This year’s “Day of Archaeology” finds me attempting to reorder my life just following the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Summer Training Program.
The Arkansas Archeological Society (AAS) was formed in 1960. It is open to anyone—from any walk of life—who is interested in archaeology. This year I dug alongside retired school teachers, firemen, administrative assistants, college students, engineers, electricians, high school students, retired mill workers, social workers, research foresters, park interpreters (and park superintendents) and college English instructors. Many of these so-called avocationals have been doing archaeology for more years than me (some longer than I’ve been alive). Two of our long time volunteers this year were 86 years old. Anna Parks has been coming to the AAS “Summer Dig” since the 1970s, and Van Schmutz shoveled all day long in the hot sun despite his age. Our youngest was 9 years old— Andy Colman who came with her mom, Carolyn, from Chicago, Illinois to learn about archaeology.
Way back in 1964, a series of weekend excavations began under the direction of University of Arkansas Museum archaeologists and AAS members. In the late 1960s the AAS was instrumental in lobbying my organization—the Arkansas Archeological Survey—into existence. Thus the Survey and Society began partnering on digs by 1967. By 1972, what had begun as a series of weekend events had expanded into a 16-day training program with excavations at various sites across the state. Some have claimed that it’s the oldest and best program of its type in the country.
For the second year in a row I had the honor of directing the AAS Summer Dig at Historic Washington State Park in the southwestern portion of the state of Arkansas in the southern United States. Between June 9 and June 24, 2012 over 100 volunteers and staff helped me investigate the site of an 1830s commercial district on what would have then been the edge of western expansion of the United States (Washington was a border town with first Mexico and then the Republic of Texas until Texas was annexed in the late 1840s).
The AAS has been doing archaeology in Historic Washington State Park since 1980, but these last two years have focused on the merchant district for which we have very few historical documents. There are no known photographs and only a single map from 1926—long after fires in the 1870s and 1880s put an end to this vibrant business area. Over the last two field seasons we have recovered the remains of at least 6 different buildings, 4-6 cellars and/or trash pits and tens of thousands of artifacts that will help us tell the story of this once important regional hub on the edge of the “cotton frontier.”
The archaeology was great, but I am always amazed at the layers of public archaeology going on at these events. On one level we are teaching
the volunteers how to be archaeologists—not only through digging but also through a series of half-day seminars taught in two sessions throughout the dig. This year we offered Basic Excavation (for first time attendees), Basic Laboratory Procedures, Site Survey, Mapping, Human Osteology, Indians of Arkansas, and Establishing Time (a class that helps volunteers understand dating techniques used by archaeologists).
On a second level of public archaeology, the volunteers and professionals on site then educate the general public about the value and methods of archaeology. As we were excavating in an Arkansas State Park this year this was done constantly as we has many curious visitors every day. Although I was “running the show” I rarely had to stop my work to help explain things to visitors as one of my colleagues and/or volunteers would quickly rush in to take over (and even demonstrate) what we were doing.
Of course, although the dig ended on June 24, there is still much to do. In these days following the 2012 Summer Training Program I (and Carl Carlson-Drexler, my Research Station Assistant) have been moving equipment, organizing paperwork and field notes…Today I’m captioning the hundreds of digital photographs taken during the dig. The two years of digging in the merchant district in Historic Washington State Park has produced more than twice the amount of artifacts than I recovered during my dissertation research (and I poked at that site for almost a decade!)…so I now have my work cut out for me…
More pictures from the 2012 AAS Summer Training Program can be found here:
Pictures from last year’s dig (2011) can be found here:
Find out more about the Arkansas Archeological Society at their website: http://arkarch.org/
You can read more about the AAS work at Historic Washington State Park at my Farther Along blog: