It Ain’t All Bullwhips and Satchels!

Hello reader, and welcome to my little corner of the What’s up, Archaeology? blog. My name is Joaquin, and if you’re reading this, it means you’ve probably got an interest in what real life archaeology is, and what it is we really do, besides keeping evidence of giants locked away in the Smithsonian (just kidding!). I guess in order to explain that, a brief introduction of archaeology is in order, at least as it’s taught in the United States. Archaeology is a sub-field within the broader field of Anthropology. The Oxford dictionary defines anthropology as “The study of human societies and cultures and their development.” Simply put, anthropology is the study of humanity. The three other fields are (in no particular order) linguistic anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, and cultural anthropology. Linguistic anthropology deals with spoken language, to include sign language. Biological/physical anthropology focuses largely on the evolution of our species. This involves studying the fossilized remains of ancient humans, our hominin ancestors, and other primates. Cultural anthropology focuses on studying groups of contemporary human populations. These peoples may lead lifestyles that range from rural modern-day hunter gatherers to urban city dwellers. Now, these are just brief descriptions of the three other subfields, and any specialists in those areas are likely cringing at my very basic description of their chosen fields. However, this brief overview simply serves to give you a quick description of how wide an area is covered by the umbrella of anthropology.

Early morning from a long ago field school.

So, where does archaeology fall into this? Archaeology is the study of the past through the material culture that past peoples have left behind. The term material culture refers to the physical things that have been made, used, and left behind or discarded by past peoples. These things include the big shiny things that most people associate with archaeology, such as ancient ruins, monumental architecture, and priceless treasures like those found in King Tut’s tomb. However, these also include more mundane things such as the broken pieces of a ceramic drinking vessel, the bits of stone that are associated with the manufacture of stone tools, and other discarded items that people used in their day to day life. To paraphrase a popular saying, an ancient civilization’s trash is an archaeologist’s treasure. Of course, there is much more to what makes up material culture than I’ve described here, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

I am currently a graduate student at NMHU in the Southwest studies anthropology program. My thesis mainly involves ceramic and lithic analysis of artifacts at site of unknown cultural affiliation in northeastern New Mexico. Meanwhile, I’ve also been working as a Culture Resource Management archaeologist for nearly two years. As I like to put it, I get paid to go on long, see some great scenery, and maybe even find an interesting site or two. But with the field work comes the paperwork, so when were not in the field we’re in the office writing all the reports.  

Over the course of the next three months, I hope to share with you what working in the Culture Resource Management field is like from my perspective. Many of the participants in this project work in other parts of the US in the CRM field, and I look forward to finding out what the field is like in other parts of the county. I also will talk about my progress towards completing my thesis, which is all I have left to do to complete the MA program at NMHU.  Along the way I may hit on little topics that are interesting to me, such as a proliferation of pseudo-archaeological “theories” i.e. “Ancient Aliens”, and how archaeology is represented in pop culture, i.e. Indiana Jones and in video games. Until next time!

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2 Comments

  1. Just to point out, I’m definitely an archaeologist but as a classical archaeologist, I have almost no background in anthropology; my degree leans more towards art history and classics departments. So there are all different kinds!

    Liked by 1 person

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