Friday, December 10, 2010

Books Read 2010

Here is the list of books I read in 2010. It may be a fair indicator as to why it is taking me so long to finish my dissertation...or not? I've indicated which ones I'd recommend reading with a *.

  • Under the Dome by Stephen King *My guilty pleasure author. I love his stuff.
  • Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the NHM by Richard Fortley*
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer*
  • Seer of Egypt by Paline Gedge *I've read all of her stuff and love it.
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See*
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson* the whole Mistborn series is super cool
  • Cape Breton Road by D.R. MacDonald
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger*
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Carroll
  • Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie *


  • Three Cups of Tea by G. Mortenson and D. Relin*
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman *though I think I liked American Gods better
  • Magician: Apprentice by R.E. Feist (an interesting series but not for everyone)
  • Magician: Master by R.E. Feist
  • Lies My Father Told Me by Norman Allen
  • Silverthorn by R.E. Feist
  • A Darkness at Sethanon by R.E. Feist
  • Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies
  • Why I Am Not A Scientist by Jonathan Marks *must read for any Anthropologist
  • Daughter of the Empire by R.E. Feist and Janny Wurts


  • Servant of the Empire by R.E. Feist and Janny Wurts
  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
  • More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon*
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell*
  • Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
  • Parchute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster (a must for all Band of Brothers fans)
  • Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk
  • West of Eden by Harry Harrison


  • Howard's End by E.M. Forster
  • Winter in Eden by Harry Harrison
  • Return to Eden by Harry Harrison
  • Papillon by Henri Charriere*
  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  • Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner
  • Up in the Air by Walker Kirn
  • Misstress of the Empire by Feist and Wurst
  • Generation X by Douglas Coupland
  • Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle* super cool & inspired me to finally read Dante
  • Escape from Hell by Niven and Pournelle*
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald*
  • Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald*


  • Help Me, Jacques Cousteau by Gil Adamson
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle*
  • Boy by Roald Dahl
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier*
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  • The Garneau Block by Todd Babiuk
  • The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  • The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (the John Ciardi translation)* Inferno is the best of the three parts.
  • Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
  • The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico
  • The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler


  • Personal Effects: Dark Art by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman*
  • The Concubine's Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
  • The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike


I was in the field in Tanzania so didn't get much reading done

  • Homo Britanicus by Chris Stringer
  • How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by His Holiness the Dalai Lama*
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • Immortality by Milan Kundera
  • Flow, My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
  • Living Next-Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson


  • Blindness by Jose Saramago*
  • The Persimmon Tree by Bryce Courtenay
  • Tales from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry
  • Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott* My favourite of the 2010 Canada Reads selections
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman*
  • Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco


  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • I Shall Not Hate by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish* the best book I read all year. Read it. Now.
  • Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich by Philip K. Dick
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick*
  • Ubik by Philip K. Dick


  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • John Dies @ the End by David Wong*
  • The Walking Dead books 1-6* which had to re-read before I started watching season 1!
  • Little Bee by Chris Cleeve*
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett*
  • Insomnia by Stephen King
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • We Are All the Same by Jim Wooten*


  • All This Is So by John F. Roe
  • Unfeeling by Ian Holding*
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb*

So we've got a couple of weeks left in 2010 so I'm sure I could add another book or two to the list.

What were your favourite reads of 2010? What's on your bookshelf for 2011?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wrapping Up Fieldwork in Tanzania

The process of wrapping up fieldwork in Tanzania is less complicated than that for beginning fieldwork but I thought I'd run through what needs to be done before heading home.

1. Finalize work at the site. This includes backfilling the excavation trench and picking up any garbage. Like campers, it is the archaeologist creed to restore sites to their pre-excavation condition. It's dirty, hard work that is also a little depressing. Seeing the huge pile of dirt returned to the trench you worked all summer to dig is just sad.

2. Pay hired workers. We have found it is best to pay our workers at the end of the field season with small "bonuses" given throughout the field season rather than pay a daily or weekly wage. We also "gift them" with any field gear we've purchased from local shops, like head pans, hoes, shovels, screens, which are cheaply acquired (for us), and any gently worn clothing which our souvenir stuffed luggage no longer has room for. We also give them copies of pictures that we have taken of them and us throughout the field season - we've purchased a small, portable photo printer so we can do this and have found it was an excellent investment. Everyone loves getting photos and not having to wait for promised ones to arrive in the mail.

3. Revisit local offices and villages to let people know that we have finished our fieldwork and will be departing for home shortly. These are more than just courtsey visits, they are an important means of demonstrating our intention to share the knowledge we've gained through our work. We give preliminary reports of what was accomplished and what we've learned, and reiterate our promise to return with final reports, posters, and other publications for their use.

4. Prepare documents necessary for export permit: letter of request, preliminary research report, and inventory of artifacts recovered/those wanted for export. Many copies of each will be required by the Department of Antiquities. Our Antiquities Officer is crucial in this process as (s)he writes a report concerning our conduct and weighs in on not only whether or not we should be allowed to export our finds but also if we should be given research clearance and excavation licenses in the future. My supervisor has 20 years of excellent standing with the Tanzanian authorities so we usually encounter few problems with this step. It just takes a few days to get the necessary signatures.

5. Once an export permit is obtained, you must have the items valued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (or "Madini"). My supervisor always remarks how ironic it is that we spend thousands of dollars to excavate these materials only to have them valued at as worthless by Madini. Madini requires us to bring not just our letters of permission, export permits, and inventories but also packing tape, white string (line level string will do), lacqueri (sealing wax), and lighters so they can literally seal the boxes shut once they have examined them. This step is usually very tedious - not in the actual sealing of the boxes - but in convincing the officials that we aren't just wasting their time. They are so used to seeing valuable gemstones come through their doors, they sometimes have trouble understanding why we would go to such expense shipping "worthless" items all the way to Canada. I must admit I can see why this would be difficult to understand if you are used to assessing commercial not cultural and scientific value of rocks and minerals. They are generally good natured about this though and will provide us with the documentation we need as long as we have all the other paperwork in order and pay the 20,000 TSH fee.

6. Find a commercial shipper such as DHL or Fed Ex to have the materials transported back to Canada. Most of the hard work has been done by this point. The tough part with this stage is having enough cash (USD or TSH) on hand if the agent is unable to take credit card (which is often the case). My supervisor has always elected to pay more to ensure the materials are shipped fast (and are tracked at each stage in their journey) ever since we had to take the cheaper option where we did not see our artifacts for almost four months!

7. Forward copies of documentation to the shipping office at the University of Alberta. They will hire a shipping agent who will facilitate the process of clearing the artifacts at customs and transporting them to the UofA. With luck our artifacts will even beat us back to Canada, and the UofA guys will have the artifacts waiting for us in the lab when we return. As I write this our artifacts from this season are already arriving in Canada - it will be race to see "who" makes it to the UofA first!

8. Reconfirm flights. We have found that even in this connected world a quick in-person visit to our airline is a great way to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information concerning the status of our flights and check-in times. Usually we get changes emailed to us, but not always, so it never hurts to just drop in to make sure that the flight information you have is correct.

9. Go shopping! We have always taken this part very seriously. As the first six steps outlined above can take anywhere from two to five days to successfully complete, it is really nice to be able to take the last few days of our trip to play tourist and revisit all of our favourite places in Dar es Salaam (see previous post). It's a great way to stay busy, or "kill time" as my supervisor likes to say, while waiting to make the long trip back home. By this point I'm usually more than ready to head home despite my love for this country and the work I do here so shopping is a pleasant distraction. This step also includes revisiting all of our favourite restaurants and cramming our bellies full of our favourite Tanzanian foods!

It's not a lot of work but it does require at least two high intensity days - most of which is spent in accordance with the Tanzanian motto of "hurry up and wait" - followed by a few days of relaxing which are desperately needed after a long season in the field.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Excavations at Mlambalasi Rockshelter: Weeks 3 & 4

I am a little behind in posting updates about our recently concluded excavation as things got pretty crazy at the site. Most archaeologists can tell you that the last few days of any excavation are grueling: there is too much work to be done and often too few people to do it. In our case, we finally found what we had previously only hoped would be present at the site: the rest of the remains of the individual we partially excavated in 2006. As stated in prior posts, in our 2006 test pit #1 we excavated some human remains (mostly parts from the "waist" down) which have been studied by one of our M.A. students on the project, Elizabeth. It began with Bushozi identifying some definitive human bone fragments in his unit. We stopped excavation in the surrounding units and decided to focus on the areas immediately surrounding the remains. We treated the remains as a feature which means we tried to carefully expose all of the individual bones then provenience, map and photograph them. This allows us to have a detailed and precise description of each bone in relationship to all other bones and any associated artifacts. It is a painfully slow but extremely critical process which ended up being backbreaking work for Elizabeth (and myself when I was asked to assist). The remains are very fragile and many have post-depositional crushing. Using plastic tools (and even wearing plastic bags on her hands), Elizabeth was able to gently reveal each individual bone and bone fragment including parts of the cranium, arms, and torso (including several vertebrae still articulated). Jennifer was our primary record keeper and did an amazing job writing down Elizabeth's observations, recording provenience, and creating bags and labels. Everyone else on the team was diverted to screening and sorting. Needless to say, this precise work which required a high level of attention left us all drained at the end of each day. We essentially spent five whole days working on this feature, and I am proud of the quality of work that was done. I wish I could better describe the intensity at the site those few days. It was something I'd never experienced before while excavating. Elizabeth will begin analysis of these remains upon our return to Canada, and I look forward to reading her M.A. thesis to see what she is able to determine. We were able to see the boundary of our 2006 test pit very clearly and thus are confident in saying that the remains recovered this year are part of the same individual I excavated in 2006. I think it's pretty cool that we will be able to make this individual whole again, as it were, after four years.

Once Elizabeth was sure we had recovered all of the remains, we resumed regular excavation. Being short on time, and in all honesty energy too, we focused all of our efforts on excavating one of our units which has the most intact deposits (i.e. was not disturbed by our 2006 excavation nor Msemwa's in 2002). We reached bedrock all too soon and the rest of our energy was expended in the creation of a stratigraphic profile and backfilling the 2m x 3m trench. Our excavation of the undisturbed portions of the site, plus our understanding based on our 2006 test excavation, has allowed us to gain a clearer picture of the culture history of this site. We now believe that we have an Iron Age to Holocene Later Stone Age to Pleistocene Later Stone Age sequence. We took numerous samples for dating from throughout the 2m x 3m trench which will allow us to clarify this sequence. In addition to human remains we recovered thousands of interesting artifacts. In total, we found 107 beads (plastic, glass, and shell) which Jennifer will study. I can't wait to see what she comes up with.

Overall, the excavation was successful. We were able to answer the three research questions we began the season with: where is the exact location of our 2006 test pit #1, where is the exact location of Msemwa's 2002 test pit, and are there more human remains at the site? We were able to delineate the boundaries of the test pits and clearly demonstrate that they are more than a meter apart, thus proving that the artifacts we recovered in 2006 were in situ and not disturbed. We were able to recover additional human remains, and also gained permission from Msemwa to export those he recovered for analysis back in Canada. We may have answered a few very important questions but many more new questions have arose which now require answers.

To some degree, my work at Mlambalasi is done. Although I will not be studying the artifacts recovered this season in my dissertation, much of the other information will prove to be very useful - especially the maps we've produced and any dates that we get from our samples. However, my status as a member of IRAP (Iringa Region Archaeological Program) will continue
indefinitely, and IRAP's work at Mlambalasi has only just begun.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Excavations at Mlambalasi Rockshelter: Week 2

We’ve been back excavating for about a week now so it is time for an update. We opened another three 1m x 1m units bringing our grand total of excavation units to six. We now have a 2m x 3m excavation trench, which takes up a good portion of the open floor space of the shelter. These three new units have been critical in establishing the location and boundaries of the 1m x 2m test unit excavated by Msemwa in 2002, and our Test Pit #1 excavated in 2006. Unfortunately we are recovering a lot of artifacts in the backfill of these previous test units. As I know there is no way we missed out on collecting these artifacts when we excavated, and doubt Msemwa would have too, this means that there are some post-depositional processes that are affecting the distribution of artifacts at the site. Most likely the artifacts, many of which are small in size and light, were transported into the backfilled units by water or by gravity. We re-fill the units with the sediment and non-artifact rocks (i.e. backfill) when we are done excavating. This means that there can be empty spaces between the backfilled rocks and sediment that could act as artifact traps. Understanding the post-depositional processes at the site is now more important than ever.

The artifacts we are finding, both in context and in the disturbed/backfilled units, are still mostly from the Iron Age. However, we are seeing a decrease in the number of pottery fragments, iron pieces, slag, and furnace fragments with an increase in the number of quartzite lithic artifacts which means we are just at the transition to the Later Stone Age.
With reaching the Later Stone Age we expect the recovery of additional human remains. In anticipation of this, we have discussed with our two local workers, Suleman and Thomas, that we will likely find human remains, if we do they are of significant age (could be 12,000 years old), and if they are uncomfortable with this we are more than willing to release them from work with the full payment of earned wages. Both were completely fine with this so excavations will continue.

The sheer number of artifacts we are recovering has meant that we’ve had to decrease the number of days we spend doing fieldwork. We are obligated to wash, sort, and count all of our finds before we can request an export permit and permission to study them back in Canada. This “lab work” is a very time consuming process but very necessary as we would never have enough time to complete our fieldwork and study the artifacts here. It took over a year to analyze the artifacts recovered from our two 2006 test excavation units. Analyzing everything from six units is going to be quite the task!

As it is we are quickly running out of time. We are hoping to squeeze at least another ten full days of fieldwork (with ten days of lab work intermixed) before we have to head back to Dar and begin the export process. Personally this time crunch has me fairly stressed. It has been extremely difficult to get much work done on my dissertation after working all day, preparing for the next day’s work, and dealing with other business – like getting everything ready to teach an Introduction to Archaeology course. I am still hoping to have a full draft of my dissertation completed around the end of September. I have three and a half chapters to go plus references and an appendix. Some downtime after returning from almost three months in the field would have been nice, but such is the life of a grad student and archaeologist!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Excavations at Mlambalasi Rockshelter: Week 1

Although it seems like we've been in Tanzania for close to forever, our team has only been here for a month and in that time we've only just started our excavations at Mlambalasi rockshelter.

First some background information to catch you up to speed. In 2005 my supervisor traveled to Tanzania for the umpteenth time to conduct survey and excavations in a region called Mbeya. In order to get to Mbeya one must drive through Iringa, and my supervisor has a habit of always stopping in Iringa town for a day or two to visit a famous Acheulian site called Isimila. She had always thought that the rocky outcrops of granite that litter the mountainsides had great archaeological potential so she thought she'd ask the Department of Antiquities for permission to stop in Iringa and ask around about possibly working there. They agreed and she was fortunate to run into a wonderful woman called Joyce who is the District Cultural Officer for Iringa rural. Joyce ended up showing my supervisor three rockshelters with tons of artifacts littering the surface. So in 2006 my supervisor, her Tanzanian PhD student, and myself came to Iringa to conduct test excavations at two of these sites - Magubike and Mlambalasi. Both were even more incredible then we could have hoped for and we have been working on the materials (over 30,000 stone artifacts from five 1m x 1m test pits) from these sites ever since.

We decided to spend this field season conducting full scale excavations of Mlambalasi rockshelter. This is mostly because my supervisor had picked up a talented Masters student, Elizabeth, who specializes in analyzing human remains. Her blog provides excellent daily updates about our work in the pango (kiswahili for rockshelter). I am very jealous of her ability to post interesting and thoughtful updates everyday - I struggle to post monthly : D Although I have the knowledge base to identify and analyze human remains it is definitely not my specialty (nor my supervisors) so when we encountered a burial in our 2006 excavations we realized we needed to bring an osteoarchaeologist on board.

After many expected but still annoying delays (see previous posts), we were finally able to really start fieldwork on July 9th. It always takes a few days to get an excavation running and this one was no exception. We got off to a poor start when we had some problems with our total station. After a few days of me trying to recall what I had learned two years ago and with the assistance of our hired expert, we were finally able to work out the kinks and establish our excavation grid, site baseline, and site datum. We also mapped in the rockshelter, which has two overhangs or rooms, properly for the first time. These are tedious but very important first steps as everything we excavate needs to come from a known location. In archaeology, context is everything. Without knowing the context of an artifact, it is difficult to say anything about it beyond simple identification.

We decided to work in pairs and start with just three 1m x 1m excavation units . They are named J-10, I-9, and I-11 based on where they are located on our grid. We are excavating each unit by quadrants in 10cm levels.

From our test excavations we knew what to expect (Iron Age, Later Stone Age, and Middle Stone Age artifacts) and how much to expect, but it is still mind blowing how productive our initial three units have been. We have found debris associated with iron smelting and iron smithing (iron slag, iron pieces and tools, furnace fragments etc.). We have lithic artifacts in quartz, quartzite, and chert including cores, debitage and tools. Decorated rim sherds and undecorated body sherds are common. Important to the research of another wonderful Masters student Jennifer, is the large number of beads. We not only have beads made from many different types of materials (glass, plastic, ostrich egg shell) representing different periods of occupation but also shells in various stages of production. And Elizabeth is thrilled by the number of bone fragments we have encountered - both faunal and (possible) human.

The only downside to our many finds is that few come from a well preserved context. The first 10cm are heavily disturbed by trampling and repeated heavy use. The unit I have been working in turns out to be almost directly aligned with a test pit excavated by a Tanzanian archaeologist in 2002. One of our goals of this season was to determine where he had excavated, and we are happy to have found clear evidence of his unit. However, it unfortunately means that almost all the artifacts we have recovered are disturbed. At least this explains why we were encountering diagnostic artifacts from different time periods mixed together in a position that suggests a recent age.

We have decided to leave these three test pits after three levels and take down three more units to the same level (in checkerboard fashion) to try to better understand what is going on at the site. We hope to excavate at least twelve 1m x 1m units before our time here is done. We have a ton of work ahead of us, but at least we will get faster as work progresses and our interpretation of the site becomes clearer.

As we are off to Dar for a few days to deal with some business at the University of Dar es Salaam and the National Museum we won't be resuming excavation until the end of next week. This means it will be a couple of weeks before I post an update on our progress.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I know I owe a post on our last two weeks of excavation at Mlambalasi. As I am still trying to process everything that happened (we had an amazing but busy and exhausting last few days), I thought instead I'd free my mind of some other debitage that's been floating around in my head.

This is my fourth trip to Tanzania in five years. This means a number of different things which I have recently been thinking about. First and foremost, I am super lucky. I often forget how incredible it really is that I have traveled here so frequently and do so in order to pursue my passion - archaeology. This is definitely one of the perks of the job - frequent travel to very cool places. As extended periods of time are required to conduct research this means I really get a feel for the environment and people around me. I get to interact with people in totally different ways than a tourist would, and in many ways, become part of the day to day fabric of life the places in which we work and live. Although we will always be visitors, we do effectively live in the places we work. We greet people we pass on the street and chat with the many people that work in the many places that we visit in our daily rounds about town. Since we've worked here for three years now, my supervisor and I are recognized by many people not just in Iringa town where we live, but in offices and villages throughout Iringa region. We discuss our work with everyone - from officials representing many divisions within all branches of government to students in small rural schools to random local individuals who drop by the site to see what is going on in their backyard. Although not everyone gets what we are doing, never mind the why's of it all, we do our best to explain and use as much of our baby swahili (or swinglish as we like to call it) as possible. We have created posters in both english and swahili to demonstrate that the knowledge we are acquiring is to be shared with all - that we are striving to make a contribution not just to academia but to the cultural heritage of the communities we live and work in.

However, there is a major downside. My comings and goings fail to make a big impression on friends and family any more. This isn't to say that they don't care if I'm around or not, but rather that they are so used to me having to travel to do fieldwork or attend conferences that they don't mark my departure with the same gusto anymore. Honestly, I don't blame them. In fact, I'm so lucky to have family and friends that are so accepting of my frequent long-term absences. I have missed an unspeakable number of milestone events in the lives of my friends and family: birthdays, weddings, births, anniversaries, showers, stagettes, holidays. This year I miss yet another wedding anniversary bringing the grand total of wedding anniversaries missed to four out of five. The fact that no one has ever held a missed event against me says a whole lot about the generous and forgiving nature of my friends and family. It is this amazing support network that has not only made long periods away from home tolerable, but have also made my entire career as a graduate student possible.

Simply, I am an extremely lucky individual. First because of the opportunities I have had to see the world, and second, because of the amazing people who are my home who have made it possible for me to take advantage of all the opportunities that have been thrown my way. I can only hope I am deserving/worthy of this luck.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Things to Do in Dar es Salaam

In honour of our last day here in Dar (for now), I thought I'd post some of my favourite ways to kill time while waiting around for permits (see previous post). You'll notice most of these are food places and shopping places commonly frequented by Mzungu (white people) like us, but seeing those are the two main things we seem to do in Dar when not in offices, I'm afraid this is what I have to report.

I love love love walking around the city center. Dar is a seriously interesting city. It is also huge with around 4.5 million people living in it. This means it isn't necessarily the most walkable city but the city center is. We stay at the Starlight Hotel which is on Bibi Titi Mohammed Street across from the Mnazi Mmoja ("One Coconut Tree" park) and close to Mosque Street. A number of other budget hotels (including one of our favourite haunts for internet and food, the Jambo Inn) are nearby. From the Starlight we can walk straight along Bibi Titi Mohammed Street either south towards Uhuru St. or north-northeast towards the Movenpick Royal Palm hotel. We can also head out the "back" of the hotel southeast along Libya and Mosque Streets towards Samora Avenue.

Uhuru Street is home to the khanga and kitenge fabric market. This is absolutely not to be missed. Here is where you buy all the beautiful khanga and kitenge that are characteristic and specific to East Africa. Khanga (or kanga) come in two joined panels which have a border containing large motifs with a swahili proverb printed along the bottom. Kitenge are huge bolts of patterned cloth. Both are brightly coloured which means the shops of Uhuru Street are literally a riot of colour.

The Movenpick Royal Palm is a beautiful modern hotel which we visit, mostly, because it has great, if not very expensive internet/office services, clean bathrooms, and a nice cafe. It has a small gift shop but the prices are very high and non-negotiable. The real treat at the Palm is the adjacent Nyumba ya Sanaa or House of Art and Culture. It contains numerous pieces of art created by the collective of artists who work there. Pieces are a little more expensive and less negotiable there but a discerning eye may be able to acquire a piece by a known or named artist. They also have traditional songs and dance in the evenings but I've actually never made it out to a performance. It also has another small outdoor cafe.

From the Palm you can walk southeast along Ohio Street towards another of our food haunts - the "food court" which contains Steers (a South African burger and chicken franchise), Orient Express (an Indian and Chinese food place with surprisingly good, if rather mild, curries), Wheatfields (which has decent coffee, fresh juices, and snacks), and Debonairs (a pizza place). It also has A Novel Idea - a fantastic bookstore which stocks books by Tanzanian and African authors along with the usual North American and European fare. The City Garden restaurant and the Imaleseko supermarket are also nearby on Garden Avenue. The central post office is just off Garden Avenue on Azikiwe Street. Postcards and standard letters cost 700 shillings (TSH) to mail (about 70 cents).

From the "food court" you should walk northeast along Samora Avenue towards the Makumbusho ya Taifa or the National Museum of Tanzania. Even though it is currently under extensive renovations which means the exhibits are still under construction, you should visit the National Museum as it does have some interesting things to see and is home to one of the most important finds in palaeoanthropology - Zinjanthropus boisei (see 2009 "Zinj" posts). They need your support and the small entry cost helps ensure that the products of our research have an appropriate home.

You have two options from the National Museum. You can walk southwest along Sokoine Avenue back towards Ohio Street then turn onto the Kuvukoni Front. Here you will experience the sights and sounds of the harbour as you make your way towards another very expensive hotel, and thus Mzungu haunt, the Kilimanjaro. You have to check out this hotel just because it looks so cool. The shops and restaurants are as expensive as you'd expect those in a 5 star hotel to be. Definitely take the elevator to the top floor and the Level 8 Bar. You'll have to pay 5 times the amount for a beer but the view of the harbour is absolutely worth it. Go just before dusk for a pre-dinner drink and watch the sunset over Dar. A beautiful sight!

You can also go back (southwest) along Samora Avenue which contains a number of shops. Some of the shops contain tourist items but many contain very random collections of items needed for day to day life. Most are organized by theme (books, stationary, electronics) but others really seem to have whatever goods they were able to get their hands on. I think this is awesome and love peeking into shops to see what sorts of neat things they have. It's rare for the items to have prices on them so part of the fun is finding out what they cost and negotiating something different. You really can find anything you might need, however bizarre it may be, and if you can't find something in one shop generally asking for it will cause someone to go running from shop to shop until they find it for you. This also is a frequent occurrence at the market; you can almost always find someone willing to help you (speaking a little swahili, especially greetings and simple conversational stuff will go along way with this).

On Samora Avenue is the City Center Supermarket located within the Harbourview Suites Tower. There is a decent "Italian" restaurant (i.e. pizza and pasta). The supermarket is a convenient place to buy Mzungu products. From here you just cross the street and head northwest up Mosque Street back towards our hotel. No surprise that Mosque Street is named because of the large number of beautiful mosques located along it. In front of all the shops there are also tons of little stalls which sell everything from fresh fruits to kofia (swahili Muslem caps) to prayer rugs with compasses pointing towards Mecca. Mosque Street terminates at Libya Street. Right in front of you should be the Jambo Inn which has delicious and cheap food plus a reasonable but hot and slow internet cafe.

So you've walked your feet off in the +30c sun and want a break. You can jump in a taxi and head off to a number of other places. For about 10,000 TSH (15,000 TSH return), you can go to the Kijiji cha Makumbusho (the Village Museum) or the Slipway. The Village Museum contains a number of examples of house types from all over Tanzania. There are traditional performances and local artisans throughout the village. It's well worth the small price of admission.

The Slipway is another Mzungu haunt. It's a modern but outdoor shopping and dining center located off of Oyster Bay. You can sit right on the water and enjoy some excellent fresh kalimari and ice cold Kilimanjaro beer, or test out your bargaining skills at the very friendly Souk (outdoor market). I always recommend it as a first shopping experience as the sales people are not pushy at all and will patiently listen to your stumbling attempts to bargain in kiswahili. It is also home to Mapozi Designs - my favourite store in all of Tanzania. It contains modern fashions made from traditional Tanzanian khangas. You can stock up on lovely and comfortable skirts, tops, and dresses perfect for Dar weather (and spring and summer back home). Another branch of A Novel Idea is also located here with a far larger selection of books and music.

Finally, you can also take a taxi (20,000 TSH) to the woodcarvers market at Mwenge. There are a number of stands where you can buy a bewildering amount of "traditional" Tanzanian gifts including carvings, jewelry, paintings, bags, t-shirts etc. It's pretty intense but tons of fun.

Dar has so much more to offer but this is just a sampling of my favourite, if not very touristy, things. I'll post some more about my home away from home, Iringa, shortly.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Preparing for Fieldwork in Tanzania

As I have covered packing for fieldwork I thought I would cover some of the logistical issues one has to deal with when coming to Tanzania. I also thought this might be of interest to friends and family who just see me come and go each year and may not actually know all the work involved. Some of these tips will be useful for travel to other parts of the world but most are specific to Tanzania.

Before you go:

Apply for funding. This is a whole other world of pain and you will often be applying for funding before, during, and after fieldwork.

Apply for research clearance from COSTECH (The Tanzanian Commission on Science and Technology) for all participants. This should be done approximately 6 months you go. It costs $50 USD to apply (one fee for the single application, does not matter how many people are associated with the project) and $300 USD per person for the permit once approved. It helps to notify the Director of the Department of Antiquities (Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism) that you are applying for COSTECH clearance as they will be reviewing your file. You will not be able to receive an excavation permit without COSTECH clearance and will not receive COSTECH clearance without approval of Antiquities. You are required to have a local collaborator for your COSTECH application so it is best to have positive working relationships with your Tanzanian colleagues.

Once you have received notice of approval from COSTECH you can apply for your visa from the Tanzanian High Commission in Ottawa. You will have to have a Tanzanian colleague located in Tanzania assist you as you will need to include copies of your COSTECH permits with this application. Your colleague can pick them up at COSTECH and pay for them ($300 USD per person) then scan them in and email the scans to you. Single entry visas cost $75 CND and multiple entry cost $150 CND

Book your flights. This can occur at any point during the planning process.

Get vaccinations and get prescriptions for anti-malarial pills. If you have not travelled to Tanzania, it is best to go to the Traveler’s Health Clinic as they are specifically trained for informing you about what is required and other associated travel health risks. If you just require an anti-malarial prescription, it is best to just visit your family doctor as the Traveler’s Health Clinic will charge you a $48 fee.

Check in with the appropriate people in your department, and any other appropriate office at your University.

Return any collections you may have borrowed for study in previous years.

Register with the Canadian High Commission in Dar es Salaam via their webpage ( This ensures that should any issue arrive which may prove a concern to your safety, the High Commission can contact you and get you out if necessary.

Get USD. Traveler’s cheques are becoming difficult to change anywhere in Tanzania but Dar es Salaam. US dollars in $20, $50, and $100 denominations work best. Do not worry about getting Tanzanian shillings (TSH) before you go. You can readily change these at the airport upon arrival (and you can get surprisingly good rates with no fees all over the place).

Upon arrival:

Visit the Department of Antiquities to drop off your application for an Excavation License. Again you can speed up the process if you have a colleague drop this off before you even arrive. Your application includes a short project proposal and budget. 5% of this budget is what you will pay for the excavation permit. Once your proposal has been approved you will be asked to pay your fee which you can do in USD or by traveler’s cheques. You will then receive a copy of the License which will notify you as to who is your Antiquities Officer. This Officer will accompany you during your entire field season. You are required to pay them a salary and cover their room and expenses. They will write up letters of introduction for you which are necessary for visiting government offices in your particular study area.

Arrange for transportation. You can hire a 4 wheel drive vehicle and driver from one of many reputable safari or car rental companies. You will generally pay a flat fee, plus kilometers, plus gas, plus room, food, and salary for the driver. It is worth the expense as your driver is also a mechanic and will ensure that your vehicle remains in working condition.

Visit the Tanzanian Department of Immigration (Uhamiaji). You will be required to have your immigration status changed to a Class C which will allow you to undertake research during your visit (your visa just gets you in the country). It will cost $120 USD and can take weeks to process. It is a grueling process and it is highly recommended you visit this office with a Tanzanian colleague who can help facilitate the process. You will have to fill out a form (in duplicate), provide 5 passport photos, and copies of your Curriculum Vitae (CV), COSTECH permit, passport photo and passport visa pages. You submit your application and will be given an receipt which provides the date for your appointment. At this appointment you should be able to pay for your Class C residence permit. Hopefully you will be able to receive your permit at this time (or sometime that day); often you are told to return in a few days. Plan on needing at least 10 – 14 days for this step alone.

Acquire any supplies you need that you did not bring with you or cannot acquire in your study area.

Coordinate your team as to when you are departing.

Once all the steps above are completed you can finally head out to the field. We usually are in Dar for 10 days before being able to leave for fieldwork. Be prepared to spend many hours waiting around in offices. Getting frustrated will not help but you must be persistent. Do not leave until you have spoken to someone and do not hesitate to return to offices day after day to make sure something is being done. Again if you can have a local colleague help you out do so; this process can be moved along much quicker with help than if you attempt to do it all on your own. Good luck!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Packing for Fieldwork: 8 Tips

Packing for a long field season abroad is no easy task. Many students struggle with this, especially those who have never traveled for an extended period of time in a foreign country. Even if you have gone backpacking or done some globetrotting during vacations, getting ready for an archaeological field season is an entirely different matter. The most common problem is bringing far too much stuff. Here's a few of my tips as I've found some simple ways to cut down on the clutter. Keep in mind that I basically pack as lightly as possible as I absolutely hate lugging luggage around and always have the end goal of having a lot of space available to bring back souvenirs. Some of these tips are common sense and I'm gearing these mostly towards undergrads going to their first fieldschool, a junior archaeologist heading out on a consulting job for the first time, or grad students conducting their first foreign research project.

1. No books! It is very tempting to bring a veritable library of reference books but the reality is you will simply not use them as much as you think you will. They are not only way heavier than you think they will be, they are also valuable and easily damaged. It is better to scan and/or photocopy in the pages you think you will need - this way you won't be heartbroken when you arrive at your destination to find out your bags have not. This leads to the second tip...

2. ...never travel with anything that can't easily be replaced. My only exception to this rule is my wedding band. I never wear my engagement ring or any other valuable/sentimental jewelry in the field. Even cameras and laptops can be replaced but often what is stored on them cannot so back up your data/documents/photos and store in multiple places back home. This is a good idea anyways - you don't want to lose your nearly completed thesis and have to start all over again because of accidental loss, deletion, theft, fire, dogs, bees, dogs that when they bark shoot bees out of their mouth. I always travel with a couple of flash drives so I can continuously back up my stuff as I go and have multiple copies on me at all times. For fieldschool students and consulting/CRM archaeologists it is likely you will not even need your own computer so you might want to consider giving yourself a break from it by leaving it safe at home.

3. You will need less clothing than you think you will. I recommend three pairs of field pants: one to wear while working, one to wear when not working, one to have in the laundry. Unless you are working in a horribly muddy/hot/humid environment you can probably get away with wearing your shirts more than once between washings without offending everybody else you work/live with. I usually make do with five or six as it is harder to wear a dirty shirt than dirty pants. Do not skimp on underwear though. You'll find you can deal with wearing horribly dirty pants as long as you have clean underwear to put on underneath. If this is going to be your first experience doing archaeological fieldwork, and thus aren't absolutely sure this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, don't spend a fortune on fancy outdoor clothing. It'll get ruined anyways so I always recommend first timers hit up gently used clothing stores like Value Village or Goodwill. This is easier on your student budget and also makes it easier to leave your clothing behind so you can cram your bag full of trinkets and goodies to bring home instead. I did not start spending money on good quality field clothes until after three or four seasons as I knew I would get excellent use out of them. You will spend more time in the field than not in the field so plan accordingly (i.e. bring less clothing to bum around in than field clothes). Generally pack according to the environment in which you will be working - consider climate and culture. For example, avoid blue clothing in regions with malaria as malaria-carrying mosquitoes are attracted to the colour blue. I can leave the rain gear at home when I'm working in Tanzania but need skirts and nice tops (casual business wear) for when I am visiting government offices as it is important to look professional and to also respect local customs/ideals. In many parts of the world, women are expected to dress with a certain degree of modesty so it is important to respect this if you want to have a successful working relationship with local peoples. If you are doing consulting work, find out what the safety regulations are for clothing. You may be required to wear long sleeved tops, pants, or even protective coveralls. Keep in mind that with consulting jobs you are highly mobile. You will be moving from hotel room to hotel room as you work on different projects - you will not want to be lugging around tons of clothes in addition to all the other necessary gear. Also find out what the status on laundry is as this may affect how much you want to take. We have our laundry done at the hotel, which is a nice luxury, but it can take up to four days to get it back so you need to be have enough clothes to wear while the others are being washed.

4. Buy good quality socks. They are expensive but hold up to rough wear and tear including hand washing in rivers and sinks. Get a good pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes. I prefer boots that go above my ankle when doing survey work in rocky or uneven terrain but like a lighter pair of hiking shoes when just excavating. Rubber boots are great when you are in wet environments but get really hot really fast. If you are doing consulting work you may need steel toed boots so don't be afraid to ask what is required. Break them in before you head to the field too. Take care of your feet - unhappy (i.e. blistered, bruised, cramped, hot, cold, sweaty, sore) feet = unhappy you! Again, good quality socks recommended for use with your particular boot is highly recommended (this is not just an "upselling" tactic by sales people - matching your socks and shoes is a really smart thing to do when you are living in them for upwards of 12 hours a day in dirty environments).

5. Don't bring all the beauty products you "absolutely must have to survive" unless you are willing to recognize that they will take up a ton of space. You will spend all day toiling in the dirt. That said, moisturizer and sunscreen are necessary. A few small luxuries are o.k. but your industrial sized blow drier should stay at home. Find out what is available where you are going and consider not taking your own toiletries with you but purchasing them there. For places where this is not an option, simplify by purchasing two-in-one shampoo/conditioners. The reality is that for long trips travel-sized items won't cut it so, again, focus on necessities.

6. Buy a decent broad rimmed hat. Sorry but ball caps just won't cut it. You need something that will protect the back of your neck and the tops of your ears as you are bent over digging all day. You don't have to go for a fancy fedora a la Indiana Jones - any lightweight, U.V. ray blocking varieties will do and are available for around $20 (these are also flexible so are really easy to cram into your bag).

7. Limit your personal archaeological gear kit to items that will not be supplied for you by the project or are not easily purchased where you are going. If you are provided with a gear list then limit your purchases to items on that list. You will acquire other useful objects as you progress in your career. You'll get great tips and tricks from other archaeologists you encounter so your kit will be constantly growing and changing. As with selecting clothing, being familiar with your working conditions will help. I do not need root clippers or small hand saws when working in rockshelters but do need a good rock pick/hammer. Don't buy the biggest (blank) you can find - smaller tape measures and brushes are easier to work with. You will likely be in a 1m x 1m square which means you will not have a lot of space to leave your gear lying around in. I tend to sacrifice clothing so I can bring along a rock hammer or my favourite square trowel but I have regretted that choice a few times - rock hammers are heavy!

8. Remember that you are going on an adventure. Do not get bogged down in packing and worrying about what you should or should not be taking. Focus on the items you cannot live without (see tips above) and leave the rest behind. I always forget something and still manage to do just fine. Talk to other people who have worked where you are going or are planning your fieldschool and follow their advice. The best part of fieldwork, and all traveling, is the experiences you will have while you are away. By leaving behind the luxuries of home you'll enjoy and appreciate them so much more upon your return. Besides it's kinda fun bragging about the "horrible" field conditions you had to endure.

Leave a comment if you found these tips useful or if you have any other packing suggestions. I'll post some general travel tips later.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I *heart* web comics

I love web comics. There are a growing number I follow regularly and I love starting my day by checking to see who has updated their page with a new comic. I have great respect for those imaginative folks who are able to create, realize and share their talents with the world. I thought I'd share some of my favourites (in no particular order) but with the caveat that I'm no comic expert. I just know what I like. With much respect to the authors/artists, I've tried to say a little bit about each comic and I like it.

Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew
Stick people in a D20-gaming world! A simple concept but extremely well executed and well written too. What started off as a simple dungeon crawl has quickly turned into a quest of epic proportions for the members of the Order of the Stick.

Commissoned Comic by Obsidian
Not to play favourites but I think this is my favourite strip. I think it's because this strip has managed to evoke a lot of different emotions for me. I love the art work and O's comments. I laugh at many of the gaming related strips as the situations involved are too true. I cried when he lost one of his beloved kitties and honoured him with a beautiful work of art. He is always experimenting with new techniques while still maintaining a very signature O style. Add this one to your favourites list now.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell
Gunnerkrigg Court represents an enigma to me. I find the story and characters very fascinating. When you first start reading Gunnerkrigg, the story, setting, and characters all seem pretty straightforward - a young girl is orphaned and is sent to the boarding school her parents attended - but you quickly find that the school (Gunnerkrigg Court) and the girl (Antimony Carver) aren't quite what they seem. I'm always wondering what exactly is going on (there is always more going on then is being revealed at that moment), and what is going to happen.

The Zombie Hunters by Jenny
I love zombies. This comic, like the others listed here, is well written with great characters. It has some very innovative ideas about a post-infection/post-apocalyptic world - something that is very rare in an over saturated zombie market.

Pilled Higher and Deeper (PhD) by Jorge Chan
Are you a graduate student? If the answer is yes, you should read this comic. Do you know someone who is a graduate student? If the answer is yes, you should read this comic. Do you want to be or know someone who wants to be a graduate student? If the answer is yes, you should read this comic. Just read this comic ok?!

Any others I should check out? Leave me your favourites under comments!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Knowing you know nothing.

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
- Socrates

My colleagues and dear friends at Trent University and I used to joke that our slogan, our motto for our time there as M.A. students was "in vino veritas" or "in wine (there is) the truth". We drank an awful lot of wine during our discussions of all things archaeology which always continued late into the wee hours of the morning. It was a silly slogan but it represents how important it became for us to spend time together, over a glass of wine or not, to hash out our thoughts and feelings during our shared journey.

Now, as I struggle to finish my research and my PhD, I am finding myself reflecting on how little I actually know. When a student sets out to do their PhD, indeed to even get into any graduate programme, they must write a clear, coherent, and hopefully thoughtful 500 word statement entitled something along the lines of "programme of study". It begins with brief introduction which must contain a single sentence thesis statement. It then goes on to briefly provide some background information as to why the questions this statement presents are important and how one is going to attempt to examine/answer/resolve them. As one progresses through their programme, this statement is constantly revised and revisited - especially in archaeology where often the answers one can answer depend on the artifacts available for study (including but not limited to what is recovered during fieldwork). What I set out to do hasn't changed very much (i.e. lithic raw material analysis) but the questions I am going to be able to discuss definitely have. In part this is because of what I've already stated above - we found two sites with stone tool assemblages containing a lot of lithic raw material variability but we failed to find any potential raw material sources to compare them to.

But really it doesn't matter that the questions have changed. What does matter, and what is something that lately dominates my thoughts, is how ill prepared I feel I am in answering these questions.

To clarify: my M.A. research focused on determining the sources of chert raw materials found in an assemblage from southern Ontario. It was a nice neat little M.A. Chert sources in this region have been extensively studied so there are good descriptions of the materials and clear, established methodologies for describing and differentiating them. Despite having very little background in Ontario cherts and Ontario archaeology for that matter, I was able to complete what I feel was a decent M.A. thesis. It does have some problems, especially concerning my analyses of the microfossils, but nothing too horrible. When I first constructed my PhD research programme I figured I'd just apply the same methods and techniques that I used for my M.A. to chert from our Tanzanian assemblages - and hell I'd even expand it to include other non-chert lithic types if we had them because I'd taken a couple of mineralogy courses and had a fairly good grasp (or so I thought) on petrography. Now that I'm up to my eye-balls in thin sections and have tried to apply my preexisting knowledge base and skills to analyzing them, I find myself woefully unprepared. The macroscopic analysis went pretty good. I struggled a little with distinguishing between the various igneous rocks but most archaeologists do thus throw them all in the general raw material category of "volcanics". Part of why I wanted to look at the "volcanics" and try to separate them was because I wasn't a fan of this too general catch-all category.

So I was fairly confident going into the microscopic analysis. I thought I'd start with the cherts seeing as that is what I "know best". I was sorely mistaken. The cherts from our assemblages are nothing like the well known and well described Ontario cherts. Indeed most might not be cherts at all but cherty varieties of other carbonate (sedimentary) rocks. My fall back is always literature review - if I don't know it, I can read about it and learn it. So that's what I'm doing now: learning all about petrography, not just of sedimentary but also igneous and metamorphic rocks. Luckily the literature on these topics is abundant and I'm slowly refining my knowledge which is allowing me to refine and solidify my methodology. Unfortunately it means I'm having to reexamine repeatedly my slides to check and double check what I think, and how I'm interpreting what, I am seeing is correct. I've already realised that once I'm done my analyses I'll need to meet with a thin section petrographer and confirm my results.

But even as I make progress, even as I start to learn and grasp this new information, all I can think about is how I should already know this stuff. I can't help but think that I shouldn't even be doing this seeing how little I really know. My only consolation is in believing that I can't be the only one who has gone through this. Indeed I have a friend who has had similar trials and tribulations with her PhD research. Being able to talk with her has helped keep me going. That's why I write this post today, so that some day another struggling PhD candidate might read this and know they aren't alone.

Hopefully the unspoken sentiment of Socrates' quote is correct: that by recognizing the limitations of our knowledge we find humility. This humility creates a resolve to constantly learn new things, to expand what we know, and in that process continue to fuel the thirst for new knowledge that got us interested our work in the first place.

It takes a lot of arrogance/confidence (even hubris) to get yourself into a PhD programme and through candidacy examinations. I am beginning to think that maybe it takes humility to not just finish but to deserve your PhD.