SHPO on a Hippo!

SHPO_3

You may be chuckling to yourself or asking ‘what on earth is a SHPO?’.  A SHPO is a State Historic Preservation Officer, which was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.  Every state has a SHPO and a SHPO Office.  They oversee the compliance efforts of all federal agencies (i.e. BLM, NRCS, NPS, Forest Service), as well as private companies receiving federal funding.  They are there to help ensure that we make a good faith effort in recording, reporting, protecting, persevering, etc. cultural resources.

Field Photo: Prehistoric Flint Knapping Station

The majority of the artifacts I come across in the field are flakes, the bits of stone created through knapping.  Flint knapping is the process of reducing cores of stone, such as chert or obsidian, into tools, such as projectile points or scrapers.  It was amazing to find an entire flint knapping station, where I could see the lithic reduction process from beginning to end.  I could put some of the flakes back together to form part of a core. I could see hundreds of bits if shatter.  And, just think, someone was sitting here hundreds of years ago, making stone tools.

*As ever, it is illegal and unethical to remove artifacts from public lands (i.e. Forest Service, BLM, NPS, etc).

Tin Cans and More

I think historic archaeological sites and artifacts sometimes get a bad rap for not being as interesting or fun for archaeologists to record and it can be difficult to explain to non-archaeologists the importance of protecting a pile of tin cans. I’m not talking about the large-scale heritage sites like Mount Vernon or a wooden fort, but piles of tin cans and other historic rubbish piles. While surveying, I have been guilty of being like, “ugh, another hole-in-top can. Break out gps.” At times, I have to remind myself the importance of recording the past, no matter the date. Where I’ve done most of my work in the southwest, isolated artifacts and dumps can tell us so much about how people lived during the 19th and 20th centuries. And there is so much more than just tin cans—there are beautiful amethyst and aqua glass, fragments of leather shoes, and so on, to discover. In different parts of the United States, amazing historic artifacts have been recovered from the 16th and 17th centuries, such as metal fragments of armor along the Santa Fe Trail. And, then there are all of the unique post-contact artifacts of various Native American groups, such as metal projectile points. So, in a nutshell, historic archaeology can be pretty fascinating.

Please note: it is both unethical and illegal to remove any kind of artifact—prehistoric or historic—from archaeological sites on public lands. It doesn’t matter how nice you think that historic bottle would look on your desk. Leave it!

For type guides on historic artifacts, visit:

-The Society for Historical Archaeology: https://sha.org/resources/20th-century-artifacts/

Gnats Galore

Gnats

Tales of archaeological adventures tend to focus on the amazing artifacts observed or death-defying situations with bears or gun-toting individuals. Rarely do they wax poetically about bugs. But all kinds of creepy crawlies can be found on a survey or excavation, from ticks to biting gnats. It’s not the heat or a fear of rattlesnakes that make me nervous before a field season—it’s bugs. You can’t escape them! And, already, my ears are itchy. No, that isn’t some euphemism for eavesdropping. My ears are literally itchy. It’s that time again: bug time.

I thought I’d have time before I’m eaten alive by gnats, but they’re a bit early this year and that makes me worry for this upcoming season, since they’ll likely get worse. It may be a pessimistic view, but I’d rather be prepared than not. There’s nothing quite like the gnats in the southwest; not only are they tiny, they bite and they love biting ears. Not even a mosquito net can keep them at bay. Imagine if you will, trying to record an archaeological site—which can take hours—and trying to focus on writing up summaries while hundreds of tiny gnats swarm about your head, wriggle their way through the head net, and then bite every inch of exposed skin. It’s so bad that you can’t even stand still long enough to eat lunch—you just have to keep moving, occasionally shoving food under your head net. And, the bugs are already out.

Time to prepare . . .

*Note: there really isn’t much you can do to combat biting gnats, other than completely covering up and using a gnat net (which works ~60% of the time).  Bug spray doesn’t really deter those little jerks, either.  Just walk as fast as you can and hope for a super windy day!