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Archaeology Ain’t Always Glamorous

Hey Xplorers!

We hope you all had a LAB-TASTIC Labor Day weekend! (Alright alright, we’ll stop — for real this time.) But seriously, we hope you were able to have a restful long weekend. Whether you stayed home in bed reading our newest blog post or decided to read it from a lounge chair on the beach instead, we’re confident you learned a lot about genealogy from our fabulous experts, Emma and Margaret. And just on the extreme off-chance you actually haven’t read it yet, we’ll leave this link right here for ya.

But maybe you, like many of us, are feeling a little dazed from the long weekend. (Rolling out of bed Tuesday morning was ROUGH!) So, this week, for your sake and ours, we’ve decided to take it easy, loosen up, and have a few laughs.

Get a bunch of archaeologists together, and you know we're having a good time!

And believe us, the laughs are plenty around here. As you can imagine, when you work for a company who’s bread and butter is going outside and digging in the dirt, things can get a little … messy — literally. Our archaeologists all have their own favorite stories about the dirty, weird, fascinating, silly, and downright crazy things that happen in the field, and we thought we’d share just a couple of those with you today. Grab your shovels, kids, because we’re taking you to some far out places — a goat farm in Florida, for one, and a crazy, creepy forest, for another. Let’s get going!

Sometimes, to be an Archaeologist, You Have to be a Goat Wrangler

Excuse me, what?

If your first reaction to reading that section header was along those lines, welcome to the club! You see, when our archaeologists started out in their careers, they expected dirt and sweat. They were down for hot sun and cold rain. They knew they were in for long days and sore muscles.

At least, our favorite Archaeologist/Historian/Lead Technical Report Writer/Proposal Coordinator/#Queen Sharlene O’Donnell was ready for all that. She’d been volunteering on historical and archaeological projects since she was just a kid! (Literally — she started volunteering at just 16 years old.) That’s why, after she’d finished school, she was more than ready to grab her shovel and get to work.

Imagine it — travel, work she was passionate about, adventure, learning, real contribution to the beautiful world of archaeology — it was a dream come true! That is … until the goats showed up.

You see, Sharlene and the rest of her crew were working near a big farm. The local farmer kept livestock in pastures nearby. Sharlene, having grown up on a farm, was even more comfortable with the critters than most — she’s always happy to play with any new critters who may be close by! — so she wasn’t too worried about working near a big flock of goats.

But here’s the thing: Archaeology requires a lot of equipment, and equipment and animals don’t always mix. Among the pieces of equipment you’ll always find at dig sites are shaker boxes. (You can see a picture of one to the right!) Shaker boxes are these shallow boxes archaeologists use to sift through soil samples for artifacts. As you can imagine, it’s important that the archaeologists are the ones doing they shaking — they have to pay close attention so they can recover any cultural materials, right? But in situations like this one, sometimes the animals have other ideas.

By now, you can probably see where we’re going with this. During this particular dig, the goats decided to have a little fun. Yup — one of them in particular, a big male with huge horns, got into the shaker boxes and started moving things around and even trying to ram into the field technicians. It quickly became clear that someone would have to supervise them. And of course, the best candidate turned out to be Sharlene. So, rather than spend the day working in the field with her crew mates recovering artifacts, poor Sharlene found herself holding back the silly goat by his horns.

Sometimes, archaeology can get a little hairy. What can we say?

And Sometimes, Things Get a Little … Tangled

Goat-wrangling is definitely not on any job description for archaeologist positions, but it’s still all too easy to get tangled up during normal field work! Our own Emma Pepperman knows that all too well…

Louisiana swamps can be tough to wade through!

Back in the summer of 2019, when she was just a baby archaeologist, Emma went out on a dig in a Louisiana sugarcane field. We can almost feel the sweat dripping down just thinking about it! It was hot, it was humid, and things were about to get a little sticky.

The first four days of the survey went pretty well. Emma and her fellow crewmates went about their jobs, digging out shovel tests every 30 meters like usual — no big deal. But on day five — the final day — the team came upon huge, thick briars — obstacle number one. We’re not talking about a few vines here — we’re talking about a tough, sharp, dense, 5-feet-high, 3-feet-wide wall of them. The team stopped to confer for a moment, unsure of the best way to conquer this obstacle, but eventually, they decided that the only way out was through. They waded in, but of course, Emma chose that day to wear a brand new rain jacket to protect her skin from the sun and the sugarcane blades, and, naturally, it got caught.

It wasn’t easy, but Emma eventually pulled herself through, only a little worse for the wear. Obstacle number one — conquered!

Imagine meeting this guy in the woods!

Then came obstacle number two — the spider webs. The further Emma waded into the moderately dense woods through which they were digging, the bigger the spiders seemed to get. Remember that scene from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Harry and Ron wander into the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts and met Hagrid’s pet ginormous spider, Aragog? That’s pretty much what it felt like! The spiders started out the size of a penny or a nickel, then a quarter, then about the size of an airpods case, then finally bigger than tea bags — which was all gross enough, and then one of them decided to jump right onto Emma’s chest!


To make matters EVEN WORSE, Emma, in her rush to brush the spider away, squished it — you guessed it — all over that new rain jacket. AS IF HUGE SPIDERS WEREN’T ENOUGH, NOW SHE HAD SPIDER GUTS ALL OVER HER.

We don’t know about you, but we think that sounds horrifying. Nevertheless, our fearless Emma soldiered on, and she kept wading through dozens and dozens of spiderwebs right through to the end of the survey. Obstacle two — sort of conquered.

But wait — there’s more!

At long last, the field work portion of the project had come to an end — the only thing left was to pack up and go home. The Field Director had offered to walk through and pick everybody up so they could talk out of the woods together, and in the meantime, orders were to stay put. Emma, cleverly, thought to herself, “I’ll find a nice, open space very nearby, just to avoid having spiders crawling up my back.” That’s when she wandered into obstacle number three.

Emma wandered into a shallow clearing with no plants growing inside it. In fairness, it seemed like a perfectly nice place to wait! The only weird thing was this thin red ribbon… the place seemed to be labeled. “Hmm, that’s strange,” thought Emma. Oh well, it’ll only be a little while.

Eventually the Field Director and two other crew members arrived, and their first question was, “Um, Emma? Why are you waiting in a boar’s pit?”

That’s right. Emma had wandered right into a wild boar’s home! Thankfully, the Field Director showed up before the inhabitants came back, so… obstacle three — sort of averted.

At this point, the team was so close to the finish line — but they weren’t out of the woods yet. Finally the Field Director rounded up the whole crew and they began trekking back altogether, all the while using a shovel to clear the spiderwebs in the way. Now, keep in mind — here we’ve got a bunch of sweaty people walking through swampy Louisiana — you can imagine what that must have smelled like. But suddenly, the Field Director’s practiced nose picked up on a distinctive musty scent.

“Do you smell that musty smell?”

“Isn’t it just the swamp?”

“No, that’s the smell of a rattlesnake den.”


Thankfully the Field Director was there to usher everybody safely past obstacle four, possibly the scariest of all! But WOW what a day to remember!

Archaeology — Always Interesting, Never Boring

As you can probably tell, archaeology can get pretty exciting! When you’re outside in nature dealing with all the creatures and critters who live out there, it’s easy to wander into chaos! But with positive attitudes, archaeologists can accomplish anything.

Do you have your own funny archaeology story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you! And rest assured, we’ll be back with more of these wild, crazy stories in the near future. Until then, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Until next time, keep learning, and please, don’t go wandering past rattlesnake dens!

— The TerraX Team


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