New Book Review: Giant Sloths and Sabertooth Cats: Extinct Mammals and the Archaeology of the Ice Age Great Basin by Donald K. Grayson

Book review of Donald K. Grayson’s Giant Sloths and Sabertooth Cats: Extinct Mammals and the Archaeology of the Ice Age Great Basin is now available here.

Barbour X Land Rover Defender – Sweepstakes

Barbour, Orvis, and Land Rover have combined to offer via sweepstakes a classy 1995 Land Rover Defender, restored by East Coast Defenders, green paint and canvas on the outside, saddle leather, tartan, and waxed cotton on the inside. That’s the American version. Over in Barbour’s home country, they have another custom Defender available.




Overbuilt for Archaeology

Some interesting ideas (like folding seats/cots sourced from helicopters) in a pricey-looking work van custom built for archaeology:  The Archaeologist’s Backpack: Building the Ultimate 4×4 Office

As for its being significant to archaeology, it sure ain’t no 1991 Ford Transit van.

The Van
The Van. Front Elevation. Source: Contemporary Archaeology (

See also: The Van/In Transit.


Iron in New York – New Open Access Book from the NYSM

The New York State Museum has just released Iron in New York, edited by Martin Pickands, a collection of eight articles on the history, geology, and archaeology of the iron industry in New York, primarily in the Adirondacks and the Hudson Valley. The book is free to download at the NYSM.

“I published everything I ever dug up”

Beginning in the early 1920s, William Augustus Ritchie dedicated his career to digging archaeological sites in New York state, but he did make a few exceptions, venturing south into New Jersey and north into Ontario. Late in his career, he also traveled east to Massachusetts to investigate several sites on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

In a recent dissertation, Katharine Kirakosian interviewed several archaeologists and read through thousands of pages of letters, field notes, and articles to chronicle the history shell midden archaeology in Massachusetts. Ritchie’s excursion to the Vineyard in the 1960s, brief as it was, plays a large role in her study. Her work provides an interesting, if incomplete, outsider perspective on Ritchie’s career and influence.

Her sources indicate that there was some unhappiness with Ritchie working in Massachusetts, with some archaeologists, although publicly supporting his work, viewing it as trespassing on others’ sites and “an attempt to conquer a nearby state.” (p. 267) Others viewed him differently. James Tuck, who would become a prominent archaeologist in Newfoundland, Canada, was Ritchie’s fishing buddy on the Vineyard.

No one who has studied Ritchie’s site plans in The Archaeology of New York will be surprised to learn from one of her informants, a retired academic archaeologist who worked with Ritchie, that he “was known to get most excited when uncovering post molds, which may have led to a bit of poetic license while reconstructing patterns reconstructing structure patterns. …[her informant] recalled that at one New York site

we were scratching our heads, you know, seeing post molds everywhere and we couldn’t really figure out exactly how he got the shape […] well you got to do something and so he connected the dots and […] it’s probably best guess sort of thing. (p. 242)

Plan map of 1962 excavations at Lamoka Lake
A portion of Ritchie’s plan map of 1962 excavations at the Lamoka Lake site, New York, showing inferred house floor outlines based on post molds. Source: Ritchie 1969:73.

Ritchie had a reputation for both mentoring graduate students and having a “bawdy sense of humor.” (p. 242) Unlike some professional archaeologists, he worked well with amateur archaeologists, too. He did not, however, like having visitors at his sites. At one New York site he was working on

he had all these big huge pieces of pottery […] sitting on the edge of the trench. So he did a little spiel and then he saw that all these people were standing on top of all these potsherds and he went berserk. That’s what he said. He went crazy “get off this site get out of here” and so forth and so on. (p. 249-250)

Perhaps the best credential Ritchie has is this: “when he finally completed his last site report, he [said] ‘I’m completely out of archaeology … I published everything I ever dug up.’ (p. 252)

Kirakosian, Katharine
2014  Curious Monuments of the Simplest Kind: Shell Midden Archaeology in Massachusetts. Doctoral Dissertations May 2014 – Current, February 1, 2014. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Ritchie, William A.
1969  The Archaeology of New York State. Revised edition. The Natural History Press, Garden City, NY.
1969  The Archaeology of Martha’s Vineyard: A Framework for the Prehistory of Southern New England, A Study in Coastal Ecology and Adaptation. The Natural History Press, Garden City, NY.

An earlier version of this was posted on Jazz Age Adventurers