Where in the hell am I?

March 21, 2011

More on public archaeology

(stick with me, there’s a pretty nice little story at the end)

I wrote earlier about how this current survey project I’m on has added stress because it’s pretty controversial, with a lot of recalcitrant landowners and at least one major lawsuit. This is a particular challenge of public archaeology, which I don’t know that a lot of archaeologists have to deal with: pissed-off people. Actually, I think that having to deal with multiple landowners in general is more a product of cultural resources management (CRM aka salvage archaeology aka professional archaeology). Most (if not all) academic, grant-sponsored, or educational projects are conducted in cooperation with the landowners, often public entities. The goal of these projects is to enhance knowledge, train people, and educate; when the project is finished, the holes are usually filled in and life goes on.

Not so much for what I do. The end result of my archaeological work might be a road, a pipeline, a power line, a housing subdivision, or a wind turbine (among others). It almost always involves taking a portion of someone’s land, which they are usually receiving some sort of compensation for, and which they may have limited access to after. We’re not some prestigious scientific endeavour that they’re hosting, we’re just a part of the process that may or may not end in a way that they prefer.

This leads to interesting situations, which are of course influenced by the personality of the landowners involved. It’s also a bit self-selective, as the people most adamantly opposed won’t let you on their land to begin with (like the guy who sat on his porch with a shotgun on his lap whenever our truck was anywhere near his land). You’ll occasionally run into your naked flag ladys, but you’ll also get to ride around in a vintage WWII jeep with a retired rodeo cowboy (seriously, this was the best day in the field EVER that didn’t involve an amazing site).

So I’ve been a bit reluctant on this project to talk to the landowners, which is a definite demerit against me as a public archaeologist (although to be fair I’m not the crew leader). But for the most part, those we’ve encountered have been nice folks, even if they’re not excited about the project as a whole.

One gentleman on Saturday hung around us for quite a while and was very friendly, as well as provided some information about the history of the immediate area (useful for the architectural historians). He sat in his golf cart and we chatted while I was digging a shovel test. He thought I was digging a hole to test the soil for a tower location, which he was concerned about because that a tower in that spot would have blocked a really nice view from his house (and if it were up to me, I’d make sure there wasn’t a tower there). I explained how we conduct our surveys, inspecting the ground surface and digging shovel tests in a systematic fashion, so that the actual holes weren’t indicative of anything besides a location within the overall area of impacts. I talked about how only certain types of sites would be an issue for the project, and he joked that he could call some Indian friends of his to make that kind of site if it meant not having a tower blocking his view. He mentioned that his grandkids had picked up some arrowheads around the property, and that he had seen some other areas that just had some “chips” and “chunks”, and told us where they were. Sure enough, there was a nice surficial lithic procurement area in the spot with chips and chunks. He offered his opinion that it was probably just a hunting party area, because there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff and it was too far from water; he was pretty much right about everything except perhaps the hunting party.

He told us that he was originally from Port Lavaca, and had worked at the Alcoa factory there for 35 years,and retired and moved to the Hill Country a few years back. He had six kids, and had put five of them through college, including four at UT, and that his daughter still lived in Austin.

There’s one more element to the story, but I want to save it for a separate blog post that I hope will initiate some debate. I would, of course, love comments on this as well.

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2 Comments »

  1. Insightful discussion of different types of archaelogy. This older man sounds like a real gem!

    I’m waiting to see what’s going to bring up debate!

    Comment by Pam — March 22, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

  2. […] and family and his next post is one of the best examples I’ve seen that explains the varied Texas  CRM field experience. John’s blog exemplifies a strong tradition in archaeology–storytelling. We make […]

    Pingback by Blogging Archaeology – Week 4 | Middle Savagery — March 22, 2011 @ 9:09 pm


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