SD 2017 Day 8

Today’s dig was more like a nature program than an archaeological dig! Well, not really, but we did see some pretty cool animals today. There are lots of ground squirrels living on the site (and digging through the archaeology sometimes, the little buggers), and we’ve seen a rabbit or two, but today we saw a deer and what we think was a bald eagle! The deer was placidly eating grass on the path from the museum to the Archeodome, and the bald eagle flew out from a nearby tree while we were eating lunch and circled the lake. All very cool!

As for my own personal day, it started with a 3 mile run this morning (all the doughnuts are getting to me big time, despite the swimming) and ended at Walmart. I needed body scrub for removing the prehistoric dust from my skin, and I wanted to buy a plastic plate I could reuse. The amount of waste generated just by me every day is breaking my heart, and there are no recycling facilities anywhere – I’ve been eating off paper plates and bowls and drinking from paper cups at breakfast and lunch each day. Now I’ve got my own plate, bowl, spoon and cup that I can take and reuse! Isn’t it nice to save the planet?

In terms of archaeological finds today, a couple of nice pit features started to become apparent from soil colour changes. We also found a few nice rim sherds, although nothing as spectacular as yesterday’s weeping eye motif, and some flaked stone tools. We also had one very ingenious archaeologist use medical tape to keep her glasses from falling off her face whilst digging! Commitment to the cause right there.

SD 2017 Day 7

After our day off on Sunday, yesterday’s digging was undertaken with renewed vigour. We had some really exciting finds coming from the archeodome! Sadly the motel internet couldn’t handle this excitement last night so I’m blogging from the Archeodome this morning – it’s tea break, I had a peanut butter doughnut, and life is good!


A flake from flintknapping – just look how transparent it is!
A bone tool
A beautifully laid out context, freshly washed. Students sort items by material.
The finds washing crew – Esther, Sophie and Emerald
Our find of the day was this pottery sherd. It features the ‘weeping eye’ of Cahokia, but is made locally.

SD 2017 Day 5

Today was our last day of work for the week before our day off tomorrow! We’re all absolutely shattered, with archeodome dirt ingrained into our fingernails and brains. I think a lot of relaxing may happen tomorrow!

5 o’clock shadow…

On the dig floor today we had to first move the total station. Its previous position meant that one square was too close to be able to take measurements, so it has been moved and recalibrated (by me, I have certainly gained a skill there!). In other dig site news, many people were planning, checking soils against Munsell charts, and generally getting a little dripped on thanks to a heavy downpour this afternoon. Some interesting stone tools were uncovered today, including two more arrowheads! Here’s some other pictures from the day!

Izzy, Chloe and Hannah dig away in their squares, which we have referred to as the Western Front as they are the westernmost squares currently being excavated
Ollie and Levi working hard in the lab, washing and sorting finds

No blog tomorrow as there’s no dig! Back to work bright and early on Monday morning.

SD 2017 Day 4

The days are starting to blur into one another as the dig settles into a nice routine. We arrive at about 10 past 8 each morning, and dig until 10am when we have a half hour doughnut break. Then it’s on with the digging until 12, when our lunch hour begins. We’re currently munching on sandwiches that we make up ourselves using a whole fridgeful of delicious deli items, and also at the moment lucky enough to have some jerky brought in for us! At 1pm it’s back to work until 2.30, when we have our final break of the day and then dig til around 4.15pm. It may seem like a lot of breaks, but it’s quite hard work as the soil is so tough, both physically and mentally. By breaking up the day the work is less monotonous, and careless mistakes are minimised.

Today we had some people planning for the first time, using a grid to help draw their excavation surface. Most people now know the basics of digging and recording, including how to use a Total Station, and some have also been instructed in the art of Munsel colour charts and clay/silt/sand soil types!

Good plan batman

Our find of the day was definitely this tiny, almost perfect shell disc, about 3mm thick and just over a centimetre in diameter. What a great spot by our rookie archaeologists!

A shell disc, our find of the day!

SD 2017 Day 3

Our third day on site, but second day of digging, seemed like waves on a calm shore compared to the slight hurricane that was the first digging day! All the students knew what they were doing in their squares and had just occasional questions about specific artefacts or features. And, in the same vein as the waves in Moana, occasionally turned up some really nice pieces!

Students working away, fuelled by break time doughnuts and a passion for the past
Our first arrowhead of the dig! The square that this was found in has been the most prolific for cool finds, including lots of pottery rim fragments and stone tools
One of the mattock groups has finished their first layer! They’ll be glad to have broken through the hard crust. Time for photos and then the planning starts tomorrow.
Another day done at the archeodome! These minibuses ferry us home each day – the bank they drive over is not archaeological!



South Dakota 2017 Day 2

Our first proper day digging started with the annual hand out of trowels! The students all received their very own Marshalltown trowel, the standard trowel in American Archaeology. There is somewhat of a feud between American and British trowels, which are smaller and thicker. I myself still use my trowel from SD 2010, especially useful for this kind of excavation where the main digging involves excavating 5cm levels of grid squares. The students were also given a safety briefing, and parts of the site were identified.

After receiving their trowels, students partnered up and volunteered for different grid squares. We were opening three new squares, a difficult task considering the crust of very hard earth compacted at the surface, but with potentially brand new archaeological discoveries. The other 6 squares were already begun, and would be likely easier to dig and immediately interesting, but we have a better idea of what is to be found. The students picked their squares carefully and decidedly!

The students on the new squares began cleaning dust, photographing and measuring their squares using a total station. Mattocks and heavy digging tools were soon being used under expert supervision to break through the hard surface, and some finds were made, although all were either clay pigeon or golf ball! This is to be expected at this early stage, and we hope the students hit the real archaeology soon!

Students who chose squares already partially excavated had to read through last year’s field notes to see how the squares were left. They cleaned and began digging their squares, finding much bone and some pottery.

With all the cleaning (brushing) that happened today, the air was very dusty, due to the dryness of the site. Many students noted the time old tradition of having black bogies!

Stay tuned for more dig diaries from Mitchell, South Dakota. 

South Dakota 2017 Day 1

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts about my time helping supervise a first year archaeology fieldschool in Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, South Dakota. I excavated here as a student in 2010, and now three degrees and 7 years later I’m back as a supervisor!

The South Dakota team from 2010! I’m 5th from the right in the front row.

The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is a really interesting archaeological site. The excavations target part of a settlement occupied around 1,100 years ago. The people who lived here were skilled farmers, cultivating corn, beans, squashes, and expert bison hunters. The dig floor is located inside a building called the Archeodome, which allows all-weather excavation. It’s also open to the public, who can traverse the walkways above the dig floor and see archaeology in action! It’s a truly unique site.

Having arrived in the States on Monday, we fought our jet lag today to head to the site for the first time this season. It was really cool to see how the site has changed, and memories of my dig season in 2010 came flooding back – lots of nostalgia for my old square! While the students got the grand tour from the site director, we started to set up the dig floor. We strung up some new squares to be excavated this year, and calibrated the total station. Mostly behind the scenes stuff today – the real digging starts tomorrow!

The dig site today – tomorrow to be filled with students!

Perhaps our most exciting (terrifying) part of today was this evening’s tornado siren and warnings, and watching a massive thunderstorm (thankfully nothing more) roll past our hotel. Hopefully we won’t have too many of those to contend with – that might be taking “all-weather excavation” a little far!!