Surprisingly, a lot! You’d think that with COVID-19 making all of our lives miserable I wouldn’t have done anything related to archaeology, except maybe take some classes.
Well, you’re right. I did take some classes (Sociolinguistics, a requirement for my program), but I also did an internship at TARL to knock out three more credits for my anthropology degree so I can graduate in May.
“How?!” you may ask. How indeed.
The good people at TARL set me up with this amazing project entering data from burial records from the Ernest Witte site into their human remains database. I had to learn a ton about burial terms and how to interpret the records, which were incomplete and contradictory at times. For example, I had to translate coordinates into cardinal directions, which meant getting out some graph paper and drawing in burials. I’d never done this before and it took a combination of my experience in the field and my husband’s rusty Boy Scout orienteering skills to help me figure out what the HECK Annie was babbling at me to do. Once I got the knack of it, though, I discovered just how crappy I am at drawing.
There was also a lot of reading about the care and curation of human remains, how samples are taken from bone, FORDISC and 3Skull, and NAGPRA. Annie talked me through a lot of that over Zoom and Marybeth joined us sometimes. I learned so much, and all from my office at home! I really enjoyed myself, though, and it was a really cool experience. Of course, I would have preferred to be back at TARL again, but this was the next best thing. TARL has become my summer home and I really miss it.
Part of the project involved writing a lab narrative, which I included in all of the stuff I had to submit to my professor at Western Illinois University. I guess they were pretty impressed because they included me in a recent news release. 😊
All in all, I’m pretty proud of myself for all my hard work and getting noticed. It’s nice to have your work acknowledged now and then.
It’s super strange, but surrounding myself with burials and human remains this summer actually helped me cope with my own sister’s death. Mindy passed away on May 30 after a five year battle with an inoperable brain tumor. That was right before my internship started.
This is the first time I’ve been able to write those words, honestly. Anyway, I found the internship really cathartic for some reason. It helped me stay busy, sure, but a lot of what I learned had to do with burial customs and practices. I reflected a lot on my own culture’s practices surrounding death, directly observed at my sister’s funeral. Even at her funeral I couldn’t turn off my archaeologist’s brain.
I miss her so much it’s like there’s a hole in my soul. I don’t have any other siblings. My sister’s cognition had seriously declined in the last few years, but her long term memory was still pretty sharp and she never forgot that I wanted to be an archaeologist. The few times I saw her after my digs and told her what I’d been up to, she always wanted to hear all about them and would ask questions about the sites and the artifacts we’d found. She told me once that she could tell I’d found my niche and she was really happy for me because she could see how happy archaeology made me.
I wish I could have taken her on a dig with me. I think she would have loved all the activity of a busy dig site. Mindy was curious about people, the same way I am. Part of the fun of archaeology is trying to puzzle out our ancestors and understand them through their artifacts and cultural remains. Mindy would often ask me why we thought a certain way about a culture. She enjoyed speculating along with me and I miss her terribly.
In other news, I am taking two classes this semester: Native American Cultures and North American Archaeology. We started off in both classes talking about Cahokia, which I was able to visit this summer on a whirlwind socially-distanced trip through Missouri. I didn’t get a chance to take too many photos, though, but that place is huge. Climbing to the top of Monk’s Mound in 95 degree heat suuuuucked, but it was so worth it. I got an idea just how big that city was. I felt pretty small. Nora was in a bad mood (read: hot and tired and thirsty) and didn’t want to talk to me, so I was all alone, much like a monk. How apropos.
I do have plans to keep up this blog more regularly. I’m a bad bad blogger for being neglectful (*cough*haventupdatedinayear*cough*). Honestly, for a long time nothing really cool was happening. I also didn’t have any ideas of what to write about besides the occasional digs I was going on. So much was cancelled this year that I’ve been focusing mostly on the practical academic side of archaeology. However, I finally got some cool ideas and I’m going to work those into the blog, so look forward to more updates.
I’ve also realized just how freaking weird and unique it is to be a middle-aged woman throwing the middle finger at a good career and deciding to pursue a career in archaeology. Most archaeologists I know, both professional or avocational, are either within 10 years of having graduated from college or are my mom and dad’s age (retired). I’m smack in the middle. At TCAS meetings I’m usually one of the youngest members in the room and that’s just odd to me. I’m used to being the oldest! I figured this blog might inspire others around my age to chase their dreams and that there’s no use being tied down to a career you feel is going nowhere or one you hate. In my case, archaeology combines everything that I’m already good at as a teacher and spins it into something I truly love.
I’m working towards living my dream and I wouldn’t have it any other way.