of whether or not we were going to partake in any of those activities, I was excited to experience anything having to do with archaeology. Even though I had participated in a wonderful internship at CAS, I knew that before I could fully appreciate the field of archaeology I needed to get some hands-on experience out in the field. So when I heard about this field school in one of my classes, I immediately signed up and knew that St. Kitts was where I needed to be. Continue reading

An Introduction to the 2015 Texas State in St. Kitts Archaeological Field School

By Todd Ahlman

2015 field crew for the texas state  st kitts field schoolEarlier this year we had a PAST Posts blog entry on the importance of an archaeological field school to any budding archaeologist’s development and career. It proved to be one of our more popular posts and I hope many students used it this year as a guide in selecting their field school.

This summer, CAS is holding an archaeological field school on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts with students from Texas State University. As part of their field school experience, our students will be submitting a series of blog posts over the next few weeks. We hope that they and our readers will find these posts fun and informative.

The purpose of any archaeological field school is to train students in archaeological methodologies so they are better prepared for careers in archaeology, cultural heritage/resource management, and historic preservation. The Texas State In St. Kitts Archaeological Field School is designed to not only focus on archaeological field methods, but to give students a broader understanding of local culture, history, or make them aware of how their research can inform not only island visitors but also the local population of the past. Our intent is to offer students not only archaeological experience, but also opportunities to communicate their research to island visitors and to interact with Kittitians, the St. Christopher National Trust, and tours of local heritage sites.

Throughout the course of the archaeological field school, students will have training in field and laboratory methods. At the course’s end students should expect to have the following skills and knowledge:

  1. Archaeological survey and excavation methods;
  2. How to use a GPS unit and tablet computer in recording site attributes;
  3. Laboratory processing and artifact analysis;
  4. Interaction with public and descendant communities;
  5. Interaction with clients, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations;
  6. And how archaeology contributes to our understanding of the past and present.

st kitts island locationTo put our project into further context, St. Kitts is located in eastern Caribbean approximately 350 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. Pre-Columbian Amerindians settled on St. Kitts as early as 3000 years ago and occupied the island until 1625 when the British and French massacred most of the Amerindians at Bloody Point. The British colonized St. Kitts in 1623 and the French followed in 1624. The two countries shared the island until 1713, when the British gained total control. The island was a British colony until 1983 when it and sister island Nevis gained their independence and formed the small country in the western hemisphere. Indigo and tobacco were two important early crops, but by the mid-seventeenth century sugar was introduced and became the single most important crop on the island and across the Caribbean. Sugar cultivation requires lots of labor and in the British Caribbean enslaved Africans were forcibly brought to labor in the fields. Thousands of Africans were brought to the island to maintain the workforce. Slavery was abolished in 1834, but the slaves and their descendants worked in the sugar fields until 2005 when the St. Kitts government closed the island’s sugar industry.

students mapping a unitOur project is looking at one slave village and an Amerindian site on the St. Kitts’ southeast peninsula. The slave village is shown on several maps dating to the eighteenth century and may possibly date to as early as the French occupation of that part of the island. We are focusing on two to three locations where we have identified slave quarters from surface features. Earlier excavations at one slave quarter identified a pit cellar under the structure. We plan to expand in this area as well as behind the structure where we assume living activities occurred. A dense midden was identified at one other structure and we will investigate it further as well as excavate around the quarters. We have tentatively identified another structure and will explore it. Little is currently know about the Amerindian site, but the presence of pottery on the surface suggests at least a Saladoid or later occupation. We plan to excavate a few exploratory units to assess integrity and artifact density.

students working in the fieldWe began working this past week at the slave village. Early in the week students were oriented to the project and site, and we worked at learning to lay in units, excavation and screening techniques, and proper ways to fill out paperwork. In the coming weeks we will work on refining excavation techniques, learning to use a GPS unit, how to survey with a compass, laboratory methods, artifact analysis, and other things vital to being an archaeologists (like never get separated from your lunch). Keep following the blog to learn more about the students’ experiences.

Funding for the project was provided through a grant from the Christophe Harbour Foundation and Texas State University, specifically Dean Mike Hennessy in the College of Liberal Arts and Dr. Mike Blanda in the Office of Research and Federal Relations. Assistance is being provided by the Texas State University Study Abroad Program, Dr. Beth Erhart in the Department of Anthropology, the St. Christopher National Trust, and Pereira Tours. Permission for the project was granted from the St. Kitts Department of Physical Planning.

Dr. Todd Ahlman is the Director of the Center for Archaeological Studies. He has worked in the cultural resources field for more than 25 years.

Geoarchaeology: Why I’m All About that Dirt

By Jacob Hooge

Spring Lake excavation pit

Spring Lake Data Recovery excavation pit, 2014.

So, what is a geoarchaeologist, exactly? Most simply, a geoarchaeologist is someone who very much takes the importance of archaeological context to heart. Over the course of my archaeological career, I have come to view the study of and reverence for artifacts themselves as just a bit obsessive and sometimes unproductive—something akin to Gollum admiring his Precious alone in some deep, dark cave. While some archaeologists are probably now gasping, “Blasphemer! Artifacts are why we’re here!”, they will remember that they, too, preach the importance of context. With an ever-expanding world of contextual information available to the archaeologist, the fine details of the artifact itself begin to pale in comparison to what surrounds the artifact for potential to inform. And I just happen to be all about that dirt. Continue reading

The Texas Antiquities Code at Work

by Amy E. Reid

Amy Reid, working in the field during a survey

Amy Reid, working in the field during a survey

In my office, I have a large white binder sitting boldly on my bookshelf amongst a collection of comparatively under-used resources. This binder, labeled “Texas Antiquities Code: Rules, Laws, Regulations and Procedures,” contains a wealth of information and regulatory guidance pertinent to my profession as an archaeologist and as a collections manager. The Texas Antiquities Code (the Code) is one of the most important pieces of legislation governing the practice of cultural resource management (CRM) in Texas. The THC website contains a substantial amount of information about the Code. In addition, Mark Denton, an Archaeologist and Program Coordinator at the THC has written an excellent article on the history of the Code. Therefore, this post will focus more on how I use it and its present day application in the world of CRM. Continue reading

How to be Successful in Cultural Resource Management

By Todd Ahlman

jake and edward in Crooks park

CAS field crew performing shovel tests

The business world is littered with articles that are a list of the four, five, six, or any innumerable ways, actions, factors, or steps to be successful in the business world. It is simple enough to sit down with a business-oriented magazine (think Harvard Business Review) and learn what you should do to be a successful employee, manager, executive, or CEO. I have learned in my career that these sources are valuable in navigating the business world, but when it comes to our field there are few guidance materials for establishing a successful and happy career in Cultural Resource Management (CRM.) This blog post aims to fill that void. The information here comes from my own career, and the background and experience I look for when hiring and promoting. Continue reading

Archaeological Field School: a vital step to a career in archaeology

By Todd Ahlman

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Students and locals during the previous St. Kitt’s Island Field School

The topic of this week’s PAST Posts seems like a no-brainer, but more and more I see and hear from my colleagues that students are not taking archaeological field schools and are finishing their undergraduate and graduate studies without the essential training necessary for an archaeological career. In this post I will talk about my field school experiences and wrap up with a discussion of what experiences people should look for when taking a field school. Continue reading

Interning with the McEvoy Collection at CAS

By Kathleen Jenkins

As an intern at CAS, I have been granted many opportunities that have not only intensified my passion for archaeology, but have allowed me to have firsthand experience in the curation process. I willingly took on this position because I knew that an internship would help me develop the knowledge and skills that would be essential for future academic and occupational opportunities. Being a college student also makes me naturally indecisive, so I decided that interning would be the best way to determine my academic and career path. My decision to intern at CAS was the right decision for me. Continue reading

Working with the Public at the Gault Site

Guest post by Clark Wernecke

Members of the Texas Archaeological Society during a 2000 field school at the Gault Site.

Members of the Texas Archaeological Society during a 2000 field school at the Gault Site.

As an archaeologist one of my primary duties is to uncover information regarding human behavior in the past and to pass on usable information to my colleagues and the general public. If I excavate the rest of my life and fail to do this then I have wasted my life – it’s that simple. Archaeology is not about filling in museum cases or rewriting history texts, it is about expanding our knowledge of how humans behaved in the past to improve our understanding of behavior in the present and predict it in the future.

I have been particularly lucky in my career to have worked on many different types of archaeology throughout the world and, on occasion, I have worked with archaeologists who viewed the public as a distraction at best and nuisance at worst. A few years ago I was at a seminar where a panel of archaeologists discussed one national volunteer program as a bunch of “old, retired folks” who were nice enough but took up their time. I also had worked with this group and, when asked my opinion, I noted that those “old folks” were retired engineers, architects, doctors, surveyors and even anthropologists and they have the time to spend volunteering on your projects!

Continue reading

The Value of Archaeology to Forensic Anthropological Casework

Guest post by Michelle Hamilton

Forensic anthropologists conducting a surface search for scattered remains

Forensic anthropologists conducting a surface search for scattered remains

Forensic anthropologists work with law enforcement agencies and medical examiners in cases involving decomposing, skeletonized, or otherwise unidentifiable human remains. Their expertise is based upon a rigorous understanding of the human skeleton, and the ability to discern biological markers on the bones that may indicate sex, age, stature, health, and other features of a once-living individual.

The forensic anthropologist may be asked to assist with establishing the positive identification of a deceased individual, or they might be called upon to examine trauma in order to help understand the cause and/or manner of death. They are often asked to determine whether a discovered skeleton is modern, or if it represents the remains of an individual that died in historic or even archaeological times. These kinds of analytical investigations are usually morgue or laboratory-based, and are conducted on remains that have been brought in from the original discovery location. Continue reading