Artifacts of Wisdom – What Have I Learned?

snow ninja

Photo: That’s me, underneath about 7 layers of clothing, while doing some construction monitoring in the middle of winter.  It was -30°C, with the wind. Photo taken by Miranda. 

This page is intended to be a collection of some useful, and maybe some not so useful advice I’ve picked up along the way, in no particular order of importance

  1. Always have a cold beer ready and waiting in the fridge for the end of an excavation day. Post-excavation shower beers are pretty much the greatest thing EVER.
  2. Have fun and take in the scenery, because you’re lucky enough to see some really gorgeous areas! Which also means you should have the battery full in your camera

    The view on one survey on the Sunshine Coast, BC
  3. Invest in a really good pair of CSA grade 1 (steel-toed) boots.  Nothing sucks more than surveying or excavating in horrible boots.
  4. Have a really great coffee thermos that will actually keep your coffee hot (I highly recommend the S’well Bottle).
  5. Mud is great bug repellent and sunscreen.  Also, avoid eating bananas because that attracts mosquitoes
  6. While in the forest, keep your eyes open for wasp nests and don’t stop to take notes standing right on top of them. They can sting you through jeans. Trust me on that.
  7. While in the forest, keep your eyes open for bear poo.  If it’s cold, don’t worry about it.  If it’s steaming, worry about it.
  8. While in the forest, if you stop to pee on a tree, double-check first that a) it’s not rotten and about to fall over, and b) it’s not covered in cougar scratches which means you are now challenging a cougar for his/her territory.
  9. As a female, find the technique that works for you for peeing in the woods (we all have different methods).
  10. Keep a spare roll of field gold, AKA toilet paper, in your vest or backpack.
  11. ALWAYS wear sunscreen and keep spare sunscreen with you.
  12. Drink ridiculous amounts of water and/or Gatorade. Gatorade/Powerade really helps.
  13. Make sure you have lots of food to avoid hanger.  I am known to get pretty hangry (my husband can tell you all about it), so I always have lots of snacks (usually a huge bag of trailmix) on hand.

    Artefacts 10
    Flakes, flakes, and more flakes from an excavation in Edmonton, AB
  14. Be prepared for any weather.  In the winter, make sure you have plenty of appropriate layers to keep you warm.  In the summer, make sure you’re staying cool.
  15. Always assume it could rain and make sure you keep a rain jacket and rain pants nearby.
  16. Wear  good pair of gloves to save your hands from blisters.  Keep them on even while screening to avoid cuts from artifacts like glass, nails, and even flakes. The one time I took my gloves off in the screen I cut my thumb open on a flake. It hurt. A lot.
  17. Know how to identify lithic flakes because depending on where you’re working you’ll be seeing a lot of them.
  18. Take notes about EVERYTHING.  While I was working at UBC, one project had me reading notes written by Charles Borden (yes, the man who invented the Borden system).  The man took crazy detailed notes, such as “A train went past the site at 11:03 am and 14 people waved at us.” No joke.  So write down EVERYTHING, even if you think it’s silly.  It could help you in the future, should issues arise.
  19. If you’re doing a survey in the forest, be prepared to spend more time falling down than actually walking.

    Phase 2-B
    Look at those straight walls from an excavation in Edmonton, AB (where the flakes came from)
  20. Embrace all the scratches, bruises, and bug bites. You’re going to have a lot of them.
  21. Keep bug spray with you, especially spray that targets flies and ticks.  Though horse flies feed off of the rage that builds from swatting them away all day, so bug spray doesn’t always work with them.
  22. Do everything in your power to keep your unit walls straight.
  23. Keep a chart of hypotenuse measurements with you so that you don’t have to anger yourself with math while setting up your units.
  24. Line levels are fantastically useful tools.
  25. Have a couple of spare trowels with you.
  26. Keep duct tape with you.
  27. Keep Febreeze in your car and spray the inside of your boots after work either each day or every other day.  Same goes for your high-vis vest and hard hat, should you be required to wear them.
  28. Take regular breaks.  Nobody needs to be a hero.  Heroes get heat stroke.
  29. If you buy your own high-visibility vest, pockets = amazing.  More pockets = more amazing.
  30. Be patient.  The general rule of archaeology is “save the best for last”, meaning you probably won’t find anything exciting until the very end of your excavation.  This has happened to me many, many times.  In Edmonton – we found a huge hearth feature on the last day.  Gananoque – we found two arrowheads at the end of the last day.  Sechelt – we found a ground slate knife at the bottom of our column sample while closing the unit for the season.
  31. Always keep spare paper and plastic artifact bags in your car.
  32. ALWAYS put bone in paper bags.  Nothing sucks more than opening a bag in the lab and watching your bones crumble apart because they’ve been trapped in their own moisture in the plastic bag.
  33. Remember that deer can and will attack you, and they’ll do a good job kicking your butt.  It’s always super cool when we get deer visitors to site, but when they have babies around it’s totally fine to be a little bit scared of the mom.  Their hooves are very, very sharp.
  34. Never trust a coyote.  Sometimes they’re chill, other times they’re far too bold.  And when you’re not looking they’ll chew up your tools and artifact bags.
  35. Keep bamboo skewers with you in case you find in situ bones.  You don’t want to use
    Seal flipper from a recent project that was excavated with some handy wooden tools

    a metal trowel (the metal will mark up the bones) to excavate them, so bamboo skewers are super useful.  If you’re an osteologist like me, keep extra wooden tools with you (wooden clay sculpting tools work really well) for excavating bones.  Not only are they practical, but they make you look fancy too.

  36. Watch out for tree sap.  I still can’t get it out of my clothes
  37. Theory sucks.  It forces us to think about thinking and paves the way for many skull-cramps.  BUT it’s also super important to know, so spend some time learning about archaeological theories.
  38. Back to bug spray, make sure you’re spraying down your pants too.  Don’t forget you have to take off your pants to pee in the bushes, and nothing is worse than bug bites in delicate places. Update: I can confirm that fire ant bites in delicate places are the absolute worst.
  39. A small brush of stinging nettle against the back of your hand will leave your hand numb for 2.5 days.