Hittin’ the Books

So the last two months have been absolutely insane at work and with my studies, which is why I didn’t post. I had to write five papers this semester and sometimes I was working on two at the same time and planning a third. It was crazy-go-nuts, BUT it’s all over! I’m officially done with all my classes and have transitioned into Dissertation mode. That means all I have left to do is research and write my dissertation. It’s due December 1st and then I AM DONE!

This was a birthday present. I’ve always wanted to work on Atlantis! Oh crap…does this make Dr. McKay my boss since he’s over sciences? Uh oh, I better toe the line and watch my shenanigans.

More Village People!

In the last blog post I talked at length about the amazing coworkers I have at work. There’s also a lot of people outside of work and my family that have supported me on this journey, more members of my village that I’d like to introduce to you. The truth is I also would never have been on this path to become an archaeologist if it weren’t for some very special people in my life. You have to meet these fabulous ladies and scientists:

Christine Gauger

So I’ve known Christine since…2006? 2007? Christine’s husband, Nathan, has been friends with my husband, Paul, for at least 18 years. Christine and I didn’t hang out much, mostly saw each other at parties. It must have been in late 2017 when I was talking to her about being interested in archaeology but not knowing how to start when Christine gave me the funniest look and said, “You know I majored in anthropology in college, right?” I didn’t know that. Christine told me all about the TAS field school and went with me the first time in June 2018. Christine was my savior when I started going to TVCAS meetings and had no clue what all the jargon was. I would text her under the table, “Christine! What the heck is debitage?!” and she always replied. Christine was extremely influential and helpful in my early days of navigating this mess, from learning technical terms and excavation techniques to choosing university programs to study at. I know that God truly put Christine in my life to help me begin this journey and I am forever grateful for her help and putting up with my blunderings as I stumbled down this road (and hit a deer on the way).


Dr. Leslie Bush, Paleobotanist

I love this lady! I cannot stress enough how much I adore Dr. Bush. She was the first person I met at the TVCAS meeting when I was really nervous. She immediately welcomed me and sat next to me and made me feel at home. Going on a nature walk with Dr. Bush is an experience. She knows the scientific nomenclature for all the plants. She’ll be like, “Ah! Ilex vomitoria!” and I’m like, “That’s a yaupon holly, Leslie. Ew!” (Yaupon holly tea is nasty). She has yet to catch me and make me do flotation with her. I shall evade your watery traps, Leslie! Dr. Bush has watched me stumble through this whole adventure and has always been there to listen to me when I’m stuck or making major decisions. She gives me fabulous advice and I appreciate her calm and gentle demeanor. I can sit in her presence and immediately feel the chill. Leslie is seriously one of the coolest and smartest people I know.

Dr. Bush!

Dr. Sarah Chesney, Archeologist at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site

Sarah was the first real field archeologist I met when I did my first dig in March 2018. I immediately discovered her love of ceramics and I’m sure I made an annoying ass of myself bouncing over to her every time we found a bit of manky pot in our unit. Sarah’s probably one of the funniest people I know and it’s always a privilege to get to dig with her, which I don’t get to do nearly enough. I’ve managed to do some shovel testing with her at San Felipe, which is one of my favorite places to dig. Sarah’s getting her own archeology lab there and I’m super thrilled for her (it will even have SHOWERS! How swanky! Talk about spoiled archeologists!). Sarah was the first person who invited Nora to come along and dig with the grownups, something that Nora’s still grateful for because it opened the door to her digging outside of field school with the Houston Archeological Society. I always learn something when I’m around Sarah. Maybe that’s why I love digging with her so much. I’m a huge lifelong learner and I know I’ll learn something new when I’m with her. Digging with her (and drinking with her) is always a good time, even if she does make me draw features when I can’t draw AT ALL (thanks Sarah, I still think that weird ass soil stain looked like a shoe print). I still send her photos whenever I find moldy bits of pot somewhere. “SARAH, LOOK AT THE SHERD I FOUND! WHAT THE HELL IS IT?!”

Dr. Chesney!

Annie Reigert-Cummings, Head of Osteology and NAGPRA Coordinator, Texas Archaeological Research Laborator

Annie is my bones goddess! I met Annie in 2018 when I volunteered at the lab. She gets my weird obsession with bones and isn’t grossed out talking about skeletons. I’ve learned a lot about curation, forensics, and bone identification from this lady. I had the privilege of doing a virtual internship at TARL in 2020 when I was an undergrad. Annie really pushed my record keeping and curation skills despite us being in lockdown. I learned just how important accurate record keeping is when you’re excavating skeletons. Basically, I learned how NOT to keep field records! Annie is also one of those people I can talk to about the major decisions I’ve had to make in choosing schools and programs.

Recreating burial positions based on grave records from 41AU36 as part of my internship. This was a double-burial, adult and sub-adult. I couldn’t draw skeletons before I did this project! Thanks, Annie!

Marybeth Tomka

I met Marybeth when I started volunteering at TARL in 2018. I learned a lot about about lab work and collections from her and also during my internship at TARL in 2020. Marybeth was an invaluable resource throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, even as recently as this semester when I wrote a huge paper on Kennewick Man. She always seemed to have insight into an issue and I knew I could always come to her with problems. She was incredibly supportive, especially when I was processing the more emotionally challenging and controversial aspects of archeology, like when we visited the Texas State Osteological Processing Lab in 2018 (that really changed my life). Marybeth listened to me when I was struggling with dealing with my sister’s death during lockdown and completing a challenging internship. Marybeth is also a huge sci-fi fan and she’s been an indirect influence on Gwyddion. Some of the dialogue going through my head in the archeology lab scenes in the script comes across in Marybeth’s voice! Keep that in mind in the future when you see laboratory scenes. I guarantee Marybeth is in there somewhere!


McDade Cemetery

I did some more digging at the Lone Oak Site on March 25. On the way home I stopped by McDade Cemetery to check out the memorial markers because you know I like hanging around in graveyards. I’m weird that way. Anyway, it was an interesting trip and I really enjoyed seeing the headstones. The old Victorian stones are mixed with modern burials. I was very careful not to take photos of recent burials, out of respect for their families. Below are some of the photos I took and a few videos.

Dancing in the Graveyard

Speaking of graveyards, I discovered this amazing song in March by Delta Rae. How have I not heard it before? It really reminds me of Mindy, my sister, who passed away just over three years ago on May 30, 2020. I think she really would have loved it and I love the silly idea of her dancing with me in the cemetery where she’s buried. We don’t think of graveyards as happy places, but this song really changes that conversation for me. They don’t have to be scary or sad or spooky. They can be places of joy and remembrance, especially if you subscribe to a higher power or an afterlife. This song has sort of become an anthem for this dissertation and you bet I’m going to be listening to it when I’m recording gravestones in St. Mary’s Kirkyard in Rousay this summer.

It’s a Major Award!

No, I didn’t win a sexy leg lamp. That would be epic. At the end of the school year at work the department heads give out silly awards. I was given two this year, one from Marston and one from Alan Cardon (they were mentioned in the last blog post, so you can go and see photos of them there). I have to admit I got a kick out of these! They will definitely be going up in my classroom in the fall.

Turns out people notice if you talk ad nauseum about Gwyddion and archeology, bitch about cookie season (screw you, cookie season), and occasionally teach (is that what they pay me to do?!).
Listen, I like hanging around in the Social Studies Department more than the English Department where I technically belong. Along with Cardon’s endless dad jokes, they have coffee and cynicism and hilarity. I’d defect there in a heartbeat if I got off my ass and got my Social Studies teaching certificate…but I probably won’t.

Field School and the Tambourine of Triumph!

Field School starts on Friday! This year we’re in Nacogdoches, which is a town I really love to visit. It’s very pretty there, in the Piney Woods of east Texas. My bestie from college, Christina, is coming this year with her two kids and we’re all crashing at an Air BnB together. It should be interesting. I’m crew chiefing again and she requested to be on my crew. I’ve been told that we go down 20 centimeters and hit clay, so this is going to be a fast and dirty field school, opening lots of 2×2 meter units and busting through instead of sticking to one unit the entire week. I’m excited for a different experience and it will definitely challenge me as a crew chief. Bring it on! 

The youth group has a cowbell that they ring whenever they find cool stuff. My crew got kind of jealous last year and all I had was a cheap whistle to blow whenever we found anything. This year I decided to be extra silly and I bought a tambourine and put a TAS sticker on it. Behold the Tambourine of Triumph!

Hell yeah, Tambourine of Triumph! We can’t let the kids have all the fun!

I’m probably the silliest crew chief out there, but whatever. Field school should be fun. It’s hot, it’s dirty, it’s tiring…we need to laugh and I do my best to provide levity. I try to take care of my crew and make sure they’re as comfortable as possible and having a good time. 

I will do another post at the end of field school because a lot is going to be happening! Look for a post around June 18th.