Archaeology is Bureaucracy is Archaeology is Bureaucracy

Archaeology is writing business plans on whiteboards

I had a lovely little blog post about the breadth and depth of (pre)history in Colorado, and all the great programs my office is involved in that helps further historic preservation across our state. You can find it here. It’s a great introduction to the resources we have, and why I do the work I do and why I think it’s important. It doesn’t really get to my daily life, though. The truth is, this blog is launching the same week as a state-wide conference on all things historic preservation, Saving Places, is happening, and if you really want to know what my daily life is like over the next three months, today I am stressing about what dress I am wearing for the Hart Awards Monday night. Hart Awards kicks off both Saving Places and what I like to call “Awards Season” in Colorado preservation world and I do not yet have a dress. My remarks are also not complete, but for some reason that bothers me much less. Over the last 3.5 years of being the State Archaeologist and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, I have given so many public talks that actually speaking on a topic, even extemporaneously, is becoming the easy part. Still fun, still causes butterflies, but easier than I ever thought it could be.

I have stopped stressing about our session at the conference where we will be discussing the pseudoarchaeology topic of “Bent Trees.” I do plan on devoting an entire blog to it later this week. One of our panel discussants is a federal employee, and everyone on the panel is breathing a sigh of relief that the shutdown ended and she can join us. This is just one, small way that the partial federal government shutdown caused massive disruptions in historic preservation and archaeology. Professionals are not being histrionic when they say it will take years to unravel the damage caused by 5-weeks of shutdown. In some cases we will never recover. When we lose historic sites, they are gone forever.

My work life is a little frenetic, but I like it that way. When I am in the office (and I am often traveling A LOT for this position) I start my day by getting a pile of folders out of my box, and hand-signing all the consultation letters that our Section-106 staff are sending out. For some of the more complicated or controversial ones, there may be some conversations, both to make sure we are responding correctly and to ensure that if an angry project proponent or politician starts to make calls, we are all on the same page. I like to make sure that my staff is supported.

From there, I attend a lot of meetings. I have three over-lapping roles: the Director of the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP); State Archaeologists (which includes paleontology, so I guess archaeologists DO dig dinosaurs, or at least provide permits for qualified individuals to do so); and the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer. OAHP is part of History Colorado, a state agency that is the state museum and a major repository for state collections. One of my sister divisions is the State Historical Fund (SHF) which gives out millions of dollars in grants every year to preservation related projects. History Colorado also has six community museums throughout the state, many of which are historic archaeology sites, and are all listed on the National Register. We have a lot going on.

This week I met with a sister state agency about an exciting summer excavation project in the Southwest part of the state; have worked on getting our Archaeology month poster designed and out the door; met with a team of people who are working on getting a 20-year old archaeology report finalized; peer-reviewed two articles for an edited volume I am involved in; attended a regular meeting with our lobbyists to discuss state politics and how we may be affected to the latest goings-on; and moving into the next phase of a study that is looking to quantify the economic impact of archaeological activities in the state.

What I really hope happens with this blog is that by discussing all these mundane activities, people see what at least one path of “archaeology” can be- it’s policy and partnerships and consultations, not dirt and treasure and lost cities. This is how the sausage gets made. Even for the academics who are lucky enough to get the dirt and treasure and lost cities, this is the hard work that allows those sites to continue to exist for study. We all have to understand that if we are going to be able to preserve our historic places, our discipline, and our industry.

At the end of the day much about our discipline is really structured by the S106 process, even at the state and local levels. It’s the paradigm of preservation to which we collectively default. I would like to take the next three months to unpackage that a bit. Want to know why you send a report to a federal agency and they next thing you know SHPO is kicking it back? Well, that’s me kicking it back, and I think you should know what the process looks like from this side. I also think that understanding the intricacies of the S106 process explains how our federal government works on a broader level. My hope is you can use that information to engage with the process, not just as professionals but as citizens who care about public policy.

I also hope that aspiring archaeologists or those junior in the field (and I say that as someone who still feels pretty junior in the field) can see this as a desirable career path. I LOVE digging holes, but I also love writing programmatic agreements, and finding solutions with industry to move projects forward, and leading volunteers on little research projects. In other words, I love wearing pretty, pretty dresses one day, then heading out into the field in my work-boots the next day. Archaeology has a little something to offer everyone.

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