Category Archives: field work

Archaeologists-Who-Happen-to-be-Mothers Part II!


Dr. Virginia Rimmer Herrmann (University of Tübingen) at Zincirli Höyük, Turkey.

Alexis Dunlop, field archaeologist.

Alexis Dunlop, field archaeologist.

Dr. Jessica Thompson, Emory University, directing the Malawi Earlier-Middle Stone Age Project (MEMSAP).

Dr. Jessica Thompson, Emory University, directing the Malawi Earlier-Middle Stone Age Project (MEMSAP).

I received an incredible response from the last post, Archaeologists-Who-Happen-to-be-Mothers, not in the least in the form of the contributions of photos, videos, and thoughts about archaeology & motherhood. Many of the contributors acknowledged how difficult (if not impossible) it would be without a very supportive partner, flexible working schedules, and control over their working conditions in the field. I encourage you also to check out the comments on the last post, where you can see the diversity of experience in the personal stories coming through.

I consulted with Dr. Brenna Hassett of Team Trowelblazers and she recommended that we set up a Tumblr for submissions, simply:

Women Digging

There are several more submissions there, I urge you to check it out, and submit your own photos, either with children or doing fieldwork on your own. Alternately, you can still email me photos, stories, and videos at clmorgan at gmail.

The only caveat: we reserve the right to not post photos that are outside recommended Health & Safety procedures, such as unshored trenches over 1.2m, not wearing PPE around heavy machinery, and the like. Stay safe out there, women diggers!


Kathryn Killackey, archaeological illustrator.

Kathryn Killackey, archaeological illustrator. Photo by Andrew Roddick.

Professor Nicky Milner, directing excavations at Star Carr.

Professor Nicky Milner, directing excavations at Star Carr.

Dr. Karen Holmberg, visiting scholar at NYU & volcano fetishist.

Dr. Karen Holmberg, visiting scholar at NYU & volcano fetishist.

Dr. Burcu Tung, directing excavations at Çatalhöyük.

Dr. Burcu Tung, directing excavations at Çatalhöyük. Photo by Scott Haddow.

Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes, honorary fellow at Université de Bordeaux, Laboratoire PACEA,

Dr. Rebecca Wragg Sykes, honorary fellow at Université de Bordeaux, Laboratoire PACEA

I initially started this photo essay with a long, considered discussion of motherhood in archaeology, how hard it is to fight against the structural forces that inhibit fieldwork and childcare, and how I have benefitted from incredible friends and colleagues who have acted as role-models and mentors. But in the end I deleted it. You don’t need me wittering on–just look at these archaeologists-who-happen-to-be-mothers.

Many of them hesitated to send photos, as it is an incredibly revealing act to expose what is perceived as a major hinderance to women’s careers. Even so, several of them also stated that they did so because they thought it was important to make this visible, to make it normal. I’m happy to say that this is only a small sample of the women I know who are archaeologists & mothers, so there is a great diversity of experience, support and wisdom that I’m lucky to receive.

Me at 27 weeks, surveying in Oman.

Me at 27 weeks, surveying in Oman.

I’m deeply grateful to these women and collecting these photos was a perfect way to start my maternity leave. If you’d like to contribute your own photos, please send them my way (clmorgan at gmail) or post them in the comments.

Springtime in Arabia


Qatar, 2011.

In the desert there is a perfect proportion of dun sand and blue; a Rothko division between land and sky that horizontally bisects the lens. I can’t help but pop the colors on my photos of the desert, it is a magical saturation of yellow-orange and blue abused by movie directors into banality. Yellow! Blue! Yellow/Blue! By mid-March the colors are slowly bleeding into bright white, the desert is overexposed, blurring into shimmering haze.

I arrived in Qatar during a rare, late series of thunderstorms that pelted perfect circles into the dust on our windshields. I delighted in the lightning and rolling thunder–I had missed weather–and the odd green dusting left on the desert by the uncommon wet. It rumpled up the landscape of Qatar, coaxing the small creatures out and painting new eddies and rivulets in the sand. I realized that I think of Qatar very much like I think of a crisply folded white piece of paper, sharp, unsparing, a bit clinical, the knife-crease of a freshly starched thawb. But everything is a bit sandier after the rain, and it was nice.

The Origins of Doha project started excavations at Fuwairit this year, and I was excited to go back, after surveying the kilometer-long site in 2011. I wrote about the site then, and it’s funny to see that I discuss the same things–unusual rain, being at home in the desert. My role has shifted from excavation to handling digital media and outreach. I’ll be releasing several videos about the project shortly.

After backfilling the trenches on the beach, we moved on to Oman, where Dan is doing his PhD work. Where Qatar is stark and bright, Oman is a piece of colorful velvet left out in the sun. Hot, hot, slightly faded on the surface, but full of plush depth and texture when you part it with your fingers. I’m not sure it is entirely productive to have a synesthetic approach to the feel of entire countries, but I guess it at least breaks up the great, homogenous other of Arabia.


Oman return/return to Oman.

Where Qatar was archaeology on a beach next to a mangrove, in Oman we’ve been walking through the dry wadis, finding purplish squared rocks in lines in the ground perched on the sides. I fell in love with such a site last year on our grand tour of all things Bronze Age and otherwise oldish, but tried to stamp it out, as I thought there was little chance of us doing more there. But we went back there this year, and there are plans for more work, and I’m trying to keep it cool and detached when all I want is to dive in with with both hands. A feverish, adolescent oh-god-oh-god-should-I-text-him sort of anticipatory glee that is truly improper when it comes to scatterings of 4,000 year old pottery in the desert. I guess I’d be more of a scientist if I didn’t have such a great love for this stuff.

I’ll be back in England next week, where the creep of spring doesn’t come in bold swashes of Hollywood color, but pushes small flowers into the air; the leaden gray skies breaking up into miscellaneous and slightly whimsical feather-clouds. In the meantime, I’m trying to wrap the desert around me, keep it close, an immaculate yellow/blue geometry cross-cutting my mind.

DOHA: The Doha Online Historical Atlas

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I’m very happy to announce that DOHA: Doha Online Historical Atlas has been launched, just in time for CHNT: Cultural Heritage and New Technologies. DOHA brings together several years of research including archaeological excavations, historic documentation, and a whole lot of fancy GIS-based georeferencing work.

We are also looking for contributions from people living in Doha. We don’t have a seamless citizen science solution quite yet (involving tedious server complications, etc), but for now we are taking georeferenced media here:

It is difficult to visualize research that is spread out over an entire metropolis, so I am quite pleased that it has all come together. We also have a quick video showing how to use it:

It is in beta, so we would love any feedback on it:

Health & Safety for Academic Archaeologists (Part 2)

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With summertime coming around again, it is time for archaeologists to post photos of breathtakingly dangerous practice. I wonder sometimes if the digital age will eventually help improve practice at archaeological excavations through public censure and raised awareness. I’m not sure–my first Health & Safety for Academic Archaeologists (part 1) was posted in 2011 when I was shocked and outraged at stunning disregard for the wellbeing of workers displayed in photographs in the New York Times. But have things changed? Apparently not.

I was alerted to this particular instance from BAJR’s Facebook page, and there are nearly 100 similarly outraged comments below the link. The university backing the project has been notified by members of BAJR, but can we all agree to stop this now? This is not something that we should be teaching students. Projects that post photos like this should not be funded and should come under serious censure.

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We need to do better. We need to teach proper health & safety to the next generation of archaeologists. We need to require project directors and supervisors receive rigorous training.

This 2x1 was excavated to a depth of 3 meters.

This 2×1 was excavated to a depth of 3 meters.

Curious about health & safety on archaeological sites? A good start is the CIfA’s Risk Assessment documents:

Lest you think this is UK-only, you can garner a very handsome fine from OSHA:

OSHA guide for trenches & excavation:

OSHA Trench Excavation Fact Sheet:

* All trenches over 1.5 meters require a protective system.
* All trenches require safe means of egress at all times.

As I said in my previous post:

Never work over your head. Never let anyone tell you that it is a good idea or that you aren’t being tough enough. Never work alone.

Fossil Hunting with Paleontologists in Saltwick Bay


About a month ago I got an email. Any archaeologists who were interested could tag along on a trip to Saltwick Bay on the northeast coast of England to hunt for fossils. The trip was arranged as part of the Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, an annual conference that was being held at King’s Manor this year.


Going fossil hunting with a bunch of paleontologists? Heck yeah! A month later I was neck-deep in deadlines, but decided to go anyway and do some writing on the bus. We scrambled along the shoreline and picked up a bunch of fossils.

Dean Lomax, Assistant Curator of Paleontology at the Doncaster Museum and author of ‘Dinosaurs of the British Isles‘ was along to answer my silly questions about what I’d found.

It was interesting to watch the Paleontologists in action, smashing up rocks, wrapping samples in tissue paper and putting them into plastic bags.


There were even a few possible dinosaur tracks! I felt pretty good about my fossil spotting after doing a fair bit of archaeological survey, but I totally missed these.

What is more interesting than dinosaurs? The debitage left behind by people looking for dinosaurs, obviously.

It was a good day out–thanks to the fantastic paleontologists who invited us along!


The African Muslim Fist-Bump

"Fist bump" by Indy Trendy Skits on Flickr

“Fist bump” by Brady Tulk on Flickr

(filed under cultural marginalia)

It was something that I had become accustomed to, a process of acculturation.

Meeting people in the Gulf and the Middle East was always a bit of a negotiated process. As I have mentioned before, while it is a truism that white women are to be treated as men, we inhabit a third gender, which we negotiate on a daily basis. Though my husband can expect a hearty handshake, a slap on the back, a hug, touching noses, or even, in the case of a man at a Syrian gas station, a rather rigorous attempt to crack his back, when I meet men, touching for a handshake is a complex, political process.

It is awkward the first few times it happens, when the glad-handed American thrusts her hand out in front of her, self-assured, flashing a smile, and this is met with a grimaced wince and a slow, reluctant hand limply meeting her own. I knew vaguely about the various prohibitions in Islam against touching women before praying, touching them with your hands, and so on, but it can be a hard habit to unlearn for someone trying to be polite.

So over the years I’ve congratulated myself for becoming more appropriate, more circumspect. When I meet Muslim men I put my hand over my heart, thus removing the necessity for them to decide to be “rude” and pious or  “worldly” and accommodating. After a time, I became unused to casual contact in the street–crowds would part in front of me, lest they touch me by accident and have to undergo purification–wudhu–again. But I could not become entirely inured to this process. Every once in a while, I would touch my hand to my heart (I’m so culturally sensitive!) and the man would thrust his hand out in front of me, insisting that I shake it. His cultural sensitivity would contest mine, and I would, of course, shake his hand.

In April I went to Africa for the first time, to the EUROTAST meetings in Ghana and Senegal. My excitement did not really register until I looked out of the plane window and saw the ragged line between deep blue ocean and the vast, tawny Sahara. In Senegal we spent most of our time in meetings on Goreé Island, a heterotopia of its own, but afterwards Dan and I headed south for a couple of days, to a crazy little community on the beach. Senegal is primarily Muslim, and felt more familiar to me than Ghana, even though people spoke English in Ghana and French in Senegal.

We were chatting to a man next to a wall who was fingering a misbaha, a string of prayer beads. He gave Dan a fierce handshake (there is the handshake-snap in Ghana, but that is a whole other thing). I was in mid-motion, putting my hand up to touch my chest, when he held out a fist to me. I probably looked at it quizzically, because he shook the beads in his other hand and explained, “you know, because I’m praying.” So I bumped his fist and he seemed satisfied. I was surprised and then delighted at this new (to me) variation of etiquette. Using the outer surface of the hand makes it okay to touch white ladies with while praying, so, the fist-bump. Okay. Got it.

The fist-bump is not rare in West Africa, nor is it a strictly Muslim practice; in Ghana there was a lot of fist-bumping, but it seemed on a more casual basis than a handshake. And that is how I coded it, a less-formal, “hip” gesture of friendship/encouragement. Since the famously infamous Obama “terrorist fist jab,” a few popular accounts traced the fist-bump to sports and it has been endorsed by doctors as being more hygienic. The fist bump is also briefly cited an example of “emergent culture” by Martin Ortlieb.

In Senegal, under a bright, yellowy sun and next to a whitewashed & peeling mosque, I found a slightly different version of the fist bump. Emergent or no, individual quirk or no, I loved to see it incorporated into a system of beliefs that dictate how and when it is appropriate to touch someone.