When I literally lived in a high school OR What it’s like to be an archaeologist.

This post is about summer 2011 when I spent three months living in Niles Public High School. I slept in a classroom, ate my meals in the home ec room, showered in the girls locker room, drank in the boys locker room, and partied in the teacher’s lounge. All in all, an enjoyable life experience that few outside of the homeless are able to claim.

Oh look, another bone.
Oh look, another bone.

As an archaeologist at 20BE23 (Fort St. Joseph, to the non-archaeologist) I spent my days typically as follows:

6:30am-7:30am Wake up and shower

7:30-7:50am Eat breakfast and discuss agenda

8am-5pm Dig a perfectly rectangular hole while singing duets with my partner

5:15-5:45pm Shower

6-7pm Dinner

7pm-9pm Lab work

9pm-12am Drinking at the local tavern

12am-12:45am Philosophical debates on the loading dock

1am-6:30am Sleep

Note the abrupt change in soil coloration. Also, these rocks all have 17th century mortar on them.
Note the abrupt change in soil coloration. Also, these rocks all have 17th century mortar on them.

Q: What’s it like to live in a high school?

A: Better than you would think. We had about 6 people per room, which is pretty decent when you take all of the desks out of the room. High ceilings, tile floors, my room had a wall of windows. I ended up in the health teacher’s room which was covered in posters of Derek Jeter for some reason. Any posters that weren’t Derek Jeter were pictures of fetuses getting STDs from their moms (Way to go, slutty moms. You just gave your baby HIV). So those were kinda gross.

The locker room situation was interesting. Most days after we got home from the field, two girls would yell “Raw doggin’ it!” and strip while running down the hallway. Only 4 of the showers were private, and two of those had see-through curtains. It took a little bit of adjusting.

Eating in the home ec room was fine, except the fridges broke basically once a week.

This is what an archaeologist looks like

Q: Did you find any dinosaur bones when you were in the field?

A: *sigh* Those are paleontologists. Archaeologists study the cultural  material remains of the past. We did find some pretty cool stuff, though. Cuff links, jewels, fish hooks, LOTS of beads, wampum, a weapons cache, a fireplace, lead bale seals, LOTS of bones. You get kind of jaded after a while from handling so many bones.

Q: How do you decide where to dig?

A: Archaeologists use surveying equipment to grid out the entire site. At Fort St. Joseph, excavation has been ongoing for many years,  so we have a map of where we’ve dug before. If we found something interesting in a previous year, we often dig right next to it later to see what else is nearby.

Q: How do you dig a hole so rectangular?

A: Science. Actually, we use the Pythagorean theorem, a^2 + b^2 = c^2\!\,. We know that we want our units to be 1m by 2m, and we know the square root of 2 is 1.41. So your sides should be 100 cm by 200 cm, with a hypotenuse of 141 cm dissecting the rectangle.

Mandatory site number tramp stamp
Mandatory site number tramp stamp

Q: So you just…dig until you find stuff?

A: Absolutely not. It is a very precise process. We measure out in arbitrary layers of 10 or 5cm, and we use trowels, not shovels. When we find something, we dig around it until we reach the base of the object. We draw elaborate maps of each layer, noting soil texture, color, and taste (just kidding). We only remove an object if we’ve discovered the base of it. That way we know where it was deposited in the archaeological record.

Okay, enough of the Q&A. Let me tell you a good story. One of the final weeks that we were on site, there was a high school marching band staying in the high school as well. It was basically a nightmare. Band people are some of the weirdest people out there. Case in point: One evening we had returned from the field and were enjoying our pre-dinner showers when the band girls waltzed into the locker room. They all proceeded to strip naked and walk around aimlessly for the next ten minutes.

One of the girls decided she needed to trim her toenails. Instead of sitting (clothed) on a bench and cutting her nails like a normal person, she propped a leg up on the garbage can rim (and we’re talking a 3 feet tall, public bathroom garbage can) and proceeded to trim her nails whilst her bajingo was spread open for the world to see. It was terrifying.

When we weren’t digging or drinking (the two essential tasks of any archaeologist) we were having speed contests with a wheelchair we found in the teacher’s lounge or basketball tournaments in one of the gyms. We also enjoyed many a night having Alex read aloud the romance novels we found in the teacher’s lounge. We developed elaborate sandwich assembly lines so we could crank out lunch crew’s work before we hit the bar each night. All in all, an enjoyable once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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One thought on “When I literally lived in a high school OR What it’s like to be an archaeologist.

  1. Awesome story. For some reason, when I heard that you lived in a high school, I thought of you as some homeless girl staying in the school. I’m a weirdo.

    I’m pretty jealous of your story here, it sounds like you had a pretty awesome time 🙂

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