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!

Curating a Small Archaeology Museum

I am the curator and archaeologist for the Lost City Museum, a small archaeology museum located in Overton, NV. The main focus of the museum is the Virgin River Branch of the Ancestral Puebloans (also known as the Anasazi) who lived at the archaeological site complex formally known as Pueblo Grande de Nevada, but more commonly referred to as the Lost City. The Lost City Museum has a collection of artifacts dating not only to the Ancestral Puebloans, but to the group that occupied southern Nevada after it was abandoned by the Ancestral Puebloans, the Southern Paiutes.

As the curator of a small museum I have many different projects going at once, ranging from a rehousing project that is being funded through money to organizing special events at the museum. One of the projects I am currently working on is the analysis of the museum’s incised stone collection. The incised stones were collected from Clark County, NV, the southern-most county in Nevada. Incised stones are intriguing artifacts because archaeologists aren’t entirely sure of their prehistoric use. Some suggest that it is a form of portable rock art while others suggest they could have been used by shaman during rituals.

Sometimes it feels like I don’t choose the projects I work on, they choose me. As I was rehousing the archaeology collection of the Lost City Museum I kept coming across more and more incised stones. I knew the museum had a couple dozen incised stones that were recently on display at the museum. It wasn’t until I went through all of the boxes in the collections storage areas that I realized the museum had over one hundred incised stones (this perfectly illustrates why I started the rehousing project; I never knew for sure what the museum had and what wasn’t stored in the correct place). Given the number of incised stones at the museum I felt that it was extremely important that I properly catalog and analyze the stones so that the information could be used by researchers in the future.

My analysis of each incised stones consists of recording the dimensions of each stone and noting whether the stone is hand size or smaller (the majority of incised stones can be comfortably carried in a hand). Next I categorize the design present on the stones. A past researcher was helpful enough to come up with eight categories of incised stone designs: curvilinear, dendritic, circle, band, bisect, cross-hatch, anthropomorph, and no discernible design. An example of a curvilinear design can in seen in the included photograph. Next I determine the stone’s material type. A majority of the stones analyzed so far have been sandstone, a readily available stone in southern Nevada. Once I gather all of the data I will be able see the patterns present within the collection. I can then compare this information to the information already obtained from the analysis of other incised stone collection at Nevada State Museums and see if the Lost City Museum collection differs greatly from those collections.

This is an ongoing project because as much as I would like to focus all of my time on the analysis of the incised stones, new projects or issues pop up on a daily or weekly basis. As the curator of a small museum I wear many hats, and I often have to put projects on hold while I research something for a fellow archaeologist or give a tour to a group of Girl Scouts. One great thing about being an archaeologist for a museum is that it is unlikely I will run out of research topics any time soon.

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, 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.