• Name: Paul McLerran
  • Locations:Virginia, United States
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Beyond Touring: Touring with a Purpose in Belize

These are not the average tours. They combine individualized or small group educational surveys of the most fascinating features of ancient Mayan sites with the chance to truly "give back" to the local host communities in a meaningful way. The tourists on these journeys "earn their keep", so to speak, and take away something special -- that great feeling that they have made a difference -- leaving the place they visit a little better than it was when they arrived. I am referring to that little-known company that designs affordable programs and itineraries for discriminating, service-oriented travelers who want to experience something beyond the beaten path. Known as "Beyond Touring", it provides specialized tours of selected archaeological sites in Belize in combination with the opportunity to become involved in community service programs for the associated current host populations.

Many of the tours focus on an examination of the impressive ancient ruins and artifacts of Lamanai, an ancient city that boasts over 3,000 years of human occupation. At one time it had a population of approximately 50,000, and archaeological investigators have found evidence of over 800 structures. Nestled within a tropical forest, one can also view a wide variety of birds and mammals here, including a large resident population of Black Howler monkeys. But the most important part of this experience entails a more hands-on activity: Coupled with the touring, participants have the opportunity to employ their time and talents on meaningful projects that assist the nearby Indian Church Village Library. The projects, focusing on such things as literacy development through after-school programs and Spring or Winter break literacy programs, are designed to benefit the residents and children who use the facility. Subjects and areas of concentration usually depend upon the needs of the community and the interests and skills of the tourist-participant. Moreover, the activities provide opportunities to get to know the local residents and culture in a much more intimate way, something that traditional tours cannot possibly match. Finally, as a parting gift for giving back, many of the tours end with a few days of relaxation at Belize's famous and beautiful barrier reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this unique travel experience, you can find out more by visiting the website at www.beyondtouring.com.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Connecting the Past with the Present: The Mud Bay Archaeological Project

It is nothing new to say that today's culture has its roots in the culture of the past. Everything we believe and do is influenced by an assemblage of ideas, values, traditions, knowledge, art and technology inherited from those who have gone before us. Part of the purpose of archaeological endeavor is to rediscover or recover and preserve the material vestiges of this cultural inheritance. But one archaeological project has embodied the essence of this through a fascinating cooperative effort between scientists dedicated to the study of a past people and those who represent today's living descendants of those people: Through the joint efforts of members of the Squaxin Island Tribe in the State of Washington and the Anthropology Department of the South Puget Sound Community College, an important site of an ancient culture on the shore of Mud Bay in south Puget Sound is meticulously being investigated and studied. For the field of anthropology, this project will serve as a unique example of how archaeological research can be informed through knowledge of a current culture.

At the site, the tribe provides cultural knowledge while college faculty members provide scientific expertise. The excavations are conducted as a field school for cultural anthropology and archaeology students, as well as tribal members. The site includes a 300-foot long shell midden that consists of a variety of stone and bone artifacts. Within the site area is evidence of a possible plank longhouse, a freshwater spring, a food-processing area, and an area of shell midden. A portion of the midden area is waterlogged and contains excellently preserved wood, fiber, and other materials. One of the early artifacts excavated in this area is a 60-square-foot section of gill net made of two-strand cedar bark string. Other excavated artifacts have included a carved harpoon shaft, basket fragments, fiber cordage, and wood chips dating 500 to 1000 years ago. Not far from the shell midden in the tidal flats of the bay are the remains of over 400 cedar posts from a wooden fishing weir recently Carbon-14 dated to 470 years ago.

For the Squaxin Island Tribe, the site provides an important link to the tribe's centuries-old cultural history. For the scientific community, the cultural input provided by the Squaxin Island Tribe helps them gain a more complete picture of the past, including the tribe's oral history, tribal technologies and practices, and belief system. A prime example of this is when the participating tribal members were able to identify the gill net found at the site as intended for small species of salmon because of the size of the mesh openings and its similarity to nets in use today by tribal fisherpersons. This cultural component is rarely included in typical archaeological work.

Dr. Dale Croes of the Department of Anthropology, South Puget Sound Community College, Rhonda Foster, Director for Cultural Resources, and the Squaxin Island Tribe are inviting students to join them in this field school during the summer of 2009. Participants will gain invaluable training in full-scale archaeological excavation techniques, as well as laboratory experience, including conservation, analysis, replication, interpretation, photography and illustration of artifacts. Moreover, working as a team with the Squaxin Island Tribe, participants will also gain invaluable cultural training.

Clearly, this field school will afford a one-of-a-kind experience for those fortunate enough to be a part of it. If you are interested in being a part of this unique opportunity, go to the website for more detailed information.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Archaeological Digs' Field School Pick of 2009: Investigating Paleoindian Sites in the Mountain West


2007 field crew, which included students from all over the country.

Combine beautiful scenery, the adventure of hiking and camping, cutting-edge research at Paleoindian sites dated thousands of years before the coming of 19th century settlers, and one of the most comprehensive archaeological field schools ever devised, and you have Archaeological Digs' Pick of 2009 for archaeological fieldwork experiences: The Utah State University 2009 Archaeology Field School, otherwise known as the "Rocky Mountain High" field school.

Open only to serious, matriculated students of archaeology, anthropology, and related fields, it has operated for nearly a decade, and it has become increasingly popular because students gain a broad range of experiences that most other field schools do not offer. In summer 2009 this will be truer than ever before.

The summer 2009 field school will encompass most of the summer. Rather than simply working in a 1X1 m excavation unit for a few weeks and then heading home, students will participate in every element of a robust archaeological research program, starting in the field, and concluding with artifact analysis and the write-up of results.

Participants will earn 8 credits: 5 for "archaeology field school" (Anth 5310) and 3 for "archaeology lab” (Anth 5310). These credits have always readily transferred to other universities and colleges, for students who join from institutions other than USU. To earn the credits, students will work four 10-day sessions in the field and two 10-day sessions in the archaeology lab on the USU campus.


Principal Investigator Bonnie Pitblado and field school participant Eric Giese record a site located during a field school survey in the Gunnison Basin, Colorado. This site is located at an elevation of about 10,000’ above sea level.

The first three 10-day sessions will be based in the Gunnison Basin of Southwest Colorado. There, with National Science Foundation support, students will learn to conduct archaeological surveys and will participate in a geoarchaeological project that involves recording prehistoric stone quarries. The P.I. (Principal Investigator, which equals Project Director)) and other project personnel are developing geochemical techniques to fingerprint quartzite (as we currently do obsidian), and students will help collect the samples needed to characterize the range of quartzite in the Gunnison Basin. In the process, students will learn to read geologic and topographic maps, work alongside geologists to reconstruct landscape formation processes, and learn and practice traditional survey and site recording techniques.


2007 field school students record a quartzite quarry site in the Gunnison Basin, Colorado. 2009 field school participants will also record quarry sites—and take a lot of quartzite samples for later geochemical analysis.

The fourth 10-day session will again be field-based, but this time the team will move to a Paleoindian (11,000 - 8,000 year-old) site in southeastern Idaho, where Dr. Pitblado of USU recently began a new field program. This will expose students to excavation techniques, including mapping using a total station, keeping detailed records of finds, and so forth. The Idaho project area is located within an hour or so of the USU campus, but the excavation team will establish a base camp near the site for the session. Students will enjoy about a week off between the third session in Colorado and the Idaho field session, and it will fall over the 4th of July holiday.

The final two 10-day sessions will be lab-based, and will convene in the USU archaeology lab. Here, students will learn what most field school participants never do: how to process (curate) finds, analyze them, manipulate the data gathered, and write-up reports of field work. Students committed to careers in archaeology may opt to go one step further, presenting elements of the fieldwork at the fall 2009 Rocky Mountain Anthropological Conference, an experience that can bring the work full circle (and provide wonderful networking opportunities for job- and grad program-seekers). Conference participation is optional, and something students can decide to do or not do over the course of the summer's work.

One of the great aspects of this program is that students may use their breaks to hike, go white-water rafting or kayaking, fish or explore the fascinating mountain towns of Crested Butte, Lake City, Ouray, Telluride, Silverton, and Durango; as well as to visit the great popular attractions of the American West, such as Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, and Jackson, Wyoming.

This experiential learning activity will afford a valuable set of skills matched by few other field schools. If you are a current student and you are interested in this opportunity, you can find more detailed information about the field school and how to apply by going to www.usu.edu/anthro/intothefield.html.

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