Taposhshik Nittak

By: Victoria Marshall

It was a sunny Saturday morning in Philadelphia, MS and long plastic tables line the small plaza outside the Chahta Immi Cultural Center. This sunny Saturday was Taposhshik Nittak, which is Choctaw for Basket Day. Basket Day is a day dedicated to the art of basket making. On Basket Day, basket makers from the surrounding Mississippi Choctaw communities gather at the cultural center to sell their baskets.

I arrived at the cultural center around 10 o’clock to meet the woman who extended the Basket Day invitation to me. I walked around the plaza looking at the long tables covered in handcrafted beaded jewelry. The Choctaw Indians are known for their beautiful beaded medallions, jewelry, and collars. Table after table, beaded earrings, necklaces, and key chains with various college logos were set out in pairs. At the end of the plaza, there was barbecue set up for the event. Beside the barbecue, a pile of green swamp cane, 8 or 9 feet long, lay on the ground awaiting the local basket makers.

The woman who invited me to Basket Day met me inside the cultural center’s gift shop. Shelves are lined with various Choctaw baskets, all assorted sizes. Some have dyed pieces, purple and red, others no colors at all. Books on Choctaw culture and Southeast Archaeology sit on shelves and beaded earrings and bracelets hang on displays beside pieces of Choctaw history and culture.

My contact from the cultural center told me that the basket makers were running late, but there was one basket maker from the Conehatta community. She had a table at the end of the plaza where she would be demonstrating basket weaving a little later.

Next to the cultural center entrance was the table of the basket collectors. These basket collectors have baskets from Mississippi Choctaw, Louisiana Choctaw, and various Chickasaw. As I took pictures of the various baskets, one of the collectors told me that baskets made before the 1880s had natural dyes unlike baskets made today which have man-made dyes which are easier to use.

After snapping a couple pictures of the baskets, I made my way over to where the basket makers were set up. One weaver had a pile of cane strips and a large plastic Folger’s coffee container filled with water. With a small knife in hand, the basket maker cut the cane strip dunked the strip in the bucket of water, and began to weave it into the inside of the small double weave basket. The basket she was making was barely bigger than my fist but the intricacy of the weaving was fascinating. The basket maker was making a double weave basket. The basket is made by weaving the cane strips in a diagonal style to form an inside and outside, which makes the sides and bottom thicker than a single-weave basket. She told me that this style is more difficult and takes more time than a single-weave basket.

The other basket maker took her seat next to the bundle of cane the cultural center got specially for this demonstration. There was probably about 40-50 cane in the bundle, each cane about 8-9 feet in length and as big around as a quarter.

I sat next to the basket maker, mesmerized as she began to split cane. She was using a knife about 7 inches long to strip the cane in half. She expertly made quick work of the bundle. While we split, we talked about where she learned about the basket weaving, what she hoped the basket weaving would do for Choctaw culture, and what was it like to go hunting for cane.

“I could sit here watching you all day,” I said. “You’re really good at that! How did you learn to split cane like that?”

“I learned from my mother,” she said as she dragged the knife through the cane. “I cut myself a lot splitting cane.”

At that moment, she began splitting a cane piece. Her blade split the cane two feet when ants began to spill out of the cane. As she brushed the ants away from her hands and legs, she smiled at me.

“That happens a lot. I’ll just finish this one later.” She calmly set the cane aside and picked up another piece.

I asked her what were other dangers involved in collecting and splitting cane.

“If the canes get big enough, little bigger than these,” she held a new cane piece. “Sometimes there’s snakes inside.”

I couldn’t help the shudder. She smiled at me.

“Snakes?” I asked. “Inside the cane?”

“Yeah, they like to go in there for some reason.” She said. “I try to stay away from snakes.”

She got through splitting about half of the cane bundle then set down the long knife. She reached down into her bag and pulled out a smaller knife, about the size of your average kitchen paring knife. The handle was wooden and the blade had some wear and tear.

“You need to have a very sharp knife for cutting cane,” she told me. “This one isn’t very sharp.” She gestured to the knife in her hand. “You want to make long strips, as long as the cane.”

She pointed to the length of the cane bundle in front of her. I sat there watching as she held the cane against the heel of her palm and slowly pulled the knife towards her. The cane strip came away in a thin sliver.

“Who taught you how to strip the cane and make baskets?” I asked.

“My grandmother taught my mother and my uncles,” she said. “My mother taught me, and I try to teach my children and grandchildren.” The sun was high in the sky. We were both sweating by the time she took a break for lunch.

“Are you making baskets for the Choctaw Fair?” I asked.

She nodded.

“Would you be interested in talking with me about basket weaving after the Fair?” I asked nervously. “So I can interview you for my research?”

“Yes that should be fine,” she said and she gave me her contact information.

I wished her good luck with the Choctaw Fair. She nodded her thanks and then went off to find some lunch.

I walked around the plaza one more time, looking at all the Choctaw art laid out for people to admire. I stopped by the basket collectors’ table and thanked them for the history lesson of Choctaw baskets. I can’t wait to return to Choctaw land for the Fair to glimpse more into this beautiful historical art form that continues to carry a small image of Choctaw history for the future generations.



By: Lauren Bailey, Mark Clemente, and Simon Sherman III.

May 15th Jeffery Alvey and Lauren, the teaching assistant, left Mississippi State’s curation facility with a group of 12 students bound for Poverty Point for the annual survey field school. Poverty Point is a UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. This designation allows Poverty Point to spread its history throughout the world with a greater understanding of the Native American population.

Poverty Point is a site in Northeastern Louisiana outside of the town of Epps. The town of Epps, as well as the site, are located along the Macon Bayou, a terrace overlooking the floodplain of the Mississippi River. Poverty Point dates between 1650 to 700 BCE, which is commonly considered to be between the Late Archaic to Early Woodland culture periods. The original purpose of Poverty Point is unclear to archaeologists; however, the construction of the mounds and earthworks signifies the importance of Poverty Point as a society and the poverty point culture. Diagnostic of the material culture of Poverty Point are the Poverty Point Objects (PPO’s) which contain; the small projectile points known as microliths, cooking rocks, and hematite plummets whose use is still unknown. While finding these artifacts would be exciting and astounding the goal of the survey field school is to better understand the extent of Poverty Point outside the plaza area. Providing an opportunity to employ these new survey methods and practices at a world heritage site.

Screening test pits.

Archaeological survey employs a sampling method that is specific to the environment that survey is completed in. For the first day of field work, the students were separated in a grid pattern with 30-meter spacing between each transect, line of holes. If a hole proved to be positive for either prehistoric or historic artifacts, the distance between holes was shortened to 10-meters until two consecutive negative holes were dug. This method for conducting survey allows the archaeologists to better understand the extent of the site being studied. To identify positive holes, the students sifted the dirt through a 1/8” mesh screen and what was not able to be sifted was then put in a bucket to be water screened back at the lab by students. These methods were supported with the assistance of employees of Poverty Point: Alesha Marcum-Heiman and Dean “Hurricane” Nones. A methodological lecture was also completed by Jeffrey Alvey prior to fieldwork, as well as an introductory lecture about Poverty Point by Dr. Diana Greenlee.

The crew screening dirt from test pits.

Throughout the field school, we were plagued by rain. Fortunately, there was always plenty of work to occupy us in the lab on the days when it was too wet to dig. The head of the lab [Lisa] had us perform a variety of tasks while working in the lab. These included water screening, artifact identification, and sorting collections from past projects. Each day three students were designated to work in the lab, and on inclement weather days, the effort was collective. Luckily the rain didn’t damper our learning opportunities. Our group had the opportunity to take the afternoon to explore the greater Poverty Point ‘site’ as well as tour the museum, and take a ride on the tram around the site. On a different rainy afternoon, we visited Natchez, Mississippi. While there the group visited both prehistoric and historic locations, taking a tour of both the Grand Village of the Natchez and of the historic city.

Halfway through our time at Poverty Point, we were joined by a group of graduate students from Binghamton University who were led by Dr. Tim de Smet, Dr. Matt Sanger, and Dr. Carl Lipo. Two former MSU Master’s students, Tiffany Raymond and Sarah Gilleland, were also part of the Binghamton group. Each day, an MSU student joined one of the teams from Binghamton and were able to gain experience using several remote sensing techniques such as ground penetrating radar, magnetometry, electromagnetic interpolator, and resistivity. Data was collected using these techniques in several locations at the site such as Mound A, Mound B, south of Mound E and on the northern ridges. A lecture was given by Dr. Virginie Renson on artifact sourcing using isotopic signatures. This lecture enhanced student understanding of different lab techniques that could be used in collaboration with archaeological methods to better understand the movement of various artifacts across space and time.

The last full week of field school culminated in the continuing work with the Binghamton crew, as well as the discovery of two bears. One bear was approximately 10-meters from student workers in a remote location of the survey area and the other bear was close to the dorm, where more survey was being completed. This last full week was also a celebratory event because it was the 21st birthday of Cody Oscarson on Wednesday. The final hole of this day ended with 10 individuals digging and sifting to complete the day at a reasonable hour. With the Binghamton crew no longer working at the field site, the students completed their radials around the dormitory and past locations surveyed throughout the previous 4 weeks. While we cannot speak for the other students involved in the field school, the three of us each came away from this experience with new methods, tools, and friendships which will serve us well in our future endeavors. This experience proved to be beneficial for those in it. Two students Kevin McLeod, and Safaa Siddiqui were offered positions at the UNESCO site beginning at the end of the class. Also, numerous students will be taking the tools from this field school and employing them for 3-4 weeks in Laurel, Mississippi beginning the 19th of June.

Lauren and Simon cataloging a find.


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

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  • 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