archaeological monitoring (less digging, more watching)

My day of archaeology might be a little different than what most of us signed up for when we stared doing archaeology. Today I’m working on an archaeological monitoring project for a road construction project. The excavation crew is installing a new water main and laterals to existing houses. Because the project is within the zone of a known archaeological site (two effigy mounds and a scatter of stone tools and other evidence of people) my job is to watch as the backhoe digs into the ground to make sure they don’t impact the mounds, uncover human remains, or disturb any other evidence of early human habitation. Basically I spend most of the day watching the crew install pipes, trying not to get hit by the backhoe, and trying to hold my own as the crew mocks my attempt to not fall into the open trench.

In the past, many mounds were destroyed to make way for roads, houses, and other such things. Now, state & federal laws require people like me to make sure the past is preserved. While it might not sound as sexy as other types of archaeology, it is important (plus, some might say I look dashing in a hard hat and safety vest….ok, no one has said that yet but maybe one day they will 🙂 ). I like being outside and sometimes get to use my training to identify bones that are found. In fact, the other day the crew unearthed a cow metacarpal, which was fun to show off.

I would say the best part of the job is getting to talk to the pipe crew and homeowners. The crew are often fascinated by archaeology and many of them bring me bones and other objects they have found over the years. Doing outreach is a major component of this work. While often times the crew doesn’t like me being in the way at first, I see one of my main jobs to be discussing the relevance of preserving the past (plus, I now know a hell of a lot about installing utility pipes and civil engineering!).