Ups and Downs

Well, we’re approaching the end of September, classes are in full swing, and I’ve been dealing with some issues (as you may have gathered from the title).  I almost put up a blog post in something closely resembling despair, but I decided to wait until I had happier news to lighten the mood – and fortunately, some happier news came along!

But bad news first.  Remember the part where I was in despair?  Here’s why: all the data I spent the summer collecting is essentially useless.  I discovered this last week; it was kind of a dark place for me.  I was meeting with a few people to discuss the best way of analyzing all my results, and I ended up lending a few of my sherds out to be tested for materials characterization with a different instrument.  Those results revealed the presence of elements around rubidium and strontium, peaks that were completely missing from my own spectra.  In fact, my spectra don’t show much of anything beyond iron.  I was under the impression that this was because higher elements simply weren’t present in the sherds, but in reality they just weren’t being picked up by the XRF setup I was using.  Delving a little deeper, it turned out that the suggested settings I’d been using were incorrect.  The voltage was too low; I’d been operating at 15 kV, when I should have been operating at 40 kV.  Here is a brief summary of my reaction to the news: “Wait, what?  You’re kidding right?”  Closely followed by, “Noooooooooooooooo…!”  Followed somewhat more sedately by, “Ok, I can fix this; it’s going to be ok.  (Noooooo…!)  But really, we’ll make this work.”

And that was when I decided not to write a blog post, because I don’t like depressing people.  In the week since the news, things have started to look a little bit up.  I contacted the lab down in CW with the XRF setup, and it’s looking promising that they’ll let me retest my sherds.  I need to bring in a fruit basket or something in thanks.  Also, in looking at the (practically) useless spectra that I’ve already gathered, the ideas for a tweak in my project have come to light.  Basically, all the spectra from all the sherds from all the different time periods, with some minor fluctuations, look pretty much the same.  This was always a possibility, and it shows that the people at this York river site were probably making pots locally, from the same source clay as their mothers and fathers before them.  But that conclusion isn’t really that interesting.  So I’m switching tacks, here, and if I can get back to the XRF instrument, I’m planning to bring a slightly different sample set.  I’ll retest some of the sherds I’ve already been working with, but I’ll also bring sherds from several other river drainages in Virginia.  This way I can look at whether native communities all made pots locally during the middle to late Woodland periods, and I’ll also be able to check to make sure that the XRF method is sensitive enough to pick up the differences between the ceramic matrices.

And so that’s my good news: a likely chance at recovering some data and a new and improved project design.  If this doesn’t seem to you to totally balance the fact that all my summer’s work is being relegated to the trash heap, don’t bring it up.  I’m going to ignore you.  And hopefully, I’ll be able to pull this all together!  My major concern right now is time.  Specifically, will I have enough of it?  Only time will tell….  Haha.  I’ll keep you posted.


  1. Alex Brown says:

    Also, why do the little smiley faces look so devilish??

  2. Alex Brown says:

    Thanks so much, Brianna! It’s true – at first, I couldn’t see how it could be worse, but now I think my project is the stronger for it. Good luck with your writing – I don’t think things get much better than what you imagine 🙂

  3. Brianna Frentzko says:

    Hey Alex,
    That’s really tough news to overcome and I am so proud of you finding the good in it and moving forward. That’s what research is all about right? Even writing, sometimes something just doesn’t work, but in the end it forces us to do something even better than we’d imagined.

    Very best of luck reworking things:-)