promoting cultural heritage and conservation

What’s in an Archaeologist’s bag?

archaeology gear APSo what exactly does a field archaeologist look like?

For most people, the term “archaeologist” conjures up the image of a stubbly man wearing a button-down shirt with pockets, chinos, a leather jacket, a wide-brimmed hat, a saddle-bag, a bull-whip, and a holster with revolver.

I’ve been working as a field archaeologist in Italy for going on 20 years now, and my appearance has never corresponded to that image—except for the stubble, which I proudly wear most days, and not out of vanity, but because my facial hair grows very slowly. I confess to having a broad-brimmed hat, a gag gift from a friend, but it’s too heavy to wear in the Mediterranean heat. Forget about a leather jacket. The pistol and bull-whip, as instruments for maintaining discipline among the crew, have been replaced by the threat of a low grade and/or no letter of recommendation for grad school.

What does a typical contemporary field archaeologist working under the Mediterranean summer sun look like? My outfit, which is pretty typical, includes:

  • A slightly tattered polo shirt, symbol of my tortured relationship with bourgeois social conventions, which I respect and despise simultaneously (an attitude I call “archaeo chic”)
  • Cargo pants, which allow me to carry truly ridiculous amounts of stuff on my person
  • Sandals, which keep my feet from smelling any worse than they really need to
  • Reinforced work boots, which keep my toes from getting any more crushed than they really need to be
  • A backpack, symbol of my lifelong dedication to scholarly pursuits (or my inability to grow up and get a real job, depending on one’s point of view)

Curious about the cargos?

  • Loose change for buying coffee during the day (I don’t make brilliant discoveries without caffeine)
  • Chewing gum with xylitol (I don’t make brilliant discoveries when distracted by food particles in my mouth or bad breath)
  • A packet of heavy-duty tissues (I don’t make brilliant discoveries with a stuffed up nose)
  • Polarized Ray-Ban sunglasses (I don’t make brilliant discoveries in blinding sunlight)
  • The key to the lock on the equipment shed (no one makes brilliant discoveries—or any discoveries, period—without access to tools)
  • Two cell phones: an iPhone 3GS that keeps me connected to the world (and my sanity), and a bare-bones model that keeps me connected to colleagues and students (and rings continuously…)
  • A mini Swiss Army Knife, for defense against irate colleagues and students

Double-strapping the backpack:

  • Clipboard with pen
  • Water bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Baseball cap
  • Trowel
  • Cut-proof work gloves
  • Reserve pen
  • Bottle of non-aspirin painkillers
  • Asthma inhaler
  • Hand-sanitizing lotion
  • Reserve packet of heavy-duty tissues
  • Digital camera for capturing what used to be known as “Kodak moments”
  • Pocket flashlight for exploring the many underground spaces of Ostia Antica

Possible addition to next year’s gear list: a hip-flask. I suspect that I might make more brilliant discoveries with one. At the least, I won’t notice the phone ringing so much…

~A.P.

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One response

  1. What type of pack do you use? I’m getting my masters in archaeology and plan on being a professional archaeologist. I’d like to invest in a good pack, but don’t know where to start.

    June 19, 2013 at 8:39 pm

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