The Chemistry of Archaeology: Summer Internship at the GVSU Stable Isotope Laboratory

Every student in the Applied Anthropology graduate program at MSU is required to complete an internship with an aim to provide students with practical experiences in an applied anthropology-based setting relative to their graduate studies. My thesis revolves around a quantitative zooarchaeological and stable isotopic analysis of the faunal remains recovered from the Khirbet Summeily excavations, co-directed and excavated by Dr. Jeff Blakely and my advisor, Dr. Jimmy Hardin. My goal was to find an internship that not only co-aligned with my interests, but also aided in my thesis research and future graduate studies. Amidst my searching, my outside committee member, Dr. Elizabeth Arnold, presented an opportunity to be a graduate research intern at the Stable Isotope Lab at Grand Valley State University. I immediately accepted the opportunity and began my incredible, chemistry-intensive, summer.

What are Stable Isotopes and How do they Relate to Archaeology?

Stable isotopes are elements with different atomic mass, based on the number of neutrons, and do not decay overtime. These isotopes include carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and trace elements, such as strontium, barium, and lead. The extraction of these isotopes provides two lines of evidence for study; the isotopes ingested by a living organism reflects their surrounding environment and those isotopic values can vary regionally, providing spatial evidence. Stable isotope has typically been analyzed from preserved bone collagen, however, carbonate found in the biological apatite of bone mineral and tooth enamel has been shown to reflect the whole diet and has recently gained prominence as a tissue of study for carbon, oxygen, and strontium (and is the selected tissue for the GVSU Stable Isotope lab). Sampling of the tooth enamel can extract carbon and oxygen, as well as strontium (a trace element). Carbon isotope ratios can inform a researcher on past animal management practices and environments, based on the ingestion of C3 and C4 plant vegetation and oxygen isotopes in biological apatite are positively correlated to the isotopic composition of ingested environmental water. Strontium isotope values can indicate where the animal spent portions of its life, due to the animal intaking strontium in the vegetation from their geological environment, which would leave levels of strontium in the enamel apatite. The use of carbon, oxygen, and strontium isotopes allows archaeologists to reconstruct past environments, animal diet, past herding and exploitation practices, trade relations, as well understand how the mobility of the animals played a part in the socioeconomic structure of past societies.

The Job Description

The stable isotope lab at Grand Valley State University primarily focuses on isotopic research in the Levant region. This allowed me to work on material from multiple sites in Israel, including Ashkelon, Tell Yarmouth, Tell es-Safi, and Tell el-Hesi. My day consisted of arriving at the lab each day at 9:30am wearing appropriate lab attire (long pants, closed-toe shoes, and hair tied back) and my day concluded at 5pm. As a graduate research intern, my job included five major tasks: tooth selection, cleaning, cutting/sampling, processing, and running the samples (which concluded at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign). I had the opportunity to be involved and conduct each one of the following steps.

Step One: Tooth Selection

Most teeth collections came to the lab unsorted, so the optimal teeth for sampling needed to be selected. The “best” teeth were mandible molars than contained little to no cracks. Compared to maxilla molars, samples along a mandible molar can more accurately be identified to growth period. Cracks needed to be avoided for potential contamination and breakage during the cleaning and cutting process.

Pre-Cleaned Tooth.jpg

Step Two: Cleaning

Arguably the messiest, the cleaning process involved removing all the calculous, dentin, and cementum to expose the enamel with a dremel drill. Various dental drills were used to clean the enamel surface for sampling. Masks, goggles, and a lab coat were required pieces of attire for this step.

Post-Cleaned Tooth.jpg

Tooth Cleaning Day.jpg

Step Three: Cutting/Sampling

Using a diamond-tipped dental drill, bands of 1.0 mm width were drilled horizontally across the medial lobe of each molar tooth starting from the base of the enamel and working upwards. Depending on the size of the tooth, samples ranged from 10-25 lines. Each sample was collected in a microcentrifuge tube and weighed. All samples were recorded in the designated lab notebook.

Step Four: Processing

Processing days were the longest and most grueling days. The samples were treated with a bleach solution overnight to remove any organics. Then the samples were washed four times with distilled water and treated with acetic acid for four hours to remove diagenetic carbonates. The samples were additionally rinsed with distilled water another four times, entered a freezer for 30 minutes, then freeze dried overnight.

Step Five: Running the Samples

The final step required Dr. Arnold, Cece Roehm (the other student intern), and me to travel to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to work in the Multi-collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer Lab (where samples for strontium were run) and the Stable Isotope Lab (where carbon and oxygen samples were run). The opportunity to work in these world-renowned labs along with other notable isotope researchers was incredible. I was even able to work in Dr. Stanley Ambrose’s isotope laboratory (one of the leading researchers in stable isotope studies). The entire process of running the samples required our team to be there a whole week, where we would run over 500 samples. Strontium had to be extracted through a series of acid washes before entering the mass spectrometer and carbon/oxygen had to be weighed out and placed in vessels before extraction could begin. Following testing, results were interpreted and graphed for each sampled individual.

Weighing for Carbon and Oxygen Samples at Illinois.jpg

The Trip to Israel

As a part of my internship, and through a summer research grant, I was awarded the opportunity to travel to Israel to collect and export additional teeth to submit for stable isotope sampling. During my two-week adventure I stayed in Kibbutz-Ruhama with Dr. Jimmy Hardin and Dr. Jeff Blakley and combed through box after box of recovered animal remains from the Hesi Regional Research Project to collect and bag teeth for export. Once all the teeth were collected, bagged, and recorded in an excel spreadsheet, I experienced the permitting process for exporting archaeological remains from Israel through the Israeli Antiquity Authority. Detailed photographs were shot of the 80 selected teeth for export, including photographs of how they were bagged and how they were going to be transported. A formal letter had to be written detailing where the remains were going, the sampling procedure, and the labs where the sampling would take place. After a few days, the Israeli Antiquities Authority issued me an export permit, and I was allowed to leave the country with the faunal teeth (the look on the TSA agent’s face when she pulled out a giant bag of teeth was priceless). While it was a field season, I still had time to visit a few archaeological sites, tour the Old City of Jerusalem with my advisor, and work on thesis research at the W. F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research.

All Bagged Samples

The Big Picture

During my time as a graduate research intern I was able to work on a range of material ranging from the Early Bronze Age to the Iron Age in the Near Eastern region, gain hands-on stable isotope analysis experience from the leading experts in the field, and made necessary connections between understanding isotopic analysis and how they relate to archaeological questions and problems. Based on my summer as an intern, I will be involved in multiple publications based on the primary data recovered from the sampled. I will be presenting a paper on the Iron Age Hesi regional isotopes at the ASOR (American School of Oriental Research) conference this November in Denver, which will be turning into a book chapter for the upcoming Hesi Regional Research Project report. In addition, I will be a co-author in an upcoming paper on the Early Bronze Age isotope results from Tell el-Hesi and a co-author on a paper comparing the Early Bronze Age isotope results from the various sites we worked on this summer. This internship not only taught me the ins and outs of isotopic research that will be applied to my thesis and future endeavors, but it also provided me necessary skills to navigate the world of academia and research. It was a world-wind of a summer but I’m forever grateful for the experiences and knowledge that I gained through the experience. Thanks for reading!

By Kara Larson

 

 

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How to ‘thesis’

Your coursework is done, you are now a seasoned graduate student, it is time to begin the ever-daunting thesis writing process.

Regardless of your school or department, most programs have a thesis writing component. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but the thought of churning out 100+ pages of academic writing terrified me to no end. Yet, I somehow managed to do it, and successfully at that.

“Thesising” as we began to call it in my department, is not easy, but it shouldn’t be terrifying either. It is just another process you have to go through if you want a career in academia. If you break it down, a thesis is essentially a really big essay. At this point, you should be an expert at writing essays, so what’s one more?

Hindsight is 20/20, looking back on my thesis journey there are many things I would do differently. Not to be too harsh on myself as there are things that I did right as well.  As I toiled through my thesis I started creating a little list in my head of tips and tricks that just might be handy for someone who is about to begin the daunting thesis writing process.

  • Know what you want to research and get approval from your supervisor

What helped me out immensely was that I knew what I wanted to base my thesis research on before I even applied to Mississippi State. Knowing what you want to study works in your favor since you can gear your classes to help your research (more on this below). However, it is important that you obtain approval from your thesis supervisor if you are coming in with a research question already determined. Your thesis research in not only a reflection of your work but is tied to your university and your committee as well. Your superior will be able to tell you if your research is feasible and ethical. While I came in with a research question in mind, my research design and many important parameters were decided in agreement with my supervisor.

However, I’ve noticed that many people do not have a hard and ready research question coming into a graduate program. Most of my peers had general research interests, but not a set question. If you do not have an idea question that drives you, the best thing you can do is take on a research question that is pertinent to your supervisor’s research. Chances are your supervisor’s research interests are similar to yours, either theoretically, geographically or methodologically. Additionally, they would be able to provide you with access to the required data more readily, as opposed to trying to secure data from elsewhere.

  • Know your topic – Do your background research

You do not need to be an expert, but you do need to know what you’re talking about. When I began my thesis, I knew very little about Albanian archaeology, other than I wanted to study it. I grew up in Canada, so Albanian prehistory was not a high priority in the Ontario Public School Curriculum. However, I was lucky enough to take a Directed Individual Study (DIS) in the second semester of my first year which allowed me to familiarize myself with my topic. I created a list of readings which covered Albanian archaeology, the history of archaeology in Albania, archaeological theory, GIS and GIS in archaeology, which my thesis supervisor amended and approved. I would read my weekly readings, take notes and meet with my supervisor once a week to discuss them. This kills two birds with one stone as it allows you to familiarize yourself on your topic all the while doing the background readings for your thesis proposal. Since a DIS is a class, you will need a way to be evaluated – in my case, I wrote my thesis proposal as my evaluation. This was helpful in helping move along my progress in the program as it gave me a hard and fast deadline which I had to adhere to, of course, of course I added significantly to my reading list over time, but this is a good stepping stone to get you started and build up a base of knowledge. As I made my way through my original list, I found more articles by looking through works cited pages. As my proposal came together, I noticed gaps or ideas that I wanted to explore more, which prompted me to consider other resources or articles that I had not considered previously. Additionally, as my knowledge on the topic grew, I was able search more successfully for new resources since I had a better idea of what keywords to look for. Also, worth keeping in mind is that the research portion of your thesis does not end with your thesis proposal or your literature review. I was constantly reading new articles and expanding my works cited – I found some of my strongest articles 3 weeks before I defended! Never stop reading, never stop writing, and the more you read, the better your research becomes.

  • Do not try to reinvent the wheel

Consider why your program requires a thesis in the first place. In my department, they encouraged us to cap our thesis at about 100 pages, excluding graphics and appendices. As a master’s student, you are not supposed to reinvent the wheel. What you are required to do is demonstrate that you have the capability to organize and carry out research, and interpret the results within a theoretical framework.  This means that you should keep your reach question as simple and your research design as straightforward as possible. Take it from someone that had 13 hypotheses and sub-hypothesis – simplicity is your friend! If you can prove or disprove something with two hypotheses and two sub-hypotheses, DO IT. Keep your research question simple and above all feasible. While it may be very interesting to do DNA analysis on human remains from a Pueblo site, for example, chances are you will not be allowed to do so. When coming up with a research question keep in mind access to data and time and money restrictions. Is your data overseas? Can you access it? How will get access to it?  Are you allowed to publish on it? What about your methods – are they destructive? Do they take a long time? Are they expensive? Do you have access to certain tools and instruments you will need? It took me 5 months to collect and work with my data, and I was working with secondary sources and open data that could be accessed online.

  • Use your coursework to help you

I wrote my thesis while taking classes. This can be difficult at times, but what helped me make progress in both my classes and thesis, is that I would use my coursework to aide my thesis research. You have to write a paper for you GIS class, great – write it on the history of GIS in Albanian archaeology. Need to analyze data for your stats class? Great, use your thesis data! I tied my thesis research to every class I had to take, even Middle Eastern Cultures (I wrote a great paper on interconnectivity in the Mediterranean and world systems theory – the main theoretical framework I used in my thesis – WIN!). By the time I finished my coursework, I had written papers on the history of Albanian archaeology, world systems theory and interconnectivity, GIS application in archaeology and Albania and done multiple projects using my thesis data for both my GIS and my stats classes. Using your data for classes is so useful as it allows you to really get to know your data, and facility with your data is key!

  • Deadlines and progress

I remember being in my first semester of classes and thinking about my thesis as if it was some monster. It was overwhelming, how does one get to a polished, bound, approved thesis in just two years. The answer, dear friends is to break it up into manage chunks. This is how I broke down my thesis:

  1. Background reading
  2. Thesis proposal – Literature Review, Methods and Materials
  3. Collect data
  4. Analyze data
  5. Interpret data
  6. Write results
  7. Conclusions, limitations

I gave myself deadlines to adhere to for each part outlined above. They were not set in stone, and they were sometimes unrealistic, but they helped keep me on track. My deadlines were often super early, so even if I missed them, I would still be on track. I am a very visual person, so once I had an approved thesis proposal I create this board for myself. I know, sounds lame, but I swear to you this thing kept me from going crazy.  I went to Walmart, got a cork board, some push pins and cue cards and sat down on the floor of my room one September day and planned out my thesis writing process. At the very center of my board when my thesis statement. This was not an original idea. I remember from my professionalization class, Dr. Zuckerman telling us to write down our thesis statement and to put it over where we will be writing. Having your thesis statement direct over your head as you are writing is great way to keep yourself on topic, and helps keep your writing concise and to the point. The next for que-cards around these statements consisted of important information that is pertinent to your research. I had the descriptions of my categories up; my time periods, site designations etc. Finally, were the posts with deadlines and progress.  I gave myself hard and soft deadlines and made note of things that I had completed. The latter was helpful for morale – even through my to-do list was very growing, seeing the completed list grow as well always made me feel a little better. The most important deadlines however where the department and program deadlines. Write these in BOLD RED. Know them, live them, have them memorized. Do NOT miss these deadlines.

  • Don’t take it personally

One thing that I quickly learned is that when you have complete and approved thesis proposal, 1/3 of your thesis is done! Your proposal consists of a problem statement, a literature review, methods and materials, those are the first few chapters of your thesis. Of course, you will have to add and edit certain parts, but a big chunk of your thesis is ready. Once you have a first draft you really are past the hard part. Now all you have to do is go through the rounds of edits with your supervisor and committee. There are some things to keep in mind during this part of the process. First, draft one will never be perfect, so get ready to edit a ton. And two, thesis edits are not to be taken personally, they are meant to make your work stronger, so if you committee suggests you change or add something, my advice would be to do it. I added entire sections to my thesis to meet the requirements of my committee and I am so glad that I did because now I think I have better and stronger thesis.

  • Love yourself

This became my motto and words of advice during my last semester. I finished my program in two years, however it is designed to be three. Most people take courses for two years and then write in their third. I however, had classes, TA’d, volunteered and wrote and defended my thesis in one semester. And while I did it, I sometimes think my mental and physical health suffered for it. Of course, there have been people before me who have done the same, and there will be many people after me who will successfully defend in two years. This is something that is determined between each individual and their committee. But my advice to everyone who asked me if they should do it in two years is to think about why they want to finish in two years. Do you have a job lined up?  Do you have another program to start? Do you have family or someone waiting on you back home? Does your supervisor think that you can successfully complete the program in two years? If the answer is yes, and you yourself want to finish the program in two years, then do it. I know you can. Otherwise, love yourself more, and work at the pace that you’re comfortable with. Remember, it is not a race and you are not competing with anyone, the impotent thing is that you do good research. Also remember that it is ok to take breaks, to cut yourself some slack and to love yourself. Believe it or not, it will get done, it always does.

  • You are not alone

Cheesy as this sounds, you need to remember that you are not alone. You have an entire department behind you. Your supervisor and committee have a vested interest in you succeeding, after all, your success reflects positively on them. I cannot count the number of times I had to go to my supervisor for help when I was stuck on a method, when my data would not process or when my stats were wonky. And every time, my supervisor sat down with me, walked through the problems with me and helped me come to a solution. We ended up changing major parts of my thesis by the end of it, and my thesis is only the stronger because of it.  Aside from your committee and your supervisor, you also have your peers. There were countless times when I would sit up and talk theory or methods with my colleagues. What I loved most about my department is how much we care about and help each other. One person’s success is all of our success. My colleges and I would help each other find resources, edits drafts of our work, and even just be there for moral support. I remember I was so stressed one time that my roommate went out and brought me a little “happy” bag filled with my favorite chocolates and kombucha and a fuzzy blanket. Some of my best memories are of paint nights in with my friends to celebrate finishing a chapter or getting back thesis edits.

Now take this with a grain of salt, I am not a professional and this little list is not meant to be exhaustive. But the point is, writing a thesis does not have to be a terrifying task. If you come at it with a clear and simple research question, break it up in manageable parts, and chip away at it consonantly, you can get it done. After all, it’s just another essay, and you’ve written hundreds of essays by now.

By Erina Baci

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The Return to Hester: The 2017 & 2018 Field Seasons at the Hester site (22MO569)

During the summer of 2017, the Mississippi State University excavation field school was held at the Hester site (22MO569). The site is located just north of the town of Amory in northeast Mississippi, between the Tombigbee River and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The initial test units at Hester were excavated in 1973 by Sam Brookes, an archaeologist with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), with subsequent excavations taking place in 1974 and 1978. The MDAH excavations resulted in the recovery of ceramic and lithic artifacts diagnostic to the Late Paleoindian through Late Woodland Periods.

Hester 1

An assemblage of artifacts comparable to what was recovered during the MDAH excavations was recovered during the 2017 field season. The excavations allowed for a fresh view of the stratigraphic profile of the site as well as the recording of artifact dip and strike data and the gathering of close-interval sediment samples for a particle size analysis.

Approximately 1,600 individual artifacts, consisting primarily of flaked stone, were piece-plotted. Most of the piece-plotted artifacts were recovered from a buried soil that was identified that was approximately 75 centimeters below surface (cmbs) and continued to a depth of approximately 100 cmbs. Traditional point types such as Dalton, Jude, Big Sandy, and Kirk were recovered, in addition to possible grinding stones and organic materials that may be suitable for AMS radiocarbon dating. Several pit features were also recorded during the 2017 excavation. Unfortunately, the dark nature of the soils at Hester made feature identification difficult, but in total seven features were recorded.

Hester 2

This summer, during June and July, Dr. Shane Miller, Derek Anderson, and myself are once again returning to Hester with a crew composed of nearly 30 graduates, undergraduates, and volunteers for the 2018 MSU excavation field school. Seventeen new 1×1-meter excavation units are planned to be opened to continue the investigations at Hester. Time was a limiting factor during the 2017 field season that impacted the completion of several of the 2017 units. Those units will be completed this summer. Additionally, excavation methods have been adjusted to better identify subsurface features that may be present at Hester. Keep an eye out for updates concerning the progress of the excavation over the next 3 weeks!

By Jim Strawn

 

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The Art of the Conference

The 119th Annual Archaeological Institute of America conference was held in Boston Massachusetts from January 4th-7th. I almost didn’t make it to Boston because of the massive winter storm that hit the Eastern Seaboard on the 4th. Boston was shut down, every flight into the city was cancelled. I managed to get an 8 o’clock flight the next day that would get me in Boston by 10:00 am. The poster session which I was participating in began at 11:00 am. To make matters little more interesting, the guy sitting across the aisle from me realized that he did not have his phone AFTER the cabin door was shut. By some miracle, I made it to the conference hotel by 11 am and was able to have my poster up only 15 minutes late. This was not the first time that I had attended the AIA’s. But this was an especially exciting conference for me because it was the first time that I was presenting, rather than just attending. I’ve noticed that every time I attend a conference there is a certain theme that pops up each year, last year it was drones and 3D modeling of sites. This year it was “the long duree.” I found this to be quite fortuitous because my own thesis research encompasses quite an extensive time period, from 1100 BC to 395 AD. So, I guess you could say my research fit in with the crowd.

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I stood proudly by my poster, in the very clothes I had traveled in. It didn’t matter anymore, I was there, and my poster was up. And within minutes of setting up, I had my first observer come up. Not only did he like my poster but he was specifically keeping an eye out for it after reading about it in the program! The content of my poster focused on the preliminary results of my thesis research. I am looking at the settlement patterns in Albania from the Iron Age, through Greek colonization and Roman integration. Essentially looking to see if there is a change in the settlement pattern between the three periods and if so, what is the nature of the change. My preliminary results show that through time the amount of clustering of sites increases, and the location of these clusters changes. The biggest change is in the clustering from the north to the south for the prehistoric period to the Greek and Roman periods. Also of note is the presence of a linear cluster along the Via Egnatia during the Roman period.

Conferences are an interesting thing. For the seasoned experts, they are like a big reunion. They are fun, a way to reconnect with old colleagues and present their latest findings.  For a newcomer like myself, they can be a bit daunting. Think “little fish, big pond”. Yet, no matter how daunting they can be, I urge every newcomer, myself included, to swallow their fear and take the plunge. The more you go, the more comfortable you become, and the more opportunities you open up for yourself. Conferences are a great way to stay up to date with what is going on in your field. What methods people are using, what discoveries they have made and what conclusions these new methods and discoveries lead too. They are also a good way to network and meet new people. This is especially important if you want to make a career for yourself in academia. You can meet professors who teach at the universities you might apply to, or meet the directors of projects you might want to attend.

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While I am by no means a conference wiz, in fact, I am quite the opposite. I have come up with a set of guidelines for myself as I navigate the art conferencing which might also be useful to anyone else new to the process.

  • Start small – if you, like myself, are a bit on the socially awkward, shy, side when it comes to these things, don’t leap head first into a big (and expensive) conference that is far far away. Instead, go to a local conference for a day. Walk around, listen to some talks, and try to ask at least one question or introduce yourself to one person.
  • Apply for funding – everywhere! Exhaust all of your resources. There are a wealth of grants, scholarships, and funding opportunities out there, so apply to all that you can. Start within your department, and then branch out. Don’t forget to see if the conference you’re attending offers funding too!
  • Get involved – by this I mean, make your way into the program. Now this doesn’t mean you have to get up there and present a paper, but presenting something is a good way to network. I suggest starting small in this case as well. Maybe present a paper the first time, do a lighting session presentation the next time and then a paper presentation, whatever you are comfortable with.
  • Volunteer – this is a really good way to meet people and network.
  • Always have someone double check your poster before you print it. Always.
  • Travel with friends or colleagues if you can. If you know someone who will be attending, contact them to meet up for a coffee and catch up. I know this may sound silly, but if you’re travelling to a city or country you’ve never been, travelling with people you know or meeting up with a friend make the whole thing more fun.
  • Introduce yourself – if you see someone who you want to meet or whose work you admire, go, and introduce yourself. What’s the worse that could happen? They could half-heartedly shake your hand and walk away? That’s not so bad. This doesn’t mean you should just march right on up at any time however. Bathroom? Yea, not a good place to say “hi”. Look for an appropriate moment, one of my profs told us once that the book room is the best place to introduce yourself as often people that are there are killing time.
  • Dress appropriately – this doesn’t mean full formal attire and perfectly ironed lapels. We are archaeologists. But remember that conferences are a professional event, you’re essentially presenting yourself as an academic, and I won’t say looks, but presentation matters.
  • Have fun – remember that this is supposed to be a positive experience. So, enjoy yourself. And if you are in a new city or country, do some sightseeing!

So good luck to all the novices going to conferences this year, knock em dead! And if you’re wondering about the guy and his phone, he decided he would not stall the plane. His good karma paid off as it turned out the phone had fallen between the seats behind him. Guess it was a happy ending for everyone.

By: Erina Baci

 

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MSU Students Attend ASOR

The American School of Oriental Research (ASOR) hosts a conference once a year where Near Eastern Archaeologists can come together to share recent research and learn about the new and exciting strides that are being made in the field. This year the conference occurred from November 15th-18th in Boston, Massachusetts. The conference was attended by MSU’s Dr. James Hardin and Dr. Joe Seger, as well as four graduate students, including Lydia Buckner, Dylan Karges, Kara Larson, and Erika Neimann.  ASOR was opened by a plenary address by Irene J. Winter, followed with a reception on Wednesday night.  Thursday through Saturday hosted a number of panels and sessions focused on a variety of archaeological subjects in the Near Eastern region.

Lydia Buckner, along with University of Wisconsin PhD candidate and fellow Tell el-Hesi member, Geoffrey Ludvik, organized and co-chaired a session entitled, “Border Dynamics in the Tenth Century B.C.E. Levant: A Junior Scholars’ Panel”. The panel was designed to address recent research by graduate students into strategies of border administration and inter-cultural interaction in the Early Iron Age of the Levant. The papers focused on key sites and discoveries in ancient Israel, Judah, and the Transjordan. Lydia presented the opening and closing remarks for the panel, which took place on Thursday afternoon.

ASOR 1

Erika Neimann presented a poster, co-authored with recent MSU Master’s graduate, Billy Wilemon, entitled, “PRXF and Vessel Form Analysis” during the Projects on Parade session on Saturday. The poster explored if portable X-ray Fluorescence (PXRF) can be used in archaeological analysis as a tool to identify whole vessel forms of pottery sherds based on similarities among elemental compositions in the Iron II stratum at Tel Halif. The research analyzed if different ceramic forms used specific clays or pastes, indicated a level of informed decision making toward clays for particular types of vessels.

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On Saturday afternoon, Kara Larson was invited to attend the Eurasian Archaeology Isotope Research Group meeting to discuss future avenues for isotopic research in the field. Furthermore, all four of the graduate students, along with Dr. James Hardin, attended the Tell el-Hesi Board and Publications Committee meeting to establish future endeavors for the Tell el-Hesi project. Following the meeting, the graduate students attended the conference reception held at the Semitic Museum at Harvard University. The students were able to view the artifacts on display, and were especially excited by the Iron Age reconstruction of an ancient Israel household.

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The conference was highly successful and allowed MSU’s attending faculty and students to make connections in their academic field, as well as invigorate their passion for Near Eastern Archaeology. Everyone is excited to bring back the information that was gained during the course of the conference and apply it to their own research projects and course work.

By Kara Larson

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Fall Events Summary

Mock Excavations

On October 7th and November 28th,  youth from local elementary schools and the community visited the Cobb Institute of Archaeology to participate in our annual Mock excavation It was originally developed as an outreach program in 2008 by Dylan Karges as part of an Archaeology Month program for Eupora Arts Inc, the local arts agency in Eupora, MS. This coordinated a month of activities to engage the public with art and archaeology with art workshops for children to create their own work and then return to excavate them in the first edition of the mock excavation. These activities were held in conjunction with exhibitions of artifacts and illustrations from Tell Halif, Israel and a lecture by Dr. Hardin to discuss the finds and context of Tell Halif.  In 2011, Dylan, Tim Frank – a graduate student with experience at Tell Halif, and Verna Gentile – an undergraduate in Anthropology worked to coordinate the first mock excavation held at MSU, the “Excavation Simulation Station.” The name was shortened after that year, but the programming continues to serve the community.

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The mock excavation has one mission and that is to share with the youth of our community and beyond the thrill of discovery through hands-on learning in the science of archaeology. Through a simulated archaeological site designed and installed by current graduate and undergraduate students in Anthropology at MSU, AMEC engages in a public archaeology program that promotes understanding and appreciation for archaeology as a discipline and for the artifacts found all around us. This program bridges the gaps in understanding and misunderstanding about the importance of our collective past, the cultural heritage of our native peoples, and the preservation of artifacts and sites for a broader understanding of history and each other.

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For many of us, our love of archaeology comes from when we were children ourselves. From a curiosity about the past and a love of digging around in the dirt. Seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of the kids that participate in this program as they “discover” artifacts and piece together what they might be able to tell us is truly rewarding.

By Dylan Karges and Erina Baci

 

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated primarily in Mexico, begins on October 31st and ends on November 2nd. It is a time of celebration and family. Families create altars filled with food, photos, and memorabilia of their departed loved ones to entice them to spend time with their still living family members. In honor of this holiday, the Latino Student Association, Anthropology Club, the Spanish Honors Society, and the Multicultural Greek Council got together to host a Day of the Dead celebration.

The event was held on November 2nd, in front of Lee Hall. There were 4 booths that each organization helped to put together. These booths included art and crafts, such as sugar skull decorating and face painting.

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It also included an information booth about Day of the Dead and a food booth where Mexican hot chocolate and the Mexican sweet bread conchas were served.

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In a separate location not far from the celebration, there was an altar where people could place their decorated sugar skulls as well as memoirs of their loved ones who have passed.

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Later, someone from the Spanish Honors Society gave a presentation on Day of the Dead. They offered information on what the holiday meant to the Mexican identity, for those in Mexico and for migrants who are now in the United States. Altar size and offerings, traditional festivities, food and drinks, and even clothing, were all discussed in the presentation.

They also emphasized  the importance of not having this holiday lumped in with Halloween, which is a common occurrence as Day of the Dead is close to the more popularized holiday. Though people celebrate Day of the Dead with skeletonized embodiments, it is not worn as a costume as in Halloween. Instead, it started as satirical commentary of Mexican culture but later became a part of the fun festivities of the holiday. Today, it would not be uncommon to see people on the streets of Mexico celebrating Dia de los Muertos in full body skeleton regalia, as seen below.

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The Day of the Dead event was a great success, thanks to the cooperation of many different groups. Sharing this cultural tradition with others who are ready to learn and become a part of the holiday in a respectful way encourages unity and bolsters friendships. The hope is to continue the tradition in coming years and to inform and education on this very special celebration.

By Andrea Lopez

 

Ingomar Mounds Mississippi Archaeology Month Event

Ingomar Mounds held its Mississippi Archaeology Month event on Saturday, October 28th. This event gave a snapshot into what life would have been like for those who built the mounds. A small team of archaeologists from the Cobb Institute of Archaeology set up a table at the opening of the site to display artifacts and to model some flintknapping. Petra Banks is pictured below showing off her flintknapping skills. William Harris (pictured to the left showing a few tourists some artifacts) led tours of the mound and the surrounding areas. The mound can be accessed by a flight of stairs and was fascinating to witness.

The event also hosted several individuals who were marketing their own flintknapping handiwork. A variety of items were on display, such as flinted glass, bison tooth necklaces, and stone points. It was fascinating to see such craftsmanship and skill in flintknapping. I know from a small amount of experience and a large number of smashed fingers and whacked thighs that flintknapping is not an easy task to get right. The Ingomar event gave me and the others who visited the site a chance to see what real flintknapping expertise looks like.

In addition to the variety of fascinating tents, there was also a chance for visitors to show their skills at atlatl throwing and bow and arrow shooting, or to learn for the first time. A few skilled individuals were happy to show us how to hold the arrow correctly and some of us even managed to hit the target!

Ingomar Mounds hosted a fantastic Archaeology Month event and everyone from eight-year-old amateur flintknappers to eighty-year-old history buffs could find something with which to get their hands dirty.

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By Cate McAlpine

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Welcoming New Faculty

This​ ​fall​ ​AMEC​ ​welcomed​ ​Dr.​ ​Bill​ ​Cooke​ ​and​ ​Dr.​ ​Karen​ ​Williams​ ​to​ ​the​ ​faculty​ ​team​ ​and congratulated​ ​Dr.​ ​Evan​ ​Peacock​ ​on​ ​his​ ​new​ ​position​ ​as​ ​Interim​ ​Director​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Cobb​ ​Institute.​ ​In​ ​this​ ​blog post,​ ​we​ ​hope​ ​to​ ​introduce​ ​these​ ​three​ ​faculty​ ​members​ ​and​ ​to​ ​welcome​ ​them​ ​into​ ​their​ ​new​ ​positions.

Dr.​ ​Bill​ ​Cooke:​ ​Interim​ ​Department​ ​Head

Dr.​ ​Bill​ ​Cooke​ ​is​ ​serving​ ​as​ ​the​ ​interim​ ​Department​ ​Head​ ​for​ ​AMEC.​ ​Dr.​ ​Cooke​ ​spent​ ​the​ ​last several​ ​years​ ​as​ ​head​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Geosciences​ ​Department​ ​at​ ​MSU.​ ​His​ ​plan​ ​was​ ​to​ ​step​ ​down​ ​as​ ​department head​ ​of​ ​Geology​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​return​ ​to​ ​research,​ ​teaching,​ ​and​ ​his​ ​work​ ​with​ ​the​ ​extension​ ​service. However,​ ​with​ ​the​ ​departure​ ​of​ ​Dr.​ ​Michael​ ​Galaty​ ​in​ ​the​ ​spring,​ ​Dr.​ ​Cooke​ ​was​ ​asked​ ​by​ ​the​ ​Dean​ ​of Arts​ ​and​ ​Sciences​ ​to​ ​fill​ ​the​ ​vacancy.​ ​While​ ​Dr.​ ​Cooke​ ​was​ ​greatly​ ​looking​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​getting​ ​back​ ​to teaching​ ​and​ ​research,​ ​he​ ​happily​ ​agreed​ ​to​ ​come​ ​serve​ ​the​ ​AMEC​ ​faculty.​ ​Through​ ​his​ ​previous experience​ ​with​ ​AMEC,​ ​he​ ​knew​ ​that​ ​he​ ​liked​ ​the​ ​people​ ​here.​ ​AMEC​ ​welcomed​ ​him​ ​with​ ​open​ ​arms and​ ​gave​ ​him​ ​a​ ​tour​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Hester​ ​Site​ ​which​ ​gave​ ​Dr.​ ​Cooke​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​nerd​ ​out​ ​about​ ​stratigraphy.​ ​As a​ ​lifetime​ ​learner,​ ​he​ ​is​ ​most​ ​excited​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​more​ ​about​ ​the​ ​world​ ​class​ ​research​ ​being​ ​done​ ​by​ ​AMEC faculty.

Dr.​ ​Cooke’s​ ​previous​ ​research​ ​projects​ ​are​ ​too​ ​numerous​ ​to​ ​list​ ​here.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ ​projects​ ​he talks​ ​most​ ​about​ ​is​ ​predictive​ ​modeling​ ​of​ ​wildfire​ ​locations​ ​considering​ ​human​ ​behavior​ ​as​ ​a​ ​variable​ ​in order​ ​to​ ​predict​ ​locations​ ​susceptible​ ​to​ ​arson.​ ​However,​ ​if​ ​money​ ​was​ ​no​ ​object,​ ​Dr.​ ​Cooke​ ​would​ ​most like​ ​to​ ​return​ ​to​ ​his​ ​epidemiological​ ​research​ ​using​ ​geospatial​ ​sciences​ ​to​ ​help​ ​understand​ ​the relationship​ ​between​ ​disease​ ​spread​ ​and​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​(specifically​ ​pollution)​ ​for​ ​predictive modeling.​ ​His​ ​hope​ ​is​ ​that​ ​this​ ​research​ ​will​ ​help​ ​humans​ ​decrease​ ​the​ ​amount​ ​of​ ​ecological​ ​damage​ ​we do​ ​while​ ​mitigating​ ​economical​ ​and​ ​health​ ​concerns​ ​as​ ​well.​ ​It​ ​seems​ ​like​ ​he​ ​will​ ​fit​ ​right​ ​into​ ​the​ ​applied approach​ ​AMEC​ ​is​ ​centered​ ​around.

In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​his​ ​duties​ ​as​ ​department​ ​head,​ ​Dr.​ ​Cooke​ ​plays​ ​tennis​ ​and​ ​is​ ​a​ ​member​ ​of​ ​a​ ​local band.​ ​He​ ​considers​ ​himself​ ​equal​ ​parts​ ​academic,​ ​athlete,​ ​and​ ​musician.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​ask​ ​him​ ​which​ ​one​ ​he would​ ​give​ ​up​ ​he​ ​can’t​ ​even​ ​decide.​ ​Each​ ​of​ ​his​ ​passions​ ​feeds​ ​greatly​ ​into​ ​the​ ​others​ ​and​ ​they​ ​have become​ ​inseparable.​ ​For​ ​instance,​ ​being​ ​a​ ​tennis​ ​coach​ ​for​ ​years​ ​before​ ​returning​ ​to​ ​academia​ ​shaped his​ ​classroom​ ​demeanor.​ ​And​ ​his​ ​love​ ​for​ ​creating​ ​music​ ​taught​ ​him​ ​patience,​ ​persistence,​ ​and​ ​the importance​ ​of​ ​having​ ​fun.​ ​In​ ​any​ ​conversation​ ​with​ ​Dr.​ ​Cooke,​ ​you​ ​can​ ​sense​ ​the​ ​sincerity​ ​in​ ​his​ ​voice when​ ​he​ ​talks​ ​about​ ​how​ ​excited​ ​he​ ​is​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​AMEC​ ​and​ ​how​ ​much​ ​he​ ​looks​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​the​ ​next year​ ​here.

Dr.​ ​Evan​ ​Peacock:​ ​Interim​ ​Director​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Cobb

Dr.​ ​Evan​ ​Peacock​ ​has​ ​been​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​AMEC​ ​faculty​ ​for​ ​many​ ​years​ ​but​ ​this​ ​year​ ​Dr.​ ​Peacock took​ ​on​ ​a​ ​new​ ​role​ ​as​ ​interim​ ​Director​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Cobb​ ​Institute.​ ​He​ ​will​ ​serve​ ​the​ ​Cobb​ ​in​ ​this​ ​position​ ​for two​ ​years​ ​while​ ​a​ ​permanent​ ​director​ ​is​ ​found.

Dr.​ ​Peacock​ ​first​ ​became​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​archaeology​ ​after​ ​finding​ ​an​ ​arrow​ ​head​ ​on​ ​his​ ​family farm​ ​when​ ​he​ ​was​ ​ten.​ ​This​ ​find​ ​prompted​ ​him​ ​to​ ​read​ ​countless​ ​books​ ​and​ ​ask​ ​many​ ​more​ ​questions. He​ ​came​ ​to​ ​MSU​ ​for​ ​his​ ​Bachelor’s​ ​degree​ ​before​ ​earning​ ​both​ ​his​ ​Master’s​ ​and​ ​PhD​ ​from​ ​the​ ​University of​ ​Sheffield​ ​in​ ​England.​ ​He​ ​is​ ​currently​ ​working​ ​on​ ​many​ ​different​ ​research​ ​projects​ ​but​ ​is​ ​so​ ​enthusiastic about​ ​each​ ​one​ ​that​ ​he​ ​is​ ​unwilling​ ​to​ ​contract​ ​his​ ​to-do​ ​list.​ ​His​ ​current​ ​projects​ ​include​ ​writing​ ​a​ ​book about​ ​the​ ​Lyons​ ​Bluff​ ​site,​ ​studying​ ​freshwater​ ​mussels​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Yazoo​ ​Basin,​ ​and​ ​studying​ ​chemical sourcing​ ​of​ ​shell​ ​and​ ​shell​ ​tempered​ ​pottery.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​had​ ​all​ ​the​ ​money​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​to​ ​dedicate​ ​to​ ​a project​ ​he​ ​would​ ​choose​ ​the​ ​chemical​ ​sourcing​ ​research.​ ​Shells​ ​have​ ​held​ ​a​ ​special​ ​place​ ​in​ ​his​ ​heart since​ ​his​ ​time​ ​as​ ​a​ ​graduate​ ​student.

In​ ​Dr.​ ​Peacock’s​ ​new​ ​position​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Cobb​ ​Institute​ ​he​ ​hopes​ ​to​ ​continue​ ​the​ ​mutually reinforcing​ ​relationship​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Institute​ ​has​ ​with​ ​the​ ​Department​ ​and​ ​looks​ ​forward​ ​to​ ​planning​ ​the Cobb’s​ ​future,​ ​specifically​ ​expanding​ ​the​ ​interdisciplinary​ ​work​ ​already​ ​being​ ​done.​ ​​ ​Although​ ​Dr. Peacock​ ​is​ ​not​ ​new​ ​to​ ​AMEC,​ ​we​ ​congratulate​ ​him​ ​on​ ​his​ ​new​ ​position​ ​and​ ​are​ ​excited​ ​to​ ​see​ ​what​ ​the future​ ​has​ ​in​ ​store.

Dr.​ ​Karen​ ​Williams:​ ​newest​ ​AMEC​ ​professor​ ​of​ ​Cultural​ ​Anthropology

Dr.​ ​Karen​ ​Williams,​ ​a​ ​cultural​ ​anthropologist,​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​us​ ​from​ ​the​ ​City​ ​University​ ​of​ ​New​ ​York (CUNY)​ ​with​ ​a​ ​PhD​ ​in​ ​Anthropology.​ ​But​ ​did​ ​you​ ​know​ ​she​ ​got​ ​her​ ​B.F.​ ​A.​ ​in​ ​Fashion​ ​Design​ ​and Performance​ ​Art​ ​and​ ​her​ ​M.A.​ ​in​ ​Performance​ ​Studies?​ ​However,​ ​Dr.​ ​Williams​ ​explains​ ​that​ ​her background​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Arts​ ​is​ ​not​ ​unrelated​ ​to​ ​her​ ​work​ ​now.​ ​While​ ​the​ ​medium​ ​has​ ​changed,​ ​the​ ​theme​ ​has stayed​ ​the​ ​same​ ​as​ ​she​ ​continues​ ​to​ ​look​ ​at​ ​the​ ​criminal​ ​justice​ ​issues​ ​impacting​ ​our communities.

Her​ ​primary​ ​research​ ​is​ ​focused​ ​on​ ​programs​ ​inside​ ​prisons​ ​that​ ​are​ ​meant​ ​to​ ​help transition​ ​the​ ​formerly​ ​incarcerated​ ​back​ ​into​ ​society.​ ​She​ ​says​ ​that​ ​coming​ ​to​ ​the​ ​South​ ​offers​ ​a​ ​new challenge,​ ​as​ ​she​ ​is​ ​more​ ​familiar​ ​with​ ​the​ ​re-entry​ ​programs​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Midwest.​ ​The differences​ ​are​ ​something​ ​she​ ​is​ ​excited​ ​to​ ​explore,​ ​while​ ​keeping​ ​in​ ​mind​ ​the​ ​ethos​ ​of​ ​the South,​ ​what’s​ ​being​ ​done​ ​here​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​reintegration​ ​initiatives,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​the​ ​programs​ ​inside​ ​prisons work.​ ​When​ ​asked​ ​what​ ​she​ ​might​ ​research​ ​beyond​ ​her​ ​current​ ​interests,​ ​given​ ​time​ ​and​ ​money,​ ​Dr. Williams​ ​says​ ​mindfulness​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​mind.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​practitioner​ ​herself,​ ​she’d​ ​like​ ​to​ ​explore​ ​its​ ​impact​ ​on people​ ​of​ ​color​ ​and​ ​athletes.​ ​Perhaps​ ​something​ ​to​ ​look​ ​forward​ ​to!

Dr.​ ​Williams​ ​says​ ​her​ ​passion​ ​started​ ​early​ ​in​ ​her​ ​career,​ ​when​ ​she​ ​was​ ​part​ ​of​ ​Insight Arts,​ ​a​ ​community​ ​arts​ ​organization.​ ​There,​ ​her​ ​performance​ ​art​ ​delved​ ​into​ ​such​ ​topics​ ​as social​ ​inequality,​ ​gentrification,​ ​police​ ​brutality,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​death​ ​penalty.​ ​From​ ​here​ ​her​ ​interests for​ ​these​ ​and​ ​other​ ​social​ ​issues​ ​began.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​further​ ​cemented​ ​when​ ​Dr.​ ​Williams​ ​found herself​ ​at​ ​a​ ​Critical​ ​Resistance​ ​conference​ ​she​ ​attended​ ​in​ ​1998.​ ​Listening​ ​to​ ​activists​ ​at​ ​the conference​ ​blew​ ​her​ ​away​ ​with​ ​the​ ​passion​ ​they​ ​had​ ​working​ ​on​ ​social​ ​issues.​ ​“This​ ​is​ ​it,”​ ​she​ ​recalls feeling.​ ​“This​ ​is​ ​the​ ​work​ ​that​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​do.”​ ​This​ ​conviction​ ​shows​ ​that​ ​we​ ​can​ ​look​ ​forward to​ ​many​ ​great​ ​things​ ​from​ ​Dr.​ ​Williams​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future,​ ​in​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​the​ ​amazing​ ​work​ ​she​ ​has​ ​already accomplished.​ ​We’re​ ​lucky​ ​to​ ​have​ ​her​ ​and​ ​wish​ ​her​ ​the​ ​best​ ​in​ ​all​ ​future​ ​endeavours.

Help us welcome these three to their new postitions in AMEC! For more information on these and other AMEC faculty visit our website (http://www.amec.msstate.edu/people/faculty/)

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