Every Archaeologist’s Pocket Needs This

I’m sure every archaeologist would have a different answer if asked what they could absolutely not go into the field without.

My fieldwork essential is very small and lightweight.  Just 2.5 inches long and weighing in at 1.8 ounces, it is made of heat-treated, high carbon 420 stainless steel.


My Leatherman micra was a gift from my Dad when I started doing archaeology.  With 10 tools in 1 tiny package, the Leatherman micra can’t be beat in the field.


(1) Knife – crafted from corrosion-resistant, high-carbon stainless steel, the knife is super sharp.  It is very useful, for example, in cutting rolls of plastic to reinforce your sandbag berm protecting your site.


(5) Nail cleaner AND (8) Nail file – Let’s get real:  every archaeologist needs these in the field!  Nails break on a semi-daily basis, and there is always, always, always dirt underneath our fingernails.  It’s just the nature of the job, and most of us conveniently forget our manicure kits at home.

(9) Medium screwdriver – Do you use a laser level at your site to take your depth measurements?  If you do, then this screwdriver comes in handy every time you have to change those pesky batteries – both on the laser unit and especially on the remote!

(4) Ruler (4.7 inches/12 centimeters) – This precise measuring guide is a perfect scale for photographing artifacts in the field.  You can use a fancy scale once you get back to the photo lab.


(2) Spring-action Scissors – The scissors are best for cutting light materials.  I typically use them for cutting the string when I am stringing out my squares, for cutting flagging tape to tie around marker posts, or for cutting electrical tape to mark intervals on a geophysical guide rope.

(6) Tweezers – They are perfect for removing slivers in the field, which seem to happen far more frequently than we’d prefer.  They’re also useful for picking up tiny artifacts from your window screen!


(10) Extra-small screwdriver – Designed for extra-small screws, such as eyeglass screws, this is one of the less-frequently used tools on my Leatherman.  However, it’s a lifesaver when the screw on my sunglasses comes loose, saving me from the ocular hazards of eight hours in the blazing sunlight!

(7) Bottle opener – We all know that archaeologists need our beer.  With your Leatherman micra, you’ll never be caught without a bottle opener for those caps that don’t twist off, saving yourself time and energy!

(3) Flat/Phillips Screwdriver

Not only does the key ring attachment make it easy to keep your Leatherman micra handy, but in a pinch, a string can be tied to the split ring loop to create a make-shift plumb bob!

Perhaps the most important function of the Leatherman micra in the field is at 3:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays when the scissors are responsible for the success of my crew’s “popsicle break.”

The Best Vehicle for Archaeological Fieldwork

Some have called it “futuristic” in design; others think it’s “ugly.”  Personally, I think if you tilt your head and look at it just right, it looks like an alligator’s head.

But beauty is only skin deep.


Underneath its controversial exterior, the Pontiac Aztek – “Quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet” – is amazingly suited for archaeological fieldwork, and I’m not the only person who loves this car.

The Anti-lock Braking System:  4-Wheel ABS is vital for traversing over sand – and making those quick stops when another vehicle happens to round a blind corner at the same moment you do.


The Moon Roof is perfect for snuggling up to look at the stars on a chilly field night.

The Ground Clearance is 7.20 inches, which doesn’t seem like a lot but is high enough to wade through a flooded campsite that completely demobilizes any vehicle that’s not a truck.

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The Aztek has great passenger volume (105.10 cubic feet); five people will fit comfortably with seat belts!  And it has awesome cargo volume (45.40 cubic feet)!  The Aztek will fit an incredible amount of luggage, which is important if you are stuck hauling the field gear plus your own equipment to and from the field.  If you’re responsible for a trailer full of equipment, plus artifacts and your own gear, the Aztek has you covered with 2000 pounds of standard towing capacity!


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The rear hatch lifts up and the gate pulls down to reveal two seats and two cupholders.  These pair nicely with the mini-cooler that serves as the center console up front – perfect for storing your emergency drinks and snacks!


It’s perfectly designed for watching a fireworks show at the end of the work week.  Or opting to just snuggle up inside the cargo area for a drive-in movie double feature!


To top it all off, the Aztek has an 18-gallon fuel tank, with a City fuel economy of 18 miles/gallon and a Highway fuel economy of 24 miles/gallon.

Plus, the Aztek came with the option of a camping package add-on with an attachable tent and an inflatable mattress, which turns your car into a camper!  I never added the camping package, but I imagine it would be awesome for fieldwork, especially long survey projects.  Your tent travels with you along the survey route!

Finally, the icing on the cake is that the car’s name is loosely inspired by the 15th-century and early 16th-century Aztec empire, centered in Tenochtitlan in Mesoamerica.


My faithful Aztek accompanied me on four exciting seasons of archaeological fieldwork, proving its worth over 44 weeks of harsh sun, wind, rain, and lots and lots of dirt.  Unfortunately, Pontiac stopped making them in 2005, so make sure you get one before Azteks go the way of the Aztec empire!