Selena Soto, Preservation Archaeology Field School Student
Hi all! This is my third week here at the Preservation Archaeology Field School in New Mexico, and it has been an exhilarating experience so far! I have never been on an archaeological dig before, so I have been soaking in all of the knowledge and all of the “dirt” (figuratively and literally) during labs, out in the field, in camp life, and on field trips. Here are some of the lessons I have learned at field school thus far:
“Rocks are like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get”—During lithics lab, one may find flakes, cores, unifaces, bifaces, debitage, and other classes of culturally modified rocks. Classifying these is no easy task. Patience is definitely a virtue. I learned to identify lithics with the help of the staff, and you really never know what you’ll find in a bag of lithics! Even though it won’t be chocolate, the information gained from the process of identifying lithics aids in understanding how people in the past used rocks for their survival.
“Sherds happen”—Classifying pottery is a mental challenge of its own. Ceramics lab seems like a walk in the park, believing that the colors and shapes of the sherd pile will categorize perfectly into different styles and types as one tries to determine where to place a sherd. Yet, there are those that don’t fit into the common categories, and that’s when a person might have to say “sherds happen” and know it’s okay to follow up with one of the staff members for help.
“I’m smart enough to know I’m not smart about everything”—On survey, I learned how to use a compass, as well as how to distinguish certain artifacts or features on the ground surface without excavating. I also helped map a site using a Trimble GPS unit. The paperwork afterward was interesting, in that we used the words “possibly” and “probably” numerous times. Even in the field, one can never be absolutely certain about some aspects of past cultures, and it’s necessary to use cautious words.
“This beats sitting at a computer desk all day.”—My new favorite saying. Even when I get tired of the dirt in my eyes and my back is sore, I really love that my back isn’t sore from sitting in a chair, and that I can be outdoors. Archaeology is definitely one of those fields that can allow a person to be outside, in nature, all day long. Allowing one to observe the bigger picture of humans and nature gives a perspective that many people may never experience. When we visited Chaco Canyon, our ranger made a presentation about observation. I had never heard of archaeoastronomy (connecting patterns in the sky to what people might have thought they were in the past), and it was interesting to realize this was because someone was outdoors, making an observation.
Last but not least, is that I have learned that “in the Southwest, archaeology is a part ofthe culture.” Field trips to the San Xavier Mission, Chaco Canyon, and Acoma Pueblo have made me realize that cultures are permeable. At the San Xavier Mission, there was a figurine of Mary, Jesus’s mother, and on her dress was the sign of the Man in the Maze, a concept that originated from the Tohono O’odham people. I think it is beautiful and awe-inspiring that I have the chance to see places where people do not shun features of other cultures but respect them and sometimes embrace them. I am grateful that my first field school is in a place with such rich ancient, historic, and present-day culture.