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.
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.
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.