Night at the Museum (Well, day actually)

To fulfill my commitment to the University of Cincinnati Linear B project begun last summer, I spent three weeks at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece.  I used AMEC’s portable X-Ray fluorescence (pXRF) spectrometer to determine the chemical make-up of the clays from which the Linear B tablets and sealings were fashioned.  While there, I worked with Dr. Dimitri Nakassis, who is the project director, and Dr. Joann Gulizio, who determined the fabric type of each tablet.

Before I began at the museum, I spent the last week of the excavation season at the Iklaina Archaeological Project (IKAP) near Pylos, in the Peloponnese.  My purpose there was to take pXRF readings on sherds that had previously been analyzed by ICP-MS.  These analyses will be compared in an effort to determine the accuracy of pXRF technology and its feasibility in making quick and accurate non-destructive assays.  Analyzing a sherd is shown below:


While working at the lab, based in Pylos, I also analyzed figurines and building materials discovered at Iklaina.  I toured the Iklaina site (below) while the President of Greece visited.  Dr. Michael Cosmopoulos is the director of the project.


I also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Sharon Stocker at the museum in Hora.  She had lithic samples that she needed to make determinations of as to whether they were chert or obsidian.  This required two days, but with the correct settings and calibration, the analyses were made.

The Palace of Nestor site has been closed for two years while the cover was replaced.  The site was opened just in time for me to tour it before leaving for Athens.  The Archives Complex rooms where most of the tablets were found are shown in the photo:



I was very fortunate to have Dr. Cynthia Shelmerdine as my tour guide.

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is home to the tablets and sealings that were recovered during the excavations at the Palace site near Pylos.  During the three-week project at the museum, I analyzed over 500 of the remaining tablets that were not analyzed last summer.  In addition, I analyzed another hundred or so with a different calibration that checks heavier elements.  The following photos show samples of the page-shaped and leaf-shaped tablets and the sealings.

We were visited in the museum basement by the Minister of Culture, who was very interested in the scientific methods we were using.  In this photo, Dr. Nakassis is explaining our equipment to a museum official and to the Minister.


As interesting as the work was, not all was work.  I took the opportunity to visit the island of Hydra, below:


Billy Wilemon

Archaeology MA student


“It Gon Rain!”: CRM in Mississippi

For my internship this summer I participated in a cemetery removal near Jackson, Mississippi. At the beginning of the project, it was estimated that there were approximately 70 marked and unmarked burials to be removed. After doing both ground penetrating radar and magnetometry surveys on the area, the project directors realized that there were over 300 burials at the site. The entire site was excavated over a three-month period. The cemetery dated from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s and was being moved for a construction project.


We started each day by meeting in the parking lot at 5:45am and then proceeding to site. This meant that we could avoid working during the hottest part of the day: very important during a summer in southern Mississippi. There was also frequent rain that caused some flooding issues, and caused us to be unable to work for several days. On average, we worked for 10 hours a day for six days a week in order to remove the entire cemetery in the allotted time.


Flooded drainage pit


Most of the work involved monitoring our large excavator to identify burials as they became visible and excavating the burials as their locations were identified. Each group was in charge of removing one burial per day. We exposed each burial, recorded them, and collected all remains and artifacts for analysis and later reburial. For well-preserved burials, this pace was a struggle and required lots of teamwork.


The human remains were poorly preserved, but many artifacts were well preserved. A number of individuals were buried with glass bottles, ceramics, jewelry, dentures, and hair accessories. While all of these things were interesting, the iron caskets were the most fascinating. Most of the iron caskets that were found were still sealed. In those cases, the caskets were documented and then sent for immediate reburial.

Working on a large phase 3 CRM project was an incredibly enlightening experience and affirmed for me that CRM is the career path that I want to enter. I enjoyed the fast pace, creative solutions to the problems that arose every day, and working with like-minded people.

Natalie Patience

Bioarchaeology MA student


Internship at Nantahala National Forest

I headed to Murphy, North Carolina for an 8-week internship with the Forest service at the Nantahala National Forest immediately following field school in South Carolina. Needless to say I was a little nervous about this endeavor, but the sights on the drive through east Tennessee and into western North Carolina was enough to alleviate my apprehension. I have never been to this part of the southeast and seen the Appalachians, so, naturally I looked like a tourist the first week or so that I was here. I arrived early, so I was able to familiarize myself with the Murphy area before starting the internship. Luckily enough, I was able to rent a place at the Cherokee Hills Golf Club, which is only about a five minute drive to the Tusquitee ranger station.


View from Albert Mountain

The first week I spent a lot of time getting to know different areas of the forest. At a little over 530,000 acres, that’s a lot of forest. Nantahala is divided into 3 ranger districts: Tusquitee, Cheoah, and Nantahala. Andrew Triplett, my supervisor, is the zone archaeologist for the Nantahala and gave me a “tour” of the forest, but also introduced me to Forest Service personnel that I would be working with during the next 8 weeks. It was interesting to learn that most of the Forest Service personnel are involved with fire management. It’s kind of like the Army’s “infantry first, then specialization.” I knew going into the internship that there is a lot of archaeology and Cherokee history in the region. I also knew I would be working on a survey project for a future timber sale, and the background work started on Wednesday of my first week. However, due to some ARPA-related incidents that occurred on Forest service land prior to my arrival, the survey was not going to be at the forefront of my internship for now. I was given the locations of the timber units and was responsible for finding out if there had been any previous surveys in the vicinity of the proposed units and if there were any protected sites in or near our units. If so, these sites would need to be located and visited prior to our work to ensure they have not been disturbed. I was able to identify around 70 sites near our units. In addition to identifying sites, I also had to figure out what tracts of land within the forest our units would be within and look into the land acquisitions for those tracts. The last thing we want to do is destroy or impact potentially significant archaeological sites or existing structures if any are within our proposed project area. This work would continue intermittently over the next several weeks and will be included in the survey report.


Gathering background info

I also found out the first week that the survey project was not the only thing I would be working on this summer. I would also be working on an Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) violation. About 26 miles of the Trail of Tears runs through Nantahala National Forest. In addition to the 1,500-foot buffer that the Forest service manages around the trail, there is also a larger, congressionally mandated buffer for further protection. These two buffers, along with the Trail of Tears, make up the Trail of Tears corridor. The week before my arrival it was discovered that looting was occurring at a protected site within the Trail of Tears corridor. So, for now, the Forest Service’s attention will focus on this matter. We also went out the first week to assess the damage caused, map the area, and to get some photos. We also found several artifacts on the surface at the location which were mapped, photographed, and taken back to the work center.

Week two involved site monitoring. Andrew gave me a list of sites that needed to be monitored to make sure there was no damage or disturbance and sent me off to take photos, and for practice, to map the sites. Needless to say this was awesome! Several of the sites I have monitored are well off the beaten path and quite a hike to get to. This allowed for some great hiking and scenery. Others were well-known sites such as the Wilson Lick ranger station that was used back during the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) days, or historic fire towers such as Wayah Bald, Wesser Bald, and Panther Top Towers. The Forest Service also gets reports from landowners and locals regarding landmarks and features that the Forest Service might not have known existed. I was sent out one day with a rough map and a GPS unit to find an area where there were reportedly civil war ambush pits that Andrew was notified about to map/photo them. Earlier in the week I was sent to find the grave of a local woman who had perished in 1852 when her lean-to shelter fell in. Without too much trouble I was able to find and record both. Andrew also showed me an area where there was a possible mica quarry as well as some other areas that offered fantastic photos.

By week 3, the ARPA case had slowed down a little bit and we once again focused our attention on the timber sale survey. The week mostly consisted of going out and locating the protected sites I had found near our survey areas and noting any damage or disturbances. I had already consulted the forest quadrangle maps to find out how to get into these locations. This task definitely aided me in familiarizing myself with the forest. Thankfully the sites were found (though some took longer to find than others) and they were not disturbed. This was also one of the more tedious tasks because not all of the sites are located on the map I was referencing from previous surveys in the area. There was quite a bit of digging, so to speak, through files of previous survey projects. I was able to finish most of the background info for the timber survey and began organizing my notes and the info I had obtained for the survey report.

Week 4 once again brought the survey work to a halt. Andrew had received news a few weeks back that there were now five additional areas within the Trail of Tears corridor that had potentially been damaged. In fact, they had potentially been plowed. Whether or not they were related to the previous incidents would have to be determined, but in either case we went out to asses the areas. We found that all five had been extensively damaged by plowing. Of these five areas, three had been previously surveyed. Two of them were found to contain sites during the survey, while one did not. We identified artifacts exposed on the surface in only one of these areas. It was the area that had not been previously surveyed. The two remaining areas had not been previously surveyed either. However, there were artifacts exposed on the surface in these two areas. Below are photos of the areas we are dealing with and some of the artifacts recovered. Interestingly enough, most of the prehistoric lithic artifacts we are recovering are made of quartz. There is no shortage of quartz material in/near the numerous waterways throughout the forest. Several Morrow Mountain and Guilford projectile points have been recovered on the surface at these sites we’ve been working at as well as some pitted stones recovered at one of the larger sites. We have recovered only small flakes of Knox chert and rhyolite material. As mentioned earlier, mica is also readily available in many areas we have visited as well and in the next few weeks Andrew is going to take me to an area where there is a steatite quarry. While we have recovered a few pieces of historic ceramics, we have not recovered any prehistoric pottery.



This week we continued working on getting damage assessments completed so we could present them to the forest archaeologist, Rodney Snedeker, and the forest supervisor, Allen Nicholas in Asheville, NC. We went out and dug a few slit trenches to get a profile of the disturbances. We also measured the sites and collected/recorded/photographed any exposed surface artifacts to have Rodney take a look at. We determined that 600 yds3 of soil disturbance was done between these three sites. The estimated cost of mitigating the damage is astronomical. Rodney determined that the two previously unknown sites are Early/Middle Archaic sites while the third was already a protected Middle Archaic site. I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting with the forest archaeologist. We hashed out a research plan going forward for the disturbed areas, but those projects may or may not be started before I leave. The icing on the cake for the visit to Ashville was this beauty…


I have about 3 ½ weeks left here at Nantahala. The internship has so far been an awesome experience. While it is unfortunate, it has been good to see how the Forest service, but more specifically the archaeologist, handles an ARPA case and how the information flows between the various agencies involved. It has also taught me that digging, while probably the more visible aspect of archaeology, is only one part of the job. It wasn’t until about a month into the internship that I put a shovel in the ground. Also, I have been able to work on skills such as mapping sites, site monitoring, recording, etc. The weekends are great and I have been doing A LOT of fishing in the many rivers and tributaries that wind through the forest as well as hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail. I have been fortunate to see a lot of places on the forest that the general public don’t have the chance to see that offer some pretty stunning scenery. To me, nothing beats having early morning breakfast down at the Nantahala Outdoor Center where the temperature is so cool that my morning coffee can be seen steaming and there is actually a chill in the air. There is still a lot of work to be done as far as the damaged areas go and hopefully we’ll be able to get the survey going before I leave on August 4th.

-James Strawn

Archaeology MA student


My Summer in Mississippi: Archaeological Survey Field School in the Big Black River Basin

I will attempt to relate an unlikely series of events that climaxed in the experience of a lifetime. I am an undergraduate student (Junior) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham that came up through the community college system. Being my first year at UAB, I took nearly every anthropology course available, as well as volunteering in the lab each week sorting and documenting the artifact collection. This is where I first came into contact with material culture from the southeastern United States; specifically, that of Mississippi and Alabama. I was fascinated and wanted to learn more.

After a year of intensive study of archaeological theory and methodology from two top-notch professors; Dr. Lauren Downs and Dr. Sarah H. Parcak, I was ready to put some of this training to practical use. The only problem was that UAB was not offering field school this summer. Dr. Downs suggested that I consider a school in Mississippi. After much research, I concluded that Mississippi State was easily the best choice, and that the Cultural Resource Management (CRM) based approach to archaeological field survey being taught by Instructor Jeffrey Alvey was exactly what I had been looking for. I contacted and subsequently met with a very professional Mr. Alvey, applied for transient student status, and made living arrangements. This was really going to happen!

I was immediately impressed with Jeffrey’s no-nonsense approach to teaching. On the very first day, after a comprehensive lecture on sampling strategy, we were off to the field! The focus of the class is to train and prepare the archaeological student with the skills and demands required to be competitive in the field of Cultural Resource Management. That is to say—real archaeology in the real world. Being that the vast majority of work in the field of applied archaeology takes place within this context, and that the greater portion of that work consists of phase-one sample survey, I felt very fortunate to be included in the class. Whether one decides to make a career in CRM-based employment, or works as such for a means of financing oneself through graduate school, the experience gained in this course is invaluable.

One of the first tools we learned to use properly was a good sighting compass. This may sound like a small thing, but trust me, one becomes disoriented very quickly in the forest, and being proficient with a compass is essential to prevent getting oneself lost right away. We conducted our survey on large private farms that are evenly planted in agricultural fields, pasture, and pine trees for the timber industry. As these dissimilar land use purposes effect the terrain in different ways, our sampling strategy was modified and adapted as required. In forest and pasture, we employed shovel-testing, digging 30-cm test pits at 30-m intervals on any one of the cardinal directions that best corresponds to the landform being sampled. When any test becomes positive, the strategy is to transect the positive sample and shrink the sampling interval down to 10 m, then continue until two consecutive negative tests occur on any given transect. By following this pattern with each subsequent positive test pit, one may delineate the likely boundaries of an archaeological site with astounding accuracy. This pattern may be more narrowly defined by further reducing the interval distance or by expanding the area of the pits themselves.

Accurate survey of agricultural fields requires a different strategy altogether, as a land-owner is not likely to allow cash crops to be destroyed by the digging of pits. The standard procedure employed here is to walk and visually inspect the field rows at ca. 10 m spacing until artifacts appear, then to reduce the spacing and pace as required by the density of artifact distribution. Regardless of the scenario, once the occupation zone parameters have been established and charted on a grid sheet, one then fills out the site form. This entails all pertinent information about the site, including soil analysis, ground cover estimate, UTM coordinates, land-owner, etc. Although the work is rigorous and the conditions adverse, each and every day was filled with countless informal question-and-answer sessions that are so conducive to conceptual learning that one seldom considered the many obstacles or physical challenges imposed by the environment. These challenges are very real; the heat and humidity can be much more oppressive than the published data from the weather services suggest, even to dangerous levels at times. There are snakes—sometimes lots of them—there are chiggers, and always, everywhere, there are ticks. So much so that we named our crew the “Tick-Magnets” and are printing t-shirts with this logo!

Because time constraints prevented a complete canvasing of every section of land available for our survey, we modified our strategy at times to seek high-probability occupation areas for our research purposes. I was very impressed with the Instructor’s ability to locate these occupation zones by the study of topographical maps and careful scrutiny of the lay-of-the-land. Using this method, we discovered and mapped 47 previously undocumented occupation sites spanning the full range of the pre-history of Mississippi! We discovered literally thousands of artifacts, 9,000-year-old spear-points, 3,000-year-old cord-marked pottery, and everything in-between. Each another piece of the great puzzle of the archaeological record, and each with a story to reveal.


Edison Pearce holding a prehistoric spear point recovered during archaeological survey

We learned so much so fast that space does not allow for recapping it all in this blog, but the value of the experience cannot be denied, for one crew member secured a job for a major CRM firm a week before the class was finished, and the determinate factor was the skills he acquired within this course! The work was hard and the obstacles were real, but for those of us that possess the will and determination to meet the challenge, the rewards are without compare. I made life-long friendships and expanded my social network as well as my career trajectory. I cannot speak for the others, but I came away better in every way; smarter, healthier, stronger, and more determined than ever to become an archaeologist.

-Edison Pearce

Undergraduate at the University of Alabama, Birmingham


A Game of EBAP: A Song of Dirt and Rocks

It’s hard to believe that my 6 weeks in Greece have already gone by. This summer I worked with the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP) excavating at Ancient Eleon. The project is a Synergasia between the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia and the Canadian Institute in Greece. The site directors are Drs. Brendan Burke (U. of Victoria) and Bryan Burns (Wellesley U.).

Occupation at Eleon begins in the Late Neolithic period and we are excavating the Bronze Age secondary palatial settlement. Eleon is a secondary center to Thebes. There are several exciting large architectural elements at the site: a large polygonal wall, a ramp, and a watch tower potentially from the Ottoman period.

This season’s focus was on a large rectangular building called the Blue Stone Structure, aptly named because the main building material is a type of blue stone. I spent most of the season working in trenches in this structure.  The goal was to find the entire outline of the building; and we were successful in finding another corner of it!


Braden, being “The Mountain”, using a big pick in the trench

We worked Monday-Saturday, and our workday started at 6am and ended at 1pm (except for the last week, when a select few worked from 6am until 6 or 7:30pm). Then from 5-7pm we had pottery washing. In the 6 weeks we opened at least 15 trenches and moved a lot of dirt and rocks. The site has changed drastically since the first week and we were really lucky to have access to a drone every day. We used the drone at the end of the work day and it allowed us to document the work that has been done during the day and see changes between it and the previous day. It is an incredible resource.


My role at Eleon included two things, assisting one of the returning trench supervisors and being the on-site osteologist.  This second role resulted in “Steph, is this human?” occurring several times a day, with the answer being “no, it’s sheep/goat.” Eventually though, I was able to answer that question with “yes.” We had one single burial and then at the end of our 5th week we found a large tomb that dates to the Late Bronze Age. Inside, we found commingled remains. Commingled remains require a different excavation method; because the bones are all put in an area together, with no detail to individuals, you cannot expose the outline of a skeleton like when there is a single articulated individual. In this situation we exposed the top layer of the commingled remains, set up a N-S grid line, and mapped in the placement of long bones and other complete bones. These mapped bones also were individually wrapped and given a bone ID. This attention to detail allows for some semblance of the tomb to be recreated later, and it also helps a lot for when lab analysis is done. Because we were working 13+ hour days, we couldn’t do any lab analysis this summer, but that just means there is plenty to do next summer!

Before I left for Greece I thought I was going to have to miss the last half of this season of Game of Thrones and was ready to hear spoilers, but luckily there were others here that watch the show.  So, once a week we crowded into someone’s room and watched the latest episode.IMG_3455

Several things about this excavation season were Game of Thrones related.  We weren’t able to make our own “House banner” but since we have our own Wall on site, a few of us made our own Night’s Watch Oath….

  • The sun rises at 6am, the day shall not end until 1pm. I shall take no artifacts against the country’s will. I shall always wear my hat and drink my water. I shall live and die at my trench. I am the watchers of the cyclopean wall. I am the trowel that uncovers the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to archaeology, for this dig and all digs to come.

One Saturday Brendan and Bryan weren’t able to be on site, which meant we couldn’t do any excavating.  We took this opportunity to visit the newly re-opened Thebes museum.  Personally, the most exciting thing in the museum was a jewelry mold that was found at Eleon a few years ago.  It was the first time I’ve seen an artifact in a museum from a site I work at.

Some last minute tips to excavation:

  • If you bring your own trowel always make sure your initials are clearly visible on the handle, otherwise someone might just put their own initials on it…


  • If you find a small animal printed dustpan in the site equipment, ignore the haters and use it, they are actually quite useful when working in small spaces

IMG_3810 (2)

  • Don’t be offended when you get called someone else’s name, it happens, even if the person calling you the wrong name is your graduate advisor of 3 years (I’m looking at you NPH)

And for all my new amazing Canadian friends and colleagues, it was a pretty good summer, eh?

Stephanie Fuehr

Bioarchaeology MA student


Archaeology in Albania

We decided to write this blog in order to present the work we have been doing through the summer. After having a nine-month experience at MSU campus, on May 6 we traveled back home to Albania. We were very curious to see how it would be to be back in Albania after being in the US, which is very different from our home country. After 21 hours of traveling, we finally made it back home. We noticed some changes but in general, things have remained the same.

On May 17 we celebrated Danny Galaty’s first birthday in Tirana with many colleagues and friends. It was a fun party!



After spending some time with our families and friends we travelled in Ioannina, Greece to attend the International Aegean Conference, AEGAEUM 16, from 18-21 of May. Attending this conference was very enriching as we were able to get up to date with the very latest works that prehistoric archaeologists from many countries from all over the world have done in the Aegean area. Papers given at the conference were mostly focused on pottery analysis. There were also papers focused on metals, jewelry, glass, and textiles. In particular, Albania was a hot spot in the discussions at this conference. For example, our advisor Dr. Michael Galaty and Rudenc Ruka of the Albanian Institute of Archaeology gave the paper “The position of Albania in Mediterranean obsidian exchange spheres.” Considering the strategic geographic position that Albania has in Europe, many human activities, like trade, have affected this area, allowing archaeologists to study interactions between tribes during prehistory, especially during the Bronze Age. We met many people at the conference, which will be very helpful in the future. Through this experience, we got a better idea of the recent work in the field of archaeology in Aegean region.

After the conference, we left Ioannina and drove to Shkodra, Albania in order to finish one of the test excavation units at the prehistoric site of Gajtan. In Gajtan, we dug with the Shkodra Archaeological Project’s director Dr. Michael Galaty, Cobb archaeologist Sylvia Deskaj, and one of the local archaeologists Zamir Tafilica. Mike and Sylvia’s son, Danny, was also there. He stood for the first time on his own two feet while trying to sieve the dirt. After almost one week of digging at Gajtan, we found many prehistoric pottery sherds, stone tools, and house remains, like daub, which was very exciting for us. After we finished with the digging process, Mike drove the materials to the University of Tirana. Now we are at the phase of processing the artifacts.




Anisa Mara & Zhaneta Gjyshja

Archaeology MA students


AMEC Survey Field School

We find ourselves at the mid-point of AMEC’s 2016 archaeological survey field school, which provides a good opportunity for a progress report.  Our efforts during the field school have focused on training students in the methods of archaeological survey routinely employed in the southeastern U.S.

survey in agricultural field

Survey in agricultural field

After a little over two weeks of survey in the Big Black River valley of central Mississippi we have identified 20 prehistoric archaeological sites and two historic sites.  We have also visited two sites that had been previously recorded as “Indian mounds,” and were able to confirm that neither of these sites are prehistoric mounds.  The “mounds” are simply erosional remnants that represent geological, rather than cultural, features.  These efforts have provided students with a broad exposure to the prehistoric and historic material culture of the region (some of which you can see in the photos below), and introduced them to the methods used to identify the locations of previously unrecorded archaeological sites.  Of equal importance is the understanding students are receiving of how past settlement of the region correlates with environmental variables, and how modern land management practices have affected, and continue to affect, the archaeological record.  We have surveyed in a variety of settings including agricultural fields, pastures, pine plantations, and mixed pine-hardwood forests, which provides students with invaluable lessons about how to adapt field methods to these different environments.

Lauren Bailey and Erika Niemann screening a shovel test

Lauren Bailey and Erika Niemann screening a shovel test

Delineating a prehistoric site

Delineating a prehistoric site

Dylan Karges shovel testing

Dylan Karges shovel testing

We are eternally grateful for the generosity of the landowners who have so far allowed us to perform survey on their land.  At present, these include Joseph Guess and Tommy Garrett.  We are also indebted to our archaeological colleague, Cliff Jenkins, who is a MSU alumnus, and currently an archaeologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Through his connections to farmers in the region, Cliff has arranged for all of the land access we have thus far been granted.  Without his generous assistance it’s unlikely we would have been able to make the connections we have made to landowners in the region.

artifacts collected by general surface collection from a prehistoric site

Artifacts collected by general surface collection from a prehistoric site



Stay tuned as next week one of the field school students will submit a report on the field school providing a student’s perspective on the experience thus far!

– Jeffrey Alvey

Cobb Institute of Archaeology, CRM Program Manager