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

Author: Heather Leonard (Page 2 of 4)

Graduation and an Exciting Announcement…

I waited for a while to update because I’ve kind of been in the doldrums. Winter is the quiet part of the year when there’s not too much going on in the field. Add on the COVID pandemic and it’s all dead. I’ve been buckling down for this last semester of my studies. Last month I was surprised to learn that I won Spring 2021 Departmental Scholar for the Anthropology Department at WIU. That was a surprise! I received a nice medal to wear at graduation next month. I also was invited to join Phi Kappa Phi, which is the oldest honor society in the United States and very prestigious. I was pretty shocked about that one, but I decided to join because I decided that I’ve earned it. I am really proud of how I’ve managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA while working full-time and being a mom. It’s not an easy feat.

I wasn’t planning on attending graduation, but when I won Departmental Scholar I thought, “Why the heck not?” Paul and I are both fully vaccinated now. I don’t know how Illinois is, but Austin is back to Stage 3 and the risk for us going to Illinois next month is negligible. In February I found a decently priced Air Bnb nearby to Macomb. All of the hotels were already booked up and also exorbitantly priced. Then WIU canceled graduation, so I canceled my reservation. I found out about 10 days ago that graduation is BACK on and will be held outside and socially distanced. Oooookay. Hot and cold graduation, yay! Unfortunately, the first Air BnB was no longer available and I hesitated to book a place that didn’t have a generous cancellation policy in case WIU calls off graduation again. I had to do some hunting, but I finally found another place that is in the country on a lake with giant swings. It’s about 30 minutes to campus, which is reasonable, and I can cancel up to a few days before. We are bound for Illinois next month!

So some of y’all know that one of the reasons I wound up in archaeology in the first place was because of Time Team. I’ve talked about this show before, but if you’re not familiar with Time Team it was a British production that ran for almost 20 years. Every episode featured a dig primarily in the UK that took place over 3 days. Tony Robinson was the host. Time Team has been off the air for around 8ish years but it still has a loyal fan following. Recently, the producer of the show announced that he’d like to bring the show back and set up a Patreon account. The response was overwhelming and yours truly decided to pledge to bring the show back. It’s the least I can do for this show changing my life! I’m excited to see the new shows once they’re made!

I happily blame Time Team for this insanely wonderful adventure I’m on now!

So here’s the biggest news….


I just found out about a week ago. This September I am starting a masters program in Archaeological Studies at the University of Highlands and Islands in Orkney, Scotland. It’s an online program that will take me about two years to complete from start to finish. I also may have the opportunity to dig in the Orkney Islands next year, something that I have ALWAYS wanted to do! I am beyond thrilled about the next step in my journey to becoming an archaeologist!

I’m also excited that I’ll be getting my degree from a school in Scotland and one that specializes in my fields of interest. I am so blessed that there is an online program that aligns with my needs. This was pure serendipity. I can continue with my studies and still work full-time to prepare for an eventual move to the UK for doctoral studies.

I often have moments that affirm that I’m on the right path. Let’s face it: what I’m doing is NUTS. I have a good job, a nice house, a great car, and am in a loving marriage. It’s insane to drop the 9-5 and go chase my dreams in my forties, right? I say hell no. It’s not crazy. Life is too friggin’ short to be satisfied with the status quo. I love what I’m doing! Archaeology is the one thing in my life, besides my family, that makes me insanely happy. I am blessed to have a partner who is willing and eager to go along with my crazy ideas. Even my current job is more than enough to pay for trips, weekend digs, and annual field school. I am where I need to be right now, but I won’t be here forever.

I started this journey so unsure about everything, but I also knew that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least give it go. I never imagined how amazing it would turn out to be!

You never know what will happen unless you try.

Sing Along Sunday!

I’ve been meaning to post this song for a while. It’s by Danny Weinkauf, who was the bassist for They Might Be Giants. He’s released a couple of kids’ albums, many of them based around science and education. I was tickled when he wrote this number and it’s very catchy!

Field School is ON!

Yeah, I know I posted two days ago, but this is big news!

I’ve already booked an Air Bnb in Kerrville for the week.

I am so freaking excited it’s not even funny.

Yes, things will be socially distanced, but I think the world will be much improved by June. Back to normal? No. Safe enough to do a socially distanced dig, especially if the majority of the adults have gotten their vaccinations? Yep.

Also…I changed my phone ring to the Time Team theme song. I confess that I do a dance when it goes off before I answer it (or let it go to voicemail if I have no idea who’s calling).

I’m such a geek.


I couldn’t think of a better title for this blog post, sorry.

It’s been 2 months since I last updated because nothing much has been happening. I was in between semesters. Today was the first day of my last semester before I graduate in May. I’m taking Old World Archaeology with my favorite professor and Anthropological Theory. I’ve read through the syllabi for both classes and WOOOOEEEEEEE this is going to be a writing intensive semester! I don’t mind, though, because it will be good practice for writing my master’s thesis starting in September (I’m speaking positively, see, because I haven’t actually been accepted yet).

We already kicked off Old World Archaeology with talking about ancient aliens building the pyramids. HELL YEAH! I love pseudoarcheology (hence my last post about the Archaeo Fantasies podcast). It’s so ridiculous.

Masters of the ARCHAEOLOGY


Old School She-Ra. Hell yeah… This post actually has nothing to do with She-Ra. I am just feeling dramatic today. Sue me.

I think I finally figured out what to write for my masters thesis. FINALLY! It’s been driving me nuts. If you know me then you know I am really impatient and I want to walk in the door in September knowing what the heck I’m going to write about for the next two years.

I’m still nailing down an exact research question, but I do know that I want to do some work with finding missing African American cemeteries, locating graves, identifying the individuals by historical record if possible, and using genealogical databases and records to notify descendants of the location of their ancestors.

I feel like this work is important because for too long the individuals buried in African American cemeteries were deliberately ignored and forgotten. They weren’t deemed important enough to be remembered. I think that is disrespectful, sad, and needs to be rectified.

I don’t really think of archaeology when I think of social justice. You probably don’t, either. Archaeology, though, is the physical story of our past and that includes minimalized and historically oppressed peoples. I’ve always said you can tell a lot about a culture from how they treat their dead. This holds true for many African American cemeteries and graves. People didn’t respect them in life, so why should their final resting places be treated with the same care and attention as Caucasian cemeteries? Their cemeteries were often unrecorded and lost, only to be mistakenly discovered when they are dug up. This happened in Florida recently when a high school discovered it was built on top of a black cemetery.

It is positively shameful.

I cannot be held responsible for the reprehensible things my ancestors did, but I believe that I am responsible for making it right as well as I can. I have the skills to bring awareness to this issue and to help give a name to the people who were deliberately forgotten. Every person who has walked this earth deserves the dignity of having their name and their resting place remembered. I want to research what archaeologists and communities are doing to correct the wrongdoings of the past.

This also ties into my interests in funerary archaeology, so complements the work I want to eventually do when I’m working on a PhD (see, more positive thinking). I’m thrilled that it’s all seemingly falling into place.

Now I just need to narrow it down to a research question, which is the hard part. This is when I feel less like She-Ra and more like Shaggy.

Zoinks! We need a research question, Scoob!

I’ll gladly give a whole box of Scooby Snacks to anyone who helps me out here.

Archaeological Fantasies Podcast, Grad School, and Other Stuff…

So I discovered this wonderful and hilarious podcast a few weeks ago to listen to when I was driving 2 hours each way through the backass roads of Texas to get to the dig site. It’s called the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast hosted by Sarah Head with Dr. Kenneth Feder basically debunking all of the pseudoarchaeological crap out there.

I love it.

There’s nothing better than driving to a site at the buttcrack of dawn with a cup of Buccee’s coffee and listening to two people and a guest rip holes through fake archaeology. It’s really a great way to start your day in the field. I highly recommend it.

Here’s the deal…I’m just an undergrad (not for long, though!) and I can’t tell you how many times when I’m talking to strangers about what I’m studying, they start going off on some weird random mystical artifact or archaeological conspiracy they saw on a TV show. It’s annoying as frak because I usually have no idea what the heck they’re talking about. I don’t have cable and I don’t get the History Channel or whatever channel shows that crap. I don’t watch the shows because I just don’t care to.

Last year some guy at a teacher’s workshop started blabbing at me about some artifact in New Mexico (I don’t even remember what it was) and then got pissed off when I didn’t know:

  1. WTF he was talking about.
  2. Clearly couldn’t keep the look of “oh god, not another crackpot” off my face when he mentioned aliens. I mean, I get it. New Mexico. Roswell or something, right.

He mentioned a cover-up by the Feds and at that point I was about to burst into laughter and I moved to a different table. I just couldn’t. As soon as you mention aliens, I’m out. Bigfoot, out (sorry, dad). People other than the Native Americans who built the mounds, out. Giants, OUT. Young Earthers, out (and for the record, I am a devout Christian). Romans in Texas, GET OUT.

And I’m only an undergrad. I get the distinct impression that this crap gets worse the higher I move up in my academic career. This podcast has made that abundantly clear to me.

Yay? Well, there’s weirdos everywhere. It seems like they’ve just gotten worse in the last several years since there’s been a pushback against solid science in general. I guess it just comes with the job?

So I don’t really listen to podcasts in general. There’s nothing wrong with them. It’s just that I rarely have time to sit down and listen. I’m not really able to listen to them while doing activities that take a high amount of concentration, like writing a paper (that reminds me…I really need to stop procrastinating and get crackin’ on that Navajo burial practices paper for Dr. Anderson that I keep putting off). They’re great for long drives, obviously. Now that the site is shut down because Phase 3 ended and I’m not doing any driving because of the stupid pandemic, no more podcast.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve started listening to it in spurts while doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and while out and about doing socially distanced errands.

I’d heard of Dr. Feder before. His book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology has been recommended to me many times and has been on my to-read list for ages. It’s on the 10th edition now and I can only find older editions at Halfprice Books. It’s on my Christmas wish list, so hopefully Santa will hurry down the chimney and leave it for me under the tree this year.

I’ll admit that I’m only on Episode 9 of over a hundred, but I have subscribed and I intend to listen to the rest as much as possible.

Graduate School!

Uh…ok, not much has happened here, but everything is now officially in! The professor I asked to write a recommendation did it for me (thank you, Dr. Alveshere!).

So now we wait.

Might be until spring.


Other Stuff

I have come to the sad realization that I may not be able to go to TAS field school next year if I can’t go back to work soon. I’m still on FMLA and will probably still be out for a while. I AM doing better, but just not to the point where I can handle work yet.

That means 2 summers that I will have missed field school. Of course, I don’t even know if TAS is even doing field school yet. I guess it all depends on how distribution goes with the vaccine.

However…I am considering applying for a summer internship with the Texas Historical Commission in the Lost Cemeteries project. If you know me you know I can’t sit still for 5 minutes and I have to do something until my grad school classes start in September. Cemeteries and burial practices are areas that I am very interested in working. I think it would be close to what I’m thinking for a PhD dissertation (something I’m considering) and would be a great experience.

That’s me, always scheming and dreaming.

Season Wrap Up and Grad School News

I found out yesterday that the site where I’ve been working is going to be closed down because they feel they have enough information to define the site. I’m pretty bummed because I really enjoyed working out in the field again. I managed to make it out there three times before the sudden shut down.

Sadly, those three sessions were all the digging I managed to do in 2020. I’m thankful I had the opportunity because it was cathartic to be back in the field and I’ll take three sessions over none.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to dig next. If (and a big IF) field school happens in June then that will probably be the next time. It’s possible HAS may do some work in the spring, depending on how the pandemic is going and whether a vaccine is available by then. I’ve heard Pfizer’s vaccine is about 90% effective and they are going to submit it for FDA approval soon, with the hopes it will be available for healthcare workers by the end of the year. I really hope it does because I don’t want to have to wait almost another whole year before digging again!

In other news, I applied for graduate school a few weeks ago! The University of Highlands and Islands has an MLITT (same as a Master of Arts) in Archaeological Studies and it’s totally available online. I’m just waiting for them to make a decision and I’m not sure how long it will take. If I don’t get into their program, then my second choice is University of Leicester online because they have a pretty decent archaeology program, but it isn’t as specific to my interests as UHI’s.

What I really wish I could do is go to Texas State San Marcos because the skills I need to learn are there. However, I can’t afford to quit my job and commute down there every day. It’s an hour one way. I earned my M.Ed. from Texas State, but I lived in South Austin back then and it was only a 30 minute drive. I’m stuck with online classes for now and I guess I have to be content with that. I hope I can pick up those skills down the road when and if I can go to the UK to do a PhD.

Sometimes I feel like this whole archaeology journey so far has been like running around on a hamster wheel. I’ve been going in circles and not really getting anywhere, but now I know that isn’t true. In six months I will have completed the first major step in this journey and applying for graduate school was when I realized that I’m getting off this hamster wheel.

I mean, maybe graduate school is another hamster wheel, but it’s a wheel filled with different challenges (DISSERTATION, YIKES!) and is closely aligned with my field of interests. I also may have the opportunity to excavate IN THE MOTHER FLIPPIN’ ORKNEY ISLANDS! I have always wanted to go there, so this pandemic needs to skedaddle so I can hone my practical skills and become a better archaeologist.

Back in the Field!

Last Saturday I finally got out into the field after a year or so hiatus. It was so great to be out there. I did take photos but I can’t post them since the dig site is on private land and I said I wouldn’t. You’ll have to content yourself with this selfie of me that I took on the way out there. Behold! That most elusive of creatures, an uncaffeinated archaeologist.

Sweet, sweet holy bean water!

Basically the only thing that will get me out of bed before the buttcrack of dawn and to a dig site on time is the promise of Happy Hot Bean Juice. Buc-ee’s in Bastrop is pretty decent and I can get in and out really fast. The drive out to the site was gorgeous. There were some low clouds over the highway, but not fog. The sun was just rising over Bastrop State Park as I passed it and it was such a stunning view. I really wish I’d pulled over and taken a photo.

It was also a rare moment of peace that I’ve had in ages. There is a lot of stupid going on in my life right now. A LOT. I’m on FMLA for having a nervous breakdown last month and I am only maybe marginally better. I’m still waiting to talk to a counselor, but I really should have been talking to one like…four months ago. Our society doesn’t make it easy to get professional help when you desperately need it. I’ve also been diagnosed with not one but three genetic corneal diseases. At least those issues are relatively under control and the incidents I’ve had have lessened in intensity and frequency.

So when I saw that beautiful sunrise over the park, it was like my whole soul sighed with happiness. I was going on a dig. It was quiet and peaceful and, for just one moment, everything seemed ok with the world.

I can’t express how wonderful it was to be in the field again and to be with people and my friends at Houston Archaeological Society. I was able to learn some new skills, but mostly I screened. I did find a partial animal skeleton for the first time and that was pretty cool. All of those classes in forensics and physical anthropology actually paid off! I think maybe it was a rabbit, but I found the femur, tibia, and I think part of the pelvis.

I think I’ll try to go every other weekend while the weather holds. I was super happy right after the dig and I think it’s good therapy for me to get out there doing something I love, honing my field skills, and seeing people.

Archaeology is the only thing in my life lately that hasn’t gone off the rails. I really need to get out of teaching. I just…don’t want to be there anymore. It’s not even a don’t. It’s a can’t. It’s like waking up one day and realizing you can’t do something anymore. I feel like a brick wall has been plonked down in between me and the classroom. I can’t really explain it any other way. I don’t know how to tear down that wall or climb over it. I’m not even sure I want to. This is why I need to see a therapist. I have all these great analogies for the way I feel, but I don’t know how to process them. All I know is that being in the field makes me happy and I need more happy right now if I’m going to recover and be able to manage anything besides my studies and homeschooling Nora.

Random Thoughts of a Desperately Bored Archaeology Student…

  1. Mom’s Happy Tuna and rosé do not a good combination make.
  2. Staring at the overgrown backyard and tempted to just…randomly start digging. More likely to break a utility wire or throw out my back rather than find anything. I really need to get back out into the field. Stupid COVID.
  3. Should stop putting off my test. It’s due tomorrow and there’s an essay on Make Prayers to the Raven that I haven’t started.
  4. Damn, this rosé is good.
  5. But not with tuna.
  6. These crackers are great.
  7. Oh damn, this cucumber salad is awesome.
Too bored and broke to go get food. Leftovers, yay!

8. I feel like living dangerously. Not stupid enough to go into a store without a mask on. My desire to be reckless should never potentially harm others.

10. I think I will have another glass of rosé and take my test and see what happens. LIVING DANGEROUSLY!

11. I am pathetic.

12. I wonder if the Koyukon eat tuna?No, you dummy, they live in Alaska’s interior.

13. They eat salmon. I hate salmon.

14. Does salmon go good with rosé?

15. Would I like salmon mousse? Does that go well with rosé?

16. Wasn’t that dish on an episode of Chef!?

17. Lenny Henry is hilarious.

18. What if I dug a hole in the backyard and called it gardening? What grows in Texas in October?

19. Shit, I screwed up the numbered list format in WordPress. This is the last time I blog on my phone.

20. My glass is empty. Time to imbibe the last of the rosé and consider my essay question. The Koyukon are freaking amazing.

21. I’m out of crackers. Damn.

22. And cucumber salad.

23. Happy Tuna is gross by itself.

24. I have had too much fish this week.

25. I hate this stupid pandemic.

(UPDATE: I got a 98 on the test while slightly tipsy, if you’re curious. I’m not sure if I should be proud or ashamed about that. Just to clarify, I don’t usually drink wine before exams in case any future employers or potential universities are looking at this).

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

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.

I can’t draw worth beans, but hey…I was pretty proud of my sketches. This one is a double burial, a smaller skeleton (in red) on top of a larger, both face down. I couldn’t tell that from the burial record until I actually sketched it.

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. 😊

Check it out!

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.

The view from the top of Monk’s Mound after I caught my breath and downed half a gallon of water. That’s Nora, the junior avocational archaeologist, who was suffering from heat, dehydration, tweenage hormones, and a raging case of “Oh God Not Another Archaeology Site, Mom!”

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.  

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