What I Need In Order To Dig My Sites

I’ve headed my own research excavations since 1996. Now I’m preparing for four weeks of fieldwork during the upcoming season. I operate as an independent scholar in this context, and none of my excavations have been prompted by land development. Here’s what I need to get hold of before I can break the turf or metal-detect the plough soil on an archaeological site in Sweden.

  • Contacts/notoriety. I couldn’t get much of what’s listed below without contacts/notoriety in the business.
  • Funding. Most of my research money comes from small private foundations in annual instalments of about $3,600 (€3,200 = SEK 30,000). The most dependable ones have supported my work for 20 years and seem pretty confident that I’ll do something useful with the money.
  • Land owner’s permission. I check the property name on the map, then I call the municipality’s land registry to find out who owns the land, and then I call the owner and ask. So far nobody’s said no, though one or two first wanted to know if they might be hit with any costs. They never are since they’re not the ones who head the digs.
  • An organisation to apply for the excavation permit. A person can’t get a permit. Only organisations can. I always collaborate with the county museum. We make an agreement where they will apply for the permit, and I promise that no costs will hit them. This is an expression of generosity and trust on their part, motivated to some extent by scientific curiosity. Unlike highway contract archaeology, I tend to target the most interesting sites around that my colleagues have wondered about for years.
  • County Archaeologist’s permission. I write a permit application, my colleagues at the museum tweak it a bit, and then they send it on to the county council. The County Archaeologist only gives us a permit if I’ve written up my previous fieldwork and if it seems likely that I will be able to pay for finds conservation.
  • Labour. I work with volunteers: students, metal detectorists, the members of local historical societies, friends and family.
  • Equipment. I borrow most of the fieldwork equipment from the county museum and other contract archaeology units.
  • Housing. Unless the participants in the dig live near the site, I have to provide housing. Just after lunch today, for instance, I called the Östra Husby village grocery store and got the number of a man who lets a house not too far from Stensö Castle. He was surprised to hear that I need twelve beds, but adapted quickly and said that he’ll be happy to find the extra ones for me.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

48 thoughts on “What I Need In Order To Dig My Sites”

  1. Really tight budget. You are doing it on a shoe-string, or that is the way it seems – unless you don’t actually mean that you do a 4 week dig with 12 people for SEK$30,000.

    Yes, I realise they don’t get paid, but I’m thinking cost of accommodation and food, and conservation of finds.

    I assume you take pay yourself for the 4 weeks, which is only right and proper. I do charity, but I will not work as an engineer for nothing – that is what ‘professional’ means – we get paid for what we apply our training and skills to do.

    Do you have to account for expenditure to anyone, or due to your ‘notoriety’ are you given a pretty free hand with how you apportion costs?

    In terms of bureaucracy, the whole process sounds charmingly simple and un-politicised, but maybe I am just used to HK, which has rapidly become almost impossibly politicised.

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  2. Luckily I get more than one of those grants for each season. Last year’s fieldwork (4 weeks, ~8 people) cost SEK 53,000, and after that I paid for finds conservation and bone analysis.

    Very few of the foundations demand any detailed accounting. They pay attention to the product rather than to how I manage to make it. Also, since I pay no university overhead, I get a lot more done per krona than many other grant recipients.

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  3. I get that the students are volunteers, but John’s point about accommodation is significant. The US Government sets official rates of reimbursement (lodging, meals, and incidental expenses) for official travel, which are the rates I use for travel reimbursement. The lowest applicable rate for US domestic travel is US$129 (including $83 for lodging and $46 for meals), or roughly SEK1000, which applies in, e.g., the parts of North Dakota that aren’t being fracked. The rate may be a bit high since it assumes a midrange hotel room and eating (but not alcohol, which is explicitly excluded) in restaurants, but it does cost money to live, and IME food expenses are higher in Europe than in the continental US.

    I’m also not sure whether Martin draws salary from these grants, or whether he has a “hard money” position which covers his salary in exchange for administering such grants. I suspect the former since Martin doesn’t pay university overhead, but I’m not familiar with the Swedish system, and even in the US a “hard money” researcher (particularly a tenure track university professor) often has to cover his summer salary.

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  4. Eric, I don’t quite follow. Nobody’s reimbursing me according to any official rate. I make do with whatever funding I can get.

    The grants come in two flavours but the same basic chunk size. There are “work stipends” with which I can pay my home mortgage and feed my kids, and dedicated fieldwork grants. I use the latter to rent accommodation and pay for groceries & gas during fieldwork.

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  5. The question follows from John’s point above: You are getting a grant which is considered to be a reasonable reimbursement for what you are doing; otherwise you may not be able to afford to do it. It may be that your sites are within reasonable commuting distance of your home, in which case lodging and meals would not apply, but you still have to transport yourself and your student volunteers to and from the site, and that costs money. In the US, the Internal Revenue Service has computed a standard reimbursement rate for that–if your grant does not cover that expense, then you would be allowed to deduct it on your income tax return. For 2015 the rate is US$0.575 per mile, or about SEK2.80 per km if I assume an 8:1 exchange rate, for business travel (which would apply in your situation. (The rate is based on US gasoline prices, so if the Swedish authorities were to calculate a rate under the same assumptions it would be somewhat higher.) Alternatively, you might rent a van to transport you and the students to and from the site, and the grant covers your rental fees and petrol. Again, in the US (laws may be different in Sweden), if the grants do not pay for this, you would be able to deduct this as an unreimbursed business expense.

    I guess the question is, is any of this included in the grant (as it typically would be for research grants in the US, at least in my field), or does it only pay for your time?

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  6. In order to be tax deductible, my research expenses must be linked to a job that pays me a taxed salary. None of my research is salaried in that manner. The work stipends are tax exempt and the time I spend doing research while subsisting on them doesn’t count towards my pension. Health “insurance” isn’t linked to taxed income in Sweden.

    Neither of the two kinds of money I receive from the foundations would probably be recognised as a research grant in the US. Swedish “stipends” are basically a legal way for foundations to stick money into the pockets of individuals without involving the authorities.

    I’ve lived largely outside the system for most of my adult life. The taxman probably thinks I’m developmentally challenged or a kept boy. During the current semester, for instance, I’m only employed in the conventional sense at 45% of full time, as a journal editor and a temp teacher.

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  7. Considering that you have headed your own excavations for so long, when it comes to prep and efficiency, do you prefer your own or when you’re part of an organisation that’s heading the excavation?

    u13076702

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    1. I haven’t worked at an excavation headed by someone else since 1993. Unless you count the times I’ve spent a day as guest digger at sites directed by friends. Come to think of it, it’s slightly odd for an archaeologist to stop working for others at age 22.

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  8. Long may the taxman consider you to be developmentally challenged.

    It seems logical that a grant should entail a stipend as subsistence allowance that is tax exempt. The same applies to my daughter’s grant, although in her case the grant administered by the university is to undertake a post-grad qualification by full time research.

    On that note, I need to hark back to a prediction we made – you were right: a lot of future cancer research will be in virology and vaccination, not in genetic engineering as I predicted.

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  9. But I assume you have a standard salary scale as a professional archaeologist of a certain seniority – an hourly rate or whatever. I is somehow not right that, when using grants, you have to make do with a stipend as if you are an eternal student, rather than being employed as a professional on a salary.

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  10. I’m an abundant commodity for which there is little demand.

    As for the research, nobody asks me to do it. I do it for love and to qualify for tenure.

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  11. Fair enough. A notorious commodity, though, and the museums and hence local population benefit. Modesty is admirable, but I encourage you not to underrate what you bring to people.

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  12. What do you eat and how do you delegate the resposibility of cooking? After breakfast, lunch and dinner how do you keep the team spirit at the top?

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  13. Every day has its two designated cooks, on a rolling schedule, and they decide what we will eat.

    The students always show good work morale. We often play boardgames in the evenings. Or kubb. And these days they bring iPads and watch movies.

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  14. No, it isn’t. nasopharyngeal cancer occurs at high frequency among Cantonese people (specifically Cantonese, and not confined to males) and very low frequency among most other groups with the possible exception of some Africans.

    It is currently thought to occur due to Genes + Environment (food – possibly salted dried fish) + Virus (likely HPV).

    There is no known correlation with air pollution, but who is to say what environmental carcinogens might play a role, provided the two other necessary factors (genes + virus) are present.

    And before someone tells me that Cantonese is a language group, not a racial sub-group, I’ll point out that until recently, Chinese language groups were endogamous.

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  15. For cervical cancer, not notably low.

    The Canto-Pop diva Anita Mui died of it when she was 40.

    The other thing, no idea, but I rarely hear about it, whereas cervical cancer is a common topic of conversation.

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  16. Birger, sometime you should acquaint yourself with geochemical atlases, to get your mind off air pollution as a sole likely culprit for various cancers. For example, at sub-lethal dosage, Arsenic is a carcinogen which can occur naturally at high background levels, due to mineralisation from past volcanic activity. There is a part of Hong Kong where the Arsenic concentrations in the soil are so high, you could just about economically mine the stuff. Fortunately, no one uses the groundwater there. Yet.

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  17. Interestingly enough, Anita Mui’s sister also died of cervical cancer. Pretty hard to make a case against genes as a necessary contributing factor, but of course they need not be a few genes of large effect.

    To me, vaccine seems to be the way to go. That is why in HK the virologists are studying it and other cancers linked to HPV.

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  18. Sweden started to offer universal HPV vaccination for 11-y-o girls a few years back. We won’t see the effect on cancer for another 50 years. But already condyloma, that used to be a low-intensity epidemic among Swedish teens, is pretty much gone.

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  19. Same in HK. HK people didn’t have the hang-ups that a lot of Americans had about having their 12 year old daughters vaccinated – as soon as possible, the health authorities here just got the vaccine to HK, and all of the girls were vaccinated. There were zero dissenters that I know of.

    Now they’re discussing a vaccine for boys.

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  20. I had Junior vaccinated. He thought it was a pretty good deal to be able to avoid both condyloma and the risk of inadvertently killing somebody’s grandma 50 years down the line.

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  21. Bangladesh has big troubles with arsenic in the water drawn from deeper wells. Also, the American southwest has a lot of arsenic, but they “solve” the problem by importing water from other states (thus outsorcing water shortage).
    — — —
    John, in regard to accidental explosions, here is a biggie:
    ” Today in Buried History: The French Mining Disaster that killed over 1,300 workers” http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/03/today-in-buried-history-the-french-mining-disaster-that-killed-over-1300-workers/

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  22. Speaking of vaccines, in Umeå researchers have identified a bacteria that is very common in malaria mosquitos but not in other organisms. A GM version of this bacteria could potentially help wipe out the malaria parasite. Parasite-on parasite violence..

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  23. Pontus Skoglund drew attention to this interesting paper, on people who have evolved an adaptation to tolerate high Arsenic levels in drinking water: http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/02/26/molbev.msv046.abstract

    Hong Kong’s worst ever accidental explosion was caused by a truck load of caps for toy cap pistols. True. Some guys were unloading the truck, one of them dropped a box, the whole box full ignited and the whole truck load went up. 6 people killed. The things are designed to be as unstable as possible, so that they will ignite on slight percussion. One going off is trivial. A whole truckload going off was not trivial. They are now illegal here.

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  24. If the critters only thrive inside malaria mosquitos they should not morph into dangerous parasites, but getting a permit to unleash them will be difficult.
    — — — —
    “It is exciting that these bacteria so far are only found in disease-carrying mosquitoes and their hatching waters, says Olle Terenius”
    ”- We are looking for bacteria that live in the mosquito gut and which grow quickly when the mosquito has taken a blood meal. The idea is to genetically modify these bacteria to produce substances that stop malaria parasite development.”
    — — — —
    Interesting: The bacterial family Thorselliaceae, as well as the genus Thorsellia, is named after the now 96-year old Professor Suisanna Walborg Thorsell — a legendary mosquito researcher who began her research in the 1970s

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  25. One [toy pistol cap] going off is trivial. A whole truckload going off was not trivial. They are now illegal here.

    I think I had one of those when I was a young child. Not that I’ve looked, but I don’t see them anymore. I don’t know if this was specifically the reason, but I think they may have been banned in the US as well. Of course, pulling a toy pistol on somebody who may be armed with a real gun (and because of barbarous laws on the subject, you have to assume in the US whom you don’t know might be carrying one, and not just cops or hunters, who have legitimate reasons to be carrying) is definitely a Bad Idea.

    Why does “a GM version of this bacteria” remind me eerily of cane toads?

    I don’t think it will turn out as badly as that little experiment in biological warfare, but the cane toad does stand as a warning for what could go wrong. As John presumably knows (but Birger and Martin might not), the cane toad was introduced in Australia in order to combat some pest. It did nothing about said pest, but it’s spreading throughout the tropical and subtropical areas of Australia. Much like kudzu in the southeastern US, introduced for erosion control and now colloquially known as “the vine that ate the South”. The reason I don’t think this one will be quite as bad is because it’s a genetic variant of a species already in the ecosystem, not a new species. But it still may prove less effective than thought.

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  26. Two reasons for banning them: (1) they are highly unstable, easy to detonate, and in bulk they are a clear hazard, and (2) if someone laboriously scrapes the black powder from thousands of them and puts it all together, he has something big, very unstable and easy to detonate.

    Second only to caps are fireworks. Not only so-called ‘consumer fireworks’, which members of the public can purchase freely in some countries (check the deaths and serious injuries from consumer fireworks that occur in the UK every single year), but lay persons don’t appreciate the risk associated with public fireworks displays. Those big pretty star bursts in the sky that happen with a loud bang are called aerial shells – they have a primary charge that fires them up into the air (typically 150 to 180 metres), and then a timed fuse to a secondary charge that makes them explode into all those pretty sparks. It is the secondary charge detonating that makes the very loud bang that you hear.

    Well, when an aerial shell is fired from a mortar, it is subject to variation in trajectory due to spin, and drift, which are uncontrollable by the operator. And if the fuse fails and the secondary charge does not detonate, then the aerial shell will fall back to earth and will detonate on impact with the ground. If that happens close to spectators, then anyone within the radius of the fireball will be killed. 100% certain. Outside of the radius, people may still receive bad burns, injuries from flying pieces, or physical damage due to the shock wave. It happens.

    The companies in China which make the aerial shells are perfectly willing to make them with two fuses in parallel, so if one fails, the other one will still work. It greatly reduces the risk of fuse failure. They tell me that a lot of their customers want the two fuses, but Disney do not because they cost more, and Disney franchises are all about maximising profit, even if it means increased risk-to-life to their customers.

    If it was my choice, I would ban fireworks completely. In the industry we refer to them as “toys for boys”. They are also highly polluting – what do people think create all those pretty stars?

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  27. “The materials that arrived in Uppsala from China in the 1920s were so extensive that the researchers didn’t have time to study it all. Some boxes were never unpacked and remained so until 2011.”

    It took them about 90 years to get around to unpacking some of the boxes.

    That is just so intensely irritating.

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  28. Some of the Burgess Shale samples were not properly examined until the eighties…after being collected in 1911.
    — — —
    (OT) A Kuwaiti Islamist preacher has called for the destruction of Egypt’s pyramids and Sphinx – one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world – claiming that just because early Muslims did not destroy the pharaohs’ legacy “does not mean that we shouldn’t”.
    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-muslim-preacher-calls-demolition-pyramids-sphinx-giza-1491363
    -If he talks the talk, let him walk the walk. We should force this preacher to spend the rest of his life hacking away at the pyramids .

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  29. “Turkey: Vast 3000 BC underground city discovered in Nevşehir is the size of 65 football pitches” http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/turkey-ancient-underground-city-discovered-nevehir-size-65-football-pitches-1491745 Actually, more like an underground “town”, probably with a rather modest material culture, but still very interesting.
    — — — —
    “Bronze Age bones offer evidence of political divination in Armenia”
    Ancient cultures were prone to indulge in divination. Wasn’t astrology practically an official ideology in China? And the Romans inherited a reliance on augurs from the Etruscans. Add the Greek oracles and this find is not surprising at all.

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  30. OT) Imam: Porn leads to atheism, all other evils.
    “Pornography, which is made public and is circulated through magazines and movies and has its stars, was an industry initiated in 1960 in the US and is the cause of all affliction in which the world now lives,” Gomaa added. http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2015/03/13/imam-porn-leads-to-atheism-every-other-problem/#more-33870
    <hmm. Pompeii and Herculaneum are a bit older than that.

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  31. John @22: In North Africa NPC is most closely associated with eating rancid fats in childhood (and adulthood). In Asia it’s thought to be preserved fish.

    Eric @35: Cap guns (that make a loud “pop” noise) are still legal in the US (at least they were about 2002 when my brother used one to terrify the dog). I always saw them packaged by 2s or 3s flat on cardboard under plastic.

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  32. JustaTech@47 – That’s it. But to contract the cancer, you need to have the genetic predisposition (hence high frequency in only certain specific populations) and you need the virus to trigger it. As the virus is HPV, there is no shortage of it. So basically it comes down to environment (dietary factor) plus genes.

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