Kinkella Teaches Archaeology to the Entire World

I’m on YouTube!

After filming myself for Past Preservers, I figured that since I spent time learning how to film myself and edit the video, I’d take it to the next level. What is that level? My own YouTube channel, of course!

On my channel “Kinkella Teaches Archaeology,” I have been making weekly videos on the nuts and bolts of archaeology, and so far the process has been very rewarding. These videos work very well to compliment an introductory archaeology class, or to give anyone a glimpse into the basics of how archaeology works. Feel free to comment on my videos through YouTube – I am looking forward to answering questions by making new videos based on them!

I have inserted four examples here, to illustrate the variety of topics that I cover:

1.“People in the Mix” – When we forget to talk about the people of the past, archaeology is boring!  See it here.


2. “What is Archaeology” – The basics. Hint – artifacts are pretty important!  Enjoy it here.

3. “Step 2: Implementation” – There are six basic steps to follow when running an archaeology project. Here is step two.


4. “Context Part Two: Types” – When you find an artifact, you want to figure out if somebody messed with it between when it was originally deposited and when you found it.  Find out how here!


Posted in Archaeology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Film by Me, About Me

After watching one too many dull interviews of academics, I recently decided to throw myself directly on the grille of public display and enter the world of YouTube. A production company called Past Preservers graciously made me one of their “Experts” and asked me to send them my CV and a short video of myself, explaining who I am and what I do.

I really appreciate what Past Preservers is doing. They have identified the same need that I have been discussing – the need for dynamic presenters in archaeology. For my first foray into the larger media world, I simply set up my camera, jotted down four bullet points on a sticky note to organize my thoughts, made sure the lighting wasn’t too bad, and went for it. I talked for four minutes about myself, being careful to follow the basic Past Preserver guidelines of what they wanted me to talk about. I did it twice, picked the better of the two, added a title, and sent it in.

Here is the result:

The response from my friends and colleagues has been overwhelmingly positive and kind. In terms of my own response, I am super pleased with how it came out. It is a very straightforward and honest commercial of who I am, and it gives you a very good idea of what it’s like to take a class from me or watch me give a lecture. I think anyone who knows me and watches this goes, “Yep, that’s him.”

The experience was a lot of fun, and I would like to thank Past Preservers for creating an outlet for dynamic academics! A major fringe benefit of this experience is it that it got me to figure out how to set up the appropriate equipment to film myself, and now I can do it whenever I want. I may need to start my own YouTube channel before the summer is out…

Posted in Archaeology | Leave a comment

The Students of MCAP: A Decade of the Moorpark College Archaeology Program

I have had several requests from old students for copies of the Moorpark College Archaeology Program (MCAP) class photos, so I thought I would collect them in one spot so students past and present can download a copy for themselves.

The experience of devising the MCAP project and being its Primary Investigator (lead archaeologist) has been one of the greatest joys (and learning experiences!) in my archaeological career.  I am eternally grateful to the students in these photos.  They made the project live and breathe, and I had a blast being their professor.  Some of these students I have not seen in a decade.  Some I see now and then at their jobs around town, and we spend a moment reminiscing about funny things that happened at the site.  Some I hear from with email updates on their most recent trips to archaeological netherworlds that even I have not seen.  Some got married to other students that they met in class!  And some of these students I will never see again.

Here is the complete collection of class photos since the project began in 2005 (the captions relate to the photo immediately above):



The first excavation class:  A nine-person-strong force to be reckoned with!
The photo was taken right after sunset, but for some reason appears to be taken at midnight.


MCAP class 2006

While Colleen Delaney-Rivera ran the excavation class this year, I helped out by taking the class photo.  Understandably, Jacob would rather eat a lollipop than have me take his photo.


We obviously need to invest in a tripod at some point.

MCAP class 2008v2
Why did I think it was a good idea to rest my head on the port-a-potty?

MCAP 2010
I forgot to take an official class photo, so the class officially made one for me following the highest professional standards.


Luckily, I still owned the sweatshirt from 2005…
(Notice that the original nine students have become twenty-seven!)

MCAP class 2013b2
The 2013 class was a shining example of good taste and sportsmanlike conduct.

MCAP 2014v3
The students made t-shirts.  I thought they came out great.

Since our first excavations, my students have mapped the site with GPS and transit, processed the artifacts in the lab, given presentations at the Society for California Archaeology (SCA) meetings, and written papers on the artifacts.  They have gone on to BA, MA, and PhD degrees at universities both locally and internationally.  One day, I have no doubt that one of them will take my job.  When they do, I hope that they will enjoy leading their students into the realms of archaeological excavation as much as I have.  I am very fortunate to be able to offer these experiences, and I hope that all of you enjoyed your time as part of a working archaeological crew.  Thank you all for a great decade!  Last one out make sure to lock the trailer…

Posted in Archaeology | Leave a comment

Baby Needs New Hardcore Archaeological Footwear: Thoughts on Boots for the Archaeologist

As my students prepare for their various archaeological summer field schools, one of the most common questions I am getting concerns footwear.  What kind of boots should I buy?  When buying boots for the field, there are two basic concerns: features and cost.  Brand is not very important in my experience, but I have some recommendations below based on my time in the jungle.  Beware – brands change their products all the time.  My experiences from two (or ten) years ago may not exactly correlate to today’s offerings.

1.  What features should my boots have?
First, don’t bring dad’s old army boots – they may look cool and be full of great memories, but they will murder your feet.  The single most important feature of boots for archaeology is their fit. Make sure they are comfortable on your feet!  Make sure the little voice in your head says “yes” when you put them on.  Try on as many as you can before making your decision.  This is one of those times where it is best to go to a store and try on the choices rather than buying online, or at least try them on in-store before buying online.  Any sporting goods or camping store (Sport Chalet, REI, Big 5) will have a large selection.  Don’t be shy!  Sit in the store and try them on.  If you feel like you are taking too much time away from the salesperson, go to a different store and do it again.  Take your time.  Everything else I say about boots is secondary to their fit.  For serious hiking on bad terrain, I like a boot that can be tightened very tight and does not slip at all, so I will make sure the width is correct (I have narrow feet).  Make sure your boots don’t slip when you walk!  Slipping boots = blisters.

Do not waste money on boots that are full of silly features aimed at the pseudo “hard core” types.  You don’t need a “shank.”  This is for climbing mountains, and only adds discomfort for archaeological needs. You will be walking a lot, not climbing Everest.  100% leather exterior is a fine choice, but can get hot.  Some fabric inserts for breathability within the leather are nice.  Fully fabric boots with no leather (or very little) may be too weak for archaeological work.  They will be super breathe-able and comfortable, but every jungle thorn will go right through them, and there will come a time when you aim to cut a high branch with your machete, miss, and continue the swing all the way around and right into your foot.  No big deal if you have fully leather boots on (just a little cut in the leather), but the wearer of weak boots will have a different experience entirely.  I have missed with my machete many times, but I had sturdy boots on, and can still proudly show off all ten of my toes!  In the battle between sturdiness and breathe-ability, error on the side of sturdiness when in doubt.  Overall, you want boots that are simple, sturdy, and comfortable.  Fewer features are better than too many.  Simple and sturdy is your friend.  If they get a little hot, so be it.

In the jungle, I find waterproofing to be pointless.  It is probably a good choice in other climates (especially the snow), but not really in the jungle.  I am not a fan of Gortex.  Gortex is a layer of material put into boots to make them waterproof.  They say this does not affect the feel of the boot, but it does – it makes the boot sweatier.  If you are walking in the rain or snow, this is fine.  If you step in a foot-deep puddle (common in the rainforest), not only does Gortex become pointless as “waterproofing,” but you get the additional bonus that your boot now acts like a plastic bag, keeping the wetness in for much longer than you thought possible.  I explain it to my students like this – put on your Gortex boots and Gortex raincoat, then jump into a swimming pool.  How dry are your feet?  I much prefer boots that will dry as quickly as possible, instead of attempting to never get wet (because they just will).  If your boots have Gortex in them, don’t worry – it is not a deal-breaker.  Almost all boots seem to these days.  Gortex or no, your feet will be damp much of the time.

2.  What brand should I buy, and how much should I spend?
After making sure the fit is correct, your real choice will be based on cost.  When in doubt (and if you have the money), spending a bit more on nicer boots is money well spent.  More money usually gets you more comfort and more durability in boots that will ultimately last longer.  It may also get you extra features you don’t need.  I look for simple, sturdy boots from a reputable brand that cost somewhere in the $130 dollar range (these are usually the most basic boots from the more expensive brands, so you get the durability and comfort without additional silly add-ons).  I don’t think I would ever spend over $160 or so (and those better be some damn nice boots!).  With that said, I did use a cheap pair of $35 Novatos (bought at Big 5) for one field season and they were okay.  In the early days (1990s), I would buy Wolverine work boots, which are pretty good (very durable!) except the soles can be a bit slippy in the jungle (these boots usually focus on construction needs more than hiking needs).  If you are doing lots of excavation and not too much survey or long-range hiking, these can be a very good choice.  Lastly, no matter how much you spend, your boots will come back after one field season with a moldy stench to them that will never, ever go away.

I currently have a pair of Vasque hiking boots that I bought about seven years ago.  As is obvious from the previous sentence, these boots have been possessed with incredible durability.  They have lasted several field seasons (although they are on the edge of destruction at this point).  These boots hit the happy medium of leather durability plus fabric breathability.  Here is a picture of my boot being used for scale during a recent field season in Belize:
This photo of my boot (and the associated Giant Sloth fossil, which most archaeologists care about much more than my boot) actually made it into an article that you can check out here.  I have also had good luck with Timberland footwear, and I have seen other crew members with Merrell boots that seem pretty nice.  There are many other brands out there (Columbia, etc) – just try them on, see what you think, and listen for the little voice in your head that says “these feel good.”  Cheap boots that fit are always much better than expensive boots that don’t.  And if you find yourself exhausted from hiking at the end of the day, it ain’t the boots.

Posted in Archaeology | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

There’s Something in the Air: The Story Behind My Photo in National Geographic Online

I had a true bucket list experience recently when I learned that my research would be featured in the January 29th, 2015 post of National Geographic Online, and that a photo of me would be included in the article.  The article is by Dan Vergano, and entitled “At Newly Discovered Water Temple, Maya Offered Sacrifices to End Drought.”  It describes the underwater archaeology work that Lisa Lucero and I have done at an ancient Maya site at the Cara Blanca Pools, Belize.  Specifically, it talks about last summer (2014), when Lisa and her students excavated Structure 1 at Pool 1 (the “Water Temple”), while the divers and I continued our underwater explorations.  Please check out the article here.

About half way through the article, there is a photo that is entitled “Scientists collect samples for carbon dating from trees at the bottom of a pool at Cara Blanca (copyright Tony Rath)”  Here is a copy:


I am the diver on the left holding the saw, cutting into a submerged tree in order to remove a wedge of wood for Carbon 14 dating.  I remember this dive well, but my memory has very little to do with tree samples.  What the photo does not show is how tiring it is to saw ancient wood at 70 feet below the surface while trying to float in the same spot (what is called “neutral buoyancy” in diving).  It must be similar to working in space, where any push against the tree trunk with the saw would have an equal and opposite reaction in the form of me floating away from the trunk.  Look at my left hand in the photo – as you can see, I was forced to grip the trunk with my left hand and saw with the right, while still keeping my breathing under control and my buoyancy neutral.  The other diver and I took turns, one sawing while the other bagged the wood samples, for about 40 minutes.  When I would feel my breathing get too frenzied, I would have to force myself to keep it under control and slow my lungs, while at the same time sawing, holding onto the trunk, keeping neutral buoyancy, and attempting to not cut myself or my air hoses with the extremely sharp saw.  I also had to make sure not to drop the saw or the plastic baggies containing the samples.

While it was an operation that seemed to require three brains, I was being successful!  Methodically, myself and the other diver collected our samples, moved between the trees, and made no mistakes.  During the last few minutes of the dive, I noticed my breathing was really starting to get heavy.  I was in control, I had plenty of air in my tank, but I was getting very exhausted.  As we bagged the last sample, I made the familiar sign to go up (a raised thumb, hitchhiker style).  My buddy signed an “okay,” and would join me at the surface in a few minutes.

I began my ascent, and did the required three minute safety stop at 15 feet.  Everything went perfectly, but I was exhausted when I reached the surface and I felt very queasy and generally out of sorts.  I pulled the regulator out of mouth, floated on my back and looked at the jungle sky, breathing very heavily and forcing myself to focus on my situation at hand.  A 70 foot dive is not very deep, and I had done nothing wrong during the dive or as I surfaced.  While half of my brain worried about serious problems like the bends or an air embolism, and knew that the type of first aid required for those life-threatening situations was impossible to come by in the middle of the Belizean jungle, the rational half of my brain knew that these situations were highly unlikely.  As I floated around, I started to feel a bit better and I climbed out of the water.  As the other divers surfaced (there were five of us that day), the photographer who took my photo (Tony Rath) also complained of feeling much worse than he thought he should.  His symptoms, and the possibilities for them, were the same as mine.  We figured that there were two possible reasons for this:
1.  In our zest to collect Carbon 14 samples and take great photos, we each independently over-exerted ourselves and our systems could not take it.
2.  The oxygen in our tanks was contaminated.

Over-exertion was a much more probable explanation than bad air.  A tank can be filled with impure air if the air pump is set up incorrectly, where the pump sucks exhaust fumes into the tank.  The divers on our crew were consummate professionals, so the chance that they set it up wrong was miniscule.  There was one more dive scheduled for the day, and as we ate lunch (and Tony and I continued to feel better, but not fantastic), we discussed the afternoon dive.  Chip Petersen (owner of Belize Diving Services on Caye Caulker in Belize) was our acting dive master, as he was easily the most experienced diver on the team.  It was up to Chip whether we continue with a second dive or not.

It would be a much, much better choice for the project if we completed a second round of dives.  Getting tanks and dive equipment out to a remote Maya site is not easy; it takes months of planning and lots of money.  It is also not easy to schedule all of us to meet in Belize during the same few days a year, so time is very precious.  To complicate matters further, the weather had been very good, but the rainy season was threatening, and a big storm could come along any day that would wash out the roads.  This would make the pools unreachable by truck, and any unfinished diving would have to be cancelled and re-scheduled for the dry season of the following year.  Additional diving the following year would also require new funding and a new permit.

I thought we were going to do another dive.  As I finished my lunch, I thought I felt good enough to go; I was not at 100%, but I was more than okay to do another shallow dive safely.  As I readied my equipment for a second dive, Chip decided to call the dive off.  His reasoning was that even a remote possibility of air contamination in the tanks could have disastrous results in a remote dive location like the Cara Blanca Pools.  Nobody complained – the dive master’s word is final.  We disassembled our gear, got back in the trucks, and headed back to camp.  By dinner time, both Tony and I were fine.

Chip made a great call.  People like him are indispensable on an archaeological project; those who will make a tough (and possibly unpopular) judgment call for the greater safety of the crew.  Under his leadership, everyone got home safe.  We ended up with plenty of Carbon 14 samples and stacks of amazing photos.  The weather held, and nothing had to be rescheduled.  We even made it into National Geographic.

Posted in Archaeology, underwater archaeology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kinkella’s Backpack Checklist of What to Bring on an Archaeological Dig

Several of my students have asked about what to bring with them on an archaeological project, so I thought I’d put together my Official SuperSmart Backpack Checklist Of What To Bring On An Archaeological Dig To Be More Comfortable Than Most. This will tend to be specific to a jungle environment (as Belize and the Maya world is what I know best), but the requirements of most archaeological projects will be very similar. I’m assuming you’ve already had your required inoculations and have your needed medicines (hepatitis A, hep B, Typhoid, malaria pills, etc).

1. The Basics:
Passport – Do not order this last minute! Order you passport at least six weeks before you leave and alleviate last-minute anxiety.
Airline Ticket – Just don’t screw this up (get to the airport on time, etc).
Money (cash) – Don’t bother with traveler’s cheques – nobody likes them.
Credit card – ATM cards are not as good, because if they are stolen, the thief has access to your real money.
Driver’s License
Other needed documents (e.g. dive certification, insurance card, etc)
Smart phone
Camera – basic, small, and durable
ipod and ear buds (can be part of your phone)
Computer – an older one with sturdy carrying case (optional – not needed unless you are a grad student or above)
Memory stick
Treats – granola bars, lifesavers, whatever you like. You will be shocked how much joy can be contained in a little taste of home when you’ve been eating rice, beans, and tortillas for weeks. Don’t skimp on this – fill empty crevices of your backpack with junk food (My old school favorite was Jolly Ranchers).
Xerox of passport, maps – keep one copy of your passport with you, and one at home.
Chargers and cords for electronics, and surge protector
Paperback book to read
A handful of pictures from home
A magazine or two (usually bought at the airport)
2 backpacks – one large (check) and one small (carry-on) to carry everything in.

2. Clothes:
3 pairs pants
2 shorts
5 shirts (1 semi-nice, the rest light colored t-shirts)
6 pairs socks
6 pairs underwear
3 bandanas
Sturdy hiking boots
Tennis shoes (optional)
Sweatshirt – great for the plane even if you go to a hot place. Also makes a decent pillow in tough spots.
Swimming suit

3. Jungle Survival:
2 flashlights (AA batteries) – see my earlier entry on this.
Clipboard – cheap and junky. Don’t buy one with a built-in box – it just adds clutter and
Notebook (may use write-in-the-rain brand if you will be out in the rain a lot).
2 cans of bugspray – one strong, one weak. See my entry on this.
Permethrin – spray that you put on your clothes before you go to keep bugs off. It works, and can deal with several washings before it goes away (not for skin).
Sunscreen – spray-on is best. You won’t bother to put on the cream ones.
Canteen – holds at least a liter or more. Nalgene bottles are common here. I prefer the wide-mouth ones because you can mix Gator-aid in them much easier, but the narrow- mouth ones are much easier to drink from while driving in the back of a truck on a dirt road.
2 extra water bottles – additional water holders. Keep ones that you buy in the airport on the way down. Buy the expensive sturdy ones with the sport tops if possible and re-use them throughout your entire trip.
Machete (usually bought once at your destination)
Swiss army knife
GPS (optional, but nice to have)
Compass with adjustable declination
Paperwork including many blank pieces of paper
Pencils, pens, a small ruler, drawing stuff
Gloves – not too heavy (gardening)
An embarrassing amount of AA batteries

4. Toiletries and First Aid:
Epi-pen (if you have one)
Bar soap
Shaving stuff
Tooth brush and tooth paste
Hair brush
Towel (old, crappy and thin – it will dry much quicker than a new thick one)
Pills – Malaria meds, vitamins, Pepto Bismol, Advil, Cipro
Powdered Gator-aid – a nice way to make lukewarm water tasty.
Sting-ease – you will get stung
Aloe vera – you will get burned
Spare plastic bags – a garbage bag or two, some gallon ziplock bags, some sandwich bags, some old grocery store plastic bags – super handy and takes up no space.

5. Miscellaneous Tips:
Collect and horde small change.
You can always buy a spare t-shirt or two while away.
Use 1 large and 1 small backpack to pack everything into – be able to carry everything you brought for a leisurely 20 minute walk by putting the large backpack on your back and the small backpack on “backwards” on your front. Don’t overpack.
Don’t use your phone to call people – turn off all roaming and call functions and only use it when you have wifi (FaceTime or Skype can provide the equivalent of an unlimited call for free!).
Make sure you get more than enough time stamped into your passport. If you know you will be in country for two weeks, ask for three when you enter the country. It is a huge pain to have your passport re-stamped for more time if you let it lapse.
Put pressurized bottles (bugspray, sunscreen, shaving cream, etc) in tight plastic bags in your luggage for the flights – I have had bad luck with these things leaking while in flight.
Don’t pack your trowel with your carry-on – they will take it away as a “weapon.”
Guard your passport!
Send an old-fashioned letter home. The recipient will love it. It usually does take forever (weeks) to get to its destination.

There you have it. This basic list has served me well for two decades of field research. Enjoy your trip – it can be life changing. Reply to this post if you think of anything else that I have forgotten, or other ideas that you found work well for you!


PS – You will get sick. While you are sick, know that you will get better (although it won’t feel like it).


Posted in Archaeology | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Why the Isuzu Trooper is the Best Archaeology Field Vehicle Ever


As it is finals time at Moorpark College and I have several hundred papers to grade today, it seems like a perfect time to continue my archaeology blog!  I thought I would discuss the hotly contested world of archaeological field vehicles.  There are many strong opinions on this, as the archaeology field vehicle becomes a beloved part of the crew as the months go by, like a family pet with a personality and a name.  For example, the first project I worked on in Belize had two field vehicles:  “Big Blue” (A big and burly 1986 Ford F350 pickup) and “The Burb” (A massive 1980s 4WD Chevy Suburban).  Both were temperamental but lovable, and each crew member had their preference (I was a Big Blue guy and would defend it mightily, even though it got 9 miles to the gallon and the carburetors caught fire once).

In the field, these vehicles are lifeboats, their primary function being to get you home and not leave you stranded.  Good qualities include durability, simplicity, and decent gas milage.  With these criteria in mind, I decree that The Best Vehicle Ever Made for Archaeological Purposes is the original Isuzu Trooper.  Made from 1984-1991, these  are great because they are stone simple, reliable, and can carry lots for their size.  Not too big or too small, Troopers were first produced before the SUV craze happened, so their DNA is based on that of a true work vehicle, not on a Soccer Mom’s comfort preferences.  They are really “UV’s,” as the “Sport” aspect does not exist with the Trooper, and is not needed.

Popular “runner up” choices include Toyota 4Runners/HiLux (which would probably be my second choice) and even Ford or Chevrolet pickup trucks.  The cliche award is obviously shared by Land Rovers and Toyota Landcruisers, but I have not had very good luck with these in practice (too heavy, too old, too unreliable).  The Troopers win because of balance.  They are utilitarian without being uncomfortable.  They have enough modern technology to be comfortable on the freeway, but not so much technology as to be unreliable in extreme circumstances (the jungle is very unkind to electronics).

While bits and pieces may break off or wear down, I have never had a Trooper truly break down and leave me stranded.  Troopers have carried me deep into the Maya jungle, crawling up muddy embankments to distant ridge tops and down precarious and narrow gorges.  I have also driven them out in the desert, crossing dry creek beds and sandy terrain.  Just as importantly, I have used them as daily drivers, cruised the freeway for hours, and picked up the family Christmas Tree by simply shoving it in the back and closing the door.

If you are in the market for an original Trooper, do not buy a 1984 or 1985 model (no overdrive and very small engines makes it brutally slow).  Any model between 1986 and 1991 is good.  They came in either two or four-door configurations, with manual or automatic transmissions, and with either four cylinder or six cylinder engines.  Any combination is fine, even engine size does not matter (both are equally underpowered).  Simply buy the best kept, lowest milage example you can find.


Troopers are not perfect.  The body panels seem to be made of an alloy of steel and swiss cheese, there are no airbags, and with either engine producing about 120 horsepower, you will enjoy a new definition of slow while merging onto the freeway.  Luckily, these negatives are easily offset by the durability and practicality of these fantastically useful vehicles.

Ten years from now, the Isuzu Trooper will no longer be the best field vehicle.  They will be too old, and parts will become too hard to find (it is already happening).  At that time, as the Trooper enters its rightful place alongside the Land Rover and the Landcruiser in the pantheon of Old Archaeological Vehicle Gods, I will still be extolling its virtues, because I will be old and stubborn (it is already happening) and the Trooper will always be my favorite field vehicle of all time.

Posted in Archaeology | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments