Archive for the ‘public outreach’ Category

This Is Anthropology   Leave a comment

As a graduate of two Florida institutions of higher education holding a BA, MA, and PhD in Anthropology, the grassroots This Is Anthropology movement caught my attention early on. I congratulate Jason Miller, Charlotte Noble, and Janelle Christensen for starting this project, but more importantly for turning passionate disbelief and at times, I imagine, anger, into something positive and educational. I am also pleased that the American Anthropological Association understands the importance of sharing the good work of Anthropologists to a public that does not always know what Anthropologists “do,” much less why Anthropology is an integral part of our society.

If you are an Anthropologist, please add your profile to the “Find an Anthropologist” map. Help spread the word via Twitter #thisisanthro.


The website is quickly becoming the go-to place for information related to the field of Anthropology. If you are interested in becoming an Anthropologist, or just want to read more about the many different ways we practice Anthropology, you can search the interactive Google map of Anthropologists and projects from around the world, read about the skills necessary to perform fieldwork, the kinds of jobs we are hired for, and find advice on beginning a career in Anthropology.

With that being said, the blog post below is re-posted from Neuroanthropology on the PLOS Blogroll.

This Is Anthropology.

Posted January 23, 2013 by drtmperes in archaeologist, Media, public outreach

MCAP Field School, Day 13: Augers, units, & storms, oh my!   2 comments

– post by Dr. Peres

I was up at 4 a.m. to watch the weather forecasts and get caught up on some tasks before heading to campus at 6 a.m. (the glamorous life of the archaeologist begins well before the early bird). Different local news stations had slightly different predictions for the timing of the severe storms that are supposed to come through Middle Tennessee, but the one that caught my attention had us slated for storms by 2 pm. No archaeologist ever wants to call it a rain day when the sky looks like this:

The sun before the storm.


However, no professor ever wants to put their students in harm’s way (Safety First!).  Severe weather predictions + 43 mile commute in a 12-passenger van + 18 students that are my responsibility = packing it up early! With this plan in mind, we agreed to work really hard through lunch then head back to campus around 1:00. I have to give the kudos to the crew — they did not disappoint.

  • First we had some housekeeping to tend to. We are not using wheelbarrows at the site so are carrying the dirt to the screening station in 5-gallon buckets. The screening station works out nicely since we can cover the area with a canopy to provide shade for the screeners. We have moved enough dirt that the backdirt pile was getting a bit unruly. Today was the day to corral it in. We put up a silt fence to contain any slump, and the students practiced a little experimental archaeology by moving the dirt to one end to make a large platform mound.

MTSU Field School students doing some preventive maintenance on the back-dirt pile.

  • We were able to finish a deep auger test that went over 8 meters deep (that’s over 26 feet)!

MTSU Field School student Sean McKeighen assists Ryan Robinson with the extended bucket auger.


  • We used an Oakfield soil probe to test for the presence and depth of the shell deposits in two of our open units (we still have a ways to go).
  • Every unit in active excavation today was taken down another level.

From Unit 1, we recovered these two projectile points

Projectile points recovered from Unit 1, likely Woodland Period. Apologies for the dirt, these are “field photos” not “publication photos.”

  •  We triangulated in two more units, in search of the elusive edge of the shell deposits.
  • In one of the new units, this little do-bob showed up at ground surface of Unit 7.

    Do-bob from ground surface of Unit 7. It is likely an artifact of the 2010 flood.


Tomorrow we have a full day planned with lovely weather topping out at 70 degrees F!  Check back for the round-up of our final day of Week 3!


MCAP Field School, Day 11: Back at it   Leave a comment

— post by Dr. Peres and JoBeth Simon

Today we returned from our lovely three-day break with an additional five students, a third water cooler, and renewed determination to perfect our new skills and find the edge of the site! After the intense heat of the Memorial Day weekend (100.4 F in the shade at my house!) the clouds and cool breeze in the morning were a welcome, if short-lived, respite. We knew our chances of rain were high, so we only worked in the two most northern units for the first bit.


Lovely cloud cover that greeted us this morning.

We were able to work for a few hours before our alert Field Assistant, Kelly Ledford, brought this to the attention of Dr. Peres.


Impending doom.


Dr. Peres made us close up the units, stash the equipment, and head to the on-site safe spot. Of course, this pretty much guaranteed the storm would fizzle before it reached us (which it did). Apparently there is an invisible force field around the property that causes storms to disintegrate upon contact (or so one our friendly grounds crew members joked).  Back to work we went, with a special interest in  opening our southern units.

Battened down Units 1-3.


Much to our surprise, and our noses’ dismay, the intense heat of the weekend caused a lovely dusting of white mildew to grow along the edges of the units. We also had to evict several spiders and beetles that had set up house in our absence. Thankfully, the critters beat a hasty exit.

The joys of black plastic covering units in the summer.


The students continued in Units 1 and 3, completing Level 5 (to 50 cmbs) and nearly completing Level 6 (to 60 cmbs) before the soils became more structured and the clay and organic content increased — i.e., they became harder to screen. In Unit 1, Level 6, Dr. Peres carefully excavated the scapula (bone from the shoulder blade) of a white-tailed deer with trowels and dental picks. The midden at this level is dark, but the soils are acidic so bone preservation is poor. The bone was removed in several pieces, and appeared to have been cut in antiquity. The amount of fire-cracked rock appears to have increased. If the shell deposits are in this area, we should reach them tomorrow.


Today’s student blogger is JoBeth Simon, a Junior MTSU Anthropology major. JoBeth is minoring in Archaeology and Forensics, and would not sit still long enough for a proper photo.

MTSU Anthropology student, JoBeth Simon, getting her schnitt on in Unit 1. Disclaimer: This photo was taken last week, Unit 1 is much deeper!


MCAP Field School, Day 9: Learning new skills   1 comment

Hello, my name is Zackary Whitehead.  I am a rising Senior at MTSU’s Anthropology department.  My minors are Archaeology and History.

MTSU Anthropology Major, Zackary Whitehead, ready to learn new archaeological skills.

I enrolled in the MTSU Archeological Field School to learn the methods used to conduct excavations and further my knowledge in archaeology. Based on the results of the bucket auger testing program of the first week we were able to open our first excavation units on Tuesday. These were placed so as to locate the boundaries of the shell deposits. Today we worked on Levels 3 and 4 (20-30 cm below surface and 30-40 cm below surface, respectively). At the base of Level 3 in Unit 3 Dr. Peres identified our first feature — Feature 1.

Unit 3, Base of Level 3 (20-30 cmbs). Feature 1 is indicated by blue dashed circle.

We know we will have to go twice as deep to locate the shell deposits. The units are providing an incredible amount of dirt despite the small increments that we are schnitting in (schnitting is the act of shoveling out layers of dirt to sift through the screens.)

Field School students practicing their schnitting skills.

MTSU Field School student, Kyle Deitrick, gets a lesson in photo-cleaning from Aaron Deter-Wolf (Tennessee Division of Archaeology).

The students at the screening station have recovered many pieces of lithics, fire cracked rock, and pottery. Most of these were in the upper 20 centimeters, or roughly the plowzone.

The happy screeners! (L to R: Callie Lopeman, Lauren Schorr, Wesley Vanosdall)

We also have some awesome devices to play with out here in the field!  I have been helping set up a laser level over the main site datum which allows us to take accurate elevation measurements of the surface levels in our units. The laser level can be a bit tricky to set up and it will complain if you tilt it.

The Topcon laser level set up over the site datum (N1000 E1000).

Once we set it up, we can use stadia rods which have tick marks on them along with the laser sensors to help us measure the elevation change relative to our datum.

Laser sensor attached to stadia rod to allow millimeter accuracy on elevation readings.

Today during lunch, Aaron Deter-Wolf (Tennessee Division of Archaeology) gave a lecture on the Benton Mortuary Complex.

Aaron Deter-Wolf (far left) gives an informal lunch-time lecture on the Benton Complex.

He talked about the different Benton points which are large points with a variety of ends that range from easily haft-able notches to flat bottoms.  The Benton points feature multiple parallel chipping patterns as well.  He then passed around several casts of the Benton points for a visual reference before we headed back to work.

More happy screeners! (L to R: Blake Meador, Pam Hoffman, Arthur Reed)

All in all it has been a great day and an awesome field school!

MCAP Field School, Day 7: Let the excavation begin!   2 comments

by Dr. Tanya M. Peres and Cori Crenshaw

Today 9 of the students finished the last five auger tests (for a grand total of 98!), 2 students assisted Joey  with elevation readings, and the rest of the group worked with Dr. Peres and Kelly to set up the laser level, lay out three 2 m x 2 m excavation units, and set up the screening area.

Kate McKinney and Field Assistant Joey Keasler take elevation readings on the auger tests.


Working the screens, field school students (L to R): Cori Crenshaw, Pam Hoffman, Blake Meador, and Callie Lopeman.

I warned the students yesterday afternoon that in the coming week we needed to remain flexible, patient, and open to learning as we transitioned from the auger survey to actual excavation units. They have asked me many times where we would open units, and I always answered “I don’t know yet.” This might seem vague, and probably the students think I was a bit exasperating, but honestly, I did not know. Since no professional excavations have ever been conducted at this site, we really know very little about the size, depth, and type of deposits. One of our goals is to figure these out. How much area do the previous occupations cover? How deep are they buried (i.e., how much sediments will we need to excavate before we find intact evidence of past occupations) and how deep do they go? Will we only find evidence of past peoples via the shells they left behind, or will we find remnants of houses, fire pits, and other residues of daily life? The auger survey helped us to collect preliminary data on some of these questions. So, with these data in hand, we placed our first excavation units.

Our first excavation units were placed in an area where we know we have dense shell deposits that completely disappear within a 5 meter area. What we do not know is where they exactly end, and how they end (do they just stop completely, or do they fade out?).  So, we triangulated in three units, but opened only the two on the ends.

Opening of excavation units. Dr. Peres and Callie Lopeman work with JoBeth Simon (holding the stadia rod) to take opening elevations on Unit 3. Zack Whitehead and Abigail Hyndman (foreground) continue busting sod on Unit 1.


We will excavate in arbitrary levels — in other words, we determine how thick each level is. By convention we are using 10 cm-thick levels. This means all artifacts and features from this 10 cm level will be recorded together. Depending on what is revealed we may modify the strategy to smaller levels. All of the soils we excavate are screened through 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch mesh. We have some super-sweet double-decker screens custom-made by Stoney Knoll Archaeological Supplies. We will use smaller screen sizes (1/16-inch and 1/32-inch) when warranted (special features, column samples).

MCAP’s double-decker screens.


At the end of today this is what our Unit 1 looked like:

Kelly and Abigail clean Unit 1, base of Level 1 for photos.

While we are not very far, we are sure to have many exciting days ahead learning about the rich history of the people that lived on this beautiful stretch of river long ago.

Student Blogger: Cori Crenshaw

Field School Student, Cori Crenshaw, at the screen deck.

Hello everybody! My name is Cori Crenshaw and I’m a junior at MTSU. I’m in the process of double majoring in Anthropology and French with a minor in Biology. I get the pleasure of blogging on our very first excavation day! Exciting, I know! I have waited for this day since my childhood. At the beginning of the day we finished with our last couple of BATs (bucket auger tests) and were able to start opening our very first Unit! We gridded three units (1,2,3) and started schnitting (aka, shovel skimming) in Unit 1 and Unit 3. I did not schnit today, but instead helped screen with one of our much larger screens that are used specifically for screening through sediment that we collect from excavation units. It’s actually a very interesting contraption, it consists of one screen on top of another, the top screen containing 1/4 inch hardware cloth and the bottom containing 1/8 inch hardware cloth to catch the much smaller field specimens. I spent my afternoon going through buckets of sediment with my fellow students Callie Lopeman, Jobeth Simon, and Pam Hoffman. We had a great time screening together while finding some sizable pieces of lithic! All of this combined with our luck of having such fantastic weather formed the makings of a pretty great day in the field!

MCAP Field School, Day 6: Rain, rain, go AWAY!   Leave a comment

— by Dr. Tanya Peres and Kyle Deitrick


We woke  up this morning to predictions of 60%+ chances of rain, with some severe storms. The weather folks promised we wouldn’t see anything major until around 4:00 pm. As we drove out to the site, the western skyline became darker, and puffy clouds turned ominous. I (Dr. Peres) felt certain we would not get rained out (I didn’t bring the really expensive equipment just to be sure), but those dark clouds had me doubting the decision as we drove through thick stop-and-go Nashville morning traffic.

We arrived on-site 10 minutes early and proceeded to unpack the equipment and set out to the first set of auger tests for the day.

Field School students set up the shelters and unload equipment.

The morning flew by as the students dug auger after auger (9 before lunch), the cloud cover held, and a cool breeze blew in from the west. During lunch the clouds parted, and all we saw was blue sky, sunshine, and vultures catching the thermal updrafts higher than I have ever seen. The weather held, the rain stayed away, and we had a very productive day in the field.

The student teams were more spread out today, filling in gaps in the grid and extending our survey lines further east. Survey work is tedious and tantalizing all at once. The repetitiveness of augering 2-meter deep holes, describing soils, and screening dirt for artifacts can seriously curb enthusiasm. However, these small windows into the sight have revealed some really interesting clues to the past peoples that lived on the Cumberland River for millenia, and the environments they interacted with.

Field School student JoBeth Simon attempts to remove a rock impeding the progress of an auger test — 80 cm deep.

We had two really interesting auger tests today. Both were placed so as to delineate the extent of the shell deposits. One was excavated by Kyle Deitrick (MTSU Anthropology Senior) and his partner, Wesley Vanosdall. It actually started out rather ho-hum, with about 15 cm of gravel fill from a long-forgotten access road to the river. From there the soils became darker, with increasing artifact content the deeper we went. At just about a meter deep we started recovering thick deposits of freshwater gastropods (river snails), which didn’t end until nearly 2.5 meters deep! We kept digging to make sure we were out of the cultural deposits and finally ended at just over 3 meters!

The second test was 10 meter from the one discussed above. The students also found this same thick deposit of river snails, but that is not the only reason this particular auger test was interesting. At nearly 4.75 meters, a rather large flake was recovered (see below). The students continued to dig this auger test deeper – with help from Kyle and a few other students. We eventually encountered extremely wet sand (heck, it was mud at this point) at 804 cm (26.4 feet) below surface! That is the deepest auger test to date at this site.

Large flake recovered ca. 4.75 m.

Tomorrow we will likely finish the auger survey, take elevation readings at the 90+ auger points, and layout and open our first excavation units!

Student Blogger for Monday, May 21, 2012: Kyle Deitrick

Kyle Deitrick with the auger extended to 8 meters.

Hello, my name is Kyle Deitrick, and I’m a senior at MTSU, majoring in Anthropology. This is my first time participating in an  archaeological project. I need to thank my mother for sparking my interest in the discipline by taking me to an archaeological site when I was six. It has interested me ever since. The two auger tests performed by my team resulted in a better understanding of the limits and depths of the shell deposits. We also conducted the deepest auger test of the survey, which terminated just over 8 meters deep (see above). We all work great as a team and have excellent leadership on the ground. I can’t begin to explain all of the things I learned in just one week, so let’s just say…it’s a lot!

MCAP Field School, Day 5: First week is done!   Leave a comment

The first week of field school is officially done. To date we have completed 73 auger tests with an average depth of 2.5 meters. By my calculation that is a total of approximately 19 square meters (61 square feet) of sediment excavated, recorded, and screened for artifacts. We still have a few more auger tests to dig next week, but we are ahead of schedule with our survey.

Today’s forecast was for clear skies and a high near 90 degrees. Knowing that working in the blazing sun was unavoidable later in the day, we chose to excavate the auger tests that were in the shade early on before it was completely gone.

Working in the cool morning shade.


John Broster, Archaeologist with the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, stopped by the site this afternoon to check on our progress. I think he was impressed!

John Broster, TDOA, (left) checks in with Ryan and the field school students.


Today’s student blog post:

Hi, my name is Mimi Glass, and I just finished my freshman year at MTSU. So in essence, I’m the baby of the group! I am majoring in Spanish and Anthropology and have yet to declare a minor.

Field School student, Mimi Glass, checks the depth of the auger test.

I joined this field school to really “dig in” and figure out if Archaeology is for me. Luckily, digging in the dirt is really fun! We’ve found so much more than I thought we would in just a few days!  The bucket augers are so small, yet we find so much. Just today we hit deer bones, and that’s the second time this week! Chert, rocks, and shell don’t seem like they would be interesting, but they are all amazingly fascinating when you take them out of the ground. You realize that real people were really here! They lived and breathed and here and we are finding out about their daily lives by the artifacts that were left behind.

Artifacts recovered in an auger test (Top: deer long bone splinter; bottom, L to R: freshwater mussel, freshwater snails, portion of a deer leg bone).

Today we are digging more holes than ever, and we are discovering more and more about both the history of this land and the extent of the site in general. We have a lot of work to do, but so far its been great.
We hope everyone has a restful and relaxing weekend — and remember to hydrate! Check back with us on Monday for more exciting news from MCAP Field School!


MCAP Field School Day 4: How deep can we go?   5 comments

Today we continued on with our auger survey — and I hope you aren’t getting bored of updates about it yet!


We weren’t able to meet our goal of 20 auger tests today because several of them went very deep — which takes a lot of extra time and crew members. One of the Murphy’s Law of Archaeology is that anything interesting will turn up at the end of the day or on the last day! Near the end of today we were finding very interesting sediments — interesting from a paleoenvironmental standpoint. We want to learn more about ancient flood and deposition events along the Cumberland River, and deeply buried soils are the key to understanding those. In this particular auger test we wanted to see how deep the sandy deposits were, so we kept adding extensions on to the auger. In the end field school student, Zack Whitehead, drilled it over 6 meters (just over 20 feet!) deep!

Zack holding up the auger (over 7 meters with extensions).


For the past two days we have tested what we consider to be the main part of the site. The artifact concentrations and soils above and below them are very interesting and given us a lot to think about.

Here is all of the soil from one 2 meter (approx. 6 1/2 feet) deep auger test, laid out in sequence on a tarp.

Auger test soils.

To me that soil picture looks like a mirror image of the 10YR page out of the Munsell book:


As expected, we have recovered a lot of shell and fire-cracked rock (or FCR as we like to call it).  Fire-cracked rocks are lithics/stone that were used to line earth ovens or hearths (or in some cases heated up and put in containers to cook food or heat water). The stone’s repeated exposure to high and prolonged temperatures caused it to change color, texture, and in some cases crack. We interpret these as evidence of human occupation, typically of a daily/domestic nature. If you really want to know more about FCR you can find some good sources in this bibliography.

Fire-cracked rock.


It is too soon to tell what any of this really means, but we definitely have some interest in exploring these areas further later this season.

Today’s student blog post is written by Pam Hoffman, a current Senior at MTSU.

Pam Hoffman emptying a bucket auger into the screen.

I get the privilege of graduating in December with my degree in Anthropology and minors in Archaeology and Criminology.  I have envisioned this since seeing an active excavation site in Williamsburg, VA. I have thoroughly enjoyed my studies at Middle Tennessee State University.  Field school has been every thing that I hoped it would be and so much more.   We have learned about soil types, different artifacts and how they play an important part in our archaeological record.  Every piece no matter how small is significant.  I have definitely gotten more efficient at setting up a site, augering holes and screening through the various soils.  Clay soil can really slow the process down but you just push through, literally.


Today we were visited at lunch by Dr. Valerie McCormack, one of two  archaeologists with the Army Corps of Engineers in the Nashville District.

Dr. Valerie McCormack gives a brown bag lecture to the MTSU Field School.

She elaborated on her daily duties and responsibilities of her position.  We learned the differences between working with the Corps and working with the Forestry Service and the federal laws that come into play with each.


Finally, we had an Apache helicopter fly over the site (twice)! They are impressive!

Apache helicopter fly-over.

MCAP Field School, Day 3: The Survey Continues…   Leave a comment

One of the main goals for this field season is to determine where the site is and where it is not. If you have been following along all week you know that we are conducting a bucket auger survey of a sizable portion of the property available to us. That means each team of 2 (or sometimes 3) is digging 4 to 5 of these auger tests a day. That may not seem like very many, but these tests are dug to a minimum of 2 meters (6.56 feet) deep. Each auger bucketful of dirt is about 10-15 cm (4 – 6 inches) in length. Every bucketful of dirt has to be screened for artifacts and the sediments described for color, texture, and structure. It can be slow going.

(Left to right) Pam, Ryan, and Cat discussing the data they are recording.

Several times today students were still finding artifacts at the 2 meter mark – so they were instructed to keep digging. This led to several tests going 3 meters deep (that’s nearly 10 feet!).

Dr. Peres helps out with a deep auger test.

There are a number of important daily jobs that are assigned to a different student each day. Each of the students should have a chance to do each job twice over the course of our 7-week field school. Jobs consist of recording data about artifact finds, maps that we draw, photographs we take, an equipment manager, a bathroom supply and garbage manager, one student shadows Dr. Peres and keeps a running notebook consisting of all site activities. The last job is a daily field blogger. As part of the course requirements and to fulfill our public outreach goal the students are helping to update the blog. Each of them will write about their experiences in the field and some of the interesting things they are learning. Today’s student blogger is Abigail, a rising senior at MTSU. This is her blog:

I am an anthropology major with minors in history and archaeology. This is my first experience with field school and so far, I’m loving it!

Abigail starting an auger test.

Today has been an exciting day, we’ve gotten into higher density deposits of lithics in our auger tests. The more deposits of lithics that we find can tell us, essentially, how close we are to the main areas of occupation. It’s sort of like how you can be traveling down a road and start to notice more and more homes the closer you get to a city.

The types of lithics we have found really interested me. I kind of just assumed that it would all look the same but there is quite a bit of color variation and size differences; even within a single bucket auger test. My group took four, two meter deep, bucket auger tests and we were finding lithics from the first bucketful to about four bucketfuls before two meters. It was really fun being able to identify these pieces of things within the dirt (going into this I was kind of worried about being able to tell chert from dirt).

Not only were the colors different with reds, pinks, and greys, but their textures were different as well. When screening, you’re essentially just de-clumping the soil peds (or “clumps”, in layman’s terms), so one would think that with big work gloves on, you wouldn’t be able to feel the difference. However, a piece of lithics on the screen makes a very distinct sound against the screen (think glass on metal), so once you hear it the first time, it’s engrained in your mind and easy to spot.

I can’t wait to see what we dig up tomorrow and I’m looking forward to getting my trowel dirty.

MCAP Field School Day 2: Goal + 1!   5 comments

My name is Callie Lopeman (that’s me in the red hat holding the auger) and I will be a Senior at Middle Tennessee State University in the fall. I am majoring in history with a minor in archaeology, which is why I was so eager to join the field school this summer to get experience. Yesterday, Ryan Robinson, the project Geoarchaeologist, taught us how to auger and identify soil types, colors, and structures from the samples taken. We also were able to lay in several grid lines yesterday, so today we were able to really begin taking soil samples since we now knew how and where to auger.

This morning, we broke into six groups of two to continue the auger survey. Dr. Peres gave us a goal of 20 total augers by the end of the day. Each auger would need to be as deep as 2 meters (6.56 feet) and possibly deeper if we found artifacts at that depth. Each team set off to test the soils in different areas for changes in soil types and evidence of human occupation.

Callie and Cat auger.

These samples produced several small lithics (the waste produced from making stone tools), and we were able to identify many types of soil structures and colors. By lunch, each group had sampled two or three locations and we had around fifteen locations total sampled. Although my group did not find any evidence of human occupation before lunch, it was really interesting and informative to actually be doing the sampling without immediate supervision, although Dr. Peres was of course available for questions.

The start of a bucket auger test.

My group, and probably every other group too, became very efficient and better at identifying the soil. After lunch, because most of the points plotted yesterday for sampling had already been tested, we plotted new points for the groups to sample today and likely tomorrow. On the last auger of the day my group began recovering a number of lithic artifacts (not spear points, arrowheads, or knives, but the waste from making and sharpening them).  It is exciting to begin to see evidence of where people were once on the landscape. Today was a beautiful day, and I really enjoyed being able to apply what we learned yesterday for the first time!

We leave you today with a picture of this little fella’ that was found during the survey.

Can you name this turtle? Bonus points for the correct taxonomic name! Leave your answer in the comments!