Usually, blog posts like these are written retrospectively, full of reflections on the ins and outs of packing for going into the field (I should know, I’ve read most of what the Internet has to offer on the subject). Obviously, I have not gone into the field yet, but I have already learned a few things while preparing to do so.
Lesson 1: Gratitude for what I will not be required to do. Yet.
I am one of the lucky few who does not have to backpack in and out of her dig site, which is a blessing. Many archaeological sites are not conveniently located. At all. Which means lots of archaeologists have to plan a backpacking trip in addition to an excavation. I have heard stories of crews who have had to hike upwards of ten miles one way just to get to their site. They then camp near the site (usually, you know, in the Amazon or something) for however long the excavation is, only packing out when absolutely necessary, which means not only do you have to pack all of the necessities, but you also have to pack as light as you can.
The pathological list-maker in me would rejoice whereas the chronic overpacker would have a few meltdowns. So, having at least one field season under my belt before potentially having to become a semi-professional backpacker will be a good thing. The field school I will be attending is also providing all of the tools that we will be needing, so no trowel shopping or trying to tote a screen (a tool used to sift soil) through international airport security for me. (For those of you who are unaware of what a trowel is: imagine a handheld gardening shovel… but pointier).
In all honesty, I’m kind of upset about the trowel thing. Buying your first trowel is a bit of a rite of passage. There’s always next year.
The jungle is coming for me though, I know it…
Lesson 2: Women in the field? What’s next, women in real life?
(A note on terminology: in an effort to keep my blog transgender-inclusive, I am using the terms ‘male/female’ and ‘men/women’ interchangeably when referring to gender. When referring specifically biological sex, I will use the term ‘assigned [gender]. Because as the saying goes: if your anthropology is not inclusive, it’s not anthropology.)
If you couldn’t already tell from the title of this lesson, I’m going to jump up on a soapbox for a quick second. You have been warned.
Women have been archaeologists for a long time. As in since 530 BC (Princess Ennigaldi, daughter of the last king of the neo-Babylonian empire, curated her own museum. Gal after my own heart). So, one would think, that someone would be producing quality gear and clothing for female scientists who routinely go into the field.
One would think.
During my search for decent, cheap field clothing, I found myself in the men’s section again and again because the quality of the clothing “made for women” just was not cutting it. Now, I understand that the women’s cargo pants you would find at Walmart were not made with laying in the dirt for hours on end in mind, and chances are neither were the men’s. And yet, the men’s will be sturdier.
Why? Because men and boys are expected to get dirty and do physical things.
With this in mind, what does that say about representation of female scientists? Archaeologists aren’t the only ones having to go out into the field. There are female biologists, geologists, paleontologists, conservationists, the list goes on and on, whose clothing needs would be similar to my own. Chances are, they’re having similar difficulties.
Gendering clothing isn’t the best of ideas in the first place, but I also cannot ignore the fact that my body is built differently than someone who is assigned male. I am going to have to alter some of the clothing that I bought for my own comfort and safety. Now, this hasn’t stopped female archaeologists in the past (see archaeologist, war hero, and all-around badass Jane Dieulafoy), but if male scientists don’t have to worry about that, why should we?
Hopping off of the soapbox now.
Lesson 3: People really are interested.
Over the past few weeks I have been asked numerous times about my summer plans and, when I brought up this trip, I have gotten variations on “Oh, wow, that’s so cool!” every time. These positive and encouraging reactions serve as a reminder to me that there is a general interest and sense of wonder that accompanies the work I do and the stories I seek to tell through it. Some of the conceptions about my chosen profession might be a little… off (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones), but knowing that curiosity about history is still alive and well in people makes me even more excited to embark on this journey.
Lesson 4: Walmart has $1 bandannas.
Seriously. The variety is stunning. I got a different one for every day of the week. A more versatile accessory, you will not find.
Chances are, the next time you will be hearing from me via this blog I will be in the field! I am excited and more than a bit nervous, but I can’t wait to share my experiences with you all!
Notes and References:
On being female in the field- I listen to a fantastic podcast called Women In Archaeology, where female professionals share their experiences and takes on different issues facing archaeologists today. They came out with a wonderful episode about field gear and cover some of the things I mentioned above: Women In Archaeology Podcast Episode 8: What’s In Your Pack?
But don’t limit yourself to just this episode, they’re all wonderful and very informative if you’re a professional or just plain interested in archaeology! All genders are welcome to listen and learn from them.
On historical female archaeologists- There is a lovely site by the name of TrowelBlazers.com that maintains an archive of informative posts about historical female archaeologists, geologists, paleontologists, and women who dig in general. It’s inspiring and informative, and run by women as well!
This post is dedicated to all of the individuals that have posted suggested packing lists for field schools on the Internet. You are all life savers and godsends.