The 90 percent

Hi y’all! My name is John Lowe, and I am a member of the Archeology Survey Team for the State Parks division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (really, it says so on my business card!). I’ve had this job for a little over a year now, before that I spent 9 years working for a private environmental consulting firm in Austin, Texas. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing this for over 10 years!

Having fun on survey!

Having fun on survey!

On the official Day of Archaeology 2014, I was taking a day off of work so that I could travel for a memorial service. And really, I haven’t had much to write about compared to the exciting things that so many others here are doing.

It’s often said that for every day in the field, there are 6 days (or more) of office and lab work. Emphasis on the more. Since last year’s Day of Archaeology, I’ve spent roughly 7 weeks in the field, working at 3 different State Parks and (future) Natural Areas. Much of the remainder of the time has been spent working on reports, filling out forms and submitting them to the state repository,and doing field logistics for the surveys.

In September of last year, a new project popped up, as a new State Natural Area (SNA) in Central Texas moved to the top of the list for development and eventual opening to the public. Only a small part of this property will have actual facilities (such as RV and campsites, a visitors’ center, bathrooms, parking lots), and one of the things the Survey Team does is conduct archaeological investigations of these proposed development areas to see if significant cultural resources are impacted. As I mentioned last year, one of the really cool things about State Parks is that we actively strive to protect and conserve cultural resources. If we find something significant, we work with the park planners and regional Cultural Resources Coordinators to move the proposed facility, as well as making plans to manage the resource.

Anyway, my boss decided to let me be the lead for this new SNA. Last year, over 3 week-long sessions we surveyed around 300 acres of proposed development area. Twenty-two archaeological sites were identified, including several that were significant and required avoidance. I coordinated our results with the park planner and regional coordinator. The planner worked around these sensitive areas (mainly prehistoric open campsites) and has recently sent us updated facilities plans. These include 68 acres of new survey area.

Surveying along a powerline corridor

Surveying along a powerline corridor

And so next week will mark my 8th week in the field since last July, as we go out and look at the new areas and assess them for cultural resources. I’ve made a series of detailed field maps that depict the new survey areas on current aerial images, topographic maps, and 1938 aerial imagery (which is especially helpful when dealing with 20th century resources). I  made sure our GIS manager had all the files he needed for us to have our field GPS units prepared. I booked hotel rooms for us, and contacted the local park volunteer we’ve been getting great help from. I made sure that our field compasses were set to the proper declination, and checked our field boxes to make sure all the appropriate gear was ready. I set aside our shovels, screens, some large root cutters, and a couple of machetes. I printed out blank field forms and gathered a bunch of artifact bags (I’m dreaming big this time!). Today I emailed the regional coordinator and the SNA superintendent to make sure they remembered that we were coming next week, and to ask for any information about washed-out roads or impassable creek crossings since it’s been raining quite a bit lately.

Once we’re out there, in addition to having my own survey transect and assisting with shovel tests, as needed, I will be taking field notes that describe our basic activities and detailing the decisions I made and my reasoning. I’ll direct the recording of any sites, and probably be filling some of the paperwork out myself (I really like filling out site forms). When we’re done every day, I’ll go back to the hotel and send out emails to the regional coordinator and park planner with our progress and any potentially significant resources. The planner is hoping to have the basic footprint finalized soon and prepare for public meetings, so it’s important that I relay any issues right away.

Once that’s done, it’s back to the desk and the other 90 percent of the job for a while!