View From graduate school


My mom tells me a story about when I was 10 years old. As a fifth grade writing assignment I had to describe my likes and dislikes, and even forecast what I would be doing in 20 years. While I wrote that I would be an orthodontist to make lots of money, I said my hobby (and true love) would be archaeology. Even as far back as first grade I can remember digging for dinosaurs in my friend Kevin's backyard. After we had dug a rather large hole, Kevin pulled out a round object and proudly proclaimed that we had found a fossil. To this day I can distinctly remember quitting the game and going to look for real fossils by myself because all Kevin had found was a big rock. (Although there is the possibility that the object may have been a Clovis period chopper, or perhaps a unifacial scraper, we will have to wait for a phase two survey of Kevin's backyard before any conclusions can be drawn.)

So now I'm in a big university. I've graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology and I'm in the graduate program (ranked 13th nation-wide). What next? Research, reading and reports. I am basically doing the same thing now as when I will have earned a Ph.D., except right now I don't have tenure or a comfortable salary. Not to mention that my graduate slave-i mean student status means that I get to do most of the dirty work for the Principle Investigators. But that's O.K., I'm loving it.

The big deal at the Master level of graduate school is the thesis research that is new, or will shed light on a unique aspect of archaeology that has never been looked at before. That's where I'm at.

"On the Aucilla River we repair more internal (infernal) combustion engines by 9:00 am than most people do in a year." Welcome to the real world of archaeology. When I was a child my hero was Indiana Jones. Travel, adventure-and he even got to kiss the girl! The game is a lot different when you have to disassemble the six inch dredge screen and load it into a truck that is parked 20 feet uphill of a wet muddy bank with trees growing out of it. Or when you have to go through about 100 screens of tiny bone fragments all the same color of brown, and pick out the significant pieces.

The Aucilla River Prehistory Project has allowed me to become an archaeologist. I know I am still very young, and there are volumes of information yet to be read-but I've got the basics down. The plaster has been poured and the cast is now drying. But more than that, the ARPP has offered more to me, and everyone else, than mere vocational training.

At the University of Florida, and the Florida Museum of NaturaI History, archaeology has several excellent representatives. There is an effort headed by Dr. Keegan in understanding the prehistory of the Caribbean region. Dr. Kathy Deegan is one of the leading Spanish colonial archaeologists in the nation. Florida history, both pre-Columbian and post contact falls into the domain of Dr. Milanich, who is also one of the most respected archaeologists in the Southeast. The recent recruitment of Dr. Lynette Norr adds the Central American Formative Period as a new dimension. And then there's Dr. Webb heading the Aucilla River Prehistory Project.

The ARPP adds a much deeper temporal aspect to Florida prehistory In its outstanding accomplishments over the past twelve years-it has sought to explore and document what local Florida collectors have believed for years-that the Paleoindian presence in Florida is one of the richest and most diverse in North America. This is what draws me to the research going on at Nutall Rise.

The terminal Pleistocene environment in Florida was unlike any place else in North America at that time. The distinctive karst environment of artesian springs and perched water holes resulted in aboriginal subsistence strategies different from the rest of the Southeast. What were these people doing here? When did they first arrive? How did they make their day to day living? What traits did they pass on to successive Archaic groups? These and many more questions are slowly being pieced together as each season passes on the Aucilla River.

Beyond the archaeology in volved, there are a multitude of interrelated disciplines that contribute to our knowledge of the Pleistocene/Holocene transition in the Southeast. To fully understand what was going on one must include zooarchaeologists, paleontologists, palynologists, soil scientists, geomorphologists, paleoecologists and by no means least of all, a collections manager to insure that everything is curated and properly organized. The archaeologist is just the hub of the wheel.

So what will I end up with after all the dust settles? An M.A.? Sure, but I will take away much more than just that. I will have experience beyond description. I will have learned how to excavate (or not to excavate). I will have learned how to interpret 10,000 years of stratigraphic sequence under the dim orange haze of a 1000 watt light beneath 30 feet of Aucilla River water. I will have learned how to give a 4-5 minute presentation with 20 minutes of material. I will have learned how to lead, and more importantly, how to follow. I will have learned that a group of people who would have never known each other in one million years can become a family. And in the end, I guess you could say, I will have learned how to be an archaeologist.