Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Welcome to Sifting through the Past, a new blog focused on the archaeology of Eastern Utah

I recently started as the Curator of Archaeology at the Utah State University-College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum in Price, UT.  Price, perched on the northwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau, is a great vantage to survey and report on the archaeology of Eastern Utah.  A range of incredibly beautiful landscapes, including the San Rafael Swell, Tavaputs Plateau, Wasatch Mountains, and Castle Valley, are all an easy drive of Price.  Each of these regions has a rich archaeological record, with sites ranging from Ice Age hunting sites to historic Ute encampments.  This blog will bring to life many of the different cultures that have called Eastern Utah home. 

The focus of this blog will include the various archaeological happenings associated with the museum as well as general reports of interesting archaeological research in the region and recommendations for trips to museums and publicly accessible sites.  The remainder of this first post will present some background on me as both an archaeologist and a person. 

I was raised in the Great North Woods of Michigan, living near Charlevoix, a small community in the northern Lower Peninsula until I was 5, then moving to the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek Metro Area in Southwest Michigan.  Frequent camping trips as a kid inoculated a fascination with the natural world, as well as those cultures that made a living in a more direct manner from their environment.  I was particularly fascinated by the cultural exchanges that took place with the expansion of European settlement across the Americas.  I was also very interested in science as a student, and attending the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center during high school exposed me to a number of disciplines, including biomedical science, engineering, and geology.  With one foot firmly entrenched in the natural sciences and the other in history and the social sciences, I went to college at the University of Chicago with the intent of earning a degree in history and geophysical science. 

My college experience opened my eyes to the varied opportunities for academic study as well as to the diversity and beauty of the world.  Early in my second year, I took an elective course titled Ancient Celtic Societies because of my interest in aspects of my European heritage.  This course was an archaeology course focused on the trade and interaction of the Roman Empire with Celtic peoples across Western Europe.  The combined analysis of the written records of the Romans and the material culture left by the Celtic peoples seemed a much more complete approach of the history of these peoples than a simple examination of the written record of their literate neighbors by itself.  This course led to another, which led to a reexamination of my choice of major.  Archaeology seemed to mix many of the aspects of history and natural sciences that had attracted my attention in the first place.  I decided to go to an archaeological field school to see if I enjoyed the practice of archaeology as much as the coursework. 

This field school, located on the east face of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque, NM, was focused on a Pueblo structure that was re-occupied after Spanish settlement of the region.  The reoccupation, though smaller than the original occupation, saw the creation of an animal pen and a copper smelter, both economic activities unknown in the Southwest prior to the arrival of the Spanish.  Written records also indicated that this site may have been a visita, a village incorporated into the traveling round by priests from an associated mission, where a priest was killed.  This combination of economic integration and politico-religious insurrection immediately intrigued me.  While many aspects of the archaeological fieldwork were tedious, the ability to work outside in such a beautiful setting and use both my mind and body was the perfect task for me.  I was hooked. 

I went back to Chicago intent on changing my major to anthropology, the study of humankind, a discipline that includes archaeology, the study of material remains of past human activity.  I enjoyed the coursework immensely and went back to the field the following summer, this time in an independent study focused on the use of wild plants as food among the post-contact Puebloan population.  This led to a senior honors thesis focused on the carbonized evidence for wild plant resources from the site.  My interest in paleoethnobotany, the study of past human-plant interactions, continues to this day.
Next blog post, Out in the wide, wild world of Cultural Resource Management.