Archaeologists Working from Home: Chris Judge

Continuing our Archaeologists Working from Home series, we caught up with Chris Judge, the Assistant Director at the Usc-Lancaster Native American Studies Center. (photo from recent ASSC conference)


photo from recent ASSC conference

Avoiding Insanity during the COVID-19 Seclusion… Stay Busy.

Following the USC Spring Break, the decision was made to work remotely and move all of our classes to an online delivery format. We were asked to return to our offices briefly to retrieve needed items and were given one week to prepare during which faculty and students were alerted to the process. At first this formidable endeavor seemed unobtainable. As luck would have it, I have been teaching using Power Point illustrated lectures for years, all of which were already online and available to my students through a device called BlackBoard. This is a virtual learning environment and management system tool. For once Judge the Luddite, had an advantage. Felt rather sorry for colleagues who teach things such as Chemistry labs or studio art!

I taught my four classes using a Zoom- like tool known as BlackBoard Collaborate Ultra. The drawbacks include technical and Internet access issues, not all students have Wi-Fi, laptops, and smart phones. A number of my students ended up taking jobs that precluded them from being in class online. Sometimes the variation of internet speed kicked students out of the session and once even the Professor. One morning I lectured unknowingly for 45 minutes without anyone in the audience, actually they were there and I was socially and academically distant! Occasionally a lecture had to be repeated, an AWOL student needed to be tracked down by our Admissions Office, and a make-up test or two hastily composed. But I think we all survived largely unscathed. Time will tell. I look forward to returning to live classes.

With the closing of the Native American Studies Center, Ashley Lowrimore our Public Relations Coordinator and I began ramping up our social media posts—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On Tuesdays we highlight a different Native American Community in South Carolina and on Thursdays we post about Native American archaeology. We have also been sharing links to media stories regards the issues and challenges in Native American country regards the COVID-19 virus. Who knew actor Sean Penn was helping the Lumbee Tribe across the river in North Carolina? Like other minority communities, Native American ones are being hit very hard. We will also have our Spring Native American Studies Quarterly online newsletter available by June 1st. Send me an email if you wish to be added to the newsletter list.

Saving approximately 12 hours a week in commute time (will I ever want to go back?), I have been rather productive on the research and reporting front. I submitted a grant proposal answering a competitive call for “creative and cost effective” plans for long term monitoring of erosion at a site in South Carolina and was the successful candidate. The award also came with a bonus $10,000 to be used for my own research purposes. Full disclosure, I was the only candidate!

In 2019, I was the recipient of generous funding from the USCL Campus Dean to obtain four radiocarbon dates from organic materials recovered from archaeological features at the Johannes Kolb site, located on the Great Pee Dee River in Darlington County, South Carolina. This was a test of a model I developed for the decline in basal width of Triangular Arrow Points. A report is due this month, so I had time to do a little more in-depth research. These C-14 dates targeted three features, two of which had Triangular Arrow Points and one of which had a Stemmed Woodland Arrow Point. The dates are all between A.D. 800 and A.D. 900, squarely within the Late Woodland. One feature (04-25) had three Triangular Arrow Points averaging 17.56mm that conformed to the model I developed for the decline in the basal width of this point type while three Triangular Arrow Points in a Late Woodland feature (06-37) fall within the later Mississippian/Other Late Prehistoric range at 14.73 mm. Oh well, that is why we do science.

Once grades were submitted I drafted a Re-Open Plan for the Native American Studies Center to help guide us when we return to normal operating hours on August 1st. The procedures and protocols change daily and I imagine the plan will evolve significantly over the summer. We will be meeting in various teams for the USC Lancaster campus over the summer to address a return to the new normal.

At home, I have been conducting a botanical and faunal photographic survey of my 6/10ths of an acre urban parcel. Plus long deferred yard work is nearing completion, the garden never looked better, and I might even be a candidate for honorable mention for yard of the month for the first time ever. Nah!

Archaeologists Working from Home: Carolyn Dillian

We’re back with another Archaeologists Working from Home entry, this time from Carolyn Dillian, Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Department of Anthropology and Geography at Coastal Carolina University. Thanks to Carolyn for taking the time to share her work with us!

carolyn dillard cat

“On March 7, 2020, Coastal Carolina University recessed for Spring Break, and I haven’t seen my students in-person since then. I miss them terribly! The following week, the University announced that we would be locking down campus and moving instruction online. This lockdown also meant that faculty were not permitted to work in offices and labs on campus, so I frantically loaded my car with the files, books, artifacts, and equipment that I might need to continue teaching and research from home. Six boxes of artifacts from my excavations on the Little River Neck, and a few bags of brick from my colleague David Palmer’s excavations at Brookgreen Plantation, squeezed into my tiny Mini Cooper with me and are now in my home office.

My online teaching and administrative duties have kept me very busy, so I haven’t had much time to work on my research, but the semester just ended, so I am finally able to start working on the artifacts I brought home with me. Much of my laboratory work focuses on using geochemical analyses of stone and ceramic materials to understand trade and exchange networks in the past. I use an Olympus Vanta portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometer to analyze the elemental fingerprint of these materials, which then (hopefully) allows me to match that fingerprint with geologic or manufacturing locales.

For example, my work with David Palmer is an analysis of brick kilns and brick structures in the South Carolina Lowcountry, particularly from his excavations at Brookgreen Plantation and from kiln sites near Charleston (this work is also in collaboration with Eric Poplin and Charlie Philips). We are trying to determine if different kilns have a different geochemical signature (resulting from the unique brick recipe they used). We presented preliminary results of this work at the Archaeological Society of South Carolina conference in February 2020 and will do more with the data I gather while working from home this spring and summer. We hope to get back out into the field soon!

I’m also working on analyzing artifacts from my excavations on the Little River Neck, in Horry County, South Carolina. These artifacts were collected during my archaeological field school with Coastal Carolina University students last summer, when we continued our excavations of a prehistoric, Native American shell midden site on a bluff overlooking the marsh behind Waties Island. I am still working on the analysis of these materials, which include ceramic, lithic, bone, and shell. Seeing these artifacts again makes me long for the field!

I’m fortunate that I am able to work from home, and my cats are learning a lot of archaeology, but I miss the interactions with students and colleagues on campus. I look forward to seeing them all again soon!” – Carolyn Dillian

Archaeologists Working from Home: Karen Smith

Today we’re continuing our Archaeologists Working from Home series with Karen Smith, Heritage Trust Archaeologist at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Thanks to Karen for letting us take a peek into her work during the lockdown.

“I have been working from home since March 23. So I think that means I’m in the middle of my 6th week at home, although I no longer know what day it is let alone the week!

To prepare for working at home, for starters, I had to make sure I had access to all my computer files either on an external hard drive or through remote access. I brought home material related to every project I had in the queue and then some new material, you know, just in case. In retrospect, it was a bit like panic buying. I think there’s a term for it: coronalutional, or holding the belief that you will actually accomplish in quarantine all the tasks you have put off your entire life (thank you, facebook community for the term!).

Seriously, though, one of the exciting new projects is a paper on bone pins that Kiersten Weber and I are working on. This research formed her senior thesis at USC. In quarantine, we are taking it a bit further by looking at evidence for individual artisans in the execution of designs among very similar bone pins.

With Will Britz’s help, I brought home one of our flotation tanks and dozens of flot samples that we’ve been slowly processing at Parker Annex. I am fortunate to have a well water system at home, so I can process the samples without being charged for water usage. This also gives me a chance to be outdoors, and we all know life is better outdoors!

Flotation device at home.

The hardest part of working from home has been trying to keep a good work-home life balance. This has never been easy for me. Plus, for a lot of us, archaeology is both our work and our life, so yeah. But it is especially hard to wind down for the day when work and home life happen in the same space. On the upside, I am an introvert with an extroverted spouse, so I am not feeling socially starved.

Still, weekly meetings over zoom and teams has helped me stay connected to colleagues and friends outside of my home. It is hard to know what the rest of 2020 will bring. We have postponed fieldwork at Pockoy Island. We would be there right now were it not for the coronavirus outbreak. Delaying fieldwork here is especially hard with the realization that we are losing Pockoy by the meters each year. Sooner rather than later, Pockoy will be gone, but hopefully we’ll have another chance to work on Ring 1 before that time comes.”