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Jordan's Deep Dive Into CRM After Undergrad

Going into my freshman year of college I had a plan for what I would do when I graduated. I was told that I would probably have to further my education if I wanted to find a job, so I decided I wanted to get my master’s in museum studies, specifically from George Washington University. That idea slowly began to fizzle out each semester and I didn’t even give it a second thought going into my junior year. As much as I loved the museum classes I was taking for my minor, I just couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. That brings me to senior year, when I realized that I needed to start looking for cultural resource management jobs.

I didn’t take any CRM specific classes in college because my university didn’t offer any of those. I first learned about it in my freshman year archaeology class where the professor explained the different phases and how companies get contract work. We did a little project on budgeting, but no one ever explained to me what field techs actually did, e.g. hundred meter transects (survey lines used to cover more ground during area surveys) with a bearing of 90 degrees, digging holes every 30 meters. Luckily in my archaeology lab course, and a little bit in field school, I dug a few shovel tests 50 cm in diameter at various depths. They just never really explained that we were putting in shovel tests along transects. Even with this little bit of field training it still wasn’t an accurate representation of CRM archaeology.

CRM archaeology is different from academic archaeology and colleges don’t seem to make that known well enough to their students. Most colleges don’t even offer CRM specific classes. If you’re lucky and go to a university that has a master’s program for something related to CRM, then maybe there will be some type of undergraduate class that focuses on that type of archaeology. Out of my four years at school only two of my classes lightly touched on the world of CRM, and those classes were taught by the one professor who was more of a field archaeologist than an academic archaeologist. That professor left after my second year of school and we were left with only academic archaeologists. This seems to be the case across many universities where professors are more trained in academic archaeology than in CRM archaeology. Field school taught me how to dig a unit which prepared me for phase II/III work, but the majority of work I’ve done with my company has been phase I shovel testing. It’s a lot of following a transect and digging lots of holes every 30 meters, sometimes through open agriculture fields and sometimes through horribly dense vegetation.

CRM work covers a lot of ground and my classes did not teach me enough about this world. It wasn’t until senior year when I learned about shovelbumming (it’s what a lot of archaeologists do right after graduating where you do jump from company to company whenever they get contract work). My degree is a B.A. in Anthropology/ Archaeology with a concentration in Archaeology, so you’d think they would teach me a little more about the cultural resource management world.

I got a whole new type of archaeology training at my first CRM job. I started on a project where we were shovel testing a sugarcane field. We were digging smaller shovel tests than I was used to (30 cm in diameter vs 50 cm) and going pretty quickly with it. I wasn’t used to this fast-paced way of excavating. At field school I was taught to take my time and that it didn’t matter how long I took to excavate. That’s not necessarily how it is with CRM work. Sometimes you have deadlines and have to get projects done within a short time frame. That doesn’t mean we’re half-assing our shovel tests, we’re just digging in a way where we know what’s important and don’t have to always take our time with it. Being able to dig a certain amount of shovel tests in your eight hour work day is a skill that takes time and can’t be taught by reading about it in class though. Throughout the first few months at my job I learned about bearings, transects, and great tips on how to dig through compact clay. I figured out my pacing for low, moderate, and high probability areas, and I learned when it’s better to crouch under vegetation instead of trying to push it down.

If I had just one class that sat me down and said “You are going to be put on a transect and every 50 meters you will dig a hole 50 cm below the ground until you reach the end of the transect,” I would have been way more prepared on my first day at my job. It’s not even a difficult thing to teach to students. Take a day during their lab hours and find some woods somewhere, show them how to use a compass, and let them walk a straight line to dig a hole. The lack of CRM related classes is an example of the disconnect between academia and CRM. Not every student getting their degree in archaeology wants to remain in the academic world and it’s important for professors to teach about field archaeology and fully prepare their students. The lack of knowledge from my courses underprepared me for CRM life and I’m sure I’m not the only archaeologist who feels this way. Not all archaeology is neat 1 x 1 m units in beautiful open areas, and archaeology courses should be more open about CRM work after college.

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