Posts Tagged With: students

5 Worst Fictional Movie Archaeologists

Ray Phipps continues our student series by ranking the worse movie archaeologists by their sins.

The 5 Worst Fictional Movie Archaeologists

To be an archaeologist it takes patience, dedication, and years of training. Definitely not the most glamorous profession or rewarding in a monetary sense. It is, however, rewarding to see your countless of hours of hard work pay off by piecing together parts of history. With that in mind we can understand why Hollywood veers so far from what actual archaeology is and leans more towards “adventure archaeology” or, simply put, looting. This sells tickets and funnels money into the pockets of Hollywood stars. As an avid movie goer, I can respect some of these movies for their sheer entertainment factor, but as a student of archaeology I can’t help but cringe at some of the anachronism of these same movies. So, I’ve decided to compile a list of five of the worst archaeologists in movies.

5 – Indiana Jones (all four movies) played by Harrison Ford – Probably the most iconic fictional archaeologist of all time and one of the worst at conducting archaeology. In the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Arc we see Indy and a rag tag group of individuals trudging through a remote jungle with the guidance of what appears to be an ancient map. Ah yes, the classic treasure map folded away in your pocket, exposed to the elements and probably ruined forever. We’ll just move on past that and get to the good stuff. Indy races his way into this ancient site with no data recording, destroying countless artifacts, and destroying ancient pressure plates (that surprisingly still work after hundreds of years) all for a piece of gold. Now while he ignores the most basic approaches to conducting actual archaeology, it can be argued that few artifacts he does retrieve he intends to preserve, as we can see from one of his famous lines “It belongs in a museum!” Still, not enough to absolve him of this list.

4 – Benjamin Gates, National Treasure part I and II played by Nicholas Cage- Now Gates isn’t actually referred to as an archaeologist in this film, he does call himself a “treasure protector”, which is part of what an archaeologist does, but his definition of treasure probably differs from mine. Gates somehow manages to steal the Declaration of Independence in order to discover a hidden message on the back…by using lemon juice! I don’t think I have or ever will meet an archaeologist that would ever recommend doing that to a document. Throughout the movie Gates somehow bumbles his way into finding these priceless artifacts with little to no help, data recording, or equipment. Thankfully they only managed to make two movies and not finish with a trilogy of bad archaeology.

3 – Daniel Jackson, Stargate played by James Spader – An archaeologist by trade, Daniel is asked to inspect an ancient Egyptian artifact that turns out to be a portal to another civilization. That’s it.* That’s the extent of any hint at real archaeology in this film. Part of an archaeologist job is to learn more about a civilization, and Daniel has a portal that goes directly too one still thriving. Instead of finding artifacts though Daniel and his team spend more time destroying…everything they come across. I feel like all the artifacts in the British Museum stand a better chance with a stampede of elephants than anything in this movie.

2 – Everyone in all of The Mummies – Did anyone root for the bad guys at some point in these? No? Must have just been me then. Somehow, they reinvented Indiana Jones with two people, Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz). Rick being the whip cracking, pistol waving hero and Evelyn the smart, studious scholar who is supposed to be an expert in Egyptology, but is actually pretty terrible at it. They claim to want to preserve many of the artifacts they find, but for some reason they have this really nice house with a lot of artifacts on display. Anyways, they manage to steal the Book of the Dead and for some reason, Evelyn, can’t manage to read the text with her mouth closed; therefore, they unleash a scary-murderous mummy thing that they were warned about. Unfortunately, they managed to put things right (to my dismay). On the bright side, maybe this movie will help deterring looters from digging up ancient tombs.

1 – Lara Croft, Tomb Raider played by Angelina Jolie twice – What? The name doesn’t explain my reasoning behind putting this at number 1? Fine, there is absolutely nothing in this movie that can be seen as archaeological. Croft is simply a looter who masquerades around the world with little to no clothes on hunting for treasures, destroying priceless artifacts, making ruins out of ruins, if that’s even possible. Croft stands alone at the top of this list as the absolute worst portrayal of someone with any inkling of archaeological background.


[*Editor’s Note: If I may nerd-out for a minute, I would argue that Daniel Jackson does use his archaeological skills, because he uses his anthropological skills. He does participant observation while living with the people at Abydos. He even stays behind and marries into the community! And of course, later in the TV series, he continues to use his archaeological knowledge (although often to fight bad guys) and is always arguing with Jack O’Neill (two ll’s) about preserving information and sites.]

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Artifacts Impacting Archaeology

I am pleased to present our third student series of blog posts. We have a very big class this semester, so we’ll be traveling a little farther afield for some of our topics, but I think many will tie back to Savannah in small and big ways. Up first is Alexander Vandegrift, writing about battlefield archaeology and its effects.

Artifacts Impacting Archaeology

When many think of archaeology, they think of those who still preside around Egyptian tombs, or those who dig upon hundreds to thousands of years of history. But, many neglect those who dig in the strata of the recent past, such as battlefields. If it was not for archaeology, we would not have The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where archaeologists and patriotic volunteers have dug battlefields to find missing in action military personnel. Just recently in 2015, 36 Marines that were presumed killed in action were found on a Pacific Island near where the Battle of Tarawa occurred, and were returned home to receive an honorable burial. But, for those who dig in the remnants of the Vietnam war, still face battlefield dangers.

I have always respected those who still approach historical battlefields to find artifacts, historical anomalies from what we have theorized, and still missing-in-action personnel. But, with the number of battlefields created in the recent past, specifically Civil War era to Vietnam era, one would have never of thought of the dangers that could still be present to archaeologists.

With the production of artillery rounds, and other ordnance during war time, not all weapons and ammo are stamped as “safe and ready to use”. This leads to unexploded ordnance lying dormant for years within the strata of the Earth until disturbed accidentally by someone or something putting weight upon the area, or moving soil to recover an artifact. Many of these “duds” still cause damage today because of the eroding black powder or materials within the bombs become unstable. Some have lead to deaths, while others lead to serious injury.

One of the many reasons this happens is because logs, counts, and mapping of minefields can be rare or records are lost during war time. With the rise of insurgency and guerilla warfare tactics, many mines or IEDs during the past were merely placed and forgotten about, only with the hope that it would hit its mark. In fact, there are still regions within the world, predominantly Cambodia and Vietnam (excluding the Middle East since it is a still active war zone), where certain areas are secured off from the public because of the dangers of unexploded or still active mines.

Now, this does not mean that you can always find unexploded ordnance in battlefields, but it is possible anywhere within the world that has had contact with the making, transporting, or history of having explosives for any reason. Per example, in November of 2016 an unexploded cannonball was found near Broughton and Barr streets by a group who was doing an excavation in the area. Luckily, Fort Stewart Army EOD and Savannah Chatham Police Bomb Squad conducted a controlled explosion within the site, while being viewed from an aerial position by Helicopter Eagle 1, to ensure citizens were not within the vicinity. The bomb site and controlled explosion resulted in zero casualties.

This speaks volumes. When a military unit or insurgency operates within an area, they need to keep maps and counts of all mines that are placed, as well as retrieve with full counts after war time. When dealing with instances such as Savannah’s, one must be careful and have keener senses when one notices something unusual within the site you are digging. When situations are carried out correctly and carefully, life can be preserved and chance of injury can be nonexistent. Those who were digging within the area that found the cannonball made the right decisions by backing away and calling the right units to handle such a situation.


Sources and for more information:




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Discovering Archaeology

Our next student blogger is Nicole Wentz, who discusses her discovery of anthropology and archaeology during her college career.

I never really thought about what interested me until I actually came face to face with college and the “bigger picture”. I’d always been told I had a knack for drawing and assumed I’d just become an artist, simple as that. But did I really want to be told what to draw for the rest of my life? It was whilst pondering this question, slumped over on my parents’ couch, my mother made the offhand comment. “No, you know what you want to do? You want to be an archeologist. Like Josh Gates.” Josh gates just so happens to be the host of a few shows my mother and I used to love watching together: Destination Truth and Expedition Unknown.

Those words hit me like a sack of brick and all my thoughts came to a halt. Archaeology had never even crossed my mind. I enrolled in an Introduction to Anthropology class. It only fueled my growing curiosity and amazement. After spending almost 19 years filling my head with colors and shapes and lines, I felt as if I knew everything about art, that there was nothing left to teach me. My anthropology class did a complete 360° turn on my knowledge and suddenly I didn’t know anything. Everything was knew and everything amazed me. Now I know that despite common misconception, the cave man never existed and perhaps Homo sapiens did not arrive in the Americas from across the land bridge like I was previously taught in high school.

Next, I hopped right into Archaeology of the Southeast and immediately was intimidated. Everyone in the class seems to know so much more in this area of study, so I felt lost and very behind. Despite this, I wanted the experience and more importantly I wanted to know. I took the opportunity to participate in field work at both the Monastery site and the Sorrel-Weed House.

In Seifert’s Archaeology class, I’m getting to learn a deeper view of how people came to the Americas and how nomadic people developed into groups with diverse languages and complex social structures and evolved into civilizations like there are today. It’s incredible to think about how Pre-Clovis Native Americans created tools out of nothing but chert! Technology was built up from almost virtually nothing. Nothing but rock. Would you be able to have come up with the idea of striking rock to create something that had previously never existed before?

As I’m taking this class, I can’t help but find connections between all my classes that help a general understanding of history fall into place in my mind, instead of it being a jumbled mess of dates and events. I’m coming to understand how humans evolved and how many contributors are involved to get humanity to where it’s at today. Archaeology of the Southeast, Civilization 1, and Art History have all shown me how mind-blowing the development of early language and social structure is, along with upgrading technology and creating art and architecture. Really, it’s all so incredible!

In the field work, I’m getting a chance to rediscover history personally. This class has opened up a whole new set of opportunities. It’s all so very exciting, and there’s still a lot more to learn. History is always changing as archaeologists, anthropologists, and many more continue to ask how, why, when, and where. There’s much in this field of study that is still unknown, and so the people within this field continue to search for the answers.

So many people find history to be boring and not an area of interest that often times archaeology is completely overlooked as a subject, as I had at first. This is really such a shame as in reality this field of study is so important with ongoing projects all over the world. Professor Seifert’s attempts at spreading public awareness locally ought to be applauded and hopefully Digging Savannah will lead to support so one day Savannah will be more involved in archaeological matters, as this city has such a rich history waiting to be rediscovered and explored.

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The Dirt on Archaeology

To celebrate the last day of classes (unless you are an unfortunate soul with Friday classes), we have another student blog post. JC Jones gives us the Dirt on Archaeology.

That’s right we’re talking about the dirt, or more appropriately soil. Specifically the layers of the soil. Its most commonly associated with the passage of time. Different layers in the ground are slowly deposited over time, and eventually this leads to distinct layers. When I was working at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen’s School site, usually the soil was differing shades of gray. It was bland and somewhat disappointing to be honest. In class we heard about how cool stratigraphy could be, and then we finally go out to dig and there is barely any difference.


Test Unit 5 at the Benedictine Monastery and Freedmen’s School showing subtle changes in stratigraphy, or layers of soil and rock.

Then I got the opportunity to participate in a dig at the Sorrel Weed House, and this showed me the second and more useful side to stratigraphy, features! We were working in the carriage house basement, and we had to remove a brick floor to get to the soil layers. Once that was done a major difference in the soil could be seen. Most of the soil was the same color, but to one side of the test pit was a large black semicircle. Basically someone in the past had dug a hole and filled it in again. It’s a fairly simple task, but being able to see that decades later is amazing. Then as we started digging down further, the soil had other changes, and the excavation was done using natural layers. Every dig I’ve ever done has been based on arbitrary levels since there was little variation in the soil, but this was different. These different features and layers had me pondering on how they were created. What did people do to cause this change in the soil, or is this natural? This experience has opened up a whole new area of archaeological investigation to me. I’ll never underappreciate the color of soil again.


Completed test unit at the Sorrel-Weed House, showing more dramatic soil layers and features.

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Dusties: Bottled History

Jake Knudsen combines his love of history with his chosen profession to continue our student series, with his (not late) post, Dusties: Bottled History.

I am a Liberal Studies major with a Theater minor. I currently work in the liquor industry and will be making my career in that industry, so one can definitely wonder how I ended up in an archaeology class. I stumbled across archaeology entirely by accident when taking a class with a teacher I knew I enjoyed from a previous semester. Now I am on my sixth anthropology class and third archaeology class. Since taking these classes, I have been able to view my current career choice in an interesting, archaeological light that has exposed the negative side of bottle trading taking place daily. This really shows some of the incredibly poor ethics within artifact finding.

Let me preface the following statement with this: Being in the liquor industry, I have joined some of these bottle trading groups to keep up with current market trends and to see what the popular selling items are at the moment. There are several groups on Facebook that condone the sale and trade of alcoholic beverages, which is remarkably illegal but is also not allowed on Facebook. I do not buy or sell on any of these groups. That being said, on these websites, I have seen some INCREDIBLE bottles chock full of some incredible history. Commonly referred to as “dusties” these bottles are anywhere from 30 to 130 years old. I have seen bottles that have been recently discontinued and bottles that are pre-prohibition. I have even seen bottles that were from the early era of the George Washington Distillery.

People know that these “dusties” are worth a large amount of money and do not hesitate to sell them or auction them off for high dollar. I’ve seen people trade pre-prohibition bottles for cars. It breaks my heart that an industry full of such rich history also faces same the difficulties and unethical practices historians and archaeologists face on a daily basis, but unfortunately this will be a problem until people all start to take action together. Here are a few resources you can contact if you find bottles or archaeological artifacts that pertain to the liquor industry or if you are searching for information to help prevent the “secondary market trading” and the unethical practices faced worldwide. If you find artifacts that you have questions about, contact the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, also known as DISCUS. DISCUS has been around for 75 years and has one of the largest, most thorough histories of distilled spirits in the United States. You can also contact the Kentucky Distillers Association, also known as the KDA. The staff at the KDA redefines professionalism and respect for all things bourbon and bourbon history and would be able to help with identifying artifacts and potential ground breaking discoveries.

Practice good ethics when you are out in the field. By taking artifacts and pieces of history away from their proper resting place, you have the possibility of leaving holes in the timeline. Practice good ethics and when in doubt, if you are not sure if something important- JUST ASK!

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Reconstructing the Past

Last* in our student series is Ashley Johnston. Ashley reports on her class project, reconstructing ceramic and glass vessels from the sherds found on a site. Here she looks at how techniques have changed over time.

Archaeologists uncover hundreds of thousands of artifacts, and at times these artifacts can be reconstructed to form a complete or semi-complete object. The process of piecing these puzzles back together has changed over the years, as better technology and products were developed, and as procedures changed to preserve the integrity of the item. A handbook from the 1970s is going to include techniques different from a book from the early 2000s or current websites. Determining which sources to consult when conducting research or reconstructing an object can prove to be a challenge.

One example specifically involving ceramics is the type of tape used for temporarily holding the vessels together before gluing the sherds permanently. The 1976 handbook simply says to use tape or a temporary glue, whereas a current website and a 2003 book say to use masking tape. However, masking tape can leave residue on the artifact, while electrical tape can be left on the object longer and not leave residue behind. What about filling in the gaps where sherds are missing? Both the 1976 and 2003 books suggest using plaster to fill in the holes. The website notes that archaeologists do not always find all the pieces for a complete reconstruction but does not say whether or not to complete the object. By leaving the voids in the object it not only adds character to the artifact, but also preserves its integrity.

Currently, in the Anthropology lab at Armstrong, there are two objects under reconstruction, a kerosene lamp from the Benedictine Monastery site, and a teapot on loan from the Savannah History Museum collections found at Old Fort Jackson in 1970s. The best sources to consult when reconstructing historical artifacts are archaeologists and curators who will know the updated procedures and techniques for that particular artifact type.

Sources Consulted:

Ewen, Charles Robin, Artifacts. Vol. 4. Archaeologist’s Toolkit. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2003.

Guldbeck, Per E., The Care of Historical Collections: A Conservation Handbook for the Nonspecialist. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1976.

Intrigue of the Past: Mending pottery.” Learn NC. Accessed April 01, 2017. A resource for K-12 teachers.


 *unless some students turn in late work.
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The Sorrel-Weed House: Reinterpreting Savannah’s Antebellum History

Next in our student series is Kelly Westfield, who is leading our excavations at the Sorrel-Weed House.

The Sorrel-Weed House is a Greek-Revival mansion located at the corner of Harris and Bull Streets in downtown Savannah. The home, which towers over the northwest portion of Madison Square, was built for Francis Sorrel by Charles B. Cluskey and was completed about 1841. As the grandeur of the home suggests, with its three generous stories, multiple verandahs, elaborate ceiling medallions, and copious iron work, it was built for one of Savannah’s elite during a prosperous era in the city’s history, made possible largely by agriculture and slave labor. Francis Sorrel was a wealthy merchant and cotton factor, and like many of his contemporaries, a slave owner. The detached living quarters and former carriage house that sit directly behind the home are a living reminder of this. Built in the stately house’s shadow just a short distance across a narrow garden, the carriage house was likely where many of the home’s former slaves lived and worked.

Desirous of getting some hands-on experience in the field in my Historical Archaeology class this semester, I met with Professor Seifert to discuss possible projects. My interest was timed perfectly; the Sorrel-Weed House staff had just recently approached Professor Seifert about conducting an archaeological study in the basement of the carriage house to uncover the source of a curious depression in the floor. It was decided in January that we would dig one test unit in the basement, and over the course of four weekends between February and March, thanks to the generous help and expertise of my fellow classmates and Professor Seifert, we completed the first official archaeological excavation ever undertaken at the Sorrel-Weed Home. We are currently still processing the artifacts and other data, and a report will be forthcoming in April.

The Sorrel-Weed House currently operates as a “must-see” site in Savannah’s ghost tour industry. In fact—it’s probably better described as the must-see site for paranormal activity, notorious not just in Savannah but in the Southern United States. Sorrel family oral tradition describes tragic events, which are the foundation of the site’s public interpretation programs, are believed to hold the answers to these hauntings, and, it was theorized, to the cause the depression in the carriage house basement floor. As the story goes, Francis Sorrel’s wife was overcome by the grief of her husband’s affair with one of his slaves. In her despair, she took her own life by leaping from the home’s third floor balcony. Her death was followed shortly thereafter by that of the slave, Francis Sorrel’s ‘mistress’, found hung in the upper level of the carriage house, and as it is rumored, not by her own hand. For reasons that can only be guessed at, it was thought that the unfortunate slave was then interred underneath the basement floor.

We were guided by two notions going into this project. First, it was unlikely, and would be nothing short of extraordinary, that we would find human remains. Secondly, this was potentially a great opportunity to learn more about urban slavery in Savannah. As we had predicted, our excavations did not uncover any human remains, but we did discover the cause of the depression: a long, deep, subfloor pit. Our test unit did not run the length of the feature, but we hope to return in an upcoming semester and trowel our way through its remaining portion.

Although we did not find any artifacts to corroborate the tragic oral tradition about the Sorrel family, the story unequivocally illustrates pervasive and profound experiences in Savannah’s past. I would be lying if I said I came to this realization right away; for certain, the allure of the stately home and the sheer opportunity we were given preoccupied me from understanding the bigger picture. No doubt, my experience mirrors that of many visitors to the Sorrel-Weed House. But as I buried myself in research, I realized that even if we did not find any artifacts to corroborate the unfortunate events in the home’s history, the oral tradition and the site’s interpretation program have major implications for several painful realities in Savannah’s history. Sexual exploitation by slave owners, unilateral extramarital affairs, oppressive gender codes, and brutality towards slaves, including what would today be considered murder, were legion in the Antebellum South. These historical realities transcend ghost stories and the mystique of Antebellum mansions, and they are facets of our history that archaeology has the potential to teach us more about.

The Sorrel-Weed House project and the class itself has made me more culturally aware, and by doing so has fulfilled one of the most valuable goals of archaeological studies. More importantly, my experience is one that can occur on a larger level; when projects like ours continue to be undertaken and are open to the public, they have the ability to impart a larger cultural awareness within the community. When I imagine the experiences of the women in the Home’s oral tradition, and think about how I might have managed in their positions, I feel sadness and compassion for them, and the countless others who endured the same circumstances. I also now feel strongly that historians and archaeologists have an ethical responsibility to continue to learn more about these women and other muted groups, and to retell their stories. Future excavations at the Sorrel-Weed House have the potential to do just this. In the meantime, I would like to extend many thanks to Professor Seifert and to the folks at the Sorrel-Weed House for their unremitting hospitality and for seeking us out for archaeological investigations at their site.

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Discovering Dave: Spirit Captured in Clay

We are excited to announce the documentary, Discovering Dave: Spirit Captured in Clay, is coming to Armstrong on January 22 at 6pm. Scrapbook Video Productions and the Savannah River Archaeological Research Program produced this historical documentary film about Dave, a literate slave potter from the Edgefield District of South Carolina. Dave’s pots and jars give us a unique and rare opportunity to learn more about Dave as an individual as well as South Carolina’s Edgefield District potteries. The film has been snapping up awards left and right. Don’t miss it! Our screening will be January 22 at 6pm on the second floor of Armstrong’s Student Union Center. Click here for more detailed information in our press release.

San Diego Film Festival 3

Parking on the Armstrong campus

Parking on the Armstrong campus

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Dr. David Hurst Thomas Archaeology Lecture this Thursday!

November 6
Distinguished archaeologist Dr. David Hurst Thomas will be speaking about his work on St. Catherines Island. Encompassing nearly 40 years of work, Dr. Thomas has excavated Native American sites 5,000 years old through to the 16th century Spanish mission, Santa Catalina de Guale. Bishop Hartmayer will introduce Dr. Thomas and speak about the importance of archaeology and the Spanish mission site. The lecture will take place at Benedictine Military School at 6pm. Many thanks to our co-sponsor, the Catholic Diocese of Savannah.

Dig Sav poster Fall2014_DHT_ad-page001

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ArchaeoBus visit

Huge thanks to the more  than 200 people who stopped by to visit the ArchaeoBus and try our archaeology activities! We also want to thank all of our fabulous volunteers:

  • Rita and Scott for bringing the ArchaeoBus to campus and putting in a long day with the sand gnats.
  • Jonathan McKellar, for having class at the ArchaeoBus
  • Anthropology Club volunteers: Autumn, Casey, Reuben, Jennifer (for organizing volunteers), and especially Richard, who also put in a long day.  Please let me know if I forgot someone!
  • and Leslie, who brought great activities for our littlest archaeologists and got the word out to the home school network.
Archaeologist Rita Elliott talks to Armstrong students before they tour the ArchaeoBus and try hands-on archaeology activities.

Archaeologist Rita Elliott talks to Armstrong students before they tour the ArchaeoBus and try hands-on archaeology activities.

An Armstrong Anthropology Club member instructs young students in an archaeology activity.

An Armstrong Anthropology Club member instructs young students in an archaeology activity.

A home schooled student tries an activity about seeds in archaeology sites.

Young students explore the ArchaeoBus.

Archaeologist Rita Elliott explains Native American artifacts and lifeways to Armstrong students.

Anthropology students try a ceramics puzzle that parallels ways that archaeologists analyze ceramic artifacts.

Armstrong students loved making Native American masks- a craft originally meant for our young home school students!

Even the tiniest archaeologists love the ArchaeoBus!

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