Questions for Kate Larson

Photo of LarsonDuring May and June of 2006, Kate Larson, answered questions about archaeology at the Omrit dig site in Israel. Learn more about Kate Larson's studies.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

What's an average day at the dig site like?

posted on Fri, 05/19/2006 - 10:15am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

My day begins with a 4:30am wakeup call - the first thing I do is make coffee! We reach the site, which is about 2 km from the kibbutz, around sunrise at 5:30. We work pretty steadily until 8:30, and then take a half hour break for breakfast, which is brought out to us along with fresh water. By 9:00, the sun gets pretty warm, and by noon it's too hot to work, so we pack up and head back. The type of work at the site ranges from moving big, heavy rocks and clearing brush to drawing scale models of an area and taking elevations. People are usually unprepared for the level of manual labor involved.

After returning to the kibbutz, we scrub clean all the pottery we've found that day. My afternoons generally consist of napping(!) and keeping records and forms of the activities of my square that day, the things we found, and planning for the next day of work.

posted on Sun, 05/21/2006 - 9:00am
bryan kennedy's picture

Do you have to speak Hebrew when you are working on the dig in Israel? Are most of the team Israeli?

posted on Fri, 05/19/2006 - 12:21pm
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

Thank goodness almost everyone in Israel speaks English, because my Hebrew is limited to about 8 words, and I can't read it at all. (Hebrew uses a alphabet unrelated to the English, and is read right to left.) The forms we use to document things are provided by the Israeli Antiquities Authority and are in Hebrew, so I need a 'cheat sheet' to know what they mean. In spoken language, I've found that willingness to communicate and humility about not speaking a common fluent language will get me pretty far, and if all else fails, a smile and hand motions can get a point across.

The significant majority of our team is American, and students at Macalester College. We do have a representative of the IAA on site most of the time, and our ceramicist is also Israeli. Occasionally, we'll bring in some local workers to haul heavy stones or do special projects we don't have the expertise or equipment for.

posted on Sun, 05/21/2006 - 9:12am
Kyle's picture
Kyle says:

how does the war in Iraq effect your life in Israel, and if so, what are your feelings about the situation? this is important please answer.
thanks, kyle-17

posted on Fri, 05/19/2006 - 2:04pm
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

The war in Iraq is has much less impact on traveling in Israel than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israelis are overall very open to other nationalities, probably because so many of them are native to other countries. The anti-American sentiment which has affected travel to other parts of the world is also less pronounced here.

As for the conflict, it also has little effect on our daily life. Here in the north, we're very far removed from contested areas such as Gaza and the West Bank.

posted on Sun, 05/21/2006 - 9:21am
tom and Danny's picture
tom and Danny says:

What do you have to do to become an archaeologist

posted on Tue, 05/23/2006 - 12:42pm
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

Like most careers which are fairly academic in nature, archaeology usually requires at least a Master's degree, and frequently a PhD - so plan on a lot of school! If you're just getting started on a career path (no matter how old you are), begin by enrolling in a field school. A field school will teach you basic archaeological methods and skills, as well as give you the chance to literally 'get your hands dirty.'

Archaeology is very interdisciplinary - you have to know a lot about a lot of different subjects. In college, take a lot of anthropology, geology, history, art, and so on. Decide which aspect you like best, and go from there!

posted on Sat, 05/27/2006 - 7:14am
Katie's picture
Katie says:

Which tools do you use most to excavate artifacts?

posted on Tue, 05/23/2006 - 12:46pm
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

Katie, what a fun question! Probably the single most useful tool is a mason's trowel, which is basically a flat metal triangle about 5x3 inches. The tip is great for knocking impacted dirt loose, and the flat side works well to sweep it away. Most people on our site have trowel holsters they wear on their belts to make sure their tool is always at the ready.

Other things I use daily include: pickaxes, shovels and hoes, patishes (kindof like a rock hammer), brushes, dustpans, tape measures, levels, a plumb bob (a weight tied to a string to get a straight vertical line), graph paper, and nail and tooth brushes (for cleaning the things we find). I get pretty bizarre looks at the hardware store with this seemingly random assortment of supplies.

posted on Sat, 05/27/2006 - 7:23am
Luke's picture
Luke says:

What kind of artifacts would be considered a "big find"? Are you finding lots of pottery shards and looking for more descriptive artifacts or is it usually dirt at this point?

posted on Sun, 05/28/2006 - 2:14pm
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

Ah, another good question. A lot of what constitutes a 'big find' depends upon the type of site you're working at. Omrit is a very architecturally rich and focused site; we get excited about things like basalt floors and column drums. Personally, I prefer the material culture kinds of artifacts, like pottery, metal, and glass. Most things are pretty fragmentary (like you suggest, pottery sherds are very prevalent and used to help date the area being excavated), so whenever anything is found intact, it's a pretty big deal.

I'd say that the most exciting thing to find, apart from a complete or intact artifact, are things that help to better date and define the area you're working in. Coins are great, because Roman coins were minted with the face and name of the current emperor, so they can narrow down a date range of use pretty exactly. The other really lucky thing to find is an inscription. We're still keeping our fingers crossed for one that specifies the dedication of the temple!

posted on Thu, 06/01/2006 - 9:24am
Maggie's picture
Maggie says:

How do you protect the site from destruction from pests like rodents and other animals of the desert?

Also, what do you do with the things you dig up? Whose are they? Do they go to America with you, or stay in Israel, or go somewhere else? Can you keep any as souveniers or gifts for your friends?

posted on Mon, 06/05/2006 - 3:27pm
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

Pests and other animals are less of a concern for destroying a site like Omrit than natural forces like sun and rain. Once we unconver something like a plastered or painted surface, or intricately carved block, we're exposing it to the elements it's been protected from under the earth for two thousand years. At the end of the field season, we'll put sandbags and tarps along areas we think might be vulnerable to exposure and hope for the best.

Everything we find, no matter how big or valuable, belongs to the government and people of Israel. For the most part, we have pretty good control of how we choose to clean, catalogue, and store our artifacts, but we can't remove them from Israel except by special arrangement such as a display for a museum. It's important that we keep and preserve everything so that people 50 or 100 years from now can appreciate it and enjoy it as much as we do! While it often feels like a treasure hunt, all our artifacts are very carefully recorded and maintained so they can be available for research for the scientists of the future. We have to do our souvenier shopping in local markets instead.

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 8:15am
Meghan's picture
Meghan says:

How hard is it to become an aarcheologist? And how long does it take?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:27am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

It depends a lot on what kind of archaeologist you want to be. People who do research archaeology for a living have a lot of education, both in school and in the field, which takes several years. But all digs need people to help out with the grunt work and the basic cataloguing, which almost anyone can do. Most people (like me) start out at the bottom either paying or volunteering for a field school. Eventually you can work your way up through the system, aquiring all the skills and knowledge you need to be the person running the show.

posted on Sat, 06/24/2006 - 1:35pm
Mrs. Weyer's student's picture
Mrs. Weyer's student says:

What is the most common thing you find when you are on an archeology dig and where do you store it?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:30am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

We find a lot of old, broken pottery sherds. The first thing I do when I get out to the field everyday is set up and tag my daily pottery bucket. On average, by the end of the day, it will be over half full. Fortunately for us, pottery is a great thing to find because it's pretty easy to date, which in turn tells us the age of everything else in that area.

Everything we find is kept in Israel, either by the Israeli Antiquities Authority in their facilities or at the kibbutz where we stay. We have several buildings there which we use for storage, including a bomb shelter, an old bathroom, and a large metal shed.

posted on Sat, 06/24/2006 - 1:46pm
The Tremendous Trio's picture
The Tremendous Trio says:

How many observations must happen before an artifact can be placed in an archeology museum? And can you ever keep your favorites?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:36am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

Every museum has its own policies on how, when, and why they take artifacts into their collections; at the Science Museum, we have a committee that decides whether or not to accession items (see for more information on how SMM does this). If you're asking about research done on an artifact before its displayed, usually it's up to the curator of the museum to guarantee the labels and information presented is as accurate as possible. And, of course, part of the reason we keep things in museums is for other scientists to look at them and learn more!

posted on Sat, 06/24/2006 - 2:00pm
Meg's picture
Meg says:

When did you decide you wanted to become an archeologist? Did you have other career plans before?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:42am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

I'm in the pretty early stages of my career, so it was only about 3 years ago that I got into archaeology and realized that it was a real job, and there was a definate market out there for budding archaeologists. I'd always been fascinated by the idea of finding something underground that hadn't been seen for thousands of years. I liked to imagine what people's lives were like a long time ago and think about how they were different and the same as we are now. After I took a class about it and talked to a couple of my teachers, archaeology seemed like a pretty exciting - and possible - career. And it has been!

posted on Sat, 06/24/2006 - 2:13pm
K.M.H.'s picture
K.M.H. says:

Do you eat native food or did your group bring food from the United States?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:42am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

The kibbutz provides us with three large, nutritious and hearty meals a day. The food is pretty basic for the most part - lots of white bread, chicken, cheese, rice, tomatoes and cucumbers, and peanut butter, alongside more Mediterranean dishes such as humus, pita bread, and olives. Every so often something strange comes out of the kitchen, however. The topper so far has been hardboiled eggs in spaghetti sauce. That was pretty gross. Some people brought snacks like granola bars and Instant Breakfast, but almost anything you might want in the United States can be found here as well.

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 8:20am
Katie Marie's picture
Katie Marie says:

Do native archeologists work with you on the dig?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:47am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

For the most part, no. We have a few people from the Israeli Antiquities Authority who are closely involved, and often stop by to see how we're doing and what we've found. Because our site is directly run through a college, the focus is on educating students about archaeological techniques and methods.

This certainly doesn't mean that people here in Israel don't know what we're doing, however. We're happy to give tours to whomever might be driving by the site and comes up to check out what's going on. People who live in the area know when we're here and make sure to come by two or three times during the season to check our progress.

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 8:24am
Thomas B.'s picture
Thomas B. says:

At which strata do you find the most artifacts?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:50am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

Thomas, the short answer is all of them and none of them. You never quite know what to expect - just this morning, I was working in an area which had been partially excavated by a group last season, and found an intact clay vial just centimeters from where they had been working, and they never knew! Archaeology is often funny like that.

The long answer is that it depends largely on the nature of the strata, or layer, of material. Our site has been occupied on and off for over two thousand years by people like the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Crusaders, and they all leave artifacts behind. Because this is primarily a Roman site, we do find the most Roman material, generally at the lowest levels of excavation immediately above a distinct surface like foundation bedrock or a floor. This means we have to go through a LOT of dirt and rocks to get to the good stuff. And there's no guarantee that the good stuff will even be there.

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 8:42am
Elizibeth-04's picture
Elizibeth-04 says:

How long will this dig be? Do you plan to go on any more digs?

posted on Thu, 06/08/2006 - 8:51am
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

The Omrit excavation lasts for 5 weeks, which is actually pretty short for a field season; most of them run 6-8 weeks. They're pretty brief for several reasons. First, fieldwork is an expensive undertaking (imagine feeding 40 hungry people who work outside all day!). Second, the weather in Israel easily reaches over 100 degrees in late June, July and August, which is dangerous to work in. Third, and most importantly, the amount of data and information recovered from the site in one month takes much longer to process, research, publish, and plan for the next round. The professionals on this site spend all winter going over what we are doing right now, trying to figure out what it means.

No more digs for me this summer - I get to come back to my job at the Science Museum! But I certainly plan to be involved in this and other digs again.

posted on Mon, 06/12/2006 - 8:32am
Gabrielle's picture
Gabrielle says:

Why do you wake up so early?

posted on Sat, 06/10/2006 - 12:22pm
Kate Larson's picture
Kate Larson says:

As in much of the Mediterranean world, the first couple hours of the day after the sun rises are the nicest weather. Around 11:00 or so, the sun gets unbearably hot. Even early in the morning, the sun is so hot that the Israeli government requires us to have shade. So we get up early to get done early!

posted on Sun, 06/18/2006 - 5:07am