‘A Day of Archaeology’ at the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist

Whenever someone asks what the University of Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) does, there’s no quick answer! We have over 20 permanent staff members and numerous seasonal employees in and out of the building, focusing one or more of the following: research, fieldwork, archives, curation, bioarchaeology, technology, education, and making the wheels turn. Five of our staff are pitching in to give you some insight into a “Day of Archaeology” at the OSA!

Mark Anderson – Research Archaeologist:
Today I find myself finishing a Phase I survey report on a wastewater treatment facility expansion in eastern Iowa. I didn’t find any new archaeological sites, but I was able to evaluate and clarify the condition of a previously recorded site. Rather typical work for a CRM project, but I enjoy it. I am also in the process of wrapping up the first stageidentifying and cataloging a projectile point collection of a Historical Resource Develop Program (HRDP) grant project for the Kalona Village Museum. With the help of a high school intern from the Kirkwood Community College Workplace Learning Connection, Isabella Roads and I have been cleaning, sorting, identifying, photographing, and cataloging a 101 projectile point assemblage all collected from the Yoder farm just north of Kalona. There is roughly 12,000 years of Iowa’s prehistoric past represented in this collection. These points will be displayed by culture periods in a case coupled with a large wall mounted version of Iowa’s Archaeological Timeline to tell the story of human prehistory in the Kalona, Washington County, and east-central Iowa area. We also processed a 32 point assemblage, of uncertain provenience, for use as a teaching collection so that the museum will have a hands-on set of projectile points for use in all variety of public programming. It’s great to be an archaeologist!

UI OSA Intern Isabella

High School intern Isabella Roads identifying and cataloging a projectile point collection

John Doershuk – State Archaeologist:
My Day of Archaeology began with explaining to a planner with a local community the mechanics of a conservation easement, an important preservation tool here in Iowa. Conservation easements are a mitigation solution that can be employed in compliance situations such as Section 106/NHPA to support preservation-in-place rather than the often expensive (and inherently destructive) option of data recovery through large-scale intensive archaeological excavation. Conservation easements such as these are legally “in perpetuity” under the Iowa Code and are recorded as part of a property deed. These sorts of easements can be tailored to specific conditions and are a powerful way for a landowner to create a preservation legacy and a cost-efficient way for compliance to be achieved in a federal undertaking, assuming it is physically possible to set-aside and effectively protect a site area long-term. My office then monitors these properties to insure those who grant the easements fulfill their responsibilities. Thus far, seven archaeological sites in Iowa are protected and preserved through conservation easements, and we are actively negotiating easements for three additional sites!

Iowa's State Archaeologist John Doershuk

Iowa’s State Archaeologist John Doershuk

Jennifer Mack – Bioarchaeologist:
Today I am documenting human skeletal remains excavated from an archaeological site. I am recording information that can help determine the number of people represented by the bones, as well as the age, sex, ancestry, stature, and overall health of these people. In compliance with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Bioarchaeology Program at the OSA uses this information to prepare notices for Native American tribes so that human remains and funerary objects can be returned to the appropriate tribe or tribes. Unfortunately, the skeletal remains I am working on today were illegally excavated from a mound many years ago by a private collector who did not record the location of the archaeological site. Because this important information was lost, it is impossible to identify the present-day community to which the remains should be returned for reburial. In this case, the OSA’s Indian Advisory Council, a group of representative from various tribes, will arrange for reburial of the remains in one of Iowa’s cemeteries designated for this purpose.

UI OSA Archaeologist Jennifer Mack

UI OSA Archaeologist Jennifer Mack

Mike Perry – Research Archaeologist:
The Ulch Archaeological Collection is an important source for north-central Iowa prehistory. The collection was recently donated to the Calkins Nature Area in Hardin County, and I’ve been involved with cataloging the collection to make it useful for curation, exhibit, and research purposes. Excellent examples of lithic, ceramic, and bone artifacts spanning the entire range of human occupation in the state are represented in the collection. Several volunteers from central Iowa assisted archaeologists with the major undertaking of cataloging this collection.

Archaeologist and Volunteer

UI OSA Archaeologist Cherie Haury-Artz and a volunteer

Elizabeth Reetz – Director of Strategic Initiatives:
Every day is different for me. Usually, I’m focusing on developing some great education and outreach initiative! Other times, I delve into communications, marketing, fundraising, and research. Today, I’m mostly creating and scheduling social media posts that promote Iowa’s diverse archaeological past and some of our great upcoming outreach events. I’m also reading background materials and browsing lessons to help develop a 4-hour outdoor curriculum for the University of Iowa’s School of the Wild, where every 6th grader in the Iowa City School District will learn archaeology for one full day, every year! This outdoor learning area is centered around the ruins of a historic farmstead, where students can discover foundations and find some historic surface artifacts while learning about human interaction with the landscape.

Historic foundation in Iowa

Historic ruins at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area, Iowa

As someone involved in public archaeology, community archaeology, and archaeology and heritage education, I cannot stress how important it is to communicate well! I get a lot of blank looks from student interns and volunteers when I tell them to learn skills in technology and communicating science to the public. They want to learn how to do lab work and fieldwork, and don’t look beyond that. You know what’s happening out there though? Funding cuts, anti-preservation legislative proposals, down-sized programs. We’re feeling in, in part because we might not be doing the best job of communicating our value to the public. Could you effectively give a two minute elevator pitch about your research to an 8th grader and know that they understood what you were talking about? I’ve also spent a chunk of my week scheming for a session I’ll facilitate at the upcoming Midwest Archaeological Conference in Iowa City where I’m going to challenge my peers and colleagues to do just that!

Want to keep up with what we do in Iowa? We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube! Or get in touch with me, elizabeth-reetz@uiowa.edu.