Nevada CRM Archaeologist

A Nevada CRM Archaeologist

This is my first post for the Day of Archaeology event.  I’d like to begin by thanking the organizers, advisors, and sponsors for conceiving of and making this event happen.  It’s important that we discuss archaeology across the world and get our work out to a broad audience.  All most people know about archaeology is what they see on the Discovery Channel or from Indiana Jones.

The road I took to get to a career in archaeology involved several u-turns and a few speed bumps.  Here is a quick history.  When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, an airline pilot, or an archaeologist.  Since my family didn’t have the money for me to realize any of those goals I did what I thought was the next best thing and joined the Navy right out of high school.  I spent the next four and a half years working on EA-6B Prowlers as an aviation electronics technician.  During that time I went on a cruise on the USS Enterprise for six months in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf.  We saw some great cities with great archaeology and history.  At this time, archaeology was something you saw on TV and included crusty old PhDs working in universities.  I never considered it as a career.

Near the end of my time in the Navy a random phone call landed me in commercial flight training at the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  While there I received my private pilot’s license and finished the training for a few other licenses.  After a year and a half I transferred to the University of North Dakota to continue my flight training at the nations largest and most advanced collegiate flight training school.  UND Aerospace has an amazing program with state of the art aircraft and flight simulators.  It was a great experience.

While I was taking aviation classes I filled up my general education requirements with anthropology classes.  I still loved the science of archaeology, in particular paleoanthropology, but still didn’t see it as a career option.  I’m not sure why.  I think it was still just one of those fantasy fields that you never think you are capable of performing.

After a couple of years I started to lose my desire to fly commercially.  I just didn’t think I would get any satisfaction from shuttling people around the country for the rest of my life.  Sure the pay is good but there are a lot of things you can do that involve less stress if all you want is money.  I need a job that makes me feel good at the end of the day and that I look forward to going to everyday.  Since I still didn’t see archaeology as an option, even though I had taken most of the classes offered, I spent the next couple of years taking photography and math classes just for fun.  I know, I like math.  I’m probably the only CRM archaeologist that has used SOHCAHTOA to determine the exact angle for a transect.

During my penultimate year in college my professor, Dr. Melinda Leach, told me that I could graduate in one year with a degree in anthropology.  I just had to take all of the upper level classes and that would be it.  With no other direction I decided to go for it.  I had to take 18 credits during the fall and 15 credits during the spring and write, I think, five or six research papers during the year but in the end I graduated.  After graduation I went back to Seattle and worked with my brother’s father in law’s home remodeling company.  I hated it.

In the fall I went back to North Dakota to help with the big event that the department had planned the previous year.  We had Jane Goodall coming to speak to a packed house.  One day, while sitting in the student lounge, a former student, and friend, came up to me and said hi.  He was visiting because hurricane Katrina had destroyed his apartment in New Orleans and his company laid everyone off for a little while.  He asked what I was doing.  At the time I was getting ready to go on an Earthwatch expedition to dig in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.  After that I had no plans.  He asked if I had checked Shovelbums.  Shovel what?

I educated myself on shovelbums.org, prepared my CV, and started on a job in Minnesota a week after I returned from Africa.  That was in October of 2005 and I’ve been in CRM ever since.  I’ve worked at all times of the year, on all phases of field archaeology and in 13 states.

In August of 2009 I began a one year MS program at the University of Georgia.  The program was intense but I received my Master of Science in Archaeological Recourse Management in July of 2010.  I’m currently working in the Great Basin of Nevada and love every minute of it!

So, I guess that wasn’t too brief.  My fiancé will tell you that brevity is not a trait that I possess.  Hopefully someone will get out of this that it’s never too late and you are never too old to get into the dynamic field of anthropology.   There are many paths that you can take to get to anthropology and there are just as many that you can take along your career.

My Chief in the Navy once told me how he decides whether a job or a position is right for him.  He said to look around at the people that have been doing your job and are at the ends of their careers.  Are they happy?  Are they doing what you would want to do?  My favorite thing about archaeology is that you can’t really tell what the future will bring.  You could be running a company, teaching at a university, or hosting your own show on the Discovery Channel, if they ever get back to science and history shows and away from reality shows.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

In my next post I’ll talk about the project I’m on right now and the wonders of monitoring.

 

Written northeast of Winnemucca, NV.

A Day in the Life of a Nevada CRM Archaeologist: Monitoring

So, I spent the “Day of Archaeology” monitoring a seismic crew as they worked a few thousand acres near a mine northeast of Winnemucca, Nevada.  This was actually on July 26th since I didn’t work on the 29th.  Our schedule is 8-on, 6-off and.  I’ll start by describing, as best I can, what seismic is.

Then come in all sizes and styles for different types of terrain. This is similar to the ones we work with.

The seismic crew consists of about twenty ground workers, a few truck drivers, a recorder, and a geologist.  The ground people lay out cable that stretches from north to south across the project area, a distance of up to five kilometers.  The truck drivers drive east/west across the project area and vibrate the ground in prescribed intervals.  The vibrations cause shockwaves that penetrate the ground hundreds of meters deep which then bounce back to the geophones that are running north/south.  We are told that the goal is to determine the geological structures that exist beneath the ground so the mine can decide whether they want to excavate that area or use it for waste rock.  I spoke to someone this weekend that works in the business and he says they are looking for oil and that eastern Nevada is sitting on a huge, very deep, oil field.  I’m not too sure about that.

As monitors, we were assigned with the care and protection of the cultural resources across the project area.  The survey was recently completed and the report has not yet been approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO).  Since the sites remain unevaluated, none of them are cleared for construction.  As a consequence, no vehicle traffic whatsoever was allowed across the sites and all foot traffic had to be observed by an archaeologist.  We watched for disturbance of artifacts and features by foot traffic and by the electrical cords that the crews were laying out.  We also watched to make sure that the seismic crew didn’t disturb any artifacts.  People like projectile points (arrowheads) and usually don’t see anything wrong with putting them in their pockets.

Nevada High Desert

A lot of monitoring involves a lot of sitting around for hours waiting for something to happen and then working furiously for a little while.  This was no different.  When you are monitoring you are on the schedule and time frame of the construction crew you are working with.  That’s why we were putting in about 13 hours a day.  When you are sitting you tend to feel like you should be doing something.  I usually read or listen to podcasts.  For the seismic monitoring I couldn’t even be away from my truck for very long.  A call could come over the radio at any time and you have to be where you are supposed to be as quick a you can.

While monitoring, you have to get over the “high and mighty” feeling that some people tend to get.  You are typically working with people that, at most, graduated high school and went right into the construction field.  They usually see us as highly paid scientists.  It’s likely that they are getting paid more than you are!  They just don’t know it.  When I’m conversing with construction workers I certainly don’t try to minimize my field or the education requirements but I don’t try to make it sound like more than it is either.  No one responds well to that.

I wish I had something more exciting to talk about for the Day of Archaeology event but the reality of cultural resource management (CRM) archaeology is that many of your days will be like this.  Sometimes you go weeks or months without finding an artifact.  You may go an entire season without finding a feature.  This work needs to be done, however.  A project area that doesn’t turn up any artifacts or other interesting finds still tells us valuable information.

Follow more of my experiences as a CRM archaeologist at my blog, Random Acts of Science.  See you in the field!

Written in Monroe, Washington.