One Important Blood Test Every Archaeologist Needs

Studies show that over 30% of Americans may not have sufficient levels of Vitamin D.

The United States may be suffering from an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency, whose symptoms range from subtle bone pain and muscle weakness to serious cardiovascular issues, cognitive impairment, and cancer; low Vitamin D can increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and multiple sclerosis.

Luckily, 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a few times a week should be enough for our bodies to manufacture sufficient Vitamin D.  So, as archaeologists who spend thousands of hours in the sun over our lifetimes, we have nothing to worry about, right?

Not necessarily.  We can’t assume that just because we work outside that our bodies are manufacturing and absorbing Vitamin D effectively.

The first time I had my Vitamin D tested was in August 2010, after I had spent about 360 hours in the sun doing fieldwork for the summer.  Two-thirds of those hours had been in Havana, Illinois, situated at 40.3° N, which has a UV index of about 8.5 in June, which is a “Very High” level of UV radiation.

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When the doctor suggested I might be low in Vitamin D, I thought that was a ludicrous suggestion, but I thought the test couldn’t hurt.  It turned out that after all that sunshine, my Vitamin D level was barely adequate according to the most forgiving scale.  My Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] level was 21 ng/mL.  That level is well within the “deficient” range according to most testing laboratories and the Vitamin D Council and barely better than “deficient” according to the Endocrine Society.  I was baffled; how could this be?

Table 1: Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] Concentrations and Health*
nmol/L** ng/mL* Health status
<30 <12 Associated with vitamin D deficiency, leading to rickets in infants and children and osteomalacia in adults
30–50 12–20 Generally considered inadequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals
≥50 ≥20 Generally considered adequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals
>125 >50 Emerging evidence links potential adverse effects to such high levels, particularly >150 nmol/L (>60 ng/mL)

* Serum concentrations of 25(OH)D are reported in both nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) and nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).
** 1 nmol/L = 0.4 ng/mL

Vitamin D 25(OH)D range guidelines from various organizations:
Vitamin D Council Endocrine Society Food and Nutrition Board Testing Laboratories
Deficient 0-30 ng/ml 0-20 ng/ml 0-11 ng/ml 0-31 ng/ml
Insufficient 31-39 ng/ml 21-29 ng/ml 12-20 ng/ml
Sufficient 40-80 ng/ml 30-100 ng/ml >20 ng/ml 32-100 ng/ml
Toxic >150 ng/ml

Being a scientist, I decided to conduct an empirical test to determine the effects of my work in the sun on my Vitamin D levels.  In 2011, I had my Vitamin D tested in May, after nine months of graduate school studies in the library.  My Vitamin D level was on the verge of dangerously low:  a mere 15 ng/mL.  I then proceeded to spend about 440 hours doing fieldwork in the sun in Mackinaw City, situated at 45.8° N, which has a UV index averaging around a 7, which is still in the “High” range, for the months of June, July, and August.  After all that sunshine, my Vitamin D was still only 24 ng/mL.

So, it turned out that my fieldwork in the sun did have an impact on my Vitamin D levels, and a significant impact at that!  But it still wasn’t enough to raise my Vitamin D levels to a healthy range.

Since then, I try to take a 1000 IU Vitamin D supplement daily.  Vitamin D can be difficult to get from food, but fish is one of the best sources, especially salmon, mackerel, and tuna!  Other foods rich in Vitamin D include fortified cereals, oysters, eggs, salami, and mushrooms.

But remember, always consult your own health care professional for your individual health questions and concerns!

The Best Field Beer that You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Archaeological fieldwork doesn’t always happen in the most comfortable conditions.  It’s not unusual to be on a project in the middle of nowhere, living in a cabin without power or running water, with 15 sweaty strangers in 100° F weather.  You might have to take a boat to the mainland once a week for groceries and a gas station shower, or you might have to take a boat every day to get out of your cabin and to the site.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the first question on this flowchart about creature comforts and happiness in the field is about alcohol.

Do you have beer?  If the answer is “yes,” then “you will endure all other deprivations with relative equanimity!”

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Unfortunately, you might be tempted to answer “no” if it is 100° F and there is no refrigerator space available for alcohol.  If so, that’s because you have never heard of Lionshead Beer, the best field beer around!

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Heralding from the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Lionshead Deluxe Pilsner “is a classic Standard American Lager Crisp, clean and slightly dry with some residual sweetness.”

I discovered Lionshead in 2009, when I was working in Pennsylvania excavating at the home of the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Frederick Muhlenberg.   Thankfully, some co-workers were from the area and knew to bring Lionshead.

I was instantly smitten.  At 4.5% ABV, a bottle of Lionshead is cheap and refreshing, with just the right hint of sweetness, at the end of a long, hot workday.  To top everything off, Lion Brewery developed the genius puzzle cap.  Every bottle cap has a rebus puzzle underneath, designed to keep its drinkers entertained for hours.  Try your hand at some of them!

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However, it wasn’t until I worked at the Morton Village Site in Havana, Illinois, in 2010 that I realized the true glory of Lionshead beer for the field archaeologist.  Some friends had brought me a case of Lionshead when they came to visit before I began my fieldwork that summer, so I brought it with me down to Illinois.  Upon arrival, we realized that we did not have enough refrigerator space for most of our alcohol, and so it was stored at room temperature.  Room temperature is not ideal for any beer, especially not in west-central Illinois, where the late May and June temperatures averaged in the mid-90s (°F).  Essentially, we were drinking warm beer, which is the worst after spending all day sizzling in the sun.  Except, it wasn’t!  The Lionshead was even more delicious when it was warm!

Unfortunately for most archaeologists, Lionshead can only be purchased in the following states:  Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.  If you find yourself working in those states, make sure you check it out!

Please drink responsibly.

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Life Isn’t Fair when You’re a Woman in Archaeology

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When asked to draw and describe “an archaeologist,” Dr. Susan Renoe (2003) discovered that students typically draw a white man either a la Indiana Jones or crazed scientist like that seen above.

My parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up – a doctor, a lawyer, even the president of the United States.  What they didn’t think they needed to tell me in the 1990s and 2000s was that I would have to work twice as hard as the men in my field to get where I wanted to be.

You can see the statistics about the numbers of women in archaeology:  according to the 1994 census completed by the Society for American Archaeology, 64% of professional archaeologists are men, and 36% of professional archaeologists are women.

You can read the tales of other women in archaeology:  in a conference roundtable of the American Anthropological Association, Dr. Sarah L. Surface-Evans and Dr. Misty Jackson heard “stories of how members of the public assumed that they were not ‘in charge’ of a field project that they were, in fact, running.  Visitors would walk right past the woman directing the project, and ask questions of males in the group, particularly if the male appeared older than the average field crew member, because the visitor was looking for the ‘project leader.’”

But nothing prepares you for the shock when you encounter discrimination against female archaeologists firsthand.

“You can’t be an archaeologist – archaeologists aren’t pretty.”

Or so said a man on a dating website who was trying to flirt with me.  Dude, I would rather you take an interest in me for my brain than for my body.

“Long hair and big boobs?  Real archaeologists don’t look like that.”

Or so said a male professor of archaeology whose class I subsequently decided to drop.  Professor, “real” archaeologists come in all shapes and sizes; what matters are their skills.

“Look at those hands – you better let me use the shovel because you’ve clearly never done a day of manual labor in your life.”

Or so said a male amateur archaeologist on whose projects I will never step foot again.  Sir, I can wield a shovel, haul full buckets, and push a wheelbarrow as well as any member of my crew; I just happen to be a student for the other two-thirds of the year.

It’s not easy to be a woman in the “Old White Boys’ Club” of archaeology.  I have been picked on by peers, made to prove my worth to superiors, and disrespected by members of the non-archaeological public – all because I am a woman instead of a man.

But for every time I have wanted to give up, I look to my mentors – my mom who was a woman in archaeology when it was far harder than it is today, my advisor who leads the premiere program in Great Lakes archaeology, and my boss who runs the longest continuously ongoing archaeological excavation in the United States.  These women made it in a man’s world, and so can we.  It’s our job to make this world a little fairer for the next generation of women in archaeology.

women in archaeology

The Best Burger in Michigan?

“I have the simplest tastes.  I am always satisfied with the best.”  ~Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

 

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I consider myself a burger enthusiast, so when I saw the Top 10 List of Michigan Burgers for 2013, I was a little skeptical that my favorite burger in the world wasn’t at the top of the list.  So I had to find out for myself.

Laura’s Little Burger Joint is located in a small building on the side of M-51 in Decatur, Michigan.  If you blink, you’re going to miss it.  Be aware:  if you’re using a GPS to find Laura’s, the GPS will locate the address a bit further west than the restaurant is actually located!

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There are three picnic tables on the patio in front of the window where you can choose to “dine in.”  If you visit in the fall, be sure to bring a sweater because it gets a little chilly eating outdoors.

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The folks are friendly – both those operating the establishment and those partaking in the delicious food!  A couple of gentlemen tried to convince my friend and me to try The Chapman burger as we walked up when it was clear from my picture-taking that it was our first time.  They didn’t have to twist our arms very hard!

Of course, Laura’s features a variety of burgers for the satisfaction of all taste buds, but I had my eyes on the prize.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Chapman.  For less than $10, it was a dream come true – two half-pound patties, piled with bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, grilled onions, covered with two bold slices of pepperjack cheese (plus fries!).  The meat is juicy from start to finish, and all the flavors melt in your mouth.

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It came out steaming hot, but if you let it cool off for two to five minutes before you dig in, it’s just the perfect temperature; it’s less likely to fall apart on you, and you never have to put it down.  No matter how hard you try, however, you’re going to get messy.  We found that it helps to turn the burger upside down if you start to get overwhelmed!

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The “icing on the cake” is that each picnic table has a marker next to the condiments.  Patrons are encouraged to leave (appropriate) messages all over the tables.  It’s as much fun to see who else has sat in your seat eating a burger as it is to write your own message!

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The moral of the story?  I can’t yet say if The Chapman at Laura’s Little Burger Joint is the best burger in all of Michigan.  I can say that it was delicious and well worth the trip!  So what are you waiting for?!  Go get one!  They’re only open April through November!

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