December 22, 2007

Welcome home

Earlier this week I packed up my father's pickup truck and headed north from Florida to my hometown, Winston-Salem, North Carolina...for the last time. It's good to be back in a place with hills, colored leaves, and cold weather during the winter months. The next several weeks will be spent tying up some loose ends with my thesis, applying for graduation, and looking for a job somewhere in the state.


Posted by Will at 12:10 AM

December 03, 2007

Rare Maya "Death Vase"...sort of

There's an article on today's National Geographic News website about a marble vase that was excavated where I work in Honduras in 2005. In 2006 I excavated the structure where it was found. It's an "interesting" article:

An extremely rare and intricately carved "death vase" has been discovered in the 1,400-year-old grave of a member of the Maya elite, scientists say.
The vase is the first of its kind to be found in modern times, and its contents are opening a window onto ancient rituals of ancestor worship that included food offerings, chocolate enemas, and hallucinations induced by vomiting, experts say.
Archaeologists discovered the vase along with parts of a human skeleton while excavating a small "palace" in northwestern Honduras in 2005. (The dig was funded by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)
Soil samples taken from in and around the vessel were found to contain pollen from corn, cacao, and false ipecac, a plant that causes severe nausea when eaten.
These traces suggest the vase may have been used in ancient rites the Maya practiced to produce trancelike states through intense physical purging, said Christian Wells, an anthropologist at the University of South Florida who lead the excavation.
"The way to have contact, to communicate, with ancestors is to have visions," Wells said of the Maya rituals.
"And you have a vision either by cutting yourself and bloodletting—which there's really no evidence for in this case—or by having some very powerful chocolate enema, or by drinking your brains out and throwing up.
"We think this beverage [in the vase] may have contained ipecac, which would have made the person who's drinking it throw up—a lot. Then, by throwing up a lot, they could've had visions that would have allowed them to talk with the ancestors."

Read the full story here.

Posted by Will at 12:20 PM

December 02, 2007

Red ink and more caffeine

After a much needed Thanksgiving break in North Carolina I returned to Florida refreshed and ready to enter the final turn. I received my first set of revisions back from my advisor and was relieved to learn I had turned in an "excellent" first draft. I'm estimating that only one half to 2/3 of a red ink pen was harmed in the reviewing process, which is less than I expected. Ironically, the chapter I was worried about the most, the theoretical framework, turned out to be my strongest. This makes my second go at it that much easier as I only have to beef up some of my discussion chapter. In a little over a week the countdown to the left will be in single digits and soon after that I'll be on the road yet again.


Posted by Will at 02:11 AM | Comments (1)

October 26, 2007

Graduate research colloquium

This afternoon I am presenting at the annual Graduate Research Colloquium. It is put on each year by the USF Department of Anthropology in order to give grad students the opportunity to present research findings from their projects. It is a requirement and is in lieu of a final exam for Masters students. It's a quick ten-minute talk and PowerPoint show. I (like most students) know their own research inside and out so prep was minimal and I'm hardly nervous. Below is the title slide of my presentation and the abstract that appears in the program for the colloquium. You can view my entire slideshow on Google Docs (the image in the title slide is a preliminary map I made using GPS data I collected this summer).

My research examines the spatial relationships among prehispanic and modern buildings, activity areas, and natural resources in the Palmarejo Valley in order to evaluate the applicability of the concept, "quebrada community," for understanding human-environmental relationships in this area during the Late Classic period (A.D.650-850). The goals of my research are: 1) to review the current debate surrounding prehistoric communities and the models used to explain them in order to frame the present research within that discussion, 2) to construct a geographic information system (GIS) which synthesizes existing archaeological and geological datasets with community-level spatial data, and 3) incorporate statistical and spatial analyses into a Cultural Site Analysis model to suggest ways in which prehistoric and contemporary communities were/are influenced by natural resources. A contextualized definition of "quebrada community" will contribute greatly to contemporary rural development initiatives designed to assist local farmers with more sustainable landscape management strategies.


Posted by Will at 09:36 AM

October 03, 2007

The big search

As I wrap up the final weeks of my graduate school education (approximately 72 days as I write this) I have started looking for a job. I just updated my personal website with a new photo, an updated CV, and some more information about what I do. I recently applied for a position with the state of North Carolina and signed up for the federal government's job search website where you upload your information and resume and can then search for positions or be found by employers. I'm also keeping an eye on a lead with the National Park Service through a contact at school, but options are limited because there's only a handful of federally-operated parks and monuments in NC. Either way my goal is to end up in NC and get on with my life (I turned a quarter century on Monday). As for now, I'm finally working on the analysis portion of my research and the hardest part is turning out to be tracking down usable geographic data (satellite imagery, topography, etc.) to use with what I collected in Honduras. My first draft will be completed by the last week of October, then it's a back-and-forth waiting game as I correct drafts and wait for my committee to finally sign off on it.

Posted by Will at 01:22 PM

September 28, 2007


A much needed diversion from the tedium and monotony of thesis writing: the USF Bulls upset the #5 team in the country, West Virginia here in Tampa. Of course our football team gets good when I'm about to leave...


Posted by Will at 11:38 PM

September 15, 2007


I've been watching The Office a lot lately. It took a few seasons, but it's finally grown on me and I realize that the writing and acting is absolutely unrivaled. Thanks to my friend who has Netflix, I've been able to watch it from Season 1. During the writing of my thesis I take a break every hour or so and watch an episode. I've come to realize that I relate the most with Stanley. If you ever wonder how I feel while in Tampa when I'm away from my loved ones in North Carolina, Stanley pretty much sums it up:

Posted by Will at 01:29 AM

September 12, 2007

It's "just a theory"

Been working on Chapter 2 of the thesis this week. It's the theoretical framework chapter...the one where I explain where my research is in relation to the decades of other studies that have looked at ancient communities and water resources. One reason this chapter will be one of the hardest for me is because I have to come up with a definition of "community" that is...get this...both archaeologically testable and recognizes the "imagined" aspect of social groupings. The first part is easy: you see a bunch of ancient house mounds grouped together it's pretty safe to assume that they thought of themselves as a community. Or can you? That's the hardest part about theory of this kind. You can't assume anything. You have to demonstrate it, show evidence, back up your claims, etc. My head hurts.

Today's monkey picture: a monkey utilizing a water resource? Was he part of a community? Prove it!


Posted by Will at 04:44 PM | Comments (1)

September 10, 2007

Stress relief

In keeping with my tradition (started two days ago) of posting pictures of monkeys doing things I describe in my posts, I want to share my number one source of stress relief this semester: working out (refer to the photo below of a presumably Asian monkey lifting an insanely huge barbell). I haven't stepped foot in a gym since last semester and haven't carried out a regular exercise routine since the ol' college days. My friend and I started lifting weights three mornings a week at the USF rec center. Three days a week we work different muscle groups and I literally feel the stress melt away. Aside from that it forces me to wake up in the morning instead of sleeping in, which would be easy to do considering I have no classes.


Posted by Will at 08:41 PM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2007

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 of the thesis is in the bag. It wasn't too painful, as it was only the introduction and consisted mainly of a summary of what the rest of the thesis will talk about. The most time-consuming chapters will be 4 and 5, which are my analysis and discussion, respectively. This semester really won't be as bad as I thought and the stress level is currently at a minimum.


Posted by Will at 11:33 AM

August 26, 2007

Is there a draft in here?

Tonight I finished the first draft of my thesis proposal. If all goes well my adviser and committee will sign off on it, thus giving me the go-ahead to actually write my thesis about my research in Honduras. Slowly but surely, it's starting to come together and I'm learning alot not only about my subject (water and ancient communities) but how to write and argue as well. It's going to be a productive semester.

Posted by Will at 07:00 PM | Comments (1)

May 07, 2007


The semester has come to a relatively painless close. Not much to blog about nor do I have any particular motivation to do so. Austin was a big success and the paper went well, and the time spent in Texas made Florida seem that much more, er, Florida-ish. Never one to dwell on the downside of life, I'm looking forward to heading home to NC this Saturday for a few days and then to New York for my buddy's wedding. The lady and I will be spending a Thursday night in Manhattan at a hotel in the Upper West Side neighborhood, about two blocks from the American Museum of Natural History, one of the "big boys" of American anthropology institutions. I promise I didn't plan it that way. Honduras is a little under three weeks away where I'll spend about four weeks drinking Salva Vida and collecting data, then hop over to Guatemala City for another (much welcome) month of GPS mapping.


Posted by Will at 07:13 PM

April 22, 2007

Austin city limits

My iPod is loading with ZZ Top as we speak. On Tuesday two friends and I hit the road bound for Austin for the 72nd meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, where I'll be giving a paper on Sunday morning about the Mesoamerican Imaging Project. Besides North Carolina, I can't think of a place I'd rather be right now than Austin, and I haven't even been there before. The main reason is because it's over 1,000 miles from Tampa. It's also the live music capital of the world, and I hope to check out a show or two at Stubb's or Emo's, two legendary venues that have hosted 99% of my favorite bands at one time or another. It's also my state of birth, and I'd imagine part of me is subconsciously drawn to my roots. Although I'm escaping the clutches of Florida for a brief moment, school work continues and I'll be churning out a 20-pager by Thursday and the majority of a poster project. I'm thinking a change in venue will spark my, shall we say, "intellectual creativity" and help me bring this semester to a close.


Posted by Will at 09:23 PM

February 01, 2007

USF Anthropology second in the nation

USF Anthropology Department Named Second in U.S. in Public Engagement by the Center for Public Anthropology
TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 18, 2007) – The University of South Florida’s department of anthropology is second in the nation in public engagement, according to a recent ranking by the Hawaii-based Center for Public Anthropology.
The ranking assesses academic departments’ levels of public visibility and engagement, using factors such as citations in public media, collaborative programs involving the community, and the engaged scholarship and outreach of individual faculty members.
The USF department of anthropology is widely recognized for its focus on applied anthropology, and has several active engaged units, including the Alliance for Applied Research in Education and Anthropology, the Center for Applied Anthropology, and the West Central Regional Public Archaeology Center.
The ranking included 394 schools, with Michigan State University at the top, followed in the Top 10 by USF; University of Pennsylvania; Arizona State University; University of California, Berkeley; Emory University; University of Arizona; University of California, Irvine; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Boston University; University of Washington; and Harvard University.

Full news release here.

Posted by Will at 09:50 PM

January 28, 2007

Pirates and indians, oh my

This is probably the fourth or fifth post I’ve written to let the few people that read this blog know I’m alive (I recently found out a that couple of my grad school colleagues here at USF have discovered my embarrassing little nerd secret…hi Diana and Jamie). I just haven’t had anything worth while to post about. The semester is steaming through at full speed, although I’m not always on the train. This weekend was completely useless as far as work goes. Ever look at your calendar, know you have things that you have to do, yet you don’t do them in your spare time just to get them out of the way? That was me this entire weekend: I got one chapter of Osteology read and the first section of a GIS lab due in a couple of weeks. In the grand scheme of things, that would be like setting out to paint the house and getting a set of shutters done. But hey, I like my shutters perfect.

The Gasparilla pirate festival was this weekend in downtown Tampa. I didn’t go because although I am fond of pirates (and of females in revealing pirate costumes) I didn’t want to deal with the parking, the drunk frat boys, and the even drunker middle-aged men who think drinking Miller Lite from a plastic bottle and donning plastic Marti Gras beads takes years off (just browse the Gasparilla photo album at the St. Pete Times website to see examples of all of the above).

I also spent the bulk of Saturday evening digitizing and organizing my Radiohead discography, perhaps the nerdiest activity I’ve done in months beside write this blog. Nearly 13 hours of music, 200 song files, and over a gig later I discovered that I’m more obsessed with Radiohead than with what brought me to Tampa in the first place (interestingly, someone has actually written a legit doctoral dissertation about Radiohead at the UT-Austin).

I also finally saw Apocalypto this weekend, Mel Gibson’s less than flattering treatment of the ancient Maya civilization. I’m not going to write a review because it’s been analyzed to death elsewhere on archaeology/anthropology blogs, but I will say that I am on the fence about it. On the one hand, I agree with those who say that there are some important inaccuracies that need to be addressed, but I wouldn’t go so far to say that it is an overtly racist portrayal. Traci Arden (U. of Miami) in Archaeology magazine mentions the colonial history that has wreaked havoc on indigenous Maya since the 16th century all the way up to modern times. Andrea Stone of U. of Wisconsin, also writing in Archaeology magazine, addresses the smallest details that do not match with the archaeological record. For example “She [Jaguar Paw’s wife] has loose hair (Maya women put their hair up in neat buns and tresses), an absurdly short, pubic-length tattered skirt (they wore mid-calf skirts and dresses of cotton cloth), stacks of tiny beads conveniently covering her breasts (never seen that before), and tight, woven armbands. Some Maya scholars have criticized Apocalypto by citing such minutia because we don’t have evidence for it. While much liberty was taken with respect to certain aspects of the film, complaining about something as obscure as hair length borders on denying the ancient Maya of variability within their own culture (in other words, I’m sure there was a Maya woman somewhere at sometime who wore her hair long on a regular basis). Overall, it is a good film, beautifully filmed and costumed, with quite a bit of inaccuracies that have been addressed elsewhere. Is it dangerous in the sense of focusing too much on Maya brutality and blood-thirst and emphasizing the “saving” effect of Christian Missionaries? Perhaps. But history is not owned by anyone and Gibson’s is but one interpretation; academic archaeologists do not have a monopoly on what happened in a long-disappeared culture.

Posted by Will at 12:04 PM

January 07, 2007


As I write this the little countdown timer in the right sidebar indicates that I have 343 days until I receive a master’s degree from the University of South Florida, assuming all goes to plan. Having already extended my tenure in Tampa an extra summer and semester, I am determined to graduate with a strong thesis in my hands, a boatload of quality coursework from a good department, and a the satisfaction of knowing that in the long run I made the right decision. I started Nomadic Thoughts about 21 months ago to document this period in my life, and for better or worse I am anxious to close the chapter.

Tomorrow morning is the first day of my second to last semester of graduate school. Cultural Resource Management begins at 9:30am and I already have pages of reading a discussion question to submit before midnight tonight. On Tuesday and Thursday I have Osteology, essentially a class about human bones. Indispensable to many archaeologists, especially those working in Central America, but it's not the most interesting part of archaeology in my humble opinion. Wednesday nights will be spent learning Geographic Information Systems in another department, which will prove to be my most useful class this semester because my thesis is going to use GIS technology.

So I’m not sure how much blogging I’m going to be doing over the next few months because besides classes, I am beginning extensive background research and preliminary write-ups of my thesis. Additionally, this summer's "Honduras Blogging 2007" should prove more interesting than last summer's. Stay tuned...

Posted by Will at 03:18 PM

December 14, 2006

Getting started is the hardest part

Here is a screenshot of what I've been staring at for the past half hour, trying to formulate a preliminary thesis proposal. I think I watched the cursor blink about 1,000 times before I snapped to. A journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step, if you can ever figure out in what direction that step should be.


Posted by Will at 10:55 PM

November 13, 2006

Palos Blancos representin'

A few weeks ago I submitted a handful of photos from this past summer in Honduras to the International Photo Competition sponsored by the International Affairs at USF. The photo below won a grand prize and is supposed to be enlarged and displayed in that office for the next year. It was taken at the site I excavated in northwest Honduars, Palos Blancos, and features a bunch of the local kids who hung out with us on a regular basis as well as one of the field school students sifting some dirt. I found that the kids were really good at spotting artifacts before any of us Gringos.

Update: Click here to see the announcement of the 2006 winners. I ended up winning "Best USF Study Abroad Photograph."


Posted by Will at 04:47 PM

October 31, 2006


I’ve made it back to Tampa after a busy and eventful weekend. My sister was successfully married in Cary and is currently relaxing with her new husband in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. I simply cannot explain how jealous I am (that she’s in the mountains, although Jason is a really swell guy). I gave my Lewis Binford presentation in theory class today and it went okay. I still can’t seem to get over the nervousness and shaky voice thing, but I don’t feel so bad because I definitely wasn’t the worst presenter of the day. Now it’s back to the daily grind until Thanksgiving break when I get to escape from Tampa again. Until then my main project will be a study I’m doing in my Bioarchaeology course with some cataloged human remains from the American Southwest (more to come on that).

Posted by Will at 09:07 PM

October 11, 2006

One year ago today...

I like to do this from time to time:

The Big One
8:50 PM
I am starting tonight on my first research paper for graduate school (see this post), or I should say its abstract, outline, and bibliography. I have a stack of journal articles, book reviews, and library volumes surrounding my laptop and I must say, it's the greatest feeling in the world. It's only overwhelming in the sense that I want to read every word there is to read about Ancient Maya agriculture and ancestral land use, but there are only so many hours in the day. The hard part is going to be keeping each paper under the recommended ten to fifteen page limit (remember when a 10-page paper was daunting?). I'm ready to sink my teeth into the three papers this semester but not before the realization that I really am a very, very small fish just starting out in a very large ocean.

Posted by Will at 12:13 PM

September 06, 2006

SAA Paper

I will be presenting a paper at the 72nd meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Austin, Texas at the end of April. The title is "The Mesoamerican 3-Dimensional Database." It is a project that I am working on with two PhD students at USF and will hopefully get off the ground in the next few months. Meanwhile, here is my abstract:

Recent advancements in 3-dimensional laser scanning, High Definition Documentation Survey, and digitization have facilitated the application of these geospatial technologies to the preservation of archaeological data. Due to the nature of ancient carved artifacts and the limitations of traditional methods, previous attempts to record and illustrate indistinct or obscure details have proven inadequate as a visualization tool. The Mesoamerican 3-Dimensional Database is an expandable electronic archive designed for researchers who wish to incorporate high-definition, 3-dimensional laser scans into their interpretations of carved stone, wood, shell, or stucco sculptures.

Posted by Will at 07:29 PM

August 29, 2006

Mapping Community Landscapes in Northwest Honduras

palmarejo.jpgNow I have something new and exciting to blog about: my first NSF grant proposal and thesis project. My thesis topic is finally deciding to show itself to the light of day. An idea for a National Science Foundation grant my advisor had set aside is moving forward because I fell in love with it when I read her notes. Essentially, the Palmarejo Valley in northwest Honduras consists of several rural agrarian communities of varying sizes (see figure...this past summer I worked at Palos Blancos, a class 2 site), which have only been classified by observation and limited test excavation (in other words, size). The project my advisor and I want to get off the ground will test this classification theory archaeologically and look at community organization. It’s far too big in scope for a M.A. thesis alone but I hope to get things moving next summer, with investigations continuing through the 2009 season (when I’m long gone). Components of the research questions include sustainability and water management! (excuse me while I adjust my nerd glasses).

I have agreed to do the footwork for the grant so that we could get some major funding that will enable me to do thesis research next summer in Honduras. No small task, an NSF grant is a big deal, especially when you’ve never done one before. I figured it would create a load of extra work for me between now and December 1 when the application is due, but the project idea is very appealing.

Posted by Will at 12:16 PM

August 22, 2006

Welcome Back, Klinger

welcome-back-kotter.jpgI would be lying if I said that my lack of blogging lately is due to me being busy with school. In reality, I have been enjoying my new apartment and the joy of not living in the crappy section of central Tampa near campus. As the semester is getting geared up so is my graduate assistantship. I will be working on some really interesting projects having to do with 3D laser scanning technology as well as the ol’ Total Station. One of the projects is mapping and completing a site survey of Crystal River in Florida. I am also going to get my first teaching experience, covering at least one class in my advisor’s Intro to Archaeology course. Later this semester I’ll get to lecture on one of my favorite topics: the origins of agriculture. Classes start next Monday but I only have meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays: Archaeological Theory, MA Stats, and Bioarchaeology. Let the caffeinated insanity begin.

Posted by Will at 03:20 PM

May 09, 2006

What down time?

Another lesson learned in graduate school: every day is “crunch time.” My departure for Honduras on the 22nd is approaching quickly and I still have several things to prepare. My thesis committee should come together by tomorrow, as I’m meeting with my third potential member. My internship proposal will also be finalized this week. Then tomorrow night is the orientation meeting for the field school where I get to meet all the up-and-coming archaeologists, who my friends and I will be partly responsible for (“keep your walls straight, resist the temptation to yank stuff out of the ground, and don’t drink the water”). Although I’m looking forward to taking on a leadership position for five weeks, I’m still a little apprehensive about conducting my own project at the same time.

Posted by Will at 05:27 PM

May 01, 2006

Digital Cameras

I am currently in the market for a new digital camera, to be purchased before I leave for Honduras on the 22nd. In my opinion, cameras are one of the hardest things to shop for because there are many brands and models with many options. My budget is under $500 and right now the biggest option under consideration is megapixels (clarity, color, etc.), with size and zoom cabability coming in next. Does anyone have any recommendations for or experience with a good multi-use camera that will hold up in the field?

Posted by Will at 03:32 PM | Comments (1)

Change in plans

As you can see, I've modified my degree countdown on the right to reflect the realization that I won't be able to produce a quality thesis by just going to Honduras for one month. I have decided that I will go down later this month as planned and get a feel for what has been done and what is being done at the sites, particularly Palos Blancos in the Naco Valley (NW Honduras). I may start collecting some useful data or just formulate a thesis while I'm down there, and then come back next summer. By then, I'll have a much better idea of what I'm doing and will make the most of the season. I'm not completely bummed out about this however bad I want to get out of Tampa, but I didn't come this far to throw together a weak thesis based on five or six weeks in a new country. So, 594 days to go and counting...

Posted by Will at 01:42 PM

PR Grrrrita!

Made it back last night from Puerto Rico safe and sound. Five days on a Caribbean island isn’t a bad way to wrap up a long semester and go to a conference. The SAA meetings were fun (yes, there was a point to the trip). I volunteered at four symposia: one about paleoethnobotany, another about Maya architecture in northern Belize, one about political ecology in Belize, and the one where my friends were presenting about “agrestic” centers in Northwest Honduras. After seeing several papers, I am starting to agree with Brian Fagan that archaeology is becoming far too specialized, with a small handful of people becoming experts in obscure topics that may be relevant but limit a broader understanding of past culture. The meetings this year also reminded me what a wise decision it was to pursue a degree in applied as opposed to traditional archaeology. A few of the papers I heard left me scratching my head and thinking, “that’s interesting, but what’s the point?” There usually is a point but too often, it is pushed to the side in favor of highlighting the contributions to those highly specialized sub-sub-sub-sub disciplines of archaeology I mentioned. The best speakers I saw were generally the big names that had been at it for a few decades. Timothy Beach and Emily deTapia were a few memorable presenters. A few side notes: I ran into my mentor from UNC-Wilmington that I hadn’t seen in about a year and was invited to the department graduation in a couple of weeks. Oh, and the title of this post comes from the hundreds of signs and car decorations we saw while citizens were protesting government cutbacks (Scream, Puerto Rico!).

A neat street scene in Old San Juan:

On Sunday, we drove up to the mountains where there is a weekly street fair type event...

...and we ate some roasted pig that was delicious:

The best part of Puerto Rico: the amazing beaches and jet blue water:

Posted by Will at 01:08 PM

April 25, 2006

Puerto Rico or bust

The semester is finally over and as you can see, I am alive. I leave bright and early tomorrow morning for San Juan for the SAA meetings. Part vacation, part networking, all party. Gotta love archaeology…

Posted by Will at 09:25 PM

April 17, 2006

Counting down the days

I have added a cool little javascript code to my sidebar that is counting down the days until I am awarded a Masters degree from USF, assuming everything goes as planned. And it had better because that's also how many days are left until I can get on with my life. The original script originally counted down hours, minutes, and seconds as well but that was too depressing...

Anyway, got it from this guy.

Posted by Will at 11:26 PM | Comments (1)

April 07, 2006

Home Stretch, Part II

I don’t anticipate blogging very much in the next couple of weeks because, well, it’s that time again. Although I usually have a big appetite, there are a few things on my plate that I’m ready to process and evacuate (to put it mildly). I’m compressing the rest of this semester’s work into the next 11 days because my girlfriend is visiting and we’re hitting up Orlando yet again for another round of Disney action. So, following the production of a group Paleoclimatology article and presentation, Ancient States presentation and final paper, and a short paper for Foundations of Applied Anthropology I’m D-O-N-E with year one of graduate school. The SAA meeting is in Puerto Rico at the end of the month and is one of the few things keeping me going these days. That and another visit to Animal Kingdom.

Posted by Will at 10:35 PM

March 29, 2006

BODIES: The Exhibition

bodies.jpgToday I got a creepy eye full, all in the name of social science. The Museum of Science and Industry here in Tampa has been the home for the controversial BODIES: The Exhibition for the past several months. If you’re not familiar with the BODIES exhibit, real cadavers are "laminated" by a process called plasticization and then shaped into a variety of positions in order to show how the human body functions. These are then propped up in a museum and people pay to file past them as well as display cases of real body parts, fetuses, and reconstructed circulatory systems. All of the cadavers on display look basically like the photo to the left. They’ve had the skin removed and all that remains are the muscles and/or bones. The complete specimens on display are not under glass: instead they are located throughout the hall doing things like playing basketball, kicking a soccer ball, or reading a book. The most bizarre display was the muscle part of a human holding hands with its own skeleton. Different class-covered displays have examples of body parts in various states, such as a cancerous bone and smoker’s lungs as well as healthy parts for comparison. It all sounds quite odd and it really is, especially when the company putting on the exhibition, Premier Exhibitions, has been the target of some controversy due to the questionable origin of the bodies themselves.

Exhibits like these are nothing new. The Premier Exhibitions version is one of the most popular ones and they have shows scheduled in Tampa, London, Atlanta, and New York. Due to the overwhelming popularity, its stay in Tampa has been extended twice and is now slated to remain at MOSI until September. Not surprisingly, the use of real human cadavers for infotainment purposes draws huge crowds who want to get up close and personal to a former living, breathing fellow human. All in the name of science, right? Personally, I take great issue with Premier Exhibitions BODIES exhibit not because of the concept itself, which I think it a wonderful idea, but because of the questionable nature of the acquisition of some of the display items. Honestly, I have no data other than newspaper reports and information from some of my colleagues, but I have no reason to doubt these sources. Most of the specimens are Chinese and it is believed that they were homeless individuals that did not (or were unable to) give their permission for their remains to be used. With such a huge moneymaker as BODIES, it would not surprise me if certain details were purposefully kept on the D.L.

As I won’t pay to see the exhibit because of the shadiness, I finally got to see it today for free because I have been assigned some G.A. hours working with a student who is doing a project about public response to the exhibit. He has a set of written pre- and post-interviews and plans to conduct oral interviews with people who have just seen the exhibit. We spent most of our time at MOSI today setting up in the main entrance area but were able to tour the exhibit beforehand and meet several of the museum staff. Although it was mostly large school groups, I was surprised by the overall turnout for a Tuesday morning. One of the museum administrators was telling us that they’ve been averaging about 5,500 visitors per day during the week and a little more than twice that on the weekends, most to see the BODIES exhibit. Just goes to show that one doesn’t have to be breathing (or even fully articulated) to achieve rockstar status.

Posted by Will at 12:02 AM

March 28, 2006

USF Summer Study Program in Guatemala

June 26 - July 31st, 2006

This five-week course focuses on the history of indigenous cultures in Mesoamerica and offers students a first hand experience with one of the more successful stories of indigenous activism in the Americas, the Maya Movement of Guatemala. Beginning with the documents created by and about native peoples around the time of the Spanish invasion, the course traces the cultural histories and resistance of indigenous populations from the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century to the present. While we will cover Mesoamerica in general, we will focus upon the Maya activists of Guatemala in order to present case studies to complement and enhance background readings.


After one initial week of meetings on the USF main campus in Tampa, we will travel as a group to Guatemala and spend the first week in beautiful Antigua. This colonial town, ringed by three volcanoes, thrives today as a meeting ground for indigenous and non-indigenous Guatemalans, international students and travelers from every corner of the world, and intellectuals from all over the Americas. Amongst the colorfully painted houses, which line cobble-stoned streets, are nearly thirty ruined and reconstructed churches, many of which date to the 17th and 18th centuries, when this was a colonial stronghold in New Spain.

We then move to Lake Atitlán, located in the western highlands of Guatemala, for two weeks. Bordered to the south by four volcanoes, Aldous Huxley called this "the most beautiful lake in the world." Fourteen indigenous towns surround the lake and this region has become one of the most politically active areas in all of Guatemala, due in part to the efforts of indigenous activists to reclaim their identity and further erase the colonial legacies of racism and discrimination, which continue to plague the Mayas today.


Prior knowledge of Spanish, although recommended, is not required for participation. Classes will be held in English. Both USF and non-USF students are welcome and the program is open to those 18 and older with an interest in anthropology, history, political science, comparative literature, cultural studies, plant biology, and public health (to name a few).

Program Inclusions

Pre-departure orientation and class sessions at USF
6 credits (undergraduate or graduate)
LAS 3002 (6 credits) Undergraduate
LAS 6936 (6 credits) Graduate
Hotel accommodations (double occupancy) for four weeks
Three meals per day for four weeks
Group breakfast and allowance for lunch and dinner
Entrance fees for tourist sites
Group transportation throughout Guatemala
Field trips to neighboring cities
Three-day excursion at end of course
Group airport pickup and return
USF Group Insurance

Not Included
Personal expenditures
Beverages, bottled water

Program Fees

$2,400 Undergraduates (total of all fees)
$2,970 Graduates (total of all fees)

$1,529.00 In-Country Program Fee
$540.00 USF instructional fees (6 undergraduate credits)
$1,110.00 USF instructional fees (6 graduate credits)
$300 USF Study Abroad Administrative Fee

Payment Schedule

To the Study Abroad Office:

A $500 deposit is required at the time of application, no later than March 30, 2006 (payable to the USF Study Abroad Office). The remainder of the program fee is due to the Study Abroad Office by May 15, 2006.

To the Cashier's Office:

A separate $300 USF Study Abroad Administrative Fee for six credit hours is due before the program, payable to the USF Cashier's Office. Tuition fees of $540 (ndergraduate) or $1,110 (Graduate), payable to USF Cashier's Office

About the USF Instructor

Timothy J. Smith, Ph.D., is Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of South Florida. Dr. Smith's research covers the anthropology of politics, ethnicity, democracy, and social movements in Latin America, specifically Guatemala and Mexico. In addition to holding visiting appointments in anthropology at Harvard University and Columbia University, he has taught social anthropology, humanities, Latin American studies, and linguistics at the University of South Florida, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University at Albany, SUNY.

For general enrollment information, registration and payment questions, contact:
Julie Hale
Study Abroad Office
International Affairs
University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler Avenue, CPR 107 (CPR 468)
Tampa, FL 33620
Telephone: (813) 974-3933

For program specific, academic, or course-related questions, contact:
Dr. Timothy J. Smith
Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean
University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler Avenue, CPR 107 (office located in CPR 474)
Tampa, FL 33620
Telephone:(813) 974-2962

Cancellation and Refund Policy

If a student cancels once the deposit is paid, $200 of the deposit is refundable; the remaining $300 is non-refundable. If notice of cancellation is received after final payment is due, all monies paid may be withheld and are refundable only as recoverable from providers of service. If USF must cancel a program, all monies paid are refundable.


All participants are responsible for carefully reviewing the USF General Study Abroad Information document. This provides important information on your responsibilities with regard to study abroad, including terms and conditions of participation, insurance, financial aid, and cancellation/refund policies.

Access the USF Study Abroad website: or request a printed version of this document from the Study Abroad Office.

Posted by Will at 01:01 PM

March 25, 2006

Marathon Writing

Although I do love writing research papers, there does come a point where I wonder why. It’s now midnight on Sunday morning and I’ve reached that point. I have a 15-20 page rough draft due on Monday for peer review. What is it about culling through dead trees and slowly building calluses on my fingertips that I crave? I have been working solid for the past two days (OK, I took a few breaks to eat and void) and my appetite for information seems insatiable. I get antsy and shift in my chair when I hit instances of writer’s block or when it takes me ten minutes to finally realize that “Examining the broader role of agriculture in the political economy of important lowland sites provides a firm basis on which to draw conclusions regarding food production at Lamanai and how this may have contributed to a rise in complexity” is a pretty good way to put it. I have about a dozen other examples of these “ten-minute sentences."

This paper is easily the most involved and extensive I have written so far, and the sad thing is that it’s still miniscule compared to what’s being published. There’s lots of “yada, yada, yada…and this is what I, a first-year graduate student, think about your life’s work.” It is discouraging at times but then I remind myself that I’m still feeling my way so to speak; slowly narrowing in one what exactly it is about agriculture and subsistence that literally (no pun intended) keeps me up at night. The clock is ticking until my four-week gig in Honduras so I'd better figure it out soon. I’m off to bed for a few hours, only to get up again tomorrow at the crack of noon to churn out another four or five pages. This must have been one of the deleted scenes from the Indiana Jones films.

Posted by Will at 11:57 PM

March 23, 2006

Gee, Mr. Wizard!

What better way to spend a dreary Thursday than learning how to fill up jugs of seawater? That's exactly what two classmates and I did this afteroon in south Tampa Bay as part of our paleoclimatology reserach project. We met up with our professor and a St. Pete PhD student to collect about five gas containers of seawater from a protected area of the Bay with the eventual goal of testing the nitrogen content of its organic matter. We took the samples to a lab on the St. Petersburg campus and got as far as passing the water through an incredibly fine filter which basically trapped everything that's not dissolved, creating a layer of brown goop on the filter. This is what we'll be testing. As you might have guessed, I'm no expert on whatever it is that we're supposed to be doing but I still enjoyed today's semi-productive field excursion and felt a little like a real scientist.

Here's a shot from the trusty camera-phone. Not exactly postcard quality but neither is most of the Bay area. We did get a few stares from some fishermen who were probably wondering why the hell we were wading in shin-deep water off the side of the road collecting gallons of bay water in the rain. We should have worn lab coats.

Posted by Will at 09:30 PM

March 21, 2006

When presentations go well

After this semester’s first paper/presentation a couple of weeks ago, which went horribly and embarrassingly wrong, it feels good to hit one out of the park. Tonight my classmate and I gave a talk on sustainable agriculture and cultural landscapes, loosely based on a chapter from one of my favorite books of late, Charles Redman’s Human Impact on Ancient Environments. With several graduate-level talks under my belt I feel myself getting better and more comfortable with public speaking each time. So, a celebratory beer and maybe a movie will cap off a pretty good evening. Then tomorrow it’s time to get my head out of the clouds and come back to the real world of reading and writing.

Posted by Will at 11:17 PM

March 17, 2006

How I get by

I’m hesitant to even entertain the possibility that I have some sort of attention deficit disorder, but I am confident that there are far too many distractions in my room. Various civilian activities take up valuable minutes that could be spend coating the inside of my skull with one of the densest books I’ve ever read (Bruce Trigger’s Understanding Ancient Civilizations) or vomiting highlighter ink on articles about political economy and state formation. So goes my quiet Friday evening in: all the distractions of the outside world are drowned out in favor of my computer, the internet, blog reading, music downloads, television (i.e. Law & Order: SVU), and books (i.e. NOT Bruce Trigger). As the caffeine wears off I start to consider watching a movie, listening to my trusty iPod, or hanging upside down by my ankles for a few minutes to make room for more information.

Posted by Will at 11:27 PM

March 08, 2006

Going home

Tomorrow is the start of my unofficial “spring break.” One thing about graduate school is that you don’t really get a spring break other than not having a week’s worth of classes; hardly a break. Plenty of reading is still waiting to get done and I’m not getting a paycheck from the State of Florida to travel home and spend time with my family and girlfriend. Don’t tell Jeb. This past week has easily been the most trying so far for a number of reasons. I love two-thirds of my classes and crave a workload, but I’m starting to get more than my feet wet in the graduate school game: the politics, professional relationships, and plenty of deep breaths. So my unofficial spring break couldn’t have come at a better time, and May 2007 won’t get here quick enough.

Posted by Will at 07:16 PM

March 07, 2006

Can I take my head out of the sand now?

Remember that paleoclimatology paper I mentioned earlier? Well, I gave the presentation yesterday and it wasn't pretty. Quite disasterous, in fact. I won't elaborate other than to say that a) it takes a huge set of cajones to get up in front of a classroom full of geology and biology graduate students in a graduate-level course and present a paper on a subject which you know little to nothing about. For that I have no regrets because now I'll never be nervous about public speaking ever again. And b) I'm sticking to archaeology.

Posted by Will at 04:41 PM

March 02, 2006

Jared Diamond Lecture

Tonight was the big Jared Diamond lecture on the USF campus. I attended with a group of fellow anthropologists and was pleased with both the lecture and the turnout. A couple hundred people listened intensely as Diamond provided insight into the research and writing of Collapse and how history’s lessons are relevant today. His overarching message, or at least what I took from the talk, was that we do have quite a bit to learn from the past and that we as a human species are united through our impacts on the natural environment. Diamond mentioned how the message of Collapse is sometimes interpreted as pessimistic and suicide-inducing but he dispelled that myth by providing general guidelines for the future. The audience questions were impressive and a few even challenged his central theses quite eloquently, although I still tend to agree with him more than I disagree. If anything, his talk tonight gave me even more motivation to save the world one pit at a time.


Posted by Will at 09:33 PM

March 01, 2006

Jared Diamond at USF tomorrow night

Needless to say I'll be there, front and center. Scans of my autographed books to come...

Jared Diamond
“Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”
March 2 at 7pm in the Special Events Center
Co-sponsored by the USF Humanities Institute
Author and biologist Jared Diamond is renowned globally for his popular scientific works that combine anthropology, biology, linguistics, genetics, and history. He is the author of the 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel, which asserts that the main international issues of our time are legacies of processes that began during the early-modern period, in which civilizations that had experienced an extensive amount of "human development" began to intrude upon simpler civilizations around the world. In his most recent book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Diamond examines what caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin and considers what contemporary society can learn from their fates. Diamond is currently a professor of geography and of environmental health sciences at the University of California – Los Angeles.

Previously on Nomadic Thoughts:
More on the Guns, Germs, and Steel Special on PBS
GG&S Episode One Review
GG&S Episode Two Review
My psuedo-interview with Jared Diamond
Guns, Germs and Steel: Final Review and Analysis
GG&S Debate Heats Up
A belated Reply to my Guns, Germs and Steel review

Posted by Will at 10:48 AM

February 27, 2006


Anyone presenting at SAA's this April in San Juan? I got my volunteer schedule and I'm a session attendant for all three of my shifts: Thursday 6:30p-9:30p, Friday 1p-5p, and Sunday 8a-12p. Not sure which sessions though, but if I know you through blogging or even if you're a lurker be sure to say hi.

Posted by Will at 07:54 PM

February 20, 2006

This is your brain on graduate school

I'm taking the night off. Normally I would be working at least until midnight on reading, writing, organizing, etc. as I have been nonstop for the last week or so. Relief came in the form of my Paleoclimatology paper/class presentation being moved, giving me an extra week to write the paper and prepare the presentation. This couldn't come at a better time because my parents are visiting Tampa this week and we're going to Disneyworld on Friday and Saturday. So I no longer have to cram a week's worth of work into three days and I can actually relax a bit.

You know when you're cooking something with a skillet on the stovetop and you suddenly move the skillet over to the sink and turn on the cold water and the thing erupts in a frenzy of sizzling and steam? That's what it feels like to be really busy and stressed and then really relieved that you don't need to be for several days in a row.


P.S. - for me, "the night off" means doing something productive that's not directly related to my graduate work, such as reading textbooks about the ancient Maya for pleasure or organizing my blogroll.

Posted by Will at 09:03 PM

February 19, 2006

The best automatic page-turning book scanner ever!

Gizmodo brought this new device to my attention, to be released next month for a cool $35,000: The Atiz BookDrive Automatic Book Scanner, which has a mechanized page turning feature. Sweet! I mention this because as a graduate assistant, I've become quite skilled at scanning book chapters (sometimes two if the book is small enough).


Posted by Will at 04:21 PM

February 12, 2006

Does this trowel make me look fat?

I was lucky enough to avoid the “freshman 15” four years ago (now shown to be largely myth) but after a semester of graduate school and decreased physical activity since my undergraduate years it’s starting to catch up. For all four of my years at UNC-Wilmington I was on the rowing team, which needless to say kept me active. Starting your day at 5am three or four times a week with vigorous exercise is good for you. Including water training, I typically worked out four to five days a week and felt guilty if I didn’t. It got to the point that I couldn’t envision what it would be like to go to school without constantly having to think about staying in shape. We were only a club sport…I cringe when I think about the training regiment of larger, varsity programs. It turned out that we didn’t compete last spring, my final year on the team, although the drive remained and I continued to train regularly. I’ve never kept track of my weight and still don’t, but the cute little belly I’ve grown since graduating is a reminder that the years are catching up. I used to brag to people that my metabolism was so high that I ate practically anything without gaining a pound; the joys of being a lanky, awkward college kid.

At UNCW I was used to working out several times a week. Now, I’m lucky if I get motivated enough for a two-mile jog or 30-minute Stairmaster workout in my apartment complex’s fitness center. At first I thought I was just getting lazy, but that feeling quickly dissipated when I realized that, hey, I’m in freakin’ graduate school! The next two years of my life should be devoted to reading, writing, and researching. The heaviest thing I should be lifting is a box of pottery sherds in the lab. This is the main reason I’m so anxious to get down to Honduras and back into the field. One of my first friends in Tampa, a portly first-year MA student who has worked in Honduras two summers, said the best diet he’s been on involved amoebas from the water (the pounds just melt away and all you have to do is sit there). I don’t anticipate going that route for getting back in shape but I’ll be the first in line to hack away at the jungle with a machete and schlep buckets of dirt to the screens in 90 degree heat. Just think, how many obese archaeologists do you know?

Posted by Will at 07:58 PM

February 04, 2006

Professor Will

Today is my “get ahead” day before the Super Bowl tomorrow night. I have to give a presentation in class on Monday morning about kingship in Dynastic Egypt and I’m finding that the incredible amount of information available about ancient Egypt is getting the better of me. In other words, I want to talk about everything I can get my hands on but must come up with a concise and coherent lecture/discussion. One option is to show a short video in class but that seems too easy. Besides having trouble finding a good scholarly (i.e. non-Discovery Channel) documentary on Egypt it seems to me that showing what I could get my hands on would be overkill in a room full of archaeologists. One can only see a documentary that starts with a time-lapse video of the sun setting/rising behind a silhouette of the pyramids at Giza so many times (whoever shot that footage is a millionaire).

I assigned a chapter on kingship from Wilkinson’s Early Dynastic Egypt. It’s long but an easy read and interesting if only by merit of not being a typical regurgitation of Egyptian history. I’m also going to draw from two theory-based articles to do the compare-contrast thing: The Symbolic Mechanisms of Sacred Kingship: Rediscovering Frazer by Luc de Heusch and Agriculture and the Origins of the State in Ancient Egypt by Robert C. Allen. The latter article caught my fancy because as many of you know, agriculture is my thing and I can’t not talk about it at every opportunity (I can’t explain the fascination with farming and subsistence so don’t ask!). So those two take of the theory aspect of my discussion. Finally, for a case study I plan on talking a little about my favorite Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaten. I like this cat because he was revolutionary and gave a big middle finger to the whole Egyptian religious tradition.

This is really only the second time I’ve led a class and although it’s only for an hour out of a three-hour meeting, it’s keeping me busy. I have a new respect for all you college professors who do this consistently. Intro classes I can see being on the easy side but making a graduate seminar interesting on a weekly basis is a feat in itself. Any secrets of the trade I need to know about?

Posted by Will at 03:09 PM

February 01, 2006

Here, there, and everywhere

You can tell the semester is well underway because several days have passed without a substantive blog post. Plus I returned on Sunday night from spending the weekend in Savannah with the lady. Nice city, lots of history, but very touristy. Things haven’t been too crazy yet, but like last semester it’s the calm before the storm. On Monday I am leading a 45-minute class discussion/presentation in the Ancient States course I am taking. The week’s overarching topic is kingship and my specific discussion will focus on dynastic Egypt. Fortunately, I am coming off the heels of last semester’s Chiefdoms course, 1/3 of which was devoted to kingship. I’m not an expert on Egypt but know enough to teach a little on it and make it relevant. I wonder if there’s any information out there about Egypt...

Also, I'm starting to zero in on some thesis research to carry out this summer in Honduras. I'm looking to do sort of an ethnoarchaological or landscape archaeology thing at a site called Palos Blancos in northwest Honduras. Palos Blancos is currently a small, close-knit community of farmers and their families. I'm currently doing a broad review of the literature and hope to read everything I can get my hands on about PCAP and the archaeology that has already been done in and around Palos Blancos (including Palmarejo, where the field school takes place).

Posted by Will at 06:12 PM

January 17, 2006

The Office

I'm moving up in the world...sort of. I packed up and migrated to a new office down the hall. Last semester I shared a large one with three other people. My new one is a corner office, but that doesn't make that much of difference when it's in the basement of the building. It's quite cozy and quieter than my old place and I kind of enjoy the cold, bare concrete walls. Aside from the fact that it desperately needs to go head to head with a vacuum cleaner, it's not too shabby.

Here's a shot I took with my camera phone after I got everything situated.


Posted by Will at 09:42 PM | Comments (3)

January 12, 2006

The first week

I have now had at least one meeting of each of the courses I am taking this semester. Like last, it’s still too early to tell which will end up being my favorite, but I’m much more confident to make a guess this time around. On Monday I started off at 9am with Ancient States, taught by my thesis advisor. The usual graduate seminar format, it’s essentially part two of Chiefdoms, a course I took last semester. Our main text is Bruce Trigger’s Understanding Early Civilizations, a great volume that examines seven different prestate societies and how they came about. Last semester’s Chiefdoms course was replete with theory (which I crave in a twisted way) but Ancient States is going to be more culture history oriented although we’re still looking at theories quite a bit. We have one research paper and a class presentation. My class presentation is going to be on Dynastic Egypt and I’ll be leading discussion for about a third of one of the meetings.

Paleoclimatology is my required elective outside of the Anthropology department. My knowledge of how climate works is limited but judging from the two meetings so far and what I’ve read, it’s going to be not only interesting but practical to my research (depending on exactly what I end up doing for my thesis). I am probably most excited about this class because of the hands-on research and field trips we’ll be doing. This Saturday, actually, we’ll going to a protected area of Tampa Bay were the plan is to collect clams and carry out analysis. This is going to involve some canoeing and getting dirty, something I haven’t done since Belize last summer. The other trips are tree coring at a local park, sediment sampling at a cave north of Tampa (spelunking!), and a sediment coring expedition in the bay. Besides the field trips, I’m excited about the group research project, which I’ll be working on with two of my friends who are also Mesoamerican archaeologists. We are to carry out actual field work and lab analysis and produce a publishable report of the results. Obviously it will be nothing extensive but good practice at doing something different.

Finally, Foundations of Applied Anthropology II is the sequel to a required course that examines the history and thought of applied anthropology. There is plenty of reading and writing for this class but it’s useful in the sense that I’ll learn why I’m at USF in the first place. As opposed to most of the courses I’ve taken and will take, this one brings together all first-year masters and PhD students regardless of track or focus which makes for an interesting and lively debate about the different topics. Anthropology is indeed a single discipline but you would be surprised at the array of opinions coming from so many different academic interests. The books include David Hurst Thomas’ Skull Wars, which I am reading now.

All and all off to a good start this semester. I’ll be writing less now that I’m back in the groove of graduate school but I anticipate plenty of thoughts about what I’ll be learning, to be sorted out here!

Posted by Will at 05:06 PM

January 07, 2006

Two links... keep you busy over the weekend (at least for a few minutes). Slate has a piece up where they ask writers, artists, etc. "to name the most amazing—or most disappointing—cultural happening they stumbled on during the course of the year." An interesting read of some varying points of view.

Also, a little Florida evolution/ID news: the Gainesville Sun has story about teaching in public schools.

Sort of a slow weekend around here. My friends are still out of town and I'm picking one of them up at the airport tomorrow night. The past two days I started my second semester of graduate assistantships. The changes include a new GA advisor and an additional 10 hours with the chair of the department. For the time being my time will be divided between cleaning and organizing another lab and working on other things. I started in the lab a couple of days ago. Are archaeologists generally this disorganized and packrat-ish? It was fun to flip through student papers and projects from 10-15 years ago and play with field equipment that's easily two decades old.

Posted by Will at 02:48 PM

January 03, 2006

Back to it

Made it back to Tampa safe and sound, but not before a sore hand and a headache. I had to haul back all the loot I got over the holiday, mostly books (the sore hand). Once in Tampa at about 10:30pm I had to order a van ride back to my apartment, which took finally reached my door at 12:15am because we had to drop off a person in lovely south Tampa. Now I must try to get some sort of sleep tonight before my road trip to Ft. Lauderdale to see King Tut!

Posted by Will at 01:46 AM

December 09, 2005


My first semester of graduate school is OVER and I must say that it absolutely flew by. Easily the quickest semester ever, even in four years of college. All I have left to do is turn in three papers tomorrow on campus, return the rest of my books to the library (I have to do it in shifts because I have so many), and pack to go home to North Carolina for the break. I’m going to Wilmington for a few days to visit my old college home…I miss it dearly. Then it’s back to Winston until I must return to Tampa for round two…

Posted by Will at 12:23 AM

December 05, 2005

Under Pressure

I’m downloading Queen & Bowie’s 1981 hit “Under Pressure” to use as my theme song for the rest of the week. It is now crunch time and while I know I’m going to make it out alive, I’m nervous to look in the mirror on Friday night for all the bruises I will have suffered. I basically scrapped the entire second half of my Chiefdoms research because it seemed really forced and my professor politely agreed. My Archaeological Methods paper, which is in the form of a mock NSF grant proposal, is basically finished but I’m not 100% satisfied with it. I am presenting that tomorrow afternoon in class much like I did last week in Chiefdoms. Unfortunately, I do not have to present my Proseminar paper which I think is going to be my best this semester if I can get a handle on Central American land and agriculture policy.

So before I leave for home on Saturday morning I have about 4,500 more words to write when all is said and done. Pocket change by professional research standards but a hell of alot when you’re new at the game and scrutinize every phrase and concept. See you on the other side…

Posted by Will at 11:33 PM

December 01, 2005

Presentation is Everything

My first of two paper presentations went well. Yesterday was for my Chiefdoms course, where I talked for 15 minutes about water management, ancestor veneration, and the links between the two (I was initially attracted to USF because of my advisor’s interest in water management and environmental anthropology…the ancestor veneration part was to make it relevant to the course topic). It was my first “professional” paper presentation and my first at the USF Chiefdoms Symposium (can I put that on my resume?). I thought it went well despite the fact that I was just a little nervous in front of the huge crowd of 12 people and my professor. My draft was returned with plenty of red ink but some constructive suggestions that are going to keep me busy until the due date next Friday.

To get an idea of what makes a “good” academic presentation, just check out this list of Maxims for Malfeasant Speakers from Harvard…hilarious (and surprisingly, it did help me).

I have to give another 15-minute presentation on my Archaeological Methods paper next Tuesday. Same format and much of the same crowd, but a much different topic: using archaeological data about ancient agricultural practices in the Maya lowlands to address contemporary sustainability in the region. In a nutshell, the Ancient Maya had some pretty good farming methods but they didn’t think too far in the future and eventually degraded much of their land beyond sustainability. It’s been a rough situation ever since the collapse and European invasion, but things are getting better. I agree with many archaeologists that using aspects of ancient techniques along with sound modern technologies is the only way to ensure sustainability in the Maya region, where thousands of indigenous farmers still use some of these traditional methods. I’m basically arguing the exact same thing for my third paper this semester minus the section on a bunch of technical stuff and plus a section about advocacy, politics, policy, etc.

Posted by Will at 10:47 PM

November 20, 2005

Whatever gets you through the night...

...besides caffeine, E.B. Banning (of U. of Toronto)’s Writing Archaeological Essays and Theses. Ironically, I came across this website while procrastinating. It’s easily the most useful shortlist of paper-writing tips that I’ve read and it’s specifically tailored to archaeology. So, if anyone was wondering what I’ve been staring at blankly for several minutes at a time over the past two days, now you know. My favorite tip: "Keep it simple and concise. Verbosity does not impress me", which has been the mantra of my own professor this semester. Methinks this has something to do with the fact that the longer an archaeologist is reading (or listening to) a boring, drawn-out paper the longer he or she must wait until the next cocktail.

Posted by Will at 09:55 PM

November 17, 2005

Why I Love It

As my first semester as a graduate student is coming to a close, I am reminded of why I decided to attend in the first place: I am addicted to research and writing. I am not talking necessarily about the acquisition of knowledge or simply getting smarter, although that is a big part of it. Instead, I literally enjoy the activity of hunting down material, reading it, and being able to understand what is being discussed. It’s sort of like “research archaeology.” I have probably about 15 books checked out from the library and just as many journal articles that will be the basis of my three papers this semester. It’s so much to read and digest which makes it daunting, but the feeling of being humbled by other research and standing on the shoulders of giants it what is addicting. I suppose I enjoy the feeling I get every time I read something and realize that there’s no way that I’ll ever run out of things to learn and that I have a very real opportunity to contribute. Maybe there’s a part of me that wants to publish the next ground-breaking ideas about the Maya; something never before realized. Some archaeologists secretly dream about finding that one artifact or site that will make their career but I dream about paradigm shifts and frameworks. I like to think I would have the ability to keep my ego in check and remain humble, but how easy could that be if you come up with a new way of viewing the past and it just happens to be accepted by the field?

Posted by Will at 08:35 PM

November 01, 2005

North vs. South

Here is a short paper that couldn't be more than two pages, so it's sort of abrupt at the end.

In thinking about personal experiences with concepts in linguistic anthropology, I am reminded of my experience with regionally-defined English dialects, or accents. Most Americans are undoubtedly aware that variations in accents exist in the United States but there seems to be a surprisingly low number of people who have had one-to-one interactions with a member of another accent group. This observation is based on my own experiences. The most drastic and obvious differences in regional dialects are between northeastern states and southeastern states (North and South). More specifically, citizens of the states of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have a unique accent that differs greatly from what is found in my home state of North Carolina. It should be noted that in this paper, I generalize New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts accents as “northern” while those found in the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, parts of the Virginias, and Appalachian region of the US are generalized as “southern.” These are of course more specific variations that can be drilled down within the traditional northern/southern dichotomy that may or may not be apparent to an outsider. I believe, however, that a broad division between northern and southern accents serves my purposes here. Finally, northern and southern accents can be observed in all parts of the country independent of place of origin of the individual.

My personal experience with these regional accents has to do with my travels between and within the southern states and parts of the northern states mentioned above. Born in Houston, Texas, I consider North Carolina my home state because I have lived there for the majority of my life and am thus influenced more by North Carolinian culture and ways of life. I was raised in the semi-metropolitan town of Winston-Salem, home to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and birthplace of NASCAR. North Carolina’s own unique brand of southern culture permeates many aspects of life in Winston-Salem and what is called the Piedmont (the area between the mountains and coast). A short drive in any direction will yield further variation in this culture. Dialectally, North Carolina does have variation within the state. Unfortunately, living most of my life in two parts of the state renders me incapable of distinguishing between these variations in any meaningful way (basically, I know it when I hear it but have trouble describing it).

As with anyone who has lived in one region of the United States for the majority of his or life, I was and still am firmly engrained with the customs and way of speaking that is characteristic of North Carolina. So when I took my first trip north of Pennsylvania back in the summer of 2003 I was able to experience not only a different way of speaking but a completely foreign way of life. I was traveling with my then-girlfriend, who was born and raised in Massachusetts. Our ultimate destination was Mansfield, Massachusetts, a small town that could be considered a suburb of Boston. We were there to see my favorite band perform at the large outdoor venue there. Once we passed Maryland and drove through Pennsylvania I began to notice a difference in the way people talked. This was not a surprise to me as I was familiar with the divisions of accentual variation but it was simply something I noticed. Not only did people in this part of the country speak with a much different accent, they acted differently than what I was accustomed to. It turned out to be my first experience with the strongly-defined division between “northern” and “southern” accents.

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Posted by Will at 02:22 PM

October 25, 2005

2006 USF Honduras Field School Announced

I will be doing my master's thesis in Honduras next summer and this is the U. of South Florida field school that will be happening while I'm there. Although I won't be a part of the field school, I will probably play a role in some way or another (conscripting undergraduate labor, perhaps?;). Check out the website for some cool pictures.

PALMAREJO COMMUNITY ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT Summer Field School in Honduras, May 29-June 24, 2006
This four-week summer research program will introduce students to the fascinating world of the ancient Maya and their neighbors through archaeological excavation of one of their villages, Palmarejo, located among beautiful tropical forest groves in northwestern Honduras. Through assisting archaeologists in the field and laboratory, participants will be trained in the methods, theory, and ethics of archaeology. Participants also will learn about the cultures and history of Mesoamerica through seminars and field trips led by USF faculty, and will experience a new way of life as a result of living and working in a modern Central American community.
The prehispanic site of Palmarejo, occupied during the seventh through tenth centuries A.D., is a sizable village composed of nearly 100 buildings that represent temples, palaces, and a ball court where an ancient ball game was played. Some of the tallest buildings surround plaza spaces where religious ceremonies were performed. There are also terraces bordering part of the site that were used for agriculture and for diverting rainfall into a large reservoir. The main settlement is surrounded by as many as 100 smaller towns and hamlets. Our excavations will focus on the elite residences at the site to learn how its inhabitants lived and how they were able to command the labor necessary to build their palaces and temples and to farm their fields.
For more information, including tuition, program costs, financial assistance, and application, visit the website:

Posted by Will at 10:57 PM

October 23, 2005

Wilma Cancels Classes

Well, all USF classes have been cancelled and all non-essential offices closed for Monday. Normally I would be delighted at this turn of events but my only class tomorrow, an undergraduate Linguistics course that I’m auditing, was cancelled several weeks ago because our instructor is out of town. I thought I had outgrown that “snow day” syndrome that plagues grade school kids, but apparently not.

Also, the picture is starting to emerge of what the rest of my semester is going to look like, and it’s characterized by several stretches of intense busyness punctuated by a few instances of possible free time and a beer or two. Because there are no classes tomorrow and I don’t have to report to campus to work, I will try to get started on the papers. Most would agree that the hardest part of a research paper is not the actual gathering of resources, the long nights of typing away on a computer, or the proofreading to make sure the sentences you typed at 2am are coherent. The hardest part is sitting down to start and defining the flow and tempo of the paper.

I wrote pretty well in undergraduate but there is more at stake here. Now, I’m not writing merely for a grade but for respect and acceptance as well. For one of my courses (that shall remain nameless) I am not motivated at all to put much energy into the final paper because I have not been motivated to learn what is being “taught” (I use the term loosely). In that respect, it’s going to be the hardest one to write and probably the least rewarding.

Posted by Will at 03:20 PM

October 18, 2005

Just in the nick of time

The New York Times is reporting that the Graduate Entrance Exam (GRE) is being revamped for next year. This includes lengthening it to four hours (!) and implementing new methods to address cheating. The article is behind a subscription to the site, but here are some excerpts:

To enhance security, every question on the new exams will be used only once, and the test will start at different times in different time zones, so students who have finished cannot pass on questions to those in different zones.
As of next year, the test will no longer be "computer adaptive," with test-takers getting questions tailored to their performance on previous questions, so that each gets challenging questions that provide a clear picture of what they can do. Instead, every student taking the test on a particular day will get the same questions, and those questions will not be reused.
On the new exams, the verbal reasoning section will consist of two 40-minute sections rather than one 30-minute section, and will place less emphasis on vocabulary and more on higher cognitive skills.
The quantitative reasoning section will grow from one 45-minute section to two 40-minute sections, with fewer geometry questions and more on interpreting tables and graphs. And the analytical writing measure, which had a 45-minute essay and a 30-minute essay, will now have two 30-minute essays.

Posted by Will at 10:43 AM

October 11, 2005

The Big One

I am starting tonight on my first research paper for graduate school (see this post), or I should say its abstract, outline, and bibliography. I have a stack of journal articles, book reviews, and library volumes surrounding my laptop and I must say, it's the greatest feeling in the world. It's only overwhelming in the sense that I want to read every word there is to read about Ancient Maya agriculture and ancestral land use, but there are only so many hours in the day. The hard part is going to be keeping each paper under the recommended ten to fifteen page limit (remember when a 10-page paper was daunting?). I'm ready to sink my teeth into the three papers this semester but not before the realization that I really am a very, very small fish just starting out in a very large ocean.

If I don't get sidetracked reading entire articles, by the end of the night I will have a 100-word abstract for the Chiefdoms edition of my research.

A photo of aforementioned workspace, taken with my new camera phone:


Posted by Will at 08:50 PM

October 03, 2005

How to write an archaeology paper

The archaeology page has a mini-course in how to write an archaeology research paper. Nothing new or revolutionary, but it's good to refresh your memory on the basics every once in a while, even if your career is writing archaeology papers.

I have three papers to write over the next few months, all of which constitute the bulk of my grades for this semester. In actuality, I will be killing four birds with one stone. I plan on using the same research topic/thesis for each paper and many of the same resources, expanding and rearranging as needed depending on the course. The fourth bird is that these papers will sort of be a preliminary survey of what I want to do for my research next summer and my thesis next year. Since my Belize experience last summer I have become very interested in Ancient Maya agriculture, subsistence, and land use. I spoke with my professor today and we narrowed that down to Maya relationships with the land, which really encompasses what I just mentioned and potentially an ideological/cosmological dimension. Essentially, in my papers I want to revisit one of Patricia McAnany’s discussions in her book Living with the Ancestors: Kinship and Kingship in Ancient Maya Society. I was pleased to learn that her chapter on land relationships has been widely praised but no one has yet done a critical evaluation of her basic arguments (according to my prof) or applied them to other regions. Once I get a better handle on what those arguments are (I just started the book today) I’ll relate them here, as well as post about the progress of the papers in general.

In Honduras, where I’ll most likely be carrying out my research next summer (and where my professor co-directs a field school) there are some uninvestigated field houses associated with Prehistoric agricultural areas that raise some interesting questions, some of which I plan on visiting this semester in my papers. Field houses were and still are essentially basic structures where farmers would keep their tools, rest, and maybe stay for extended periods of time if the plot of land with which the field house is associated is located some distance from the primary residence. There are so many dimensions to Ancient Maya land use that I still have quite a bit of narrowing down to do.

If any of you reading has an advanced degree, what was the process like for you in zeroing in on a research topic and commiting to it?

Posted by Will at 11:27 PM | Comments (1)

September 29, 2005

The Oldest Archaeologist in the World

For my graduate assistantship I've been working on re-cataloging and organizing the biological anthropology collection in one of the labs. I was taking some photos for the database and caught the following rare glimpse of the oldest archaeologist in the world. Unfortunately, all contextual information has since been lost:

soc126_bio_collection 037_blog.jpg

Posted by Will at 10:18 AM

September 27, 2005

Attack of the USF Elevator

While children are starving in poverty all over the world and the victims of one of the worst natural disasters ever struggle to get their lives back together, I have this heart-wrenching saga of my latest near-death experience:

So I was at the USF library to catch up on some reading and I decided to treat myself with a $17 cup of Starbuck's coffee. I found myself a cozy little corner by a window on the fourth floor and began to read an article. It was then that I remembered earlier in the day my professor had e-mailed everyone study questions about the articles. I cursed myself for not printing them out at home, packed up my belongings, and headed back down to the first floor computer lab. Printouts are eleven cents per page. Usually people pay with the cash stored on their student ID card, but I asked the attendant if they took cash. Naturally they didn’t so I proceeded to put exactly eleven cents on my card so I could turn around and print something. Well, the document ended up being three pages so I said “screw it” and proceeded to head back to the elevator. Ah, an elevator door was still open as if it were waiting for me. I picked up my pace and headed toward the elevator only to realize that it was about to close. As it was closing I extended my arm in order to stop the door from closing. At the end of said arm was my hand which was holding that cup of Starbuck’s coffee that I had purchased earlier. Quite to my surprise the doors did not reopen upon closing in on my coffee-dependent arm. I stood there for a moment and realized that I was holding a cup of coffee inside the elevator but the rest of my body was still in the lobby. Instead of freaking out I did the next logical thing and turned the coffee cup sideways in order to dislodge my hand, seemingly unaware of the consequence. It was split-second decision I had to make: loose the $17 cup of coffee or free my arm from a 1970’s-era elevator that lacked the necessary “don’t close on human body parts” safety feature that we all rely on to catch a last-second ride in a departing elevator. I made it back to my comfortable corner on the fourth floor and finished my reading. Surprisingly, the elevator attack was the highlight of my day and something that I can look back on and laugh about.

The moral of the story: just because elevator doors open for people's body parts in the movies doesn't mean that all steel jaws of death have the same respect for your extremities.

Posted by Will at 11:52 PM

September 24, 2005

Graduate School Tip #38: Printing Stuff

I have learned a valuable lesson, but not the hard way. It was no news to me that I would be doing a large amount of reading in graduate school because a good part of training to be an archaeologist has to do with being acquainted with the enormous body of academic literature. This includes articles from academic journals and books that are available online through my friendly university library. The very first article I printed as a graduate student was about 50 pages and a few subsequent articles completely drained my first ink cartridge. Since ink is expensive and the free Dell ink jet that came with my laptop wasn’t “designed” for high-volume printing, I discovered the joys of online printing via FedEx-Kinko’s. The biggest benefit of printing through Kinko’s is that you don’t have to fight the on-campus computer lab crowds that consist of procrastinating undergraduates and clueless sorority girls who don’t know how to use a public printer (“um…I hit print, like, 30 times and it’s still not coming out”).

The tip is as follows: simply aggregate every journal article and printed document you know you will be reading over the course of the semester (sometimes a professor will do this for you and sell it in the bookstore as a reading packet). Use a full version of Adobe Acrobat to merge all of these files into one huge PDF file. Log on to the FedEx-Kinkos website, upload your document, and have it sent to your nearest store for pickup later that day. So far I’ve printed about 750 pages for the entire semester at a cost of under $50. I know I sound like a corporate bitch here but the FedEx-Kinkos thing really is great. I created my own account and will do all of my high-volume printing through them in the future. Thanks Kinko’s! [insert sparkling, plastic smile here]

Posted by Will at 04:09 PM

September 22, 2005

I Have a Dirty Mind

It seems that I have finally decided what direction I want to take down the oft-exciting and adventurous road of archaeological inquiry (that’s a stupid way of saying I know what I want my master’s thesis to be about). My advisor and her husband, both Mesoamerican archaeologists at USF, direct a field school and do research at a Pre-Hispanic Maya site in Honduras. USF’s graduate program is in applied anthropology (one of the few in the country), which is one aspect that initially attracted me to USF in the first place. The prospect of doing archaeology and making a real-world different at the same time is what truly excites me about my current situation. The co-director of the Honduras field school mentioned that some of his research was in sustainable agriculture and how archaeological research could be used to inform contemporary farming practices in the region. Ever since I took undergraduate courses on South American Indians and Environmental Anthropology I have been fascinated with fishing and farming practices of indigenous peoples from thousands of years ago all the way to present day. To make a boring story short I realized last night (after a few beers, of course) that I was going to have the opportunity to research sustainable agriculture in Palmarejo. I’ll be developing my thesis over the next several months and will hopefully be carrying it out next summer.

Photo: Me getting my Milpa farming skills on.


Posted by Will at 01:13 PM

September 20, 2005

I'm Still Alive

I’m not dead, just swimming under a sea of journal articles, hominid crania, and one bad anthropology text (as decided by my classmates and professor). I’m able to come up for air every few days in the form of a much-needed alcoholic beverage with some friends, but other than that I am starting to see what once was my social life drift slowly away like Tom Hanks’ “Wilson” in the film Castaway.

Posted by Will at 09:51 PM

September 14, 2005

Natural Law: A Realization in Class

Graduate school is starting to get good. Tonight in my seminar course we talked about, among other things, natural law and its role in the philosophical roots of anthropology (appropriately, our text is Adams’ The Philosophical Roots of Anthropology). Essentially, the notion of a natural law (whether it be divinely ordained or not) has been around for centuries even in the context of human society and culture. In other words Greek philosophers onward have always been wondering whether or not there are universal human governing principles that dictate how we act culturally and within society. A fair yet very broad definition of natural law would have it as the idea that there are universal rights and wrongs regardless of the basis of such universals and that societies act and progress within this framework. The book goes into much detail about the variants of natural law and how these have influenced the development of anthropological thought.

With that out of the way, I had one of those epiphanic moments that both delights and humbles the individual. In the course of attempting to digest and understand the rather dense material presented in Adams’ volume I didn’t get a chance to really contemplate the meaning of natural law and how it fits into my own personal worldview. I hope to expand on that here and explain why I believe that there is no such thing as a natural law, divine or otherwise.

My unbelief automatically precludes a divine source of natural law so that didn’t take much thought or deliberation. I was left with the possibility of a natural law whose source is nature itself or at least something not divine or supernatural. Therein lies the problem: roughly a third of a three-hour class meeting was devoted to discussing natural law and not even a vague idea of what its source may be was produced, if indeed natural law does exist. Adams had the same problem and avoided tackling the question presumably because there is no clear answer, as the history of debate surrounding natural law attests to. I was struck by the similarity between attempting to define natural law coherently and attempting to explain the existence of God coherently: it can’t be done. There are inherent contradictions and circular reasoning that cannot be escaped. I realized that natural law was impossible and that human beings are governed by nothing more than their own free will and the environments in which they live.

I voiced my opinion in class to little reaction because I feel we were becoming quite fatigued with the issue, but it did resonate with at least one of my colleagues who followed up with me during the break. I explained to her that I am beginning to view natural law as a religion in itself with its own set of contradictions and inescapable circle of reason (as I mentioned above). Some might argue that opposition to murder and an incest taboo are cultural universals. Indeed they appear to be but I reject the notion that they have any sort of underlying chain of continuity connecting them to all societies. I reject natural law for a number of reasons but I will mention only the most important now because my brain is tired. First and foremost, to subscribe to natural law is to deny the ingenuity, uniqueness, and free will of all human beings. Just as I don’t believe that a supernatural deity had anything to do with the creation of the earth and its inhabitants so I don’t believe that we as a species are governed by a similarly ethereal notion of natural law.

Posted by Will at 12:31 AM | Comments (2)

September 10, 2005

The Socialization of an Anthropologist

The party last night was fun and much-needed. I was finally about to socialize with the many colleagues that I’ve met over the past two weeks. The Mesoamerican archaeologists (the few of us that there are) sort of naturally gravitated together where we shared war stories, gossiped about the field antics of the professors, and even took some cheap shots at sociology. At the end of the night I walked away more convinced of the fact that archaeologists really do have the most fun out of all the subfields. Rebut if you wish but there’s no denying it. By the way, I went with Amstel Light and I wasn’t the only one. Tonight I’m supposed to go downtown to Tampa’s Cuban district, Ybor City, with my new friends but I have the distinct feeling that the hundreds of pages of reading I still have to do before next week’s classes wont read themselves. As a student of anthropology I have a valid excuse: “I’s just doin’ me an ethno-graphy.”

Posted by Will at 05:36 PM

September 09, 2005

My Priorities

There is an anthropology party tonight, my first as a Bull. I’m still contemplating what kind of beer to bring because I have to make a good first “social” impression (I’ve already made my “academic” impression). Bud Light or Miller Light would seem to frat boy-ish and might diminish my chances of being perceived as an intelligent person who is able to carry on a coherent conversation in the presence of alcohol. At the same time bringing something like Newcastle, Negra Modelo, or Red Stripe would be cliché (at an archaeological conference I went to back in ’03 I doubt there was a bottle of Newcastle left in the entire city of Charlotte). Bass is one of my favorite beers but the high quality of it might give the wrong impression as well (i.e. I'm better than you because I drink Bass ale). I have concluded that I must go import but avoid the obvious. Ideally, at an anthropology party everyone would drink a beer from their geographic area of interest but unfortunately stores don’t import Belikin, the “Beer of Belize." I am thinking of going with Dos Equis. It sticks to my general geographic area of interest (Mesoamerica) but doesn't come across as pretentious. I'll let you know how it goes.


Posted by Will at 03:02 PM

September 08, 2005

Two down, fourteen to go

Week two of graduate school has come and gone and I’m left with a few preliminary observations. First, a university roughly three times the size as one’s undergraduate institution will have an exponentially greater amount of automobile traffic at any given time. That being said, I predict that the market for new and used vehicles in the region of Tampa Bay will collapse within five to ten years because by that time every citizen will own at least one car, many times two to three vehicles. Late this afternoon I got the bright idea to go to the recreation center on campus and work out. I left at about 5:20 and got back to my apartment complex at about 6:05. The humorous thing is that I never left my car or entered the rec center. I got so fed up with the traffic that by the time I got to campus I decided to turn around and go back. I had already wasted what little free time I did have today driving to my destination. I did however discover my complex’s fitness center, which I had all to myself for the duration of my Stairmaster workout. Unfortunately this means that I’m giving up on the rec center for the time being not reaping the benefits of my student fees. Besides, the rec center doesn’t have a resort-style pool right outside the window that provides some pleasant scenery (that usually walks away before my workout is over).

Another observation I made over the past two weeks is that I’ll be using more printer ink and paper in one semester than I have in the past four years of undergraduate work. It’s not that I’m writing that much more (yet) but I have reserve readings that are in some cases entire chapters of books. My little Dell printer has been getting a workout and at $35 a cartridge, black ink is my black gold. Oddly enough, Dell is the only manufacturer of compatible cartridges.

Posted by Will at 09:35 PM | Comments (2)

August 31, 2005

First Week

My first week of graduate school classes has come and gone. I've had all my classes now and I'm more convinced than ever that I made the right decision. Having my archaeological methods class yesterday reminded me of the excitement of research and yes, even lab work (I’m a nerd like that). I soon realized that my professor for this course is the most visibly published I’ve ever had. It’s kind of neat to have a teacher that’s “the guy” in some specific area, in this case something to do with Mediterranean archaeology although he has simultaneous projects literally scattered all over the world (re: my dream job). Chiefdoms, which I had today, will be interesting for me because the professor for that class works in Mesoamerica and co-directs the university’s archaeological field school in Honduras. And as it turns out, I only have to audit and not officially register for the undergraduate linguistics course that I’m taking to play catch up. The financial aid gods are pleased about that one.

Most exciting of all, however, has been seeing familiar faces in all of my graduate classes. At least two people I’ve met are in all three. Also exciting and quite new is the diversity of both the faculty and graduates. My alma mater, UNC-Wilmington, is an insanely diversity-lacking institution in general, to say nothing of the anthropology department (unfortunately, minority archaeologists are extremely few). Having moved to Tampa, which is a far more diverse community than Wilmington, I’m already opening my eyes to the fact that I’m going to be presented with a number of varying opinions and views about anthropology and the world in general. One new student, a PhD candidate, is straight from the Philippines and was offering some excellent “outside” observations about American anthropology. As exclusive and elitist as the United States in general often is I can’t imagine being new to a country and being trained in an almost completely different way of thinking, as American anthropology is indeed quite unique in a historical-theoretical sense.

Posted by Will at 06:51 PM

August 29, 2005

The 22-year-old Freshman

I was embarrassed to own a car today. This morning the campus of USF looked like a used car lot from hell. It was, after all, the first day of classes and the single most attended day of the semester (aside from exam periods maybe). I experienced this problem at UNC-Wilmington for the past four years so it is nothing new, although at a school roughly two and a half times the size in terms of students the parking situation is a bit more obvious. I was warned by a returning student during the anthropology orientation that I shouldn’t expect to arrive for a class even half an hour prior and expect to get a decent parking spot, let alone one within comfortable walking distance from the desired classroom building. That student was absolutely correct. Although I didn’t have a class during peak hours (about 10am-3pm) I did arrive on campus at about 9:30 to meet with my GA advisor and I soon realized I was fortunate enough to find a spot in the Sun Dome parking that had to be almost a mile from the Social Sciences building. A mile isn’t a bad walk at all but the 90+ degree heat made it feel like twenty and I simply wasn’t used to dealing with parking on campus during the day. For the past two years at UNCW I rode by bike to campus and always laughed to myself at the students stuck in the incessant traffic jams during the day. Karma is a bitch indeed. To boot, when I tried to go back to my car after the ten-minute meeting I became misplaced on the sprawling campus. Mind you I never became lost, I simply enjoyed a long trek through the on-campus housing area and other parts of campus that I would normally never visit as a graduate student (the physical plant is huge by the way). I finally found my little black civic in the Sun Dome parking lot, but I was shocked to discover that the administration had actually extracted and moved the entire Sun Dome structure to another location on campus and inadvertently rearranged some of the cars in the process. I was satisfied that this was the reason for my temporary lapse in navigational awareness (again, I was never “lost” mind you). I felt like a freshman all over again.

Posted by Will at 11:42 PM

August 26, 2005


I tried to keep busy today in a futile attempt to keep my mind off of the fact that I am new in a big city with literally no personal relationships formed yet. Despite that, there’s something depressingly satisfying about realizing that there’s no chance of running into someone you don’t want to see or otherwise wish to avoid contact with. On the other hand, even a disliked familiar face would be nice right now. I realize it’s only a matter of time before I form those important social bonds that will define my experience at USF but until then, I’ll sit here in my little box of a room enjoying cable television (mostly the National Geographic Channel) and my last few moments of mental clarity and relaxation before classes start.

I’m slowing getting the business end of moving to Florida out of the way. Already having established Florida residency at my new address, I went to the bank this morning to order new checks and change my statement address. Strangely I don’t feel like a Floridian quite yet. Maybe that will happen when I vote in my fist election here. Tampa dodged the bullet with Katrina although we did get a bit of weather that was probably associated with the hurricane. I went four years in Wilmington without having to evacuate for a ‘cane and I plan on going two more in Tama without getting kicked out.

This morning was my first “full” day of working for my graduate assistantship. I was initially given the menial yet necessary task of organizing and rearranging one of the lab spaces in the building. I’m not usually a superstitious person (in fact never) but there was something decidedly eerie about handling and relocating the nineteen human crania in a dead-quiet basement lab. I felt like the bastard child of Indiana Jones and Dr. Frankenstein.

The job of the semester for my GA will end up being the inventory and cataloging of the other biological lab’s specimen and teaching aid collection. It consists of a few dozen hominid crania and other various casts that are used as teaching aids and reference tools. Right now there is no established check-out or tracking system for the collection so I will be working with a PhD student in entering data and descriptions, applying barcode labels, and getting the barcode scanning system, which is new, up and running.

Posted by Will at 10:46 PM

August 25, 2005

Down to Business

I have been in Tampa now for almost a full week and today was by far the hardest for a number of reasons. This morning I surrendered my North Carolina driver's license and officially became a Florida citizen (hard part #1). I also registered to vote. At this point it really started to sink in that I was really here. After going to the beach one last time with my girlfriend, I took her to the airport and saw her off to North Carolina (hard part #2). Now I'm in a city of over 300,000 people and I don't know anyone on a personal basis yet (hard part #3). That in itself is a bit daunting and coupled with the fact that one of my best friends is ten hours away will make for a rough few days.

Tomorrow will be my first full day of work for my assistantship. I have quite a bit to do in the biological anthropology lab and helping my GA advisor get ready for his Human Variation course. Not to mention my own courses: the three regular grad sections along with an additional undergraduate linguistics requirement that I need to make up. I already have two reading assignments before classes start next week. Here goes nothing...

Posted by Will at 08:17 PM

August 22, 2005

Last Week of Fun: Day 3

I finally got to see some action today as I prepare to begin my graduate assistantship and classes, the latter starting next Monday. I had a meeting with my GA advisor where he explained to me a little about how the program works and the types of things I will be doing. Not ten minutes later I was actually helping another on of his GAs do some photocopying of journal articles for his Human Variation course. He also showed me one of the two biological anthropology laboratories which is in the process of being converted. There is quite a bit of organizing and arranging that needs to be done, so that will be one of my jobs as well. Part of the lab's bone/crania collection is a little scattered so I decided it would be nice to have a "bone closest" of sorts instead of having them in different locations. I knew I felt comfortable at USF when I wasn't weirded out handling a dozen or so human crania in a basement lab by myself. The department soon hopes to have them all bar-coded for easy check-out and referencing which I'm sure I'll be helping with.

The anthropology department new graduate student orientation was tonight as well. It was helpful in many respects and I finally got to match faces to all the names I had read about online and in the catalog. Not surprisingly much of the faculty seems very nice and all were thrilled that we had chosen South Florida. I got the distinct impression that all of them were very proud of the department and its various aspects. That made me even more confident in my decision to attend.

After the orientation there was a reception/party at a professor's house. Aside from the SEAC in 2003, it was the largest group of anthropologists in one room that I've seen. Not knowing anyone made it a little awkward but I eventually felt very comfortable mingling and meeting the new students as well as some second years. For the first time in a long time I felt like I was "in my element." It's not very often that I get to talk about research and areas of interest and have the other person know what the hell I'm talking about. All in all a great evening and a much-needed reinforcement of my graduate school choice.

Posted by Will at 11:17 PM

August 21, 2005

Last Week of Fun: Day 2

Today we made it over to St. Petersburg and Clearwater and went to the beach. Of course it was incredibly hot so we only ended up staying out for about an hour. The west coast of Florida is the Gulf of Mexico and it was a little different than swimming in the Atlantic, as I did in Wilmington. There weren't waves like I'm used to and the water was actually pretty clear. Oh, and it wasn't freezing cold like Wrightsville and Carolina beaches are even during the summer months. The Clearwater area is beautiful if one is able to look beyond the fact that every square inch is developed.

Tonight we are going back to downtown Tampa to check out the bay and eat at Kojak's, a "famous" rib shack that my father and I ate at a few months ago when we were in Tampa for reconnaissance. As always, there will probably be some cool shots up on Flickr later on.

Tomorrow it's back to business with the Anthropology Department's new graduate orientation at 4pm. At 6:30 there's a reception/party at one the prof's houses. I'm starting to get excited.

Posted by Will at 04:24 PM

August 20, 2005

"Winning the War against Trees"

Today was a long one. After arriving in Tampa in one piece last night, we didn't do much except pass out after the ten hour drive. I woke up this morning to make it to the campus-wide graduate orientation on campus. Not surprisingly, it was well-organized and informative. I'd taken care of much of the stuff discussed, such as getting an ID card and the like. I even got a pretty nifty free tote bag with the graduate school logo on it and filled with cool stuff (one thing you'll learn about me is that I'm a coupon whore).

After that my girlfriend and I had the rest of the day so we drove to downtown Tampa and went to Westshore Mall to find me some smart clothes to wear on my first days. I did end up getting a few things. I used to think that I didn't care what people thought of me (and I still don't to an extent) but my first days of class and my GA/TA position will be critical for first impressions. I resisted the temptation to purchase a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. I also passed up a wonderful t-shirt at Urban Outfitters that had a line drawing of a bulldozer and a pine tree and the slogan "Winning the War against Trees." I still can't stop laughing. We also found a neat little spot in the Cuban district of Tampa, which is famous for cigars. King Corona Cigars is a neat little spot; very chill inside and you can sit outside and watch all the "interesting" people walk by.

But you're not reading this to learn about my clothing preferences, so I'll continue to update with all the gory details about my first week here in Tampa for graduate school. Nothing scheduled tomorrow except we're going to try and make it over to Clearwater to spend the day at the beach, Gulf side baby. I better get all this "fun stuff" out of my system before I forget what it is.

Here are a few photos from around Tampa, including our dinner at Channelwalk (a shopping and dining district) and Ybor City, the Cuban district. Check them out on my Flickr stream.

Posted by Will at 11:29 PM

August 18, 2005

The Journey Begins

The long-awaited weekend has finally arrived. After months of researching, planning, testing, applying, and accepting I’m finally off to graduate school in the morning. I feel now what I think I should have felt before I left for freshman year of undergraduate: anticipation for something bigger coupled with just enough nervousness to keep me excited about the whole thing. I can’t say that I have butterflies in my stomach because I’m too damn ready to get on with it, but I can safely comment that moving to a completely new area not knowing a single person in a several hundred mile radius has aroused in me a certain feeling that I can’t quite place my finger on. Academic life is nothing new to me, at least in theory, as I’ve read books, articles, and blogs about the subject: the necessary evils like various types of paperwork and the politics of simply being a part of higher education in America. As an archaeologist I can’t predict the future, simply help recreate the past. For this reason I can’t say where I’ll end up, but I have a growing suspicion that I was cut from the cloth of academia.

That being said, I leave bright and early tomorrow morning, embarking on a roughly ten-hour car ride to the Sunshine State. And so it begins. I plan on blogging the whole adventure, probably frequently before the novelty wears off and I get down to business. The original mission of Nomadic Thoughts is about to be realized: to document the thoughts and experiences of a new graduate student. I hope these posts aren’t completely useless. I’m hoping that someone who stumbles upon my blog will gain insight into what life is like on the other side of the graduation stage. It doesn’t have to suck, and most importantly it never has to be “the real world” (whatever the hell that means).

Posted by Will at 07:58 PM

August 11, 2005

Temporary Housing

Tonight I reserved a room at the La Quinta Tampa Bay USF for four nights. As I mentioned earlier, I've had to use my parents' dial-up internet connection while I'm at home so comparison shopping and Googling took the better part of my evening. Considering my father's computer is relatively new and primarily for business, having dial-up is like using a lawnmower engine to power a Hummer. But I digress.

I'm starting to get excited about the actual trip itself. I've always looked forward to road trips and the ten hours to Tampa from North Carolina is going to fly by because the impending excitement of the initial few weeks of graduate school. So besides getting my car insured, registered, and tagged, situating my finances with the university, figuring out my final schedule, going to two separate graduate orientations, and actually moving in to my new apartment once it opens up, it'll be like any relaxing Florida vacation! Still not sure of the exact "fun" plans for me and the lady while she's down there with me. The Killers are playing at the USF Sundome that Sunday, but so is Avril Lavigne the night before. Decisions...

Posted by Will at 12:57 AM

August 08, 2005

Teaching Assistant

I received a delightful little bit of news through e-mail today: in addition to assisting my advisor with his research, I'll be a T.A. for his Human Variation course! I'm not sure exactly what my duties will be yet. This came as a surprise to me because I didn't think they gave T.A. positions to brand new graduate students. It's not completely random though, as I just took a course at UNCW in human biological variation this past spring. I'm starting to see any free time I will have in Florida slowly slip away but it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Today is my last in Wilmington before I leave to go home for a week and a half to hang out with my parents, see my grandfather (who just had bypass surgery and is doing well), and otherwise say goodbye to the state of North Carolina, at least for the time being. I leave for Tampa next Friday. Hard to believe it's already here.

Posted by Will at 01:42 PM

August 04, 2005


It's really starting to sink in that I'm moving from Wilmington and to a completely new and foreign place. The move to Tampa has been looming for about four or five months now and it's right around the corner. In three weeks I'll leave Wilmington one last time as a new graduate with a catalog of memories, both good and bad. Who knows where I'll end up, but I don't like to completely close the chapter just yet. I've called Wilmington "home" for the past four years (albeit a second home) and I'm not prepared to say goodbye just yet. I know I'll be back, but I'm not sure for what purpose.

The only part of the upcoming trip that I'm truly nervous about are those last moments before I say goodbye to my girlfriend at the airport. The most I've been apart from her over the past year has been maybe a week at the most. Since her and me both call Winston-Salem our hometown and UNCW our college, there was little opportunity for us to really miss each other. If all goes as planned, I'll be in Tampa for at least the next two years, maybe more. Who know where she is going to end up. I think about that alot but I keep coming back to the present and remind myself that the here and now is what's important. Planning is important but too much of it can lead to disappointment. I've never been in a long-distance relationship before but I know that we'll be fine and that this will prove an exciting experience for both of us. Two of my close friends have succeeded at long-distance (one from here to New York and the other from here all the way to Australia). How I handle my feelings and experiences in the context of being 10 hours apart will be an exercise in my training unlike any other. While learning about Maya archaeology and the history of anthropological theory I'll be examining myself, which I feel is going to pay off.

I can tell things are starting to wrap up because my activities in Wilmington have been taking on new meaning over the past several weeks. A few days ago the lady and I drove down to Fort Fisher and caught the 7pm ferry to Southport and enjoyed a comfortable dinner on the deck of The Shrimp House. The view was magnificent and symbolism was all around. As I ate my pound of jumbo shrimp I had a great view of an industrial lighthouse in the distance. Every few moments it would flash brightly two or three times in my direction as if it were calling me. Was the lighthouse symbolic of Tampa? Was I being signaled to relocate? As I had these thoughts and complimented myself on how deep I was being, I realized that I had just consumed a Newcastle rather quickly.

(Expanded on a recent entry from my personal blog, The Journal)

Posted by Will at 09:30 AM

July 20, 2005

Woo hoo!, Free School! (Sort of)

Not sure where it's going to take me but today I mailed off my form for a tuition waiver that comes along with my graduate assistantship. I have to be taking at least 9 credit hours of graduate coursework (which I am) and I am hoping that I will get a tuition waiver for all of those hours. Considering that I am out-of-state and thus with one semester's payments I could probably buy a really cool boat, any cuts would be greatly welcome.

So it looks like things are starting to fall into place quite nicely. I've told the yacht club that my last day will be August 7th, which will give me plenty of time to pack up what little belongings I still have here in Wilmington, go home to Winston-Salem for a week or two, and spend some time with my primary source of financial aid (i.e. my parents).

Posted by Will at 01:38 PM | Comments (2)

July 12, 2005


I've finally received word about approximately when I have to be in Tampa. I was able to score an extension on the start date of my graduate assistantship, so I won't have to struggle to find a floor or couch to sleep on while I wait for my apartment lease to begin. I'll probably start the assistantship around August 22nd, which is when graduate orientation is.

Posted by Will at 09:11 PM

July 06, 2005

(Lack of) graduate school update

It just dawned on me today that I haven't written about the grad school thing in several weeks now. Considering that's about 70% of the reason I started this blog in the first place, I think it's about time for a post.

Nothing is new with the grad school thing.

Still waiting to find out when I have to be in Tampa for my assistantship to start (what it will entail I don't know yet either). I am going home to Winston-Salem next week to hang out with the parents and I plan on calling the department to see if they know anything yet and play the "extenuating circumstance" card yet again. Also need to get in touch with my apartment complex and find out if they have the contact info of my roommate. I went pot luck, which can be risky especially in such a big city but if management stuck with the roommate profile survey thing all should be well.

So I'm still in this sort of suspended animation state where I don't know which way is up. Trust me; as soon as the semester starts you'll be reading alot more about the grad school stuff and less about really old footprints and Ancient Maya beekeeping.

Posted by Will at 12:24 AM

June 25, 2005

Moving, Pt. I

The journey to graduate school continues with the first of two moves in the next couple of months. The lease is up in my current apartment next Thursday so I'll be living with my buddy for a month in an upstairs spare bedroom. It should be fun living out of boxes and sleeping on just a mattress for a few weeks. I'm still waiting to find out when I have to start my assistantship in Tampa. It's supposed to start August 7th but my lease down there doesn't begin until late that month so I'm hoping to get a little "extenuating circumstance" action going on. It's a bit frustrating being in sort of a limbo, but it's exciting at the same time.

So if I'm not blogging as compulsively as I have been, moving is why. I'll at least try to keep up with the now world-famous Nomadic Thoughts Week in Review series. I'm also going to be purchasing a new Dell at some point because my current HP notebook is four years old and, well, just don't buy a HP notebook if you're in the market.

Posted by Will at 11:48 AM

June 16, 2005

Who Knew?

A story from the Religion News Blog brought to my attention that the headquarters and "spiritual center" of the Church of Scientology is located in Clearwater, FL, just across the bay from Tampa:

In the mid-'70s, the church, using a nondescript business name, purchased the Fort Harrison Hotel and Bank of Clearwater building. Since that time, the church has purchased much more property downtown, and is building the $50-million Flag building, across the street from the Fort Harrison Hotel, Clearwater is now the church's international "spiritual headquarters." More than 8,200 Scientologists now live in the Clearwater area.

At least now I know I'll have something to do when (if) I'm not busy with graduate school things: drive over to Clearwater and stare at the weird Scientologists (there are about 8200 of them in the area). Maybe I'll even get a glimpse of Tom and Katie.

Posted by Will at 01:05 PM

June 07, 2005

Grad school conumdrum

I've hit my first road block on my journey to Tampa. While I was elated to find out I was awarded a 10 hour assistantship, the only catch is that it would begin on August 7th. Seeing that the lease for my apartment doesn't begin until late August, I would be homeless for about three weeks. Turning down the assistantship clearly isn't an option as it's such a great deal (salary, tuition waiver, experience, etc.). What to do? I guess I'll find out soon enough if anthropologists' reputation as a giving and communal bunch is true (floor space, anyone?).

Posted by Will at 08:31 PM

May 31, 2005


Hopefully you didn't stray too far because over the weekend the community of which Nomadic Thoughts is a part,, underwent some changes that affected our hosting situation. Nothing visible or functional has changed, just our affiliation. As usual, continue to check out the other blogs as well as the community one as it continues to grow.

When I last posted I was leaving for Tampa, Florida to visit the University of South Florida, where I'll be going to graduate school in the fall for archaeology. I was there for four days with my father and incredibly, we got virtually evertything done on the first morning. Practially a repeat of everything I did for undergraduate: getting an ID card, turning in my health form, visiting financial aid, and registering for classes. This Fall I'll be taking a Masters seminar, Cultural Resource Management, Chiefdoms, and an undergraduate linguistics course because I didn't take any at UNCW. More than a full graduate load, but I think I'll be so gung-ho the first semester that it won't be too much.

Also got some good news earlier today: I've been awarded a 10 hour graduate assistantship. This gives me a tuition waiver (a HUGE cut considering I'm out-of-state) and a job. Not sure what I'll be doing yet, though.

Posted by Will at 03:43 PM

May 21, 2005

The First Impression

I'm flying out of Raleigh Charlotte tomorrow morning to visit South Florida and take care of some pre-Fall business. I need to stop by the financial aid office, of course, and get some things situated. I learned early on that of all the stuff that's involved in getting ready for graduate school, pretty much all of it depends on being able to get it paid for. I haven't been offered anything from the Anthro Department yet, but I'm hoping for an assistantship. Maybe teach or something? So far what I have are some general government grants and a work study grant. Who knows, maybe I'll be serving mashed potatoes at the cafeteria.

Another important little detail I need to check out while I'm down there is a place to live. I'm considering living on campus in graduate housing for the first semester if possible. Since I've never been to Tampa in my life, I know nothing about the layout of the city or what the good and bad sections of town are. So, if the grad housing seems decent then I might end up there. But I really am spoiled having lived in my own off-campus apartment for the past two years.

Also have a meeting with one of the profs to talk about classes and such. Nothing formal but will hopefully give a good idea of what to expect. I have already talked about my schedule with my advisor and it's pretty straightforward. A couple of classes on how to be a graduate student, some archaeology-based stats, and a handful of other anthro courses plus the big internship/research project.

I'll try to post if I'm around a computer but otherwise I'll be back Friday with all the latest. Can anyone say "excited"?

Posted by Will at 09:22 AM