Questions From The PennDOT Highway Archaeological Survey Team (PHAST) Lab: Report Writing Angst


I dig by a deer carcass. I contemplate death.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to take a paid internship working on the PHAST crew. The internship is available through a partnership between IUP and PennDOT.  I worked as a tech on a crew of 4 – we cruised around the state digging holes for small projects (mostly bridge replacement projects), met a bunch of the district archaeologists, helped out with the Byways conference this past July in Philly and learned and networked like crazy – a great opportunity for experience with CRM working on projects from start to finish.  Now that the fieldwork part of PHAST is over and I’m crying into my keyboard, a few questions have been popping up again and again as we work through report writing.  Things like:


“Why are we calling this trash a site?”


“Why does this site have three different names?”


“Sooo, a multi-component site can be completely separate sites horizontally as long as they cover at least one point vertically? Even if they have separate living surfaces?! WHYYY??!!!”


Ok, the second question was partly my fault – Apparently the whole crew started making up their own names for a site partway through excavation. Luckily we all had the sense to keep the State Route (SR) number the same… And we worked on small enough projects this summer that it wasn’t disastrous.  Still, it was enough to remind us how important it is to take care in writing site info on your artifact bags.


But, sites can sometimes have different names – or at least different survey or report names for separate investigations. This can be confusing when conducting background research for archaeological work, especially when using Cultural Resources Geographic Information System (CRGIS) – Environmental Resource (ER) numbers will usually be the same in this case while reports for different investigation may include different letter distinctions tacked onto the end of the ER numbers. This would have been helpful knowledge to me as a first year working with CRGIS for the first time. (CRGIS is maintained through The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission – PHMC – It is worth familiarizing yourself with the program)

“Why are we calling this trash a site?”

States give guidelines on how many flakes may count as a site versus an isolated find – but what about historic fill episodes? Or an historic trash heap? What about all of that Budware* mixed into your STP, mixing in with that dateable transfer print whiteware? Does that count as a site?


Well, as Tom King likes to put it – it depends. Some folks will determine whether the fill they encounter is primary or secondary before they decide whether to call it a site or not. Does the fill contain Budware or other modern trash like candy bar wrappers? Can you determine whether the fill was part of a road construction event or a small historic deposit or household trash? What would that look like archaeologically?


Sometimes archaeologists will still butt heads over whether findings represent a site or not – Is it better to record that some historic artifacts were found off the side of the roadway or is it better to say that since those artifacts were ‘insignificant’ or did not represent a site that there was nothing there…? And if you do say there was a site, how much of that Budware and plastic ends up being curated along with the historic artifacts? How much curation room are we willing to set aside for trash heap sites? Will that Budware ever be studied? What about all of the Budware and modern junk that gets tossed? Does anyone out there have strong feelings about this?


As for multicomponent sites, Dr. Ford, can you please explain this to me?! For some reason, I was under the impression that a multicomponent site meant that there were different temporal components represented on the same living surface…. Did I sleep through a lecture at some point? Do you or anyone else find this infuriating or confusing? This means that a ‘multicomponent site’ could have two completely different site boundaries. Or more! AAhhh!!!


Please share your thoughts and feelings – I know Dr. Sarah’s Laws and Ethics class will discuss some of these topics, and I would love to hear some of the discussion.


*We lovingly refer to those fragments of modern beer bottles, chucked out of car windows on the side of the road, and found throughout your STP as ‘Budware’ (as in Budwiser… )


ALSO – As part of a mini-series that I hope to expand – I bring you:


Here we use Munsell as a verb.  I will share with you some of the things that I have Munselled for kicks – PLEASE SHARE SOME OF YOURS!!!

My cat, James Brown:  GLEY 4/N – dark grey – And she is a silty loam (more like a salty loaf!)

My coffee from Common Grounds this morning: 10YR 5/4 –  yellowish brown

Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s Starfleet uniform: 5R 3/8 – dark red (Kirk’s is like a 5Y 6/3 or so – Its a tough call – what do you folks think?)


Captain Jean-Luc Picard


Captain James T. Kirk



Trowels and Tribulations: A Blog for the Archaeology Department

PHAST Find of the Summer !

Prehistoric Drill: PennDot Highway Archaeological Survey Team (PHAST) Find of the Summer!

My name is Cher – (Yes, like ‘Sonny and’…) – I’m a second year grad student in Applied Archaeology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). Like most of the grad students in our department, I basically live in the basement of McElhaney, so come say hello and help me procrastinate – I’m a pro, but hey, I bet you could use an excuse too.

By writing this blog, I’m hoping to:

  • Promote some highlights of our Masters in Applied Archaeology program at IUP by sharing the wisdom and miseries of some of our students here in the program
  • Keep the student body aware of some current archaeological issues on the local, national and international scale – and start some conversations about these politically charged topics.
  • And selfishly, to write about archaeology in my own voice as opposed to the many pages of academic and technical writing produced in graduate school and expected of the CRM and academically employed archaeologists out there … (though some are better than others…and some don’t write at all….)

Archaeology is a social science after all – its fun, its exciting and it draws the interest of many other professionals in all kinds of fields. We love talking about this stuff – It is so much more than bullwhips and kickin some Nazi @$$.

So I’ll start out light for the semester – I asked our now-seasoned second year students for some advice to give to the incoming first-year students.

Here is the wisdom they bestow upon you:

* “Don’t get discouraged……you can do it!”

* “Take GIS classes – meet the geography department professors – worth it.”

* “Manage your expectations – be diligent and consistent, but flexible.”

* “For the sake of your sanity, start your term papers early!”

* “Keep on rockin’ in the free world.”

* “Use class projects as preliminary work for your thesis!”

As you are meeting a million people right now, try to branch out beyond the department. Its a small world, people – no need to make it even smaller. Go to the grad student gatherings, go to school events and get involved, go to The Brown. And come say hello to me! I live in G4 and G5 in McElhaney right now, please interrupt me at work, I need a break already.