Monday, November 22, 2010

Shovel Testing

I am an archaeologist. This is a fact that I have not discussed much recently, which is odd because I spend 40+ hours a week being an archaeologist. I travel as an archaeologist and every dinner party I go to I have to discuss being an archaeologist. Archaeology is actually a pretty diverse field. This is surprising to most people.

Typical conversation -
New acquaintance: "What do you do?"
Me: I am an archaeologist.
New acquaintance [is thinking, but how do you make money?]: "Who do you work for?"
Me: "I work for a cultural resource management (CRM) company."
New acquaintance: "So who pays you?"
Me: "I work for a private company that contracts with a variety of federal, state, local and private agencies."
New acquaintance: "Oh [then they decide to let the subject drop]. What is the coolest thing you have ever found?"

Everyone asks about the coolest I have found. I do not know the answer. Archaeology is about context. If a group did not have many ceramics and you find a sherd, this is cool. Ceramics are not as cool when you find 100+ sherds in every screen full of dirt.

Last week I was in Charleston, SC. We were working on a tract of land that has been a tea farm, rice plantation, and more modern housing. Did you know that tea was briefly subsized by the U.S. government? It was a largely failed enterprise as a whole. There is still one operating tea farm in the United States (see this). There were still wild tea plants growing across the tract.

Shovel Test

In CRM archaeology one common way of exploring an area that has not been previously surveyed is shovel testing. To shovel test an area a grid is established and regular holes are excavated throughout the grid. The distances are measured through pacing and the angles are determined using a compass. The dirt from each shovel test is screened for artifacts.

This is a sort of zen inducing activity. Walk, dig, screen, dig, notes, repeat. This is supposed to locate archaeological sites. Often it even allows sites to be roughly dated. Shovel testing is a necessarily flawed activity. What if a site is less than 30 meters in size and sits between shovel tests? Oh well... let me know if you think of another, better, way to find archaeological sites.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blue Cheese Potato Carrot Soup

Today I found myself in need of a comfort food dinner. Derek told me he could not have too much cheese before he played hockey. This eliminated the macaroni and cheese option. I have been really obsessed with soups lately. We had black bean soup last week and butternut squash soup the week before.

So, I made up a recipe. One of my very first, now I am going to share it with you.

Blue Cheese Carrot Potato Soup

1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil (really you could use all olive oil if you want to avoid dairy)
4 medium sized carrots, chopped
1 medium sized onion (indifferent about color), chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds russet potatoes (approximately), diced
3 cups vegetable broth (low sodium is preferred)
1 bay leaf
6-8 ounces blue cheese (something creamy), crumbled (blue cheese could be optional, it is not for me)

1. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the carrots and onions with a heavy pinch of salt. Sweat until onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). I love saying this even though I do not think onions are ever translucent.... Really they will just be soft. The carrots will not get soft yet.

2. Stir in the garlic. Let it cook for another minute or so.

3. Stir in the potatoes and let them get coated with the butter and oil. Then, pour in the vegetable broth and add the bay leaf.

4. Let this simmer on lowish heat for about 30 minutes or until the carrots and potatoes are falling apart and soft. Then remove the bay leaf and discard.

5. Now, carefully, use a stick blender, regular blender, food processor, or a potato masher (maybe?) to blend the soup. At this point it kind of looked like baby food. It is bright orange.

6. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Then add the crumbled blue cheese and let it melt in.

Serve with wine, fresh bread and good company.

I apologize for the awful photos. Really the soup was good, my camera karma was just not with me today.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Last week I went to the Southeastern Archaeological Society (affectionately known as SEAC). Once a year archaeologists who study the southeastern United States meet up at a random hotel to talk about archaeology, drink beer, and generally nerd out. This year it was in Lexington, Kentucky. Home of bourbon, the derby, and, well, not much else.

I presented a paper entitled "Geophysical Prospection as an Archaeological Survey Method: Ground-Penetrating Radar, Magnetometer, and Intra-site Patterning in North-Central Tennessee." No one really wants to hear about my presentation. Actually, there were people at the conference who did care.

The conference was so much fun. Nothing like being surrounded by people who share a common interest. Then you can drink beer and gossip about the same stuff.