Life in the Archaeology Lab, Part I

RCARP operations moved to the lab in July after a much-needed week off following the end of fieldwork.

Did you know that fieldwork is just a small fraction of how an archaeologist spends her/his time? A general rule of thumb for how an archaeologist spends their time is:  one 40 hour week in the field (per person) = three 40 hour weeks in the lab (per person). We spent SEVEN 40 hour weeks in the field at Magnolia Valley. This equals twenty-one 40 hour weeks in the lab. But wait, that is per person. Our crew consisted of 17 people on site each day. That means we can look forward to 357 40-hour weeks in the lab (not including the Geophysical survey and data analysis). This time will be spent washing and sorting artifacts, processing 100% samples through a process called flotation, checking all field notes and forms, digitizing field maps, analyzing and cataloguing artifacts, entering data, and eventually writing reports, articles, lectures, posters, blog posts, and public talks.

Today we will get a glimpse on how we start to tackle that long to-do list.

Two weeks ago we began the long process of organizing the hundreds of bags of artifacts and double-checking that all information on the bags and in the FS log are the same. FS stands for Field Specimen number (abbreviated on all paperwork and bags as FS#). This is a unique number given to each different provenience during excavation. For example, a shovel test will get its own FS number so that no two shovel tests have the same FS#. Each 10-cm level of an excavation unit is assigned its own FS#. The artifact bags are arranged in boxes FS# order, from 1 to 345. This corresponds with the FS Log and allows us to quickly locate any given bag of artifacts we are interested in.

The early stages of artifact processing.

The early stages of artifact processing.


As the bags are being checked for accurate information, all artifacts within them are also being washed, dried, sorted by artifact category, and re-bagged. This is the initial step in analysis, which will commence once all of the artifact bags have undergone this process. You can read more about how we go about washing artifacts and also the flotation process in the coming days.


Safety first!

— post by field school student Jared T.
The Archaeological Field School isn’t only about digging in the dirt and learning about the lives of people long gone. Much of the course is designed to train us to be professional archaeologists –which means we need to know how to act on-site and how to respond to a classmate/future co-worker that might have an emergency.

On Friday we arrived on site a full hour earlier than usual to make up for spending that afternoon on campus. Dr. Peres arranged for us to have instruction in CPR and First Aid, as there is always potential for accidents in the field, as in any work place. It is essential that we are all prepared to act should an accident happen.  We learned the kew CPR rule of 30:2;


Field school students practicing  CPR.

Field school students practicing CPR.


how to help a choking person;

Helping a (pretend) choking person.

Helping a (pretend) choking person.

and how to wrap up a bleeding wound:

Field Assistant Joey wraps a (pretend) gash on Dr. Peres's forearm. The students are amused.

Field Assistant Joey wraps a (pretend) gash on Dr. Peres’s forearm. The students are amused.


However, we can prevent most accidents in the first place if we are prepared and use common sense. Here is a quick checklist of prevention that we follow daily:

  • drink plenty of water to stay hydrated;
  • sun block is a must (Dr. Peres actually requires sunblock use as part of the course);
  • always do a tick check when you get home;
  • handle tools  with care;  shovels should always be placed on the ground parallel to the excavation unit with the blade down.
  • do not run with a trowel in your hands.

Being safety-minded goes a long way in preventing most accidents, but we should still be prepared anyway.  The first aid class prepared us on what to do in many non-life-threatening situations, so now we know how to act if an emergency happens. It also taught us when a situation may be more than we are trained to handle, and when it is best to call in the professionals.


Meet the Archaeologists, Part I

This will be the first of several posts introducing the archaeologists that are involved with the MTSU Rutherford County Archaeology Research Program.

First up is Dr. Tanya M. Peres, Associate Professor of Anthropology and MTSU RCARP Director.

Dr. Tanya M. Peres


I received my BA (1995) and MA (1997) in Anthropology at Florida State University and my PhD (2001) in Anthropology from the University of Florida 2001.  Immediately following graduation in August 2001, I moved to Lexington, Kentucky to work at the University of Kentucky. While there I was  an Assistant Director of the Program for Archaeological Research and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky (2001-2005). I joined the Sociology and Anthropology faculty at Middle Tennessee State University in 2005, where I am currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Anthropology Program.

My research interests are concerned with the relationships between humans and their environments, and how these relationships impacted both the humans and other organisms around them in a variety of times and places. I have conducted extensive research on ancient environments in the southeastern United States, and at several sites in Gulf Coastal Mexico, Central Pacific Panama, and the Scottish Highlands. The goal of the 2010 NSF-funded field project that I co-directed, RAPID: Emergency Shoreline Assessment and Sampling of Archaeological Sites along the Cumberland River in Middle Tennessee, was to assess the natural and anthropogenic damage to archaeological sites along the middle Cumberland River following the May 2010 floods in Nashville, Tennessee. This grew into the MTSU Middle Cumberland Archaeology Project, which is an on-going collaboration between MTSU, the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, and several other local, state, and federal agencies, and private landowners to investigate and preserve ancient sites along the middle portion of the Cumberland River east and west of Nashville.

I have been the Project Zooarchaeologist of the Castalian Springs Archaeological Project, directed by Kevin E. Smith, since 2005. I have worked at a variety of sites across the Southeast while employed by private CRM firms, the University of Kentucky’s Program for Archaeological Research, and the National Park Service’s Southeastern Archeological Center. My publication record includes articles in Historical ArchaeologyTennessee Archaeology, and Current Research in the Pleistocene, as well as Integrating Zooarchaeology and Paleoethnobotany (co-edited with Amber VanDerwarker), Trends and Traditions in Southeastern Zooarchaeology, a guest co-edited issue of Tennessee Archaeology, numerous chapters in edited volumes, and as author or co-author of over 30 technical reports.

I have been the recipient of several research grants and awards from the Royal Society of Edinburgh International Scholar Exchange Fellowship, the Charles H. Fairbanks Award (University of Florida), a Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Fellowship, National Science Foundation, and the Tennessee Historical Commission. In addition to being active in research and teaching I hold, or have held, positions in the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology, Kentucky Organization of Professional Archaeologists, Southeastern Archaeology Conference, and Society for American Archaeology.

I consider myself a third generation southeastern zooarchaeologist. I began my zooarchaeology career in 1994 as a student of Dr. Rochelle Marrinan at Florida State University (FSU). Dr. Marrinan (or Dr. M as we all refer to her) was a student of Dr. Elizabeth Wing at the University of Florida (UF) in the 1970s. During my years at FSU (where I received both a B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology) Dr. M. mentored and taught me, and scores of other undergraduate and graduate students, the rigors of taxonomic identifications and zooarchaeological data analyses and interpretations, just as she was mentored and taught by Dr. Wing. During that first zooarchaeology course we students were assigned our very own faunal assemblage to analyze. The assemblage was excavated in the 70s at the Snow Beach Site, a Swift Creek Period shell midden site. There came a point during the 1994 zooarchaeology course when a number of us had specimens that could not be identified using the comparative collection at FSU. The only thing we could do, and I am sure lobbied hard for, was to load up in Vanna White (FSU Anthropology’s white Chevy 12 passenger van) and head to the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF.

In 1997, after receiving an M.A. in Anthropology at FSU, I followed in Dr. M.’s footsteps and moved south to Gainesville to begin work toward a doctorate in Anthropology, emphasis Zooarchaeology, guided in part by Dr. Wing. While my actual dissertation focused on a site in Panama, I never strayed far from the Southeastern US. While in Panama I applied the field and lab methods I learned at FSU and UF to my PhD research of a Preceramic coastal shell midden. When analyzing the faunal assemblage for my dissertation I relied on the Zooarchaeology comparative collection and the expertise of Dr. Wing and Dr. Richard Cooke (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) to identify difficult specimens. During my tenure at UF I worked at the Florida Museum of Natural History on several faunal assemblages from southeastern projects including: Aucilla River Prehistory Project (Vertebrate Paleontology Range), Everglades National Park Environmental Reconstruction (EA Range), and Snake Island Zooarchaeological Analysis (EA Range).

I worked at the University of Kentucky as a Project Director, Zooarchaeologist, and Assistant Director of the Program for Archaeological Research for several years before coming to MTSU. I am so pleased to be a part of the MTSU community — I enjoy teaching and mentoring undergraduate students, and working with my very talented and supportive colleagues. I am excited about the Rutherford County Archaeology Research Program and the potential we have to learn about the prehistory of the county we call home.