Chronicles of the Intern: Part 5

As you probably already know, I am Michelle, the Spring SCA Intern for SEAC and these blog posts refer to my experiences interning at SEAC this season. This particular post relate my time working in the NAGPRA and Applied Sciences division.

NAGPRA is an acronym for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The NAGPRA division within SEAC seeks to meet the demands of the Act by identifying NAGPRA-applicable items within SEAC’s collection and region and ensuring their proper repatriation. These items can include human remains, funerary objects, scared objects, or objects of cultural patrimony. Following identification, the division must determine the correct lineage or cultural association with Native American tribes through research, notices, and consultation which can be a stressful process. During my week with NAGPRA, I spent the first few days becoming familiar with the processes that are involved when conducting repatriations of items and the formal documentation of human remains that assist in establishing a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), the biological sex, and age of the individual(s) present. In addition to testing my understanding of these procedures through mock write-ups based on situation prompts, I had opportunities to shadow the osteologists as they analyzed a particularly challenging burial in order to determine the accurate MNI present.

My second week in the division I moved over to Applied Sciences which handles the impact of climate change on archaeological sites. While I am in no means a climate change “nay-sayer,” I hadn’t really considered the impact of climate change on archaeological sites. Erosion of coastal archaeological sites is a prime example of the devastating effects of rising sea levels in addition to various other natural and human activities that have severely threatened or affected these valuable cultural resources. While in Applied Sciences, I spent my time researching case studies and scientific publications on the topic of climate change and archaeological resources. I did, however, have a chance to assist in sorting material from a particular project in the Everglades. An interesting fact about the material was that it had been collected in sample units in these peat-like areas, so the preservation of the artifacts is completely unreal!

Chronicles of the Intern: Part 4

My name is Michelle and I am the current intern at Southeast Archeological Center and these blog post follow my experiences as an intern. This particular post concerns my time working with the National Historical Landmarks & External Contracts division, recently renamed however still currently referred to by the previous name on the SEAC website.

I thankfully got the chance to work with this division due to perfect timing. During my stay at SEAC I have become one of the many in Innovation Park (the corporate park where SEAC is stationed) to escape from sitting at their desks for 8 hours to walk a quick loop around the park, which conveniently works perfectly as a break. I typically join the Curation division when they take their walk/break and on this particular chilly January morning, as we were leaving to begin our mile long journey we ran into the National Historical Landmarks & External Contracts division as they were loading their GPR equipment into the vehicle and heading out to the field. As they were driving away, I mentioned to one of the fellow walkers in our group how I had never used GPR equipment and that I would really like to get the chance to one day gain experience with the technology. Within seconds Cat, the IT specialist at SEAC and core member of the Curation walking group, called the division and just like that, I was going out in the field the next day to try out my skills with the GPR. While I must say that pushing the machine is a bit of a workout and making sure that the distance is properly recording can be a bit stressful, it was amazing to finally use subsurface technology in the field! Following that day, I worked with the division two more weeks, separated by two weeks spent with NAGPRA and Applied Sciences (which I will discuss in another post). I spent the majority of my stay with National Historical Landmarks & External Contracts regaining my shovel test skills, which had dwindled since my field school days. However these were not your ordinary positive or negative shovel tests. These shovel tests were essentially 30 x 30 cm test units with 10 cm levels. Understanding how much to dig with a shovel and only a few millimeters of wiggle room was tricky but when you find an incredible artifact embedded in the wall 40 cm down a shovel test, I can tell you from personal experience that you are extremely relieved that you didn’t chop it in half with your shovel! Overall, this was my first time working on a prehistoric archaeological site in Florida and the artifacts found from just completing shovel tests were crazy exciting! Many times I think about my past experiences and interests and I wonder whether my heart lies in prehistoric or historic archaeology. My time with National Historical Landmarks & External Contracts reminded me of how much I enjoy the mystery behind prehistoric archaeology and just how much there is to still learn and question!

Screening material from a shovel test.

Screening material from a shovel test.

Chronicles of the Intern: Part 3

This is Part 3 of my internship blog series which covers my time in Administration

Following my days in Curation, I spent a week in Administration, getting to know the logistics behind SEAC operations. In other words, I managed to get a glimpse at what keeps SEAC going. Administration handles the budget, fleet, equipment, documentation of personnel and their activities, in addition to a number other tasks and duties. Essentially these responsibilities ensure that SEAC can function as an efficient archaeological center. My activities ranged from assisting in the removal of excess documents that obstructed the organization of current and future important files and paperwork, collecting an inventory of all the equipment purchased by and for SEAC, and recording accurate descriptive information on surplus equipment currently located on the property. These were just some of the major projects I worked on in just ONE week with Administration, and a short week at that due to the federal holiday. At the end of the week, I can definitely say that I respect and am fully impressed with the tasks that Administration has to manage. I would also like to note that, with my tendency for clumsiness and the vast amounts of paper involved with that division, I was fairly impressed with myself for not getting a papercut!

Chronicles of an Intern: Part 2

To review from my previous post, I’m Michelle, the current SEAC intern and my series of posts (this being the second one) describe my experiences as an intern here. Each post is divided by the division I worked in for the respective week or two.

As my first week at SEAC came to an end and I ran back to Gainesville for the weekend to grab some items I had left behind, I couldn’t help but think about how the next segment of my internship was going to be like. I had hardly processed artifacts outside of the typical in-the-field F.S.-ing (assigning field specimen numbers) of artifact bags and so I was excited to actually receive lab experience. With the arrival of Tuesday, as Monday had been a federal holiday, I went straight to Hank Kratt’s office ready to work! I spent a total of two weeks in Curation, dividing my time between weighing artifacts from a historic site in the Great Smokey Mountains, sorting faunal remains from the Everglades, and labeling and tagging artifacts from Cane River. Essentially I had an opportunity to work with a wide variety of artifacts, all represented within the vast spectrum of Southeast Archaeology, from porcelain insulators to a Ladyfish vertebra. The work performed by Curation is by far more complicated than weighing, sorting, and labeling. Curation puts together the puzzle pieces left behind by decades of archaeological excavations that were poorly cataloged or no longer fit within today’s guidelines of ethical or reasonable collections and archives management. Without the Curation division, SEAC as a repository would essentially cease to function efficiently as the backlog cataloging piled up and the incredible amount of fascinating artifacts would wither away in a dusty box without the opportunity to be available for analysis.  In addition to learning about the artifacts themselves I also gained insight into the importance of fine-tuning what is collected in the field and processed initially to avoid cataloging modern items and understanding that everything does not need to be collected in the field, for example, charcoal that is not associated with a particular artifact or feature or modern rope. These insights helped guide my decisions and improve my efficiency when I worked in the field a few week later. Overall, while others may find sorting and labeling tedious activities, I found a calm zen aspect behind my work and honestly it feels pretty awesome to understand the differences in basic fauna identification.

Curation Lab at SEAC

Curation Lab at SEAC