I have had the strange experience these last few weeks of being confronted face-on with the difference between research-oriented archaeology and management/compliance-oriented archaeology.
I have been out in the Mojave again - called out at the last minute to help define the boundaries of archaeological sites in order to ensure that they will not be harmed by planned construction activities, in this case, the use of specific dirt roads to get to and from construction locations. This means that I have spent the last two weeks digging 50-centimeter wide holes, sifting the soil through metal mesh screens, and making a catalogue of what was found, and then filling the hole back in.
And those of you who were in the Army probably thought that you were the only people required to continuously dig holes and fill them back in again.
This process is not nearly as arduous as it may sound when you are finding archaeological materials or when the soil is easy to dig and to screen. But digging through it is a bit like digging through concrete. So, we have had long days of hard physical labor. One the one hand, it is commendable that my client is going through such trouble to make sure that it doesn't damage any archaeological sites. On the other hand, my hands, shoulders, and back have probably aged ten years in the last two weeks.
Simultaneous with this field work, I have been working on a paper for publication in an archaeology journal. It is based on my Masters thesis, and represents and effort to reconcile two strands of anthropological data that are frequently at odds with each other. While working on the paper, I have been reminded of both the difficulty of doing the work that resulted in my thesis, and also the intellectual pleasure that I took in analyzing the data and writing the document.
Or, put another way, I have been reminded of what originally attracted me to archaeology in the first place.
It's a bit demoralizing to be working on a project that is regulation/management-driven and so far way from any real archaeology while simultaneously working on a research project. I know that not all of my projects are like this, and that my line of work has allowed me to dig up airplane crashes, cling to cliffsides, climb mountains, get whisked around in helicopters, and all kinds of other groovy things. However, at the moment, I am feeling a bit low, and wondering why I didn't become a dental hygienist.
So it goes.