This time of year the internet abounds with practical suggestions for gifts, no matter what your hobbies. Ailurophile? How about some Taylor Swift cat sneakers? Kitchen novice? What about a bagel-slicer? Wealthy scion of Hollywood elite? You’re clearly in the market for some $125,000 gold-plated dumbells. In keeping with the spirit of last year’s Top Ten Christmas Gifts for Osteologists, I have assembled a list of slightly more practical gifts for the archaeologically inclined. To provide suggestions appropriate for fieldwork in multiple regions, I assembled a crack team of archaeological consultants focusing on projects ranging from kayak survey (Anna) to household excavation (Shooby) and experimental caribou procurement and processing (the Alaskan, obviously). Unlike my osteology items, all of these gifts have an exceedingly practical bent, and double as appropriate presents for any outdoorsy campers or travelers your might know. If you’re an archaeologist reading and have other suggestions, feel free to include them in the comments section!
1) Dry sack
In the field you find yourself torn between wanting to have all of your equipment with you, while making sure none of your gear gets destroyed by the elements. My solution to this problem has been to rely on dry sacks to protect my equipment. These are particularly useful for making sure electronics (GPS units, cell phones, watches, etc.) don’t get wet or dirty. I’ve always bought the one liter Sea to Summit models as these pack down easily and are the perfect size for cellphones, wallets, and small field notebooks. I’m still mourning the loss of my favorite dry sack (bright yellow, and impossible to lose) that disappeared when I lent it to a friend for fieldwork.
Price: $11.95 (1L) – $24.95 (35L)
Link: Can be purchased through Summit Hut, here.
2) Field Scarf
I first realized the utility of an all-purpose field scarf when I bought my first keffiyeh on a survey project in Jordan in 2008. During a particularly long stint at a sinkhole when some keys got locked in the trunk of our car, I used it variously as a means of keeping the sun out of my eyes, a scarf, and later that night, as a blanket. Bree also recommended a multi-purpose field garment, noting that Buffs are “great for keeping your locks out of your eyes, the sweat off your forehead, or the dust out of your nose and mouth, depending on how you wear it. And it doubles as a handy lunch placemat!”
Price: $10-20, depending on color.
Link: You can buy a Buff at REI here.
I’ve worked on a few projects when you’re up at God-awful hours because of local summer temperatures and field schedules. In those instances, having a reliable, relatively indestructible travel mug for morning tea or coffee has been a lifesaver. Something easy to wash and unlikely to break is a must. I like the Contgio thermoses because they have a locking mechanism that prevents inadvertent spillage if you stash them in your bag (though if your belongings are already in a dry sack, you’l likely be safe either way).
Link: My favorites are from Contigo, here.
4) Insulated Camelbak
My friend Anna spends summers bushwacking and kayaking her way through the wilderness Willapa Bay. When I asked her what her top Christmas gift would be, she described “an insulated Camelbak” that would keep beverages warm while she was dragging sea kayaks through muck. Camelbaks are useful in warmer climes as well – I know people who have conducted fieldwork in the American Southwest have also relied on Camelbaks , where they burned through several liters of water per day while traversing the rugged desert landscape.
Bonus: Camelbak makes a model called the “bootlegger”, if you decide you need some fortified beverages on hand. I would not recommend this for precision profile cutting or wall straightening.
Price: Insulated models ranges from $55- $130
Link: Can be purchased at Camelbak, here.
5) Outdoor Gear Membership
When I set off for a summer of fieldwork in northern Italy a few years back I purchased most of my gear at Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Montreal. The American version of MEC is REI. Shooby is as enthusiastic about the American store as I am about the Canadian – “I can never emphasize enough how useful an REI membership is. Only $20 and the returns policy is clutch for when fieldwork gear or attire doesn’t hold up. (As I found out in Arizona when a cactus thorn ripped my pants and I had to “fix” them with black duct tape. They still took them back and gave me a full refund).”
Price: Lifetime membership to REI is $20, membership at MEC is $5.
Link: Purchase a membership for REI here; MEC gift cards are available here.
6) Field Knife
When I did my field school in Finland, the director explained that most Finnish men carried their own knives called “puukos,” and I soon witnessed the utility of this particular piece of field gear first hand. Bree concurs, noting that these Kershaw knives are “great for pesky roots and cutting off slices of summer sausage and cheese.”
Link: Can be purchased through REI here.
I once worked on a project in North Carolina where radio reception was so poor that our options were often limited to the local Christina channel, or to a popular country station. Things got so bad that at one point during the summer we were able to differentiate between the “good” song about fishing” and the “bad” song about fishing. So that you’re not trapped in the same (fishing) boat, I suggest gifting your favorite archaeologist a pair of portable speakers. As Shooby describes “I like how the crew learns new music from each other. Plus time goes by faster with good tunes. ” I would recommend purchasing a brightly colored set, so that they don’t get lost in the back dirt pile.
Link: Can be purchased on Amazon, here.
When you don’t want to sully your field scarf, but have trowels to wipe down or sweat to dab from your brow, a bandana is the perfect substitute. I always keep a red one tied to the top of my backpack, making it readily at hand while ensuring that my backpack is easy to spot, even in tall grass. Avoid the white ones.
Price: $7 for three.
Link: You can buy a three-pack at Amazon, here. Technically these are “men’s bandanas,” but given that Levi’s does not appear to market “women’s bandanas,” these will have to do.
I once went to a hardware store in northern Michigan to pick up shovels with an all-female crew. An old man watched us carting several loads worth of equipment out of the store before drawling “You ladies havin’ a plantin’ party?” To ensure that your friends aren’t subjected to similarly archaic and backwards comments about women digging, why not gift them a shovel? Shooby has some specific recommendations: “I LOVE my Blue Hawk short-handle spade, which I used all the time to cut sod for new units and clean walls really quickly. One of my volunteers from Burnsville gave me one for Christmas 2013 and it was the BEST gift I got that year. But that was very specific to me and my clay-heavy soils.”
Link: Can be purchased at Lowe’s, here.
10) Reuseable utensils
These Swedish Light my Fire sporks are great for field breakfasts and lunches, and the plastic utensils are wonderfully handy for airport and train travel as well. The only issue with the plastic sporks is that they can snap down the middle, so if you’re looking for a heavier duty version I might try the titanium.
Price: $3 for the plastic version, $15 for the titanium
Link: Both plastic and titanium are available for purchase from REI.
Image Credits: All images were taken from the linked websites where materials are available for purchase (except the sporks, which are from Light my Fire). Photos of my “archaeological consultants” acquired via social media stalking.