Happy Anthropology Day!
To celebrate Anthropology Day, we decided to share a little bit about what each of us typically does during a day or what a good day as an anthropologist looks like!
Dr. Stacey Camp:
As an academic, my work varies from day to day, month to month, and even from year to year. Some years are busier than others, especially if they involve field schools or big publications (like a book or site report). Other years have more downtime so that laboratory research and writing associated with field school work can get done. As a result, I try to think about what I need to accomplish professional 5 to 10 years out. This helps me figure out what I absolutely need to get done in order to move projects forward (e.g. getting grants, finishing laboratory work, etc.) and publish about them.
My day to day work as an academic is varied, which I enjoy. Here’s what today looks like:
7:50am: Get my daughter on the school bus and say goodbye to my son, who goes to school with my husband.
9am: Arrive at my office. Check email and say hello to my colleagues.
9:40am: Set out ceramics and artifacts to prepare students in my laboratory class for a quiz this Friday.
10:20am-11:10am: Teach my laboratory methods class.
11:10-11:30am: Talk to students from the class about my field school and answer any class questions.
11:30am-12pm: Pack up the ceramics I pulled out for class and start reviewing the artifact cataloging work my lab methods class started this week.
12pm: Eat lunch with my colleagues and graduate students in the archaeology wing of my department.
1pm-2pm: Hold our weekly MSU Campus Archaeology Program project meeting with graduate student fellows and our Campus Archaeologist.
2pm-3pm: Host our weekly MSU Campus Archaeology Program writing hour.
3pm-3:30pm: Meet with an undergraduate student who is working on an article with me.
3:30pm-4pm: Catch up on work emails.
4pm-5pm: Grade discussion papers from my laboratory methods class; enter attendance data; start planning for Friday’s lecture on identifying historic glass.
Every now and then I have the opportunity to do something really exciting. Last week, I was able to visit the University of Helsinki (courtesy of faculty member Dr. Suzie Thomas) to give two talks and learn more about the WWII and POW heritage of Finland. I was able to spend my days meeting with scholars about their research. I was able to visit the National Museum of Finland as well as the World Heritage Site of Suomenlinna, a historic fortress that dates to the mid-18th century.
I would guess my day usually starts off like most people’s days: I get to the office and respond to emails. This semester most of the emails I receive are from students in the class I am teaching—Forensic Anthropology and Osteology. I spend at least part of every day doing something related to teaching: preparing lectures, giving lectures, meeting with students, or grading papers. I really enjoy this part of my day! Other mornings might start off at the morgue assisting with a forensic case. Every case is different. Our lab might be asked to analyze a skeleton and develop a biological profile—including sex, age, ancestry, and stature—to compare to missing person’s reports. Another type of case involves identifying a deceased person by comparing x-rays taken at the morgue to medical x-rays taken while the person was alive. When I get back to the office after the case, I write up a report to give to the medical examiner. The rest of the day I spend working on my dissertation research, which takes an experimental approach to studying skeletal trauma. Research work looks a little different depending on the day. On experiment days I work with a team of anthropologists and engineers to observe how bones break in a controlled laboratory setting. Other days I spend reading so I can develop better research questions or try to figure out what my results mean. Other days I collect data. Right now I am using methods from the field of fractography (the study of broken surfaces) to look at experimentally broken bones. I am trying to see if I can use these methods to figure out where a fracture started and ended. If it does work, this could help anthropologists figure out how a bone in a forensic or bioarchaeological case was broken.
If I am not out in the field excavating, I spend my days bouncing between various projects. These projects keep me busy and ensure that I interact with a number of different people each day. I am currently teaching my first course, on ‘Great Discoveries in Archaeology.’ My early mornings are often filled with lecturing, grading, or preparing for a future lecture. This week I am preparing lectures on paleolithic cave art! I will then spend some time down in one of our archaeology labs, collecting data on ceramics and other artifacts in order to look at past food practices and what they can tell us about various aspects of ancient society. In the afternoons, I try to spend some time analyzing collected data or writing, either on my dissertation, a publication, or the occasional grant proposal.
For me, a typical day as an anthropologist involves the both the physical and digital preservation of artifacts and physical remains. As a bioarchaeologist, I reconstruct human remains that have broken down over time. Most of the human skeletal remains I work with come from heavily looted contexts so our excavations are commonly salvage in nature. Reconstructing these remains allows us give back some of the humanity to these individuals rather than being seen as bones that were in the way of ancient pots that looters were looking for. Furthermore, I routinely employ photogrammetry in my work which takes sets of images of an object and creates a 3D model. These models digitally preserve both human and material remains that may continue to degrade. By digitally preserving these as 3D models, these objects can be studied long after the materials break down and can be easily shared to other researchers or the public. As an anthropologist, getting to be a part of cultural preservation for future generations is incredibly gratifying and makes coming to work each day feel like a gift rather than a job.
A day in the life of Biological Anthropologist looks different from day to day. We study human skeletal remains to answer questions about people from the past and the present. A typical day for me is jumping between tasks from conducting and writing research to working with medical examiners and law enforcement across the state to help solve crimes. We visit medical examiners offices where we compare x-rays of a deceased individual, one x-ray taken while the person was alive and one taken after death. We can compare the shape and features of bones between the two images to try to identify the person and return them to their families for a proper burial. Sometimes, we may bring the skeleton of an unknown individual back to our lab where we can measure and analyze the bones and determine the person’s ancestry, sex, age, and stature. After hours of closely examining the bones, I return to my desk to write an official report of my findings and submit the report to the medical examiner in charge of the case. The legal system will them compare my findings to missing persons reports in attempts of matching demographic information between the missing person and the unknown decedent leading to an identification. In my downtime, I work on my personal research examining the role of climate and genetics in shaping the human facial skeleton to understand human variation on a global scale.
Each day as the MSU Campus Archaeologist looks a little different! This time of the year is filled with preparations for field work that will begin at the start of the summer semester. Some days I attend meetings with IPF (Infrastructure Planning and Facilities) at MSU to discuss their planned construction projects and if any of them would impact an archaeological resources. However, I usually spend my days working with graduate fellows on their research projects as needed, researching potential areas of impact for upcoming campus construction projects, writing reports from the previous field season, and doing lab work. In addition to my duties as campus archaeologist, I am also preparing to take my comprehensive exams and writing my dissertation proposal for my personal research on prehistoric foodways and social interaction.
As an anthropologist and archaeologist, a good day is one in which I gain a new perspective on a particular history. This can involve being part of an archaeological excavation where a team of archaeologists and associated stakeholders recover some material culture, an artifact or feature, that expands our understanding of history or a group of people. A day where I gain a new perspective may involve laboratory work. In the lab archaeologists wash, analyses, sort, or catalogue the material remains they found in excavations, often during the activates archaeologists reveal new information about the artifacts. Finding an inscription on an object or a specific decorative pattern on a ceramic plate can give the researcher a completely new understanding of the place or group of people they are investigating. I might also gain a new perspective through a day where I engage in archival research, looking at historic documents and writings of past peoples. These documents can give context to my research and guide my questions, but they can also indicate something different than what the archaeology found, which is always interesting. The final way that I may gain a new perspective on history is speaking with non-archaeologists about the lives of their families and ancestors. In anthropology these individuals or descendant communities provide important connections between our work and the real people we are studying, they also have their own meaningful questions and perspectives that make descendants an essential aspect of many archaeological investigation. If any of these many events were to occur in a particular day my understanding of the past would be expanded and I would consider that a very good day.