Future Archaeology and… Aliens? Wait… What?

I feel like this needs a disclaimer, I was just trying to amuse myself in writing this.  This is not to be taken seriously, but if you want to  continue the conversation then just leave a comment.

One of the most attractive aspects of archaeology, in my opinion, is the ever-expanding nature of the study.  We create more archaeology as we live, so we could never learn everything (even excluding all the data that has been lost).  This means that there will always be archaeology which I find amazing, but there’s also a sadder aspect to that.  We will never know everything.  Are we piecing together scraps of the past in a futile attempt to leave our mark?  I think that we’re making some difference, that what we’re doing is not a waste.  But if we will never know everything, I wonder why this will be the case.  I’ve pondered this quite a bit, and frankly, I haven’t come up with any positive answers.

This is where things are going to get a bit weird, and maybe I’m trying to look too far forward, but I think it deserves a mention.  We as a species will go extinct at some point.  Now, this could be from any of the infinite possibilities and scenarios.  I’m not going to get into hypotheticals because your brain will tell you a better story than I can and that’s not my purpose here.  Obviously if we go extinct then we can’t learn about the past anymore as we have all become the past and there is no current or future.  What I wonder is if we as humans will be uncovered at any point in time beyond extinction.  I am personally a firm believer that intelligent life exists beyond Earth.  This does not mean I believe that they have ever contacted us in any way, shape, or form.  I simply believe life exists beyond what we know.   Assuming some other life form would come across our remains, would we have left enough information for them to understand us?  Forget the odds of another species being able to translate our written thoughts and ideas.  Would another species even care about us being some lost civilization?  I don’t know and frankly I’ll never be able to answer that.   Technically aliens could do archaeology, after all it is a study of humans and I’ve never seen it defined as a study by humans.

I feel like aliens doing archaeology would be kind of funny.  Especially if they uncover a recording of the Ancient Aliens guy.  I don’t know how a conversation between other intelligent life would go, but the thought of aliens calling that guy a liar just makes me chuckle.

IUP Anthropology Department

Flotation Therapy (Archaeology Edition)

Something I’ve found myself thinking more and more often is that working in the wet lab, processing flotation samples, is relaxing.  Now, this could just be the tired mind of a grad student enjoying a few moments of peace and there’s some truth to that.  However, there’s more to it.  It’s been feeling like a productive therapy session.  There’s something fulfilling about taking liters worth of samples and revealing what the soil has hidden, particularly of the legacy collections that have been keeping their secrets for thirty or forty years.  Although, I don’t know what will happen with the materials retrieved once they have been bagged and labeled.  Sure, some materials will be examined sooner or later for research questions that might not have been asked yet.  However, I have a suspicion that those of the legacy collections, which sometimes are more plastic (from the degrading trash and/or sandwich bags originally used to store them) than anything else, may just be stored away indefinitely.  It seems like a shame, but I hope this material will be examined at some point.  It may seem sad, but it’s fun to wonder what this material could contribute to archaeology.  Perhaps this will inspire me to pursue researching micro-artifacts, including those of these abandoned collections   That’s enough of my rambling for now.

For anyone unfamiliar with flotation or what exactly I’m talking about, keep reading and I’ll try to make it short.  If I didn’t make this clear earlier, flotation is a process that separates tiny artifacts, plant materials, and the like from soil through water.  These artifacts separate into two groups called the light and heavy fractions.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the light fraction floats in the water while the heavy does not.  We at IUP are fortunate enough to have a flotation machine which cuts the amount of time and effort put into collecting these microartifacts.  You do not need a flotation machine to do flotation, a bucket of water and a sieve will suffice, but it makes the process far easier.  In the case of a flotation machine, you have a pump that keeps the water flowing and helps to agitate the sample and separate the soil and microartifacts.  You pour a sample into the main compartment, gently.  The water flows through an opening, carrying the light fraction, and then through a screen that collects the light fraction.  The heavy fraction remains in a removable screen in the main compartment and gets collected once the light fraction has finished collecting.  The machine gets cleaned out when changing sites, and just every so often, to avoid accidental contamination and to keep the machine functioning properly.  If I left you with more questions than answers, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer you ASAP.

Light fraction


IUP Anthropology Department

SAA Government Affairs Update January 2019

All credit of this post goes to the president of the Society for American Archaeology, Susan M. Chandler, RPA.  I would have preferred to post a link to this statement in light of the recent government shutdown, unfortunately I could not find such a link.  For clarification, this piece comes from the most recent (Jan 2019) edition of the Society for American Archaeology’s Government Affairs and International Government Affairs newsletter compiled by David Lindsey.  I post this today with the intent of providing one of many viewpoints of the recent government shutdown.  Within the foreseeable future, we hope to have a companion piece authored and posted by a source from within the CRM industry to present an additional narrative. 


At long last, the government shutdown is over – at least for now. Furloughed government workers are returning to a backlog of missed work and are assessing what damage may have been caused to cultural resources while they were away.


In contrast to previous shorter shutdowns, the Department of Interior recalled 800 employees to issue drilling permits during the shutdown. According to the Western Organization of Resource Councils, 224 oil and gas drilling applications were processed, 22 permits were approved, 15 oil and gas leases were sold, and thousands of acres of subsurface mineral rights were leased during the shutdown. In contrast, no federal archaeologists were available to process archaeological permits, review reports, or analyze potential impacts to cultural resources from energy extraction or other projects. Cultural resource consultants who rely on federal contracts, federal permits, or federal compliance review were also impacted by the government shutdown, as were university programs receiving federal funding.


SAA’s 2015 member needs assessment survey revealed that roughly 7 percent of SAA members (roughly 500 archaeologists) work for the federal government, and an even larger number of members do the bulk of their archaeological work on federal lands or with federal funding or permits. The American Cultural Resource Association is compiling shutdown stories to share with legislators about how the shutdown affected archaeologists’ ability to do our jobs. If you have a shutdown story, please share it at https://www.acra-crm.org/acrasphere/7135390/Reply?replyTo=7135390#7135390.

I have received some feedback asserting that SAA was wrong to have taken a stance against funding for the border wall when urging members to contact their Senators to end the shutdown. I want to clarify that our opposition to the wall is based on the very real threat that construction of a border wall – or border fence – will be done without any archaeological surveys or mitigation of impacts to archaeological sites. In August 2018, the Coalition for American Heritage (CAH) filed comments with the Customs and Border Patrol regarding their decision to waive crucial preservation and environmental laws to expedite the construction of 33 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley along the U.S. – Mexico border, stating “This decision will endanger irreplaceable cultural heritage resources, including numerous archaeological sites that would otherwise be considered prior to construction.” We have every reason to believe that, should the administration receive funding to build additional segments of border walls, they will continue to waive national historic preservation and environmental laws to expedite construction.

SAA will continue to advocate with the new Congress for continued adherence to existing federal legislation protecting cultural resources, for stronger laws to safeguard against the export of looted antiquities, and for adequate funding for cultural resource programs. We are optimistic that the new Democratic leadership in the House will be receptive to our message and will continue to reach across the aisle to key Republican members of Congress to assist us in our efforts.

Susan M. Chandler, RPA



Again, we hope to have a companion piece posted soon to provide an additional narrative of the effects of such a shutdown.

IUP Anthropology Department

Posted in SAA

I Can Munsell That? (Part 3)

Today we bring you the latest installment of “I Can Munsell That.”  The series where I get to Munsell something unusual for my own enjoyment and curiosity and share the results with you.  In this edition we will be using the Munsell Soil Color Chart on a delicious snack that someone was so kind to make and contribute to the collective grad lounge snacks.  What is it you ask?  Maple, peanut, and bacon popcorn!  You heard me right, that’s a sweet and salty popcorn mix.

This lovely snack has four main parts to examine: plain popcorn, glazed popcorn, glazed peanuts, and bacon.  Due to different amounts of the maple glaze, there are an array of hues on the glazed items, so I will focus on what shade seems the most prominent.  Let’s begin with the base of this, plain ol’ popcorn.  It fits quite well with 9.5/N (white) on the white page.  The glazed popcorn is where the issues of hues begin.  To me, it looks around 10YR 4/6 (dark yellowish brown), side note the color depicted in the image is slightly different due to lighting but I note it like I see it.  Then we have the peanuts which get fairly close to 10YR 6/8 (brownish yellow), almost a perfect match.  Finally, we have the bacon which doesn’t have the best color match in a Munsell color chart (surprise!) but there’s a decent match.  This specific bacon bit was around 10R 3/4 (dusky red).


plain popcorn

glazed popcorn

glazed peanuts


That’s all for today folks.  Thank you for indulging me in my nonsense.  Need more silliness?  Want to know more about the Munsell color system?  Click here or here to be redirected to my older posts on the subject.  Or you can click here and see where the inspiration for this series came from.

IUP Anthropology Department