Behind the Scenes Archaeology

Who would have thought that walking around aimlessly for hours in the woods is the easy and quick part of archaeology?  All in all, the stereotype that archaeologists spend most of their time in the field excavating and collecting artifacts is completely untrue.  Previously I had just accepted this to be fact from readings and lecture concerning the intricacies of archaeological research. However, recently I’ve been able to experience the full brunt of the life of an archaeologist through lab, and it is not an easy one.

the first image that comes up upon Googling "Archaeology"

the first image that comes up upon Googling “Archaeology”

Lab work is an imperative part of archaeology, providing for much of the actual results and findings that occur. Rarely is a piece ever just picked up in the field, examined right then and there, then accepted as fact and put away. In lab the artifacts are observed, recorded, sorted, and in some cases put together again from tiny fragments. So, lab work comes with many more subtle complications than field work. In the field the general dangers of spending so much time performing strenuous work in the outdoors are present, and can take an exhausting toll on the body. Similarly, lab work can take a toll on the mind, as classification systems and identification becomes increasingly difficult to do once the artifact has been through a dozen hands, some of which might be mislabeled or broken.

have fun sorting that...

have fun sorting that…

The images that come to mind in thinking of archaeology are mostly that of field work but the meat of the field of anthropology is lab work. The lab work I performed was more than anything rebagging and assorting hastily labeled and disorganized artifacts with a colourful history of tug and pull. They had belonged to private hands, and was to be possibly donated to a museum, but as the bill ranked up for the archaeological work to be done on the artifacts(evidently archaeology is not for the frugal of heart) ownership became complicated up until the point where they are just being borrowed indefinitely for the time being. This contributed to the clutter of the artifacts worked on. Thusly, my initial sentiments toward lab work was that it seemed like some cruel joke, bagging and rebagging bags upon bags of stuff that was sometimes more dirt than artifact, and squinting at a tiny bone for ten minutes to figure out whether it belonged to a bird or an annoyingly small rabbit. Once you get into though, the work itself is incredibly simple. Half the time spent in lab was sifting through a pile of similar centuries old objects and playing One of These Things is Not Like the Other. This becomes the essential component of lab, recognizing when an artifact needs to be classified separately than the material it was grouped with before, and vice versa merging groups of items together for the sake of coherence in sorting. Although archaeology is thought of many times as the dangerous and exciting field work of the likes of Indiana Jones, the work that goes into labeling it all is the vital step that gives an artifact meaning, putting it into context of where it was before and how it played into the lives of the people there years ago.

– Bernardo


Ashmore, Wendy and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology. New York: McGraw- Hill, 2012. Print.

Archaeologists Fighting for Human Rights

An archaeologist dealing with a current event issue seems like an oxymoron, right? Most people are under the impression that archaeologists only study the ancient past. In reality, however, the goals of archaeology go far beyond finding hidden gems of prior time periods. Anthropologists also use archaeology as a means of studying modern day issues, such as illegal boarder crossing through the Sonora desert.

Sonoran Desert-North American desert covering large parts of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico

Sonoran Desert-North American desert covering large parts of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico

Since 2000, four and a half million people have been caught crossing the Sonora desert with the hopes of finding a better life in America. Along the way, approximately three hundred and thirty people will be caught each year and each day one person will die in their attempt to cross. While only a fraction of migrants will make it through the desert and live to tell their story, the items that they leave behind do all of the talking. As the migrants walk, they constantly leave behind material remains, making the Sonora desert an archaeologist’s wonderland.


Items left behind by migrants in the Sonoran Desert

In order to better analyze the people who choose to embark on the treacherous journey, Jason de León, author of “Better to be Hot than Caught,” studies the material culture of the Sonora desert. Using archaeological techniques, de Léon and his team can survey the desert and find artifacts that, combined, tell a story of the lives of migrants that cross the desert. While the Sonora is quite expansive and de León is not able to survey the entire desert, he has been able to compile a substantial amount of information.

In examining the material remains it quickly becomes clear that the migrants are quite misinformed regarding the items that will be most beneficial in crossing the desert; they are afraid of the wrong things. For example, in an effort to avoid detection, they wear dark clothing increasing their chance of heat-related illness. Additionally, most water bottles that are found have pictures of saints on them which show that the migrant’s culture is deeply rooted in religion.

These two examples illustrate how utilizing an archaeological approach can provide interesting insight into a modern cultural phenomenon. As an active member of Amnesty International, I knew a bit of background about the hardships faced by migrants in the Sonora desert. However, it was not until reading Jason de León’s work that I could truly contextualize the severity of the situation. Ultimately, Jason de Leóns “Undocumented Migration Project” has helped me, and hopefully many other people, understand more about the life of migrants in the Sonora desert, as well as opening people’s minds to the far-reaching influences of archaeological work.


De León, Jason. “Introduction.” The Undocumented Migration Project. Word Press, n. d. Web. 8 Oct. 2013. <>.

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A view in Catskills

Acorn Hill, Catskills Mountains

Through a hole in the fence we entered the wilderness. With countless fallen tree branches and slippery mossy stones jutting out the ground, we needed to be as swift as a deer to jump over the obstacles. It is a paradox that we could not really act like a deer, because the nearby hunters thinking we were deers might mistakenly shoot us. This trek fitted perfectly with a stereotype regarding to archaeology–archaeologists are always accompanied by mysterious forests, poisonous bugs, and hands full of dirt. We were in a forest, we had dirty hands, but no bugs, if frogs did not count, probably because we all had sprayed ourselves before. However, the excitement of going on my very first real field trip dissipated  all the concerns and made me enjoy it.

In the woods of Acorn Hill.

In the woods of Acorn Hill.

Askohan Reservoir in the Catskills Mountains, lying ninety-three miles north of New York City, was completed in 1915 to provide clean water for the city. While water was transporting through ninety-two miles long aquaducts to slake the thirst of New York City, eleven towns and thousands of arces of farmlands were vanished underwater. Hoping to know how the construction of Askohan Reservoir affected local people’s lives and reshaped rural landscapes, we were here.


Olivebridge Dam under construction to build the Ashokan Reservoir circa 1910.



The Ashoken Reservoir seen from Monument Road in Ulster County, New York, USA.

 Finally, we reached the site marked by a washing machine in 1940s, and spilt into three groups to start working. Two groups were dealing with a sampling unit, with each of the three members in a group responsible for different jobs, describing the artifacts, writing down the descriptions, and drawing pictures in the notebook. Instead of staying motionless beside the unit, my group with Dr. Beisaw walked around to gain a better understanding of the adjacent area. There were several piles of stones not far away, on which scattered all kinds of glass, ceramics, metal cans and even shoes. According to Dr. Beisaw, these piles of stones were remains of houses of domestic people, while the bigger piles of soil to the right were industrial records of the exploitation of bluestone in quarry for the construction of the dam over the reservoir. Moving on, we were amazed by a huge man-made platform of stone about six feet high, because there used to be a entire mountain of stone over fifty feet, which completely disappeared after being quarried. At last, we drew a simple map of the area near the sampling unit and highlighted the piles of stone and soil, road and quarry.

During the field trip, what I enjoyed the most is to listen to the stories of every artifact, feature, and ecofact I encountered. They are alive. Trees were not only trees. Their composition and postion suggested that this was a farmland before being abandoned. Stones were not only stones. Their size and shape showed that some were walls to mark the rim of the farmland, some were to support domestic houses. The miscellany of artifacts told a more comprehensive story. Dining ceramics and a metal pan embodied that people were cooking on their own and eating near the quarry. Perfume and nail polish bottles manifested that some people here were in families. Archaeologists cherish the information more than the value in artifacts, because with information, they can reconstruct the past society. Even when you took a piece of gold to an archaeologist, the typical answer would be, according to Dr. Beisaw, “Gold? So what? Give me information!”


Search result of Ashokan Reservoir,

A.J.Loftin, The Ashokan Reservoir: The creation of the Ashokan Reservoir changed the Catskills forever

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I Got a Rock…

When Charlie Brown said that on Halloween, he was less than excited. But that’s because he wasn’t doing archaeology, where finding rocks, especially those that are part of foundations or walls, is awesome! Getting a rock for trick or treating is less fun but I digress.

When you think of archaeology, you probably imagine giant excavations, where people are uncovering dinosaur bones or ancient cities. When I went out to do fieldwork for the first time, that wasn’t exactly what we did nor what we were looking for. Surveying is a technique to find archaeological data, which doesn’t include any digging but thoroughly scanning an area (on foot, in our case) looking for evidence on the surface. It often comes before excavation (well, you have to find sites before you can dig, right?).

So basically, we went exploring in the middle of the woods. No trails and lots of tree roots hidden under leaves waiting to trip you up (living dangerously). As we navigated the hilly terrain (a great work-out, by the way) we were keeping our eyes out for evidence of a town that used to exist in Richardsville, near Kent, New York.

Boyd's Corner Reservoir Kent Cliffs


A photograph of the Boyd’s Corner Reservoir

New York City took over the area to make and preserve reservoirs for the city in the late 19th – early 20th century, so the town was abandoned. Dr. Beisaw wants to examine how the uprooting affected the local people and culture. Conclusions drawn from the past can help determine how regulating people for environmental reasons will have an impact today and how to lessen said impact. That’s the point of archaeology, to use the past to help improve the present and future! For anyone interested in learning about the watershed conservation controversy, here is an interesting segment about it from WNYC radio.

The reality is that if you haven’t already explored the area you’re researching, there is no way of knowing if anything is there. My group’s trails didn’t seem to be yielding many results. However, when we reached the end of our assigned area, we did end up finding something! We came across a large, curved stonewall and a metal sheet (part of a roof, perhaps?) propped up on rocks on the inside of the curve. We speculated that there might have been construction in the area, especially given the concentration of large boulders and other rocks that most likely were not deposited by nature.



This is similar to the metal sheet we found. It doesn’t look like much, right? Well, when you come across this in the middle of the woods, after hours of looking for evidence of human habitation, this is one of the coolest things ever.

Overall, fieldwork has to be approached with an open-mind, open eyes, and the energy to hike! And we didn’t just end up with a rock, we got a whole wall of rocks!



Beisaw, April. “Field Survey Manual”. 2013. Web. Access October 6, 2013.


Let’s Find…..Treasure?

If you’ve stumbled upon a twenty dollar bill lying around, you’ve experienced the thrill of finding a treasure.  Finding stuff is cool. Therefore, most people think that an archaeologist’s job is pretty awesome because they’re always digging up exciting treasures! Well, I was an archaeologist for an entire day without digging anything up.

Most people don’t realize a site must be carefully surveyed and mapped before it can be excavated. That’s what I did last Tuesday; I mapped an area in the Catskills, a region that New York City purchased over the past century and drastically changed to preserve their water supply, a place called Ashokan Reservoir.

Ashokan Resrvoir as seen today

Ashokan Reservoir

Ashokan Reservoir spans over 8,300 acres, previously farm land and towns.  New York City purchased the land through eminent domain in the early 1900s and eventually constructed a dam, creating the largest reservoir in the world at the time, upon the ruins of communities. An archaeologist begins with a hypothesis, and evaluates whether what they find fits what they expected to find. Our team, including Professor Dr. Beisaw, an archaeology major and three eager adventurous archaeology hopefuls did just that.


We wondered how this part of the Catskills was used before New York purchased it. What I found trekking through the forest with two archaeology students, who might or might not have mastered the GPS until the end of the day, helped us answer this question.

GPS and map we used to find our way through the Catskills.

GPS and map used 


The first challenge is to not get lost. Having the right equipment is important (we did, thanks to our team leader), as is being able to use it! You also need to be sure that you’re not trespassing. Keeping everything in mind, we found a clearing with a big tree with branches close to the base. Forest trees don’t have branches near the base as light doesn’t reach here, so we deduced that this tree used to be in a pasture, which explained part of the past of this area. A bone, thought to be either pig or goat, suggested that people in the area had domesticated animals, although it is possible that the bone came from elsewhere, a transposed artifact. Stumbling across a road and finding rusty old cans and trash nearby with fewer items further up the mountainside suggested habitation in the lower area.  Clean, tool cut tree trunks indicated that people used the land there.  An important discovery was a stone wall, parts of which were deteriorating but others in prime condition; this suggested the land was marked for multiple purposes or animals.


Similar stone wall we stumbled upon in the Catskills. With tress fallen upon it, moss and some deterioration.

Stone Wall

While all the finds (yes archaeologists consider a rusty old can, a pile of rocks and tree stumps finds and we had to stop and mark all of them on the GPS) answered some questions, they left some unanswered and raised others. Who knew how much one can learn from walking in the forest if you pay attention? Archaeologists do more than just dig. They learn about the past, answer questions, and more importantly, help plan for a better future.

Works Citied:

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Do I really need the whip, or will the Fedora do?

Don the Fedora, holster your pistol, and coil your whip – it’s time for an archaeological expedition… or so I thought. Turns out, fieldwork doesn’t necessarily include dodging booby traps, stealing precious golden idols, or scurrying away from massive boulders.

Indy didn’t teach us much about real archaeology, did he?

To start off, there is a ton of preparation work that needed to be completed. Maps and charts had to be at the ready, plotting out the different paths and courses that the team had to take for the initial survey. Along with that, each team carried flags (to mark out artifacts), notebooks, a compass, measuring tape, a GPS device, a dSLR camera, a video recorder, walkie-talkies, and a rangefinder. Each member of the team was allotted a specific role, be it a navigator, recorder, photographer, or videographer.

I was placed in the team which did not have the aid of a mobile mapper, but only an old-fashioned map and compass (which was fine, because Indiana Jones managed alright without technology). Immediately, we had to get our bearings and figure out which direction we had to proceed. As we started to trek through the woods, we took pictures and studied the various artifacts we stumbled upon. Unlike the bones, treasure maps, and precious gems that I had pictured we would find, aerosol containers, beer cans, and old Coke bottles were strewn across the floor.

Surprisingly enough, a simple preliminary inspection of the artifacts revealed a lot more than I had expected. Just by looking at the design of the samples, it was possible to determine their age and purpose. For example, we came across an aerosol can which had been rusted and broken, with the label not visible anymore. It had a jagged plastic ridge that jutted out near the nozzle, which we inferred would be used for upholstery.

A rusted can gives so much information once you look deeper

A rusted can gives so much information once you look deeper

As we continued trekking along the winding hills, our team found manmade stone walls. Using the rangefinder and measuring tape, we calculated the length and height of it them, along with marking out any unusual rocks or discolorations along the walls. After taking numerous pictures and videos, we eventually moved on.

A dry stone wall similar to the ones we found

A dry stone wall similar to the ones we found

During our expedition, we lost touch with one of the teams. We decided to play it safe and launch a “search and rescue” style mission to seek them out. Even though all of us were confident that the other team was safe and it was just the topography of the hills that was interfering with communications, I was secretly hoping that they had been held captive by evil Nazis and I would have to use my whip-lashing abilities to rescue them. Fortunately, they were perfectly fine and we regrouped for lunch (unbeknownst to us, we had been eating for quite a while under a live wasp nest).

The drive back to campus provided a perfect opportunity to reflect on the day. Archaeology has been a passion of mine since I was six years old, and going on an expedition has been a dream of mine. I would never have expected my first experience to be something like this, but I can say with full confidence that it was a wonderful and eye-opening one. I found out that archaeology doesn’t have to do with bones, mummies, and coffins, but instead it has to do with what we can learn from the items that our predecessors have left behind. Something so small as a beer can to something as significant as a wall can give the same amount of information, but each tell a completely different story.



How Stuff Works  -

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Fieldwork: Not Your Average Dig.

When we were assigned field work as a part of archaeology class, my mind was immediately filled with images of excavations and lost artifacts. I could not have been more wrong; the only digging that occurred involved digging through the woods in order to get to the site.

We set out with one task in mind: to take a sampling unit at a previously found site in the Catskills. The Catskill Mountains are located in the Southeastern portion of the state of New York. They are home to a reservoir that supplies most of the water supply for New York City, located about 100 miles below. When New York City bought land from the Catskills to construct the reservoir, quarries were established to provide the necessary quantities of stone needed for its creation. While all of this was going on, many people were forced to leave their land. My archaeology professor, Dr. April Beisaw, is currently working on a project in the Catskills to determine how the lives of the people there were affected by all that was happening around them.

A Blue Stone Quarry located in the Catskill Mountains

A Blue Stone Quarry located in the Catskill Mountains

In order for us to get a taste of field work, Dr. Beisaw took us out in groups so that we could see some of what her project is all about. We drove to the Catskills, where we aimed to create a sampling unit at a site that had been previously discovered near a quarry. The goal of the sampling unit was to help us better understand what was going on at the places that had been surveyed. We found numerous types of broken glass containers, clam shells, metal fragments, metal cans, and broken dishes. Although at first these may seem like random objects, what they can tell us about the people that lived there is astounding.

An example of a grid sampling unit.

An example of a grid sampling unit.


If you did not know what to look for, it may seem irrelevant that there were multiple types of broken dishes, glasses, and glass containers. Everyone uses dishes, right? But when I think back to my home, I can distinctly remember having a set of matching dishes and glasses that we used on a regular basis. However, when you discover multiple dishes at one site, it begins to give you insight into the situation of the people that once lived there. Perhaps people often gave whoever lived there dishes or perhaps they could only afford mismatched items. Every find at a site can help an archaeologist learn a little more about what was really going on there.

Although people often only think of field work as excavations, there is so much more behind the term. Surveying and sampling can help an archaeologist get a better understanding of a site without ever having to break ground.  Field work can include excavation, but what we set out to do was a different type of field work. We set out with goal of gaining insight into the lives of those who had once lived in the Catskills.

Works Cited:

“About the Catskills.” The Catskills Homepage. Web. 2010. <>

Ashmore, Wendy, and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to  Archaeology. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 1988. Print.


Further Reading:

The Challenges and Joys of Archaeological Fieldwork

On Friday some of my fellow classmates and I went to do fieldwork for my Archaeology class with my professor. We surveyed the land and found some incredibly interesting things without even breaking the surface of the soil. It was a lot more work than I had initially thought. It made me think about those archaeologists who do fieldwork often. They are very dedicated because they have to deal with so many factors in the field. Fieldwork may not sound like a significant amount of work, but it truly is. Especially for the archaeologists who need to spend more than six hours in the field at a time. There are so many challenges to face when working in the field. In addition to mud, bugs, and weather conditions, there are also the unpredictable challenges that technical difficulties pose as well as navigation.

When people think of fieldwork, they imagine archaeologists digging for some sort of lost treasure or buried civilization. Pompeii is a good example of this. Pompeii was first excavated in 1748 after being preserved for over 2,000 years by lava from a volcano that erupted in 79A.D. Almost everything was preserved including buildings, skeletons, and even loaves of bread.

This picture depicts the excavation of Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius over 2,000 years prior.

This picture depicts the excavation of Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius over 2,000 years prior.

For more information about Pompeii and its excavation, see links below.

Although many archaeologists are still fascinated by Pompeii and other similar excavation sites, there are different types of archaeology that do not involve breaking through the surface of the earth. This includes underwater archaeology, which is incredibly difficult in the fieldwork aspect of it. Underwater archaeologists only have a finite amount of air in their tanks when they dive down to their site, at the bottom of the water.

A diver takes a look at the hull of the 1758 Land Tortoise, the oldest known warship of its kind. During this project, the underwater archaeologists had around 16 minutes for each dive so planning was essential.

A diver takes a look at the hull of the 1758 Land Tortoise, the oldest known warship of its kind. During this project, the underwater archaeologists had around 16 minutes for each dive so planning was essential.

Underwater archaeology is incredibly difficult and requires great consideration and planning; however, as my classmates and I learned on Friday, so does above ground archaeology. Surveying land does not seem like it needs particularly intense amounts of planning but it truly does. A major aspect of doing fieldwork (especially in the woods) is navigation. My group mostly worked with a compass and a map. We did our best to stay on our path but it was difficult because there were obstacles in the way. The terrain was very hilly and woody. There were some parts of the woods where we needed to go around large and tangled fallen trees and then reorient ourselves. It also takes a great deal of time when you are looking for artifacts and features. When you have an eye for finding these types of archaeological finds, there are usually many things that pop out at you- even a 1980’s beer can will tell you something about the people who used to inhabit that area.

In an age where we are all so interconnected through technology, it is difficult to imagine communication by walkie-talkie’s alone. That is what my classmates and I did on our fieldwork. We split up into three groups (with about three or four people in each) and split up the territory so that we could cover a greater amount of land. At least one person in each group had a walkie-talkie so that we could communicate with each other. However, when the land is hilly and the signal is not that powerful, problems could occur when attempting to contact another group. This happened for a brief period when we were about to eat lunch and we heard nothing from one of the groups. We then all went as a large group to look for our fellow classmates. We used our orientation skills to find their path and then finally were able to get in touch with them. This could also be a major area of stress and difficulty for archaeologists who have found something in the field and want a colleague to check it out.

Although there are many difficulties when doing archaeology fieldwork, it is truly worth it when searching and finding things about the people who lived there. Learning about a past culture helps us understand them better and therefore helps us better understand ourselves. If given the opportunity, I would highly recommend participating in archaeology fieldwork. Without digging a single hole in the ground, I learned so much about archaeological fieldwork and the people who used to live on the land that we were surveying.


Works Cited:

“History of the Excavation of Pompeii.” Pompeii Sites. N.p., n.d. Web. <>.

“Pompeii.” A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2013. <>.


No Shovels Required: What the Surface Can Tell Us About the Past

When you think about archaeology, what immediately comes to mind? I’ll take one guess: digging. It seems obvious, right? If you want to learn about the past, you have to look at old stuff, and if you want to look at old stuff, you have to dig it up. Excavation is the best possible way to uncover history, right?

Not necessarily. All it took was one short fieldwork expedition to show me that you can learn an incredible amount about a site’s past without ever putting a shovel in the ground. In fact, you can discover a whole lot by just walking around.

Let’s take, for example, an out-of-the-way spot in upstate New York called Acorn Hill. Located just a few minutes’ drive away from the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskill Mountains, this inconspicuous site contains a wealth of archaeological information.

 The Ashokan Reservoir in upstate New York, where I did my fieldwork.

Although the entire area is now forest, a well-trained eye can tell that parts of it were once used as farmland. How, you might ask? Well, the most obvious clues are the stone walls. Even a short walk in the woods will reveal a number of stone walls snaking through the trees. Although these walls have crumbled and fallen over the years, they can still tell us a lot about the ways that the land was used. Some, for example, have been blackened by smoke and soot, suggesting that they were once part of a house that had a chimney.

Sometimes the very stones in the walls can provide information. If the stones are large and piled together somewhat haphazardly, they were probably pulled out of the ground when a nearby field was plowed. And if the ground on one side of the walls seems smooth, even, and less rocky, it was probably a crop field. A lack of large, old trees can also suggest where fields once were.

This photo illustrates this pretty well. See how the ground on the far side of the wall is lumpier, rockier, and has bigger trees, while the ground closest to the camera is flatter and has fewer rocks and smaller trees? That flatter ground was probably a field.

That brings me to another set of fascinating clues about a landscape’s past: trees! They might seem even less exciting than stone walls—after all, Acorn Hill is pretty much covered with trees, and they’re not even manmade—but they can tell us a whole lot about the ways that the land was used.

Aside from looking at the age of the trees, we can learn a lot from examining the types and shapes of trees that we pass. Non-native trees, such as apples and pears, suggest human influence, as do clean-cut stumps. Wide trees with lots of low branches indicate that the land was once used as a pasture. Farmers often left one or two trees in an otherwise clear-cut pasture so that the animals could get some shade. So because there weren’t lots of other trees blocking the sun, pasture trees could spread out and use their lower branches to soak in extra light that forest trees didn’t get.

A tree in a pasture vs. trees in a forest. Note the differences in shape and number of low-lying branches.

So the next time you go for a walk in the woods, take a look at the ground underfoot and the trees overhead. You might be amazed by what you discover.


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The Thrills of Real Archaeology

Archaeology is not all about artifacts. One of the archaeologist’s most important jobs does not even include touching, let alone taking with them, remnants of the past. This vital part of archaeology is called a “survey” and is phase 1 in any research project [2]. This past week, I was able to participate in an archaeological survey in the Catskill Mountains and experience first-hand the thrills associated with real archaeology.

When New York City turns on the tap, the water that comes out likely originates over 70 miles north in a gigantic man-made lake called the Ashokan Reservoir. One hundred years ago, this reservoir did not exist and the areas surrounding it were cities and pastureland. [1] Below is this area today:


Over the years, New York City bought the land surrounding the reservoir, removed the people living there, and planted thick forests. Our research project tries to find evidence of people who lived near today’s Ashokan Reservoir in order to learn more about their lives, how they lived, and how we can apply this information to today.

Like any archaeological adventure story, my group did not follow a designated path as we traversed the Catskill woods, barging our way through the underbrush. Thirty minutes into the survey, a fellow student spotted a bone. One would logically assume it belonged to some woodland creature like a deer or a raccoon; however, upon closer examination the professor surmised that it may have belonged to a pig. A pig in the rural woods? This type of “ecofact” (a part of nature telling us about a past culture) is the truly exciting part of archaeology [2]. Stereotypical treasure does not always provide insights into past cultures. A simple bone, on the other hand, can provide a wealth of information such as evidence that pigs may have lived on this property. Our group then stumbled upon this stone structure:


At least it seemed to look like this. In reality, we found a stone wall that originally bordered a pasture and looked similar to this:

Stone Wall

Such an immobile structure is formally called a “feature” [2]. Providing no magnificent worth, this feature gave me a thrill greater than discovering any golden treasure or long-lost pyramid. Where I was standing was once populated by farmers. How many cows grazed at my feet? How many people dealt with life’s difficulties in long-abolished houses not far from where I stood? These images and stories of the past whirled through my mind as I saw the lives of those now gone. How did they live? What can we learn from them? These types of questions drive every archaeological project. We learned that the area we surveyed was populated and that people indeed used it as pastureland. Once further archaeological research is done in the areas that seemed to have the greatest activity (such as near the wall), we will be able to know how these people lived and apply this knowledge to better management of the land surrounding the Ashokan Reservoir.

Works Referenced

[1] Ashmore, Wendy, and Robert J. Sharer. Discovering Our Past: A Brief Introduction to             Archaeology. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 1988. Print.

[2] “Ashokan.” Watershed Protection. The City of New York, n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2013.             <>.


Rosspilot. Ashokan Reservoir. Digital image. Aerial Photography by Rosspilot. Sky View               Pictures, n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.                                                                                            <                                               pid=258&detail=true#thumb>.

Ziegler, Christian. The Peak of La Danta. Digital image. El Mirador, the Lost City of the                   Maya. Smithsonian, May 2011. Web. <                 archaeology/El-Mirador-the-Lost-City-of-the-Maya.html>.

Digital image. Our Woodlands. Greenhill Center for Outdoor Activities, n.d. Web. 5 Oct.             2013.                                                                                                                                         <               s.shtml>.