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

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