How Metal is Archaeological Theory?


Let me begin by addressing the students of the Applied Archaeology program – don’t let anyone scare you out of Dr. Phil’s seminar. Because it rules. The class is theory-heavy, but the first day of class involved discussion of tall, tongue-rolling, Vulcans. Just sayin.

For my next trick, I will clarify some confusing archaeological typology terms using heavy metal music.

As I struggle once more through the fiery depths of archaeological theory in Dr. Phil’s seminar – the metal gods shine light upon dense articles by Brew, Steward and Setzler, McKern, Krieger, Willey and Phillips, Ford, Spaulding, and Binford. If you’ve been forced to familiarize yourself with these names before, grisly images of death and destruction may come to mind as well as the great typology debate – fought across peer-reviewed journal lines. A long winded battle, where “the screams of anguished authors who fear[ed] that their brain children [were] being murdered by reviewers” could be heard ringing through the notes and comments of American Antiquity and American Anthropologist in the early 1950s (Ford 1954).

As we stage dive into the history of typology in archaeology, and before you start banging your head against your desk – I know, theory can be brutal. But Willey and Phillips actually started to make sense to me after I applied the terminology to heavy metal typology.  And it offered some real life advice: define your freaking terminology, people. Clearly.

Maybe this is TMI, but this past week as I was wading through the OkCupid dating scene – the old typology debate popped back into my head. (Yup, this is how my brain works…) More specifically, the advice that Willey and Phillips so wordily conveyed about the importance of defining your freaking terminology. I had many-a-conversation with dungeon masters and metal-heads alike over what metal bands they prefer over others.

Now, I am the first one to admit – I suck at metal typology. Going into this – I had no idea where hair metal stopped and thrash metal began. And I figured out why this is so confusing. Nobody knows what the heck they are talking about. And when one person says ‘black metal’ the other person has a completely different idea of what that means. One man’s death-doom is another man’s stoner-metal. Not one of these people, including myself could define the attributes of any one sub-genre of heavy metal. This made for very confusing conversation.

So I looked to the nerds of Wikipedia – because only they would devote so much time to writing the specific attributes of heavy metal sub-genres. (Ian Christe, Robert Walser, Garry Sharpe-Young, and Paul Du Noyer are some folks who have written about the evolution of metal and other genres of music.)

This is what I came up with (CLICK TO ENLARGE!):

metal typology

The chart describes types of heavy metal, complete with the attributes that define those types, and a few examples of those types. For instance, thrash can be distinguished by overall aggression, fast percussive beats, low register guitar riffs, and overlaid shredding – think Slayer and Megadeth. (Hahahaha – ‘overlaid shredding’ is a great attribute!)

Willey and Phillips’ discussions from their book, Method and Theory in Archaeology use the term ‘archaeology units’ instead of the word ‘type’ in an effort to keep definitions clear (Willey and Phillips 1958). Some of these terms are still used today and with similar meaning. So lets look at this in terms of our ‘metal units’ laid out in the above chart. According to Willey and Phillips’ terminology, our metal units would be considered traditions. Traditions are found across time, with a persistent configuration of technology, where specific elements are continuous. Where some attributes are shared among the separate units, they contrast enough to be separate entities and some occur at slightly later periods in time than others. So the traditions of heavy metal from the chart include hair metal, thrash, power metal, death metal, black metal, doom, and stoner metal. Stemming from the tradition of thrash, death metal emerges. The tradition of death metal is exemplified by heavy distortion, low tuned guitars, minor keys, key and time changes, and deep growling vocals. (These attributes are hilarious.)

This distinction of metal music is in contrast with the concept of the horizon. Horizons spread across space rapidly and are temporally similar – meaning they appear only in a short period of time and then disappear. This could be better likened to dance crazes as Dr. Phil so eloquently described and then nimbly demonstrated by doing ‘The Freddy.’ Look it up. Other examples include such favorites as The Watusi, The Electric Slide, and The Macarena. Points to you if you know all three.

So there you have it – archaeological theory applied to metal typology. I think this means I win. Maybe next week we can discuss the phases and sub-phases of prog rock and fusion.


Keep your eyes peeled for the new archaeology department T-shirts, designed by yours truly. I’ll be ordering those at some point in February. Also – if there is want for repeats of last years T-Shirt, let me know. I need to order at least 10 for a reprint.

Metal Munsells:

Dude’s hair from Iron Maiden album, Killers: 5Y 7/8

Blood from Cannibal Corpse album, Butchered at Birth: 10R 4/8

Background of Witchcraft album, The Alchemist: 5Y 8/2


References Cited

Ford, James A.

1954 ‘Letter, “Spaulding’s Review of Ford,” American Anthropologist 56:109-112.

Willey, Gordon R,  Philip Phillips

1958 Method and Theory in American Archaeology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


Midterm Blues: Staying Afloat

Oops, the semester is getting away from me…

Around the second month in a semester is the time where you realize there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done that needs to be done. This snowballs into the third month where all you can do is try to keep your head just above the water. And you sink into a desperate loop where you are too anxious and rushed to produce your best work and too exhausted to think clearly and logically any longer. Its a strange juggling act to begin with, but all the while you are also telling your colleagues and professors that everything is under control while in reality the $h*t has already hit the fan. This may or may not be me right now – I’m showing several of the signs – My Vulcan sense of logic has been replaced by a Romulan state of overly-emotional chaos.

Highlights From the Archaeology Department from Last Month:

  • Paxton Thurgood Ford was born to Ben Ford and Hillary Creely – everyone involved is happy, healthy, and beautiful.


Paxton Thurgood Ford!


  • I have subsequently inherited a wonderful James Brown statue that sings ‘I Feel Good’ and no longer dances – but is still amusing. It graces my office in McElhaney G4 and produces spontaneous dance parties often.  Thank you, Dr. Ford. My cat, James Brown would hate this statue, but the folks I share my office with… well they kind of hate it too…. I love it.


  • Archaeology Day for the department was a hit! Many more folks visited this year than last year – and I got to gross out the public in the zooarchaeology lab this year because Dr. Sarah Neusius’ zooarchaeology class is processing skeletons ! That means lots of rotting carcasses to enjoy, and just in time for Halloween. For more info on Archaeology Day in Pennsylvania check out:

achaeoday archaeoday1 archaeoday2 archaeoday3 archaeoday4DuckRot

  • Several students from the Applied Archaeology program defended their theses:





I polled some folks in the Archaeology Department – students and faculty – for some helpful hints on staying afloat mid-semester. I asked them to:

Name one organizational thing you do to stay afloat

Name one stress relief thing you do to cope

And as part of my ‘Munsell Everything’ section, I asked folks to:

Munsell something from your daily life

Here were the results:

Organizational: Keep a detailed calendar to stay on top of deadlines

Stress Relief: Trashy TV – White Collar

Munsell: My Dog 10YR 2/1 Black

Organizational: Create obsessive lists by month, crossing off successfully completed tasks, use many index cards

Stress Relief: Baths, long drives, puppy time

Munsell: Coffee this morning 10YR 3/3 Dark Brown


Organizational: $1 planner – enter all tasks, check off finished stuff

Stress Relief: I drink.

Munsell: Fried chicken lunch 10YR 7/8  Yellow


Organizational: [Gargling noises]

Stress Relief: Hikes.

Munsell: Lunch 5YR 5/8  Yellowish Brown


Organizational: Organize all syllabi together and cross off days as I go

Stress Relief: Music, housework/ decorating, hiking, gym

Munsell: Emergen C drink 5R 5/6  Red


Organizational: I haven’t stayed afloat. I’m not afloat.

Stress Relief: [Nervous laughter]… I eat.

Munsell: What I’m eating right now 10YR 7/8  Yellow


Organizational: I stagger my work – allot for time for all subjects and take breaks in between

Stress Relief: Yoga

Munsell: Core/ paper weight in office 5R 7/1 Pinkish Gray


Organizational: Sticky notes. A lot of sticky notes. Also I start early on big projects by writing outlines for papers or gathering sources/ making annotated bibliographies

Stress Relief: Indian food, Star Trek, baths.

Munsell: Dreamboat Dr. Julian Bashir’s bad turtleneck from Deep Space Nine Gley 2 – 4/10BG Dark Greenish Gray


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.