Being Better Gatekeepers of the Knowledge Bank

Originally Posted on Day of Archaeology Blog:

This summer was my first not in the field in over a decade (I know an apt time to write a day of archaeology post but it is the first time my brain wasn’t fried by the sun). While it has been challenging not to work in the field sweating digging, troweling, and picking, it has afforded me time to engage in other things archaeology: finishing research, attending conferences, attending archaeology classes and thinking, lots and lots of time alone thinking.

However, the best thing that my time off from field work has given me is time to travel with my fiancée, a non-archaeologist but avid learner of everything. We have seen everything from National Parks and Ancestral Puebloan ruins to Parchi Nazionali and Roman fora. Just because I wasn’t excavating didn’t mean I was avoiding archaeology, just engaging with it in a different way.

Being trained as an archaeologist since undergrad, visiting such sites and understanding them is a well practiced skill for me. I have learned how to navigate the stones, pits and poorly written signage well. But as my fiancée has not spent years in school for archaeology, she found it incredibly frustrating (and made sure I knew it) to visit poorly signed sites both home and abroad. Faded state plans surrounded by blocks of text made no sense to her until I was able to decipher and focus the information. Sometimes even my own excitement got ahead of me and caused confusion, that was till she lovingly told me to slow down – after which I focused my slew of information to create a richer tour for her without beating her over the head with every foundation stone and pot sherd. And while she loves having her own personal archaeologist tour guide, not all people visiting our beloved sites will have one on hand (unless we start going on a lot more dates with non-archaeologists).

These experiences demonstrated to me that we archaeologists need to be better stewards of the knowledge that we uncover every summer. This is more important now more than ever with sites coming under attack from governments, militaries, and too much love. This is not to say that we should be more restrictive in who sees the knowledge or even dumb down any of the facts we share, but the flood of information needs to be better managed. Archaeological parks and sites need cohesive Cultural Interpretation Plans (CIPs) that will help guide creating focused signs and thematic units for parks. Every time a person leaves a site thinking that was just a bunch of rocks or worse yet, a person chooses not to enter a site because all they think they will see are a bunch of rocks, we lose. We lose the voices and support we need in the public to save these places, find new ones, and prevent looting. With increasing pressure to be relevant and useful, we need to show how irreplaceable the sites we cherish are. The time to move on from archaic old styles of sharing information is now. For if we wait longer, will there be any sites left to save?

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Digital Archaeology Course- Learning about Metadata and Focal Depth

So this summer instead of excavating, I decided to take a course on Archaeology (my first in almost 5 year). I am super excited to be reading academic articles and discussing these themes with colleagues and learning new skills. We have been focusing on how to create 3D models and looking at different open source tools that allow us to take all types of measurements with the models. We have also be discussing the reasons for engaging with archaeology this way, how digital archaeology will change the field, and the responsibility behind this type of data creation.

This course is being offered by two of the directors (Laura Banducci and Rachel Opitz) from the Gabii Project and is being houses in the American Academy in Rome. This is a new course being offered by the AAR and one that I am really excited they are offering. I’ve never visited the AAR, but it is an amazing campus on the Gianicolo Hill (ancient Janiculum) with beautiful gardens and old 19th century architecture. I wished I had my pipe here since this would be the place to go lunting . Really it is a house where I should have a smoking jacket for after dinner.

The course has opened my eyes to a lot of important things in archaeology that I haven’t thought in depth about since I was a field worker. While I have always had a general idea about the management of data after I have removed an artifact from its soil matrix (i.e. fancy talk for dirt). But now I have a larger and more complete idea of what Theresa, Steve, and Eric do down in the magazzino.

While I feel I am getting a lot from the course because of my extensive time in the field, a similar course really should be a part of every archaeological student’s course work. Even if you don’t move down the path of digital archaeology, it helps you become aware of problems, solutions, and better ways of dealing with the vast amount of data points that get created each year in pottery sherds or brick stamps. This type of course would help people integrate between the field, the lab and then final database processing in a much smoother way.

I hope that the courses continue to be offered by the AAR, I’d come back and take another one given the chance.

Until next time, Ciao

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Roma- with 100% more passports!

So I left off with Sara getting an upgrade for our hotel. That night we walked down to Campo di Fiori to get dinner at Open Baladin, where Sara made another friend. We wandered back via the Imperial Fora. The following morning we rose early to beat the heat and visited the Roman Forum and Palatine hill. Sara made me focus my knowledge for this tour, which was great, I’ve never been forced to do that before (most of the time my audience are students and they have to listen to me). I really thought about how much better tours could be with a little more training (maybe in a national park…).

We then had lunch in a Carrefour and taxied over to our next AirBnB with my fellow classmates in a convent (a nun who spoke no English showed me my room). Then we were off again to the Colosseum to visit it in the final hour before they closed. It was such a pleasant way to view it, very few people, lots of shade and places to just sit and think. We saw a pair of men tailed by police and a new exhibit on the second floor of post-Roman illustrations of the Colosseum. Then after a tense moment looking for a restaurant (the one we wanted had no outside seating) we ate dinner and then walked up to our AirBnB. We stopped in a piazza which was showing a movie with Italian subtitles (it was Paths of Glory with Krik Douglas playing a French officer in WWI).

The next morning (Monday), I started class. And again that will be a good place to leave it for now. I’ll update you on what I’m learning later tomorrow.


Ciao for now from Sara and I!

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Cosa, Pisa and Cinque Terra- Italy 2017

So after the summer I had last year, I decided to take this one off from excavating to allow myself some time to relax and get my head back on straight (jumping into the school year and school play last August did not help). But I couldn’t just not travel, so after much debate and planning I applied for a class at the American Academy in Rome and then Sara and I decided to add on a few extra days of just plan travel. So we packed our bags and jumped on a Lufthansa flight to Rome! Sara is a wiz at using points (and she will help you with any of that if you ask her) and so we were able to rent a car on the points and take off. Our first stop was Albinia, where I had worked for the last two summers at the Excavations of Cosa. We had an AirBnB near Bar Hawaii and the Sottopassagario of the town. We met up with the current dig team for dinner and then a tour of the site the next day. They are doing amazing work there (check their blog out). Sara was amazed at all the work being done there (and all the knowledge required to understand Roman archaeology). She was really appreciative to have a personal guide for the area.

Next we took off to drive to Cinque Terre. In my ten years I’ve never visited this beautiful area and was really excited to see it. And since Pisa was on the way I decided to visit another spot that I hadn’t seen either since who wants to visit the industrial mess that Pisa is known for. Sara and I finally found the piazza del Duomo and parked. We were able to assist in helping keep the tower upright. After our walk around we were off again for Cinque Terre.

We were staying in Riomaggiore at another AirBnB that Sara found. We parked the car near the cemetery and took off down a narrow set of stairs that the area is known for. We found the place, up another set of stairs, and met Franca (a wonderful woman to rent from) who showed us the place and the secret set of stairs that cut out a ton of stairs. After settling in we went out to a long dinner at Ripa del Sole (they were crowded and understaffed, it was expected but the British lady there did not appreciate it).

The next day after a short episode of trying to find gas (I may have forgotten to fill before leaving La Spezia), we got the Cinque Terre Parco Treno tickets and headed to Corniglia and climbed all ~370 steps to the town from the train station and then started hiking to Vernazza. It was stupidly beautiful and a little hot. Once we made it to Vernazza we dined on Foccacia and fried squid. After that we were a little tired out by the tourists there and the hike so we checked out the Castello Doria and then took the train back (with a pit stop at Manarola for an afternoon coffee). We then dinned on the terrace and enjoyed the cool evening air.

Friday we took the train to Vernazza and hiked the rest of the way to Monterosso where we had a breakfast snack in the town. We then decided to show our Colorado colors and rented a sea kayak and paddled out to Punta Mesco which is an area protected from motorized boats. We saw some herring gulls sitting and anchovies leaping, which inspired us for lunch (we had fried anchovies). Then after the train home we napped, dined, watched the sun set and then capped the night at Bar O’Netto and Vertical Bar with some local brews. Sara of course met some people who she had one degree of separation with from Fort Collins.

Saturday we packed up, visited the Church in Riomaggiore and then headed out on the road. We wanted to visit another small site and stopped at the Roman town of Luni. We walked around the forum and museum and then headed to the amphitheater. The site is super small so really manI also introduced Sara to PennyMarket where we had take away lunch and then booked it for Rome. Once we made it to Rome, we checked in (another points deal) and Sara got an upgrade to an awesome apartment for the night.

That is where I’ll have to leave it now. I’ll share Rome journeys next!


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Future Shock

With the winter break and my schools service projects I have had some time to read and reflect on a lot of different topics in my life. And there has been a lot to think about: a new Administration entering the White House that is downright hostile to the humanities, some future committee meetings about directions for our Classically inspired missions and conversations centered on “what next” during the AIA/SCS annual meeting. A common thread through all these readings, reflections and conversations is the idea of the ‘Future’.

I really didn’t know how to best approach the future until I was reading a book about Teaching as a Subversive ActivityOne of the ideas that I read about there is that of Future Shock, this idea is what you expected to be there in the future is suddenly gone (for any number of reasons).

When people encounter future shock there are several ways that it can manifest itself. A person can become impotent and withdraw, they could act as if nothing has changed and the future is still the same, or they do something and forge new paths.

There is no other way to say it but the future of academia is changing, for better or worse. I have a deep seated love of the humanities and could never find myself withdrawing from the humanities so withdrawing is not an option for me. Already many years I have been telling myself that the same jobs and honors that my professors had were there for me, but recently I have come to terms with the fact that this is no longer the case. I think I am finally ready to accept the fact that I am going to need to forge a new path.

I am not sure what this path will look like, but for too long I have stood at the crossroads. But to paraphrase Robert Frost, I am about to take one less traveled  and I hope it will make all the difference.

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Archaeology or Ecology: The need of Archaeology in High School

The chance to sit and write is a challenge being a teacher, it usually only happens during the breaks or when I am traveling. Hence this post right after the Annual Meeting of AIA/SCS. This however has been an idea that I have been chewing on since the fall. 

Over my break, I went camping with my girlfriend at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and we were obviously hiking all over the place. She studies public health and its intersection with National Parks so of course the topic of nature, natural beauty and the idea of preserving these landscapes for peoples health came up. This occured while hiking in an area that is managed by the Forest Service and therefore has more diverse activities allowed on the land. There were all types of people out on dirt bikes and ATVs near the entrance gate and we decided to drive further into the conservation lands to escape the noise before starting our hike.

A little hill west of Black Canyon NP

We found a lovely area that seems miles from anyone, but to our chagrin we quickly discovered signs of recent human use in the form of litter (which we picked up). Continuing out hike we came to this hill top. While looking around I of course discovered a rusted beer can, although clearly much older since you still needed the punch openers so clearly at least 50 years old. After a little more investigating and some deductive reasoning we figured that we sumbled upon an old hunting camp. It overlooked a valley, had some trees that seemed to selter it from the wind and a few stones seem to have some signs of burning. No matter how hard we tried to get away from humans we still came upon evidence of them. Humans are everywhere.

The can in question

Of course this camp had been there a number of years and so we left the can there but it still stirred in me the conflict of do we preserve nature and the nostalgic view of what nature should be or leave the evidence of past human use in the area for others to find (or a survey team to document)? At this point there is very few points on this Earth uneffected by humans at some point in our millions of years of evolution, so is there really anything that is “untouched by man” and how do we really teach leave no trace when we are hiking?

LNT is based on the idea of take only pictures and leave only footprints but also tied into it is the idea of help keep the wilderness clean for others. But where is the line for my hunting camp, when is it old enough to be left alone? Furthermore, how is the handling of potentially archaeological sites something not covered in more schools? Everywhere a person goes, even deep in the woods, has the highly likly chance of being affected by another human and possibly being an archaeologically sensitive site. Shouldn’t students understand how to handle themselves when they find something like this? I believe that teaching more about archaeology at the secondary level will allow for more to understand what could be out there in the world and how to approach sites encountered in their outdoor activities. 

Maybe some day archaeology and data discovery will become an important topic to be covered in the classroom. Heck maybe even in my life time. 

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The Cost of Being Outside

School is on Thanksgiving break which means that I now have time to do some of my own  archeological work. For the last few months I have been meaning to put this event into words here but then the school musical, progress reports, and Women’s Homeless Initiative got in the way. And well frankly, others have already done a fantastic job of sharing the nitty gritty data on this topic (see below for some links). So why am I talking about this again? Well, the reality of academic barriers certainly haven’t changed, but I would like to add my experience the mix.

I’ve been a high school teacher for the past 5 years, so I’ve been outside the academic community for a while. I try my best to keep up with it, but it is a challenge. I’ve had the chance to present at different conferences (but at my own cost) and publish one of my graduate school papers in a journal (but not without the help of friends inside the academy to get the most up to date research) and I continue to travel abroad to work (but after creating a sometimes stressful high school component to help with costs). For the most part, I think I have done a good job staying connrcted with the field of one of my life’s passions. Still, I am continually reminded that I am on the outside looking in.

The most recent episode (which now is a few months back) was when I purchased The Etruscan World edited by Jean Macintosh Turfa. When I was tidying up my graduate school paper that I was introduced to my lacking on current research and saw how helpful this book was. A really amazing friend was able to send me the chapters that I needed to reference for the paper. Still, I felt the intense need to try and be more current in my research about the Etruscans. So I looked towards Amazon to purchase the book for myself (I figured it wasn’t going to hit used book stores, until much later; my main source of Etruscan research). And even though I have read all the articles and reports about the cost of academic books, I was floored by the price tag of $301!

I’m a school teacher, I really enjoy it but I know I’m not going to get rich from it, so $301 (or even the $241 Amazon said they could get it for) was way out of my budget for a single book. I have never been so thoroughly smacked in the face by a paywall before. I could have continued to ask my wonderful friends to break copyright law and send me copies of what I needed but I don’t want to be a burden to them or get them into trouble. Spending that amount on a book would have made me resentful to it and the system it came from; which I didn’t want to do. So in the end, I decided that I would start saving my credit card points. I signed up for the Amazon credit card a while ago because…..well I love books and getting Amazon points is a way for me to get more without killing my budget. So it was at this point (sometime in the fall of 2014) that I started to save. I didn’t do anything crazy with the credit card, I wasn’t going to accrue credit card debt for a book. I just kept my normal spending habits up and didn’t use the points on anything else.

And finally 2 years later, and after finding a cheaper version for $175, I was able to buy the book! I was so happy and only had a twinge of guilt for spending all those points in one purchase but it was mine and not a moment too soon as I was about to start work on a poster for the 2017 AIA. When I finally opened the shipping box, a flood of thoughts flashed through me. It took so much work and patience to get the book and it was already 3 years old. Luckily, we Etruscologists are slow to inovate so not too much of a problem. But what if I wasn’t in a slow field? It would be next to imposible to keep up. It is a huge book and looks like a brick. It reminding me of how much of a barrier is there for those of us on the outside of Academia (either by money, education, or geography). And the book both physically and metaphorically weighs me down, keeping me tethered to the idea that I might go back into Academia (a thought I have been dealing with now for a long time).

In the end I am glad I made my purchase, for even if I never present again on the Etruscans, a topic that drives my curiosity I am glad to have this book to read through for the rest of my life (and I wont need that weight set anymore to get swole). This book also represents the grit that I’ve had in order to continue in this field. Even if I won’t become one of the foremost scholarly names (like I dreamed about as a wee undergrad) I have built a network of friends and colleagues. Everyday, that seems to be proving me more fulfillment and joy, than I imagine the fame would be. And maybe that has made all the difference.


Some articles/posts I’ve read about the challenges of publishing and the Alt-Aca Field:

Ain’t no Paywall Low Enough

Reflections on the Road Less Traveled

What is the Point of Academic Books

Academics are being hoodwinked

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