In-Depth Post #5: Difference between archaeology and grave robbing?

How long does someone have to be dead before it’s considered archaeology and not grave robbing?

After giving it some thought, you might guess that the answer is around the amount of time needed for flesh to be decomposed, right? Well, not exactly.

I’ll have to announce that the question was a trick question because the difference between archaeology and grave robbing is behind the question of intent, rather than time. Archaeology is done with a scholarly purpose to achieve a better understanding of human history, while grave robbing is done strictly for monetary reasons. In order to conduct an archaeological excavation, archaeologists would have to acquire permission from those who live on the land and other processes before the field work can begin, while grave robbing is… robbing.

Anyways! Over the spring break, I had the lucky chance of volunteering at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at SFU, thanks to Dr. Jamieson’s hard work asking around the Department for opportunities for me. During my time at the museum, I was mainly labelling and replacing photo slides.  Not digitally printed photos, but those real photo slides that are black unless there is light under it. Most excitingly for me, they were “primary resources” of human osteology (human bones) found at sites! I got to wear one of those white cliche museum gloves and spent a rather long time sorting through batches of them, but it was really fun! After that, I had the opportunity to use a photo slide scanner which properly digitizes photo slides. In case if you were wondering, it is not a regular scanner.


After that, I just did miscellaneous things around the museum such as locating documents (this sounds boring but there are SO MANY numbers and categories) and transporting them (with a cart because they were so heavy). There was also a great variety of cool artifacts at the back of the museum from all over the world. And I got a chance to see what other people were working around in the museum, which was super cool as well. Everything was just so cool!

I won’t put too many pictures here, partially because my WordPress gallery is almost full, but also because I have to save some things for In-Depth Night. I brought my camera and tripod with me, so I filmed some videos of me working on the slides that I will likely be showing on In-Depth Night.

1. What kinds of learning opportunities does the mentor provide to expose you to new learning?

I am very fortunate to say that Dr. Jamieson has exposed me to so many different opportunities to work with different people around the Archaeology Department. Thanks to him, I was involved in projects of undergraduate and graduate students, lectures, and volunteering at the museum. The different people I’ve worked with allowed me to an In-Depth look into the different aspects within archaeology, such as osteoarchaeology, historical archaeology, and museum work, etc. I got tours of pretty much the entire Archaeology Department at SFU, including the zooarchaeology lab, the botanical archaeology lab, the isotope lab, the dirt sampling room, the archives, and the museum.

2. What kinds of learning opportunities exist to reinforce new learning?

Obviously, there’s more than just two students in the Archaeology Department at SFU, so I could technically explore other projects. While working with other university students is great, perhaps there are more In-Depth things that I can talk my current mentor(s) about. There are always new things to learn about so I don’t really believe this to be a concern. I do really want to have some future opportunity to work in the zooarchaeology lab, so I will try to ask one of my mentors about that in the future.

3. What kinds of opportunities exist that might accelerate learning?

I should definitely be taking more notes during the meeting about the new vocabulary I learn, and if possible I plan on videotaping future sessions as well. This is not only to collect raw footage for my In-Depth Night Presentation, but also to review topics since it’s difficult to put into words an activity as hands-on as archaeology. I believe videos will help me visually activate some memories during the meetings that I couldn’t capture with my notes.

4. When you get together what do you talk about?

Clearly, we mostly talk about archaeology when we get together, but I also ask a lot of questions about other things to my mentors.  So far, one of the questions that I’ve been asking to all of my mentors is how they got interested in archaeology. While some responses included the fact that they were always interested in the subject ever since they were little, other people claimed that they took a course about it in undergraduate and fell in love with it thus switching majors. While society seems to have this pressure my decisions now will significantly affect my entire future, I’m starting to think otherwise. Ever since I was in grade one I was tremendously concerned about my future because I was always so uncertain of what I want to be when I grow up (having existential crisis in grade one? Yes). I felt that I had to know what I wanted to do in the future even though I was definitely at an age that is not nearly mature enough to decide my entire career. And I think it’s unfair for children who, unlike those who knew their passions from the moment they were born, simply don’t know what they’re good at. After talking to all these amazing people, those who did not know what they were going to be are equally wonderful as those who did. So not only is In-Depth teaching me a lot about archaeology, it’s also been incredibly humbling to learn about universities and careers from my mentors.

5. What is going particularly well in your mentoring relationship right now?

My mentoring relationship is going very well thus far. Again, every time I meet at SFU, I just learn so much every single time. I am very lucky to announce that my In-Depth meetings are incredibly productive and effective this year, in that I’m not only learning so much about my subject, but that most of my learning has been guided and directed by my mentors in this hands-on experience. One of the reasons why my mentorship relationship is so successful might be because of the location of the meetings. Archaeology is a very technical subject, so the facilities provided at SFU grant me a great deal of knowledge just from visiting the department.

6. What are you learning about one another?

Dr. Jamieson overall is a very cool person. He’s super easy to talk to and kind and friendly. I found out that he likes to watch the Office because he was wearing an Office T-shirt during one of the meetings and I asked him about that.  When I get together with Alessandria, we talked a lot the impact of archaeology on the First Nations, and vice versa; it seems like a subject she is super interested in. When I’m with Daria, I would sometimes ask her about her university experiences and how she enjoys her archaeology classes. As I’m becoming more familiar with the people, what I used to dread grows to something I greatly look forward to.

Although archaeology is about dead things, it’s been teaching me a lot about how to “life”.


  1. I learn a lot when reading your posts. Your enthusiasm shines through your writing, reflecting on this amazing learning opportunity. Make sure you show your appreciation for everyone who helped you. I know you have very creative ways to do this!

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