cultural resource management

The Big Picture: Archaeological Records after the Project is Done

Greetings! I’m Jolene Smith. I work for the Department of Historic Resources in Virginia, USA. I decided to post on Day of Archaeology because I am most certainly not what most people would consider a “typical” archaeologist. I manage digital and paper records and mapping for nearly 43,000 recorded archaeological sites in Virginia through our government agency, which is also the State Historic Preservation Office.

Sometimes I miss being out in the field, but certainly not today. It’s currently 100°F/38°C outside at lunch time, so I’m very happy in my air conditioned office cubicle.

Distribution of Sites in Virginia by County

Distribution of Recorded Archaeological Sites in Virginia (work-in-progress!)

My work so far today has been very heavy on GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I spent the morning creating a quick map showing the density of recorded sites in Virginia’s counties for a publication of the Archeological Society of Virginia (our state’s wonderful avocational archaeological organization). It’s still a major work-in-progress, but I’m happy I was able to easily generate this data. The ASV hopes to use this info as a guide for where to conduct future archaeological surveys. With a little more work, I’ll be able to clean up some errors, pretty it up, and label everything so the data will be easily understandable.

I spent much of the rest of the morning working on creating records for a large project conducted by a CRM (cultural resource management) consultant, making sure the GIS mapping is accurate and matches the information in our databases and in the printed site form records. Quality control is a big part of what I do. It’s fundamental to remember that archaeology is inherently destructive, so it’s critical to have good, clear records.

Here’s what I have on tap for the rest of the day: I’ll work with some more consultants to create records for new archaeological sites and add information to previously recorded sites. I’ll also be responding to a few emails from members of the public interested in recording small cemeteries in our inventory. Then, I’ll probably review a few archaeological projects that have been conducted at the future sites of mobile phone/telecommunications towers as part of Section 106 compliance to make sure that there won’t be impacts to important archaeological deposits. Quite a variety, isn’t it?

Of Discovery and Avoidance

Let me begin by saying that it is a pleasure contribute, and I am honored to be a part of this effort to celebrate and share archaeology through social media.  I first learned of this Day of Archaeology thanks to social media. Indeed, it would seem that archaeologists have taken to the Internet recently, especially since the launch of Google+ some weeks ago. It is exciting to think that the advent of new technologies has made archaeological study more cooperative, immediate and accessible.

Okay, so onto the matter at hand.

I am a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeologist and consultant working for an environmental services company in Oklahoma. I work with an inter-disciplinary team of biologists and environmental scientists. Most of the clients we work with have interests that are related to energy development, oil and natural gas chief among them. Our charge is two-fold:

1. Discover, document and avoid natural or cultural resources that could be adversely affected by a given project.

2. Obtain permits from state and federal agencies so that a given project can proceed without running foul of the law.

These laws, or rather congressional acts, often  include compliance with the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). All this sound a bit like “alphabet soup” but, it is the essential legal basis that holds companies accountable and drives a large portion of CRM survey work in the US.  It also provides me with a pay check so that I can dutifully pay back my student-loans (coughs sarcastically).

My work alternates between survey in the field and reporting in the office. Over the course of a year it balances out to about 50%/50%. Unfortunately for you, the reader, today is a rather typical in the office. My team and I are gearing up for a week of field survey in Louisiana next week. That means  today we are gathering equipment, producing maps, updating our GPS data-loggers, booking hotel reservations and arguing over which Cajun restaurant has the best red beans and rice (for my money it’s the Blind Tiger in Shreveport).

In addition to sorting out the logistics for this upcoming project, I have a keep other projects simmering on the stove-top, so to speak. Today, I am performing “desktop-based” studies on proposed projects in Oklahoma, Montana and Texas. Basically, I am using GIS databases and archives to located any known archaeological sites or historic locations that may have been recorded within or near a given project area. When finished, I will compile the information into a report for our clients advising them of the potential for encountering these resources. I will also provide them suggestions for a path forward through the regulatory process. More often than not, these desktop studies will develop into actual field surveys. Occasionally, they will include deep testing regimes or partial excavations. The name of the game is avoidance. Unfortunately for me (read as: the recalcitrant academic), clients would rather go around a site than wait to excavate it.

My other duties today include: completion of archaeological site forms for two prehistoric Paleo-Indian Period sites (ca. 12,000 – 8,000 years ago) for submission to the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) and the Texas Historical Commission (THC). I also have to purchase flagging and fencing in order to demarcate the boundaries of a historic homestead property (ca. 1898) in southeastern Oklahoma.

There you have it,  a snap-shot of my work on this Day of Archaeology. In the world of cultural resource management, it is not often that we get to delve deep into site analysis through testing and excavation. I am envious of my friends any colleagues who get to ask the “big” questions and are able to spend considerable time researching particular topics in ways that enlighten and inform us about our prehistoric past. However, unlike them,  I am able to travel often and encounter scores of  sites in order to document and protect them for other researchers to examine more closely in the future.  Most days, that is alright by me.

Keep Digging & Cheers,

R. Doyle Bowman