Posts tagged ‘archaeology’

The Road Travelled

my new workplace: the herpetology society

It always surprises me, when I get a new job, to discover the ways in which my past jobs have directly provided the experience I need to do the new job.  Especially since it is never something that I have planned.

The first two weeks of the class I am teaching right now, Strategies for Success, deals with change and goal setting.  I spend a lot of time talking to my students about goals, planning, prioritizing, determination, and all the things that go into being Highly Motivated  and Successful People.  We go over the five steps of the Change Implementation Model — identify change, research options, identify obstacles, establish a plan, and implement it  — as well as the four steps to writing a goal — goal statement, action steps, timelines, and narrative statement.  I literally spend hours talking about the importance of setting goals, coming up with defined plans, and following through on them.  And yet I almost never do this myself.

I can’t make a weekly meal plan, because I always decide at the last minute that I’m in the mood for something else for dinner.  I can’t lay out my clothes the night before, because I’ll want to wear something different when morning rolls around.  I typically decide on the next step in my life, on what will make me happy, and do what I need to in order to get there.  Then I stay there until I am no longer happy, or until something forces me out.  And then I look around and decide on the next step.  I hate the question, “What do you see yourself doing in five/ten years?” in interviews, because the true answer is, “I have absolutely no idea.”

I do set and meet lots of short-term goals for myself, but I have never been the kind of person who decides, “I want to be X by age Y,” and then lays out a multi-year plan for achieving that goal.  I have wandered my way through life, one stepping-stone at a time.  After high school, college was a given.  After college, I didn’t want to go on to grad school right away.  An offhand comment from an advisor got me thinking about volunteering, and a few days of research landed me with the Peace Corps.  After the Peace Corps, I just wanted to be with the boyfriend I’d been on the opposite side of the planet from for the past 2 years, so I moved to the west coast.  When I became dissatisfied with retail positions, I applied for a job at a credit card company doing customer service.  When I became dissatisfied with that, a dream sent me back to grad school.  After grad school, I was tired of research and not interested in pursuing a PhD, so I wanted to teach at the community college level.  It occurred to me that I would be more well-rounded if I attended an archaeology field school, so I went on a whim.  When I couldn’t find a teaching job, I applied for an archaeology position.  When I got laid off from archaeology, I applied for more teaching positions, and actually got one.  When I didn’t get enough adjunct classes, I applied to a part-time job with a herpetology society because the hours were flexible.

And yet, each job seems to be a prerequisite for the last.  My degree in English, even though my major was creative writing, was a great stepping stone for Teaching English as a Forgeign Language in the Peace Corps.  My Peace Corps experience didn’t help much when I was working in retail, but once I got to the credit card company, the “special English” I had adopted in Kyrgyzstan was ideal for working over the phone with clients who spoke English as a second language.  I also used the grammar I learned while teaching it to my Kyrgyzstani students, and was often asked to assist the technical writer.  When I went back to grad school, the skills I had developed at the credit card company for tracking information and juggling priorities were essential for getting through my thesis.  Not to mention, the contacts I made in the Peace Corps made it possible for me to do my field research during a single 3-month summer visit.  Once I got into archaeology, the descriptive skills honed through writing poetry in my youth were essential in writing understandable reports and site records.  Even in the process of moving from CA to UT, I went from an archaeology job where I worked on an enormous Nevada pipeline project, to helping out with a large Utah pipeline project.  And all those years of writing reports in Word, keeping track of data and forms in Excel, and writing grad school presentations in PowerPoint, made it possible for me to teach a computer class.

my current work station

But this extra side job in herpetology?  It just takes the cake in terms of utilizing my past experience.  I am cataloguing and posting for online sale a number of books, prints, ceramic figurines, and other miscellaneous items that were willed to the society by two different herpetologists.  Well, I have experience with books: my very first job was in a library, I worked at the college bookstore during my undergrad years, and even got to assistant manager at an outlet bookstore after graduation.  My writing and descriptive abilities will no doubt come into play when I need to provide summarized reviews of the books, and descriptions of the objects.  But it is mostly my archaeological skills being utilized here — the ability to sort, organize, photograph, document, and track a huge assemblage of items, along with the ability to make sense of scientific and biological nomenclature.

Who would have thought that 5 years in archaeology would help me get a part-time job working for herpetologists?  Or teaching a computer class?  Or that 2 years in credit card processing would prep me for grad school?  I can’t tell if I am making the connections with hindsight, or if I have been, in my own strange way, following a path to get to where I want to go.

It almost seems as though the steps I have taken through the years have been aiming me at exactly where I want to be.  For example, if I hadn’t attended field school on a lark, I wouldn’t have gotten an job as an archaeology field tech.  And I wouldn’t have been applying to CRM firms the next spring when my landlord in Arcata decided to sell our house with 30 days notice.  And I wouldn’t have had any other reason to take a job offer and move to Redding, CA if I my housing hadn’t just disappeared.  And if I had known people in Redding before moving, I might not have decided to finally get a dog to keep me company, after halfheartedly thinking about adopting a dog for years with no action.  And if I hadn’t gotten Cara, I would never have gone to the dog park and met my husband, T.

Maybe there was a plan, and I just didn’t know about it yet.  Or maybe, if you’re lucky, following your heart will get you where you need to go, whether or not you know where that is.

Who am I now?

For the first six months that I was doing archaeology, I couldn’t say the words, “I’m an archaeologist” out loud.

When someone asked what I did, my answer was always, “I’m actually working in archaeology right now.”  Right now.  Not forever.  Because I had just spent 2 years of my life becoming a cultural anthropologist, studying, getting a master’s degree, constantly identifying myself as a member of the cultural anthro program and NOT the archaeology program.  Despite the fact that I mostly hung out with the archaeologists (they were more likely to go to the bar on Friday night *smile*).

But I eventually got used to saying, “I’m an archaeologist.”  And eventually the story I would tell would go something like, “I stumbled into archaeology, and I love it, it’s a perfect fit for me!”  And there were a lot of things about archaeology that I was good at.

(Did you catch that?  Were.  Was.)

I spent five years as an archaeologist, always insecure about my experience and my abilities.  I was great as a field tech — I can hike all day looking for sites, identify flakes and groundstone, tell you the age of a pile of rusty cans, dig square holes in 10-centimeter levels, pick every single artifact out of my screen, or clean and catalogue artifacts for weeks at a time.  I could write a damned good site record or final report, too — assuming you pointed me to the appropriate background research, and told me what conclusions should be written.  I could do what I was told to do, but for one reason or another — lack of academic background, lack of confidence, poor spatial skills, or an inability to grasp the larger archaeological picture — I was never any good at knowing what to do next, where to dig, how to approach a project, and certainly no good at telling anyone else what to do.  Any time I was put into a supervisory position, I was miserable.  Constantly anxious and worried that I was failing, constantly at a loss for what I should be doing.

I got a job here in Utah where I finally felt like my abilities and experience matched my job requirements.  Until this spring, where I could tell I was failing at taking on a leadership role on our historical excavation project.  But I have zero background in historical excavation, so how could I lead?  More anxiety, more worry.  And then I was laid off, and there was my answer about how well I was doing.

And now I have a new job teaching.  I’ve only been at it for 5 weeks.  It’s hard, and I don’t have enough hours because there aren’t enough classes I’m qualified to teach, and the students don’t listen, and sometimes classes run short, and sometimes they run long, and I make mistakes — but I’m not miserable.  I’m really enjoying myself.  And I just got a second job, with a local herpetology society, where I will be sorting through two collections of books, articles, art, knick-knacks, and odds and ends, to help get them organized and sold to profit the society.  They estimate it will take about 2 years to get through everything.  I’ll be doing all of the menial sorting and cataloguing and photographing that I was good at in archaeology, with none of the expectation that I should develop into a project manager someday.

Given my current committments and schedule, I don’t see a way back into archaeology.  And I don’t think I really want one.  But I have been scared to admit that to myself, or anyone else really.  My many archaeologist friends have sent me links to jobs and still refer to me as an archaeologist, and it makes me feel guilty to not be “out.”  Why is saying I’m not an archaeologist anymore so difficult to do?  When I first thought about taking my layoff this spring as a sign to look for another career, I found myself thinking that if I left archaeology, I would have wasted the last 5 years.  When I was so sure that archaeology was the perfect fit for me, despite my weaknesses.  When my identity revolved around my job.  I mean, I’m  Archiegrrl, right?

But then I realized that I “stumbled into” archaeology after grad school, when I couldn’t find another job.  And what job was I looking for?

A teaching job.

I don’t know how long it will take me to be able to say “I’m a teacher.”  I’m actually working as a teacher right now, though. *wink*

the first time I was a teacher -- in the Peace Corps

NOTE: The worst part of admitting that I may have left archaeology for good?  I am Archiegrrl, writing a blog titled Arch and Crafts.  What am I going to do about that?

What to do?

I joined the Peace Corps in 1998.  I had just gotten my bachellor’s degree, and wanted some time off before I decided to go on to graduate school.  I wanted to do some volunteering, and to spend some more time outside of the US since a semester abroad in England hadn’t been “exotic” enough for me.  But these two years were also supposed to answer an important question for me: what did I want to do with my life?

When I was in college I could predict people’s responses to the question, “What are you studying?” based on how much information I gave them.  If I simply said I was an English major, they’d say, “Oh, so you want to teach.”  If I said I was a creative writing major, they’d say, “Sooo….. you want to be a poet??”  And if I gave them the full story — creative writing major with a minor in cultural anthropology — they invariably replied, “Oh… and what exactly do you want to do???”

And that was the problem.  I really didn’t know.  I was just studying what interested me.

So living in Kyrgyzstan and teaching English as a foreign language for 2 years was supposed to help me decide between three options: poetry, teaching, and anthropology.  At the end of those 2 years, I thought I had an answer.  I really enjoyed teaching, but I would never teach in a high school in the US.  And I hadn’t coped particularly well with living in Kyrgyzstan — the pressure of always being the center of attention caused me to really isolate myself, and focus most of my energy on spending time with other PCVs.  So the only conclusion to be made?  I would be a poet!  I’d work on my writing for a few years, get a portfolio together, and then apply for an MFA.  Maybe teach creative writing eventually.

Well, about 6 months into that decision, I realized that without an assignment due-date, I have very little drive to write poetry.  I concluded that, in fact, I was not A Poet.  And that didn’t bother me too much.  But now I was really at a loss.

Fast forward through a few years of working in retail and merchant processing, when a dream sent me back to grad school.  I dreamt about changing my major from English to anthropology, woke up, thought about it for a few weeks, and decided that I didn’t have to live overseas to be an anthropologist.  So I applied to grad school for cultural anthropology, planning on studying Native American arts in some way.

As it turns out, I did have to go overseas again for my masters degree.  And I even went back to Kyrgyzstan.  And this time around I coped much better with my surroundings (perhaps because I was only there for a few months) and faced a few demons, which was liberating.  And after 2 years in a masters program, I had come to a few more conclusions.  I still liked teaching, and would be happy to teach anthropology.  But not at a big university.  I hadn’t found a line of inquiry that I was interested in studying indefinitely, and didn’t want to be constantly pushed to publish articles.  I also wasn’t interested in playing adjunct roulette, moving from one university to the next for years until I could get tenure.  But teaching at a community college sounded just about my speed.

And then, on  whim, I went to archaeology field school.  And then, on another whim, I applied for a job as an archaeology field tech, aka: a shovelbum.  And became an archaeologist.  And loved the job, and decided this was definitely What I Wanted To Do.  Even though I don’t like shovelbumming: constantly being on the road, going from job to job, employer to employer, never sure how long you’ll be working and rarely being home.  But I got lucky, got office jobs, and thought I was doing pretty well.  Until recently.  When I realized that maybe I don’t have what it takes to move up the ladder and be a project manager in archaeology — namely, the knowledge to run a project from start to finish, and/or the desire to be the boss.  I’m perfectly content to be an upper-level peon for the rest of my life, having some responsibility and doing a good job but letting someone else make all the decisions.  And that’s not what employers want from someone like me.  That’s a shovelbum.

Somewhere in there, I actually got a shot at the community college gig.  One class of intro to cultural anthropology, which I taught while working full-time.  It was a humbling experience — I literally had half my class drop the course after the first exam.  My TA experience was with 300-level courses, and I was trying to teach a 100-level course the same way.  And with the full-time job, I wasn’t putting enough time into my lesson planning, so most days I was boring as hell.  But I thought I had learned from the experience, and I would have made a lot of changes and improvements if I’d had the opportunity to teach a second semester.  Alas, the second class was cancelled for too few students, and then we moved.  So I walked away from teaching for another few years.

And now, 11 years after I returned from the Peace Corps, I find myself at the same crossroads again (minus the poetry).  What do I want to do?  Do I settle, “accept my limitations”, and stay a peon in archaeology?  Or work at it, and hope that I someday develop the confidence to start running the cultural resources show?  Or should I give up on archaeology altogether, and start teaching at a private college, where I just had a good initial interview?  It’s not anthropology, but it is teaching, and I think I could do a good job.  Or can I do both?

In the past, when I have “decided” one way or another, life has shown me that I had no idea what I was doing when I came to that decision (Poetry!  No.  Native Americans!  No.  Community college!  No.  Program manager!  No.).  Maybe I should just do what I have always done — take the opportunities that have been afforded to me, and learn from them as they come.  Or maybe I should get some feedback and see what you all think I should do.  *smile*

rock art site

When we do a survey for a project, we have to go in to the SHPO (state historic preservation office, rhymes with “hippo”) and do some research to see what sites have been recorded in the past.  Usually you get nice, complete site records that an archaeologist has filled out in the last 10 or 15 years.  Sometimes, you get a one-page summary that an archaeologist wrote up 30 to 50 years ago.  And, very occasionally, you get an odd entry from roughly the 1930s, where someone walked into a government office somewhere and said, “Hey, I found a cool archaeological site.”

We had one of those.

A card describing the location of a rock art site in the Paria River Canyon.  Claiming it was one of the biggest panels in this part of the state.  With some rough directions.  And we had to go check it out.

While this was my first rotation in the field this season, the rest of our crew has been surveying and recording sites for this project all summer long.  But they couldn’t check out this site, because it was at the bottom of a canyon, there was water in the river, and for part of the time there was a serious risk of flash flooding.  But now the river was finally low enough (read:dry) and the weather was clear enough that we could hike in and see what all the hoopla was about.

We got to the BLM trailhead around 8 or 8:30 am and started hiking in along the riverbed.  There was no river whatsoever, and in most spots the bed had either dried smooth and hard as asphalt, or the clay top layer had crackled and crazed and dried into thousands of curls of baked earth.  We all had a great time taking photos of the amazing rock formations, some of the flowers that were still blooming, including the huge, white trumpets of jimson weed, and just the beauty of our surroundings.

striped wall

canyon bend


hiking in




Partway down the canyon, we spotted a panel of historic rock art.  It’s what my old boss would have called a “hello rock,” meaning it’s a spot where people carve their name and the date, and you know who has been through that area.  It didn’t seem very interesting at first, and then I noticed my current boss’s last name, which is very distinctive, was up there!  Turns out, her kin are from down here, and she was related to a few of the names on the rock.  There were also a lot of what looked like old brands carved in place of names, and some carved animals and figures.  I think the earliest date we saw was 1908.

hello rock

H. Pollock and dove

a horse and figure

Orlo Baldwin

When we finally got to the right spot, we couldn’t see anything at first.  There was a large earthen bank built up in front of a huge rock wall, covered in tumbleweed and other prickly plants that stuck in our pants and socks and skin.  But when we got over the bank, we found a narrow strip of sand along the base of the wall, and some rock art.  It was faded, and hard to see.  We were all pretty disappointed, to be honest.  But then we started walking, and realized it kept going.  And going.  And going!  I would estimate that the total length of the rock art panels was about 120 meters long, or about 400 feet,with very few breaks.  There were, of course, tons of little family groups of goats and bighorn sheep.  As is common in the area, there were also plenty of squiggles, wavy lines, circles and spirals.  The art was all petroglyphs, which means the designs were pecked or carved into the sandstone.  (Pictographs are made with paint)  Because they couldn’t just make a handprint with paint, there were several tiny hand shapes carved into the rock, or marks that looked like indentations for fingertips.  Everything was water-worn and in some cases covered in dripping mud and water stains.  Some places where you find rock art on sandstone, there is a thick, dark layer of patina on the stone that the artist chips through, making it easier to see the petroglyphs, but we didn’t have much patina here.  One section in particular had wild, crazy figures and monsters on it.  It took us several hours to draw and photograph everything, with some of the time spent just waiting for the sun to move and put the end of the panel in shadow, which is easier to photograph.  Because there wasn’t much contrast, it was really difficult to get good shots.  But I monkeyed around with the photos on Picasa, and even though the colors are completely different from real life, I hope you can see the designs now.

before tinkering

demon rainbow caterpillar

sun and moon with goats

goat family

doing archaeology and having fun

So, try as I might, I didn’t find any more projectile points to photograph this week.  Most of the sites were small lithic scatters, which means that they were a collection of small pieces of stone that were left behind when someone made a stone tool in the past.  Honestly, I think archaeologists find fewer projectile points (aka arrowheads) than most people, because by the time we get to a site, they’ve all been picked up! 

at the "office"

not a bad view

old bridge we didn't drive over

Some of the sites included pieces of groundstone, which is how people used to grind up seeds and the like, and some also had a small piece or two of pottery, which was pretty neat.  When we find groundstone or pottery, we assume that folks were using the spot as a campsite, since they are roughly the equivalent of coming across a butterknife and a saucepot at a site — the kinds of things you mostly only find in a home.  But even the sites with those kinds of artifacts were small, since they were in sand dunes.  We assume that more of the sites were there, just buried under the sand.

We did record one large site, up Long Canyon.  This is the road to get there:

Long Canyon

It’s hard to tell from this shot, but it is a very steep, narrow berm of dirt that you drive across the top of.  There’s a car located in the canyon to the right, balancing on its front bumper, to make you feel much better about driving on that narrow “road.”  *smile*  That site at the top was a lithic procurement site, meaning it was a place where people went to find the right kind of stone to make tools from.  There were a lot of cobbles of chert and quartzite that were eroding from the ridges, and it looked like people had been going there for generations and busting up rocks to find the ones that would make good tools.  Still not good for photos, since it was a bunch of broken rocks, but I couldn’t resist taking some of the prettier rocks that no one had broken up home with me, including several small, nice pieces of petrified wood.

 After work one day, we drove over the Arizona border to Price, did a little grocery shopping to prep for the birthday of one of our crew members, and then went to check out the Glenn Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.  I’m pretty sure I have driven across it before, years ago during a colllege road trip, but it was still kinda fun.  We also stopped at the newly-completed lookout, and I put together a panoramic view of Lake Powell from up there.

Glen Canyon Bridge

Glen Canyon Dam

the canyon itself

Lake Powell

Southern Utah

I am actually working in the field!  It has been about a year and a half since I went “on rotation” and got to record prehistoric sites for 10 days straight.  It is also the first time I’ve had the chance to work in southern Utah, and this landscape is just so amazingly gorgeous.  Red rocks!  And striped buttes!  And cool sandstone formations!

This is day four of the rotation, and it’s the first day I remembered to bring my camera along with me.  I completely forgot to use my camera to record the cool lanceolate projectile point I found at the second site, but fortunately we had lunch at Flat Top, and I went crazy taking pictures of the landscape around me.  I got so wrapped up in it, I shot a lot of pics out the window on the way back into town, too.  So, in the next five or so days, I’ll try harder to take pictures of archaeology, instead of geology, since that’s what I’m out here doing.  *smile*  But in the meantime, here are some of the things I saw today:

my lunch spot

dramatic tree

dramatic rock



for T

I couldn't resist...

on the way home