technician

Archaeology and Appaloosas

Last year, several of my colleagues participated in the Day of Archaeology 2011 (Marks and Swords). I am excited and honored to contribute to this year’s posts. Today, I worked hard to keep up with my various and evolving roles as archaeologist, student, and assistant curator. As a research assistant and graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho, I carry out a variety of tasks for a large historic archaeology project from Sandpoint, Idaho, a cultural resource project I began working on as an technician five years ago (holy cow!) with the companies CH2MHill and SWCA Environmental Consultants. Simultaneously, I am in the throes of thesis research and act as a museum assistant and curator for the Appaloosa Museum and Heritage Center in Moscow, Idaho.

Dakota Smith, a.k.a. Smitty, is a classic example of an Appaloosa horse and will reside in the pasture adjacent to the museum for the summer.

This morning I awake early to tend to Smitty, the Appaloosa horse-in-residence, main feature of the Appaloosa Museum’s live exhibit, and, I’m guessing, a somewhat unusual curation circumstance for a traditional museum. Then, switching gears, I drive to the University of Idaho to put in a few hours of deaccessioning artifacts from the Sandpoint Archaeology Project collection, the largest historical archaeological collection in the state of Idaho. Myself and several other students from the University of Idaho sort through boxes (… and boxes… and boxes…) of artifacts and execute the deaccessioning procedures carefully planned by the project’s principal investigators.

Deaccessioning is a process of officially (and usually permanently) removing items from a collection, museum, or repository, a practical curation necessity in the case of the extensive Sandpoint collection. Deaccessioned artifacts will find new homes in such educational resources as historical artifact comparative collections and teaching kits. For my master’s thesis I am collaboratively developing and evaluating historical archaeology teaching kits and lesson plans based on historical research and Sandpoint project findings. The deaccessioned historical artifacts will add an experiential element to the kits and provide materials for students to analyze.

Archival safe labels, bags, and boxes are used for storing artifacts.

It’s not yet ten o’clock in the morning and I must return to the Appaloosa Museum for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. Though archaeological materials are not part of the museum’s collections, many of my curatorial tasks are similar to those performed at the archaeological repository for northern Idaho, the Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology. As a new employee at a small museum I will learn a variety of often-specialized jobs such as collections management, exhibit design and maintenance, and give museum tours. Today’s tasks mostly include accessioning paperwork, data entry, updating website and social media information, greeting visitors, and answering questions. These tasks are all typical of museum work and many of the principles and processes are similar to those utilized in museums and repositories curating archaeological collections.

One aspect that is not so similar to archaeological work is the arrival of the second Appaloosa in residence for the summer, Snickers. Her arrival broke up my day and made Smitty very happy. As I write this, I begin to wonder if technically the horses should be formally documented as loans to the museum… though the horses’ owners belong to the Appaloosa Horse Club, which owns the pasture behind the museum…

Snickers and Smitty settle in to grazing.

At the end of the (official) work day I head home to develop lesson plans for the archaeology teaching kits and begin to draft a syllabus for the teacher in-service I am planning for this fall. The syllabus is a requirement of the in-service proposal I must submit to the University of Idaho and, if all goes well, teachers will be able to earn a continuing education credit while learning about archaeology and the use of the historical archaeology teaching kits (to be modeled after the well-executed in-service offered by Project Archaeology through Montana State University). After several hours our awesome neighbors invite us over to listen to some live banjo music and I take a much-needed break.

This poison bottle, one of many recovered from Sandpoint’s restricted district, is an example of a type of artifact that will be utilized in teaching collections.

Well past midnight and much later than intended, I begin updating the projects page for the Idaho Archaeological Society’s (IAS) website. Next comes this post and finally, before I nod off to sleep, I will pick up where I left off last night by reading about Basque history in preparation for the upcoming IAS archaeology project, archaeological investigations at the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House. Members of the society will be excavating the well associated with the house next to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in downtown Boise, Idaho. A perfect opportunity for publicly interpreting archaeological excavations!

If all goes well, this year will culminate in the completion of the large long-term archaeology project as well as my completion of the master’s program. As an archaeologist interested in public education and engagement, I am continually thankful to work with folks who are supportive of my teaching kit project and are enthusiastic about public education and involvement in historical archaeology.

University of Idaho

Further Reading: Sandpoint Archaeology Project

Excavated by cultural resource archaeologists between 2005-2008 prior to the construction of a byway, Sandpoint’s earliest historic district originally abutted newly-built tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad and ancient shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille before the town expanded across Sand Creek. In the thousands of years prior to the influx of railroad, lumber, and mining industries in northern Idaho at the turn of the century, tribes such as the Kallispel and Kootenai seasonally inhabited the shores of Lake Pend d’Oreille and crisscrossed the region in a transhumance cycle. (Transhumance is a seasonal cycle of moving between traditional lands.)

Though Native Americans traversed the region for thousands of years before settlers, due to the explosion of material production following the American industrial revolution and Sandpoint’s location along the railroad the majority of recovered artifacts date to the occupation of Sandpoint’s historic commercial and restricted districts – including a hotel, pharmacy, jeweler, butcher, dance hall, brothel, bordello, and saloons – along with the Humbird Lumber Mill’s technologically transitional blacksmith and machine shop, a Chinese residence and laundry, and one of the town’s first jail. Analysis of these materials in conjunction with historical research will allow archaeologists to shed light on some of the lesser-known lives of townsfolk as well as add details to the history of the town’s development and role in the beginnings of a globalizing world.

As you may have already learned from reading other great posts, the life of archaeology extends far beyond initial research or field excavations. Since archaeologists finished excavations four years ago we have catalogued the artifacts, presented initial findings at professional conferences and public lectures, are finishing up the cultural resource report for the Idaho Transportation Department, developing content for the project web page, preparing the collection for curation, anticipating the project exhibit at the Bonner County Historical Museum planned for the end of the year and have completed a variety of other tasks, some of which are being discussed by my colleagues. We are only scratching the surface and are excited for many years of analyses yet to come.

This sign was recovered during Humbird blacksmith/machine shop excavations in 2008.


Such a boring life… or not, just normal

When I wrote last year’s post I had the feeling that my life was not as exciting as others. This year I kind of confirm it, but at least, once again, I think I’ve been doing different, normal stuff. So, what was my day today?

I still keep my company open, but one month ago I had to leave the office to adjust expenses. Today is the day I finished moving! I now have internet again and air conditioning (at home, my new office for the moment). For that, I was the whole morning with the technician talking about all the shit in the world… even the world of archaeology.

 

Furniture from former JAS Arqueología’s office stored in my village…

 

I also had to attend a couple of clients from the editorial and run to my parents’ home to prepare lunch and take care of my grandad. Meanwhile, my partners from AMTTA (contribution soon online too) were presenting out latest project; ‘Combates por la Historia’ (Combats for History), to show and socialize hidden and destroyed heritage in Madrid through different routes, the first one, Campus de Batalla (Battle Campus) about the Civil War front in Ciudad Universitaria, Madrid.

Anyway, the afternoon was a bit more archaeological… After lunch I continued editing the next book from my editorial, the second by Riccardo Frigoli. A great essay on archaeology, interpretation and communication. But it was not for long, as I had to attend the second event with AMTTA, the general annual meeting of Madrid Ciudadanía y Patrimonio, an association we joined to continue fighting for heritage. And after that a round table about Heritage and the Crisis.

 

During the round table

 

The round table was quite interesting, as we mostly talked about two important issues:

-The crisis: Not only economic, but moral. How besides the economic difficulties, heritage was always in the middle of a general disinterest that was harmful for heritage.

-The new law projected in Madrid for Historical Heritage: Suddenly, maybe due to the possibility of hosting Eurovegas, the regional government has written a draft for a new law that is negligent and goes against any principle we might share as professionals.
[If fluent in Spanish, see the text and our comments here]

Now I came back home, I had some chinese for dinner and am writing this. The day is over and this time I’m not traveling anywhere soon, so every day this week will be pretty similar, pretty boring.

btw I’m Jaime Almansa-Sánchez

 

The Unexpected Task

It was an odd morning from the start. Turning on the radio to hear the radio hosts using that tone of voice that they get when they have “breaking” news. Congress was doing something, or rather wasn’t doing anything, and this was forcing them off-script.

The drive to the office/lab was similarly odd. The fog was thicker than normal for this time of the year. Signs along the highway were warning that the right lane was closed for a painting convoy. That convoy never materialized. I drove patiently behind a semi that was hauling bales of hay. Driving slowly through the thick, timothy-scented fog.

I arrived at the lab, one of the technicians was waiting for me. Normally, all of our technicians are on the field crew, and the field crew works ten-hour days from Monday through Thursday. This tech missed a day and wanted to make up hours. I had some lab work than needed to be done anyway, and had agreed to let her work some hours in the lab today.

When I got out of the car, the first thing she said to me was not “Hello” or “Good morning” or any of the usual morning salutations, but “I have some bad news.” Bad news. Yes. Hang on while I sip coffee from my travel mug.

As it turns out, there was a problem, but it wasn’t particularly bad. The Jeep had a flat the evening before and the spare was evidently not intended to be used on the Jeep. It didn’t fit. So, we took the spare off and I had her drive it over to the car place while I made arrangements with the purchasing guy. I should have guessed, but we needed to replace all four tires on the Jeep because it’s an all-wheel-drive vehicle and the tires all need to be the same size. So, the technician brought the wheel back and we had the Jeep towed to the dealer, who had to order the necessary tires. They’ll be in sometime next week.

The rest of the day was much more typical for one of my Fridays. I crunched the data to show our progress on fieldwork for the various projects we’re working on. I plotted out the areas where we’re planning on doing fieldwork next week. I responded to inquiries about whether certain undertakings would need any cultural resource work. I prepared the crew’s timesheets and sent them to the accountants to be processed. I answered questions about how to process artifacts to be cataloged.

Friday is usually a quiet day for me. The quiet days usually involve something I hadn’t planned on. Like most people, I carry that mental list of things that I have to do during the day. I rarely get to that list before lunch. The unexpected task inevitably takes up my morning. Sometimes, it’s a high-priority project that we need to complete sometime yesterday. Other times, someone has been injured and it’s a worker’s comp issue (those are the problems that I’d prefer to not have). Still other times are logistical issues that need to be resolved so the crew can keep doing their job. Not all of these issues involve changing a tire, but the variety keeps the job interesting.