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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A super quick update

Work = busy.
Home = preparing for Halloween party.
I got to look at some rocks this week.
I got a raise and a very glowing appraisal from my bosses. And it's not even my annual review.
More this weekend.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More of the same

I spent all week working on reports. Two of the impact evaluation reports are due tomorrow, including one covering four bridges. Since I'm leaving tomorrow for the Texas Archaeological Society annual meeting in Lubbock, it meant they were due today.
I think my boss was under the impression I had written these before. I've done similar things, but not an actual impact evaluation for TxDOT. I had a template to go by, but I was basically on my own. It was pretty stressful, mostly because of the time constraint. It's also not easy to describe how an area looks and all the pros and cons as far as the archaeological potential. Of the five recommendations I made, three of them got kicked back by my reviewer. The comment on one was basically "this is really well-written and you do an excellent job of detailing why there is no need to survey the area, and then you recommend surveying the area." I thought there might be some potential for a historic site, so I was mostly trying to cover my ass.
So yeah, this weekend I get to challenge my spatial perception by visiting Lubbock. I don't know that I'll be doing much but listening to some papers and drinking beer with my fellow archaeologists. I do know a couple of people up there, so maybe I'll get out and see some stuff (if there's stuff to see). I'm going mainly for networking and to support people I know giving papers. I've been very gung-ho junior exec-type guy lately, partly because I asked for a raise (which I haven't heard anything about yet).
Next week: more impact evaluation reports. Joy. I guess I better blog about the TAs meeting since it's at least something different.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Evaluating impacts

It's kind of funny to be spending my week looking at bridges that are to be replaced and evaluating the potential for archaeological deposits within the area of potential effects (APE)(which we never say as "ape" but as a.p.e.). In some ways, it's what some would call a reconnaissance survey, where you don't dig but merely inspect the ground surface for artifacts. But in a lot of states, that's pretty much all one does. If there's enough stuff and it looks like there might be features, then you go to test excavations. In our case, even if we don't see artifacts, that doesn't mean that the work is done. We also have to assess the area for levels of disturbance, soils, and other factors that would preclude the APE having the potential for buried archaeological deposits. Ideally, intact, significant archaeological deposits but that's a little more difficult to assess.
Today, for example, we examined three bridges at tributaries or back/flood channels of the Colorado River, in Matagorda County. Two of them were basically built on floodplains with extensive wetland areas, and the entire APE, which consists of the existing highway right-of-way (ROW, which we do say as "row"), was built entirely on imported roadfill. This is to avoid flooding of the roadway. In these cases, it's easy to say "There is no potential for the APE to contain intact archaeological deposits." It's as much as 12 feet of road fill, and the surrounding area is basically marshland and not a preferred setting for human settlement (Western Louisiana not withstanding). One of the crossings, however, crossed a relict terrace of the Colorado River and was situated well above the drainage floodplain. Furthermore, the portion of the road on this terrace did not have a major fill section (it's basically above the normal high water mark). Finally, the ROW was pretty wide in this area, meaning that some portion of the ROW appeared to be intact natural soils that had not been totally disturbed by road construction. Of course, it was blanketed in poison ivy, so I couldn't really examine the ground surface for artifacts. But in my report, I'll have to say that at least a small portion of that bridge project contains at least some potential for buried cultural materials. It's up to the client whether to have a survey done on this minor area or recommend that construction activities in this area avoid the potentially intact ground.
Reading that is about as exciting as doing it, but I've gotten to see a lot of new parts of southeast Texas, for better or worse.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Writing and editing and grey literature

But really, there hasn't been much exciting archaeological stuff going on in my life. I've been spending much of my time editing our huge Oklahoma survey report. Basically, this entailed addressing the comments that the client's lead archaeologists made, and accepting or rejecting their changes. It actually took a really long time, because the readers had a lot of comments and changes. Among other things, some of the actual project terminology changed after the draft report was written, and so every instance of that was changed. Apparently, "corridor" is a big no-no in the world of pipelines. There is also the matter of one of the readers basically rewriting huge sections of the results chapter and getting the information wrong. She also isn't the strongest writer in the world, and she uses some archaic grammatical rules as well.
I've actually been asked to edit reports a lot recently. I was editor for the entertainment section of the UT newspaper years ago, and I guess I still have some of that in me. I hate run-on sentences (well, at least in professional reports). I don't like when sentences are split. In some of our reports, this happens frequently (note: that was an example). I'm also not a big fan of starting sentences with "Also", "In addition", or "However".
During my time at TxDOT, I got to read a ton of reports, from small surveys to large, multi-volume excavation reports. It's amazing how many of them are poorly written and edited, particularly since many of them are authored by people with graduate degrees. My company's reports are better than most, although we've had some people (who are no longer with us) who made me cringe.
I think it's important for the grey literature of archaeology to be more widely read and distributed. At the same time, I'm not sure that much of it is ready for widespread scrutiny.

On a tangentially related note, I've received my diploma. My thesis is also listed in the UT Library Online Catalog.

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