The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, March 14, 2011

SCAs - Archaeology Ahoy!

I spent the weekend at the Society for California Archaeology's annual meeting. It's been a few years since I last attended one of these meetings, though I went every year for a while. For the last four years or so, though, I have been working all but one year during the meetings, and therefore haven't been able to attend.

I've been missing out.

I arrived late - the conference began on Thursday, but I had work to do on Friday, and combined with a 4-hour drive, this had me arriving in Rohnert Park around 8:30 on Friday night. The first night was a bit of a bust. I headed to the conference hotel to see if anyone I knew was present - they weren't - and after that I worked my way back to my hotel, ordered a pizza, and sat and ate in the hotel room, exhausted from a day of work and driving.

The next morning, being one of the few archaeologists at the conference not suffering a hangover due to my relatively boring evening, I made it to the conference hotel in time for the early sessions. I attended a session on the use of genetics testing to accompany archaeological data in examining the past. It was fascinating, and filled with truly great speakers (easily the best of them being a friend of mine from graduate school, Cara Monroe). I had been aware of the use of genetic testing to establish the ancestry of both individuals and groups, and that this had some utility in tracking population movements in the past, having read numerous papers on the subject. However, I had no idea just how far some of these researchers had come - one advantage of the conferences is that people can report on research that they have completed as recently as the previous week, and you don't have to wait for the necessary but lengthy review/publishing process to complete. The database is still relatively small, and there's still a long way to go, but after that session, I am beginning to wonder of DNA technology may be the next big technological step in archaeology, much as radiocarbon dating was many decades ago.

Upon leaving the conference room, I began to run into people I knew. The previously mentioned Cara, my graduate advisor Michael Glassow, John Johnson (who had put the session together and served on my MA committee), and, in the hall, Dustin MacKenzie, a friend from graduate school who replaced the man who had taught me to do field work at Cabrillo College. I headed out to lunch with Mary and Kelly, two of my former coworkers from Pacific Legacy, and on the way we continued to be stopped by people who I knew. We finally arrived at the restaurant (Hana's Japanese in Rohnert Park - good sushi, by the way) and then headed back to the hotel. On the way out of the resturaunt, we were stopped by some of my old coworkers from Vandenberg Air Force Base (in particular, Dina Ryan, who is a geoarchaeologist who took all of us interns under her wing, and to whom we all owe a debt). Arriving back at the hotel, I was stopped by another person I knew, a former Forest Service archaeologist named Joan Brandoff-Kerr. By this point, Mary and Kelly just wanted to get in, so I stood outside speaking with Joan for a while.

Entering the building, I ran into Dustin again, and Erin King (with whom I had been a Vandenberg intern), and we spoke for a while, all three of us being interrupted in our conversation by various folks we knew passing in the hall. After we broke up our conversation, Dusty and I went to hear our friend Elizabeth speak, and then I tried to make it to another conference room for another symposium, but was stopped by several other people that I knew, and finally simply sat and talked for a while with Rob Edwards, who is the man who ran the Cabrillo College archaeology program when I was learning to do field work.

That evening, Kelly and I headed out to dinner with Dina Ryan, several other archaeologists from my current company, an a geneticist who had been involved in the session on DNA earlier that day. We had a fantastic evening, and Kelly and I eventually returned to the conference hotel to try to find Mary, but having no luck, I bid Kelly a good night and headed back to my hotel.

The next morning I had managed to forget about the time change, and arrived at the hotel an hour later than I had intended. However, I did arrive in time to attend a session in which several Native Americans recounted their experiences working with both archaeologists and land developers, and in which archaeologists active in decades from the 1950s through the 1980s described the changes that they had witnessed over the course of the careers. There was a bit of point-counterpoint during the talks with the archaeologists and the Native Americans giving their own perspectives and trying to provide information to each other, and the session ended with all of the participants forming a panel at the front of the room discussing the topics brought up during each individual talk. It was fascinating, and I am quite glad I made it.

Afterwards, Kelly, Mary, a historic archaeologist from my previous company by the name of Ellie, and I all had lunch together and recounted what we had seen and what we had enjoyed. During lunch, I left the table for a bit to speak with John Johnson and a fellow with whom I am likely to be working very soon, but made it back in time to complete the meal with my former coworkers.

It was a great weekend. It was nice to be surrounded by people who were doing work different from my own, but that was relatable to mine, all of whom were curious about what everyone else was up to. I have always enjoyed these meetings in the past, but hadn't been able to attend recently due to work obligations. I hope that I will be able to again next year. I felt good about being an archaeologist in a way that I typically don't as of late. It was just what I needed.

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