Monday, February 23, 2009

more blabbering

Part II

Most CRM firms (Cultural Resource Management) are private for profit companies. There are some large ones out there, but they are usually environmental firms with an Archaeology branch. Even some large construction companies have their own archaeologists. Cal-Trans has their own in house archaeologists, however, most are paper pushers (get stuck writing proposals and grants and reports). CRM companies contract themselves out to other companies/agencies. We bid on projects and either win them or not. It helps to “know” the right people.

The company I work for has several offices (Santa Cruz – where I am, Berkeley, Cameron Park – Sacramento, Chico, Lancaster, and two offices in Hawaii [Maui and Kailua]). Each office tends to specialize in a particular area and/or field. We at Santa Cruz get a lot of jobs with a particular power agency and Oil agencies in the central valley. We spend most of our time either in the Sierra Mountains or in the Central Valley. The Cameron Park office gets a lot of Cal-Trans jobs and they tend to work on the east side of the Sierra’s. Berkeley tends to get university gigs (USCS, Stanford) and city gigs (City of Monterey, San Jose, St. Helena, and San Francisco). Our Chico office was set up to run our projects in Nevada, and the Lancaster office was set up to run a large (many many many years to come) power project. We also have labs at our Berkeley and Cameron Park offices (we have one at Santa Cruz, but never get to use it for some reason), and we have specialists, i.e. Osteologists, Lab people who can do Obsidian Hydration (a form of dating), Historic archaeologists, pre-historic archaeologists, ethnographers, GIS specialists (stands for Geographic Information Systems), lithic specialists – like my boss who can look at an obsidian point (arrowhead) and tell you where the glass came from (what mountain it erupted from) type of point it is (style of the point), and which group of people made it and when. Also there is botany, geology, geography, and biology involved in what we do.

We need to know a little about everything, and it helps to know a lot about something. I’m working on that. I know an iddy biddy bit about a lot of things, and not much of anything else. I don’t have a specialty. If I did, then I would be more worthwhile to hang on to. But then again, if all you know is a lot about one thing and nothing else… then you aren’t worth much either. I get sent out to a variety of places and extremes; it helps to be well rounded. I know a bit about plants, trees, and animals (biology), I know a bit about rock types and formations (geology), I know a bit about landscapes and how they change over time (geography), I can tell the difference between human and animal bones, fish, and birds (osteology), I know a bit about historic and prehistoric (Spanish, European, Indian), mapping skills… you get the idea. Also to make yourself more appealing, you need to know your office skills, (word, excel, graphics programs like adobe illustrator, and photoshop), write reports, know about the laws and regulations about the field (Cultural and Environmental – these keep us employed). And skills with a GPS device (how to use them in the field, and once back in the office). I guess you can say that archaeologists in general have to know a lot about everything. I don’t think regular Joe people realize what all goes into making a good archaeologist, or how much we need to know about other fields to do our job right.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What I do Part 1

I’ve come to realize that I have not really explained what I do… to make an iddy biddy amount of money. I went to school and got my B.A. in English Literature. That only took 6 years, and has not come in very handy, except I can produce words on a page that can bore the pants off of anybody. I then came running home to mommy and daddy, and they let me back, had to change rooms though. I then had to decide what to do next, because I did not get into the MFA program I applied for at San Jose State. Looking back on it now, running home and not getting accepted was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got a job at a bookstore and started taking anthropology classes at a local junior college. I applied for a summer field school in Archaeology, and got accepted. That was a long 9 weeks, but also an amazing experience. I knew absolutely nothing about “real” archaeology and came out with shoulders of steel, a giant freckle (they all merged), immunity to poison oak (THANK GOD), and a new passion. I applied to graduate school while in the field school, and was accepted to Cal State Hayward (now known as Cal State East Bay – can you get any more ghetto than that?). I finished the Masters program in 1.5 years. I’ll be honest, Hayward isn’t the best school, and my degree is a glorified B.A. in my opinion. To make a long story short, I was driving in my car a lot (from home to work to school to back home), ate a lot of fast food, had no social life…. Oh wait, I still don’t, and was able to only be in college for 9 years of my life. But I have 2 degrees to show for it. Yeah.

During my time at Ghetto school 101, I got hired at my current company. I got lucky. They liked me, and was ok with me going to school. After I graduated, I was hired on full-time, and apparently put on the fast track (I didn’t know we had one). I became a “supervisor in training” by the following year. Sometime between then and now the training wheels have come off, but I couldn’t tell you when that happened. I don’t get the complicated projects or big projects… I don’t have the experience. But I got a company credit card – sweet, and health insurance, and a 401k. Let me tell you how cool that is. In this profession, about 70% of the people who work for/at companies like mine, are part-timers who hop from one job to the next working for any company that will hire them for a job (no health care, benefits, no nothing). Dig bums or shovel bums. There are several websites just for companies to post jobs for dig bums. ( But most of these people have traveled the U.S. and the world working at amazing places and have more knowledge than I can ever imagine and are some of the happiest people I have met, so don’t feel bad.

Now, all that explains… uh… not much. This is not Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. I do not wear a fedora or spandex with .45’s strapped to my thighs. Although many people have told me I should be “packing heat”. I don’t. I would probably get into more trouble than I already do. The last thing I need is to have some uptight hunter or property owner with weapon in head, see that I have one too. No thank you!

Sorry, I keep distracting myself. There are two worlds in the Archaeology life. Academia and what we call CRM, stands for Cultural Resource management. The academia types are the ones you hear about in the news every once in a while. Some PhD know it all and his/her Graduate students off in the Amazon or Guatemala on some ginormous grant money found a new temple or some such thing. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, I’m just jealous. My boss actually goes on “vacation” to do research in either Mongolia or Easter Island (Rapa Nui), and another co-worker/boss lady is an osteologist who goes to Turkey every year to dig up some of the first Homo Sapiens (or Cro Magnon) who made it into Europe at Chatelhuik. Flip the coin over and you have CRM. That’s what I do. And the name fits, we help manage cultural resources. What are cultural resources? Pretty much anything made by/from human hands that is over 50 years old. This includes Indian sites, Spanish (remember, I’m in California), Gold rush (Chinese immigrants), mining, ranching, plantations, agriculture, buildings, houses, even infrastructure (roads, highways, trails, utilities [gas, electric, hydro]). But not just any “old” thing will do. My mother is over 50 years old, but is she “significant”? There has to be something about the “thing” or place to make it “worth saving”. For example, Cannery Row in Monterey. It is historically significant because of the canning industry that was there, the architecture of the buildings are unique or designed by some so and so, and to top it off, a famous author wrote about the place in his novels (anyone heard of John Steinbeck?).

more later... this is getting long