Dehydration—A Silent Killer

Humans lose an average of 4 to 6 pints (2 to 3 liters) of fluids every day; even in a cool resting position, you will lose about 2 pints (1 liter) of water.

Although anyone can become dehydrated from losing fluids, one group with a greater risk of dehydration according to the Mayo Clinic is:  “People working or exercising outside in hot, humid weather.  When it’s hot and humid, your risk of dehydration and heat illness increases.  That’s because when the air is humid, sweat can’t evaporate and cool you as quickly as it normally does, and this can lead to an increased body temperature and the need for more fluids.”

Most archaeologists probably suffer from some level of dehydration during fieldwork.  When I worked in Illinois, for instance, I didn’t have to urinate at the dig site (where we worked in the sun for 9 hours a day) for the entirety of the first four weeks of the season.  It wasn’t until one Sunday (my day off!) when I was so dizzy and weak that I couldn’t stand up after a particularly hot week in the field at Fort Michilimackinac that I realized how serious dehydration could get.

WebMD has the scoop on the symptoms you need to watch out for:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
  • Sluggishness
  • Fainting

Seek medical care right away if the symptoms develop into the following:

  • Increased or constant vomiting for more than a day
  • Fever over 101°F
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased urine production
  • Weakness

Get to the Hospital Emergency Room immediately if the symptoms progress even further:

  • Fever higher than 103°F
  • Sluggishness (lethargy)
  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest or abdominal pains
  • No urine in the last 12 hours

Not surprisingly, the best cure for dehydration is water.  It’s vitally important that the water be consumed frequently in small amounts rather than in a large amount all at once!  Beyond water, other home solutions for dehydration include:  (1) bland foods like soda crackers, bananas, and flavored gelatins; (2) watery fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe and strawberries; (3) salty foods like pretzels and salted nuts; (4) sports drinks; and (5) ice cubes and popsicles.

John Wiseman, who served in the British Special Air Service for 26 years, provides seven ways to minimize fluid loss in an emergency situation:

  1. “Avoid exertion.  Just rest.”
  2. “Don’t smoke.”
  3. “Keep cool.  Stay in shade.  If there is none erect a cover to provide it.”
  4. “Do not lie on hot ground or heated surfaces.”
  5. “Don’t eat, or eat as little as possible.  If there is no water available fluid will be taken from the vital organs to digest food, further increasing dehydration.  Fat is hardest to digest and takes a lot of fluid to break it down.”
  6. “Never drink alcohol.  This also takes fluid from vital organs to break it down.”
  7. “Don’t talk—and breathe through the nose, not the mouth.”

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

Four Drinks to Keep You Hydrated after a Hard Day in the Sun

Archaeologists like to drink.  Reflecting on our first date, Andy once told me, “Oh, I was really awed when I saw you chugging that handle of Captain [Morgan Original Spiced Rum].  I definitely wasn’t expecting it out of you.  It was impressive, most impressive.”


Scott R. Hutson questions the relationship between archaeologists and their alcohol and begins to examine the “alcoholic grit” that forms a key component of the archaeologist’s identity.

I, however, am not here to question our way of life.  After all, most archaeologists, at one point or another, have used their credit card receipts to retrace their whereabouts for an evening with colleagues!

My goal today is to suggest four multi-purpose drinks that will satisfy your craving for alcohol at the end of a hard fieldwork day but also help to keep you hydrated and healthy!

1.  Malibu Coconut Rum and Pineapple Juice.

This is hands-down my number one choice in and out of the field.  Delightfully simple and delicious, the Malibu Pineapple is an archaeological fieldwork wonder drug.  Highly-hydrating pineapple juice contains potassium, one of the electrolytes lost while sweating during fieldwork; Vitamin C, which helps to prevent scurvy from poor fieldwork diets; and bromelain, which reduces inflammation and helps bruises heal faster—two common fieldwork ailments.


2.  Gin and Tonic.

My PhD advisor swears by Gin and Tonics; we made them almost daily during fieldwork in Illinois.  You need gin, tonic water, and lime juice, plus a lime wedge if you are fancy and tonic water ice cubes if you are going all-out.  Tonic water contains quinine, which fights malaria but has side effects that can lead to internal and external bleeding, as well as permanent kidney damage, if consumed in significant quantities.

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3.  Vodka and Cranberry Juice.

I usually keep it simple and pour equal parts vodka and cranberry juice, but most recipes call for slightly more juice than alcohol.  A good Vodka Cranberry will be finished with a splash of lime juice and a splash of orange juice.  If you want to get a little wild, add a splash of grapefruit juice!  You have to use real cranberry juice to get the benefits:  prevention of urinary tract infections and kidney stones and reduction of dental plaque.


4.  Mint Julep.

The Mint Julep is the most complicated of these cocktails to prepare; it requires four basic ingredients:  Bourbon, mint leaves, water, and sugar.  The Food Network has an awesome recipe for “The Perfect Mint Julep”.  The mint julep traditionally uses spearmint leaves, which can help to relieve fatigue because they contain chemical compounds like menthol, carvone, and limonene.  Spearmint can also help replace the minerals lost while sweating during the workday, such as calcium, manganese, and magnesium.  It is a particularly good source of Vitamin A, potassium, copper, and iron.


Please drink responsibly.

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!”


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!


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!


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.