Joseph Schuldenrein: Indiana Jones of Internet Radio

Joe Schuldenrein, host of  internet radio archeology program

Joe Schuldenrein, host of internet radio archeology program

My guest today is Dr. Joseph Schuldenrein, host of the internet radio show Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality and 21st Century Archeology on VoiceAmerica.com (http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/1975/indiana-jones-myth-reality-and-21st-century-archaeology). Dr. Schuldenrein is also president and principal archeologist of Geoarcheology Research in Yonkers, New York.

Thanks for being with us today, Joe. Why did you decide to do an internet radio show about archeology?

I always thought that if I didn’t go into archaeology I was best suited to a career in media. I viewed myself as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. But I love appearing in public and seem to have a knack for communicating with people from a broad range of backgrounds and socio-economic strata. In 2011, I was contacted by the VoiceAmerica Internet radio station. They had seen my company’s web-site and thought that archaeology was an appealing topic for their multi-faceted audience. I did not need much convincing. As I got into it, I realized that the need to present archaeology to a broad audience was critical, if we, in the professional community, are to survive in a world of diminishing governmental funding. It should be clear to all archaeological professionals that public outreach is now our major mission if archaeological careers are to remain viable going forward.

What are some of the challenges of doing a show like this?

These emerged at the outset. I had thought that running a program would be a lot like presenting a paper at a

A current excavation by Schuldenrein in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He is pointing to a 19th century well

A 19th century well excavated on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

meeting. Since I had lots of experience at that and basically present extemporaneously, I figured that the transition to radio would be relatively easy. It was not. At all. VERY fortunately, I was able to pre-record my first show. Otherwise it would have been a disaster. My initial off the cuff presentation would have been a dismal failure had I not had the opportunity to do several takes. The learning curve was initially bumpy. I scripted my next few programs meticulously. And they seemed to work well, in my eyes at least, until some of my colleagues told me that the program sounded too scripted, stiff, and staged. Eventually, I was able to get a protocol down that allowed me to work from an outline and to work my interviews in the more natural and extemporaneous format that fit me better. VERY FORTUNATELY, I now have a magnificent intern who does nearly all of the behind the scenes work, including recruiting guests from my network of contacts, proposing topics of interest and co-ordinating with the station. She also does all of the advance work that involves Public Relations work and advertising. Without her I would NOT be able to continue. The broadcasts themselves are not the hard part. The preparations are.

Other than my husband Steve Black, who are some of the guests you’ve had on? 

We have been fortunate to have had so many. We cover all aspects of archaeology so we pride ourselves in both a diverse audience and range of guests. Some of the more colorful include Brian Fagan, Tom King, the Culture Minister of Afghanistan, Sonny Trimble of the Corps of Engineers, Hampton Sides, who wrote the recent best-seller on the excavation of the Titanic, and the folks who produced American Diggers. Those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

 What episode has received the most listeners? or do you have statistics on that?

The Titanic piece was extremely well received. We could get statistics on the individual shows, but the station more typically monitors our numbers on a month to month basis. They do this through Internet technology. We originally had a few thousand listeners (in 2011) and are now up to about 40,000 per month. That number is a sum of the live audience, generally pretty small, and the number of listeners who have accessed the individual episodes as podcasts. The success of Internet radio is measured by the call-ups of the podcasts and we are doing well by that and related criteria.

Where do you do most of your own archeological work?

Procuring OSL Dating Sample at wadi Hasa, Jordan

Procuring OSL Dating Sample at wadi Hasa, Jordan

I have worked nearly everywhere in the world. Since I am trained as a geoarchaeologist, I have honed my specialty by consulting with large research firms throughout the U.S. My graduate work was in the Near East and, as a result, I have always had an Old World focus. I have collaborated with researchers and academic institutions in Central Europe, parts of Africa, and intensively in South Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan). I am more of a methods person than a regional specialist. As the founder and Principal of my company, GRA, I have shifted the focus of our work in response to the changing realities of the research and applied worlds. Right now we are heavily centered on high tech methodologies, urban archaeology, international heritage development programs and media.

What motivates you about archeology in the first place?

I could wax poetic about the innate drive I had to do archaeology as a child. That would be a lie. As a college student in the heated ‘60’s and ‘70’s, I was actively involved in protest politics. When I became disaffected with politics in my last year of college, my main objective was to get out of school as quickly as possible. The onlyway I could do that in 4 years was to load up on Anthropology courses. In my senior year I was inspired by

Geoarcheological investigation at prehistoric shell midden, central California coast

Geoarcheological investigation at prehistoric shell midden, central California coast

my archaeology professor, the late Dr. Phil Weigand. He encouraged me to try archaeology as a way of “finding myself.” I packed off and did a season at Cahokia under Dr. Mike Fowler. I was hooked and never looked back.

What do you want people to learn or discover from listening to your show?

My main objective on the show is to bring the message of archaeology to the general public. I think the biggest eye-opener in our field is the degree to which the message of the past provides a road map to the future. For example, archaeological scientists should be able to provide compelling evidence for climate change, via their window on past circulation systems that are readily documented. However, as professionals we are so focused on our esoteric research that we fail to reach the greater communities that can benefit from our knowledge. Besides, archaeology is so inherently appealing to most people. I am amazed that, as professionals keyed to our own research, we consistently ignore the big picture and, by extension, the greater public. In my own small way, I see this radio show as a venue for expanding our reach. I am reminded of how the late Carl Sagan was able to transmit his fascination with astronomy to the greater public. It is imperative that we archaeologists do the same.

It’s been a pleasure to have you on the blog, Joe. I hope you’ll come again sometime.

The Great Honey Debate

Honey and comb

Honey and comb

The ruckus started with my post May 31 on the use of honey to heal wounds. I assumed that since the Lower Pecos region of south Texas has abundant wild bees and flowers to feed them today that would have also been the case in the Archaic period, about 4000 years ago, plus or minus, and that therefore the ancient people of the area would have used honey in various ways.

Then Steve casually dropped a bomb–after I published the blog of course–saying he had always heard that there were no honey bees (Apis mellifera) in the Americas until the first Europeans arrived. Apparently  bees escaped from hives the colonists brought to become the honey bees most of us know today.

Well, that threw me into a tizzy. Not only would I have to correct my blog, which is no big deal, but more BeesandFlowersCommunicate050313drastically, since I had given honey a prominent role in several key chapters of the novel I am writing about the ancient people of the Lower Pecos, I would have to change that. And I am so close to having a completed first draft! Only one more chapter to go!

I’ve already spent more than a year on this novel, researching and writing an admittedly crude draft, about 80,000 words so far. I am really looking forward to revising during this next year, bringing the characters more to life and making the whole thing flow. Don’t tell me a key premise is wrong!  Although better to find out now than two or three years from now when the book is published, right?

Maya bee log

Maya bee log

Well it turns out there are thousands of kinds of bees, not just the European Apis mellifera. For example, the Maya raised bees and developed an extensive honey culture thousands of years ago in Yucatan, and still practice beekeeping today. The bees they preferred were stingless Meliponini bees, which include over 500 species and generally occur in the tropics.

These stingless bees are quite calm and are often tended by children among the Maya. They live in log hives and produce a thinner, more liquid honey than that of the Apis mellifera. The Maya even had a god of honey, Ah

Ah Mucen Cab, Maya bee god

Ah Mucen Cab, Maya bee god

Mucen Cab, which is depicted over a door way at the ancient site of Tulum.

The thing that puts my mind at rest, however, is a distribution map published this year (2013) by the Natural History Museum of London that shows Meliponini bees in south Texas!   So, as a novelist, I feel safe now that I can put a little beekeeping in the Lower Pecos Archaic. Especially since archeologists and other researchers have rarely had the time or money to identify any bee remains in their samples. Looking for insects was not really their goal in the past. Hopefully, that situation can be corrected soon and we can find out what type of bees made the honey  ancient people of the Lower Pecos used on their cuts and scrapes.

As Eva Crane said in her definitive book “The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting,” (1991),”it seems likely that many species [of bees] are now less widely distributed than when human populations were much smaller,” like in the Archaic period.

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*Stingless Bee Distribution Map  http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/bombus/pic_apini.html