Today’s blog post brought to you courtesy of Nathan (MA in History). 

Sounds of shovels striking the ground and soil being sifted through screens means DAY TWO of the MTSU Archaeological Field School at Magnolia Valley has begun. Students arrived this morning refreshed after a well-deserved night of sleep; sore, but enthusiastic to learn and dig more dirt.

Dr. Peres runs the field school as “on-the-job” training. As she told us earlier, “I’m not concerned with your comfort, that is your responsibility. I’m teaching you the skills necessary to get hired as professional archaeologists.” This sentiment, coupled with the fact our field school is certified through the Register of Professional Archaeologists, means we will be prepared and qualified for any job we are hired on. 

Today we continued our Phase I work in Area A; a designated location where we are conducting tests to determine the site’s potential for further excavations. One group of students continued working with Tim on the geophysical survey. They even were able to operate the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to collect data points. GPR lets us “see” below the surface and pick out anomalies that we will want to further investigate in the coming weeks.

The remainder of the students broke into teams of two to continue the shovel test survey we started yesterday. Shovel testing is the most commonly used survey method on professional (CRM) archaeology projects…in other words, get used to digging small round holes! This method is important in locating culturally significant materials and identifying any soil disturbances caused by humans. We completed the shovel testing in Area A by the end of the day today. In advance of that, I, along with Jesse and Joey, and one other student, put in transect lines in Area E — the next destination for our survey work.



MTSU Archaeologists and students put in transect lines in Area E.


Transect lines are important for Phase I, as they provide a measured grid for organized work and allow us to record where we are working in both horizontal and vertical space. Jesse showed us how to use the compass to lay in a baseline. We then ran transect lines at 90 degree angles off the baseline, putting pin flags at 20 meter intervals. These flags mark the locations of future shovel tests.


Pin flags. We are already regretting our choice of green pin flags. 


Having the opportunity to learn how to accurately lay in transect lines using low-tech methods (tape and compass) solidifies what we have learned in the classroom.


Nathan helps to move the tapes for transect work in Area E.


Tomorrow we begin surveying in Area E — tall grass = high probability of ticks and chiggers. We also have a 100% chance of rain tomorrow….so Area E may have to wait until Thursday. 



5 thoughts on “

  1. Hi Nathan. Looks like fun.

    Having grown up in Middle Tennessee, I think what Dr. Peres might have really meant by her statement is that there is “no such thing as comfort” (per se) on an archaeological excavation in Middle Tennessee during the summer. The sun, heat, humidity, and bugs make that a certainty. That being the case, the issue becomes how each person will cope physically and psychologically with bad circumstances that are a “given”?

    As a matter of safety, all Field Directors and Field Assistants have a basic responsibility to look out for the comfort and safety of their field crews to the extent reasonably possible (e.g., proper hydration, monitoring for heat exhaustion/stroke, sunburn protection, watching out for crew members taking anticholinergic medications and medications that make them photosensitive, knowing who is allergic to poison ivy and who is not in making work assignments, and a variety of other issues where environmental safety and health converge with the issue of “comfort.” A prudent regard for safety and health also requires equal worker attention to these same issues. All of the best environmental health and safety programs around the nation, and especially those advanced by OSHA, recognize that both supervisory and employee attention are necessary to keep people as safe and comfortable as possible (with the emphasis on “possible”) in hostile work environments.

    You guys have a great summer!!!!

    • Dr. Peres here —
      Thanks for the info! We do indeed have a very thorough Health and Safety Plan, spend several hours going over it before we even begin fieldwork, and monitor all students and staff while in the field.

      As for the comment on comfort — the implication is that being in the field is uncomfortable, especially when we are used to sitting in air-conditioned classrooms, houses, and cars for nearly all hours of the day. If you are hot and sticky, or you get a little damp because of a small rain shower, well, that happens. However, we take the safety of our students very seriously and keep tabs on how everyone is acclimating to the reality of being out in the field for 8+ hours a day. Safety is our number one priority above and beyond the coursework and fieldwork.

      • I felt sure that was what you meant. Some relatively minor archaeological survey work was on my platter in Anderson County on Sunday. I am old, fat, out of shape, and too well adapted to my air conditioner, so doing it dang near killed me. I was fairly careful with hydration, sun exposure, and other such things. Inevitably, those moments came when I felt like quitting. However, I knew safety was not a real issue in that context and that I had to endure the discomfort and keep moving forward. The kids will learn that too—just as we did.

        Best of luck and good fortune to you in all of your work this summer!!!

  2. We are all looking forward to the cooler weather for the next few days, but know that summer will smack us in the face soon enough. We wish everyone a safe and productive field season!

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