She Lives

Well, it’s been two weeks, hasn’t it? Perhaps the time has flown by for you, but I’ve felt every second of it. Being an archaeologist, after all, is sometimes very hard work.

To wit: I’ve spent the last 14 days troweling through soil that was either a muddy, clay-like soup or sun-baked cement, depending on the weather. In a very cruel and unobliging turn, that soil flatly refused to yield up anything of interest or cultural value (save a handful of pot sherds, a few stone tools, and a very sad remnant of a post hole). Sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles. And it wasn’t a total waste. I have muscles now. Also, I’ve been introduced to a staggering variety of ticks, spiders, beetles, and ants. Perhaps the real win, though, was the company we kept. From the volunteers who joined us ad hoc to the Army Corps folks we worked with day in and day out, we came up aces. And good company makes up for a lot.

One of the (many) nice things about being finished with our excavations is that I can get back to writing again. There was only energy enough for my body or my brain to be working out in that hot sun, so I didn’t accomplish much on the creativity front. Now, though, I’m ready to dive into revising Project Awesome before sending it to Beta readers. I’ve also got a short story ready for revisions.

First, though, I’ve still got a few days left in Kansas City. We may not have found much, but we do have to wash, process, and analyze the artifacts we turned up. There’s also a report to be written for the Army Corps. So, there’s that to be done. Soon, though, its home to Brooklyn, back to my husband and my cat and the start of a proper summer.

In the meantime, here are some photos from the dig to give you an idea of what archaeology in Missouri in June looks like 😉




In which there will be camping

Come Monday morning, I’ll be putting on my archaeology hat (and, no, it isn’t an Indiana Jones fedora but a very sensible ball cap) and heading out into the wilds of Missouri on a hunt for prehistory!

I’ve posted about this upcoming project on my archaeology blog, but in brief I’ll be excavating a small native American homestead located along the margins of the Plains Village and Mississippian worlds and dating roughly AD 950-1400.

Most of my work up until now (save some stints working in New Mexico and Washington) has been in Latin America, and specifically Honduras. So this is a pretty major change of pace. No big buildings, no stone architecture, no temples, and so on. Also no cushy house with electricity and running (albeit cold) water. We’ll be camping at the site for several weeks, making friends with all the local ticks and chiggers. Yay!

There is a nearby RV park, so we’re hoping to be able to keep our mobile devices charged up and ready to go and thus provide amusing updates from the field. So, stay tuned for that 😉

Anyway, long story short…I’m off! Bum babumbum, bum, babum! Bum babumbum, bumbabumbumbum! (well, you know how it goes).

Writer’s Workspace 6/14

Hey-o, dear Reader! Welcome to this writer’s workspace. Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk.

What I’m working on: as a final editing pass on ABSENT, I’m currently reading the entire novel aloud. This is the first time I’ve done this particular exercise for a novel (though I do it a lot for shorts). It’s quite illuminating and is really helping me pick up little errors, find things that are off with voice, and so on. Fun stuff. As far as writing goes, though, the last few days have been devoted primarily to non-fiction. My colleague Bill McFarlane and I are working on an article on our recent archaeological research in pre-Columbian Honduras. In case you were wondering what kinds of stirring prose go into an academic article…here’s a…

Snippet from the screen: “A sketch of the past practices within Sinsimbla and the Jesus de Otoro valley is beginning to emerge. However, as this image comes into focus, it raises far more questions than it answers, especially with regard to the nature of inter-valley interactions across southeastern Mesoamerica.”

Breathless to read on? Well, who can blame you? Not I.

On the iTunes: you can’t rock the archaeology without some rockin’ tunes. Right now Whitesnake is screaming “Here I go Again” at me.

In my mug: the usual grog – Chinese Breakfast tea from Numi. Don’t mess with a classic, I say.


Keeping me company: Ramses is exploring the wild world of freshly folded laundry. He finds he approves. A lot.

Out the window: so far, summer seems to be one long rainy day. It’s overcast, cloudy, and wet. Still, it hasn’t pulled the ole 95 degrees, 95% humidity trick yet. That’s something!

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: Lies! Still, here are a few links to distract yourself with: first up, more bad news on the climate front! Disaster! Flooding! Second, supercool glowing clouds! and, finally, an article from the New Yorker on how the culture of privacy in America is fading.


Stranger than fiction: Neanderthal vocalization

The poor Neanderthal.  Maligned for decades as a dumb, violent brute, this hominin is now understood to have been much more similar to modern humans than previously realized.  In fact, there’s abundant evidence that Neanderthal genes live on today (and I’m not talking about heavy brow ridges or big-boned Conan the Barbarian types, but about parts of our immune system and analytical skills).

Even more interesting is evidence that Neanderthals would not only have been physically and mentally capable of speech and language, but that they might have sounded like a cross between Kermit the Frog and a really angry Miss Piggy.

Here’s a video from the BBC that recreates Neanderthal vocalizations, showing us just how f*ing scary these Ice Age neighbors of modern humans would have been.

Stranger than fiction: Gobekli Tepe

One of the oldest surviving theories about the emergence of civilization is V. Gordon’s Childe’s Neolithic Revolution, in which the invention of agriculture (around 9,000 years ago) gave rise to all that we recognize as “civilized” – villages, writing, cities, and organized religion.  While Childe wasn’t wrong about the big picture (agriculture was a revolutionary thing for human societies), recent discoveries from the Middle East and elsewhere have shown that he didn’t have the details quite right.

In particular, towns seem to have come before the invention of agriculture in the Middle East…and organized religion may have predated them both.

Pillars at the temple of Göbekli Tepe

The site of Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, has revealed itself as a possible religious pilgrimage site – one without evidence of residential occupation and predating the rise of most villages in the region.  A spectacular arrangement of elaborately carved standing stones, the site is the oldest known example of monumental architecture.  The stones comprising the open-air temple were quarried some distance away and carved with a wild assortment of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars.

The excavators speculate that construction, use, and worship at the site may have prompted scattered, semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers to begin to organize themselves and come together to built the region’s first permanent villages — all hundreds of years before they domesticated their first plant or animal.

Stranger than fiction: shaman’s burial

Plenty of us write about magic and witches, but nothing can be cooler than this 12,000 year old shaman’s burial from the site of Hilazon Tachtit, Israel.

Walled away inside a cave high on a cliff face, this elderly, disabled woman was buried with an incredible array of grave goods, including 50 complete tortoise shells and select body-parts of a wild boar, an eagle, a cow, a leopard, and two martens, as well as a complete human foot (not her own).  Many of these animals were either extremely rare or locally unavailable at the time, suggesting a great deal of planning and effort went into this woman’s interment.  Plus, a human foot!

Thus far, this is one of the oldest known graves of a potential shaman.

Read more about it here.

Stranger than fiction: ancient shoes

Did you know that the world’s oldest evidence for shoe use comes not from preserved footwear but from human toe bones?

Well, it’s true.

Preserved sandals or other ancient footwear don’t appear in the archaeological record until around 9,000 years ago (from a site in California).  This is because biodegradable materials tend to preserve poorly.  Recently, though, physical anthropologists have speculated that we may be able to determine when humans began wearing shoes indirectly by examining their toe bones.

Shod? Look at the Toes

People who go barefoot develop stronger, more robust toes than those who wear supportive footwear.  Archaeologists have found a decrease in the size and strength of toe bones among Homo sapiens in Europe and the Middle East around 30,000 years ago, suggesting it was at this time that they began to innovate new footwear technologies.

Eat your heart out Christian Louboutin!

Here’s the article from National Geographic if you want to know more.

Back in action, and some news

After a journey that began around 8am in the cool mountains of Jesus de Otoro and ended around 1am in a humid NYC cab, I have returned from Honduras.  Though I was only able to participate for the first two weeks of the project due to our impending move into a newly purchased apartment (squee!), I had an amazing time and was heartily sorry to go.  I already miss everyone and am deeply bummed not to be out at the site excavating with them this morning (though, a soft, bug-free bed and being able to flush my toilet paper are nice compensations).

While I was away, I got some great news.  My latest piece of archaeological research has finally been published!  The article, published under my maiden name (Miranda Stockett), and titled Sites of Memory in the Making: Political Strategizing in the Construction and Deconstruction of Place in Late to Terminal Classic Southeastern Mesoamerica (how’s THAT for a mouthful), is now out from the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.  The link is to the journal’s abstract page.  If you are interested in reading the entire article, please contact me via email (contact info is listed under Miranda’s Bio).

In any case, today is a ‘getting my ducks back in a row’ day.  First on the agenda: a reliably hot shower with water I don’t have to be careful not to swallow!

Adios, Honduras — see you next summer!

Adios, for now

Dear Readers,

As many of you are likely aware, I’m headed off to Honduras for a few weeks.  My day job as an archaeologist calls me away on my annual research expedition.  I’ll be living in the west-central town of Jesus de Otoro with my project co-director, our field director, and 9 undergraduates who we’ll be attempting to instruct in the ways of the archaeological world (and keep out of trouble).

We’ll be excavating and conducting research at the Lenca site of Sinsimbla, teaching the students how to excavate, analyzing artifacts, and eating a lot of beans and fried chicken.  I won’t be posting on this blog for the duration, but we’ll be recounting our adventures over on the PADO archaeology project blog (provided we’re able to get internet access, that is).

If you’re of a mind, check in over there from time to time.  You’ll be rewarded with the real story about what it means to be an archaeologist.  Sorry, Indy, it ain’t all Nazis and bull whips!  Well, not usually.

See you when I get back!

Hasta luego 🙂

Procrastination, deadlines, and other dilemmas

Update from the front, dear Readers!

I am getting close enough to finishing ABSENT that I can see the hoary light at the end of the tunnel!  I have decided, at virtually the last minute, to go do several weeks of archaeological field work in Honduras!  I am attempting to Beta-read two novels at once!  I have become overly fond of exclamation points (perhaps due to an excess of caffeine coursing through my veins!)

Yes, it is an exclamation point kind of week around the Suri household.  We have celebrated three years of lovely married life, have signed away our life savings on a new apartment, and have lined up so much travel for the month of July (all, of course, at the last minute) that I’m not sure it’s physically possible to accomplish it.  Most notable among our coming adventures is my decision to return to Honduras this summer to continue my archaeological research.

There will be more on this in future posts (and here’s a link to the project blog, for those of you who want to follow our adventures in the field), but in short: I co-direct an archaeological field school in Honduras.  The last time we were down doing work (2009), a coup d’etat happened.  It was not pleasant, and we haven’t been back since.  So, this is a big undertaking, and hopefully one that will go smoothly, as we’re taking 9 undergraduates with us.

On the writing front, I’ve been making happy-fun progress on the first draft of ABSENT, my archaeology time-travel novel.  With my new daily word count goal in place, I’ve cruised through about 8,000 words in the last week or so.  The climax is just a few chapters away, to be followed by another few chapters of denouement.  Is there a chance I could finish this bad boy before I leave for Honduras?  Probably not.  But what the hell, I’m gonna try anyway.  Wish me luck!

Complicating matters is that I’m now Beta-reading two novels at once.  Such is the danger of swapping novel critiques, in which the owed critique may arrive at an unspecified date in the future – you can end up with more than you can handle.  Both critiques are for writing buddies who’ve done me more than their share of favors and are due my best when it comes to payback.  So I’m going to power through.  Fortunately, I just bought an e-reader, the Nook Simple Touch (I’ll be sure to review this after I’ve given it a good work out), so I’m going to try to do one of the crits on the e-reader and see how that goes.

Clearly, I’ve got a busy week or so coming down the pike.  How about you all?

Oh, and this marks the 100th post since I started my blog last November. Nifty!