Tag Archives: fieldwork

Photo Collection: The Field Experience

Survey the beach!!

Future archaeologists? 🙂

Exploring the mangrove area

The Baby Jesus

R and R at the beach

Our last sunrise in the field

Note: Photos in this collection can also be found in my flickr account, alon89.

I decided not to post photos of the archaeology itself as publications and press materials about the site have not been released yet.

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The Field Experience

By Kert

The Archaeologist’s guns (Image via assemblage.group.shef.ac.uk)

There’s always something charming about archaeological sites. Perhaps it’s the history of the place, or the deep cultural meanings and values enveloping that certain space. Or perhaps it’s the idea of being able to uncover the long-forgotten stories and the lives of past peoples frozen in that piece of land. There are so many reasons why Archaeology is an interesting subject and why it is so addictive to join archaeological excavations.

This year I was given the chance (which I am very thankful for) to be once again a member of an archaeological team investigating a site in Southern Luzon. I’ve been a part of the team for five consecutive seasons and there’s always something interesting to find each year. The site is very rich with archaeological material and the field still continues on.

The archaeology of the place is very exciting. It is just a few yards away from the beach (a very strategic place not only for the past peoples but also for us excavators). It is a burial site around a thousand or so years old. We found more than 60 burial jars – primary and secondary – and a handful of extended burials. These burials are topped by various forms of covering – cairns, slabs and grooved markers. Some jars also have tridacnae markers on top of them. Shell midden and pots are also present in the area, which may suggest that there are areas for offerings in the site. The jar burial culture of the site coincides with the burial procedures across the country and many parts of Southeast Asia and also early Japan (where they used two jars placed together mouth-to-mouth as burial). Several grave goods are also associated with the burials such as beads (one jar has more than 300 beads), shells and blades. One of the students from  our Australian counterpart wrote about the mortuary practices exemplified in the site but I have yet to read her research.

Aside from the archaeology, the fieldwork (not just this fieldwork, but every other fieldwork) is also interesting for its group dynamics. Everyday in the field is routine speckled by bits of fun and so many opportunities to learn not just about the site but also about the people around. In the field, you also learn about life and humanity. It sounds like a cliche but it’s true. The history and the material culture of the site are the main focus in an archaeological dig, but there are also many dimensions to it. The fieldwork is not a hollow space. It is a social space with different dynamics going on between people — between the locals and the members alike.

The fieldwork is not “reality” for the excavators and even for the locals. For the excavators, the field isn’t daily life. It is so much different and for many, it requires so much adjustments. It’s an alien environment surrounded by unfamiliar things.

Of course, the fieldwork is an opportunity to meet new people and even meet new friends from the locals and even from the team itself. Where I joined, there were familiar faces but there were also a lot of new people. Thankfully, my social skills are getting better and I became friends with many of them.

However, since it’s an alien environment, we only get to interact amongst ourselves. Imagine three weeks interacting with the same people and without escape. Much like being in Big Brother. Of course, tensions would arise and it’s usually about the pettiest things one could imagine. Different personalities get mashed in one space. Everything, every sensation, every emotion is heightened in the field as people become vulnerable from being detached from their real lives for some time.

Amidst the goings-on in the field, some of these new faces end up as good friends. I’ve gained a lot of amazing friends from the field — friends who have been there for me and helped me during my low moments, friends who have accepted me for who I am. These friendships last for a lifetime. I never saw some of the good friends I gained after the field (which makes me sad), but we still continue to be friends until now. And for those who come back, it is always a breath of fresh air to see them again.

As for the locals, the field season is the time when foreign people (even Filipinos from the team are foreign in the area) enter their lives. For some, life goes on and they are apathetic to the excavation. But for most locals, these new people are everywhere — walking in the beach, swimming in the sea, riding their boats, meeting them face-to-face on the roads, buying stuff from their stores. For three weeks, these foreign people enter their lives. And these locals also get involved in what these weird foreign people are doing. They visit, become curious, ask around and even help out in the archaeological activities. It’s always great to meet a curious local who’s interested to learn about what’s going on in the site and how it is connected with his/her past.

After three weeks, these foreign people leave. There is an abrupt disjunction to all the commotion that was stirred. For many of them, there is sadness in not seeing the people they’ve become accustomed in seeing everyday for three weeks. Every year, I see a couple of locals cry when we leave. We are sad too for we’ve become friends with many of them. Much more than being locals or more than being informants, they’ve become our buddies and they let us enter their lives.

A person must know how to tread in the field. One is never on his/her own so it’s not fair to only think about one’s self. Again, the field is not just about the archaeology but also about the community around. After a day’s worth of digging, one must face the people who make up an essential part of the field.

Lastly, I’d like to point out than an archaeological dig is more than just digging in the sandbox. It is also more exciting than an Indiana Jones film (in terms of archaeology, the people and experience). It is a mishmash of scientific and social encounters. There’s always something new to learn every season.

Note: Photos will follow tomorrow.

Notice!

Hello everyone,

Just a heads up. Your humble moderator will be gone for a month. I will be visiting IP groups in the mountains of Cordillera in the Northern Philippines where I will have my left arm hammered down for a traditional tattoo. I wish I’d be able to go through it. I have a couple of tattoos on my body already and they were done using a machine for around 30 minutes. But the traditional one, according to my friends, is much more painful and may take up to 2 hours. It’s kind of scary, but I really want to have a part of culture imprinted on my body.

After that I will be joining an archaeological excavation. We’re going to dig up a burial site. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited.

So I’ll be gone for a month and a half. Anyway, I’ll be posting photos of my trips when I get back. ‘Til then, see you!

Around the Web

Forgive the absence of your humble moderator. I’ve been busy and sick since last week. “Busy” and “sick” don’t go well together.

As an opening for my return, we’ll start off with another issue of Around the Web.

Neurology

MIND in Pictures: Music to Your Brain

Here’s a fun illustration from Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham about how music affects the brain.

(Image via Scientific American Mind)

Ethnography

Instagram Ethnography in Uganda – Notes on Notes

Design ethnographer An Xiao Mina writes about how social media, particularly tumblr and instagram, can be used in ethnography. This way, interaction among people around the world regarding a set of issues is faster and easier:

” In my mind, the benefit of live fieldnotes is the conversations that they spark.  Inevitably, someone on my Tumblr or Instagram feed makes a comment or asks a question that helps me clarify my thinking.  Even a simple “like” from a number of people indicates a general curiosity about something I posted.”

Human Evolution

Genetic Keys to Human Intelligence Revealed?

Dr. Schahram Akbarian along with the team from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that humans have certain neurons, differently regulated from the neurons of primates, that might be the reason for our “unique cognitive abilities”. The regulation of the DNA sequence of these neurons are different from our primate cousins but similar to our closest hominin relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans. This may also give an explanation to the neurological diseases that only occur among humans.

“The key to the present study, led by Dr Schahram Akbarian of the University of Massachusetts and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, was not to focus on the “letters” of the DNA code, but rather on what might be called its “font” or “typeface”. DNA strands of the genome are wrapped in protein to make achromatin fiber, and the way in which they are wrapped, the “chromatin state”, in turn reflects the regulatory state of that region of the genome (e.g. whether a given gene is turned on or off). This is the field that biologists call “epigenetics”—the study of the “epigenome”.”

LGBT

Lastly, an argument for gay marriage from Foamy the Squirrel. (Full disclosure: I completely agree with this squirrel)

Featuring: Photobaket and vincescarch

Today we feature our in-house photographer, Vince. You can see his works over at his tumblr account, photobaket(?) (baket means “why” in Filipino) and flickr account, vincescarch.

Vince is the type of guy who brings his camera all around — always there to capture the right moments and memories. He is very devoted to his camera and also to the subjects of his photos. Being an anthropology graduate has helped him perceive the world in a different way than most people. This adds a refreshing perspective and angle to his shots. His photos not only emanate emotional meaning, but also cultural meaning. To say the least, a lot of his works have cultural relevance.

His photos have already appeared in this blog. See Kabilang Buhay and Blood had been spilled in the lands of Tarlac. The header and profile picture for this blog also came from his photo collection.

Here are some of his other photos:

Paglaot (Sailing) (Image via Photobaket)

Untitled (Image via vincescarch)

Trail (Image via vincescarch)

Hulma (Mould) (Image via Photobaket)

 Other than taking pictures, Vince is interested in Visual Anthropology and Development Anthropology.