Hello there! I am Alyssa—a graduate student studying Archaeology (a.k.a. studying to be a professional digger and interpreter of the past). I returned to Calgary in mid-July from Campeche, Mexico, where I spent a month and a half conducting research analysis for my thesis. My research entails looking at lots of rocks, which sounds boring, I know. These rocks are remnants of stone tool manufacture from the ancient Maya site of Yaxnohcah, and my goal is to discuss their past activities. Stone tool manufacture was an important aspect of the past and these tools were used in various activities of daily life, such as farming, building, and cooking.
I dreamt of becoming an archaeologist as a child. I read a lot, and became fascinated with the great civilizations of Egypt and Rome. I would often think about becoming an archaeologist, and digging up the mysteries confined to the ground for several thousands of years. I never thought that becoming an archaeologist was realistic, though; it was just a fantasy of mine. When I entered university, I took a course in anthropology and was instantly hooked on the study of humans. As an anthropology major, I met wonderful mentors who introduced me to the captivating world of archaeology. In my third year of my undergraduate degree, I ventured into the jungles of Belize. I make it sound like the kind of wild adventure you might see in an Indiana Jones movie, and it was! …just with less stealing and fighting Nazis.
I participated in a field school associated with the Programme for Belize Archaeology project called the Dos Hombres to Gran Cacao project. At this field school, I learned to appreciate and value the field of archaeology. You haven’t experienced archaeology until you’ve been bitten by hundreds of bugs, dug in the dirt all day and found nothing, and asked yourself constantly why you’re doing this job. Though difficult, I was smitten by this amazing field of work. I had the opportunity to continue working in Belize for the next two consecutive years and collaborated with brilliant individuals, who not only were my colleagues, but also became my friends.
The public often associates archaeology with the great ancient civilizations of world—such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Rome, and the Maya. However, archaeology is conducted in all parts of the world, like the Canadian plains, the Arctic, or northwestern California. As an undergrad, I was interested in pursuing bioarchaeology, which encompasses examining human and faunal bones to answer questions about the past. I participated in a field school in Poland and dug at a medieval cemetery that had evidence of both Pagan and Christian burial practices. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that taught me a lot about patience. On an archaeological project, not everything will go as planned, and you need to be flexible and patient with these uncertainties. While I am no longer considered a “bioarchaeologist,” Poland was an unforgettable experience. Plus, the perogies and kielbasa were so good!
I decided to pursue graduate studies at the University of Calgary because of my supervisor, and the thrill of being able to conduct archaeological research in Mexico. Working in another place in the world (even in a country right next door) does bring its challenges—like trying to communicate in a language different than your own, or camping in the middle of the jungle. My Spanish consisted of a lot of “viente centimetros mas, por favor” and “gracias para tu trabajo.” Mexico was a great experience and will always hold a special place in my heart. I anticipate being finished my master’s degree in the upcoming year and starting a new adventure in the world of job-searching. Yay! I am hoping to work in sectors that deal with public education regarding historical preservation. Archaeology is difficult work and not at all glamorous, but someone needs to do it!
Dos Hombres to Gran Cacao Project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdqN3I4pue8
Bezlawki Bioarchaeology: http://www.bezlawkibioarch.com/field-school/