Ask an Archaeologist: Dr. Lisa Young

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For this week’s episode of Ask an Archaeologist, we sat down with Dr. Lisa Young, an archaeologist at the University of Michigan, via Skype.  We asked Dr. Young the following viewer submitted questions:

  1. What classes should I take to become an Archaeologist?
  2. Among the Internet generation, the sciences are getting more attention than pervious years, specifically disciplines that apply to space exploration.  As an archaeologist, would you like to have more of that attention for your field of study, and if so what way would you generate interest for archaeology the way Neil de Grasse Tyson, Bill Nye, or Michio Kaku have for their respective fields?
  3. When in the field, how are archaeologists treated generally?  And have you or any of your colleagues had any dangerous encounters when on a dig?


We have all seen Indiana Jones running from boulders, avoiding booby traps, and of course dealing with snakes, why did it have to be snakes? Dr. Lisa Young, who excavates in the American Southwest in Winslow, Arizona, knows how to deal with these notorious archaeological foes.  “The most dangerous thing I’ve ever done was have to move a rattlesnake.”  Young told us that the snake had decided to visit her and her students while they were on a lunch break.  “I realized that you could make a rattle snake pretty dizzy if you scoop it up with a shovel and fling it into the air,” Young said of dealing with the snake.  Sounds like a trick someone should of taught Dr. Jones.

When it comes to learning about Archaeology itself, Dr. Young believes that you learn best by doing.  “Its important to get hands on experience, rather than just classroom experience,” Dr. Young told us.  There are even field schools for aspiring archaeologists who are in high school and opportunities to get experience stateside.  Young started her archaeological career when she was in high school at the Center for American Archaeology in Southern Illinois.

[Check out some of ASOR’s fellowship opportunities.]

Some people may want to become archaeologists and will take formal classes or attend field schools, but archaeologists must also interact with the general public and share the knowledge they learn from excavations.  “I would love to see more archaeology being made accessible to the public, “ Dr. Young said.  Unlike astrophysics, which has Neil de Grasse Tyson as a public representative of the field, Dr. Young believes that it may not be the best way to approach sharing archaeology with the public.  “Archaeology is so place-based and so object-based that I think a better approach would be…to introduce people to the different places that they can see archaeology,” or to use an object as a representative of archaeology, and “talk about that object and all the things we can learn from that object itself”.

While many of the television programs about archaeology can be contentious at best and what Young calls “Fringe claims” or “psudoarchaeology”, Dr. Young likes the Time Team program, which she calls “Archaeology for reality TV.”  The show started in Britain and has now expanded into the United States with Time Team America on PBS.

Click here to find out more about Dr. Young’s fieldwork in Northeastern Arizona and the Homol’ovi Undergraduate Research Opportunities Project.

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