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.”

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