The continuing adventures of a second-career archeologist, teacher, and sci-fi geek

Month: May 2018

A New Chapter

Chapter One of my new anatomy and physiology book…so it begins.

Next week I’m starting my first class on this whole journey to become an osteoarchaeologist: Anatomy and Physiology I.  I’m taking the class entirely online through South Texas College. That’s also the week that I leave for field school and we’re going to be in Camp Wood and Barksdale, Texas where WiFi and internet access are limited. My cell phone carrier doesn’t have coverage in that area (other companies do). I emailed the professor to let her know that I’ll be limited to the libraries and she responded that I should start reading the first chapter NOW and that I pretty much have to be online every day due to labs, tests, and quizzes.


I’m in the process of making alternative arrangements, which will probably involve borrowing an unlocked phone from my father-in-law, buying a SIM card, and tethering the whole damn thing to my tablet. Whee!

I’ve been so busy with the end of the school year, getting ready to volunteer at TARL, and prepping for field school that I haven’t had much time to contemplate that next week really does begin a new chapter in my life and not just in my anatomy book.  Last night I had a panicky moment where I went, “WHAT AM I DOING? THIS IS NUTS! I AM TOO OLD TO CHANGE CAREERS.” Hello! Mr. Self-doubt came a-knocking on my door. Was I going to let him in or send him packing?

Fortunately, I’ve been here before. This is not the first time I’ve done something completely insane and bananas that made me doubt myself. Stepping back onto the stage after a 13 year hiatus when I was told by the head of my college program that I’d never work in the theater was a bit bonkers. I went on to produce the US premiere of a musical (something I am exceedingly proud of!). Getting a job as a high school reading teacher was extremely difficult (those jobs are few and far between). I found one. Traveling Europe alone with a 7 year old was nuts. I did it and had a good time, even though I was ridiculously sick with a diseased gall bladder at the time.

Mr. Self-doubt can shove off because I don’t need his kind around. I’ve proven that he’s not welcome in my life and I sent his butt packing.

I also considered the alternatives. I asked myself, “If I quit now, would I really be happy spending another 25 years in the classroom?” From the bottom of my heart, the answer was a resounding “NO!” My heart knows that this path is the correct one. I realized just how far I’ve come in confidence in the last several years. It’s taken me 40 years to come this far, but here I am!

I know this journey will be hard. I will be tested in so many more ways than just academically. There will be times when Mr. Self-doubt comes knocking on the door again. Maybe sometimes he’ll bang loudly and insist that I let him in. I won’t. I can’t. I don’t have time for him and I won’t listen to that jerk anymore.

I’ve turned the page on that chapter of my life, a chapter full of questioning, second-guessing myself, and listening to Mr. Self-doubt. This new chapter, the one that I am just beginning to write, will be stuffed with adventures and discoveries.

I can’t wait to get started. Three more days to go!


Yesterday the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory (TARL) hosted a lithics and flintknapping workshop. I know next to nothing about lithics and honestly am not very interested in them, but I’ve been told that it’s something I should know about if you do archaeology in Texas. Also, I’m tired of going to meetings and presentations with my local archaeology group and hearing words like “chert” and “debitage” and “Folsom point” and “biface” being flung around casually and having no freaking clue what’s going on. I’m lucky to have a very patient friend who majored in anthropology. I have gotten very good at sending clandestine text messages to her during presentations going, “HELP! WHAT IS DEBITAGE? I AM SO LOST!” Thanks, Christine!

My husband, Paul, has very little interest in archaeology, but he enjoys working with his hands (woodworking is a hobby of his) and I invited him to come along. We dropped our daughter off with his parents for the day and headed over to the UT Pickle Campus to see the mythical TARL. Everyone also flings “Oh, such-and-such artifacts are stored over at TARL” or “Yeah, I was at TARL” around casually, so visiting the lab had become this sort of archaeology rite-of-passage in my head. It’s like I’m not a serious archaeology student unless I’ve been to TARL for some reason. Well, I finally had a reason!

I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t get to see much of TARL except the bathroom, one of the portable classrooms, and the finds washing station out back (which was pretty cool). The first half of the workshop was a quick-and-dirty hour and a half presentation over lithics in general. The instructor was super friendly and interesting to listen to. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be bored to tears or not (seeing as I’m not interested in this stuff that much), but I found it fascinating. We learned about the different kinds of stone that’s used (‘chert’ is just another word for flint) and the various stages of tool production. There were lots of  great examples of typical stone tools and I now know the difference between an arrowhead and a dart. Some of the artifacts he showed us I’d heard about at other presentations and the digs where they’d been excavated. I was probably a little too thrilled that I could finally start making connections! Well, I don’t care. I’ve only been doing this for about 8 months and I’m excited that I can start putting two-and-two together!

The team at TARL pulled a ton of examples that were spread out over two rows of tables and, with few exceptions, we were allowed to pick up and handle the artifacts.  I finally know what chert, debitage, Folsom point, and biface means! I can now nod along sagely with the rest of the archaeology enthusiasts at meetings instead of frowning and dashing frantic texts off to Christine under the table!

We grabbed some lunch at Jimmy Johns up the street and then headed back for the second half of the workshop, which was actually getting a chance to try flintknapping. We spent about 30 minutes watching Sergio, a professional flintknapper, make a replica Folsom point from scratch, explaining his thought processes about where to strike as he shaped the tool. Sergio said you have to see the finished tool inside the rock. I was reminded of when I studied in Italy and visited the Galleria dell’Academia in Florence to see Michelangelo’s “David.” The tour guide told us that Michelangelo saw the finished statue inside the marble before he started sculpting and said it was his job to release the statue from the stone. I’m not an artist, but I got the concept.

Then it was our turn. We spread out under the permanent canopy near the wash stations, where a bunch of tarps were laid out to catch the flakes that came off our pieces of chert. Our seats were a bunch of overturned 5 gallon buckets. I just bought a new pair of gloves for field school and I was excited to break them in a little before next month. The pieces of chert they gave us were huge and not at all like the smaller, flat pieces that the professionals had used for demonstration. I was a bit frustrated because I have no idea how to break those big cores down into a smaller, workable piece. I just banged away at the piece with my hammerstone, which I succeeded to break twice! I had to go get another one. The original piece of chert I started with was about three times the size of the finished product. I wound up with a prehistoric paperweight that you couldn’t even use to knock out a mammoth, but you can see where I soft-of tried to achieve the leafy shape of a spear point:

I knapped a paperweight!

Paul didn’t fare much better, but no one really did. We all laughed at our bad creations. Paul picked up a chert flake from the ground and managed to slice his leather gloves open and cut his thumb. That is impressively sharp! Fortunately, I carry bandages in my purse (it’s a mom thing). I can see just how effective those tools are when properly made!

On Time Team, they always go to the pub at the end of a long day of archaeology. Paul and I opted for Starbucks, seeing as it was only about 2:30 in the afternoon:

Celebrating our glorious flintknapping failures at Starbucks.

I do want to try flintknapping again, hopefully with a better piece of chert that isn’t twice the size of my hand! Seriously, that stuff was huge!

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