A very special Day of Archaeology

Once again, by pure accident, I’m not actually working on the Day of Archaeology. There’s a very good reason for this, but first, let me talk about what I do when I am working.

This is me. I would say the Texas heat made me goofy, but in truth I’ve been goofy all my life.

The Texas heat can make you goofy

For the past 3 years, I was an archaeologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department State Parks Archaeology Survey Team (it’s government, lots of wordy names and acronyms). But in April 2016, I took over as the (sole) Archaeologist for the TPWD Wildlife Division. I’m responsible, in theory, for over 800,000 acres of Wildlife Management Areas.

My job is to handle the cultural resources compliance, under the Texas Antiquities Code and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (since a majority of our funding is Federal grants and tax revenue). Basically, before a new building or utility is built, a new field (emphasis on new) cleared and disked for habitat restoration, a fenceline bulldozed for replacement, I have to make sure that no SIGNIFICANT cultural resources are impacted.

So I do background reviews on soils and geology and other sites in the area. I do intensive pedestrian survey, where I walk the area of potential effects and dig holes to search for, and evaluate, subsurface archaeological deposits. When I find something, I have to decide whether the site has the potential to yield significant information about prehistory or history, also known as Criterion D. I make recommendations about the project and impacts on archaeology, which can include avoiding impacts to a significant site (and since TPWD is a conservation agency, we take the avoidance recommendation very seriously, it’s in our Mission Statement) And then, I write a report for the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and our federal review agency to read, and decide if they concur with my recommendations. The Federal agency also conducts Tribal Consultation with Native American tribal governments and their Tribal Historic Preservation Office (aka THPOs) to allow them the opportunity to comment on the project and the impacts, as there may be significant elements that are missed by a traditional archaeological survey.

It’s a good job, and very busy. Sometimes it can be pretty: Wildflower meadow

More often, though, it’s pretty rough (after all, I’m mainly looking in areas that are kept wild):

Lovely east Texas thicket

But wait, John, what’s so special about this?

Ah, right, why am I off work today, on this Very Special Day of Archaeology?

Because I’m getting married!!! (This is what is called “burying the lede”)(Also, this picture is a fake wedding at last year’s Great American Beer Fest)

Practice wedding with Saint Arnold

This lovely lady is understanding of me having to be gone for a week or more every month, coming home sweaty and stinky and covered in bug bites, with aching muscles and joints. She takes care of the house and the cats while I’m gone. She comforted and supported me as I struggled with stress and depression during some rough times at my previous position. Being a field archaeologist can be very difficult, and honestly I often feel guilty about asking someone to put up with it, but she understands. I’ve been very lucky with work and with life.

The Journey Continues – DayofArch2015

This is my Day of Archaeology 2015 post. Here are my past posts:

Thanks again to the organizers for putting this on. Hopefully CRM in the US will start to have a bigger presence as the years roll on. For now, though, it’s just a few of us.


Last year I had been part of the formation of a new company, Field Tech Designs, that was set up to create a tablet application for CRM and beyond. We went quite far with the developers on that, but, in November my backer and business partner backed out. I guess the cost and pace of app development was a bit too much. Who knows. Either way, I’ve moved on and I have a new collaboration with the Center for Digital Archaeology and they are making something that will be great when it comes out! More on that later.

I also mentioned the podcast in last year’s post. Well, as of December, 2014, I started the Archaeology Podcast Network with a fellow podcaster, Tristan Boyle of the Anarchaeologist Podcast. Together, we’ve built the APN into quite the little network with a total of seven shows right now and more on the way. We’re getting around 7000 downloads a month across the network and that number keeps rising. Creating podcasts for people to learn from and enjoy has really been the highlight of my archaeology career. I have a real passion for teaching and outreach and this is my creative outlet for that. Go check out the APN if you’re interested and don’t forget to leave some feedback on our iTunes page.

Finally, I mentioned that my book had just come out from Left Coast Press. The Field Archaeologist’s Survival Guide did better than I expected for the first year, given the price and the small size of this field. My first royalties check came just in June and I took my wife out for a nice McDonald’s dinner. Not super-sized, of course; I mean, it was no Harry Potter. All kidding aside, I knew I wouldn’t make back what I put into the book. Our field just isn’t big enough. That’s not why I wrote it or why I went with a publisher. I just wanted the info to be out there and I thought it was a book that could help some people. I’ve achieved that goal, I think.


This year has been the year of DIGTECH! After two years of networking, proposal losing, small jobs, and living off the knitting income of my wife, I’ve got $400k in work this year and as of the Day of Archaeology I’ve paid out over $60,000 in payroll! That’s a big deal for me. Not only have I had the satisfaction of winning a few contracts and getting to work on them, more importantly, I’ve been able to hire and support a few friends of mine and some new friends. That’s the biggest satisfaction for me. When I think about my friends receiving a paycheck that says, “DIGTECH” on it and using that money to support and feed their families, I feel very honored and humbled. Being an employer is an awesome responsibility. I heard someone say once that you’ll know you’re a business owner when you go to sleep at night worrying about payroll. That’s certainly the truth!

For this year’s event I’m in the middle, well really the beginning, of a 30,000 acre survey. I’ve got four employees with three more coming in October. I just finished a proposal that I think this year’s jobs will get me, too. I haven’t really had the past performance to win much in the last few years, but, these two jobs should change everything.

We’re recording fully digitally in the field, too. There are some issues with the system I’m using, but, we’re adjusting and moving on. In fact, I talked about some of this at the San Diego Archaeological Society’s monthly meeting on July 25th. It’s the first time I’ve been invited to speak somewhere about these issues and it was a huge honor.


I’m hoping that I’ll have something really interesting to write about in 2016. Just a few weeks ago I moved on a project I’ve been thinking about for several years now. I’ve got people here that want to help out with it, knowing that it won’t pay right now, but, will in the future, and they’re willing to put in the time. We’ll see. We’ve just started and I love the energy they have here in the beginning. I just hope that enthusiasm sticks around.

My Day

I guess I’ll briefly talk about my actual day for a minute. Since this is a small company, I’m usually out in the field with the crew. If we go to one part of the project area we leave at 0530. For the more distant part we leave at 0415. That’s to avoid much of the Mojave desert heat that we have to deal with. Leaving at 0415 gets us home by 1245. That’s not too bad. Of course, that means dinner at 2pm and bed at 8pm, but, it’s better than working in 105+ F. On the long drive days we spend 1:45 just getting to the project area. Then, we survey for two hours, take lunch around 0845, survey another two hours, and, go home. It feels like a really short day.

The survey on the long drives is working out, though. We have a certain number of acres we’re trying to hit every day and there isn’t much out there in that part of the project. So, we cover a lot of ground in that short four hours. Luckily, the dense parts of the project, for archaeology that is, are near town.

That’s it for this year. I hope to have an even better year next year and have a lot more to talk about.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!!

The Quiet Rush

The lights are on, but the office feels dark because the sky’s so overcast. It’s not raining, but that really doesn’t matter; the crew isn’t working today. It’s Friday and the crew works four ten-hour days, Monday through Thursday.

The lab techs have that schedul too, so they’re also not around. There are a couple of people from the natural resources side of the firm and one other archaeologist comes in for a few hours to work on a report. For the most part, though, I’m alone in the office.

This is my favorite time to be at work. There are few distractions and the schedule is relaxed and easy-going. I have a large list of duties that need to get done, so even a relaxed Friday keeps me busy.

The first order of business is also one of the most important. Timesheets. I sign, scan, and submit the timesheets for the hourly employees. I also enter the number of hours from those timesheets into a tracking spreadsheet. This allows me to keep track of both the budget and the workload.

After that, I respond to any emails that might be sitting in my inbox. There’s usually only one or two and they don’t usually take too long to address. I then fill out the rest of the morning by backing up the field cameras and field notebooks, as well as pulling newly-recorded data from the GPS unit and entering it into our project’s geodatabase. I’ve automated a lot of this last task, but I still look through the data to make sure that everything that needed to be recorded was and that the data looks accurate.

The afternoon is mostly spent looking at how the field teams are going and planning on where they’ll be for the following week. I work on getting the necessary land access permissions to the locations they’ll be working at, as well as submitting digger’s hotline locate requests for where the teams will go later in the week.

Finally, I look at the workload spreadsheet that shows how the field crews are going. I calculate the number of excavation units that they’ve excavated in the past week, the total over the year, the estimated remaining number of excavation units for the project, and the average number of units per week for this project. I write an email to the client that includes this spreadsheet and add a few paragraphs that discuss specifically what sites the field teams have been working on and where they’re planning on going next week. It’s kind of a boring topic, so I also try to add some color by discussing what the teams have been finding at these sites and any significance that those artifacts might have.

Some of the above duties are done on other days as well, but that’s my typical Friday. The above duties are more clerical than what you might think an archaeologist does, but it allows the field teams to do their job and also allows us to turn all of that fieldwork into a usable product.

More Companies, More Changes

(Chris Webster – President and PI at DIGTECH, Co-Founder of Field Tech Designs, LLC, and host of the CRM Archaeology Podcast)

First, a big thanks again to the organizers of this event! It’s a lot to put on something like this. Go and buy something from their store to support this for many years to come!

Welcome to my fourth Day of Archaeology post! Hard to believe this has been going on for four years now. Every year, so far, I’ve been at a different stage in my life. Nothing stays the same around here, ever! Here are my last posts: 1st year here and here, 2nd Year, and 3rd Year.

Logo - No Back 900x400Last Year

When I wrote my 2013 Day of Archaeology post my new CRM company was just seven months old. I had done a few projects, but, I was mostly focused on the arduous task of business development (BD). I’ve never been good at BD. It seems that no one actually teaches you how to do it. So, I never really learned the ins and outs. I do have some networking skills, which helps, but that’s not all BD is about.

This Year

I’ve got a few more contracts down, but, I seem to have put the CRM side of DIGTECH on the back burner. That’s not to say I would turn down a contract if I were approached, I just don’t have time to go seek them out right now. What I’m really focusing on is my other company, Field Tech Designs.

FTD Banner SmallField Tech Designs

This is what I’ve been working on for much of today’s Day of Archaeology.

Excavation Forms

I’ve been subcontracted to do the excavation for a project in Lake County, CA and the fieldwork starts next week. It’s actually a pretty sweet gig. DIGTECH will do all the fieldwork, but, we aren’t doing any of the artifact analysis and report writing. While I do enjoy those phases of work, I don’t really have the time for it right now. So, this gets me out in the field, shovel in hand, and then allows me to get back to other tasks.

For the fieldwork, we’ll be using iPads rented from my other company, Field Tech Designs, to record the shovel tests and excavation units we’ll be digging. I’ve created custom forms for the shovel tests and spent a portion of today creating the excavation forms.

Working digitally will allow us to transmit the completed paperwork (should digital forms be called, electrowork? digiwork?) to the PI at his office 200 miles away every day. With cell service, we can transmit the forms as we finish them.

Tablet Rental Program

I’ve also spent some time coming up with the various pricing models we’re going to have for our tablet rental program. Over the last few months I’ve gotten the sense that some companies are a bit apprehensive about buying a fleet of tablets for their fieldwork. I don’t know if it’s the upfront cost of the tablets or the thought that they could easily break (which isn’t true). Either way, I thought that since they are used to renting things like Trimble GPS units anyway then a tablet rental would just make sense. Renting the tablets allows Field Tech Designs to assume the burden of keeping them maintained and updated while always giving the client the latest and greatest.

Video Tutorials

For the custom forms we are creating for our clients I always make a video detailing the use of the form and how to turn the digital data into a CSV file and then a Word Document. It’s pretty straight forward, but, if you’ve never done it there are a number of steps that just make more sense when you can see them.

Working on video editing this afternoon made me realize just how old my MacBook Pro is getting. I could really use an upgrade soon!

Podcast LogoPodcasting

I spent some time thinking about, and taking notes on, some things we’re going to talk about in the podcast we’re recording on Saturday. The CRM Archaeology Podcast is up to episode 38 and we’re still going strong. We’ve released an episode every other Monday for the last year and a half and we never lack for things to talk about. That’s why I’ve come up with another idea…

New Podcasts

I feel that the current podcast could really be split into a bunch of other shows. The shows would be essentially single topic shows that focus on really digging into whatever issue they are concerned with. I’m not going to go into too much detail right now, but, stay tuned for a lot more content about CRM Archaeology in the coming months.

Third Company

The last thing I did today was some research for a new company. This new entity will have something to do with aerial drones but I’m not going to go into it right now. We’re in the research phase right now. Since the FAA here in the U.S. is still up in arms about using drones for commercial purposes, we have some time. I’m a licensed pilot, though, and that might go well for me if the regulations go the direction I think they are going to go based on some information I recently received from an FAA official here in Reno. Interesting times are ahead in the world of Drones.

So, working on tablets with Field Tech Designs, researching a new drone company, and trying to, sort of, find more work for DIGTECH so I can test out all my ideas…busy day. Unfortunately, nothing I did today directly made me any money. One thing you learn while you’re indulging your passions and chasing your dreams is that money isn’t always the reason to do things in life. If you keep doing what you love and work hard at it then the money will come.

Oh, I also turned my popular series of blog posts, the Shovelbums Guide, into a helpful guidebook for CRM Archaeologists at any level. The book was published by Left Coast Press in April and is called the, “Field Archaeologist’s Survival Guide: Getting a Job and Working in Cultural Resource Management”. You can find it on Amazon and at the Left Coast Website.

Enjoy the other posts for the 2014 Day of Archaeology!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!


A Day in Archaeology from a Desk in Connecticut

This is my third Day of Archaeology as an archaeologist at the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT).  Honestly, I really tried to find an excuse to get out and do some “field work” so I could impress you all with my exciting job.  However, the truth is most of my work is done from my desk.  Before I begin I do want to put in a plug for CTDOT’s latest publication “Highways to History: The Archaeology of Connecticut’s 18th-Century Lifeways.”  The book has been in such high demand here that our office is currently out of hardcopies.

On to my day – Today I’m preparing for the ADC50 Summer Meeting next week in San Antonio.  ADC50 is the Committee on Historic and Archaeological Preservation in Transportation that’s a part of the larger Transportation Research Board.  My paper, “Public Outreach and the Section 106 Process: A View from the Connecticut Department of Transportation” is part of the electronic symposium, “Then and Now: Perspectives on Effectively Engaging the Public.”  Our papers were submitted early so participants and attendees can read them ahead of time.  Participants will only give a 5 minute presentation, leaving most of the time for discussion.  I’m really excited about this arrangement after attending the latest SAA conference and finding that the forums and panels where discussion took place were far more interesting than the paper sessions.  So I’ve got to read the other papers in the session so I’m well prepared!

Today I’m also working on a project review for a rail bridge in Norwalk over Osborne Avenue (Osborne Ave Bridge).  The rail bridge, built in 1894, is in need of a new superstructure, and the masonry substructure will be rehabilitated.  For all the projects I review I compile current and historic maps to gauge the potential for a project to impact archaeological or historical resources.  The map, created in ArcView GIS, looks like this: CTDOT Review Map.  (The large circles on the right side indicate known archaeological sites.  The symbols are enlarged to prevent specific site locations becoming public knowledge.)  Maps like this are shared with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and involved federal agencies to help determine the effect a project will have on historic properties.  Clearly this project in Norwalk does not have any archaeological sensitivity because of past disturbance.  The soils within the project area are classified as Urban Land.  Replacing a superstructure on a bridge that’s 120 years old may be another matter that I will be discussing with SHPO.

Outside of my paid job today I will be working on a Survey and Planning Grant application for the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology, who are applying for funding from the SHPO to research and record some archaeological sites with the intention of designating them as State Archaeological Preserves.  I am also looking forward to reading all about other archaeologists’ exciting adventures!

CRM Archaeology Podcast – DayofArch Edition

CRM Archaeology PodcastEpisode 13 of the CRM Archaeology Podcast is all about the Day of Archaeology and includes discussions of some of the posts we read. Check out the show notes page here to listen to the show and for links to topics mentioned on the show. There are also links to the Day of Archaeology posts from the podcast panelists.

If you’d like to listen in iTunes then click here.

We’re also on Stitcher Radio.

Thanks for listening and have another great year of archaeology! See you next year!

Chris Webster, Podcast Host


Continuing Changes in my CRMArch Career

Nevada, United States, July 26, 2013

by Chris Webster, M.S., RPA


Woke up and checked emails while having breakfast. Normally I do a workout too but today is just too busy. We’re recording episode 13 of the CRM Archaeology Podcast on Saturday and the topic is the Day of Archaeology. So, I have a lot of blogs to read.

On top of that, I’m finishing a draft of my first book, writing two proposals, and doing research for another project that I can’t talk about just yet. It’s going to be a busy day.

Before I really get into the day, though, I’d like to talk about my past “Days of Archaeology”. The first year this event happened was 2011. I was working for a company in the Great Basin and they had me monitoring on a seismic operation. So, that’s what my post was about. My wife was out there with me.

For 2012 I was working for a different company and had been made a Project Manager. My wife was no longer in CRM Archaeology and was pursuing other interests.

This year, I own my own CRM firm, I’m writing a book that will be published by Left Coast Press, and I’m hosting a fun and informative podcast. It’s amazing how life changes so quickly. Unfortunately, I think my income has experience an inverse relationship with my career path. I’ve been moving up in archaeology, but, since starting a company is a long and stressful process my finances have taken a serious hit. Don’t think that writing a book will make you rich, either. If I see any money from this writing it won’t be for another two years because of the payment schedule. So, back to my day!

0545 to 0800 Catching up on Blogs and News

I often spend time in the morning reading blogs and news articles. I post those to my Random Acts of Science Facebook page and they autopost to Twitter. Gotta keep the word informed about CRM goings on…

Today, though, I’m reading all the Day of Archaeology posts coming from the other side of the world. The U.S. hasn’t really started the day yet so there aren’t any posts. I’m reviewing posts that we’re going to talk about on the podcast.

0800 to 1145 Business Development and Proposal Writing

Most days I try to spend at least a few hours contacting potential clients and letting them know I exist. My business model is very different from most archaeology firms and I have to convince them that it’s a safe bet to go with me. That’s not an easy sell for some of these companies. I also run into the problem of not having any corporate experience. I have plenty of personal experience but my company is brand new. Some clients want to see past performance but I don’t know how to get past performance without performing. It’s all very circular.

1300 to 1630 Book Writing

As I mentioned above, I’m writing my first book. In case you ever thought about writing a book I’ll tell you how I came to this point. First, you have to have an idea. For me it was the idea that I wanted to tell people about things I wish I’d known when I started in archaeology. So, I started the Shovelbums Guide series of blog posts on my blog. It was well received over the two years I’ve been writing it so I decided that I’d compile all of the posts into an eBook.

When I was at the SAAs in Hawaii in April I showed the rough draft to the editors at Left Coast Press. I was really just wondering if there was anything like that out there. They said that there wasn’t and that I should send in a proposal. Their proposal guidelines are very straightforward and I did it easily. Within a few months I had a contract!

Now, I’m trying to finish up the draft of the book. It’s mostly done except for some little finishing touches. I also need to sort out the graphics. Since I’m doing this on my own dime I have to come up with everything on my own. I can’t really pay someone either since I won’t see any money from the book for two years. I think you have to write about two books a year to see consistent payments. Talk to Tom King. I think he does at least two books a year!

1900 to 2100

Finishing up my Day of Archaeology blog post and doing some reading. I haven’t read fiction in a long time. Archaeologists that want to stay at the top of their game are constantly reading. Sometimes it’s popular works on broad subjects and sometimes it’s papers and site reports. That part of the job is never done.

So, no fieldwork for my Day of Archaeology, but, a lot of CRM archaeology is done in the office. I’m trying to change that slightly with my business model but there will always be office time.

I hope I see a lot of CRM posts from the United States on the DayofArch this year. There was an increase between last year and the first year and I hope there are more this year. As far as I’m concerned, our job is only half done when the site report is turned in. They other half of our job is telling people about what we do. In many cases here in the west the projects are on public land. The public has a right to know what we found and what it means.

Happy Day of Archaeology and here’s to another great year of science!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field!