Great Lakes

Archaeology is Anthropology

As a college student, the question of my major and future career ambition is one of those frequently asked questions that I contend with on a daily basis. Very few seemingly understand what it means to study cultural anthropology- that isn’t necessarily a value judgement, merely an assessment of my personal experiences. The FAQ takes various forms, but amounts to something like “What are you going to do with that?” or “Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.”

One of the many docks that is part of the inventory of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I must admit that I often ask myself the same question(s), which prompted me to participate in an internship rather than a field school this summer as part of my undergraduate degree requirements. I knew that I had to find something that interested me both as an anthropologist and as a historian.

I ended up working on a project that satisfies both of those requirements. So far this summer, I have participated in a NAS fieldschool that was held in Traverse City, Michigan and helped other underwater archaeology students with their individual projects. I have attended various organizational events as a representative of my site supervisor/mentor. But for me, one of the coolest things about this internship is my participation in a complete inventory of the historic docks and piers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Last summer at this time, I was spending the day conducting research on a shipwreck that washed ashore in the same area in late 2010. This summer, I spent the day (once again) doing research. And while the area of historic research is not really in my scope of interest, the information that I found on one of the historic sites is rather fascinating (which for me was rather unexpected). The dock that I am researching is called Aral Dock and is one of many century old docks in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore that has all but disintegrated into just pilings. The dock itself was rather homogeneous for the area in both build and use. Cargo such as lumber and agricultural items was loaded and unloaded at the dock and was sent on its way to various ports around the Great Lakes. Aral Dock is not interesting (for me) because of it’s construction, or materials, or rate of decay; Aral dock is interesting because of the scandal that surrounds it.

Research through local and regional newspapers as well as oral history from residents shows that there was a double homicide on this particular dock, earning it the nickname “Murder Dock”. The reason was money related- taxes, specifically- and the murder touched the small agricultural port town in a way that was unexpected for that community.  As a student of anthropology and history, this salacious history of an area that is currently considered to be quiet and relaxing for residents and tourists alike is an interesting study in local anthropology.

The area itself was a combination of industrial and agricultural, with the docks acting as a material reminder of how these people once lived and worked. What remains of the historic docks in the area is submerged in varying depths of water, ranging from shoreline depths to fifteen feet. Position fixing has been a chore, especially because of the wave action that is common in this specific bay on Lake Michigan. That is not to say that this experience hasn’t been enlightening or enjoyable. I can now say with confidence that I know what it is that I can do with my degree in Anthropology: I want to take what I have learned and apply it the field of historic archaeology, specifically sites that are underwater. Yes, I will likely spend more time in a library, museum, or historical society than I will in the field. I will likely be spending large amounts of time sifting through innumerable amounts of historic photos and oral histories as I did on the Day of Archaeology. But I have come to realize that there is no better way for me to combine my interests in history and human culture than by studying the physical material remains of the people that once occupied the most beautiful place in America.

Plus, my office will have one heck of a view. So, there’s that, too.

 

Day in the Life of an Adjunct Professor

By training, I’m an archaeologist, but currently I teach cultural anthropology for a community college in the Northeastern section of the United States.  I leave my archaeology work for volunteer archaeology workshops for middle school students, writing pieces for a science advocacy’s publication, and for whenever I can incorporate my knowledge of the discipline to my students (to give them a preview of what else is included within anthropological research). This summer, my work included items like lesson and syllabus planning, previewing videos and DVDs for classtime discussions, and adapting to the different textbooks selected for the fall semester. I also worked on writing book reviews, columns, and articles for submission to anthropological and science-based publications.

However, this week, I’m partaking in a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks workshop geared toward community college faculty, where my days are chockful of archaeological work. Earlier this week, I got to see a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) device in action and also ever so briefly use it to scan over a shipwreck site in one of the Great Lakes. We also watched others use sonar devices under the lake and bay waters. We’ve gone further up the coast to see the remains of a wreck washed ashore and worked on practicing mapping the pieces which remain. Although I have never formally studied the Great Lakes or maritime/nautical archaeology beyond archaeobotanical coursework, my summer included days of reading articles and books on the subject matter.

You see no matter what you do as an archaeologist, constantly learning subject matter is essential work and involves a level of professional development. I came here to upstate Michigan this week to learn, explore, but most of all, to find new materials, approaches and activities to spark a new level of teaching from within. My students are my primary focus, although a lot of what went into my decision to apply this spring for this particular workshop series included the chance to spend a week somewhere I had never travelled, with facilitators and colleagues I never met before this week. Of course, maritime history and archaeology are topics I never explored before as well.

Today, we will be coming together as 25 students who teach across the United States (and within different academic departments and disciplines) to learn from experienced archaeologists, historians, doctoral students and governmental employees for a final day of workshops. While it is hard to imagine surpassing snorkeling over a wreck, and surveying a wreck on the shoreline yesterday, the same speculation could have been made earlier in the week. I mean, how do you top using and watching others use an ROV over a wreck? Or, seeing sonar being used to map shapes and features on the bottom of the water? The life of an archaeologist or an aficionado of the field can be quite eclectic, but no matter what your age, pathway, or deviations throughout the course of life, no matter what, you can always find your way to or back to, archaeology and enjoy the experiences.

For now, I plan on working on my final assignment then heading off to the marine sanctuary for a day of presentations, a boat ride, a few more research and photography hours, and then closing events. I should have some photos on my webspace at some point, so do feel free to take a look and also to write me an email with any questions. Likewise, if you are a community college instructor in the United States, I highly encourage you to check the NEH website for more on all the professional development opportunities which could be awaiting you as well next summer!

 

NPS Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School 2011

This is the last day at the 10th National Parks Service (NPS) Fort Vancouver Public Archaeology Field School  based in Vancouver, Washington. Over the past 7 weeks the 18 students from Washington State University Vancouver, Portland State University and a few graduate students from all over the United States have come together to excavate a multicultural village, called Kanaka Village by the Americans due to the large Hawaiian population brought in by the English traders, that served to support the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post on the Columbia River in the 1830s and 40s.  We have been well trained in field techniques and methodology while investigating the purpose of a fenced-in open area in the middle of the village. We have also been interacting with the public on a daily basis. Interpretative training is a part of our curriculum and an essential part of our mission to raise awareness and foster public involvement in the history of the Columbia River and the Oregon-Washington coast. In addition to all this we have been attending regular lectures from visiting archaeologists on topics ranging from Saloon Archaeology to Fur Trade Archaeology in the Great Lakes region, and race and ethnicity in a constructed landscape in the American South.

The Hudson’s Bay Company Village was built along side the fort in the late 1820s as a place for non-officers or ranking company officials to live. The population dwarfed the fort population at its smallest with around 250 inhabitants and could swell into the thousands during the brigade season. It was the most culturally diverse area of the Western coast of North America for a significant portion of the 19th century with workers being brought in from across the globe by the Hudson’s Bay Company trading and interacting with over 30 distinct Native American  tribes at a major trading hub along the Columbia River. Most of the historic record of this era concerns itself with the lives and dealings of the officers and officials of the company and their perspectives of the villagers. Almost nothing is known about the daily lives of the villagers that is not revealed to us through archaeology.

Each of our trenches were investigating a different aspect of the open area in the village and students were rotated from trench to trench and would hone their interpretive skills informing any visitors who came to see what we were finding. Many times we would learn more from the public than they did from us but this is part of the beauty of Public Archaeology, each party walks away with a new outlook on the site.

This last week in our field school has been spent working on survey techniques. We have been camping at the Yeon Property, a new Parks Service acquisition by the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on the Oregon Coast. New properties must be first archaeologically surveyed in order to identify any sites of significance in the area and to set up an archaeological baseline to protect and preserve any cultural resources on the property. We have been split into three groups of 5 or 6 each and over the past few days have rotated between digging 1m deep shovel probes at regular 30m intervals, conducting pedestrian surveys through the woods and sea grass to the ocean, and mapping the property with hand held GPS devices and today is no different.  It will be sad to say goodbye to all of our new friends and the Fort and its Village which we’ve all come to know and love but this will be tempered by the knowledge that we got to participate in something special – a uniquely designed Public Archaeology endeavor that involves and educates the public and trains all of us students to enter the field as well-rounded professionals and future leaders in archaeology.

 

If you’re ever in the Vancouver/Portland area please come and visit the Fort and experience part of the rich colonial and frontier history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and US Army eras on the West coast of the Oregon Territory, you won’t be disappointed. For more information about the field school, Fort Vancouver, or Kanaka Village, please visit our website.