Where in the hell am I?

Stories from the road, and home, by a contract archaeologist.

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Location: Texas, United States

I work out of town a lot as a contract archaeologist. Sometimes it's interesting. It can be quite funny, although probably only to other archys. Home is Austin, with my wife and our cute kitty and all of our crazy friends.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Beware of HPOs

I've been writing a survey report at work all week. I finished my draft yesterday before leaving work, hoping to make a few quick edits this morning and be done with it. Once I get the final draft approved and ready to be sent to the client, I can take the rest of the week off and grind away at the thesis (which I'm taking a short break from right now). Unfortunately, my boss wanted me to make a few additions.
See, a CRM report is not really for the client but for the regulatory or permitting agency requiring the work. I had failed to give explicit reasons why the sites were not significant and would require no further work. Secondly, this particular work was required by the city of San Antonio Historic Preservation Officer (HPO, pronounced "hippo") who is a historian. There's a tendency among Texas archaeologists (myself included) to downplay or even ignore very minor historic sites. Really, a dozen pieces of chert debitage and scattered burned limestone are equivalent to a dozen clear glass shards and scattered brick fragments, but I guess a lot of people don't think that way because they could probably find the latter assemblage in your average vacant lot.
Anyway, we had encountered a small concrete foundation, a bored-hole well, a small limestone block tank and a huge linear pile of bricks. These were located in an area where two structures were depicted on our topo map (compiled in 1953, updated in the 80s). The only artifacts were some clear glass shards. The bricks had 3 different manufacturer's marks, which can be diagnostic. Unfortunately, while each mark was first registered in the early 20th century, all of the marks continued in use for a very long time (and one might be in use today). So, the brocks could be 60 years old, or 20. I took photos and talked to our historic archaeologist and tried to find as many ways as I could to not call this a site. But my boss figured that the HPO, being a historian, would almost definitely come back with a lot of questions about the non-site. So I had to add some more description and conduct some additional archival research, then convert it all into the proper language to justify why the site was not significant. Honestly, I should have just gone ahead and called it a site to begin with,
Yeah, it was about as fun as it sounds, although I did learn that the PCL library at UT has a lot of older topographic and general maps online.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Spacebeer said...

Archives! And the PCL Map collection digitization stuff is awesome.

Archives!

5:29 AM  
Anonymous Joolie said...

Eric scanned, cleaned up, and posted all--or at least a lot of--those maps when he worked at PCL! That, and go out for coffee with his boss every day.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Colleen said...

Interesting...was your reluctance to call it a site coming from a desire to help the client out or what?

9:07 AM  
Blogger jlowe said...

Colleen: It was mostly laziness and apathy. I knew it wasn't going to be an obstacle to construction, so as far as the client goes the only expense to them is the $25 to get a trinomial and put it on the Atlas, and the 3 or so hours I spent on the site forms. Some of it had to do with not wanting to have to engage in the extra research that can be involved to see if the property belonged to an important person. If I thought maybe it had belonged to sharecroppers or had potential for slave settlements, I might have been more interested and ready to record it. But it was essentially the rural equivalent of walking by a vacant lot and seeing the garage foundation, part of a chimney collapse and a birdbath from the 1940s.
Honestly, despite what the client might think, I'm helping them the most when I take every step to ensure full compliance with regulations and anticipating any problems. They're only looking at the (miniscule) dollars being spent on what they think is meaningless. On the other hand, I clearly was not helping the client to my full potential. So THAT's food for thought.

Joolie: That's really cool. They're very well done. I will be using that resource a lot in the future.

Kristy: I actually quite enjoy digging through archives when it's something I'm interested in! Archives are very very good things,

8:17 PM  

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