The last project: Archaeologist does one more dig


Out by Kansas State’s North Farm, bags of dirt with bright orange tags with exact coordinates were sorted by a couple of anthropology students and their professor, Brad Logan.

When the weather was nice, Logan and whichever students could make it out that day had water screened the dirt, careful with the tags on each unit, to find pot shards, fish vertebrae, burnt hazelnuts, walnuts and other organic matter, all from about 500 AD to 1000 AD.

Logan, research associate professor of archaeology, is the principal investigator of the Quixote site near Valley Falls, Kansas. He has worked with the Kansas Anthropological Association and the Kansas Historical Society since June 2017.

He had not planned on taking on any more big projects this year, as he said he was hoping to start wrapping up a 43-year career in archaeology with just a few more small surveys and his archaeological lab methods course at K-State.

Then Logan found out the site he had worked on in 1988 was being revisited, and he said “it was too good to be true.”

After last summer’s excavation and a couple of water screening days open to the public, Logan was left with 701 bags filled with data for him to analyze back in the lab. He just needed help to get through all of them, so he asked the anthropology students to volunteer this spring, giving them experience with Kansas archaeology.

“People don’t understand that archaeology is literally everywhere in this state, and it’s not all temples and castles,” Ashley Flowers, senior in anthropology and water screening volunteer, said. “The most interesting part of archaeology is understanding the daily lives of normal people.”

Logan has spent most of his career working with Great Plains archaeology. His office walls are covered in photographs of students from the field schools he taught up until two years ago, his own projects around the Great Plains and a few in Europe, just for variety. His experience has helped him with his students such as Flowers with research and on-the-job learning.

“He’s just very knowledgeable about everything, and he is also very willing to share his expertise,” Flowers said. “I think at first, I was super intimidated by him, but he’s very easy to get to know.”

Some of Logan’s students have said they go into his office for just one question and get caught up in conversation for 30 minutes — after they quit being intimidated by him. Seth Sagstetter, senior in anthropology, said it is “stupid easy” talking with Logan once he got to know him.

The stories that come with over 40 years in the profession and all the connections he has made end up coming out in these conversations. Little anecdotes about other archaeologists he has met or about almost getting bit by a snake come up, Sagstetter said.

“I think he just likes doing it,” Sagstetter said. “I don’t think he would know what to do if he stopped being in archaeology.”

Logan said even if he does not plan on picking up any more big projects, he probably won’t ever really be done with archaeology. There is always more to be learned from existing collections.

In his last excavation at the Quixote site, Logan made sure to leave some parts untouched for future archaeologists. Archaeology is always adopting new technologies — some Logan said he can’t even imagine — that will help paint a better picture of the past.

Logan will spend the rest of the year working in the lab with all that he and some of his students found during the water screening process. For him, archaeology is not about just finding the “crystal skull” like Indiana Jones. Seeing where the pieces of pottery, the arrow heads or little animal bones were left behind offer an understanding of what was going on centuries ago.

“It’s the whole picture, not the one thing,” Logan said. “People are far too complex to reduce them to this ‘what is this crystal skull?’ business.”

Everything from the Quixote site will be written up and analyzed to be shared with other archaeologists. He said it was “kismet” — fate — that brought him back to the site he first encountered toward the beginning of his career.

Now Logan is closer to the end of career and further from the beginning, but surrounded in his office by photographs — the young couple that had met at one of his field schools, a woman with a big smile on her face holding up an arrowhead she had just found and much more — he said he would not change a thing.

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